Trinity 20 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
If all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, is the Christian life a history, tragedy, or comedy?
Histories tell of the life and times of a monarch. If friend, then the virtues are described and, if foe, the vices. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matthew 22:2), but the Christian life is not a history.
So, a tragedy, then. These are full of dramatic scenes and death. Jesus says, “[Those who rejected the king’s invitation] seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:6-7).
That’s a dramatic scene! And there sure is death. But, no matter how many scenes are made, no matter, even, of the certainty and inevitability of death, the Christian life is not a tragedy.
The Christian life is a comedy.
The hallmarks of a comedy include family tensions (anybody ever have any of that?). Comedies include complex, interwoven plots (Are you ever dripping in drama? Or have you ever exulted in how small the world is, after all?). And while these often make a comedy recognizable, above all else, a comedy, at the end, has a wedding—a happy and good ending.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matthew 22:2).
He doesn’t say, “Once upon a time…” Ours is no fairy tale.
Jesus shows us what His reign and rule—the kingdom of God—the kingdom of heaven—what Christians enjoy now in the foretaste of the feast to come and in the Word of God proclaimed—what we will all enjoy even more in the heavenly feast of victory, prepared for us in the presence of our enemies—Jesus shows us what His reign and rule is like.
He compares it to a wedding feast.
At the end of all this, there’ll be wedding and a feast—and it will be glorious.
But we have to get there.
And that can feel like a history, taking forever to get there, and it certainly has it’s share of things tragic, death included. But the Christian’s life, your life, has a happy ending.
Like all comedies, from the beginning, we know how it ends:
With a wedding and feast.
But did you notice how Jesus describes the wedding feast?
The only descriptors He uses, specifically for the wedding feast, are “prepared” and “ready,” which are synonymous with “punctual.”
It might seem like this is a boring wedding feast, but Jesus doesn’t have to tell us what everyone knows—this is the best feast, the best party, the best shindig you’ll ever hear about, and to refuse the invitation is tantamount to idiocy.
If it were a boring feast, it would mean nothing that “[those who were invited] paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5).
We don’t need to be told that the wedding feast of the prince is the most amazing thing ever. We don’t need to be told that the kingdom of heaven is the most amazing thing ever.
Parables, in some respects, work with what we know.
Heaven and the kingdom of heaven is likened to different things in Scripture. Today, a wedding feast, but elsewhere, heaven is like church.
I’ll be honest, when I was a kid, there was no worse way to incentivize heaven than to say that it was like church on a Sunday morning.
But Scripture doesn’t liken heaven and the kingdom of heaven to church in Girard and Virden, Illinois (or anywhere else on earth, for that matter).
People won’t be reluctant to say “Amen!” in heaven. They won’t be reluctant to sing. There’ll be no half-hearted “hear our prayer’s” or unintelligible “Alleluia’s.”
The music in heaven won’t be played over loud speakers from a laptop that occasionally slows down because Windows 10 is forcing it to update.
When I say that heaven is like church, I don’t mean it. But that’s what Scripture teaches, and it’s true, because if you love the bride and groom, the wedding feast is always a good time. And if you love the Bride and Groom, the Church and Jesus Christ her Lord, if you love that Bride and Groom, church is always a good time.
To comfort us, Jesus works with what we know.
How much joy does the groom have? And how much joy, the bride? The wedding feast is the culmination of days, weeks, and years, depending on what you’re looking at.
“[The king] sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast…saying…’See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast” (Matthew 22:3-4).
Consider the husband.
Now, he has someone to give himself to completely. He has a purpose, an end, a reason to be.
For a friend, or even a righteous person, a man will work hard, but for his wife, a husband is prepared, even, to lay down his life. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24). The whole world sees his commitment, his love.
And now, consider the wife.
Her heart clings to her husband as to priceless treasure. In him, she knows and has honor. In him, she has protection. Help in any need and strength that cannot, that will not break.
We know how much joy there is at a wedding feast.
We know how much joy there is between husband and wife.
So, consider that Jesus tells this parable using what we know to tell us all of His great love for us—the Groom’s great love for His Bride.
“Christ has loved the church, giving Himself up for her, to sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, to present the Church, His Bride, to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle…that she would be holy and without blemish” (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27).
To win you away from death and hell, Jesus endured cross and shame. The victory remains with Christ.
He doesn’t forgive some sins but all.
He doesn’t ask you to wash up, He cleanses you.
He doesn’t lay out the dress and say, “Get ready;” He presents you to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish.
Bold—not bland—forgiveness is won upon the cross.
And buoyant—not blue—joy is given to you at the feast.
Consider what we know about husbands and wives, weddings and feasts.
“[Jesus] came that [you] may have [forgiveness, life, and salvation] and [those] abundantly” (cf. John 10:10).
Now, in the parable, we also need to make these distinctions.
There are those who are invited (who reject the invitation) and there are those who are, originally, not invited (who, later, receive the invitation with joy such that the wedding hall is filled with guests).
Here, Jesus identifies the Jews as those who received the invitation and rejected it.
With whom does God cut a covenant? To whom does God send His servants, the prophets? And who does not heed the warning?
Judges chapter two verse seventeen: “[Israel] did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so” (Judges 2:17).
And Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, [but you would not]” (Matthew 23:37).
Going so far as to kill the servants of the king who desired nothing more than to rejoice with them, the Jews, “those murderers,” (Matthew 22:7) are destroyed, and their city, burned.
The invitation, then, is passed to us. “’The wedding feast is ready, but those invited [first] were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So, the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matthew 22:8-10).
This is how the gospel came to the Gentiles, to us. This doesn’t mean that all Jewish people will be damned, but “a partial hardening has come upon Israel” (Romans 11:25).
St. Paul writes in Romans chapter eleven: “As regards the gospel, [the Jews] are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:28-32).
The invitation is to all. The Word of God is to all.
And worthy to enter the feast is the one who hears, believes, and does it—Jew or Gentile.
That’s the first distinction.
The second is similar.
“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’” (Matthew 22:11-13).
Hear this warning: there are those among us who are not worthy. The wedding hall is filled with guests, “good and bad” (Matthew 22:10), Jesus says.
The fate of the bad is this: Bondage. Slavery. Bound hand and foot, from this punishment there is no escape. Cast. Thrown. Ejected. The unworthy are taken from the place honor and sent away—into the outer darkness—where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Jesus uses intense language to describe hell, because no one wants to believe that such a place exists. He has to give us these details—you have to know them—so that you will hear the invitation, heed this warning, and enter worthily into the feast.
And consider—the opposite of that man’s fate belongs to the Christian.
In heaven, the Christian cannot sin but is perfectly free. He is not cast but carried and comforted. He is with the Light of the World, there is no darkness. And with Him, like any wedding feast when you love the Bride and Groom, there is joy and rejoicing.
“Many are called…” That is, all are invited.
“…But few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Few hear the word of God, believe it, and do it.
We know how this comedy ends—with a wedding (of Christ and His Church)—and a feast (where you, and all believers in Christ, are worthy).
We know how it ends—with a good and happy ending. Forever and ever.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!