Monday, October 13, 2014

What about the Clothes?

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

‘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.”

‘But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

‘Then he said to his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”  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.

‘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 22:1-14 NIV)

Our church’s associate pastor preached on this passage yesterday.  He did a great job explaining this parable and I spoke to him afterward.  He said it took him awhile to figure out “what the clothes were about.”

This story is fairly straightforward and clearly refers to the Lord as the king.  He announces the feast to those who already had been invited (i.e., the Jews).  But they refuse to come, so the king invites others (God-fearers and Gentiles).  The wedding hall is filled with people.  And then the story takes an unusual turn.  There is a wedding crasher found in the midst of the party.  He is found out because he is wearing the wrong clothes.  And here is where the story becomes rather strange. The man is not just ejected from the party.  He is tied up and thrown out into a place of darkness where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” biblical language referring to Hell. 

So, what is it about the clothes?  Is this a story about a man’s desire to express himself in face of cultural norms, in a sense like a student going against high school dress codes?  Probably not.  If you dig deeper into the cultural context, you will find it was common for a king to provide the clothes for his invited guests. Think of the rudeness of someone showing up in clothes of his own choosing, and likely the swift consequences of going against the king’s wishes.  

So, what about the clothes in Jesus’ parable?  What do they represent? Think about it for a minute.  What does Jesus provide us that we often choose to provide for ourselves?  Here’s a hint: It’s a wonderful biblical term.  Justification.  If you ask people the question, why should God let you into Heaven, most will have an answer that revolves around their goodness or their good works in life.  These are the “clothes” the man in the parable was wearing.  

While Jesus offers us justification for our sins through His own sacrificial death, we so often want to try to be a part of the party based on our own goodness—being a faithful churchgoer, doing good deeds, not being as bad as other people, etc.  Instead of the clothes He offers us, many of us still prefer to try to get into the party (Heaven) wearing our own.  And the result should be sobering.  

The reality Jesus is proclaiming is it is impossible to get into Heaven on our own merits.  No one can.  Not Mother Teresa, not the Pope, not Billy Graham, not Louis Giglio, not Francis Chan, not your grandmother, not your mother, not you, and not me.  Not one of us, no matter how good we might be or appear, can enter Heaven based on what we have done in life.  As Paul so succinctly states, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

Today, understand that the King has invited you to His wedding banquet, but know you cannot come dressed as you like.  You have to accept wearing the clothes He provides and recognize the filthiness and inappropriateness of your own for such a glorious event.  

© Jim Musser 2014

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