Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
October 17, 2021
Why do so many people not go to church? For the same reason why they should go to church. The LORD God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) People don’t go to church, because they think they don’t need it. They think differently than God thinks. People should go to church, because they should forsake their own thoughts and listen to God’s thoughts, which are higher and better than theirs.
Parents don’t want their children to hang around kids who are trouble makers, because they might have a bad influence on their children. If their kids spend time with kids who cuss, talk back to their parents, steal, and commit other crimes, then they fear that their kids might do these same things. Husbands don’t want their wives hanging out with women who badmouth their husbands, because they fear their wives might learn to badmouth them. Wives don’t want their husbands to hang out with guys who get drunk and chase after women for the same reason. Yet, everyone seems quite comfortable with their own thoughts. They’re thoughts are safe. They won’t lead them astray. Others’ thoughts and opinions may be bad, but everyone thinks that his own thoughts are right.
But what does Scripture say? God says through Isaiah that the unrighteous should forsake his thoughts (Isaiah 55:7). Who are the unrighteous? Scripture says that we are all unrighteous! (Romans 3:10-23) And Jesus says that out of your heart come evil thoughts (Matthew 15:19). So, if you are unrighteous, then your thoughts are unrighteous. And if your thoughts are unrighteous, then you aren’t going to make yourself righteous by means of your own thoughts! You must forsake your thoughts and listen to and believe God’s thoughts. That’s why everyone should come to church. The Proverb says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” (18:1) Spending your time with your own thoughts is spending time with your most foolish advisor. We must forsake our own thoughts, and run to God for his.
Some of what God teaches, you can figure out on your own. Even unbelievers agree that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31). Although, it is certainly advantageous to have Christian rulers, even non-Christian governments pass laws against theft, murder, and slander. Yet, you cannot figure out the Gospel on your own. It would have never entered your thoughts that the eternal Son of God would become a man, born of woman, born under the law for your sake, unless God had revealed it to you through his word (Galatians 4:4-5). The thought would have never crossed your mind that Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, after having fulfilled the Law in your place, who had no sin of his own, would take all your sin and die for it on the cross, unless God had told you (2 Cor. 5:21). Not in a million years of pondering and meditating could your thoughts have revealed to you that God desires to save you by grace as a gift apart from your own works, and that your eternal life has been bought and paid for, unless God spoke by his holy prophets and apostles (Romans 3:23-30; Ephesians 3:8-9). As St. Paul declares, “How can they believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10). Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. Only God’s thoughts reveal the saving faith.
When Jesus first told this parable, it would have been understood that he was preaching against Israel. For hundreds of years, God had sent his prophets to Israel, to invite them to be his people that he might be their God. But they ignored him. They went off to their own business, worrying about earthly things. What’s more, they persecuted and killed God’s prophets, from Zechariah to John the Baptist. And yet, God would not let this rejection leave his banquet empty. He sent his Apostles to all nations to baptize and proclaim the Gospel, so that his wedding hall might be filled (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 18:6).
Yet, the message of this parable endures even to our day. God continues to invite people to his banquet, and people continue to reject his invitation. Although God offers the most priceless meal, a delicacy the earth cannot produce: free pardon of all sins, eternal life and friendship with God; and although he charges nothing for this precious gift, but gives it away for free to be received by faith, people continue to refuse his offer. They seek rather the transient things of this life. While others grow hostile, persecute and utter all kinds of evil against those who proclaim the Gospel, even kill the messengers who bring good news. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways his ways.
Yet, this reveals to us God’s thoughts. God desires to save all people. He offers salvation to those who reject it. He sends his prophets, apostles, and pastors to those who will malign and harm them for offering the words of eternal life. But this parable makes clear, no one goes to hell because God refuses to invite them. They go to hell, because they reject God’s earnest call.
We learn from Jesus’ parable that the banquet is filled with both bad and good. This shows that within the Christian Church on earth, there will be a mix of faithful Christians and hypocrites. People will always find false motives to openly join the church, while secretly trusting in themselves and rejecting Christ’s word in their hearts. Yet, God can see even the secret heart. The Church on earth is not charged to read peoples’ hearts but take their outward words and actions at face value. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. God will judge on the Last Day. In the meantime, we are to invite everyone to the banquet, to invite all people to repent of their sins and believe in the Gospel. Everyone, men, women, rich, poor, elderly and newborns, the disasters and the well-put-togethers are called to come to church and be members of it.
If you want to be saved, it is of the utmost importance that you go to church to hear the Gospel of Christ, yet it must be said that not all who go to church will be saved. We see this in Jesus’ parable when the man in the wedding hall is thrown out for not wearing the wedding garment. No, we don’t throw people out of church if they don’t wear the proper uniform. Rather, this teaches how Christ will judge the secret hearts on the Last Day. There will be those who outwardly belonged to the Christian Church on earth, but who didn’t really belong, because they had no faith.
The wedding garment this man failed to wear is the garment of salvation, which Christ gives to every believer. The Prophet Isaiah declares in chapter 61, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” This robe of righteousness is won for the Christian by nothing less than Jesus’ blood. The elder declares to the Apostle John when he sees the heavenly vision in Revelation chapter 7, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The man cast out of the wedding hall into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, was a false Christian. He claimed to be a child of the light, but he clung to his own righteousness instead of Christ’s. His thoughts were not God’s thoughts. But when you stand before the judgment throne, you cannot bring any of your own works as a token to enter. You may not be clothed with your own righteousness. Your own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). You must take them all off and put on Christ. You must repent of your whole self, your wisdom, your good deeds, your good thoughts, and be clothed in Christ’s wisdom, deeds, and thoughts. You’re not going to get into heaven because you’re a good co-worker, a good mom or dad, or because you put lots of money in the offering plate, but only through the merits of Christ alone (Philippians 3:7-9).
And this should comfort you. Because this means that nothing you have done in your life can bar you from the heavenly banquet. As you must renounce your own righteous works to get into heaven, so must you renounce your sins. Repent of all of them. Place them all on Jesus. He will cloth you head to foot, so that you can enter his hall and remain his guest forever.
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” This declaration of Jesus goes against the thoughts of men so much, that most will deny it. They’ll either deny that the many are truly called, or they will deny that the few are truly chosen. We have already learned irrefutably that God desires all people to be saved. He invites everyone to his banquet. Yet here Jesus says that those who are ultimately saved are chosen, that is, they are elected before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God chose us. We did not choose him (John 15:16). Only those who are elected by God are saved. So, people protest: “Then he must not have desired all people to be saved, otherwise he would have elected them too.” But, no; Scripture makes clear that God desires all people to be saved. That is why he calls them so urgently. Then, people protest: “Then he must not have chosen the saved by grace, but rather chose those who chose him.” But no, Scripture makes clear that God chose us by grace apart from our works (Romans 11:5-6).
How then can we explain this? How can God desire all to be saved, yet not all be saved? And how can he choose a few of whom he’s called without it being based on their works? God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways his ways. Some of God’s thoughts he reveals to us, and we must believe them. Other thoughts of God he keeps hidden, and we cannot reject what he has revealed in order to explain what he has not revealed.
Election is Gospel. If God did not choose you, then you would reject him. Most reject Christ, because they have their own thoughts. Election should not make you doubt your salvation, but rather give you confidence. Your salvation is God’s work, not yours. How do you know you are elect? Because Jesus died for you and God has revealed to you that he forgives all your sins for Christ’s sake. The many who are not chosen do not believe this. All the elect believe this. Do you believe in Christ? Take comfort that God has chosen you before the foundation of the world. And seek to make your election sure by pursuing the thoughts of God revealed in his word and practicing them (2 Peter 1:10). God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, but God has revealed his thoughts to you; thoughts of mercy, love, and salvation to all who believe. Amen.