In our country each major political party holds an annual conference. Liberal, Labour and Tory politicians give rousing speeches, promising great and better things. It’s the usual stuff. They’re after our vote! There’s nothing new under the sun. When all’s said and done, MPs from all sides are frequently criticized for being out of touch and out of date. If you watch Question Time something you hear quite often is:“If only they’d tell us the truth – then we might believe them!” As someone joked, “The difference between Parliament and McDonalds is that one books the cooks and the other…cooks the books!” I know poking fun at MPs is easy, but seriously:-
What is truth?
A leading Roman procurator once discussed this perennial question with Jesus who claimed He had come into the world “to testify to the truth” and that all who love the truth recognise that what He says is true (Jn.18:37-38). However, Pilate didn’t really wait to hear Jesus’ answer. It was not really a serious question. It was, however, a very cynical one. For Pilate it would appear that truth was merely a feeling, or an abstract idea. Truth was whatever the majority of people agreed with not what one honourable man said. Right now he had the seething anger of the Jewish crowd to contend with. Relative Truth deals with human thoughts and emotions. The mob wanted this innocent man’s blood. So Pilate, chose to reject Jesus and thereby rejected Absolute Truth.
It’s a tragedy when human beings fail to recognise the unchanging truth about Jesus Christ. He upheld the OT – God’s testimony to a stubborn people. He taught with an authority which other rabbis didn’t have: judge not, love your neighbour as yourself, stop sinning or something worse may happen to you and the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast”. These are Divine Principles – the Absolute Truth – which the Lord throughout the ages invited His people to understand. God can be depended on, His ways are reliable, He is Faithful – but time again they turned down the invitation to the feast. Thus the angry king burns down their city.
This was self fulfilling prophecy. Matthew wrote his Gospel after AD70 when Jerusalem had been razed to the ground – but he remembered Jesus’ words – this was the truth. Just as the Messiah’s earlier words:“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk 16:31). We listen because we must! In Jesus is found life and immortality. He is full of grace and truth. It’s a greater tragedy to know the truth but fail to heed it and take it for granted:“When the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’” (Mt.22:11-12).
Back in those days wedding clothes were provided for the guests. It was customary to do this. It was unthinkable to refuse to wear them. That would insult the host. This parable bothers us because it doesn’t say what we want it to. We want to hear a nice story about God throwing a party for everyone. Politicians prefer to say “we’re an inclusive society” and the word “inclusive” is fashionable and politically correct. But too often “inclusive” is applied to the Gospel and to the Church – often masked behind phrases like radial welcome and zero intolerance. Of course everyone in the whole world is invited into God’s house, to the great feast of salvation, but only through the ONE and ONLY exclusive Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: “The Way, The Truth, The Life” (Jn.14:6).
There is no other way into the King’s banquet (eternal life) – yet this is not a lesson we want to learn. That’s the personal twist explained in this story. This gospel, this salvation, is yours. You’re invited to the party yourself, but you’ve got to ensure you don’t get thrown out – naked. The wedding clothes picture the righteousness needed to enter God’s Kingdom. Only you can choose to put them on. Be warned God is to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity. Our actions have consequences: “Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt.22:13).
If you’re a wayward Christian then you are wandering from the truth (Js.5:19). We want true life, true bread, true light. Yet in our arrogance we don’t want to know about judgement on the wicked, we don’t want to hear about God’s wrath or about rigorous standards of holiness. We want to take part in the wedding celebration, have our cake and eat it, believing that whatever we do isn’t really important as it will all work itself out somehow.
But God’s forgiveness isn’t like this. Yes, He sends us an open invitation again and again – however faith is meant to lead to more than good behaviour. It has to mature. It must lead to joyous living – to abundant life – to a life, that while not free from trouble and pain, is rich and deep and full of trust, and that peace which Paul calls “the peace which passes all understanding.” (Php.4:7).
The problem for many of us is that our faith is incomplete. Nominal Christianity. We become stuck in the notion that all we have to do is show up on a Sunday AM and follow a set of rules, say a few prayers and sing some hymns. And because of that, we end up failing to clothe ourselves in righteousness just as the man in today’s parable, failed to wear the wedding suit provided, and so ended up being evicted from the feast: “For many are called but few are chosen” (Mt.22:14). The point of the story is that Jesus is telling the truth. God is truth, He cannot lie, and what He says is the truth. He loves everyone (that’s why in the text there’s a mixture of folk good and bad alike) He is inclusive – but it’s not good to be thrown out! That will happen if we try to come in under false pretences.
Ultimately God wants us to change. That's the point of His love and forgiveness shown by the cross. If we don't change from whatever we've done in the past (however unsavoury our background) - then we remain unrepentant sinners - "gatecrashers" - who can't remain forever in the party He's throwing for His Son. On Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent starts, it's a reminder worth having. The Kingdom of Heaven is open to anyone, but it does make demands on us. Let's face it when you go to a wedding you put on your best clothing.
So have we accepted the invitation? Are we prepared to celebrate as God’s wants? Do we have the faith we need? I know there’s a lot of anxiety and fear. Bad things still happen to us. But it is in facing doubts that faith is strengthened. When I’m getting lost in my own troubles and fears it’s hard to hold on to the fact that God cares for me and is near to me – but when I’m reminded from the Word of the vastness of His love, and when I begin to think about what Jesus has done for me – I begin to rejoice. “Fix your thoughts on what is true honourable and right. Keep putting in practice all you learned…and the God of peace will be with you.” (Php.4:8,9).
If we do this then unlike this picture there is light at the end of the tunnel! Politics, new-age philosophy or foreign religions are not the ultimate source of truth. The amazing message of the NT of the Bible is that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are freely available for us all to embrace if we choose to believe Him and accept Him. Have we changed for the feast? Or are we still wearing our old clothes and living in the old way? Only you have the answers.
Lastly, as Christians, to live up to our calling worthy of the invitation we’ve received, we should read and whole heartedly apply the Bible in our lives. Then we will be greatly blessed. As often as I do I finish by letting the Word of God speak for itself:“If you abide in my Word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn.8:31-32).