“He asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless.” —Matthew 22:12
As we read Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet, we can well understand the king’s reaction to the first group of people invited to the wedding. In Luke 14, where Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet, those who cannot come make excuses. One has just bought a new field, another has bought five yoke of oxen, and the third has just gotten married.
All of these people had received great benefits from the king, but they quickly made excuses so that they did not have to come to his wedding banquet. Not only did they refuse to come, but they also mistreated and killed the servants who brought the invitations. And so it is rather easy to understand the king’s reaction to the first group of people he had invited to the feast.
His reaction to the second group, however, is a little more difficult to understand. The king has invited the poor and the downtrodden—anybody he could find—to fill the wedding hall with guests for his son. Then he becomes furious because one of the people he invited isn’t wearing the right clothes. What was it about that one poor man that causes the king to pour out his anger upon him?
To understand the king’s reaction, you have to understand something about the customs of the day and the king. The king in the parable represents God. If there is one thing you must know about God, it is that He is holy. Of all the attributes we study about God, His holiness is the most significant of them all. In Isaiah 6 the prophet describes the song the seraphs were singing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
You will notice the angels do not sing “almighty, almighty, almighty” or “eternal, eternal, eternal.” They don’t even sing the attribute we cling to the most: “faithful, faithful, faithful.” It is “holy, holy, holy.” The holiness of God sums up all that God is. Psalm 111:9 says, “Holy and awesome is his name.” Moses sings in Exodus 15:11,
Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
The word holy means “set apart.” When the Bible teaches us that God is holy it means that God’s very being—His character—transcends everything else. He is not subject to the same kind of frailties and limitations that we have. He is all powerful. He is outside of time. He is all knowing. He is everywhere present. He is totally other. The only things that we can know about God are the things He reveals to us about Himself in His Word.
One of the things that God reveals about Himself is that He is perfectly pure. He is without sin. God doesn’t just conform to a holy standard; He is the standard. He is entirely righteous, utterly perfect, and absolutely without sin. The prophet Habakkuk says this concerning God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (1:13). God is so holy that He will not permit anything tainted with sin to come into His presence.
That brings us back to our parable. God is the king. He sees all these people beautifully arrayed—except one. All the others are dressed properly for the wedding, but one is not. He sticks out like a sore thumb. The king asks him, “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?”
The man is absolutely speechless. He is without excuse. We tend to make excuses for him today. He was poor. He didn’t have any wedding clothes to put on. That shows how little we know of the customs of the day.
When those who were wealthy held a wedding banquet, they provided the robes that their banquet guests were expected to wear. The king would have his servants stationed at the entryway handing out the robes to the guests as they arrived.
I am reminded of the kindness that King David showed to the son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth. Even though Mephibosheth was crippled, the king invited him to sit at his table. Everything I have read says that he sat in such a way that no one at the table could see that he was crippled.
Here at the banquet of the king, the king supplies the garments for his guests so that no one can see their handicaps, poverty, or misery. No one would know the economic status underneath the clothes given to them by the king. “Come, feast with me regardless of social status and regardless of who you are.”
The man in the parable very deliberately avoided the obligation to wear the robe the king provided and required his guests wear. He refused to wear it! It was not as if he was ignorant of the customs of the day or was too poor to buy his own robe. Rather, he was convinced that his own clothes were good enough. He did not need what the king had to offer.
I remember years ago watching an interview on television. The host was interviewing a man who owned several nightclubs. The man also boasted that he was very religious. The interviewer asked him how he could be a religious man and own these clubs. His reply: “Me and God, we got a deal.” Then he went on to explain all the charities he gave to and the services he proved to the community. Let me tell you something: God doesn’t make deals with sinful people.
There are all kinds of people who think He does. The Pharisees in the New Testament, for example, thought they were right with God because they did so many wonderful things. A lot of people today think that way. In the video 180, all kinds of people are interviewed, and all kinds of people think they are alright with God. “Why should God be angry at me? I’m not angry with Him.” “Why wouldn’t God let me into heaven? I’m an okay person.”
What people think really doesn’t matter. What God thinks is what matters. And remember: God is holy. He cannot stand the sight of sin. He will not allow it to come into His presence.
Have you ever told a lie? Yes? Sorry, you’re out.
Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Yes? Sorry, you’re out. You are not holy. God can’t stand the sight of you.
God said to Abraham, who was called the friend of God, “Walk before me and be holy.” No deals. When David, the man after God’s own heart, fell into sin, he prayed and fasted, hoping that God would spare the life of his child. God said, “No deal.”
It doesn’t matter how righteous you may think you are; it doesn’t matter how many changes of clothes you may have or how many good works you do. They are just one filthy rag after another before God. God says, “No deal. You are a sinner.” You cannot enter God’s presence wearing your own garments of self-righteousness.
Just as the fig leaves were not enough for Adam and Eve, so that God provided clothing for them, whatever it is you are wearing is not enough, so that God must supply the garment for you to wear to the wedding feast. And the amazing thing is, He does. Not because of some kind of deal that we can make with God, but because of His grace, kindness, and mercy.
How can a God who cannot look upon sin look upon you and me when we live in the filthy garments of our sin? Well, take a look at Adam and Eve and see what God did there. The Bible says they sinned against God. Filled with shame, they covered themselves with fig leaves and tried to hide from God. God comes into the garden and confronts them with their sin. He promises that one will come who will crush the head of the one who tempted them—the great serpent, the devil.
Before He drives them out of the garden, however, God makes garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothes them. In other words, the fig leaves were not good enough. God, the king, had to supply garments made out of skin to cover their sin. Something had to die so that they could continue to live.
Throughout the Old Testament the sacrificial system required animals to die to cover the sins of the people. The day the Lord instituted the Passover, a lamb had to be killed. The blood of the lamb was placed upon the doorposts and doorframe of the house. When the angel of death came to Egypt, it would pass over any house that had the lamb’s blood on the door, sparing the firstborn inside.
After God freed the Israelites from their bondage to Egypt, He made a covenant with them. He gave them the Ten Commandments and spelled out for them what His people should look like and how they should live. They were to be a holy people—a people set apart by God, for God.
As a symbol of this, here is what Moses did:
Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24:5–8)
Half the blood was on the altar, the other half of the blood was sprinkled on the people. It linked the people to God. It linked God to the people. The clothes that the people were wearing were symbolic of their sin. Their filthy rags were now covered by the blood of the bull. Because the filthy rags of their sins had been covered by the blood, the most holy God could look upon them and say, “You are my people. I have set you apart. I have made you a holy people.”
I, for one, am thankful that we do not do things that way anymore. I dare say that most church custodians are probably even more thankful. But let me say this: if we did do it that way and I could have the glad assurance that my sins were forgiven because I had the blood of the bull all over my clothes, I would want to be in the front row. I can’t get into heaven clothed in my own filthy rags. My sin is too great. I need forgiveness from God.
How about you and your sin? Can you stand before God dressed as you are, knowing He is a holy God and demands absolute holiness of you? No? Then get in the front row!
Now here is the most amazing part: those of you who are members of the church were here in the front row at one time. Most of you were there as infants. Some may have come as young children or teenagers, or even adults. It happened when you were baptized. You entered into a covenant relationship with God. We don’t use the blood of bulls any more, thankfully. We use water that points us to the blood.
They received garments that were washed in the blood—not of bulls or rams, but the blood of Jesus Christ. The garments in the parable that the king gave to his guests represent the righteousness of Jesus Christ—a righteousness that God freely provides to all who truly repent of their sins. Those who desire to come to the great wedding banquet of the Lamb must wear the garments of God that have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. With the robe of Christ’s righteousness upon you, all your sins are covered. Only then will you be able to stand before the King, the most holy God.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.