Friday, October 16, 2015

The Twentieth Sunday After Trinity

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 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.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 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.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

This is a fascinating parable, because although it has parabolic elements, it's not really a parable--it's a prophecy.  Yes, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast, but there is also going to be an actual wedding feast.  The king, the Lord of Heaven is going to throw a wedding feast for his son, Jesus Christ, and the bride is the church.  In Revelation 19:7 we read, "Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready."  So this is an image of something that is going to happen in eternity.

Now, servants are sent to call those who were invited to the wedding feast.  There are actually two kinds of calling in this parable and also in reality.  The first is a "general call, by which," Calvin claims, "God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word--even to whom he holds it out as a savor of death, and as the occasion for severer condemnation" (Institutes 3.24.8).  This call is made to all, so that no one will have an excuse on judgment day that it wasn't heard nor understood.  Also, this call to everyone is a detailed call.  Remember, the proclamation of the word of God is detailed.  It's not an obscure invitation, like a a general, "you're invited to a party, where there will be surprises galore!"  The call is detailed, but since it is a general call, not everyone responds to it in the same way.  There are actually four kinds of responses, as we see in the parable.

The first is a rejection of disinterest.  "I'm just not interested in Christ," people say.  I talked to someone just the other day.  He was friendly to me and very warm, but he just wasn't interested in coming to a discipleship group.  In the parable, people just go on their way to work.  The second group is like the first, rejecting the gospel, but they are hostile.  In the parable, they treat the servants shamefully, and even kill them.  In life, these are the people who speak out against Christianity in the news, the media, the Internet, in the world.  And there are some out there who WILL kill Christians when they encounter them, and we may eventually have the same situation in our country. These two types are unbelievers, and they eventually are destroyed.  At the time Jesus told this parable, these first two groups of people represented his own people, the Jews, whom he had come to first, and they had rejected him.  Eventually, the Gentiles of the world are incorporated into Israel, grafted in, so to speak, like the shoot of a different vine grafted into the vine of Israel.  These Gentiles are the people that the king now invites to the wedding feast.

Notice something different?  Even though these new people are invited, the scripture says, "those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  The latter two kinds of people are gathered by the servants and compelled to come into the wedding feast.  So the wedding hall is filled with guests, but these new guests are drawn in by the king.  Remember what Jesus says in John 6: "No one comes to me unless the father draws him."  Both "bad and good" are brought in, because who does the king come across when he is making his rounds at the feast?  Someone who does not have a wedding garment.  This is someone who has not "put on Christ."

In the church are true believers, those who believe in the Christ of the Bible, and there are also hypocrites, those who attend church, think they believe, but they believe in a Jesus who is NOT the Jesus of the Bible.  They haven't "put on Christ" because there is no garment for the "Jesus" that person believes in.  The Jesus they believe in does not exist.  Remember the Philippian jailer in Acts 16?  He asks Paul what he must do to be saved?  Paul responds, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."  Sounds easy, except there are about a million false Christs that the devil has created over the centuries to deceive us.  So, there are people in the church who believe on false Christs.  These are not really saved, and they will perish.

Jesus ends his prophetic parable with these words, "many are called, but few are chosen."  The only people not talked about in detail in this parable are the ones who are actually successfully called--the elect.  Their calling is a special call.  This is an irresistible call only for them, and it never fails.  Look at II Corinthians 2:14-17:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

The general call is so broad that it is like a fragrance.  People sniff the aroma and are either drawn to the source or are repulsed.  Those repulsed either run or attack.  Those drawn either submit or try to change the aroma to suit them.  Only one of these four kinds of people has the effectual call, the call to believe in the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures.  The rest are cast into the outer darkness: eternal punishment. 

So, which call are we hearing?  Are we rejecting a general call or heeding the effectual call?  Well, at first it seems simple, doesn't it?  We examine ourselves: have we rejected the Gospel?  No?  Are we hostile toward Christianity? No?  Have we repented and put our full trust in the Jesus Christ of the scriptures?  Yes?  Then our salvation is assured.  It's really does seem to be that simple.  That may be the end result, but the process is much more amazing than that.

Shall I offer an offensive suggestion?  May I suggest the we, all of us, are those who were invited but refused to come?  In fact, may I even suggest that we have even slipped from the "indifferent" category into the "hostile and violent" category?  Remember, we are rebels from birth.  We're no longer talking about Jews and Gentiles and who Jesus is referring to historically.  This is about everyone's reaction to the gospel.  We are rejectors of God from birth.  God tries to make the offer as inviting as possible, but we still reject it, and we get more and more violent as we do so.  As unrepentant sinners we began to store up God's wrath for judgment.  We were unworthy to attend this Wedding Feast.

But God does something amazing.  He sends out his servants, his angels, to invite as many as they find, and they not only find them, but they gather them in, both good and bad, filling the wedding hall with guests.  I would say that all were bad.  But the king compelled them anyway, and he brought them into his feast, and he gave them all wedding garments, garments of repentance, garments of faith in his son, Jesus.  The bride of Christ, the Church, after all, must wear a bridal gown.  There are still those who do not stay, who are bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness, but these are merely unrepentant sinners.  The wedding guests, the ones with the gowns, they are sinners, too, but they are repentant sinners.  They are justified sinners.  They are saints and sinners at the same time.

When we worry about whether we are guests at the feast or not, when we worry about whether we have a wedding garment or not, we must remember that we don't deserve either.  Zechariah 3 helps with a striking image:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

Are you not a brand plucked from the fire?  Behold, Christ has taken your iniquity away from you, and he will clothe you with pure vestments.  Welcome to the wedding feast.  Welcome to everlasting life.