By Mark Buetow
How can the Kingdom of God be like a king who sends soldiers to destroy and burn? How can the kingdom of God be like a king who throws a man into the outer darkness because he has no wedding garment on? How can the kingdom of heaven at the same time be like a wedding reception? How can such punishment be a part of God’s kingdom when such joy is to be found there?
THE PARABLE IN A NUTSHELL
Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) reminds us that for those who reject God’s invitation of salvation, and those who would come without being dressed properly will be cast out and thrown away from the Lord. He has no use for those who despise Him and His grace. By contrast, there is the beautiful and majestic picture that Isaiah gives us: that the Lord invites us to come and to feast. He invites those who have sinned and turned away to once again cling to Him and return to Him in repentance and know that their sins have been forgiven. Or to put it another way: For those who don’t think they’re sinners and have no use for the Lord’s gracious feast of salvation, there is nothing but despair and death and eternal punishment. But for those who are sinners, cannot save themselves, have no hope of earning such an invitation, they are brought into Christ’s Kingdom and made a part of this eternal celebration.
The King sends His servants out to tell people: “The feast is prepared!” Those servants who have gone out are the holy prophets of the Old Testament who continually called God’s people to repentance and faith in His promises. Now they are the preachers who call us to repentance and faith. The feast that is prepared is the feast of salvation. Jesus is the lamb or fattened calf that is slaughtered for our celebration. It is the feast prepared the day our Lord gave His life into death on the Cross for the sins of the world. The Wedding Feast of God’s Son is the feast of salvation given on the day that our Lord meets with His Bride, the Church. It is the banquet in which the Son of God is the main course, who gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. It is this feast of which we have a foretaste in the Holy Supper of our Lord.
You who are in Christ are invited. You have been brought to the feast, to Christ’s Kingdom and to the Church. He has invited you, the good and the bad, all of us who are sinners and unworthy to be here. We don’t have to earn our place. We don’t have to get the right religion or the right piety or some kind of holiness. All is prepared by the Lord Himself. He offers His Son as the sacrifice. His Son gives Himself as the main course. And yet the Son is the Bridegroom for whom the Feast is given! You don’t have to cook or clean or get your life straightened out in order to be in attendance at this feast! The Lord has brought you here to celebrate with Him the Marriage Feast of His Son, your Savior.
HEAR THE LORD’S WARNING
There are those who despised that invitation, some just ignoring the call of “Supper’s ready!” and others who slapped the messengers around and then killed them! So the King will show them! He’ll muster his army and march them off to kill those murderers and burn their city! There is a prophecy being made by Jesus here. For centuries, the Lord sent His prophets to remind His people, the physical children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their Savior was coming and to turn from following their false gods. But when that time finally came, rather than welcoming their Savior, they crucified Him. And even when He had been raised from the dead, those people still persecuted and killed the apostles who preached Christ. What was the result of their rejection? In the year AD 70, the Romans came and they wiped the Jerusalem of Christ’s day off the map.
So the Lord sends the invitation to the whole world. Christ’s apostles carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Everyone is dragged to the wedding reception. Everyone, bad and good, is brought into the Lord’s Church. The Gospel is preached around the world. You have been brought to Christ’s wedding feast.
REJOICE IN THE LORD’S BLESSING
It was tradition for the father of the groom, who was hosting the wedding, to provide everyone with a special robe to wear during the wedding feast. This marked you as one who was truly invited to the feast, not a “wedding crasher!” In the waters of Holy Baptism, you have been given the wedding garment. You have been, as Paul says, clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). To be baptized is to be covered with Jesus. And it’s only that robe of Christ’s righteousness that allows you to show up for the wedding feast as an invited guest!
In this feast, what do you get? You have the never ending banquet of Jesus’ Body and Blood. You have the wedding toast raised to sins forgiven, to which we shout not, “Here, here!” but “Amen!” At church, you have Isaiah’s invitation to come buy and eat without money (Isaiah 55:1). That is exactly what our Lord gives us in His Church: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for FREE! He’s accomplished your salvation on Calvary. He brings you into His Church to receive and enjoy His salvation. He prepares you for the Last Day when the final and eternal Wedding Feast begins.
When we are baptized, we are brought into the Lord’s kingdom and given a wedding garment. But remember in the parable, there was a man at the wedding who wasn’t wearing one. Why not? I guess he took it off. There’s no reason he shouldn’t have had one on. But he didn’t. And when the King asks why he doesn’t have one, he’s got no answer! The Lord gives us everything! Only in our sinfulness would we cast off our wedding garments and say, “No thanks, I don’t want to be dressed like Jesus!” Here is our repentance: Not that we sin, but that when we do, we would rather hang onto it and deny it or try to take care of it ourselves.
Who is the one without a wedding garment on the Last Day? It’s anyone who says to Jesus, “No thank you, I don’t want my Baptism. I’m not a sinner. I’m fine. I don’t need YOUR wedding garment.” The church is full of people who have been brought in but they refuse to wear their wedding garments. They want to be members of the church but they don’t want to learn God’s Word, receive the Sacrament often, confess their sins and trust in Jesus. On the Last Day, the Lord will ask them and they’ll have nothing to say. No words to use. No confession to make.
Here is a warning from Jesus NOT to toss off the wedding garments that we have been given. Here’s a warning from Jesus that what damns is NOT our sins but rather if those sins aren’t covered by Him! You already have the clothes! The wedding garments are already yours! Don’t ever take them off and throw them away! Rather rejoice to stand before you heavenly Father dressed to the nines in the robe of Jesus! His feast. His robe. It’s all yours! Rejoice in it!
Rev. Mark Buetow is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church and School in McHenry, IL.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in October 2008.