Not Dressed for the Party?

Related Sermon: Matthew 22:1-14 “The Wedding Feast” (sermón en español)

In this week’s gospel (see below), we learned about a man who came to the party at the King’s invitation but ultimately was thrown out for not being properly dressed. What does this man signify for the kingdom of God, and how do we avoid facing the same embarrassment?

All Come
Earlier in the story there was a group of people who were invited first to the King’s son’s wedding banquet, and yet they rejected the invitation. In the original context of Jesus’ story, these were the unbelieving Jewish people who were unresponsive to the announcement of the Messiah. The day of the Lord’s visitation was upon them, only they were too focused on their own lives and businesses to give any heed to the invitation of the Gospel.

In our day many people are so focused on the things of this world, such as building their careers or retirement lifestyle, that they miss the incredible invitation offered in the Kingdom of God. To them the question is rightly raised, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

As the story continued, the party’s heralds went out to the streets to invite others. Again, in Jesus day this could include people from other nations other than Israel, Gentiles. Interestingly, Jesus’ story mentions that the new invitees were both “good and bad”. Truly the offer of the Gospel is an invitation of forgiveness and grace. No one is truly worthy or deserving of an invitation to the King’s party. As Paul says in Ephesians, “it is by grace we have been saved”. (Ephesians 2:5)

Evangelists call this the free offer of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is offered to everyone on the planet regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, gender, age, or social status. Someone might say, “I am not worthy to go to the party, you do not know how bad I am or what I have done.” The invitation is even to those who have sinned greatly. The offer of the Gospel is to everyone.

The man with the wrong clothes was a person who responded affirmatively to the invitation of the Gospel. He had come to the party and was included among its participants, but something was amiss.

Come as you are? 

There is an old evangelical hymn entitled “Just as I am…” It is often played at altar calls as a way of encouraging people to come to faith in Jesus. It is a bit of a miss-invitation. The invitation to the king’s party included a line about “proper attire”. Today at church, I did an inspection of the attire. Some were dressed in suits and ties; others were wearing flip-flops and tee-shirts. But that’s not the type of attire mentioned here. We are not called to a dress code of externalities; it is an internal dress code. Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians. He was addressing the problem of the new Gentile converts who were continuing “to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” He writes: “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-23)

Paul reveals for us the wardrobe change required before coming to the party. God calls us to “put off” the “old self”. There is a false Gospel making its rounds in the church again that trumpets inclusivity without conversion. The invitation of the Gospel is a call to obedience of life. Jesus would see us transformed into his likeness and holiness. The unconverted heart may make it through the doors of the church building and into the fellowship of the people of God, but it has no place in the Kingdom of God.

For Paul, the transformation of our minds overcomes the natural carnal desires of our hearts. A new mindset leads to a heart reset. Yes, this man came to the party, unlike those who refused the invitation. Unfortunately for him, he still had the same heart condition as those who had outright rejected the invitation. His heart was enamored with the things of the world rather than with the King and his Son. Even though he was at the party, his heart wasn’t there. This fact was made obvious by his lack of appropriate attire, and the King was not impressed.

The man without the party clothes represents a person in the fellowship of the church who is continuing “to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” Yes the King says, “come all” but not “come as you are”.

Proper attire required!

As we consider our own response to the King’s invite, make sure you notice the wording about “proper attire”. The King is not merely expecting our presence at the banquet; he wants us to come as fully dressed participants. Parties are much more fun anyway when we dress up and get with the program. So put off the old self, put on your new party clothes through the renewing of your minds. Let’s celebrate and have a great time at the King’s Son’s wedding party!

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “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 So 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, the bad as well as the good, 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 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ 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.”