November 6, 2011

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

The Great Invitation
Matthew 22:1-14
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
November 6, 2011

Most people would love to receive an invitation to mingle with the rich and famous at an important event. The numerous magazines and news stories about so called, "celebrities" shows the public infatuation with these people, and, while most of us here are not "star struck," if the right famous person invited us to the right event, we would probably go. Yet our reading from Matthew tells the story of people who refuse the invitation of a king.

It is obvious that the king in the parable represents God and the wedding is a symbol of Christ and Heaven. But, strange as it may seem, most people refuse the king's invitation. In the parable, they made light of it and went about their lives as usual. Some even mistreated the king's servants. The first recipients of the invitation were the king's friends. They were the important people of the kingdom. They were those who seemed to support the king and like the king, and honour the king. But their friendship was proven false when they received the invitation, because they refused it. They didn't really want to be with the king. They didn't want to share his joy and celebrate with him at the wedding. They went to their farms and merchandise instead. They went to the things they valued. They went to their own possessions.

These people represent the many who refuse God's invitation of forgiveness and Heaven. Maybe they don't believe He has really invited them. Maybe they don't believe Jesus is really the only way, truth, and life. Maybe they don't believe Jesus is the only way to God. Maybe they think they don't need God. Maybe they are satisfied with their worldly possessions. Maybe they think they will live forever. Whatever their reason, they refuse the invitation, just as so many do today. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone would refuse Christ. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone would not run to Him and beg Him to forgive their manifold sins and wickedness. How can any person look at his or her own life and think he is prepared to stand before God without some kind of miracle that will forgive his sins?

The answer is that they believe they are righteous in their own right. The original targets of this parable were the priests and Pharisees of Israel. As Matthew 21:45 says, "when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them." These people thought they had earned every good thing God could give them because they were good and deserving people. When they prayed to God it was not to confess sin and seek mercy. They prayed to impress God with their goodness. "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are," said the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. He was saying, God, I am so glad I am not a sinner. I'm so happy I only do holy things. And, God, You must be very happy to have me on Your side.

But look at the end of these refusers. They are destroyed and their city is burned. Everything they valued is reduced to ashes, and their own lives are given up. The fire represents the fires of hell, the eternal sorrows of those who die and stand before God in the arrogance of their own righteousness. They will be cast into the lake of fire forever.

Now look at what happens; the king invites the average people, the ones who have nothing that would make them worthy to come to a wedding in the palace. They could not bring rich gifts; they could not dress up the wedding by their appearance. No one knew them or admired them, and no one would want to have their picture taken with them. They had nothing to offer the king, and he had nothing to gain by inviting them.

In the original parable, these people are the publicans and sinners of Israel. They are the ones the Pharisees hated because they were not very faithful in their performance of the religious ceremonies. In short, they were sinners. They were not just sinners in the eyes of the Pharisees, they were sinners in the eyes of God. The fact that the Pharisees distorted the meaning of the ceremonial law of Israel, does not excuse the rest of the Jews for not keeping it. So these people who neglected the law were committing a serious sin against God. But that was not their only sin. They were as guilty of breaking the moral law of God as the Pharisees were. "All have sinned," God tells us in Romans 3:23, and that includes the people in the highways as well as those in the Temple.

So we come to an important point of this story, and it is a critical point in the Bible; the only way we can get into the wedding, the only way we can get into Heaven, the only way we can become acceptable to God, is by Him doing something miraculous to take away our sin and guilt. In the parable, the people are dressed in wedding garments. Their old, street clothes, have been discarded, and new, glorious garments have been given to them. This represents that they have received the forgiveness of their sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Through Him, they have been invited to the feast and made acceptable to enter in and partake of it. But one man tries to get in without a wedding garment. He is trying to get into Heaven without Christ. But he is not received. He is cast into outer darkness

So the great invitation is for you and me. It is for all who are unworthy of God, all who realise that they have nothing to give, no way to earn their admission to Heaven. It is for those who will accept it as the free gift of God by trusting in Jesus Christ.

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