The Wedding Garment from God!

The 20th Sunday after Trinity–17 October 2021

Matthew 22:1–14

1 Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying,  2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Salvation compared to a feast overflowing with abundance!

The divine gift of salvation in Christ is for all people.  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:30). In the death and resurrection of Christ, behold the Lord’s great love for sinners. No wonder that our Lord compares His gift of salvation to a feast overflowing with abundance! Every human being is invited; everyone is welcome. The good will of the King extends to all His subjects. He calls out: “Come, celebrate with Me!” He sends His servants out to the ends of the earth summoning the bad and [the] good. “Come to the Feast! Come and be glad in My Son!”

The Gospel invitation is not always graciously received!

This Gospel invitation is not always graciously received. There are those who say: “You can keep your feast! I’ve got more important things to do.” Now some reject the Lord’s invitation from a spirit of deep-rooted antagonism. In our Lord’s parable, some invited guests are so hostile to the king that they seize[] his servants, treat[] them shamefully, and [even] kill[] them. So too in every age, there are sinners who in great hostility attack Christ’s Church and her pastors. That is why every week we pray for our brothers and sisters who are living under persecution and threat of violence, that God would fill them with His unshakable peace and use their witness to bring salvation even to their persecutors and slanderers. 

Others sinners, though, are more complacent than hostile. They do not harm the Lord’s servants; rather, in a spirit of indifference, they simply pay no attention to the Lord’s servants and go on their way, busy with their personal affairs. You and I are just as capable of placing our personal affairs above and before our Lord’s Gospel invitation, so that we do not pray and meditate upon the Word daily or attend ourselves to the faithful hearing and reception of the Lord’s Word and Supper in the Divine Service. That is why St. Paul warns us: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. And that is why the prophet Isaiah counsels us to seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.

The way of gladly receiving the Lord’s Gospel invitation!

Our gracious Lord is ever inviting sinners to His feast of salvation. Many people reject the invitation through hostility or indifference. May we all stay far away from such a wicked path. Rather, let us pray that our heavenly Father would give us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives. Herein lies the way of gladly receiving the Lord’s Gospel invitation to the wedding feast. Sinners who respond in this way of true faith come to the Lord’s feast with great joy, and they dress up for it. They may not wear the best clothes money can buy, but they do wear a special garment. The garment these sinners wear show that they are glad to be at the Son’s wedding feast. The garment these sinners wear show that they wish to honour the kindness of the King. What is this garment they wear? Of course, this is the garment of repentance that trusts only in Christ and His righteousness. This garment of repentance is a pure gift from God which the Christian is to wear unto death. The nature of this garment becomes clear to us as we consider the final response to the invitation.

Refusing to wear the King’s wedding clothes!

For thirdly, there was the man who showed up at the feast without wedding clothes. Imagine a mechanic, all covered in oil and grime, unwashed and wearing his work clothes, marching in and sitting right down among the other guests. In the ancient world, at a royal wedding, the king would give lavish wedding clothes for the guests to wear at the banquet. To refuse to wear the king’s gift and to wear one’s own clothes was, of course, a great insult to the king. Do you see how the man without wedding clothes is intentionally showing the King disrespect? And as the King comes in among the gathered guests, the fellow sticks out like a sore thumb.

The King walks right up to him and inquires: Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?

Notice that the King does not speak to him out of hatred and animosity. He calls him friend. There is nothing but kindness in the heart of the King even toward this man. It reminds me very much of when Judas led the soldiers to Jesus, how our Lord greeted him with the words: Friend, why have you come? This loving King has a heart filled with kindness and mercy toward all, and He hates nothing He has made. And yet, this King will not welcome a person who is “robed in contempt” of Him and his Son. It is a dishonour to the King and to the King’s Son to dare to come to the marriage feast refusing to wear the King’s wedding garment and wearing instead your same old work clothes, soiled and tattered.

When the man has no answer for the King, the King orders him bound, hand and foot, and carried into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. You see, for those wearing the wedding garment given them by the King, there is finally only the light and joy of the Feast. But those who refuse the King’s garment will finally be cast into the eternal loneliness of the outer darkness. 

The wedding garment is a repentant heart!

Who, then, is this man who wants to come to the wedding feast without wearing the wedding garment? Who is this one who is tossed out of the light, the joy, and the celebration into the outer darkness? He is the one who comes to the Feast with the attitude: “God forgives me? Great!!!! I’ll take His forgiveness, but I don’t want to be freed from my sin.  No. I want to continue in it. I have no intention whatsoever of struggling against the sin in my life. I like the way I am just fine!” Do you see what this man is NOT wearing? He is not wearing repentance!  For the wedding garment truly is, above all else, a repentant heart that looks to Christ alone and His righteousness.

This is what the Lord looks for in His people! A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51). Those with a broken and contrite heart confess their sins and trust God to forgive them for Jesus’ sake. Thanks be to God that the Lord has given you such broken, contrite, repentant hearts, hearts that trusts only in Christ and His righteousness. When the Lord gives you a heart of repentance, there is no sin that can rob you of salvation, for the Lord is ever faithful and just to forgive [you y]our sins and to cleanse [you] from all unrighteousness  (1John 1:9)! The final Advent, the coming of the Lord then will only mean that your heart’s desire has come—that He will free you from all the sins you struggle with in your life. No longer will you cry over your constant falling into sin; no longer will you anguish over remembered transgressions. Anyone who longs to be freed from sin has nothing to fear from that day, the day of our Lord’s return.

Those not wearing the wedding garment will be terrified by the King!

By God’s grace, you have not despised the Lord’s Gospel invitation to come to the heavenly banquet. Rather, you have accepted the invitation with great joy! And with a repentant heart you receive Christ’s forgiveness precisely so that you can be cleansed from your sins. 

But there are those who think God will welcome them as guests while they still willfully persist in their sin and refuse to repent. But those who love their sin and have no intention of letting it go; who do not struggle against their anger, greed, pride, against their unkind and bitter words, their impure thoughts, their indulgence of the flesh; those who dare to come to the great wedding unchanged, without renewal, without amendment of life, without repentance and its fruits—for these the arrival of the King will be terrifying indeed. The arrival of the King will reveal that in their heart they did not want HIM. And so they will be given instead their heart’s desire, which is to exist apart from the King, apart from His light, love, and mercy and cast out into an eternity of darkness.

The garment of repentance given you by God as a pure gift!

Three sorts of guests then: those who despise the invitation and turn away from it; those who accept the invitation and rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ precisely so that they can be cleansed from their sins; and those who accept the invitation but who presume upon the forgiveness of Christ by willfully persisting in their sin and refusing to repent.  

Which kind of a guest am I today? It matters not what kind of a guest I have been before. What matters is what I am now. I know which kind of a guest Christ wants me and you also to be! Our dear Lord desires us to come this morning to His Holy Feast as sinners clothed in the proper wedding garment.  And by His grace and mercy, our gracious Lord transforms us into humble, repentant sinners who gladly come to His feast to be freed from our sins.  

In great love, our dear Lord Jesus invites us to feast on His salvation and He puts on us the holy garment of true repentance. This is not the result of your willpower; rather, the garment of repentance is given you as a pure gift from God, a gift of God’s grace, God’s undeserved favour. And of course, it is not your repentance that saves you; rather, Jesus saves you. And it is God’s gift of repentance that enables you to keep trusting in Jesus your whole life long. And so, by God’s grace, you rejoice daily to confess your sins and rid yourself of filthy rags and you trust only in Christ and His righteousness; yes, you daily rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ, who clothes you with a broken, contrite heart, so that you may be able to stand before God on the wedding day of Christ and His Bride, the Church. 

Here is the truly Good News: you have a place at the marriage feast of the Lamb, and the feast will last forever. And it is your wedding that is being celebrated, for in Holy Baptism, you are united with Your Saviour Jesus forever. In Christ, your Bridegroom, yours is NOT an eternity of outer darkness, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. In Christ, the banquet feast of heaven is yours, for He has made it so: for in Christ, you are forgiven all of your sins.  For all eternity, then, you will feast in the light and the joy and the celebration of the Lord! Praise be to God!  Amen.