The grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God our heavenly Father, and the comforting fellowship of God the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus!
In our Scripture for today the preaching of the Gospel of Christ is compared to an invitation to a wedding. This is to show us that the Gospel is a doctrine which does not demand of us difficult works or any works at all, but which only tells us what works God has done for us. This comparison is to show us that we do not become nor remain Christians by earning God's approval by our religion, but by listening to the voice of God's grace, and by comforting ourselves with, and enjoying, Christ's grace and righteousness. We are to learn from it that Christ does not want to be a new lawgiver, a stern judge, nor does He want to punish us for our sins. Rather He wants to forgive us our sins. He wants to give us, free and without charge, a joyful assurance of God's good will toward us, to counteract all our doubts of God's grace, all our fears of conscience, and to fill all our needs. He wants to give us eternal life. Although by our sins we have deserved nothing but punishment, He wants to seat us at the table of heaven to refresh and nourish us forever. In short, if in our Scripture the Gospel is called an invitation to a wedding, we are to understand that the Gospel is entirely different from the Law. For whereas the Law is a frightening message which crushes sinners, the Gospel is a sweet, blessed message of joy which fills even the greatest sinner with the hope of salvation.
Oh yes, there are many who cannot find this difference between the Gospel and the Law, many who consider the Law to be as joyful or even more joyful a message than the Gospel. There are many who would much rather hear that man is saved by his virtue and noble works, rather than by Christ. They would much rather hear that man must continually improve, rather than that he can be justified before God by faith. They would much rather hear that man must reconcile himself to God, rather than that he is reconciled to God by Christ the Crucified.
But why is it that people would hear the Law rather than the Gospel? Is it because they actually do what the Law demands? Alas! It is rather that they hear the stern voice of the Law, but do not believe it really means what it says. It is because the continuous preaching of man's obligation and ability to earn heaven by his good heart and his noble works, finally produces the sweet delusion that they actually have such good hearts and often do such noble works. Moreover, those preachers who do not proclaim the Gospel of the Savior of sinners never preach the Law correctly, either. On the one hand they picture a sinner so horrible, and on the other hand they picture an honorable worldling so attractive that even the rankest servants of sin bless themselves in their hearts and think: No, you don't belong with the wicked. Why shouldn't you count yourself among the virtuous?
But oh, how completely different the Law appears and works when it is preached to a man according to its true content, in its demands which no man can keep, in its spiritual meaning which cuts to the heart, and with its hard and frightening threats directed against the transgressor! Ah, then the Law is no message of joy. It is rather like God's thunder before which the man truly convicted of his sinfulness shakes and trembles. The words, "You shall be holy but you are a sinner!" pierce his quaking heart like deadly bolts of lightening from heaven.
But blessed is he to whom the words of divine Law have become bolts of lightning piercing his heart. When the Gospel, that is, the doctrine of Christ's reconciliation on the cross, is preached to him, what a blessed message it is to him! Then he feels as though the dark storm clouds were scattered, as though the shining heaven opened above him, and as though he now saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God and calling to him in unutterable grace: Be not afraid! You have found grace!
Certainly, beloved, if only all men recognized from the Law the sin and the curse resting upon them, all would also receive the Gospel of Christ as an invitation to a wedding. But since most men neither recognize nor feel the distress of their souls, how do most react to it? Let me present this to you now.
Scripture text: Matthew 22:1-14. And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.
And when the king came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. [Return to top]
In the Scripture just read, Christ in a parable gives us a general view of the Gospel's fate among men through the ages. He compares the Gospel to an invitation to a wedding and shows how it went out into the world three times in particular, but went to most men in vain. I therefore show you
Gracious God and Father, through the Gospel of Thy Son Thou invitest so kindly all men to the heavenly marriage of grace and salvation. But we must sadly confess to Thee that by nature our hearts would rather remain in sin and in the deceitful lusts of the world, or that we would depend upon ourselves rather than accept Thy invitation and Thy grace. Oh Lord, do not let a single one of us remain in this terrible delusion. Grant that all of us would obey from the heart Thy voice of grace, that we would cling to Thy grace with our whole heart, and walk in the power of Thy grace as new heavenly-minded creatures. Hear us for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior. Amen.
Christ begins our Scripture with the words, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come." In this first part of the parable Christ describes the time in which the heavenly marriage was decided upon but not yet prepared; hence this is none other but the entire period of time before Christ's appearance on earth. The result of this invitation to the heavenly wedding, or the fate of the Gospel during that period, Christ describes briefly in the words, "And they would not come."
These words give us important information. Looking back over the whole period of world history before Christ's coming, we notice with dismay that during these entire four long millenia only so few knew something of the Savior of the world, that these few believers looked like a small ripple in the ocean, like a grain in a mountain of sand, like a drop in the bucket, before the great multitudes of unbelieving heathen. While, for example, at the time of the flood God graciously revealed Himself to Noah and his family, millions lived on in the natural blindness of their hearts without the knowledge of God and His promised Savior. Later on, when God sought out Abraham and made a covenant of grace with him, all the other nations lived without God's word, sunk in the most miserable and abominable idolatry, worshipping sun, moon, stars, yes, even wood and stone. Finally, later on in Canaan, while the light of divine revelation shone so brightly among the Jewish people, darkness covered all other parts of the earth and the nations of all the rest of the inhabited world.
If we ponder this, the question must arise in our hearts: Why is it that during the entire period before Christ's birth such countless multitudes lived in this world and were finally lost without the Gospel, without the knowledge of the true God, and without the comfort of having a Savior? Did God Himself by unconditional decree elect only these few whom alone He wanted to bring to the knowledge of His Son and the whole truth of salvation, while He passed by most men with His grace, abandoning them without mercy to certain doom? Many foes of Christianity have pointed to the fact that the teachings of Holy Scripture, especially before Christ's coming, were known only in one corner of the earth. What, they exclaim, if the message of the Bible were God's revelation and contained the only saving faith, would not God who is love have also seen to it that this message would be made known to all men in all ages?
Christ's words in our Scripture, "And they would not come," give us the key to all these seeming contradictions. They show us that the cause of the exclusion of most nations of the world from the spiritual wedding of the promised Savior, and of their remaining without knowledge of the true way to salvation, was not that God had shut them out, but that they did not want to come when God called them and thus excluded themselves. God has made provision at all times that no man need be lost, but that everyone should come to the knowledge of the truth. But men did all they could to prevent the word of God from entering in among them.
Scarcely had man fallen when the Gospel of the woman's seed crushing the head of the serpent was already preached to him by God Himself. Then Adam lived in the world for another 930 years and faithfully and tirelessly invited his children to the heavenly wedding. When Adam died, he had lived 56 years with Noah's father, Lamech, who fell asleep, believing the promise, but five years before the flood. Those who died in the flood in the year 1656 after the creating of the world could have heard the preaching of a disciple of Adam. Where, then, lay the guilt when already during the first sixteen centuries of the world most men did not obtain the salvation announced in the Gospel? God sent out enough messengers who were to invite all, but Christ says, "they would not come."
You see, this is the sad story of the Gospel of Christ. God announced to the world that He would prepare a marriage for His own Son, and that all men were to be guests at this wedding. But behold the world did not believe it, despised the promise of heaven by grace, and sought its heaven on earth.
Let us now continue in our parable. Christ continues, "Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise; and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them."
The period Christ describes here is not difficult to recognize. Obviously He is describing here the days of His flesh. For when Christ was on earth, lived, suffered and died, the table, as it were, was set for all sinners. Then Christ, the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world was offered; and when He cried on the cross, "It is finished," all messengers of God could finally call out in the fullest sense of the word: "All things are ready; come unto the marriage." The forgiveness of your sins is prepared, the righteousness which you need before God is prepared; light, comfort, power, eternal life, heaven with all its blessedness and glory, in short, all things, all things are ready. All you need is to come, that is, all you need is to receive salvation in Christ by faith. You need only rejoice and comfort yourselves in Him, and enjoy everything which He has won for you. That is what Christ, John the Baptist, and all the apostles preached in Christ's time.
Now, what was the attitude of the world toward this kind, comforting invitation, an invitation even more gracious than that to the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Covenant? Did not the world at least now begin to be ashamed of its former indifference? Did it not at least now leave everything behind and hasten to the wedding which the heavenly Father had prepared for His Son, and to which He had invited all sinners? Alas, no! The greater the grace offered to men, the greater was their resistance. It was not enough that most despised the invitation to the marriage of grace and salvation, thinking that if God's messengers were distributing money, honor and good days, we would gladly come. It was not enough that they turned away, one preferring his farm, the other his merchandise. Some were even so embittered by this kind invitation that they mocked and killed the servants of the Lord, yes, even His Son Himself.
Is not this a dark mystery of the desperate wickedness of the human heart? Had Christ come to impose many difficult works upon the world, to lay unbearable burdens upon it and only to show it how it must earn heaven by itself, then we might not be astonished if the world received His message with reluctance, yes, if it turned upon Him and His servants in wrath. But who can understand that they raged and stormed when they were merely told, "Come for all things are ready," that they did not rest until they had nailed Christ to the cross and wiped His holy apostles from the face of the earth?
But, friends, this is how man is, as long as his heart has not been changed by God. The natural man joyfully hears the strictest doctrine of virtue and good works, even though he desires anything but virtue, and does anything but good works. Yet when Christ the Crucified is preached to him, when he is told that he is a miserable sinner who can be justified before God and saved only by Christ's grace, and if this justification and salvation by grace are offered to him as kindly as possible, he is aroused in the bitterest hatred and even to the most inhuman persecution.
The preaching of the grace of Christ did not have this result only in the days of His flesh. The world's attitude has been thus through all ages until this very hour. Why did millions of martyrs pour out their life's blood in persecutions by the heathen through the first three centuries? Because they confessed that there was no salvation in any other, that no other name was given among men whereby they could be saved, but only the name of Jesus Christ the Crucified. (Acts 4:12). Moreover, why were so many innocent men executed as heretics under the papacy? Because they had confessed that Christ was the only Head of His Church, and that no works and penances dreamed up by men, but only faith in Christ can justify before God and save. And even now, what is it that most awakens the world's scorn and mockery, yes, even the scorn and mockery of those who want to be the most zealous Christians? Nothing else but the teaching that all things are ready, that the sinner finds in Christ all he needs, that man may not earn and fight for anything by himself, that faith alone avails before God, and that in the Gospel, in Baptism and in the Lord's Supper the table of grace is set for all sinners.
However, our text not only shows us the attitude of men toward the Gospel, but also the attitude of God toward such despisers. We read, "But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth, and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city." Here Christ announces in advance the fate of Jerusalem and the whole Jewish nation once they had either despised or rejected with burning hatred and murderous persecution the invitation to the heavenly marriage. And it happened just as Christ had foretold. The Romans, without realizing that they were God's avenging army, appeared, prepared an unprecedented miserable doom for the Jews, leveled Jerusalem to the ground, and wrote in bloody letters over the desolate place: This is the final fate of all those who despise and reject the invitation of God's servants to the heavenly marriage.
To be sure, the despisers of the Gospel laugh at these threats. They think that Jerusalem's destruction in such horror so soon after Christ's and the apostles' preaching was chance, that many rejected the Gospel who yet prospered till their death! This last may be true, but the real punishment of the citizens of Jerusalem was not the destruction of their city. That was only a minor prelude to what awaited them in eternity, for a warning to the world. Woe unto the world which will not be warned! In eternity it will learn what it means to despise Christ and to persecute His messengers. They will not see the heavenly Jerusalem and will be hurled into the smoking pit of Hell.
But let us proceed to the last part of our parable. Christ concludes it with the words: "Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy, go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment; and he saith unto him, Friend, how comest thou hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servant, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen."
Here Christ describes the attitude of the world toward the invitation to the heavenly marriage during the whole period of time from His first coming until the end of days. For Christ says that after the Jews' rejection of the Gospel and the destruction of Jerusalem God's messengers would go out into all the world, seek out the heathen everywhere and say also to them, "Come unto the marriage." And behold countless multitudes would soon come, not only the good but also the evil! All the seats at the wedding table would be filled, but not everyone would appear in the wedding garment of true faith.
From this description of Christ we see that before His eyes the whole future lay revealed as the present. For has not His prophecy been literally fulfilled? Yes, the servants of the Lord cast the empty net of the Gospel into the sea of the world, and drew it filled to the shore. They tilled God's desolate field among the blind heathen, and soon a rich harvest grew on it. They opened the gates of the Church by holy Baptism, and soon whole nations entered. Yet though the work of the Lord's servants seems so successful at the twilight of the age, its result seems quite different when examined more closely. The net of the Gospel contains all too many rotten fish, God's field all too many weeds, the Christian church all too many hypocrites. If, therefore, an overall description of most men toward the Gospel in the period after Christ were given, it would be this: People come to the marriage hall of the Christian church all right, but without the proper wedding garment they accept the invitation outwardly, but not from their heart.
This part of the parable concerns us above all others. True, we do not belong to those who remained indifferent to Christ's call by His servants and did not want to come. Still less do we belong to those who openly despise the word of grace and mock and persecute its messengers. Instead we have outwardly accepted the invitation and appeared at the place of the marriage, the Christian church. We sat down at Christ's table, for we use His means of grace, His word and His holy sacraments. But are we also clothed in the proper wedding garment? Do we truly with all our hearts want to celebrate the heavenly spiritual wedding? Do we really want to please the true heavenly Bridegroom? That is, do we truly use the means of grace to enjoy forgiveness of sins? Do we go to church to learn the way to salvation, and then also to walk it by God's grace? Are we truly in earnest to have a gracious God? Do we truly let God's word enter our hearts? Do we then open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, and let Him work true faith in us? Have we let God's word convert and change our hearts so that we now also walk as new creatures? Or do we perhaps suppose that everything is all right when we merely come to church, read and hear God's word and use the sacraments? Do we still serve sin secretly? Do we yet prefer the temporal treasures of the world to the spiritual treasures of grace of the heavenly marriage?
Oh, let us not deceive ourselves! If here we are guests at Christ's table of grace but without the wedding garment, men may indeed consider us good guests. But a day will come when the King of Heaven will inspect His guests who have come. How miserable we will be then if our Christianity were but pretense, not power, outward, not inward, only half-hearted, not whole-hearted! How wretched if we were found without the wedding garment of true faith! Then we would be cast out, bound hand and foot, "into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
But we shall be blessed if here already we are sitting hungry and thirsty at the Lord's table of grace. Then some day He will let us take part in the wedding joy of eternal life. May He help us do so through Jesus Christ. Amen.