Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, AD 2020

Matthew 22:1-14

Several hundred years before the time of Christ, in the land of Persia, the Jews had a great feast because a man had been hanged. That man’s name was Haman. Haman was a high-ranking official in Persia with an extremely high view of himself. He expected everyone to bow down when he went down the street. One day a man named Mordechai, a Jew, didn’t bow down. This ticked off Haman, so he tricked the king of Persia into making a decree that all Jews be killed for treason. Yet Mordechai was connected – his cousin Esther was a wife to the king, but no one knew she was a Jew. Esther had the courage to invite the king and Haman to her own banquet, and Haman accepted graciously, certain it was a great honor. Instead, Esther exposed Haman at the banquet, begging the king for mercy for her people. Haman was thrown out of the banquet and hung. That is what led to all the Jews in Persia holding a celebration feast for deliverance from the hands of Haman.

We hear about another feast in today’s parable, a greater feast in which many are called, but few are chosen. Rather than just the salvation of a certain people at a certain time, Jesus describes all salvation history with this parable. God is the king who sends out his servants and calls all people to believe in Christ. For the wedding banquet is for Jesus Christ and his bride, the church, which he saved from her sins and bought with his own blood.
In the first invitation, before the feast is ready, God sends his servants, the prophets, to call the people of Israel to the wedding feast. God promised them through Abraham that the Christ would come through them. Yet those invited did not believe the servants and ignored them, the same way the people of Israel ignored the prophets and did not trust the promise of Christ, turning to their own way.

Then the feast is prepared, and everything is ready. It is prepared when Jesus Christ dies as a sacrifice for our sins and rose on the third day. Now we are able to be joined to Christ as His bride through faith in him. We feast here on His very body and blood and are joined to him, receiving the forgiveness of sins and strengthening our faith. This is the message the second set of servants, the apostles, are proclaiming as they still go calling those who have been invited, the Jews, to the wedding feast.

Unlike the Jews who celebrated at the death of Haman, the Jews after Jesus’ time don’t see any reason to have a feast after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their reaction is worse than the first. The first set of invitees treat the invitation lightly or ignore it and go about their business. Not that they have serious business to attend to – it could be any excuse to avoid the feast. They treat Christ’s work like it’s a joke, like it’s the lowest priority for them. How often do we not cherish Christ’s gifts to us and treat him like a low priority?

The second group of invitees even goes beyond ignoring the servants, treating them shamefully and killing them. The words used for how these servants are treated are the same used for how Jesus and apostles were often treated. Christians may be expected to be treated by the world in this way – spitefully. In this life we may bear ridicule and mistreatment from others, and our command is only to love and pray for our enemies. This is how Jesus treated us when we were his enemies.

Yet God does promise justice. The mistreated servants are avenged. The king destroys the evil city that attacked his servants. Forty years after Jesus spoke this parable, God allowed Jerusalem to the destroyed, this city that killed Jesus and the prophets. This was only the first fruits, to show God was serious. We have a tiny example in history of what God’s judgment will be like on the last day. So we should fear God by not ignoring or mistreating those who preach God’s Word. As Hebrews says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3). Yet if we trust in Christ, we can know that if the world hates us, it hated Christ first. God will answer our prayers especially in persecution.

Returning to the parable - with their city destroyed, the original invitees were found to be unworthy so the call goes out to all. St. Peter says in Acts 13 that the Jews were not found worthy since they rejected the Word of God, so the call now goes out to all nations, including the Gentiles. “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.” We see that the worthiness of the guests does not come from anything they do. Both the bad and the good are invited. God in his mercy calls all through his servants with the gospel, both Gentile and Jew. All need to hear the gospel of Christ. God sincerely desires that all will believe and be saved. Yet, like Haman in the story of Esther, some will come to the banquet and not be prepared when they get there.

Not only does rejection of the call bring death, but it is possible to come to the banquet unprepared. “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.’” What is a wedding garment? In Jesus’ time people were given party clothes to match the celebratory nature of the occasion. This man is like someone who shows up to a costume party with no costume. He rejects the very reason for being there. In his mercy the king invited the man, but if the man rejects the wedding, the very reason he is there, then the king will have him thrown out.

These wedding garments were freely given to all who are invited, both the good and the bad. They didn’t bring their own. Yet the man did not take one. The man is questioned by the king and given a chance to explain his lack of garment, but he does not answer. For this he is thrown out of the feast into the outer darkness.

So faith in Christ is given to us truly free. Believing in his death and resurrection, we receive Christ in baptism and His Word. Those we baptize, especially babies, are commonly clothed in white at their baptism to symbolize their very real washing with the Word. What the baptismal dress symbolizes, we really receive at our baptism – the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness remains with you your whole life. It is not something that is idle. It produces good works. If we are to attend church, it is worthless unless we do so in faith, trusting in Christ. If we are to love our neighbors it is worthless unless our love comes from knowing Christ has loved us first. This was earned by Christ in his suffering and death, and it given to us in His Word and Supper. As we pray after the supper, Christ strengthens us in the same, in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.

So to be like the unhappy man in the parable is to reject Christ’s righteousness, his perfect obedience to God given to us in baptism, and substitute our own. In this way we reject Christ’s garment and want to come to the feast on the merits of our own garment. Yet as St. Paul says in Romans, “whatever the law says to those under the law so that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19). Like the man in the parable, if questioned on our own keeping of the law, we will have no answer for ourselves. Examine yourself by the Ten Commandments. Have you kept all perfectly? Can you tell God you have never broken one commandment? The consequences are life and death – wedding feast or outer darkness, with no room in between.

Thanks be to God, in Christ we are chosen for eternal life. Through his workers, God calls all people and wishes all to come for salvation. We should not fear the fact that “many are called, but few are chosen.” God does not call all people and then in secret wish to only save certain people. Everyone hearing my voice can be sure that Christ died for you to forgive your sins. Those who persist in rejecting God, who don’t care about Christ but bring their own merit to the feast show they are not chosen. In the death of Christ, God shows that he chooses us.

The Jews saw Haman hanging on the gallows and knew that God had chosen to save them. Christ’s death and resurrection is a greater sign that God chose to save you. Being robed in Christ’s righteousness in baptism, what else is there to do but go to the wedding feast greater than the greatest king’s feast in Persia? At this feast of Our Lord’s body and blood, we are assured that we have received forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here we are strengthened to know that we are both called and chosen. Let us come to the feast, bad and good, all who have been called by the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit on account of Christ’s victorious death and resurrection. Amen!
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