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Appropriate dress

April 1999 | by Samantha Jellett

We all love a wedding. There is the chance to see family and friends, a feast laid on, the joy of sharing the happiness of the bride and groom. When an invitation arrives, we seldom turn it down. And if the Queen herself were to invite us to the next royal wedding, we would not consider a refusal; any other plans we had would be cancelled in favour of the event.

Rebuffed

It comes as something of a surprise, then, when we read in Matthew 22 that the king in Jesus’ parable had not one but two wedding invitations refused by the intended recipients! It was the custom in those days to send out an initial invitation some time before the event and then another when everything had been prepared.

The king sent out his servants with the first invitation, but the invitees would not come. Graciously ignoring this rebuff, he sent out other servants with the announcement that all was now ready.

Some reacted with complete indifference: ‘they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business’. The rest displayed a more violent opposition, seizing and murdering the king’s servants.

The king, rightfully enraged, sent out his armies and set their city on fire. He then told his servants to go into the highways and invite as many as they could find to come to the feast, since those who had received the previous invitations were not worthy. The servants did so, and the wedding feast was filled with guests.

We should not be surprised at this story, for it holds a wealth of spiritual truth concerning the great marriage supper of the Lamb.

The gospel preached to every creature

The Lord was addressing those of his own nation who had rejected both the prophets before him and his own claim to be the Messiah sent from God. Through the parable, he made it clear that they would receive judgement, while God’s mercy would be extended to others. The Lord Jesus Christ was heralding here the unrestricted invitation of the Christian gospel to all nations.

But is it as much of a ‘free-for-all’ as it sounds? In the parable, the servants would not have gone into the highways telling people light-heartedly, ‘The king is giving a wedding feast for his son. It’s going to be lots of fun. Complimentary tickets for everyone’. No, the servants would have announced the king’s invitation in a  manner that conveyed to the people how privileged they were to receive it, together with clear information as to the conditions of acceptance.

As servants of the King of Kings, Christians must not only urge men to embrace his offer of salvation in Christ, but they must also tell them why it is necessary for them to do so. Rather than making a simple ‘decision for Christ’ and putting a tick in the box, they must be given information concerning the nature of God and themselves.

The God who calls us

The God of the Bible is the sovereign creator and upholder of the universe. He does not exist for our benefit, but we for his. As his creatures, we are completely dependent on him, not he on us. Harder truths must follow. We have all broken God’s holy laws and are separated from him. In his sight we are guilty sinners under his rightful wrath and facing eternal judgement. We can do nothing to earn his favour.

Yet this holy and perfect God is the one who calls such helpless sinners to his glorious and eternal wedding feast! How can this be?

In mercy, God sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The Lord Jesus Christ offered his sinless body on the cross as a full, complete and satisfying sacrifice for the sins of all those that the Father had given him out of fallen humanity.

Inappropriate attire

The only condition attached to God’s invitation to sinners through the gospel is that they must cast themselves entirely on his mercy, putting their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and wearing no covering but the garment of his imputed righteousness.

In the parable we meet a man who attempted to bypass the king’s requirements. It is evident that although an unrestricted invitation had gone out to all, those who accepted it had to put on a garment suited to the occasion if they were to be welcomed by the king. As the guests had been travelling on the highways, we can assume that the required ‘wedding garment’ was supplied by the king himself on their arrival at the palace. This brought all to the same level, reminding them that they were there by virtue of the king’s gracious invitation, not because of their own social standing.

This man, however, was not wearing a wedding garment. ‘Friend,’ said the sovereign, ‘did you come in here not having a wedding garment?’ The man had obviously refused the king’s garment, believing his own to be perfectly good enough. In an attitude of self-sufficiency, he had taken his place at the wedding table. And he had got away with it until the king arrived!

Harsh realities

Now, however, his folly stood exposed under the monarch’s scrutiny; he could not find a word of reply. ‘Then the king said to his servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”‘.

The parable is a parable no more – here are the harsh realities. Those who reject God’s gracious offer of mercy and forgiveness through the atoning work of his beloved Son will have eternity to bitterly regret their folly. How vital it is, then, that we should not only accept the invitation to the ‘wedding feast’ prepared in heaven, but that we should enter clothed with the only acceptable garment, that is, the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Those who do so are able to sing with joy:

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;

Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,

With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great day,

For who aught to my charge shall lay?

Fully absolved through these I am

From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Adapted from an anonymous source by Samantha Jellett.