“But when 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. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)This passage continues Matthew’s coverage of the confrontations between Jesus and the religious rulers of the Jews. The parable of the wedding feast demonstrates that these rulers have rejected Him and so have rejected the Kingdom of God. Now the Lord will open His Kingdom, will offer grace and mercy to those the Jews tried to keep out: the pagans and Gentiles. But this is not cheap grace. The Kingdom of Heaven may be a joyous celebration but, as the example of the treatment of the man who was not properly clothed shows us, no one can come into that Kingdom as they are, with all their sins and their own religious beliefs or practices.
What Jesus tells us is that, although the Lord desires to call all unto Himself, only those who are clothed with the righteousness of Christ can enter His Kingdom, no matter how good, noble or popular they are. This is very difficult for many people to accept in our present day considering the popular view that most people go to heaven or its equivalent regardless of their religious beliefs or moral character. In the world, moral character is not determined these days by referring to Biblical standards or even the 10 commandments. Goodness is determined by what is popular or how nice a person is, or how generous and friendly. But as Jesus says, we must be clothed in His righteousness, not our own.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. . .” (Philippians 3:7-9)
Paul maintained that believers must be wary of all those who come in His name but are not servants, those out to make a name for themselves or amass money and prestige and who demand obedience because of their authority and credentials. Paul was not that way though he had earthly credentials and a fine Jewish heritage. He realized that salvation and righteousness do not come from our works or achievements but are the gift of God imparted to those He calls, to those He brings to repentance and faith.
Paul was not one to proclaim even his own righteousness because he knew that he was not perfect by any means. In fact as we see here he was painfully aware of his sins and shortcomings. Most leaders in the church would hesitate to admit such a thing. They want to be perceived as in control, having all the answers to all problems, with boundless energy, free from doubt as well as from the struggles of life and temptation that plague the rest of us. They want to be perceived as successful. And believers want the same thing as well. They want a dynamic preacher who has prestigious diplomas on his office wall. Many shudder at the thought of a pastor struggling with sin or doubt, or not having the solutions to their problems. Quite a contrast to Paul. He admitted he had not arrived yet at perfection. Yet he knew that his new life is assured in Christ and he wants to experience it in its fullness. That is why he pressed on in ministry, forgetting the sins of the past, knowing that he was forgiven in Christ, ignoring the deprivation and suffering of the present and working toward the glory of heaven. Such is a model for our own leaders, ones who share our doubts and struggles and can empathize with us.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.'” (Matthew 21:42-44)
The day after Jesus confronted the rulers of the Jews, He related a series of parables that told them in no uncertain terms that they were outside of God’s kingdom. This parable about the vineyard was a prophetic history lesson that drew on the image of Israel as the vineyard of the Lord. As with the image in Isaiah 5, the people of God behaved with great wickedness and rebellion. They refused to obey God and routinely rejected His prophets and teachers. Ultimately, they would even reject His Son and put Him to death.
Because of this rejection, Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God would soon to be open to the weak, the downtrodden, the unclean and the sinners as well as Gentiles, not the religious or the self-righteous Pharisees and their followers. Rather, as the quotes from Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8:14-15 tell us, since Jesus is the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God, those who oppose or reject Him will be broken and crushed into dust and blown away like chaff. No wonder the Pharisees were angry with Him.
The same is true today of self-righteous individuals. They are in and of the world. They may value fame, wealth, pleasure and power as paradigms of true life, but those who exalt self or others and reject Jesus will not enter God’s Kingdom. Their deeds, writings, and pronouncments will be forgotten and useless. Only those who come to faith in Jesus, acknowledging their sin and weakness will live forever in the presence of the Lord.
“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:7)
The symbol of God’s people as a vineyard is quite common throughout the Bible. The fruit is symbolic of the works of godliness that the Lord expects from His vines, from His people. Unfortunately, Isaiah indicated that the grapes were bad. He then pronounced judgment with great passion for he felt the Lord’s sorrow and disappointment at the rebellion of those He loved. The bad fruit they produced was to be judged for the people of Judah had been involved in defrauding the poor and needy and their neighbors through greed and selfishness. They reveled in drunkenness and debauchery. They were arrogant toward and scornful of the Lord. They rejoiced in evil and pervert goodness. They exploited others through injustice. They were puffed up with pride.
I think in some ways, Isaiah’s indictment reflects modern day America. Many Americans are greedy and materialistic, not just the rich but the middle class and even the poor. Many are proud, self-reliant and self-centered. They have no need for a God who tells them what is right and wrong. Many do not care about the suffering of the poverty-stricken and politically oppressed peoples who inhabit third world nations. American businessmen consistently exploit the resources as well as the people of those same nations. Celebrities and politicians alike exploit use the public to maintain their wealth and prestige. American justice often favors the rich, the famous and the politically powerful who routinely evade the law with impunity. American culture has redefined what sin is so that what is evil is promoted as good and what is good is considered harmful and destructive to a free society. And in some ways many Christians have embraced this culture and become complicit in these sins. Time for repentance.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:23-27)
In this chapter, Jesus confronted the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the Jews. They resented His popularity among the Jewish people. Their animosity increased enormously in a short space of time because they felt threatened by His challenges to their authority. Earlier He confronted them when He entered Jerusalem in triumph and the people hailed Him as King and Messiah. Jesus increased their outrage when He chased the moneychangers out of the temple area. He then refused to tell the Pharisees the basis for His authority for doing what He did because their request was insincere, designed only to trip Him up and gather information to use against Him.
When we speak to people in the world about Jesus, they often feel uncomfortable. They resent Him. They challenge His authority and His existence as well as the Scripture itself the avenue of God’s truth and wisdom because these threaten their self-centered worldview. They maintain that they alone, not God, not anyone, determine how they should live and what they should do with their lives. Such people may make us uncomfortable because we do not know how to answer them. Yet we should ask them on what authority do they base their beliefs? On what basis should they or anyone live a good life? On what basis should they do good to others rather than ill? What authority do they use to make any decisions about ethics or morality? We who have faith in Christ have Him as our authority. Over two millennia He has provided stability and peace to millions who trust in Him. Can the world make any such claim?
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)
How can we be servants of the Lord on our jobs, and in our families, relationships and personal lives? What role if any does a vacation or leisure time have in serving the Lord? How should we be spending we spend our time and money as servants of the Lord?
Paul exhorted his brethren to righteousness so that their lives would be harmonious and glorifying to the Lord. Paul maintained that we grow in righteousness and harmony by emulating the example of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. We are called to demonstrate our salvation by putting put off self-indulgence, not demanding privileges or rights for self. Our ultimate concern is for others, not self. We serve God by serving others. In this way we, like Paul, become offerings that please God.
Now in the process of serving others we will, like Paul, suffer and endure deprivation and loss so that God’s Kingdom may flourish. And we are to do this without complaint! This is all part of the process of dying to self and living for God. In our self-centered world we might not like this idea of service to others at all. We fear that other people will use and manipulate us, that they will take advantage of us. We are afraid to lose what we think we need or what we think is our right and privilege: we want what everybody else has. Yet as servants we lose this fear because we realize that we are not in control of our lives: the Lord is. He uses us as He sees fit while our purpose in life is to obey totally and completely. Only by accepting this call will we find true peace and joy.
“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:1-4)
The proverb to which the Lord refers is what the people of Judah in exile in Babylon felt: they were being punished for the sins of their fathers and ancestors not their own. The sins of Judah had reached their peak in Ezekiel’s generation. The punishment was well earned, for the sins of the fathers had repeated themselves in the children. They did not realize the extent of their own sin. They had no idea that they had done wrong, no clue that what they were still engaging in their detestable idolatry and immorality.
The underlying motivation for making such a statement was that the Lord was unfair and unjust. The same statement about God being unjust and unfair is often made today. Why should we suffer for sins committed by others? The Lord, however, is fair and just. He judges each one separately according to his own deeds and sins, not the sins of others, though we often suffer because of the sins of others. In addition, we all tend to repeat the sins of those we respect, fear or emulate such as parents, other family members, teachers, celebrities, and politicians. They are supposed to set a godly example for us but often lead us astray.
In the Kingdom of God, no one can blame someone else for their sinfulness nor for the punishment it brings. Faith with its accompanying repentance and righteousness will remove the ultimate penalty of eternal separation from God. Those who refuse to repent, who continue in wickedness and excuse their sins as “lifestyle choices” will find only condemnation for their sinful ways. It is up to the church to be prophetic and warn them of the danger before it is too late.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville