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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
Matthew 22:1 And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, 2 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, 3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. 4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. 5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: 6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. 7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. 9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. 11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
Many puzzle over the nature of salvation, why some are saved and inherit eternal life, and why others are not and then deserve eternal damnation in Hell. This parable is a clear, plain message about that topic. We have no reason to be confused, because Jesus teaches us in the clearest way about this subject.
We know this parable is about salvation, because the term used in the beginning is exactly the same as we find in another passage. The wedding guests were called or invited.
Matthew 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The call or invitation of God is the preaching of the Law and Gospel. Salvation comes only through Christ and only through the Gospel. The Gospel demands faith and also provides faith in the promises of God.
In this parable, the invitation is sent to the normal guests. We can assume that these people are the Jews. Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah to His own people, to invite them to enjoy the blessings promised since the beginning of time. They refused, like the people in the parable. God did not reject the Jews out of hand for their ingratitude. He also sent Paul and the apostles to preach the Gospel to them in the synagogues. For their trouble they were excommunicated, literally thrown out. They were so successful, according to Martin Chemnitz, that the Talmud was created as a barrier against evangelizing Jews.
Jewish tradition is now so strong that it is almost impossible to get past that barrier of Talmudic lore, salvation by works, and ingrained attitudes to speak about the Gospel. Nevertheless, some do and some Jews are converted to the Christian faith. I said once humorously that Jews do not become Christians in these modern times and a Lutheran in the audience said that in fact his family was Jewish and he became a Christian. In addition, a Missouri Synod pastor, Ed Balfour, who enjoys the bulletins from Chemnitz Press, is a Jew who became an orthodox Lutheran. In Maine, he is quite successful, as they measure these things.
The parable is quite long in telling how the king continues to invite people to His wedding feast. The king is God the Father. Jesus uses the wedding feast image because we all know how significant a wedding is for family and friends. We may not attend a graduation or another ceremony, but we are most likely to attend a wedding. How many of us would have flown to the royal wedding of the century, even if we did not know the House of Windsor?
The King invites the guests a second time, showing us that God is patient with people who reject His Word. This begging seems almost unseemly and we cannot imagine any earthly king sending out a second wave of invitations. But the Gospel invitation is different. God shows His mercy and loving-kindness by proclaiming the Gospel through various people. When our children learn the Gospel from us and repeat their faith, God uses them as additional conduits of His message. They are often especially effective, because the Word is not watered down with so many adult contingencies, hemming and hawing, explaining away, and wondering how.
One man with tremendous personal problems said that he was always struck by hearing his own children in the Christmas program repeat the message of the Bible and do so with obvious faith.
In the parable, the people not only scoff at the invitation, which we see every day, but they also kill the servants who invite them to the wedding feast. The Christian Church has a history, from the beginning, of having its faithful teachers murdered, persecuted, driven out, and reduced to extreme poverty. When this happens, God responds in wrath. He allows people who will not tolerate the truth in freedom to be enslaved by false teachers.
In America people just starting to realize that the sound Lutheran pastors they took for granted are missing. They are retiring, leaving the ministry, or being driven out. I can list ministers and leaders from any given Lutheran group in the past—inclucing the so-called liberal groups—who could not get a call anywhere in Lutheranism today. Notice this irony, the “liberals” of the past would not get a toe-hold in WELS or Missouri or the CLC today. I mean the men who were not in the Synodical Conference in their lifetimes, such men as R. C. H. Lenski, M. Reu, Matthias Loy, Henry E. Jacobs, Krauth, and others. We take for granted what we have in abundance. In those days one could find one little seminary after another where the Word was taught with far more clarity than today.
I met a sincere Lutheran who said, in all honesty, that he wanted to become a pastor, but could not attend any seminary, because he would come home with false doctrine and then be alienated from his parents.
So we see in this parable the angry king sending in troops to kill those who would not accept the invitation sent twice. God uses calamities to help people repent. People make fun of the Victorian Age, which was a time of peace. Queen Victoria and her husband were sincere Christians devoted to their country and to their duty. The Czar of Russia studied the Scriptures and prayed with his family before they were all murdered by the Communists who held them prisoner. The Victorian peace was followed by two world wars filled with incredible suffering.
God sent His Son and the apostles to invite His chosen people to share in the promise of eternal life through forgiveness of sin in Christ. Although there were remarkable successes at first, opposition set in and the Jewish people refused to hear the Gospel in any way. Then God sent Paul and others to the Gentiles.
Our forefathers were worshipping trees in the forest and rubbing themselves down with bear-grease when the Jews were hearing and studying the Scriptures of the Old Testament. In a foot-race they were 10 laps ahead. And yet our pagan forefathers heard the Word and received it gladly. The Gospel moved across the pagan world with amazing swiftness. Today we hear that the Church needs xerox machines, multi-media presentations, entertainment, faxes, and all the latest methods to make the Word work—and it doesn’t because it is no longer God’s Word but man’s cleverness. Then they had nothing and did everything. Now we have everything and say (statistically speaking) nothing.
We see also in this parable the startling image, that the guests are gathered from highways and byways, both bad and good. I have seen that repeatedly. When the Gospel is taught in its truth and purity, open sinners are attracted to hear the Word. It says, “the good and the bad.” We do not like to say that openly, but we know that Jesus was criticized specifically, by the Pharisees, for associating with open sinners, the worst of that time, tax collectors (for the Roman occupation troops) and prostitutes.
The distinction is not meant to teach us that some are sinners and some are not. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were good people who were also sinners. The thief on the cross was an obvious, open sinner, as were many who believed in Christ.
The term “worthy” is used in the parable. The worthy are those who hear the Gospel invitation and believe in Christ. The unworthy are those who do not believe. There is nothing but forgiveness received in faith. There is no forgiveness apart from faith in Christ.
Justification by faith means that God declares us innocent because Christ has paid for our sins on the cross. The worst criminal can and does receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus. The greatest and wisest, leaders in charity, often do not grasp the Gospel message because of their importance, power, outward righteousness, and man-made wisdom.
The last part of this long parable seems scary. We are used to thinking of Jesus as kind and gentle, and that is true. So why does He have the king spotting a guest without a proper garment on? The king has him tied up, hand and foot, thrown out, into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, the man is hurled into Hell for lacking a garment. “Many are called but few are chosen.”
The sermon hymn chosen answers the question about the garment. Edward Mote began the poem with the refrain and finished it after visiting a dying woman.
The ending of the parable is vivid so that we remember its point. It can comfort or alarm us. Sincere believers, the good and the bad, will be comforted, because the wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ.
The wedding feast is the visible Church. Many are invited, but few are elect. People join the church for many different reasons. We have always taught that the visible church is filled with sincere believers and unbelievers alike. Being a member of a church means nothing by itself. The name on the church means nothing. The confession of the members and pastor will help in guiding a person in the truth, if they are orthodox, but their orthodoxy will not substitute for someone’s lack of trust in the righteousness of Christ.
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
When I appear before Thy throne,
Thy righteousness shall be my crown,--
With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought
As Thine own bride I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside Thee.
Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
Some people, many people today, persecute the Gospel from inside the visible Church. They are the ones without the wedding garment. They are clothed in their own self-importance. I recall reading a book from a Methodist leader. He made fun of those who objected to his friends rejecting the Virgin Birth of Christ. He thought they were comical, pathetic, for thinking that doctrine so significant.
Wesley, a founder of Methodism, has a famous hymn where the phrase “Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb” was changed to “offspring of the Chosen One,” to spare the liberals who rejected the Virgin Birth. Some people thought it odd that the Methodists had to change their founder’s hymn in their hymnal to eliminate a reference to a central doctrine of the Christian faith.
So when people complain about the rough ending of this parable, think of the self-important people within the visible church who blaspheme God with impunity. They are the highest paid and the most powerful. But later, when they die, they will suffer eternally for thinking they are saved by their works, for misleading others, for murdering souls.
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” That is a warning. Once God has placed faith in our hearts, once the journey has begun, Satan and our sinful flesh compete to drag us off in another direction. Pilgrim’s Progress is an outstanding work, animated for children and adults, teaching how this can happen.
Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.