As many times as I’ve read Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22, I’ve scratched my head at the concluding scene.
The opening is encouraging: the king is throwing a banquet for his son’s wedding but the important people won’t come so he tells the servants to scour the streets.
So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:10.)
The bad as well as the good get to be in the king’s presence and join in the celebration of his son’s wedding? What a gracious king this must be.
Yet as Jesus continues the story he reveals a major glitch in the party .
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless.
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.”
For many are invited, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:11-14.)
Kicked out for not having the right clothes to wear? What happened to the gracious king?
The Gracious Gift of Faith and Righteousness
I found the answer when I read Revelation 19 last night.
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:6-9.)
This is the wedding of the King’s Son, the wedding of Jesus and his church, and the people who make up the church are given the proper clothes to wear: “Fine linen, bright and clean.” As the passage explains, this beautiful linen represents the righteous acts of God’s people.
Which is another thing that used to make me scratch my head. If the linen is based on the acts of the people, why does the passage say the linen is given to the people?
It’s because the only way to do righteous acts is through faith:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6.)
Faith in Jesus is itself a gift of God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9.)
So when John wrote in Revelation 19 that the bride is given her wedding clothes and the linen represents the righteous acts of God’s people, the sequence of those statements is apt. The clothes – the righteous acts – are given to the bride, not earned by her. This is what God created you for, as Paul went on to explain to the Christians in Ephesus.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10.)
Remember too that it is “God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13.) Your ability to act – even your ability to desire to act – for God is from God in the first place.
The Faithless Wedding Guest
Look again at the king in Jesus’ parable. He calls the man his friend, engaging this lowly street person in conversation, giving him a chance to respond.
Notice too the man’s response.
This man did not fail an exam on church doctrine. He didn’t make excuses. He merely failed to respond to the king’s call. He was given the opportunity and said nothing.
The king reached out to him in love, but the man remained silent. He failed to respond in faith (to expand on the meaning of this parable) and so he didn’t belong at the wedding banquet. Out he went.
Jesus used this parable to show two truths:
- There are people who will not respond in faith to God.
- That’s not God’s fault.
But for those who have faith in Jesus something even better than being a guest at the wedding is offered. They are the Bride of Christ, the church of God’s people, given righteousness to wear as a robe.
That is entirely God’s fault, and it is a gracious blessing.