A Marriage Made on Earth
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity| St. Matthew 22:1-14| Rev. Rolf Preus| October 17, 2010
Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, see, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus told parables to describe the kingdom of God. God rules over his people through his Son, Jesus Christ. In St. Matthew’s Gospel it is called the kingdom of heaven. But the kingdom of heaven is here on earth. In his parables, Jesus pictures this kingdom in a variety of ways: a farmer planting seed, a landowner hiring workers, a woman searching for a coin, a servant who is forgiven but refuses to forgive, a wedding.
His wedding parables are particularly compelling. Jesus paints a familiar picture. The Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments – illustrates the relationship between God and his people as a marriage. God is the bridegroom and God’s people are his bride. The Song of Solomon is a poem about the love between Christ and his Church. God commanded his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to illustrate how God’s bride had been unfaithful to him.
God is the bridegroom. The Church is his bride. In the beginning, God made Adam out of the dust of the ground and he made Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. When Adam received Eve as his wife, he said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” When God sent his Son to this world as the heavenly bridegroom he became bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. He joined the human race in order to claim his bride.
But she refused him. The parable before us tells the tragic story. St. John put it this way, “He came to his own, and his own did not receive him.” The king’s servants invited Israel to the wedding. Israel refused. Some simply ignored the invitation. They had other things to do that they thought were more important: farming, business, whatever. Some abused and mistreated his messengers, murdering the prophets.
The king was angry. He destroyed those murderers and burned their city down to the ground. Jerusalem was destroyed and the gospel of the kingdom was proclaimed to the Gentiles. They came from all over the world into the wedding celebration. This Gospel of St. Matthew concludes with Jesus’ words:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Disciples from all nations come into the Church. But there are pretenders. They belong but don’t belong. They attach themselves to the Church. They are baptized. They hear the Gospel proclaimed and say amen to it. They receive instruction in all the things that Jesus commanded they be taught. They attend the Lord’s Supper and eat and drink Christ’s body and blood. But they do not belong. They are not wearing the wedding garment. The wedding garment is nothing less that the obedience and righteousness of Jesus with which he clothes his bride. This wedding garment is given in Holy Baptism where we put on Christ as our robe of righteousness. We wear this garment through faith. It is through faith in Christ that we stand righteous before God.
The man who attended the wedding celebration without the wedding garment is much like those of Israel who rejected their Savior when he came to them in the flesh. These are people who have God’s Word but they treat it with contempt. They hear God’s promises, but they don’t care. They might use the Church to gain something for themselves – whether religious respectability, social standing, business opportunities, or maybe a certain sense of moral achievement – but they do not repent of their sins and believe the gospel. They do not despair of themselves and their own goodness. They do not find spiritual refuge in the wounds of Jesus. They reject the gospel.
These are thrown into outer darkness. Outward attachment to the Church is not enough. It is as Jesus himself said, “He who does not believe shall be damned.”
The wedding of Christ and his bride, the Holy Christian Church, is the most wonderful celebration there is. It is really an amazing match. We bring to it our sin and he brings to it his righteousness. We bring death and he brings life. We bring damnation and he brings salvation. As everything that belongs to the bride becomes the possession of the bridegroom, so our sin becomes his and he bears it away. As everything that belongs to the bridegroom becomes the possession of the bride, so his righteousness becomes ours and we are adorned with it as a beautiful bride before her husband.
Let me quote to you at some length from a sermon that Martin Luther preached on this text on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity in 1523. Luther writes:
Now what do we give to him? An impure bride, a dirty, old wrinkled outcast. But he is the eternal wisdom, the eternal truth, the eternal light, and exceptionally beautiful youth. What does he give us then? Himself, wholly and completely. . . If then I am thus his and he mine, I have eternal life, righteousness and all that belongs to him. Therefore I am righteous, saved, and in a sense that neither death, sin, hell, nor Satan can harm me. . .
Now, what do we bring to him? Nothing but all our heart-aches, all our misfortunes, sins, misery and lamentations. He is the eternal light, we the eternal darkness; he the life, we death; he righteousness, we sin. This is a marriage that is very unequal. But what does the bridegroom do? He is so fastidious that he will not dwell with his bride until he first adorns her in the highest degree. How is that done? The Apostle Paul teaches that when he says in Titus 3, 5-6: “He gave his tender body unto death for them and sprinkled them with his holy blood and cleansed them through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” He instituted a washing; that washing is baptism, with which he washes her. More than this, he has given to her his Word; in that she believes and through her faith she becomes a bride. The bridegroom comes with all his treasures; but I come with all my sins, with all my misery and heart-griefs. But because this is a marriage and a union, in the sense that they become one flesh, and they leave father and mother and cleave to one another, they should embrace each other and not disown one another, although one is even a little sick and awkward; for what concerns one, the other must also bear.
Therefore, the bride says, I am yours, you must have me; then he must at the same time take all my misfortune upon himself. Thus then are my sins eternal righteousness, my death eternal life, my hell heaven; for these two, sin and righteousness, cannot exist together, nor heaven and hell. Are we now to come together the one must consume and melt the other in order that we may be united and become one. Now his righteousness is truly incomparably stronger than my sins, and his life immeasurably stronger than my death; for he is life itself where all life must be kindled. Therefore my death thus vanishes in his life, my sins in his righteousness and my condemnation in his salvation. Here my sin is forced between the hammer and the anvil, so that it perishes and vanishes. For now since my sin, my filth is taken away he must adorn and clothe me with his eternal righteousness and with all his grace until I become beautiful; for I am his bride. Thus then I appropriate to myself all that he has, as he takes to himself all that I have.
Now since Christ is mine and I am his; if Satan rages, I have Christ who is my life; does sin trouble me, I have Christ who is my righteousness; do hell and perdition attack me, I have Christ, who is my salvation. Thus, there my rage within whatever will, if I have Christ, to him I can look so that nothing can harm me. (From Luther’s sermon on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, 1523, Lenker, Volume V, pages 232-234)
So far Luther.
This is what the bride of Christ possesses. The Church, the whole Church, and nothing but the Church possesses these treasures. This is because the Church is the bride of Christ and Christ alone can give them.
This is truly a marriage made on earth. Our bridegroom didn’t send us love letters from heaven to win our affections. No, he came right down into our world, our lives, our very sins, bearing all of our treachery, malice, greed, lust, and hatred, purchasing us by his blood. He is ours and we are his. To this God called us. For this he chose us. And in his gracious choice we rest our faith, take our stand, and sing for joy.
Hallelujah! Let praises ring! Unto the Lamb of God we sing, In whom we are elected. He bought His church with His own blood, He cleansed her in that blessed flood, And as His Bride selected. Holy, holy is our union And communion. His befriending Gives us joy and peace unending. Amen