Jesus lays bare the Kingdom of God with a story. The King prepares a great feast for His Son’s wedding, and invites to the feast his subjects. He sends out the kindest and gentlest of invitations: “Come, for everything is ready!” You see what kind of a King He is! He is a King who does all, prepares all, and then invites His people merely to enjoy His rich bounty. He is a Giver King - and a rather thinly disguised God the Father.
But what happens? They don’t want to come. The King is perplexed other servants He sends out. This time the message is more explicit: I’ve killed my oxen and my fatted calves. Everthing’s ready - on the table. Getting cold. Won’t you come? Come to the wedding feast!
You moms know what he was going through, don’t you? The dinner all set on the table and the husband buried in the newspaper or in front of the computer or piddling around in the shop, the kids glued to the T.V. or busy playing around outside. And meanwhile the dinner is getting cold. A little more urgently you call: Come to dinner.
Well, as so often happens with your dinners, so with the King’s. The ones invited “made light” of the invitation. They regarded it as not important - at least, not as important as whatever it is that they were up to at the moment. One goes to his farm and another to his business (you see, he covers the country mouse and the city mouse in one fell swoop!) and others do even worse. They grab those who invited them to the wedding and beat on them and then killed them.
Now, this is so stupid as to be almost unbelievable, isn’t it? We all want to say: “Come on, Jesus, that would never happen. You wouldn’t have people be so foolish as to beat up on and kill those whom a king, with an army at his command, had invited to share in a supper.” But Jesus would look you in the eye and say: “Oh, but weren’t they so foolish?” For so they did. His own people. They not only killed the messengers, but they killed the Son in whose honor the wedding feast was to be held. And then that terrible fate went out over them: the king sent his armies and burned their city. Again, a not so veiled reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
So the invitation to the wedding went beyond the Jewish nation and other nations were called to the wedding feast. The gathering of the gentiles, the non-Jews into the great wedding feast. The Gospel reaches out and gathers a people for God. But beware! Merely to be in attendance at the wedding is not enough. Here you are, each of you, at the wedding today. Waiting for the celebration to begin in earnest. But before it begins, the King himself will come to inspect the guests and examine those invited. What He looks for is a wedding garment.
Let me be perfectly clear: this garment is not something you have to come up with on your own. He has sent His Gospel out to invite you in: the good and the bad together. With His Gospel’s invitation goes the gift of the wedding garment. Do you know what it is? The wedding garment is nothing less than the righteousness of Jesus Christ, covering over your sin, hiding it from the eyes of God the Father as with a vestment, a robe, some clothing.
Listen to how Isaiah describes it: “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Is 61:10) And when did He do this? When did He give you this wonderful garment of salvation, this robe of righteousenss? Listen again to what St. Paul says in Galatians 3: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) Many churches show this by placing the white robe on the newly baptized with the words: “Receive this white robe to show that Christ has taken away your sin and placed on you His perfect righteousness. So shall you in faith ever stand before Him.” In your baptism, when the Holy Spirit called you into life in Christ you were given this garment of salvation to wear, and it must be the concern of your life that you wear this garment always so that when you appear before the King at the marriage feast of the Lamb, you are not without it.
The man bound hand and foot and thrown out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, was not wearing what he had been given to wear. He dared to appear before the King in his own dirty, filthy garments, in his own righteousness. This can be understood two ways. First, that he didn’t wear the wedding garment because he was too intent on enjoying sin. Instead of fulfilling his baptism and putting off the sinful nature with its evil desires, he was indulging it. Did he say in his heart: “What a great arrangement! I like to sin and God likes to forgive!”? Beware of this like the devil. That is to take the precious wedding garment you have been given and treat it with contempt. Instead of using it to cover your sinfulness in true repentance, you then take it and drag it through the mud. God forbid! What is that but treating with contempt the sufferings and death of your Savior? Or, second, it could be that he didn’t think he needed that garment because he imagined his own holiness was quite beautiful enough. That is, he was self-righteous. Either way, my friends, lands you in the outer darkness. What they both have in common is a despising of the gift of the wedding garment that God has given.
Think what it cost God to clothe you with the holiness of His Son! Not merely that His Son took on flesh and blood, but the shame that His Son was stripped naked and nailed to a tree, and there His Father clothed him with the guilt and shame and filthy garment of our sin. On Calvary He took our sin so that in Baptism He might give us His righteousness. Luther called this the happy exchange. We have nothing to give but our sin and He will take nothing us else from us. He has nothing to give but His righteousness and this He freely bestows.
To you, baptized people of God, this wedding garment has been given. But what do you do with it? You must wear it. And there is only one way to wear what has been given. That is faith. By faith you put on the wedding garment. That is, you have only to believe that what Christ did He did for you. What He suffered He suffered for you, to atone your sin. When He rose it was to destroy your death. Whenever you pray, whenever you stand before the King who has invited you to the feast, you must wear this garment: saying, “I come to you Father and pray only on the basis of the righteousness of your Son, which He has made my own.” And that you might not doubt that it was all for you that He did this, He not only gives you the garment to wear, but invites you to the foretaste, the hor doeuvres of the great Wedding Feast - He calls you to His supper, to give you His Body and Blood, whispering in your ears: for you, for you, for you! I died for you. My body given for you. My blood poured out for you. Take and eat and be strengthened in your faith. You see, baptism gives you the wedding garment, but here the garment is found: the very body and blood which are your righteousness before God.
Clothed in such rich dress you will be able to sing eternally: “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress; midst flaming worlds in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.” And so when you come into this room for the last time, your casket will be clothed with a white pall, a white robe – the confession that YOUR righteousness is only what you were given in Baptism: Christ Himself. Amen.