Sunday, October 12, 2014

Invitation to Life

[This was shared during the morning worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 22:1-14
As Christians, we cherish what's called the grace of God.

And we should! Grace is God’s charitable offer of new and everlasting life for everyone who repents for sin and follows Jesus.

In fact, in the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, the word we translate as grace is charitas, which we’ve carried over into English as charity.

Charity, like grace, can be given. It can be received. It can be rejected and thrown away. But grace, like charity, cannot be earned.

Romans 5:8 says: “...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In the Person of Jesus Christ, God the Son, God gave up everything for us in order to bring us God’s invitation of new life, a life free of sin and free of death. That’s grace. And it's worth cherishing!

But grace is not and never has been everything you and I need to know about God. According to the Bible, grace brings God's gift of new life to all with faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way to receive God’s saving grace but through faith in Christ. And faith in Jesus Christ entails trusting Him enough to turn from our sins—that is, to repent—and to turn to Him alone for life.

Believing in Christ means being committed day-in and day-out to laying aside our sin and trusting our whole lives to Christ.

You can accept God’s invitation to His heavenly party that never ends or you can turn it down. You can grasp Christ's hand of grace or you can pass it by.

All of this is what Jesus is talking about today in the Gospel lesson. Please go to the Gospel lesson, Matthew 22:1-14 (page 691 in the sanctuary Bibles) and let’s consider it verse-by-verse.

Jesus is once more telling a parable. The word, parabolos, the Greek New Testament word from which we get our word, parable, literally means to throw or roll along side. In His parables, Jesus told stories. But rolling alongside the stories were other stories, of deeper significance.

In this parable, like others that Jesus tells, Jesus describes what the kingdom of God, the reign of God, is like.

Jesus says in verses 1, 2, and 3, that a king, a stand-in for God the Father, decides to throw a party for his son, who is getting married. In the parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and the banquet is the Kingdom of God.

Now, it's no accident that Jesus here portrays Himself as the groom. You'll remember that in the Old Testament, the prophets often portrayed God as the husband to His chosen people, Israel, and Israel was portrayed as the adulterous bride who was unfaithful to her husband, worshiping false deities. In the Gospels, Jesus portrays Himself as the groom and John the Baptist as His best man. In Revelation, Jesus is once more portrayed as the groom and the Church, His redeemed people, are seen as the Bride of Christ.

By the custom of those days, the invitation that the king in Jesus' parable issues at the beginning would actually have been the second invitation the guests received. A first would have been issued simply informing the guests that a wedding was in the offing and to be prepared when the second invitation, issued just as the ceremonies and celebration were to begin, would arrive.

Guests, under these customs, had to be ready to drop everything as soon as they were summoned to a wedding, especially, you would think, when the king was asking them to his son’s wedding banquet.

As Christians, you and I are called to be willing to drop everything--all our sins, the worldly props we hold onto to prove our significance, even to make our livings, and all our own priorities in order to follow Jesus. To grasp God’s grace necessitates dropping everything that keeps us from living the life to which He’s called us. Otherwise, His amazing grace is lost to us.

In casting Himself as the bridegroom, Jesus was also clearly laying His claim to be the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed king, the One appointed to bring God’s grace to the nations. God the Father had already confirmed this about Jesus, first at Jesus’ baptism and later at His transfiguration. “This is My Son, the Beloved,” God’s voice had called out from heaven then.

But the leaders of God’s people, as we’ve seen before, wanted nothing to do with Jesus. That would mean signing over their power and influence to God. That’s why the invitees in the parable “refused to come” to the wedding banquet. They refused the invitation to the banquet just as, within the week of Jesus telling this parable, Jerusalem and Rome would refuse to heed Jesus’ invitation to repent and believe in Him. Instead, they would put Him to death.

Yet the king, like God, was “compassionate and gracious...slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He wanted His invitees to be part of the banquet for his son.

For centuries, God had used His prophets to call His people to repent and believe in Him. God wants everyone at His banquet.

But the prophets and messengers God has sent to issue His invitation to people, in Old Testament times and today, have often been ignored and worse.

In verse 4, the king in Jesus’ parable sent out servants who told his invited guests to come to the party. Everything was ready!

Look at verse 5, though: “But they paid no attention and went off--one to his field, another to his business.” Another translation says that the invitees “made light” of their invitation. These two takes at the passage translate the Biblical Greek word, amaleo, which means to treat with apathy or indifference.

These invitees didn’t care about the invitation. And they didn’t care about the king who issued it. Their world revolved around themselves, their paychecks, their desires.

People can be that way toward the invitation of God to follow Jesus today. They think--we may often think--that God isn’t needed.

This isn't a new attitude. And God's Word repeatedly warns us against the sort of apathy and indifference toward God rooted in the belief that we don’t really need God.

In Deuteronomy 8:17-18, God tells His people through Moses: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth...”

And in Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul, preaching in first century Athens, quotes one of the Greek poets that in God, “we live and move and have our being.”

Everybody needs God, whether they know it or not.

In verse 6, we’re told that some invited to the banquet went beyond ridiculing the slaves and the king they served. They seized, mistreated, and killed the slaves.

Verse 7 says that the king was “enraged” by this behavior. He sent soldiers to destroy that city that had chosen to ignore His invitation.

God allows everyone the freedom to turn down the invitation to join Him in the kingdom. And that means God will also let those who pay no heed to him to live eternally with the consequences of their refusal to follow Him. In John 3:18, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Whoever believes in him [that is, whoever accepts the invitation and follows Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

In verses 8 and 9, Jesus says that the king in His parable does a stunning thing. He sends more slaves into the streets to “invite everyone to the wedding banquet.” He wanted to invite people who had never been invited before! Even today, God invites all the riff-raff of the world, including you and me, to be part of His kingdom.

For Jesus’ original hearers, arrogant in their spiritual pride, these words would have been scandalous! But God nonetheless invites everyone to His kingdom. God wants everyone to experience His grace. Everyone. No exceptions.

Our commission as Christians and church members is to share God’s incredible invitation to His kingdom with everyone, no exceptions, so that they can be part of God’s kingdom too.

The last part of Jesus’ parable, beginning at verse 11, should have special meaning for those of us who are part of His Church today. The king in Jesus’ parable sees a man at the wedding banquet not dressed in wedding clothes. The king is offended.

Now, Jesus isn’t saying that we’ve got to wear our Sunday best to be in His kingdom. Those in tattered jeans and those in three-piece suits have an equal place at His table.

And, you should know that in the first century world, there was no specific article of clothing for weddings.

The guests at such a feast were simply expected to wear clean clothes. Similarly, in the heavenly banquet enjoyed by God’s people in eternity, only those made clean by Christ will be in the presence of God the King.

While on earth, as Jesus points out in His parable of The Wheat and the Weeds, God will allow the weeds to live among the wheat in His Church. The weeds are the fake Christians, the go-through-the-motions Christians, the ones who talk a good game on Sunday but don’t even get suited up on Monday.

Galatians 3:27 says that, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

And in Romans 13:14, Paul urges believers to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

To clothe ourselves in Christ, to follow Christ, is to seek to do His will and not our own, even when everything in us wants to do things our way.

If we willfully soil ourselves in the dirt and sin of the world--selfishness, greed, lust, envy, gossip--we choose those idols over Christ and we refuse to be part of God’s kingdom! This is why daily repentance and renewal was identified by Martin Luther as the ongoing theme of the Christian's life.

The man in Jesus’ parable not clothed in his wedding garb was thrown “into the outer darkness, where there [was] weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The same fate awaits those who think they deserve to be in God’s kingdom just for having their name in a church directory.

This isn't said enough in the Church these days, nor certainly as much as Jesus Himself said it. But hell is the fate of all who reject the grace of God in Christ by refusing to turn from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. These are people who faked living for Christ, while holding onto death, instead of the saving, sensible grace of God given in Christ.

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis writes: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy [the joy of belonging to God through Christ] will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

This is why clothing ourselves in Christ is so important.

In James 4:10, we’re told: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

We seem to spend so much time in this life trying to lift ourselves up. “Pull yourself by your own bootstraps,” we’re told. We're told that, even though it's physically impossible!

But God invites us to let Him pull us out of the slime of sin and death and fear and futility into His kingdom, the heavenly banquet, which we can just start to taste now in His Word, the sacraments, and the fellowship of the Church. His kingdom is a place where we will know forgiveness, life, peace, and purpose for all eternity. But it isn't just about the sweet by-and-by: God lifts us up every time we choose to follow Jesus and only Jesus and lay everything else aside. May God give us the grace to do just that. Amen

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