Scripture Statement: God issues an invitation for reception, not rejection.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 is a parable of rebuke to the “chief priest and the Pharisees (Matthew 21:45) for their rejection of Jesus as the long-expected Messiah foretold by the prophets. The second parable of the wedding banquet occurred in another setting (Luke 14:15-24). This second parable is famous for its reproach of frivolous excuses for snubbing the king’s invitation to his banquet. This parable, as well as the one in Matthew, is as applicable today as it was two thousand years ago. Today, many individuals still despise God’s invitation to His banquet. Just as many Jews rejected Jesus in the first century, so in the present day, many Christians still reject allegiance to Him as Lord in their lives. In other words, the kingdom of God is not foremost in their lives.
Even though every parable should be interpreted with its “situation-in-life setting,” nevertheless, every Christian should make an effort to see how the various parables apply to his or her situation-in-life setting. Unlike many religious leaders who discarded Him as savior of the world, many Christians nowadays accept His Messiahship, but they are not willing to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). They are like the Christians in Laodicea: “You are neither cold nor hot” (Revelation 3:15). Jesus begins this parable, as reported in the Gospel of Matthew, to illustrate what is happening among the pious leaders concerning their refusal to accept Him as God’s Anointed One for the redemption of humanity: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come (Matthew 22:2-3).
Before this particular parable, Matthew gives his comments about the two other parables Jesus had just spoken—The Parable of the Two Sons and The Parable of the Tenants, both of which were denunciations against the religious leaders. Matthew records the reaction of the pious leaders: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them” (Matthew 21:45). After these two knife-like parables in which He rebuked the Jews for their rejection of Him as the Messiah, Jesus encountered more resistance. Jesus stopped the opposition dead-in-their-tracks (22:46). Immediately, He issues seven woes against the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees” (23:2). In His denunciation of the spiritual leaders, He delivers a stinging rebuke for their mistreatment of His disciples:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! 33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’d” (23:29-37).
After the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin is quite telling about these religious leaders’ antagonism against Christianity:
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it (Acts 7:51-53).
Christians stand in utter amazement at the callousness exhibited on the part of the leaders in their rejection of Jesus. Yet, today, Christians still portray an attitude of negative response by not responding to Jesus as Lord in their lives. Even in the present day, many still say, “If we had lived in those days, we would not have taken part in the crucifixion.” According to Jesus, these spiritual teachers and leaders were also saying the same thing, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets” (23:30). This same behavior is as prevalent today as it was in the first century. Are you guilty of such a mind-set? Are you taking part in crucifying the Son of God afresh? One cannot help but wonder if the author of Hebrews did not have this conversation of Jesus in mind when he penned his words of warning:
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,a and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so. 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, becauseb to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:1-6).
GOD’S INVITATION: AN INVITATION OF GRACE
Christians can crucify the Son of God all over again by lack of response to His love. God’s invitation is an invitation of grace. Christians are meant to serve God with his or her mind—the whole of one’s being. As one reflects upon these two famous parables, one is conscious that there are truths contained in these parables that are as permanent and as new today as they were in the first-century. Christians, too, frequently become so involved with the “things of time” that they forget the “things of eternity.” Have you rejected God’s invitation to the wedding banquet? What is your response to God’s love? In my fifty-three years of ministry, I have encountered lack of response over and over again by believers. The careless attitude of many Christians has rendered the Cross of Christ as worthless, at least in their lives. The new covenant, or new relationship between God and man, does not minimize one’s obligations to God’s kingdom. God desired to create a responsible people with a new covenant. Again, one can say that God’s aim in creating a new covenant was to create a responsible people to serve His redemptive purpose.
What are you doing to bring about the furtherance of God’s kingdom upon earth? Are you faithful to God? Are you cold or hot in your devotion to God? Are you zealous for the things of God? Where are your priorities? Have you allowed the pleasures of this life to usurp the claims of God upon your life? Faith in Jesus is not just intellectual assent to Jesus’ Messiahship. James, the Lord’s brother, says: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:18-19). It is in this identical train of thought that the author of Hebrews issues a call to persevere in one’s walk with God. Many Christians maintain that they have a relationship with God, but, at the same time, they neglect the assembling of themselves with the people of God. Listen once more to the words of the writer of Hebrews:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (10: 19-25).
Are you holding “unswervingly to the hope”? Or are you like the religious leaders (Jews) that Jesus speaks of in these two parables? Remember, Christians represent the Savior—God works in every believer to accomplish His objectives. It is in this same vein that Paul had no use for a religious experience that did not translate itself into commitment to Christ. If one is to have a true relationship with the Lord, one must have allegiance. Have you given up your habit of “meeting together” with the people of God? Do you justify your actions of neglect with the same kind of flippant excuses used in this parable reported by Luke for not attending the banquet (Luke 14:15-24)? In the Gospel of Matthew, one observes that the religious leaders rejected the Gospel, which is Christ. Have you, too, forgotten the Gospel of God? This parable in Matthew opens with an invitation—an invitation spurned by the religious leaders (Matthew 22:1-14). God’s Gospel, as then, still begins with His offer of eternal life in and through His Son. In His Son, one witnesses God’s actions on behalf of humanity.
As one considers God’s Gospel, one is immediately conscious that God took the initiative, not men and women. To fail to respond to the Prince of human life is the very meaning and measure of sin. It is in the human life of Jesus that one meets God (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). God comes to men and women in this Man of Nazareth. God wants both men and women to respond to His Son Jesus in loving faithfulness to the eternal. The Jewish leaders rejected His Son (John 1:10-12). Yet, as one reads the New Testament writings, one is conscious that Christ’s sacrifice is a cosmic necessity (3:18; 8:23). In other words, His is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World (Ephesians 1:3-14). At the very beginning, God is the Creator and the Redeemer. Individuals must not focus on what they do, but rather, on what God is and does. In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), one observes God taking the initiative, but the religious leaders declined the invitation. Have you, too, turned down the summons to follow Christ? Listen to Jesus as He lays bare the rejection of the Messiah by the religious leaders:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (22:1-14).
One of the striking features about this parable is the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like.” For the “real” reader, this phrase no doubt triggers the memory of what Matthew records about the beginning of Jesus ministry: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). These religious leaders acted nonchalantly toward the kingdom call: “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business” (22:5). In the other parable (Luke 14:15-24), Jesus responds to a guest who made a statement in response to Jesus’ remarks concerning one who exalts himself (14:11, 15). In this parable, Jesus details the various apologies employed by individuals invited to the wedding banquet. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it” (14:18). The second said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out” (14:19). And, finally, the third excused himself by saying, “I just got married, so I can’t come” (14:20).
Surely, this prominent Pharisee (14:1)—the one who had invited Jesus to his banquet—and his guest knew that the explanations Jesus set forth in this parable were frivolous. These excuses were not reasons, but excuses. One was not on his or her deathbed. These excuses had nothing to do with a woman who had been beaten by a violent husband and confined to bed. None of these excuses had any weight. Seeing the field was not a matter of life and death. He could have waited to see his field. The one with the “five yoke of oxen” could try them later. One could have brought his wife. Today, many reject God’s invitation with equally flimsy subterfuge. Just as the king became angry about their egregious apologies, so, too, the God of heaven exhibits His wrath against those who spurn the Gospel message. In fact, God ultimately destroyed the city of Jerusalem (AD 70) for their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah of God (Matthew 22: 7 and chapter 24).
Why do you not serve God? Do you fit this pattern? What kind of pretext do you put forth in order to justify your cool behavior toward spiritual things? The invitation is still present for the twenty-first century: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). God informs men and women that it is His desire not to abandon. He prepares a great banquet; the invitation is extended to everyone. God is preparing a great banquet where the valley of the shadow of death does not exist. At this banquet, suffering and evil are banished. This banquet can best be described in the words of John:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:3-4).
In this banquet, God prepares the meal. To participate in this banquet is life everlasting, and it is to share in the eternal kingdom. This is the Good News. Jesus is God’s Good News. Are you willing to accept the Gospel invitation of eternal life in and through Jesus? Listen to Jesus: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). Again, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus these words: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (3:36). If one wishes fellowship with Him in eternity, one must experience this fellowship with Him and with His people on earth.
Even when one meets on Sunday morning to participate in the Lord’s Banquet, one is reminded of His presence and of eternal life. This table fellowship represents communion with one another in the body and blood of Jesus. This eating and drinking should create new bonds among His people—bonds of love for one another. This fellowship is only the beginning of what God’s people can expect. God sent His servants/prophets to foretell about this great event. In this parable, the Master says, “Then he sent some more servants” (Matthew 22:4). God announced His design for both men and women in His kingdom. With the coming of Jesus, one witnesses the unfolding of this drama that even the angels desired to stoop low and look into (1 Peter 1:10-12). In Christ’s ministry, He reveals His purpose in coming from heaven—to redeem sinful humanity.
Both of these parables about the Wedding Banquet speak to every individual. He invites everyone to join in this heavenly banquet. As one reflects upon this banquet, one’s mind reflects upon the words of Jesus: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Again, one hears the words of the Master, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty” (6:35). Once more, the words of Jesus ring loud and clear: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Have you responded to this invitation? God does not force His salvation upon anyone. John expresses salvation this way: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1: 12-13).
God’s Invitation is Voluntary
God does not coerce men and women. He does not manipulate His creation like objects; He deals with men and women as persons. One’s response to God’s invitation is voluntary, no coercion. God offers His life to humanity through His Word—“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14). God desires to draw men and women unto Himself in freedom, not through some magic spell, something that one has no control over. Paul captures the essence of one’s salvation this way:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
This miracle of salvation is provided through faith in and through Jesus. Paul states: “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). In other words, salvation begins with faith and ends with faith. Once one is put in a right relationship with God by faith, then this new relationship demands obedience to the teachings of God. Before conversion one was a servant of sin, but now one is a servant of righteousness (6:17-18). As you reflect upon the two parables of the wedding banquet, you may wonder how you fare in your relationship to God. Are you bearing fruit? Have you spurned God’s summons? Are you trampling on the Son of God? The author of Hebrews cautions against neglect in one’s daily walk: “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29)? Again, the author of Hebrews says:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (13:15-16).
Have you “insulted the Spirit of grace”? When one rejects God’s invitation to His banquet, he or she insults the Spirit of grace. Just a casual glance at the excuses in Jesus’ parable in the Book of Luke is deplorable. One stands in awe as he or she contemplates this picture of rejection. Jesus lists three excuses, which are shocking. What kind of explanation do you give for not serving the Lord? Just a casual reading of the parable in Luke reveals that the invited guests do not refuse outright. They do not say, “We do not believe your invitation is from God.” Even today, many do not refuse outright; they are simply preoccupied with earthly things. Jesus issued this invitation over nineteen hundred years ago; yet, this summons is still rejected by many. It is not that numerous believers do not believe that the appeal is from God, but countless Christians have more pressing things to do than to take note of the call of Christ.
Renewal of Vital Christianity
Are you preoccupied with more important matters? If one wishes a change in vital Christianity, there must be a renewal of vital Christianity in every individual. The inner life of the Christian community must begin with an inner life in the home. Unless one is an ambassador for the faith, one is not holding the faith. Every believer is necessarily a crusader for the kingdom of heaven. Is Christianity in your blood? Is it written upon your heart? Is it a part of your breathing? Do you spend your Sundays as a time for visiting relatives? Do you make use of your Sundays as a time for fishing and hunting? Do you apply your Sundays as a time to make more money? Do you have time for God? Are your concerns for the things of the world too time-consuming to allow you to reflect upon the message of salvation? Does your work employ up all your time? Are you conscious that every church service is a witness to the Gospel of God? Are you conscious that the Bible read from the pulpit is a witness to the mighty acts of God in redemption for lost humanity? Are you conscious that in the memorial feast of communion, one witnesses the mightiest acts of God’s grace? Where do you stand in relationship to Christ’s invitation?
Do you make use of the following excuses for your neglect of spiritual things: (1) We have our families, (2) We have a wife, (3) We have children, (4) We are young, (5) We are social workers, (6) We are employees, (7), We own a business, (8) and so on. Christians do not say “no” emphatically to God’s invitation to service, but there are many things that Christians allow to interfere with their devotion to the things of God. For many believers, the invitation is heard, but soon forgotten. God does not say that one should not work, that one should not care for his or her family, or that one should not love and be loved. But God has said emphatically: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
In the midst of one’s daily activities, God wants His people to discover new possibilities in reaching out to the lost. Whether it be in one’s performance of his or her daily actions, one’s job, one’s family, one’s politics, and so on, God wants every individual to act in response to His invitation and to walk worthy of his or her calling (Ephesians 4:1-3). For those who refused, Jesus issues a stern warning: “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet” (Luke 14:24). These individuals were excluded from the banquet, not because of evil doings, but because of their refusal to accept the invitation.
Have you rejected God’s invitation through frivolous excuses? Biblical faith attaches itself to its object—namely, Jesus. It is true that salvation on God’s side is unconditional, but, on the side of men and women, salvation is accepted on condition of repentance. Repentance calls for external proof. Proof of repentance is displayed in one’s daily response to Jesus as Lord. Are you living in opposition to the holy purpose of God in your life? One’s Christianity is seen in one’s faith, one’s worship, one’s witness, and one’s living activities. Do you have more urgent things in your life than the acceptance of God’s invitation? How do you respond to these words of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew?
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’a 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’b 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).
God does not give up! He wants individuals to attend His banquet. After the servant in this parable returns to the King, the King became angered and ordered his servant to “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Have you made Christianity your affair? When one comes to God, it is like dying to self. Since the Jews did not pay attention to His invitation, He turned to the Gentiles (John 1:10-13). One also witnesses this invitation in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20). Since you accepted this call, are you making a sufficient and regular use of the means of His saving grace? Alan Culpepper writes:
Excuses are deadly things. They poison the life of the Christian because they block the path to confession and forgiveness and rob faith of its vitality. The most dangerous excuses are those with which we fool ourselves. One of the unrecognized characteristics of excuses is that they accuse as well as excuse because they repeat our true priorities. The excuses we offer reveal the activities and commitments we hold to be of greater importance.
As one reflects upon the various excuses adopted by many Christians for their lack of devotion or commitment to Christ, one is left in utter amazement at the callousness of individuals in their refusal to commitment; this mindset is truly astonishing. It is easy for one to become so engaged in the “things of the world” that one forgets the “things of eternity.” One can be so preoccupied with the seen that he or she forgets the things that are unseen. Christians frequently hear the claims of the world that they cannot hear the invitation of the voice of the Messiah.
WITHOUT WEDDING CLOTHES
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).
Scholars interpret the “wedding clothes” in two different ways. First, some scholars identify the ones “not wearing wedding clothes” as those who refuse the righteousness “from God” in and through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, they sought to earn their righteousness rather than rely upon the righteousness “from God” by faith (See Romans 1:16-17; 10:1-13; Philippians 3:7-11). On the other hand, some scholars apply “not wearing wedding clothes” to the works of the flesh (See Colossians 3:1-17). The first to be invited were the Jews, but they refused God’s invitation. The others were the Gentiles who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom of God. Since this parable is a parable that is descriptive of the kingdom of heaven, one immediately recognizes that the invitation is an invitation of grace, which the religious leaders rejected outright.
An Alternative Interpretation: Christian Living
One cannot rule either interpretation out, as stated above—both are correct. Since Jesus did not elaborate on the clothing, one can only guess as to the meaning one should attach to the phrase about wedding garments. For instance, the Jews were notorious, especially the religious leaders, for their lack of inward renewal for the things of God. When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, he immediately called upon the religious leaders to repent of their sins: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Not only did John begin his ministry with castigation of the religious leaders, but Jesus, too, began His ministry with an analysis of the religious leaders interpretation of God’s Word:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (5:17-20).
When one responds to Jesus as Lord, one cannot go on living the life that he or she lived before meeting Jesus. One must be clothed in a new purity, a new holiness, and a new goodness. One is not to remain a sinner, but rather a saint. The author of Hebrews writes:
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son (Hebrews 12:14-16).
One can miss the grace of God through godless living. What is the garment of your heart? What is the garment of your inner being? What kind of spirit do you have toward the kingdom of God and His righteousness? The works of the flesh belong to the works of darkness, which Jesus came to overcome. Paul states emphatically:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
Once more, Paul focuses on the side of light when he writes:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (5:22-26).
God Himself cannot make the world good except through making men and women good through the Gospel. To accomplish this objective, God ordained His Christian community—the Church—to continue to proclaim God’s way of salvation in and through Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 13:27-40; Philippians 1:3-5). In and through Jesus, God brings about a revolution in the thinking of men and women. Many believers are willing to accept God’s mercy, but, at the same time, they are unprepared to get rid of their former way of life. One must not only listen to the voice of God, but one must obey. Many are willing to “say yes” to God’s offer of free grace, but many are not willing to “do yes” to the teachings of God. In Christ the “old mold” does not fit any longer. Paul writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)!
Have you discarded the “old man,” that is to say, your former way of life? Every believer is exhorted to “use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). One must not only listen, but one must obey. One must take up his or her cross daily (Mark 8:34). Self-denial calls for continuous and permanent subordination of self-interest to loving God and loving humanity. Do you take with absolute seriousness the holy wrath of God as well as His forgiving grace? Are you dressed properly for the wedding banquet? The words of Peter go straight to the heart of the proper wedding garment concerning holy living:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:9-12).
An Alternative Interpretation: Imputed Righteousness
The second application deals with imputed righteousness, that is to say, righteousness from God that is “credited” to individuals through faith in Jesus. The religious leaders perverted the Word of God by teaching that men and women could earn favor and forgiveness through their own efforts. The religious leaders labored under the mistaken idea of God’s Law in their lives, that is to say, the way to deserve and obtain His favor is through Law keeping. Paul combated this mental philosophy of “good works” as the means of right standing before God. He writes with penetrating insight as he goes right to the heart of “imputed righteousness” to the Romans:
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.”b 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’c” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’d” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”e that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”f 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”g (Romans 10:1-14).
James Montgomery Boice writes: “What is the wedding garment? It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” This “righteousness from God” comes through faith, not works. Listen once more to Paul as he explains how one receives this righteousness from God:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,a just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”b (Romans 1:16-17).
Paul labors this point of “righteousness from God” by faith throughout Book of Romans. It is in the Gospel that a righteousness from God is revealed (1:16). This righteousness from God begins with faith and ends with faith (eJk pivstew" eiJ" pivstin, ek pistews eis pistin). This righteousness is a righteousness that is outside men and women. This word righteousness (dikaiosuvnh, dikaiosunh) is more comprehensive than holiness or even correct teaching. This righteousness in Romans 1:17 is about a righteousness that is done for one, not in one. In other words, it is a righteousness that is vicarious, that is to say, this righteousness is the doing and dying of Jesus. The Jews as a whole did not understand this kind of righteousness. Paul stresses throughout this Book that this righteousness is not good deeds performed or works of the Law, or a correct understanding of Scripture, but rather a righteousness “from God” imputed to one who puts his or her trust in Jesus.
In chapter three and four of Romans, Paul examines the righteousness that is imputed (credited) through faith, rather than the believers holiness of life. Holiness in one’s life is active righteousness that results from passive righteousness—a “righteousness from God” (dikaiosuvnh qeou', diakaiosunh qeou) [3:21). This righteousness from God is revealed through Jesus (3:21-31). Paul maneuvers this position of good works home concerning the Law as a means of right standing before God, which the Jews relied upon. Pay attention again to Paul as he strips away all works:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin (3:19-20).
The phrase “every mouth may be silenced” is reminiscent of the parable in Matthew concerning the banquet: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless” (Matthew 22:11-12). If one stands before God without the wedding garment of God’s righteousness imputed to him or her, one stands “speechless.” One’s mouth is “silenced.” If one is not clothed with the “righteousness from God,” one is without hope. The only hope is found in the righteousness that comes “from God” through faith in His Son Jesus (3:21-22).
After Paul paints a rather dismal picture of life under Law, he then turns to the positive side of salvation with the words “but now” (3:21). “But now” is the positive side—the side that the religious leaders rejected—is found in the Atonement of Jesus for the sins of humanity. Listen attentively to the words of Paul as he captures the greatness of this “but now”: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (3:21). How does one receive this righteousness from God? Paul writes with forcefulness: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (3:22).
Then he explains even more concerning the means of justification, which justification comes about through faith in His Son Jesus: “Justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:24). The word freely is from the Greek word dwreavn (dwrean), which also means “without a cause.” Jesus cites the Book of Psalms to illustrate the truth of the psalmist when he wrote: “Those who hate me without a reason” (Psalm 35:19; 69:4). Jesus, as reported by John, says: “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law; “They hated me without reason” (John 15:25). The KJV renders John 15:25: “They hated me without a cause.” The words “without a cause” are, too, translated from the same Greek word dwreavn (dwrean, “without cause,” “without reason,” and “freely”) employed by Paul in Romans 3:24.
God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of Atonement (3:25). Paul composes: “He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (3:26). Again, Paul drives home the means of justification: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (3:28). Paul calls forth Abraham as an example of one’s justification by faith. He states emphatically that Abraham was justified by faith, not works (4:1-3). Paul writes that his faith “was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3). Paul also calls forth David to emphasize the concept of justification by faith: “David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works” (4:6). Again, he stresses the means of Abraham’s justification: “Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (4:9). Once more, Paul hammers home the point of justification: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith” (4:13).
The religious leaders, as a whole, never understood that Jesus is not just a moment in history; He is the very center of history. The source and foundation of the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed throughout Galilee (Matthew 4:23) is in One Person—Jesus Christ. Not only did Jesus come preaching the Good News of salvation, He Himself is the Good News. Jesus is the hope of the world (Colossians 1:27). Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). One can only stand before God by being clothed with the righteousness from God, which righteousness is only available through faith in His Son Jesus. God’s answer to the problems of the world is Jesus Christ. Jesus died so that individuals do not have to cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (27:46)? The religious leaders did not understand that forgiveness of sins is not simple; the doctrine of forgiveness is found only in the fact of the Atonement of Jesus—the Good News of God (Romans 3:25-26). Today, as then, the essence of the Christian faith is to believe that salvation is in none other than the One who became flesh (John 3:16-21; Acts 4:12).
Whatever interpretation one places upon the “wedding garment,” one should wear both: holiness in one’s life and God’s righteousness imputed to one who manifests faith in His Son. Even though these two parables were spoken on different occasions almost two thousand years ago, the message is still relevant today as it was then. Christians should seek to understand what these two parables say to His people across the ages. God extends the invitation, but men and women still refuse to come. In the Parable of the Great Banquet, as reported by Luke, one discovers frivolous excuses for not attending God’s summons to eternal life through His Son. Even today, one discovers similar lighthearted apologies for lack of commitment to the cause of Christ. Many Christians are neither cold nor hot; they are just lukewarm. Are you aflame for the things of God? Do you wish a right standing with God? If so, then you must put your faith and trust in Jesus as God’s Way of salvation for a lost humanity. You must seek God’s righteousness—a righteousness from God through faith in Jesus.
In salvation, God takes the initiative. It is in His Son that the barriers that stand opposed to forgiveness are broken down. It is only in and through Jesus that there is communion with the Divine life. One cannot live with God so long as one’s sins are not expiated or atoned for. This expiatory sacrifice is not offered by men and women, but by God (Romans 3:25-26). Are you wearing the wedding garment of God’s righteousness? Are you seeking to earn your own righteousness through works? Remember, it is only in the Cross of Jesus does one witnesses the absolute holiness and the absolute mercy of God. In Jesus, both are revealed together. In the Cross of Jesus, both Law and love are brought together. The one thing that the religious leaders could not fathom was the idea that the biblical doctrine of Atonement cannot be understood without the idea of God’s holiness. It is only in the Atonement that God demonstrates His justice and His holiness in justifying sinful humanity.
God could only accomplish justification through faith—the means of giving individuals His wedding garment. The Cross of the Messiah is the supreme illustration of the horror of sin in all its ugliness, and, at the same time, the means of justifying sinful humanity. Is it any wonder that Paul writes with compassion: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When the Cross is not the center of Christianity, then, in due time, Christianity looses its moral and noble energy in the lives of men and women. It is in the Cross that one witnesses the public righteousness of God. For every believer, the Cross is not just an impressive public spectacle, but rather it is a decisive act, that is, the moral order of God’s holiness and justice. Have you accepted the invitation?
All Scripture citations are from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).
d Psalm 118:26
a Or from useless rituals
b Or repentance while
a Deut. 6:5
b Lev. 19:18
 Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 291.
 For the interpretation of “Christian Living” as the wedding garment, see William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol., 2 (revised, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 268-271.
 For this second application, see James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, vol., 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 470-471.
b Lev. 18:5
c Deut. 30:12
d Deut. 30:13
e Deut. 30:14
f Isaiah 28:16
g Joel 2:32
 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, vol., 2, 470.
a Or is from faith to faith
b Hab. 2:4