What’s your most embarrassing moment?
Mine might have been the Friday night, now some fifteen years ago, when I was to speak to a gathering of young people near L’viv, western Ukraine. My translator had earlier invited me to the event by telling me I was to “come as you are,” in regards to dress. A very fine American idiom.
But, when Slavic actually wheeled up in his Russian Lada, he was “dressed to the nines,” in suit and tie. Another fine idiom—one that doesn’t go at all with “come as you are”. I sported a windbreaker, Dockers, and (if I remember right) tennis shoes.
“Too late to change,” Slavic said. And, an hour later, we arrived—not at the venue for a youth gathering, but at the Friday evening service of the largest, the oldest, the most formal baptist church in that region of western Ukraine. And, I was the speaker.
Slavic took me to the basement where the senior leadership sat, circled in solemn prayer. They were not dressed “come as you are”; they wore their finest.
The prayer ended, and the oldest and senior man inspected me. After learning that I was “alone” in life (that is, single) and pronouncing me “too old to be alone,” he finished encouraging me and came to the point.
“We have a problem,” he announced, straightening himself in his chair. “In order to preach, you must wear a jacket …!”
There it was. It occurred to me to ask him if he “had a mouse in his pocket”. This wouldn’t have communicated, but WE clearly did not have a problem. Instead, I hung my head in shame.
At that moment, one of the young leaders had an idea. This man went to the closet and pulled out a suit jacket. It was white with blue stripes and didn’t match anything in the building. They called it the “general use jacket.” They kept it on hand, they said, for American visitors. I tried it on. It fit, and the evening was saved …
In that particular place, the “general use jacket” became the means by which I was allowed to address that particular group. In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22.1-14) another means becomes necessary to enter God’s presence.
The story in the parable takes place in an imaginative landscape involving a king, two sets of invited guests, and one unfit guest. These fictive characters point to the real events surrounding Jesus’ ministry, involving the rejection of His own people, the Jewish nation, as well as true followers, both Jews and non-Jews.
National invitation with rejection (:1-7). In the first scene, the king throws a banquet for his son. All the typical guests are invited, but to no avail. They mistreat his servants, and the king responds in judgment.
The wedding banquet imagery clearly points to Christ. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb … (Rev 19). Likewise, the rejection of the servants points to Israel’s treatment of the prophets. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her … (Matt 23). Finally, the judgement received foreshadows that received by the nation at the hands of Titus the Roman in 70 A.D.
International invitation with acceptance (:8-10). The second scene opens with the king’s servants now inviting new guests. They find these on the “main highway,” a word indicating the road out of town where those not belonging to the city congregate. … the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall see my glory, Isaiah 66 says. Those gathered now are “good and bad.” That is, they aren’t selected for their own moral virtues. They come because they’re asked.
And so, the wedding hall is filled. And, we can’t not think of Revelation 7: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes …
Rejection of an unfit guest (:11-14). The parable might end here. But, Jesus throws in a twist for those who might think that God has lowered His standard of holiness.
The king in the parable surveys his banquet hall and finds a man wearing no wedding clothes. The king calls him “Friend,” but questions him all the same: “How did you get in here without a wedding garment?”
The man is speechless and without excuse. He is immediately expelled. The garments are the key to the parable. While some commentators claim that the host of such a banquet might have furnished his guests with a garment himself, this can’t be supported from the parable. At the very least, the man ought to have changed into a new garment. The rejected guest was invited, but has by-passed the means to enter. He has taken advantage of the generosity of his host.
Jesus’ point now becomes clear: though God invites everybody to come to Him, only those who come through the proper means will enter His presence.
But, what is the proper means? How do we come fit for the king? Jesus leaves the question in the air, yet to be answered by His first listeners. We, however, have an advantage, as we look back at the cross through the New Testament.
Those who “get” Jesus come to God through the fitness (the righteousness) of Jesus.
Like the unfit guest, we have no righteousness of our own. Isaiah 64 makes the point: … all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. While invited to come to God, we’re unclothed while we’re yet in our sin.
Ah, but here’s the Good News! Jesus lived a fit life in our place. And, we receive His righteousness by trusting Him. As Romans 3 says, This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe …
The message of the story is that we may come to God as we are. But, we must come through Jesus.
This is a good word in a day when we often hear the Gospel expressed in the language of the giveaway. “It’s free! Just believe,” we like to say.
“It’s grace, and our salvation cost Jesus His life,” we’d be better off saying. And, with that heart of gratitude, we may truly “come as we are” to Christ and so be “fit for the king”.
Circle up with a group and consider the following questions:
Have you ever read this parable before? How has your understanding of this teaching of Jesus’ changed with this reading?
Does it bother you that the unfit guest is cast from the banquet? What might this third scene be telling us about the seriousness of being rightly clothed in Christ?
How does this parable change the way you talk about the work of Jesus?
What is a good way to encourage people to trust Jesus without making the work of Jesus sound or feel “cheap”?