Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
October 12, 2014, Pentecost XVIII
Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6 Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
From the book of Exodus:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt!’”
From The Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
I’d like you to think for a moment about the most special invitation you ever received. Has anyone been invited to a reception at the White House? I am sure all of us have been invited to a wedding or to a wedding anniversary party.
So how did you feel when you received that invitation? Did you feel honored, proud, or maybe a little bit nervous? Or did you simply say, “I really don’t want to go that party, so I’ll make up some excuse.” Of course not. You wrote down the date in your appointment book; made an appointment with the hairdresser or barber, and most importantly, you responded that you were coming. From that point on, you spent the next few months looking forward to that event, planning, preparing, and even dreaming of what the event was going to be like.
I want you to think about this whole theme of invitation as we come to our reading from Matthew’s gospel this morning. It is the story of a king who, as we read in verse 1, has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. Who is this king? On one level the king is the sort of political leader the crowds hearing this story would have been very familiar with – petty tyrants who get upset and are quite happy to burn down cities when their will is refused. That was what politicians were like in those days.
But on another level the king in the story stands for none other than God Himself. We know this because on many occasions Jesus talked about life in God’s kingdom as a feast, a banquet, a party. Indeed Jesus Himself often spent time in people’s home sharing food and drink, talking and laughing and telling those stories that would later be written down as great pearls of wisdom called parables.
This parable in our Gospel reading must not be confused with the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16-24) even though they have elements in common. Again we meet the Father and the Son is alive and has a bride. The suggestion is that the Lord Jesus and His church are depicted (Eph. 5:22-33). The period described in this parable must be after His resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the Old Testament, we read countless stories of the Jews and their relationship with God; a relationship that wasn’t always smooth. We look at the time of Moses and his delight in God on the mountaintop, which was interrupted by deep disappointment with his people. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences in his entire career, and yet it brought out the best in him, which is what always happens when we love God and live by faith.
At least three times during the months at Sinai, the Jewish people had promised to obey whatever God told them to do. The Lord knew that it wasn’t in their hearts to keep their promises (Deut. 5:28-29), and the tragedy of the golden calf proved Him right.
Moses called what they did “a great sin” and his assessment was accurate. It was a great sin because of who committed it: the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God; His special treasure. They had promised to obey God’s law, but in making a golden calf and indulging in a sensual celebration, the nation broke the first, second, and seventh commandments. It was a great sin because of what they had already experienced of the power and mercy of God: the judgments against Egypt, the deliverance at the Red Sea, the provision of food and water, and the gracious leading of God by the pillar of cloud and fire. What they did was rebel against the goodness of the Lord. It’s no wonder their sin provoked God to anger (Deut. 9:7).
Israel’s lust for idols was born in Egypt and still worked in their hearts (Josh. 24:14). Aaron fed that appetite by giving the people what they wanted. They thought they needed an idol, but what they really needed was faith in their great God who had revealed Himself so powerfully to them. Israel exchanged the glory of the true and living God for the image of an animal (Ps. 106:19-23).
In spite of their bumpy history, in spite of what they did to His Son, the Father is still inviting the people of Israel to come. When we study the first eleven chapters of Acts, we discover that the message is still going to the Jews (Acts 2:5, 10, 14, 22, 36). “To the Jew first” was God’s plan (Acts 3:26; Rom. 1:16). How did the nation’s leaders respond to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles? They rejected the Word and persecuted the church. The same rulers who permitted John the Baptist to be killed, and who asked for Jesus to be killed, and Stephen to be killed! Later, Herod killed James (Acts 12:1ff).
How did the king in the parable respond to the way the people treated his servants? He became angry and sent his armies to destroy them and their city. He then turned to other people and invited them to come to the feast. This is a picture of God’s dealing with Israel. They rejected the Father when they refused to obey John the Baptist’s preaching. Israel rejected the Son when they arrested Him and crucified Him. In His grace and patience, God sent other witnesses. The Holy Spirit came on the early believers and they witnessed with great power that Jesus was alive and the nation could be saved (Acts 2:32-36; 3:19-26). The miracles they did were proof that God was at work in and through them.
But Israel also rejected the Holy Spirit! This was Stephen’s indictment against the nation: “You do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51). With the stoning of Stephen, God’s patience with Israel began to end, though He delayed the judgment for almost forty years. In Acts 8 we read that the message went to the Samaritans, and in Acts 10 we read that it even went to the Gentiles.
This final rejection, some say is the awful “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” This was a national sin, committed by Israel. When they rejected John, they rejected the Father who sent him; but there remained the ministry of the Son. When they rejected the Son, they were forgiven because of their ignorance (Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17). No sinner today can be forgiven for rejecting Christ, for this rejection is what condemns the soul (John 3:16-22).
But there remained the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came on the church at Pentecost, and the Apostles performed great signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; Heb. 2:1-4). The rulers rejected the witness of the Spirit, and this brought final judgment. They had rejected the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and there were no more opportunities left.
This “sin against the Holy Spirit” cannot be committed today in the same way as Israel committed it, because the situation is different. The Spirit of God is bearing witness through the Word to the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit who convinces the world of sin (John 16:7-11). The Spirit can be resisted by unbelievers (Acts 7:51), but nobody knows that crisis hour (if there is one) when the Spirit stops dealing with a lost sinner.
The king welcomed everyone in both good and bad. And that’s what God still does today. He doesn’t care whether you think of yourself as good or bad. His generous invitation to life with Him still stands and it really is for everyone. How many times do I hear things like: “I’m not worthy enough to receive God’s love” I’m not good enough” “I’ve done too many bad things”.
None of us are good enough for God. God is totally pure, totally true, and totally honest. None of us can match us to His standards. There are no VIP tickets into His party for the good, the famous or the wealthy. All anyone of us can do is say: “Yes, Lord, I’ve messed up. I don’t understand why you love me. But I thank you that you love me anyway, and have sent your only Son, Jesus to die in my place for my sins.” And when we do that, whoever we are, whatever we have done, God our Heavenly Father comes to meet us and says: “Welcome home. I’m so glad you’ve come back to me.”
That, simply put, is the heart of the Christian faith. Whether you think of yourself as good or bad, whether you are young or old, whether you are male or female, whether you have lots of qualifications or none at all, God is still out there looking for you. Because how God sees you is as one of His precious creatures who needs to come back to Him. And the way back to Him is open because this Jesus not only told about God’s great love for us, but showed it by dying for each and every one of us upon the cross and conquering the forces of sin and death and evil.
So, yes, there is bad news in this story for those who ignore or reject God’s invitation. But there is also very, very good news for those who have the faith to respond, to say “Yes.”
Matthew 22:11-14 states: “But 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; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” This seems like an appendix to the parable, but it is vitally important. The wedding garment was provided by the host so that everybody was properly attired and the poor did not feel conspicuous. Salvation is personal and individual. We must accept what God gives to us – the righteousness of Christ – and not try to make it on our own.
We know that this man had responded to the invitation and come in, indeed the king calls him His friend. But this invitation had made no impression on this man’s life. It wasn’t simply the fact He hadn’t changed his clothes. He hadn’t changed his attitudes or his behavior.
The point Jesus is making here is that saying “Yes” to God’s invitation must be more than saying the right words, or maybe coming to church service. We have to let Jesus be our King, to take control of the way we think and act and do. With the help of His Holy Spirit we have to get rid of our old habits, our old ways of doing things, and become the person that Jesus wants us to be.
So what is your response? A shrug of the shoulders? Walking off in the other direction? Or is it a “Yes” that’s more than just words, but a new attitude of heart and mind and will as you give your life to Him? That is the question each one of us needs to know how to answer. Not later, when it may be too late; But now.
I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35). Say “YES.”
Let us pray:
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.