Trinity Twenty Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| October 24, 2004| Matthew 22:1-14
The parable of the wedding of the king’s son teaches us about the kingdom of heaven. The king is God. His son is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The marriage is the joining of Christ with His bride, the holy Christian Church. The servants that the king sends out are the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. They are abused, mistreated, and even killed. Those who persecute the prophets and the apostles are the leaders of God’s holy nation of Israel. Their city, Jerusalem, was destroyed as Jesus warned it would be. Everyone is invited to the wedding, but only those who believe in the gospel of Christ are wearing the wedding garment. They are covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. They partake of the wedding banquet, the eternal joys of heaven. Those who come to the wedding celebration without wearing the wedding garment are those who reject the gospel even though they are outwardly attached to the church. They are thrown into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. That’s a description of hell.
The church on earth is the kingdom of grace. The church in heaven is the kingdom of glory. The only way into the kingdom of glory is through the kingdom of grace. Outside of the church there is no salvation. Outside of faith in Christ there is no membership in the church. Only those who trust in the holy life and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus for their salvation are saved. Those who presume to stand before God wearing the dirty clothes of their own manufactured righteousness will be thrown out of the presence of God forever.
The grace of God defines His kingdom. We cannot understand what it means to be a Christian or a member of Christ’s church if we don’t understand grace. This story illustrates God’s grace for us. It sets forth three features of God’s grace for His church. From this parable we learn of the persistence of God’s grace, the nature of God’s grace, and the necessity of God’s grace.
First, this parable teaches us the persistence of God’s grace. God’s prophets were ignored, but God persisted in sending prophets. Then they were despised, but God kept sending them. Those to whom the prophets were sent came up with all sorts of excuses to ignore their teaching, but God was not deterred. He kept sending them. Even when the prophets were murdered, God kept sending more. When Jesus sent out His apostles, He knew what awaited them. He even described to St. Peter the kind of death he would suffer. Of the original twelve apostles, only John died a natural death. Ten were killed because they testified to Christ. They died as martyrs. The word martyr comes from the Greek word for witness. In our language it refers to someone who dies for His cause. This is because the apostles who were witnesses for Christ died on account of their testimony. This was as Jesus said it would be.
God will never give up on bringing His holy gospel to those who need it. Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. It served as God’s judgment against the unbelief of the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. More than that, it stands as God’s judgment against religious leaders of every generation who think that their religiosity is a fit substitute for the grace of God. The destruction of Jerusalem does not teach the limits of God’s grace, however. To the contrary, after God destroyed that nation He kept sending out His servants to the whole world, carrying out the Great Commission of Jesus to preach the gospel to all people everywhere. God does not give up on sinners. We might. He never does.
We might think that that person to whom we have confessed the faith and invited to church and who has never shown any interest is beyond God’s help. But what do we know? Are we the authors of faith or is God? God watched as prophet after prophet, apostle after apostle, preacher after preacher, was ignored, mocked, persecuted and killed. God did not stop sending preachers. His gospel has never been silenced. Never in the history of the human race has the gospel of Christ not been proclaimed. God won’t be quiet. His grace is persistent. He urges sinners to repent and when they abuse His messengers, He sends His messengers to other sinners urging them to repent. But He keeps on sending them. He keeps calling out to those who trust in themselves to set aside their false faith.
Jesus was a preacher. He refused to be silent. True, He did not cast His pearls before swine. When He was brought before Herod, the mocker, He said not a word. But before Pilate, Jesus confessed the faith. He proclaimed the gospel. He offered the truth, even in the face of Pilate’s cynical denial of the very possibility of absolute truth about God. And we know what Christ’s persistence cost Him. It cost Him His very life.
Second, this parable teaches us the nature of God’s grace. By giving up His holy life Jesus purchased the wedding garment for us. The nature of God’s grace is that it covers up our shame and guilt with the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness. To know the nature of God’s grace we must look at the life of Christ. God’s grace caused His incarnation. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) God loved the world in this way, in the way of giving His only begotten Son. When God became a man not only did God assume a human nature God’s grace assumed its nature. God’s grace is His love for us sinners who do not deserve His love. God doesn’t love us because we have elicited love from Him. God loves us because God is love. The nature of God is to love. Therefore, the nature of God is to be gracious and to love the unlovable.
This is not only demonstrated in God sending His Son into the world. The sending of His Son into the world is the grace of God. There is no grace apart from Jesus and in Jesus there is nothing but grace and truth. The nature of God’s grace is more than the incarnation of God’s Son. It is the living and dying of the incarnate Son of God. That God would take on human flesh and blood is gracious condescension beyond what we could have imagined. But God’s grace is even greater than that. The incarnate Son of God who is now our holy brother chooses to be numbered among sinners. He chooses to receive, by God’s imputation, the sin of all sinners. Sin is impossible for Him to commit. He cannot do sin because He is wholly innocent. But He can bear sin. And so He does.
What happens when the innocent Man who lived a life without sin bears all sin of all sinners? God’s righteousness is fulfilled in man. Our brother Jesus does what God requires of us all. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He offers in our stead the life of obedience that we all owe to God. The nature of God’s grace is that God covers up all our sin by clothing us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself.
Isaiah spoke of this. He wrote:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
How does God cover us with the robe of righteousness? St. Paul tells us.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)
Faith and baptism go together. We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Those who have faith in Christ put on Christ in Holy Baptism. The robe of righteousness is given to us to wear in Holy Baptism. We are clothed in this robe through faith. Baptism does not clothe us with Christ apart from faith. Faith doesn’t exist apart from baptism. Faith will either be bestowed in Holy Baptism as is the case with an infant or faith will lead us to baptism, as is the case with an adult. In either case, faith and baptism go together. This is how St. John put it in Revelation 7:13-14.
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Our robes are washed in Holy Baptism. The blood of the Lamb is applied to us. The nature of God’s grace is that it covers up sin. We don’t cover our own sin. We confess it. But God covers it with Christ Himself. We reveal the sin to God. We don’t hide it. Only God can hide it. He hides it beneath the righteousness of Jesus. This is what we wear. This is what makes the church beautiful.
Third, this parable teaches the necessity of God’s grace. Jesus gives a stern warning. He warns about hell. Hell is the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no forgiveness of sins in hell. Sin remains forever unforgiven. When sin remains, so does the regret and sorrow of sin. It never goes away. Weeping cannot wipe it out.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save and Thou alone
The reason God is so persistent in bringing His grace to sinners is because they need it. The reason God gave the greatest gift God could give so that grace might come to sinners is because they need it. You need to wear the wedding garment. If you’re not wearing it, you must spend eternity in hell. This is what Jesus says. Yet at no time during the history of Christ’s church has this teaching of the Lord Jesus been so widely criticized. To say that only those who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness can go to heaven is to anger the religiously respectable of our day, just as Jesus’ parables so angered the religious leaders of His own day. The reason is obvious. To say that we must be wearing the robe of righteousness that Jesus alone can give or we will be thrown into outer darkness is another way of saying that we all deserve to be thrown out into outer darkness. But nobody wants to admit this. It is too terrifying an admission.
The reason we don’t want to admit what our sins deserve is because it is of the nature of sin to justify itself. This is why all religions ever invented by men are works-righteous religions. Only Christ offers forgiveness of sins freely. Only Christianity teaches that we are justified and saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Yes, it is a humbling truth because it reminds us of our utter unworthiness before God. But it is a comforting truth as well. We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment. But we do not receive what we deserve. We are clothed in robes of such unsurpassed beauty that when God sees us He smiles at us. He sees only the willing and holy obedience of Jesus. He sees the sacrifice that cancels all our guilt. And so the omniscient God, who sees all things, neither knows nor sees any of our sins. He sees only that wedding garment that covers our sin and shame. We can celebrate the marriage feast with pure joy. And we don’t need to wait until we get to heaven. We can sing and make melody in our hearts, always giving thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here in God’s kingdom of grace we enjoy the foretaste of the joy yet to come.