Before going into more detail on the Parable of the man at the wedding banquet without a wedding garment, I would like to touch on something that is absolutely key to a true relationship with God.

We spent a little time going over the Scripture in Matthew 22 where an expert of Jewish law asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was.  Most of us are familiar with the response Jesus gave.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In one passage it adds,all of your strength.”

A parable we have not looked at in this series is the Parable of the Hidden Treasure which is found in Matthew 13:44.  Here a man found a valuable treasure in a field.  Because of its great value, he went and sold everything he had and purchased the field in order to own the treasure.  In the next two verses, 45-46, is the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.  The merchant who spotted the pearl also went and sold everything he had in order to purchase it.

This theme is shown in another way with the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  The young man, by his own admission, had kept the ten commandments since he was a mere boy.  He then asked Jesus what he still lacked.  Jesus then told him he should go sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and come follow Jesus.  Here we find a man that saw the treasure he was looking for but when Jesus told him what it would cost him to get it, he sadly turned and walked away.  This story is loaded with life applications but for now, suffice it to say that Jesus had put His finger on the one thing that stood between him and the treasure he was craving.  It wasn’t his wealth but rather the love of his wealth that was the problem.

The key to a life of satisfaction in our walk with God is to—not just say we love our Master with all our heart, but do it with all our strength, which means that nothing is withheld from Him.  Jesus was not teaching that His followers were to take a vow of poverty in order to be true followers.  What Jesus was saying however is that a true follower of Jesus will put everything on the auction block and let the Master be Lord in every area their life.

God asks different things from each one of us.  There are those that have been asked by the Lord to give up all their earthly possessions in order to follow God’s sovereign plan.  Others have never married because the life God had planned for them would not be conducive to marriage.  Others have gladly emptied their wallets or even dug deep into their savings if God made the request.  Still others have followed God’s direction as far as what they were going to do with their lives instead of following their planned career.  Then there are the multitudes who have paid the ultimate price for their faith by martyrdom.  All of these sacrifices in order to share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness made available to a lost human race.

God’s view of things is much different than ours.  I think of the widow woman in Luke 21:2 who Jesus watched dropping two little copper coins into the offering at the Temple.  Jesus also watched wealthy people drop their offerings into the Temple treasury.  Why was it that Jesus pointed out the widow woman?  It was because she gave of her poverty while the rich were giving of their abundance.  It was not the amount that was important, it was the attitude behind the giving.  The widow gave the last two coins she had, which was all she had to live on.  The others could easily spare what they gave.  Was Jesus saying that we all should give everything away if we intend to be followers of God?  Not at all!  The point that He was making was that this poor widow woman was an example of a person who loved the Lord her God with all of her heart, mind, soul, and strength.  She trusted her God; she had to!  She certainly couldn’t put her trust in her assets, and there was no welfare system in place.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount criticized people who make it a point to broadcast their charitable giving.  This is found at the beginning of Matthew 6 in verses 1-4.  In fact, Jesus said that a person would sabotage their rewards in heaven by collecting their own rewards here on this earth.  How often do people want their names displayed on a wall plaque or big giving chart so that they receive recognition for what they have given.  How many take great pride in their names being engraved in their church pews in recognition of their “sacrificial” giving?  God sees our true motives, agendas, and attitudes.  This is why Jesus said for us not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing.  He also said that we shouldn’t put on long faces when we are fasting but rather wash our faces, and act normal because God sees what we do in secret.  It is between Him and us.

The question must be asked:  “How should we then live?”  “What is the real Gospel?”  “Why are we really here?”  “How do we redeem the time?”  “How do we go about being imitators of Christ as it says to do in Ephesians 5:1?”  These things are all part of being followers of the Master.  We live in days that are becoming increasingly evil and the world is falling apart around us.  We were put on this earth for purposes that are bigger than us and as we live in communion with our Lord, we will be able to fulfill those purposes.

Looking back at Revelation 3:18 gives us a good starting point to do just that.  It gives us instructions on how to change our inward life so that our outward life in turn will line up.  Jesus told the Church at Laodicea to go and “buy of Him gold tried in the fire” so that they may be “clothed with white raiment” and “the shame of their nakedness will not appear.” This is telling us to do anything and everything necessary to be prepared and to reflect Christ in all we do.  According to Romans 8:29:  God wants us all “to be conformed into His image.”

It is the changed life that reaches people.  It means being a living example of being genuine, honest, transparent, and being free to be ourselves.  The world around us has seen enough rules, regulation, phoniness, and hypocrisy.  It has turned the unbeliever off.  Our righteous speaking needs to be proven by true godly living.  It has nothing to do with how religious we can pretend to be or how holy we can make ourselves sound.  Actions always speak louder than words.

This brings us back to the difference between justification, which happens instantly at salvation and sanctification which takes a lot of effort and determination on our part.  This is why it says in Philippians 2:12:

“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purposes.  Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—“ (NIV)

Following this continuing theme and something that really puts this all into perspective is the fact that Scripture defines two different gates for believers to enter the Kingdom through!  One is at the entrance to God’s Kingdom—through justification (Matthew 7:13).  The other one is at the end of our walk of sanctification (Luke 13:24).  That gate is the Bema Seat Judgment (the Judgment Seat of Christ).

The first gate is described for us in Matthew 7:13 as being “strait” (KJV) for believers and the gate for nonbelievers as “broad”. It says this:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”

This strait gate is the entrance to the Kingdom of God.  It is a free gift and no effort other than to believe, is required on our part.  John 3:15 says,

Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal Life.”

Luke 13:24 says this about the second gate:

“Strive to enter in at the narrow gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

Notice the obvious difference in wording.  This is not by accident.  This second gate is for those who have already had the initial salvation experience.  They are already justified.  This gate is called a narrow gate.  It has to do with the Bema Seat Judgment where Jesus the Judge will decide who inherits the Kingdom as opposed to who is just a subject of this Kingdom.  Inheriting this Kingdom includes striving, agonizing, and perseverance.  These are the overcomers.

The word strive, according to Strong’s concordance means “to give diligence to, to be in hot pursuit of, to earnestly fight for, to struggle, to agonize, to wrestle, to contend with an adversary and to put forth every effort (for a prize).” This presents a clear picture of someone straining every muscle of their body, throwing aside every weight and hindrance, in order to press toward the mark of the high calling of God.

I like how the first few verses of Hebrews 12 reads in the Message version of the Bible:

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?  It means we’d better get with it!  Strip down, start running—and never quit!  No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.  Keep your eyes on Jesus who both began and finished this race we’re in.  Study how He did it.  Because He never lost sight of where He was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way:  cross, shame, whatever.  And now He’s there, in the place of honor…”

There are some principles that are common among those who go through that second gate and become an inheritor of the Kingdom.  Nothing can take the place of self-denial.  A true renunciation of self makes submission to Christ possible.  You either do or you don’t; there is no in between.  I have heard it said that our three-part being consists of a spirit, it has a soul, and it lives in a physical body that complains all the way!  That is certainly my experience!

It is also necessary for us, as partakers of the life of Christ, to hold on to our confidence until the very end.  Hebrews 10:35-39 reads this way:

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.  For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.  But my righteous one will live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (NIV)

This finally brings us once again to the Parable of the Man Without a Wedding Garment.  The parable is found in Matthew 22:1-14, and in the NIV reads this way:

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.  Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner.  My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready.  Come to the field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged.  He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’  The man was speechless.  Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This parable happens to be the third one in Matthew following the thought of being disqualified from entering, and mentions being cast out into outer darkness where there was to be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  When we look at this parable we find the king telling the third group of servants that the wedding festivities are ready and that they should go out to the highways and gather everyone they could find, both good and bad.  In Strong’s Concordance the word for bad is “ponorous”, meaning “hurtful in influence but not in character”. It is the same word as wicked in the Parable of the Talents.  It means a person who lacks the qualities he should possess; this designating him not worthy to attend the wedding.

We see in the next verses that the king, who came to look the guests over, spotted the man.  When the king asked him how he had gotten in without the required wedding garment, he was speechless.  The king then instructed his servants to, “Bind this man hand and foot and take him away and cast him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” As explained earlier in this series, the outer darkness spoken of here, as it is written in the original Greek, is not referring to hell, nor is it referring to the lake of fire.  It is referring to a place close within the Kingdom, but still separate from those that have been judged faithful and obedient.  The weeping and gnashing of teeth is a description of great regret, unbearable remorse and sorrow, yet not having anything to do with hell.

It is a fair question to ask:  Is this man a lost soul or is he a believer?  It appears he was a believer although a carnal believer.  He had received an invitation to the festivities and he had responded.  He had to already have been in the Kingdom.  John 3:3 says that no one can even see the Kingdom of God, certainly not be in it, unless they have had a salvation experience.  The king also called him “friend”, or follower.  This tells us the man was a Gentile believer, but he did not qualify as part of the “Bride”, as he was not properly dressed for the occasion.  Being in the Millennial Kingdom does not make one automatically an inheritor of the Kingdom and also not an automatic part of the Bride of Christ.

When we look back at early church history we find that there were many thousands who found Jesus as their Messiah in a short time after the day of Pentecost.  Soon, even members of the Jewish leadership, including members of the Jewish priesthood were joining the young Church.  The fast growth of the Church in the first century is much like what is being seen all over the world today– just before the return of the Messiah.  I find it interesting to note that the early Church so soon began to lose their fire.  In Revelation 2:4-5 Jesus spoke to this very Church, the first century Church, and along with His commendations He also had a criticism.  This is what Jesus said:

“I have this one charge against you, that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first—you have deserted Me, your first love.  Remember then from what heights you have fallen.  Repent and do the things you did at first.  If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place…” (NIV)

This is an important admonition for us today.  This is especially the case with much of the western church.  As has happened repeatedly through history, when the people of God experience blessing, they get comfortable.  The more comfortable they get, the more apathetic they get.  Apathy leads to rebellion and rebellion eventually leads to bondage and hard times.  Much of the west, particularly America, has experienced great blessing and abundance for many years.  This has led to apathy and now rebellion and wickedness is present everywhere.  This always leads to the judgment of God.

Our world however is not going through endless cycles as many philosophers say.  The Bible tells us that mankind is allotted a limited amount of time.  God is in control of the future of this planet.  There is a set time for when the Messiah is to return and set up His Kingdom on this earth.  The Scriptures give us an abundance of details of the events that are unfolding right before our eyes.  We are the generation that is going to see the return of Jesus.  If we are in fact the generation that is going to see the Lord return to take control of this earth with His Millennial Kingdom reign, this means that the Great Tribulation the Bible says so much, comes first.  The Bible also tells us that the Rapture of the Church comes even before the Great Tribulation begins.  With as fast as world events are unfolding, our call to meet our Savior in the clouds is very, very close–in fact right at the door.  We must prepare.  Let’s make sure that our wedding garment is on, it’s spotless, and without wrinkle.  2 Peter 3:14 speaks to this very thing:

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”

“…Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25b-27)

To be continued in Part 8

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