Admission to God’s Eternal Feast - Pentecost 19
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 22:1-14
October 11, 2020

Dear friends in Christ, Jesus speaks to us another parable today. The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a marriage feast for his son. And the king sent his servants to tell those who had been invited that the feast was ready. But they disregarded it and would not come. Then the king sent his servants to go out into the streets and invite as many as would come. Many came, both good and bad, and the banquet hall was full. Then there was a man there who did not have a wedding garment on. He did not have the required credentials. He could not stay. So he was removed from the feast. There was weeping and grinding of teeth (Mat. 22:1-14). 

There are issues that Jesus pictures for us. These are issues of ultimate destiny and ultimate importance. He speaks to us of the culmination of all things and whether we will be there in the good place when that time comes. The marriage feast is when He returns and gathers His people to Himself in resurrection from the dead and eternal life. It was what Isaiah talks about: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever.”

If there is one thing any human being should want to aspire to with their whole being, it would be to be sure they were at this feast. This king is not one to be ignored. The son of this king is one to be held in the highest honor and respect. And this feast promises a reality of life, and peace, and joy that never ends.

So the feast is ready, and the call goes out: Come to the feast. It’s time. All the provisions have been made. There is the best food and drink, and it is excellently prepared.

But now look what happens. Those who were invited began to decline (Mat. 22:5). The word Jesus used here has the idea that they didn’t care. They did not regard the king’s feast as important. They had much more important things to do. They had busy schedules. They couldn’t be bothered by something that seems irrelevant to daily life, they think. They declined to attend the feast. One had to go take care of his fields. One had to go take care of his business. After all, taking care of the fields is now and immediate. It has to do with this life and its concerns which are paramount and supremely important. How could going to the feast of some body else’s son have as much importance as the immediacy of one’s life and its cares and concerns right now?

And then some of them may have thought that there is just the irrelevance of what is involved in the wedding feast. Maybe if attending the feast could do me some good directly toward growing crops or growing my business, it would be worthwhile. But since it is irrelevant to those things, they think, well, let’s just say, “I have more important things to do and be concerned about. It is the now that matters. Don’t bother me with hope about the future and eternal prospects.”

By having these characters in the story who don’t care about attending the feast, Jesus urges us to take stock of just how important our relationship with God is. And we only learn this through His word. We only come into this relationship through redemption and the Gospel of Christ. We only have these things in the ministry and life of the church, where the church is being true to God’s word and Christ’s Gospel.

Jesus urges us to believe that these things are the most important things in our lives. Our businesses, work, and the things of life are very important. No doubt about it. But there is nothing more important than the things that have to do with our Christian faith. Nothing. And standing at the center of it, as the focal point and point of all departure, is Jesus Himself. To know Him is the most important thing for us humans, because knowing Him involves eternal destiny.  

To know Jesus is peace and joy, over against worry and bitter disappointment and sorrow. It is goodness and righteousness in the washing away of sin over the remorse, emptiness, brokenness and guilt of sin. It is life over death. It is immortality over mortality. It is never ending community with God and His people, over against alienation and loneliness and conflict and fear. It is the hope of deliverance from bitter disappointment with oneself, over what we have done.

But life presses upon us with the temptation that the most important things pertain to the now and getting on in the world. Contemplating the eternal future which orients a person toward God and Christ and redemption and what is truly pure, and just and chaste, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8), just does not seem relevant or helpful to the now. It is not how one gets ahead, many people think.

But then do people realize that the “now” is slipping away under our feet faster than we think. We realize this in that moment when we look back at the accumulation of years and wonder how it went so fast. The now is moving quickly toward the eternal fork in the road.

So how do we become ready? This is to say, how do we get admitted to the feast?

There are two things. One is that we are admitted by being invited, by being called.

This call is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It tells us about who He is as our brother and our God. It tells us about the preparation He has made in atoning sacrifice for our sins and being the first fruits from the dead. This translates for us into forgiveness, being clothed in His righteousness, so we can participate in His life in reality of new creation. As we hope in Him, we participate in His reality. What He is is what we will be. In His righteous, we will be righteous too. He lives in the reality of new creation as He has risen from the dead. We too live now in the hope of new creation as we will rise in His resurrection. He is the Son whose marriage it is. We will join Him in the marriage feast in the new creation that He Himself has accomplished for us. Indeed, we are Christ’s bride, the one to be joined to Him such that His future is our future; the reality that He lives in is our reality. His joy and peace and His creative work will be our joy and peace and the creative work we live in where there will be no evil, or death, forever. You are called by this Gospel, invited to believe it.

Here is the second thing. Jesus talks about this in connection with one person in the parable who was sitting at table in the feast without a wedding garment. So, he could not stay.

The need for a wedding garment teaches us that a person cannot get into the feast and be able to remain wearing their own clothes. The clothes have to be given by the host. And it is only wearing the clothes given by the host that allows one to enter and remain. One’s own clothes do not gain admission to this feast.

Another way to think of it is as credentials. You need credentials to enter this feast. These are credentials you don’t have in your own person, in any way. These credentials are given to you by the host. These are the only credentials that the king will recognize. The person in the parable did not have the garment given by the king. He or she did not have the credentials that were needed. 

The clothing we need is righteousness, because this is God’s feast. The credentials we need are “You are innocent.” But we are not righteous in ourselves, not in a way that makes the grade. And we are not innocent. It seems that people who neglect the call don’t really understand this. And so they don’t heed the call to the feast. Or, if they respond to the call at least to come, they think they get in and remain in their own clothes, in the credentials of their own person. But Jesus tells us that it does not work that way.

Here is how it works. Jesus is righteous. Jesus is innocent. And in His innocent death as the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world, you and I are innocent before the king as we lay claim to the forgiveness offered to us in Jesus’s Name. This laying claim is faith, trusting that Jesus is the gift of righteousness and innocence that gets us into the feast.

Indeed, Christ Himself is our righteousness. Christ Himself is our credentials. To enter, the secret password is “Christ is my righteousness.” On His holy blood I lean. He takes away my sins. My innocence in Him I claim. I abandon my own clothes. I abandon any claims I could possibly make to my own credentials. As I lean on Jesus name, I put Him on, so to speak, as my righteousness before the Father. This is faith in Him, and through this faith God regards me as righteous and admits me to the feast, forever.

Jesus comes to us to be our claim in the Gospel of Christ, in absolution, in Holy Baptism, and in the Lord’ Supper. We know these things from God’s word. In these things, God the Father offers to cloth you in the righteousness of His Son. In these things He give you the wedding garment, which is Christ Himself. Being attentive to these things we will be ready when the call comes to be admitted to the feast and remain forever. For when we are admitted to the feast that day through faith in Christ, we will find that being devoted to Christ and the ministry of the Gospel will be its own reward. For we will find ourselves in faith, prepared by the Gospel to know Christ and to lean on Him. And then this saying will be true of you: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:8-9)

Amen.

  



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