In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Jesus’ parable tells the history of salvation. Creation needed a Savior from sin and death, a Savior whom the Father promised to send. Then the fullness of time came, the Savior was born of a Virgin, shown to be God and Man, the One promised since the Fall into sin. He began His public ministry of calling sinners to repentance, to tell God’s chosen people that the Long-expected had come. But His own received Him not. They rejected the messengers who prepared the way, and by that they rejected the One who was coming. They didn’t think it was important. So they went back to their farms, to their businesses, to whatever else seemed more important than the gracious invitation to eternal life. But some didn’t simply reject the invitation. They couldn’t stand that One had come who would give His gifts to those who seemed unworthy, who hadn’t made themselves good enough, so they killed the messengers and killed the Son Himself. The King, God the Father, in His righteous anger allows for their destruction. The Temple in which they hoped and trusted, their promised city were all destroyed. So God extends His gracious invitation. Those invited first refused, but He is not content to have His banquet hall empty. He gathers the Gentiles into the great Wedding Feast. The Gospel reaches out and gathers a people for God.
But we find out that it’s not enough to merely be in the wedding hall. Attendance isn’t enough. In the Parable the King inspected the gathered guests looking for the wedding garment. But this garment isn’t something you have to come up with on your own. With the invitation comes the wedding garment. So, what is it? It’s nothing other than the righteousness of Jesus Christ covering your sin, not just hiding it from God’s eyes, but washing it away, making it as if it never existed in the first place.
Isaiah talks about this garment: “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” (Is. 61:10). When did God clothe you with the garment of salvation and the robe of righteousness? At your Baptism, as St. Paul reminded the Galatians: “For as many of you as were Baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). That’s why the historic Church practice was to place a white robe on the newly Baptized. When the Holy Spirit called you into life in Christ at your Baptism, you were given this garment of salvation to wear. But as St. Paul warned the Ephesians in today’s Epistle, “the days are evil,” so we must “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,” or, in other words, we must be careful in our lives and conduct and consider this garment, that we do not despise it or cast it off and be found without it.
The man bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth wasn’t always without his wedding garment. He had been given it when he heard and accepted the gracious invitation to come to the feast. But at some point he decided he could go without it. This can be understood in two ways. Perhaps he didn’t want to wear the wedding garment, he didn’t want to guard his life and conduct because he would rather enjoy sin. He thought he could appear righteous when it benefitted him, and then indulge to his heart’s content the rest of the time. Instead of turning to his Baptism, to the power and work of the Holy Spirit given there to reject sin and its evil desires, he was indulging his sinful nature. Maybe he said in his heart, “What an arrangement! I like to sin and God likes to forgive!” This is to take the wedding garment, Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness bought with His innocent suffering and death and precious Blood, and treat it with contempt, to cheapen it, to make it your plaything. Instead of using it to cover your sinfulness and live in true repentance, it is dragged through the mud. The second way to understand the man’s lack of a wedding garment is to think he assumed he didn’t need Christ’s righteousness because his own was quite beautiful. That is to say, he was self-righteous. Either way you interpret it, being without the wedding garment because you would rather sin or because you think yourself to be good enough, lands you in the outer darkness. Why? Because both despise the gift of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness, given without any cost to you.
So, what’s the solution? None of us can have a Pharisaic retort, “I thank You, God, that I am not like other men.” This man being cast into the outer darkness describes us all. Not one of us is free from sin and the desire to sin. Do we keep sinning so that grace may abound? Certainly not! The solution is to live by faith. How does faith live? Faith always desires to be where the gifts of God are freely given out. Why? Because faith knows that it needs to be fed and strengthened. “Strong faith never says, ‘I am strong.’ Strong faith does not feel strong. It feels weak. When it feels its weakest, when it is most dependent upon the grace of God, when it recognizes how frail it is, then it is strong. When you feel strong you are deluded and easily misled. Faith lives best on its knees, ears and mouth open to hear and receive the Word of God and the forgiveness of sins. Strong faith is not so given to praise as it is to confession. The devil seeks to drive you to despair by showing you your unworthiness. … But awareness of that unworthiness is actually good for faith. It directs [you] to the One who is worthy, to the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. The Law serves the Gospel. You repent that you might believe and be saved.” (Rev. David Petersen, Redeemer, Fort Wayne)
And you are saved, not because of your own works, because you brought yourself here today or because you were really good yesterday. You are saved because of the holiness of Jesus. Jesus took on flesh and blood, and was nailed to the cross. There the Father clothed Him with your shame, your guilt, your sin. On Calvary He took your sins to that in Baptism you are clothed with His righteousness. This is the happy exchange. You have nothing to give but your sin, and God will accept nothing else from you. He has nothing to give but His righteousness, and that is what He freely gives.
It doesn’t matter how you may have soiled your wedding garment, or that you may have cast it aside. What matters is that you are invited. God wants you here to purify you, to clothe you. He has sent His messengers to bring you in. You are Baptized. He has placed His Name upon you. He has sworn that He will never forsake you or forget you. He will love you to the very end. He keeps His Word. He provides all you need. You are clothed, not by your works, but by His righteousness, His perfection, His grace, His holy death and resurrection. Jesus is here for you, in Word and Sacrament, to give you what you need, to keep your faith strong, to keep Himself in you and you in Him.
What you receive here is what Isaiah was talking about: “Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Here is the Bread from heaven that feeds the soul, that is given to you without price. Come, be the King’s guest as He feeds you with Himself for the forgiveness of sins, as a foretaste of what is to come. You are clothed for this banquet with the only garment that matters: the righteousness of Christ made yours today and for all eternity.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).