I guess most of you here have been to a wedding at some time in your lives and for many, of course, it was your own wedding. When we got married in Japan, a very long time ago now, I had never been to a Japanese wedding so I had an image in my head of a Kiwi wedding. So, I made my own dress because that is what most people in NZ did in those days, just used my every day make-up and actually forgot to organize a hairdresser to do my hair until the very last moment. We had both the wedding service and the reception outside so it was a very casual arrangement. It wasn't until some months later when I went to a Japanese wedding that I realized just how far off the mark we had been compared to a true Japanese wedding. For those of you who don't know about a Japanese wedding, the bride and groom often change their clothes 2 or 3 times from one gorgeous outfit to another. Some, I hear, even change their clothes 5 times. This, of course, costs a lot of money and some families have to take a loan in order to pay for it all. Our wedding, by the way, was probably the cheapest ever held in Japan! Probably most of us think more about what we are going to wear when we go to a wedding than at other times.
The passage we had read to us earlier is about a very different type of wedding feast. This is a parable which is a made-up story to illustrate some point. Jesus used this tale to show what God's kingdom, heaven, is like and how we can enter it. “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for His Son.” The King of course is God the Father and the Son, Jesus. Imagine what the wedding feast will be like for the Son of God! When parents are arranging details of a wedding for their children one of the first things they consider is the cost and the amount of money they have available will determine to some extent what kind of feast they will have. Some film stars spend obscene amounts of money on their weddings. It has been estimated that the Brad Pitt / Angelina Jolie wedding cost is $10 million! Think for a minute of the father, God, in this story – Psalm 50 God says “Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills….. for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” Everything that is, comes from Him and belongs to Him. What kind of wedding feast then do you suppose it might be when it is put on by a Father who has no limit to His resources? Think of the most amazing, most gorgeous meal, wedding or feast you have ever been to or heard about and realize that God is putting on a wedding feast far superior to anything we could ever imagine and it will be the biggest feast ever held with more people attending than has ever been recorded. The wedding feast God is planning will be far better than anything ever filmed by any paparazzi anywhere. And the most amazing thing is that we are all invited to it!
It is rather a shock when reading this parable to get to verses 11 and 12 and find how the King treats a guest who is not suitably dressed. He first of all asks the guest how he managed to get in without the correct attire but then, instead of quietly asking the intruder to leave, He calls the guards, has him tied up and thrown outside. That's what the parable says “thrown outside.” Not just gently escorted outside but literally thrown out into the darkness. What a terrible picture! Have you ever been to a wedding or some formal occasion and seen someone who has not got the right type of clothes being asked to leave? When we were on the Sunshine Coast in Australia earlier this year we went to a restaurant which, even though it was located right by the beach had a big notice stating that people with jandals on were not welcome. There are times when it is important to wear the right clothes for that occasion. If a guest arrived at a formal wedding in a T-shirt, old jeans and jandals I wonder what would happen! Would they be allowed into the venue? It would certainly create a problem in Japan. It is clear that it is necessary to have the correct clothes on for a wedding.
Why is it necessary to have the right clothes for the wedding feast God is planning? This is because our holy, righteous God cannot welcome sinful people into His house. In Habakkuk 1:13 it says, of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.” Remember, when Jesus was on the cross He said, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” Jesus was paying the price for all of our sins so they were placed on him and because of that, God could no longer look at Him even though Jesus was His beloved Son. This wedding feast is going to take place in God's home, heaven and He cannot have sin present in His holy place. The only way we can get into His home is to tell Him we are sorry for things we should not have done, ask for forgiveness and decide to follow Jesus the rest of our lives. It doesn't matter how 'good' we might be, from God's point of view, “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6 As humans, we often have a scale of evil which is formed in our heads by our experiences and our culture. By this I mean that we have an unwritten list which says that perhaps murder is the worst sin, stealing is not quite as bad as long as nobody gets hurt, and telling little lies is not so bad and really can't be classified as 'sin.' But that is not how God looks at 'sin'. Psalm 53:2,3 “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have become corrupt: there is no one who does good, not even one.” What a shocking verse! Surely there is a mistake here – even if I'm not good enough surely God thinks the pastor is a 'good man.' However, God does not keep the same scale of sin that we do. James says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10. Probably we have not committed murder or burgled someone else's house but maybe we have told a little, wee lie. In that case, we have broken God's law and cannot enter God's presence without having that lie covered. You will have read about what Jesus thought of the religious leaders of the time when he was on earth. The general public looked at the leaders and thought how amazing and 'good' they were. They were given the best places in restaurants and weddings and were always treated with respect. And, they themselves thought they were very good and holy. However, Jesus said to them “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27 They, the religious leaders, looked good and clean on the outside but Jesus said that actually they were stinking. The leaders of that time spent a lot of time keeping rules and thought by doing that they could be righteous but they ignored the sin on the inside. When Jesus looked at them their rule-keeping efforts were just a bunch of “filthy rags.” Even our best efforts are not good enough for us to attend the wedding feast prepared by the King. This is why we must have the clothes acceptable to the King in order to attend the wedding feast He is putting on for His Son, Jesus.
Where are we going to get clothes that are acceptable to the King? Apparently, in Middle Eastern cultures in those days a king who was putting on a wedding might supply clothes for the feast. If that is the case here then the man had no excuse to be improperly attired. Also, when you consider the previous verses where the servants went out in to the village to invite everyone to the feast, because the preparations were already complete, the people who then decided to accept the invitation would not have had time to go out and buy suitable clothing so it is safe to presume that the king actually supplied all of the necessary clothes. The King had wedding clothes already prepared for this man so why did he not put them? Did he think he was good enough just as he was? Was he just too lazy or too proud? No reason is given in the story. All we know is that he did not have on what had been prepared for him by the king and therefore he could not stay for the celebrations. God has prepared wedding clothes for every one of us but we are the ones who have to accept them and put them on. The man mentioned in this story missed out on taking part in the feast. Does this mean that God purposely leaves some people out? No, it is not God's will that anyone should miss out on the wedding feast He is preparing. He has given an open invitation to every person without exception. I'm not sure whether many of you follow rugby, in particular, the All Blacks here in NZ. When the selectors are going to pick a team, the players let the selectors know whether they are available or not. Some may have signed a contract with a team in another country, or have health issues or for some other reason may say that they are not available. In that case they will not be chosen. In the same way, if we show God we are available and interested He will pick us for His team. His team is not just for the rich or famous, the talented or good-looking but it is for anyone who acknowledges Jesus as their Lord. It is up to us to accept God's invitation and by doing that we receive the clothes He has prepared for us.
What are the clothes that have been prepared for me? Isaiah 61:10 “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Notice the first word in this verse, “He.” This refers to God, the King, who, at the moment we become a Christian, gives us something to cover up the 'dirty rags' we're dressed in. We are covered with the righteousness of Jesus. This means that when God looks at us He doesn't see all the dirt. Instead, he sees pure, white robes which He has given us. It doesn't matter what you may have done in the past, it's all covered up by the new robe of salvation which we have received from God. I'm sure most of you remember the famous story which Jesus told of the prodigal son. He wanted to leave his home and his father and go out on his own instead of depending on his father. He received the money that would have come to him when his father died and went far away. While he had money, so-called 'friends' helped him spend it all and when he had nothing left he ended up looking after some farmer's pigs. What a long way he had fallen from the wonderful life he had in his father's house. At last, he realized how stupid he had been and started back to his father's house intending to work for his father as a servant. Even before he got to the door his father saw him and ran to him to welcome him back. Do you remember what the first words were that the father said to his returned son? The story is found in Luke 15. Verse 22 says “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.” Can you imagine the kind of clothes the son would have been wearing? He had been working with pigs, probably living in the barn with them and wishing he could eat the food they were eating. I'm not sure whether he would have had access to a shower or a washing machine so his clothes would have been dirty, probably with holes in them and what a smell! That is exactly how we look to God when we go to Him. But He says “Quick! Bring the robe and put it on him. Quick! Bring the robe and put it on her.” In this way, the dirty clothes of our efforts and our sins are covered over and God sees only the pure, clean garment which He has donated to us.
Some of the men may not understand this but, when you receive an invitation to a wedding, one of the first things a woman says is, “But I've got nothing to wear!” Yet when you look in their wardrobe there seems to be heaps of clothes. We worry about whether we are suitably dressed. Some worry about whether they will be outclassed by someone else there. Or worse still, that someone else might be wearing the same dress as we've bought. These are all very important things. But, for the wedding banquet arranged by the King of Kings we all have the same clothes, the clothes of salvation, so we do not have to compare ourselves with anyone else or worry that we may not be dressed right. He has provided all we need. These garments are not something that we can buy or make ourselves. When we read in Genesis the story of Adam and Eve we see that after they had sinned by not obeying God, “The Lord God made them garments.” They could not cover up their sin by themselves but needed God to do it for them.
Thinking back to the story of the prodigal son in Luke15 we see that the father not only gave the returned son the best robe but also put a ring on his finger. I don't know how many of you have watched the movie “Ben Hur”. It's a great classic with a number of spiritual truths hidden in it. Judah Ben Hur was a rich Jewish prince whose best friend, when he was young, was a Roman boy. When they grew up the Roman boy became governor of the area Ben Hur was living in and because they had different political views he sent Ben Hur to prison. Ben Hur was eventually adopted by a famous Roman senator. The scene of the adoption is particularly moving. The Roman man legally adopts Ben Hur and during the ceremony gives him a ring. This ring is not just any ring but it has a seal imprinted on it which was used instead of a signature. It gave Ben Hur the same authority, the same power as his Roman adopted father. As a result of this Ben Hur becomes a citizen of Rome and as a son will inherit all of his father's wealth. This is an amazing picture of what God has done for us. Not only did He give us a robe of righteousness He has also adopted us and given us the right to be called a son or daughter of the Most High King. He has put his ring on our finger to show that we have an inheritance coming to us.
As well as the “robe of righteousness”, God has provided other garments for us. In Psalm 30:11 “you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Sackcloth was a material made of coarse, black goat's hair which was woven to make material which, as the name suggests, was used for sacks. It was very rough material so would have been very uncomfortable to wear. People used it when they wanted to show deep repentance. When we have done something that we know was wrong, we feel remorse and regret what was done. We have a bad feeling as though we were clothed in rough sackcloth. However, if we take our sorrow to God and truly repent saying that we really are sorry for what we did, He forgives us and exchanges the rough, heavy sackcloth-like feeling for one of relief and joy that we have been forgiven.
As soon as we acknowledge our sin to God and ask for forgiveness He gives us the robe of righteousness. After that, is it okay for us just to do whatever we like? No, not at all. Revelations 22:14 says “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” God has given us the robe but we have a responsibility to keep it clean. In our everyday lives we do things, say things, think things that are not pleasing to God which cause our robes to become soiled and it is our responsibility to clean them. How do we do that? When we sin we go to Jesus in prayer for cleansing knowing that “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is something that we need to do frequently. Of course, when we pray, we talk to God about anything that is troubling us and ask God for His help as well as for His forgiveness. Also, in Ephesians 5:26 Paul talks of “the washing of water through the Word.” Another way that we keep our wedding garments clean is by reading the word which is the Bible. How often do you wash the clothes that you have on now? Once a year? Once a month? With a lot of the clothes we wear we wash them every day. In the same way, we need to wash our wedding robes by reading the Bible every day. Imagine how dirty the clothes would get if we only wash them once a month! As we read the Bible, sometimes it feels as though nothing is happening but it is still washing us. Sometimes, the dishes you have used after eating don't look very dirty but you still wash them just to be sure. In the same way, we may not 'feel' that our 'clothes of salvation' are dirty but they still need a wash.
You and I have all received an invitation to the greatest wedding feast ever. If we've told God that we want to be on His team then we have already received our wedding clothes. All we have to do now is to keep them clean – to spend time with Jesus every day by praying, confessing our sins and by reading the Bible. My prayer is that everyone here will be at the greatest wedding feast ever.