Sermon for Trinity 20
Isaiah 55:1-9 + Ephesians 5:15-21 + Matthew 22:1-14
Come. The invitation goes out to you, to each one of you. Come. God Himself is the one inviting. Come to the feast that God has prepared. Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
See! This feast is free. It’s a feast of forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. It’s a feast where sin cannot harm, where the devil cannot accuse, where hatred has no place and where hell and condemnation are vanquished.
The feast is a wedding banquet, the wedding of God with sinners—which is just too incredible to believe, and yet, believe it. The holy God, the loving God has chosen to feast with unholy, unloving people, but there’s only way for that to happen. A cleansing must take place. God’s eternal Son had to join himself to our humanity and become Man and suffer and die and rise from the dead in order to cleanse a Church for himself with a baptismal cleansing that sprinkles sinners with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, where sins are washed away and the dead are raised to life, where sinners are born again and incorporated into the Bride of Christ.
This is the wedding that Paul describes in Ephesians 5, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
In our Gospel, Jesus describes in a parable how the Jewish people were invited to this feast ahead of time, before the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling among us. They were invited by the Prophets to trust in the Christ whom God had promised to send, and when He came, they were invited by John the Baptist and by Jesus Himself to come to Him, to believe in Him and to rejoice in His salvation.
But they wouldn’t, most of them. They wouldn’t come. They didn’t want to come. Why? Because water means little to people who aren’t thirsty, and food is meaningless to those who are already stuffed. Even with all their burdensome laws and rules and regulations, the Jews still wanted to feast with God in some other way than through faith in His Son. Even though God’s grace is free, and He offers wine and milk without money and without price, they were determined to pay for it, to earn it. They wanted praise from God for their good works, for their good lives. The last thing they wanted to do was to check their own worthiness at the door and dine with Jesus.
Here’s how Jesus describes the response of the Jewish people to God’s invitation. They paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. Some made excuses and simply didn’t follow Jesus. Others got angry at the prophets for telling the truth and killed them. And when Jesus came, when the feast was ready, when God came down to earth to cleanse sinners from their sins, they killed Jesus, too. And this same pattern of rejection, apathy and persecution of the Gospel has repeated itself and will continue to repeat itself until Jesus comes again.
How did God respond to their excuses? How did God respond to their persecution of His prophets? How did God respond to their crucifixion of His Son? The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. God rejected the Jewish nation, for the most part, and continues to reject those who turn down His gracious invitation, those who seek salvation somewhere else, those who persecute the prophets and apostles and ministers who are sent by God.
But God doesn’t cancel His feast. His Son has been sent. His blood has been shed, and God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, to come to this feast, to know the love of Christ and to receive forgiveness from His hand.
He sends out His servants—the Apostles, and their successors—pastors who proclaim the Gospel of Christ. He sends them out to gather the Gentiles, like you and me, to bring us to faith in Christ through His Gospel, to bring us into His feast through Holy Baptism and to feed and nourish our faith with Word and Sacrament.
See how the king describes us—like people just hanging around on the side of the road, both bad and good. You don’t get into this feast by your goodness and you aren’t kept out by your badness. It’s all about Christ. It’s by faith in Christ that we come in. And God the Holy Spirit will continue to fill the wedding hall with guests until Jesus returns for judgment.
And when He returns, all those who are outside the wedding hall—unbelievers, non-Christians—will be locked out forever. But Jesus also issues a warning for those who are inside. 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.
What is this about the wedding garment? In the parable, it has to do with a special robe that the king had provided to all of his guests, but this man wasn’t wearing it. The robe is Christ and His perfect righteousness which we put on by faith in Him. He has given this robe to everyone who comes to baptism, but tragically, many who are once baptized fall away from faith and will be found on the Last Day not wearing the robe they were once given. They are the Christians who were once baptized but wander away from the Church. They are the Christians who know the Gospel, but still cling to works, still cling to self, still cling to something more than Christ and His Gospel. They are Christians in name, but not in faith, and therefore, also not in genuine works of love, which only flow from faith. Their fate, in the end, will be the same as those who rejected the king’s invitation in the first place.
Why does Jesus end His parable on this sour note? Because He loves us. He loves you and He wants you to remain firmly rooted in Him with a living faith—the kind that looks to Him alone for forgiveness, for strength, for comfort and peace. The kind that is satisfied with Christ, that longs for Christ and loves Him as a bride loves the groom. The kind of faith that trusts in Him when the earth itself seems to give way under you feet. The kind of faith that allows you to stand against the world for the sake of His Gospel, and to suffer all things, even death, rather than forsake it or compromise it, even a little bit.
That faith will not disappoint you. It has not disappointed us, because Christ reigns at the right hand of God and works all things together for good to those who love Him. He has demonstrated His power and His grace in our midst and has stood by us and caused His Gospel to stand.
Now He continues to call you by the Gospel, to invite you to remain in Him, to keep trusting in Him. He gives you His Word. He gives you His body and blood. Come. Come to the feast. Come, not as a spectator, but as one who is included in the Bride. Come. Because at this feast which is Christ, there is forgiveness, there is life, and there is salvation, for you. Through Jesus Christ alone. Amen.