October 14, 2018
In this Parable Jesus gives an historical commentary of the nation of Israel, revealing that the kingdom of heaven is not far off but here and now. God sent numerous prophets to his chosen people of Israel. But for the most part they rejected the prophets. Not even against Moses, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, were they afraid to speak against him. And many they threatened and imprisoned and beat and killed. They were not afraid of the prophets, because they didn’t come to them with swords or clubs or chariots. They came armed only with words. And the people despised their words. It didn’t matter which words they spoke, Law or Gospel, the people despised them. If God’s prophets threatened punishment for their idolatry, the people gladly listened to false prophets, who told them what they wanted to hear. When God’s prophets promised that God would rescue them, God’s people sold themselves to foreign nations and trusted in their armies rather than the hosts of heaven.
And so, as Jesus tells us in the parable, God the King sent his soldiers to punish the murderers of his prophets and those who refused to listen to the invitation to the wedding banquet. They did not fear the prophets armed with words, so God sent them men to fear, armed with swords and spears. Time and again God permitted Israel’s enemies to rout them. Yet, even in the New Testament Israel continued to reject God’s apostles, until in 70 AD Roman forces surrounded Jerusalem and burned their city. And having found those invited by the prophets and apostles unworthy, God sent his apostles and preachers into the roads and gather all whom they found, both good and bad, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations, languages, and skin colors.
God predicted that this would happen as we heard God speak to the Christ in our Old Testament lesson, “Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you.” (Isaiah 55:5) This is a marvelous thing God has done, that through the disobedience of his people he has brought many more people into his kingdom. Yet, we Gentiles must not be arrogant. If the natural branches could be lopped off by their disobedience to the word, the disobedience of us wild branches, who have been grafted in can certainly cause us too to be removed from Christ. And indeed, this is the case. The Gentiles are not more faithful than the Jews. People continue to reject and despise the servants of God, who proclaim that the feast is now ready. While most simply ignore the preaching of God’s word and occupy themselves, one to his farm, and another to his business, others become hostile to God’s word and to those who preach it.
People don’t ignore those, whom they perceive speak with power. You wouldn’t dare ignore a police officer, if he speaks to you, or ignore a notice from the IRS or a call from your boss. These are perceived to have power in this world. They have guns and authority over your money. But those who speak God’s word are often ignored. Few are afraid to dismiss their message or even to speak against it. This is because the word of God itself is despised. Jesus says, “He who rejects you rejects me and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) People fear swords and clubs, guns and human authority, but God’s authority is despised. And for this, God threatens the same punishment that he did against those of Israel, who did not believe. Not only pestilence and war, but condemnation and the removal of his word and Spirit from them.
This is truly a tragic thing, because the Word of God is such a pleasant thing. It’s an invitation to a banquet that no money can buy. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Yet, they reply, “I don’t need your rest. I want to labor under my own load.” And that’s what people do. Even here in the Land of the Free, most people slave away, serving that which perishes until they return to the ground.
Yes, it’s true that God’s word is often harsh. He convicts us of our sins, showing us where we’ve failed, hurt our neighbors and neglected our God. He tells us things that make us uncomfortable about ourselves, makes us face problems we’d rather not deal with and to take a hard, narrow road, which loses us friends and family. Yet, God is always slow to anger and quick to forgive. He does not always chide, nor does his anger remain, but he disciplines us as a loving father and forgives us more richly than we could possibly imagine. Our rejection of God’s word, because we find it too harsh or condescending or out of touch is like the rebellion of a teenager, who rejects his father’s wise words, so that he can embrace the lies of scoundrels and thugs.
We learn in the Third Commandment that we should “fear and love God, so that we do not despise God’s preaching and word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” There is no sin so devastating as the despising of God’s word. Murder, adultery and fornication, theft, and drunkenness are all dangerous sins that will lead you away from God and salvation. But none of these compares to despising and rejecting God’s word, because, it is only through God’s word that you can have any relationship with God. God will not speak to you in your dreams or come to you as you work in your garden or as you meditate on your own thoughts or any other new-age, recycled spiritualistic fad. God desires only to come to you through his word. That is how you know what he desires from you. And that is how you know what God promises you. Apart from God’s word you cannot know that God is merciful, you cannot know Christ and his forgiveness, and you cannot receive the Holy Spirit, who comforts sinners in their distress.
When we think of the kingdom of heaven, we often think of the end of the world. It is a far-off thing. You have plenty of time to accept God’s invitation to his banquet. But you don’t. The kingdom of heaven is here and now. The Prophet says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” You do not know how many chances you will get to accept the Lord’s invitation. The soul of the rich fool is demanded of him as he sleeps and the Son of Man will return as a thief in the night. What you do know is that you are being invited now. The invitation is the Gospel that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. You accept this invitation by believing and trusting in the Christ Jesus.
The king does not tell his messengers that the dinner will be ready 70 years from now or 50 or 20. He says, “Everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!” God invites you to feast now, today. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” and “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:35, 51) God does not invite you to a future wedding feast, but a present one for you to enjoy now in faith.
If you do not feast on Christ today in faith, you will not feast with him in eternity. But what a wonderful feast Christ has prepared for us today. Christ feeds us with words that well up into eternal life in us. Although, we sin daily and deserve nothing but punishment, God forgives us for the sake of the precious suffering and death that Christ endured on his body and soul. All your sins are washed away and as certainly as Christ is risen from the dead, God has promised you eternal life. Christ promises to be with his people when they gather around his word. The almighty God and Savior of our race is with us now, here at this very moment! By the miraculous power of Jesus’ body and blood we are joined in a unity that no family, husband, or wife can enjoy as we join with each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord. Here, we get a foretaste of the feast to come. Dining here with our ears and mouths we have confidence that our seat is saved for us in heaven.
It troubles many that the king casts out the man not wearing the wedding garment into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet, there is an important reason why Jesus includes it in his parable. Jesus notes that the servants gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. This means that in Christ’s Church on earth there are mixed both true believers and hypocrites. This means that the church is invisible, because we cannot see into people’s hearts. Only God can. And just because you go through the motions or are a member of a Lutheran Church, does not mean that you will be saved.
So, what does it mean that the man was not wearing the wedding garment? It means that he relied on his own efforts and righteousness instead of in God’s free grace. The king invited everyone to his banquet for free. He wasn’t selling anything. Isaiah writes, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Yet, many still try to enter God’s banquet hall on their own merits. They think they will go to heaven, because they are basically good, or at least better than others. But that is not the way that it works. You enter God’s wedding banquet only by the merits of Jesus, his death and resurrection. You cannot by your own reason or strength enter God’s hall.
This is a strict warning to those, who rely on themselves and refuse to listen to God’s word and instead rely on their own wisdom. But for us, who fear our sins and regret them, this is wonderful news. Your sins will not prevent you from sitting at God’s table! God invites you by grace! He’s not selling you anything. He’s giving you a gift! God has prepared his dinner. He has sent his Son to take on our human flesh, to be sacrificed for us on the cross. Christ Jesus is prepared for us to be our Savior. You are invited only to come and eat. Feast on Jesus today in faith and be certain that you will be joined to him in eternity. Through the message of the Gospel and in Baptism, God himself clothes you with the wedding robe, as Isaiah proclaims in chapter 61, “For God has clothed me with the garment of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Through faith in Christ Jesus and in him alone do you have confidence that you will sit at the Lord’s table in heaven and will never be cast out. Amen.