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“Come to the Wedding Banquet”
Matthew 22:1-14


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost—October 9, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, “The Parable of the Wedding Banquet.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”  The King in the parable represents God the Father, and so the king’s son in the parable is of course God the Son.  Often throughout Scripture, heaven is depicted is a great feast, specifically a wedding feast, with God the Son, the Lamb of God, as the bridegroom.  As Revelation says, describing heaven, “For the wedding of the Lamb has come. . .  blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”  Therefore, the joyous wedding banquet in the parable symbolizes the joys of eternal life in heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet.”  This first invitation in the parable, from the king to his son’s wedding banquet, symbolizes God’s special call and covenant with the ancient Hebrew people.  Paul describes this special relationship in Romans: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Hebrew? . . .  Much in every way!  First of all, they were entrusted with the very words of God. . . They were adopted as God’s sons; they were shown the divine glory, given the covenants, received the law, the temple worship, and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ.”

That last statement by Paul sums up the entire Old Testament: “And from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ.”  That’s what the Old Testament is all about; that’s what we mean when we say the Hebrews were the “chosen people.”  “And from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ.”  Among all the peoples on earth, they were chosen to be the human ancestors of the Messiah, the Savior of the world that God promised would come, after humanity fell into sin.  As God said to Abraham, “Through your Descendant all peoples on earth will be blessed.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet.”  The “servants” in the parable, who announce this first round of invitations, symbolize the prophets of old.  The invitation they proclaimed was the Good News about the coming Messiah.  As Peter says in Acts, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. . .  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

“He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”  This is the great tragedy of the chosen Hebrew people.  Their whole reason for existence was to be the human ancestors of the promised Messiah.  Everything in their religious system, their Scriptures, their sacrifices, their Temple worship, it all pointed forward that glorious culmination: the Messiah, coming from them, the chosen people, for the salvation of the world.  But, the Gospel of John begins with the very sad note, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

When the long-awaited Messiah finally did come he was rejected by his own people.  As Peter says in Acts, “You handed him over to be killed . . .  You rejected the Holy and Righteous One.”   “‘Tell those who have been invited  . . . everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.”

Paul says in 1st Corinthians that we should “use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.”  That’s what happened to the ancient people of God, that’s why they fell away and ultimately rejected the Messiah.  Because, while waiting for the Messiah’s coming they became so engrossed in the things of this world all that became #1 in their lives instead of him.  John’s Gospel reports that when their leaders were debating what to do about Jesus of Nazareth they said, “‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our position and our nation’ . . .  So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”

“‘Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.”  This is a great danger also for us in our own lives, that we become so engrossed in the things of this world that we forget the One who actually gave us all those things.  It is a form of idolatry, making something else besides God #1 in your life.  Paul describes it this way in Romans, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”  The indifference of those initially invited in the parable symbolizes a worldly, materialistic mindset, worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator, a form of idolatry that is an especially great danger for us in our modern, materialistic society.

“‘Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’”  Worshipping in God’s house and receiving Holy Communion is a foretaste here on earth of the heavenly wedding banquet.  But, like those in the parable who ignored the king’s invitation, we too often ignore God’s weekly invitation to us.  “They paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.”  Don’t make anything else besides God #1 in your life.  Heed his call to you, “Come to the wedding banquet.”

“The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.”  The mistreated and even murdered servants in the parable symbolize the prophets of the Old Testament, who often suffered such mistreatment.  As Jesus told his followers in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, because in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”  The destruction in the parable of those who reject the message of the Messiah symbolizes eternal damnation.  Jesus put it this way, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s only-begotten Son.”

“Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’”  This second invitation in the parable, which is broadcast to everyone, symbolizes the preaching to all the world of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus.  “You will be my witnesses . . .  to the ends of the earth. . . Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in [my] name to all nations. . .  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“‘Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad.”  This is the turning point of the parable.  The king invites to the banquet “both good and bad,” not only those who deserve to be invited, but also those who do not deserve it.  In the same way, Christ our Lord invites to heaven “both good and bad,” not only those who deserve enter heaven, but also those who do not deserve it. 

In fact, there is only One who deserves to be invited to the wedding banquet, only One who deserves to be let into heaven.  “For all have sinned,” Paul says in Romans, “and fall short of the glory of God.”  The only One who deserves to be let in to the wedding banquet in heaven is the Bridegroom himself.  For only he is good, righteous, holy, worthy of heaven. 

But, the Good News is the Bridegroom has also persuaded his heavenly Father to let in his no-good friends like you and me along with him, even though we don’t deserve it.  He has persuaded his heavenly Father to let you in to the heavenly wedding banquet, not because of who you are, or what you have done, but because of who he is, and what he has done to earn a place there for you.

Revelation describes the invitation list for heaven as “the Lamb’s Book of Life.”  A few years ago there was a scandal when a couple was let into a banquet at the White House, even though their names were not on the list.  The Good News is your name is written by the Lamb himself in Lamb’s Book of Life, your name is on the list for the heavenly banquet. “Rejoice,” Jesus says, “that your names are written in heaven.”

There are often cartoons showing St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven, looking over a list, like the maitre d at a restaurant.  The turning point of this parable is the Good News that you are invited, you will be let in to the heavenly banquet, not because of who you are or what you have done, but because the King’s Son, the Bridegroom himself, has added your name to the “Lamb’s Book of Life.”

“So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  In Revelation, John says of heaven, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes.”

That’s the final part of the parable: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’”  The wedding clothes in the parable and the white robes in Revelation symbolize the same thing: the holiness and righteousness of Christ, covering over your sins.

John continues in Revelation, “Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’  I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night.”  That is what makes you worthy to be invited to the heavenly banquet, to be let in to eternal life, because you are clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Paul says in Galatians, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.”  That’s where we get the old tradition of those being baptized wearing a white garment, to symbolize through faith you are “clothed with Christ,” your sins covered over by his righteousness, “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.”

This beautiful symbolism comes full circle in churches that use a funeral pall.  You may have seen this white covering that goes over the casket but not understood its significance.  That white covering at the end of life symbolizes what took place for many people at the very beginning of life, “clothed with Christ” in Holy Baptism.  The white funeral pall covering the casket is a beautiful testimony that, through faith in Christ, our beloved departed this world wearing the “wedding clothes” of Christ’s righteousness that is required to enter the heavenly banquet.

“[The king] noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.”  The speechlessness of the man without wedding clothes symbolizes that at the final judgment there will be no excuse, no defense, for those who in this life did not trust in Christ and confess him as their Savior.  As Paul warns in Romans, “Every mouth shall be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” 

In Luke’s account of this parable, Jesus lists the excuses people give for refusing the invitation to the wedding banquet: “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’”

I was too busy with other things; I never quite got around to it; it didn’t seem that important.  Paul pleads in 2nd Corinthians, “Now is the time of God’s favor, today is the day of salvation!”  The speechlessness of the man without wedding clothes in the parable is a warning that at the final judgment there will be no excuse, no defense for those who in this life did not trust in Christ and confess him as their Savior.

“The man was speechless.  Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”  Jesus was the most “politically incorrect” person in history.  For, he declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  “Salvation is found in no one else,” Peter says in Acts, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  The man without wedding clothes in the parable being thrown into “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” symbolizes that being clothed by faith in the righteousness of Christ is the only way to eternal life.

So, this parable is a plea from Jesus, first to his own people, and also to you, today.  A plea to trust in him, confess him as the Messiah, your Savior, and receive from him the joys of eternal life.  “Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”  Amen.

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