Although I am not a British person living in Great Britain, on April 29th, 2011, I had the opportunity to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton, his beloved bride, thanks to modern technology. It was an extravagant wedding where numerous luxury brands were represented. The women wore dresses designed by expensive brands like Dior, Gucci, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton, while the men showed off their prestigious Rolex and Omega wristwatches. Now, allow me to provide you with some interesting facts about Royal Weddings.
There are eight rules for what to wear to a royal wedding. These rules dictate the dress code for both men and women, including aspects such as color, length, and other specific details. So, what would happen if a guest arrived at a royal wedding underdressed? They might be denied entry or directed to a designated area where they can rectify their attire. In some cases, the staff or organizers may have spare garments available for loan to guests who arrive underdressed.
As you may assume Royal Weddings in Britain are typically not open for the general public to attend. They are private ceremonies and usually have a limited guest list consisting of family members, close friends, dignitaries, and other guests. (You can get arrested if you turn up uninvited.) The venues where the weddings take place, such as Westminster Abbey or St. George’s Chapel, may have restricted access to ensure the privacy and security of the event.
Moving on to my message today, last week we looked at a parable that Jesus taught which is also about a royal wedding. We learned although the King invited many esteemed guests for the wedding banquet all of them rejected the invitation and some even killed the messengers in cold blood. The furious king ordered his servants to go to the streets and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame from all over the town for the wedding banquet, (Matthew 22:19).
Sounds great, but towards the end of the story, Jesus reveals that when the king noticed a guest who was not dressed in wedding clothes, he ordered the servants to bind the man’s hands and feet and cast him into the outer darkness, where there would be weeping and grinding of teeth. Jesus concludes, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:10-14) – It may appear unfair that the king expected the poor people in the town to come dressed in ceremonial attire.
It seems illogical, doesn’t it? However, I want to draw your attention to the same verse in the Amplified Bible, which states, “‘Friend, how did you come in here without wearing the wedding clothes [that were provided for you]?’ And the man was speechless and without excuse…” In those times, wedding garments were provided to ensure everyone was equal at the banquet, regardless of their social or economic status. (Oh, how I wish I had been born in that era!)
In my sermon last week, I explained to you that the wedding mentioned in this story represents the marriage supper of the Lamb. The invitation to the wedding symbolizes the Gospel, while the individuals who turned down the invitation are the Jews who rejected Christ, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame are the Gentiles that responded to the Gospel. Now, let’s discuss the guest without wedding clothes in the story, the significance of wearing appropriate wedding attire, what happened to him, and what lessons we can learn from his experience to secure our eternal salvation.
1. Heaven isn’t for the Self-righteous
In this parable, we can interpret the guest who declined to wear the proper wedding attire as symbolizing the self-righteous, Christ-rejecting sinner who relies on his own actions and works. Contrary to Jesus’ words in John 14:6, he desires to enter the kingdom on his own terms rather than following God’s way. He reminds me of a popular car bumper sticker: “Regardless of life’s path, Heaven is the ultimate destination. The key is to lead a virtuous and moral life.” Unfortunately, the Bible says in the eyes of God self-righteousness is like filthy rags, (Isaiah 64:6).
Jesus directly challenges the self-righteous Jews, and He did so frequently throughout His teachings. Self-righteousness is the devil’s bait that arrives in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. However, all forms of self-righteousness can be summarized in one sentence. Evaluating and criticizing others compared to the spiritual practices or standards I have personally established for myself. Consider the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14), for example.
The Pharisee starts his prayer by comparing himself to the tax collector and highlighting their differences. While spiritual practices like fasting and tithing are not inherently wrong, the Pharisee mistakenly believed that engaging in these activities made him more righteous than others. At times, we can also exhibit a similar attitude to that of the Pharisees. For instance, I might have a personal preference for reading a physical Bible, which could lead me to judge those who prefer reading it on their iPhone or iPad. This judgmental mindset reflects a sense of self-righteousness. Such people shall never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
2. Heaven isn’t for the Backslidden
Does the name Charles Bradley Templeton (1915-2001) ring a bell? For most of you, probably not. What about the organization “Youth for Christ”? Templeton co-founded it with Dr. Billy Graham. So, what happened to Templeton? In 1957, after struggling with doubts, Templeton rejected God and became an atheist. He even authored a book titled “Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith” Today, Dr. Graham is a prominent figure in history, while Templeton is barely remembered.
I mentioned earlier that the guest without wedding clothes in the parable symbolizes those who consider themselves righteous. It is also a representation of the backslidden. What does backsliding mean? In Christian theology, “backsliding” or “falling away” refers to the process by which a believer reverts to their previous way of life and turns away from God to pursue worldly desires, (Ex: Judas). They remove their new self and put on their old self, (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Backslidden Christians often subscribe to the doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” It asserts that once a person genuinely accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior and receives salvation, they cannot lose their salvation regardless of their subsequent actions or behavior. However, this is not true. While deeds of righteousness don’t produce salvation, salvation must produce the works of righteousness. For faith without actions is a dead faith, (James 2:18-26). Therefore the backslidden shall never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
3. Heaven isn’t for the Pretentious
In July 2015, during the Ashley Madison hack, one of the victims was a pastor who later committed suicide upon discovering that his personal information had been exposed. Today, there are many Christians in the church who pretend to be godly. Paul referred to them as people who bear a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Jesus said that such people would never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, (Matthew 7:21-23).
What captivates me the most about this parable is that the guest without wedding clothes managed to slip into the wedding unnoticed by other guests and servants. It was the king, the host of the wedding who spotted him. He fooled everyone else, but not the king. That’s when he realized that he had made a fool of himself. We can deceive anyone with our outward appearance, but we cannot deceive God. When we think we can deceive God, we are only fooling ourselves.
Live it Out:
Perhaps the most dreadful part of this story is what happened to the underdressed guest. Jesus said the guest was speechless. He had no excuse. He had been provided with appropriate clothes for the occasion, but he chose not to wear them. He had only himself to blame. He sealed his own fate with his own hands. On the last day, God will demand an explanation of what we did with the righteousness He gave us through the Lord Jesus Christ. On that day, will you find yourself speechless?
Ultimately, the king ordered his servants to bind the man’s hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This phrase is an idiom that appears seven times in the New Testament. It refers to the eternal agony to be suffered in hell, not only by the skeptics who reject Christ, but also by the self-righteous, the backslidden, and the pretentious Christians. If you find yourself in one of these categories as a Christian, what can you do to correct yourself?
The word of God is crystal clear. God opposes those who are arrogant but shows favor to those who are humble, (James 4:6). It doesn’t matter if you have been self-righteous, have strayed from your faith, or have pretended to be a devout Christian. What matters is that God is willing to forgive you and restore you to a righteous state if you acknowledge your sins, repent, and demonstrate genuine remorse through your actions.
If you have been self-righteous, you should address your own faults before criticizing others, as stated in Matthew 7:5. If you have strayed from your faith, you should follow the example of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 and return to your heavenly Father. And if you have been pretending to be devout while engaging in sinful behavior, you should turn away from your wicked ways, as advised in James 4:4.
In conclusion, the parable of the wedding banquet urges us to examine the state of our spiritual attire and prompts us to take action. It challenges us to shed the garments of self-righteousness, guard against the perils of backsliding, and reject the allure of pretentiousness. Instead, it invites us to embrace the righteousness provided by Jesus Christ, a righteousness that surpasses social status, race, or worldly distinctions. Just as the wedding garments were freely offered to all guests in the parable, God extends His righteousness to each one of us at no cost. It is a gift of grace that cannot be earned or achieved through our own efforts. We are invited to accept this gift, allowing it to clothe us in purity and holiness. Through this divine covering, we become eligible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and partake in the eternal banquet prepared by our loving Father.
As we reflect on this parable, we are reminded of the importance of humility and sincere surrender in our relationship with God. Our outward appearances and religious acts hold no weight compared to the transformative power of God’s righteousness. It is not about putting on a show of religious piety or striving for moral superiority. Rather, it is about recognizing our need for redemption, acknowledging our inability to save ourselves, and turning to Jesus as the source of our salvation. Therefore, let us respond to the message of this parable with a genuine desire to align our lives with God’s will. Let us let go of the trappings of self-righteousness, continually guarding our hearts against the subtle dangers of backsliding and embracing authenticity in our faith. May we strive to walk in obedience and surrender, allowing the righteousness of Christ to permeate every aspect of our lives.
In the grand tapestry of life, amidst the ebb and flow of human existence, it is of utmost importance that we constantly remind ourselves of a profound truth—one that has the power to reshape our perspective and illuminate our path. It is a truth that transcends the fleeting nature of worldly achievements, the allure of self-righteousness, and the deceptive allure of outward appearances. This truth lies at the very heart of our eternal destiny, intricately woven within the fabric of God’s divine plan. Let us never forget that our eternal destiny is not determined by our own flawed and limited self-righteousness, nor is it influenced by the superficial trappings of our external demeanor. No, the tapestry of our eternal future is intricately connected to the gracious provision of God’s righteousness, a righteousness that is unfathomable, unfailing, and unconditionally bestowed upon us through the profound sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is in His selfless act of love that we find our hope, our redemption, and our ultimate salvation.
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