10-17-21 Trinity 20

October 17, 2021
Series:
Passage: Matthew 22:1-14
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Jesus tells a short history of the world in our Gospel for this morning. And this history beautifully culminates with people coming to church. What we are doing right now is what God has ordered all the history of all the world toward. There is nothing greater on earth, no goal more prestigious, no ladder to climb higher, no compulsion to accomplish something more. No, here it is all complete, here is rest from all troubles and freedom from all guilt and shame, here is the Kingdom of heaven and full access to God our Father.

God is in control of history. And His thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways not our ways. No one would think that the great goal of time is met right here on a Sunday morning in Casper, WY, as sinners gather together to sing and pray and hear the wisdom of an ancient book and the words of a sermon and eat bread and wine together. This is the feast? This is the great goal of history? And faith must answer, yes, precisely this, where else could it possibly be? In politics? Every kingdom in the history of the world has fallen, and so will ours. In the pleasures of the body? Without Christ they leave me hollow and empty and unfulfilled. In my works? My accomplishments? But these are stained with my sin and need the cleansing of my God. In fame? But my name will be forgotten or mocked or slandered, as every other name in history has been. And what do I care what men think of me unless I know what God thinks of me? No, faith says, and faith forces both reason and emotion into submission, to say their Amen, that it is here where God meets man, here where the God-man promises to be, here where sins are forgiven and the body and blood of Jesus meet your lips, here is the goal of time and life.

This is why it’s just no good to teach history without God. God is the creator of time and of history, and he has governed all time to bring about our salvation, to win it in Jesus our Lord and to have this salvation preached and given to us through His Church. Look at all the ancient empires, and see that God used them for these goals. He says so. He calls Cyrus of Persia his servant. He says He raised up Nebuchadnezzar and gave Jerusalem into His hand. He had His Son take on flesh in the fullness of time, under the reign of Caesar Augustus, had him crucified as we confess every Sunday, under Pontius Pilate. God orders history, makes kingdoms rise and fall, with always the same gracious intention, to gather His church, to invite poor sinners to the feast of His Son, to wash them clean and clothe them with His Son’s righteousness.

In times past, to make this happen, God chose the nation of Israel. It was through the nation of Israel that the Son of God came in the flesh. And before Christ came, it was to Israel that God entrusted his word and the preaching of salvation for the two thousand years. So though tiny and insignificant in comparison to the great kingdoms of the world, in comparison to Egypt and to Persia and to Rome, it was on little Israel that God showered His attention and it was for despised Israel that He moved all history. And this not because Israel was so great in herself, not because her people were filled with surpassing virtue – they weren’t – but because God chose them out of love, that through Israel He would bring about the incarnation of His Son in the fullness of time, that through Israel the promise of salvation would be preached to all the world. This is what Simeon sings, as he cradles the Lord Jesus in his arms, “A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.” Here in Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s history, here their glory.

But when their Lord came, they rejected Him; and when He sent out His apostles, they rejected and killed them. So God destroyed their city. And He sent out the invitation to others. This too is the rhythm of all history. God sends out the invitation. Most reject it. But God never tires of sending the invitation out again. Because God doesn’t change. Nations change. They rise and fall. And God raises them up so that people will hear His Word. And when they reject it, they fall, and God raises up other nations. But God never changes. His invitation remains the same. And the greatest goal of every man and city and nation is God’s goal for it, that it heed His invitation. If you want to know what is best for yourself, your community, your state, your nation, it will be found in a merely political solution, accomplished by voting and elections or weapons and laws. It is the preaching of Christ’s Word here at church, the holding to it in our homes, the teaching of it at our school, handing it down to our children, so that we and our children’s children hear the invitation of our Lord and come to His wedding feast.

That the great majority of men have not seen this and still do not see this must never become a scandal for us who do see it. Jesus told us beforehand that this would happen, so that we would know and trust that He still works all for our good. Jesus calls us His little flock, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The church is little. She has never been in the majority. Our Lord has told us that He wants all to be saved. He is the God who created all, the God who joined us all in our misery by taking on our flesh and our infirmities, who bore the sin of all the world, lived for all the world, died for all the world, rose for the life of all the world. His Father so loves the world. This is God. He is sincere. There is no place where His word has not gone out. It is man who runs away from God, though He invites all to the feast. It is man who refuses to take it seriously, refuses even to care, though God Himself descends from heaven and joins our human race. It is exactly as God says in Isaiah, what we sing every Good Friday, “What more could I have done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” What more could God do? The fault is not in Him. It is in man. And this is the great warning to us – this is the frailty of our flesh.

Our flesh will think of a million excuses to not care about Jesus, or worse, to be offended at Jesus. We should recognize how petty the excuses of the world are and condemn them whenever they arise in our own flesh. “They paid no attention and went off,” Jesus says, “one to his farm, another to his business.” Remember the parable of the rich fool, who harvested so much grain that he tore down his old barns and built bigger ones and said to himself, “Self, you have plenty of goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” It is all vanity, all a lie, to put your stock in the things of this world while ignoring the Creator and Redeemer of the world. The happiness the things of the world promise will fade away. Only Jesus and His words will remain. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

But some don’t just ignore the invitation. They persecute the ones who announce the invitation. The invitation itself offends them, angers them. So Jesus says, “the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” This describes what the Jews did in rejecting God’s Word, but it gets repeated throughout history. The violent reaction against the Gospel and Christ’s Church remains today. It has always been, since Cain murdered his brother, since Ham shamed his father, since Pharaoh exposed the little ones of God’s people. So it is today. Secular society despises the true church. We saw this very clearly in the banning of church all over the western world during the Covid crisis. Governments demanded that Christ’s church take second place. The true church dared to say that people needed forgiveness more than health, that they needed Jesus’ body and blood more than worldly good, and secular governments and secular people persecuted them for it, shut them down, arrested some, fined others, slandered them all. For the first time in a long time Christians in the west saw violence against Christ’s Church. We need to get used to it. Because it’s not simply that Christ demands first place for His Church, it’s also that He preaches what offends the unbelieving world. And the more secular our nation becomes, the more furious it will be with Christ’s true church. The true church is faithful to her Husband, she loves His words, and she will continue to preach them, no matter the cost, because they are her life. The words that offend, the law that condemns the lust and perversity and envy and greed of the world, these don’t offend her, this is her tutor, what leads her to her Husband, what makes her know that she is poor and needy and dirty and naked, what makes her thirst for the Bridegroom who will wash her and clothe her and feed her and raise her to His right hand. So she will not give up a single word that comes from the mouth of her Lord.

The Church knows, for certain, without any doubt, that there is nothing better, nothing higher, nothing greater, than belonging to her Lord and hearing His Word and being united to His flesh and blood in communion with Him. She sings, Jesus priceless treasure, and she means it. She sings, What is the world to me? and she sincerely can’t think of a single thing in the world, a single pleasure, a single honor, anything, that could compare with her Savior. She adores Him with all her heart.

And this is not because the Church is pure of herself. It is exactly the opposite. It is because she is in need and she knows it and she seeks her purity and her righteousness from Christ alone. This is the wedding garment of which the Lord Jesus speaks. It is the garment of Christ’s righteousness, that covers all our nakedness and all our sin. Here all shame is covered up, all fear of judgment taken away, here is peace, knowing that you have not clothed yourself with your works, you have not made yourself worthy – how could you, but God Himself has clothed you in the righteousness of His Son, God Himself has crowned you, has washed you, feeds you, loves you. So it is the great joy of everyone at the feast to wear the wedding garment. The man who doesn’t have it on is thrown out into the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. He simply doesn’t belong in the Church. It simply makes no sense for him to be there. He may hold membership in the church. He may be confirmed. He may serve on the Council or have given a lot of money. But if he is not wearing the wedding garment, he is thrown out. And he has nothing to respond. He is speechless. He can’t say, “But Lord, I’ve done this;” or, “I’ve given that.” No, none of that will do. The Church doesn’t brag on what she has done; she relies on what her Lord has done for her. She doesn’t glory in herself. She glories in her Lord. She doesn’t claim her own righteousness; she claims the righteousness of God, her Lord.

Because church is a wedding feast. And what happens here is what marriage is, what God created it to be. What the husband has, he gives to the bride. No longer is it, “This is mine and that is yours,” but, “what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine.” And so the Church, so ugly and dirty, filled with sinners, she gives all she has to her Jesus, and Jesus takes it, our death, our sin, our shame, our guilt, our hell and our condemnation. He is our Husband, He has vowed Himself to us, in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, and so He takes it all and makes it His own. He suffers our death, bears our shame, faces our sin’s judgment. Everything filthy and ugly in us and about us He takes to Himself. But He is not made filthy by this. No, He is life itself, and so our death is swallowed up in His resurrection. He is righteousness itself and so our sin is swallowed up in His innocence. He is peace itself and so our troubled conscience must find its rest. Everything He is He gives to us. He has left His Father to be joined to His Bride, and the two shall become one flesh. So it happens here. He joins us to Himself, gives us His body and blood. And as He is here in His body and blood, so also we are with Him in heaven, in the presence of God, in communion with all the Church in heaven and on earth.

And since this is so, let there be no doubt, that this is the goal of history, the goal of time, the goal of all things, the goal of life. Everything else will fail and fall and fade away. But here, by faith in the Son of God, you have everything. Amen.

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