Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
I. The Messianic Banquet
A. Isaiah's description
The prophet Isaiah describes a banquet that takes place on a mountaintop. It's a banquet that everyone from every nation on earth is invited to attend. It's a banquet where Lord God Himself is the chef and the host. 'On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.' (Is.25:6).
As fantastic as the food itself is, it's the health benefits that are derived from eating this food that make this banquet the incredible, divine meal that it is. You eat the food, and 'he will swallow upon the covering [of sin] that is cast over you. You eat this food, and 'He will swallow the veil [of unrighteousness] that is spread over you. You eat this food and 'he will swallow up your death forever.' You eat this food, and 'He will wipe away the tears from your face.' You eat this food, 'and He will take away the reproach our your guilt.'
And the confidence with which you may believe this is based, not on your feelings or reason or even your faith. It is based solely on the Word of God ' 'For the Lord has spoken.'
This is the great 'messianic banquet' that Isaiah is describing. On the last day, the call will go out that the banquet is ready and the dinner bell will sound. Actually, it'll be trumpets. But you'll know it when you hear it.
B. Jesus' description
Jesus picks up right where Isaiah left off. 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.' This is the same banquet. The king of heaven is the host and the occasion is the wedding of his son.
This is the same Father and Son as in the previous parable that Jesus told about the Kingdom of Heaven that we heard last Sunday. Remember, the father sent his son to the vineyard to collect the fruit. Now we know what the fruit was for. It was for the wedding banquet. But the tenants 'threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.'
Now that's strange, because here's the son, alive again, and not only alive but married. Do you think that Jesus realized the inconsistency in these two stories? Or do you think that Matthew recorded them in the wrong sequence? Or do you think that as Jesus tells these parables on Tuesday of holy week before Good Friday, He's already got Easter Sunday on His mind? Already, Jesus is anticipating the celebration and the festivities and the joy of the 'messianic banquet.'
II. Wedding Invitations
A. The Invitation Refused
Just think about the planning and preparations that go into a successful wedding reception. Maybe you can remember your own wedding, or maybe you it was your son or daughter's wedding. There's the hall that must be reserved WITH A DEPOST. A band or DJ booked, WITH A DEPOSIT. A menu prepared, a guest list pounded out, invitations printed and mailed. And then, the meals are ordered AND PAID FOR. And then, finally, comes the big day.
How would you have felt if some of those who had been invited and who had committed to come to your wedding, never showed up. And when you later asked them why, they said, 'I was busy.' 'Something else came up.' 'I had a meeting I had to go to.' Can you image that?
In Jesus' day, there were two separate announcements that a banquet was to be held. The first was the invitation and the amount of food and wine needed was determined from the number of invitations delivered. In a time before refrigeration, whatever meat that was slaughtered and food prepared for the banquet, had to be eaten or it would go to waste. The second invitation alerted everyone that the banquet was ready.
The king 'called THOSE WHO WERE INVITED.' He invited the invited ones. No one comes who hasn't received the invitation. 'See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.'
But can you believe it, when the time for the banquet to begin, the invited didn't come. 'But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants treated them shamefully and killed them.'
Some said they were too busy and they simply didn't have time to attend, other things were more important. And others despised the king so much that very thought of attending a wedding banquet for his son made them furious and in their anger, they killed the messenger.
The long and the short of it was, 'they would not come.' They were not willing.
We should hear this sad and terrible reaction against the words that Jesus will speak the very next day. 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it! How often I WOULD HAVE GATHERED YOUR CHILDREN TOGETHER, but YOU WERE NOT WILLING.' (Mat.23:37).
What does this mean that 'they would not,' that they 'paid no attention,' that one 'went to his farm, another to his business,' that they 'seized his servants shamefully and murderously'?
What else could it possibly mean but that they lost interest in the banquet. They got busy with life and the farm and the job and these things became more important to them. The call went out to come to the feast, but they were neither hungry nor thirsty. They thought that they were doing a pretty good job of balancing 'God and Mammon,' but when the time had fully come, they realized that Mammon had more control over them than they thought.
This is a lesson directed to the 'invited ones.' How did they know that they were one of the 'invited ones'? In the Old Testament, the sign that they were one of the 'invited ones,' was the sign of circumcision. In the New Testament, it's the sign of the cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart that you received in your baptism. You want to know if you have been invited to this banquet? Don't check your feelings or your reason or even your faith. Are you baptized? 'For the word of the Lord has spoken.'
The point is, this parable is directed to the baptized. Even the baptized can be overcome by the cares and riches of this world and choked by false teaching, and reject the invitation we have received. Can you imagine that?
B. The Anger of the King
All of this sounds incredibly rude and inconsiderate enough, until we are reminded that this is not just the invitation of a friend or classmate or even a relative, but that this is the King and King's son who is being rejected.
Remember the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton this past April and the hubbub over who received an invitation and who didn't. Do you think that even one person who was invited failed to attend? 'Sorry, I'm busy.' 'I would but you know cows, they've got to be milked.' Are you kidding?
But this is the King of the Kingdom of Heaven who is God the Father almighty. And this is the wedding of the King's Son who is Jesus Christ our Lord. And you are the bride of Christ. This is not simply rude and insensitive. This is the rejection of God the Father and His Son, your husband, Jesus Christ. It's the refusal to show up at your own wedding reception.
'The king was angry and he sent troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.' The wrath of God is real and to be feared. The Father honors those who honor His Son. Likewise, He dishonors those who dishonor His Son.
III. The Unprepared Guest
A. The Banquet Hall Filled.
He sends more servants out to the highways and byways. They're to invite everyone, 'the good and the bad.' There's food to be eaten and wine to be drunk, and for the sake of the food and the wine, the banquet hall is to be filled.
And it shouldn't surprise us that their were plenty of men and women, boys and girls, who were both good and bad, who were thrilled to receive an invitation to the banquet. 'So the wedding hall was filled with guests.'
B. The Unprepared Guest
And don't we wish that Jesus had ended this story right there. But there is a problem with one guest. 'But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.
Here is a person who had received an invitation to come to the banquet. And I'm sure he was glad to have been invited and glad to be present. But there is something is terribly wrong about this person. And whatever it is, there's no hiding it. In this sea of people from every nation, multitudes upon multitudes, he stands out like a sore thumb before the King. He's wearing the wrong clothes.
No one is really sure how to connect the detail of a 'wedding garment' to first century, middle-eastern wedding customs. There's no real evidence that guests were given special garments to wear to the banquet. (Which is a shame because that ruins a whole lot of clever sermon illustrations about this wedding garment.)
So in keeping with Jesus' analogy of this man's problem to his clothing, lets just say that here is a man who has received an invitation to this banquet and who gladly attended, but who had never changed. He was still wearing the same dirty jeans and smelly t-shirt and worn out sneakers as he was wearing when he had received the invitation.
He hadn't changed. No repentance. No reform of his sinful life. He must have thought that since the invitation was by grace alone that he could continue in his sin and that it didn't matter if he never changed.
Or, maybe he had changed. Maybe he had made big changes in his life in keeping with God's Commandments. And maybe he was so proud of the changes that he had made in his life that wore his goodness like a brand new suit for everyone to see and admire. Especially for the King and the King's Son to admire. Surely they would be impressed and probably they'd be very glad that he had decided to attend. He didn't realize that he was naked.
And the King said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment'?
The king asks the man a question. He waits for an answer. But 'he was speechless.' He said nothing. Why was he 'speechless'? Why did he say nothing? Did he not know, did he not perceive, that this King who extended His invitation by grace must also be merciful and abounding in steadfast love?
If only he had replied to the King's question, 'I'm sorry. All my life I have lived with the belief that you would never see me as I really am. I never thought that you would notice me. I always thought that I could serve God and Mammon. I am a fool and I am ashamed and I have no excuse, and I beg you to have mercy upon me and forgive me all of my sin.'
What if he could think of nothing to say except the words of that hymn he had learned in church, 'Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, are my beauty, my glorious dress'? (LW #563).
What do you think the King's response would have been? Surely it would have been different. 'But he was speechless.' How can there be any participation in this 'messianic banquet' where there is no confession and repentance; where we do not take off our old, dirty clothes and put on the righteousness of Christ we received in our baptism?
'He was speechless' because he had no faith. 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.'
An older hymnal includes this ancient prayer in the preparation for Holy Communion. 'Strip off from us the spotted garments of our flesh and of our own righteousness, and adorn us with the garments of the righteousness that Thou hast purchased with Thy blood.'
The day will come when we will hear the King announce, 'everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' And we will come out of our graves and be seated at the messianic banquet on the mountain of the Lord.
But until that day comes, the King has sent His Son down from the mountain to us, and the announcement is heard, 'Everything is ready.' 'Take and eat; take and drink.' It's a foretaste of the feast to come.