St Matthew 2:1-14
The 20th Sunday after Trinity Sunday | October 21st, 2007
“Many are called, few are chosen.” That's why Jesus has this parable for us, that we would know the truth that many are called, few are chosen. “Elect” is the Greek word there for chosen, εκλεκτοι. “Many are called, few are elect.”
So we have a text, and a sermon, about the doctrine of election. This is one of the most difficult teachings in the Scriptures. The danger with the doctrine of election is that we go too far, that we push beyond the limits of the Scripture. We want to believe, teach and confess only what the Scriptures teach, and then be silent where they are silent.
When we talk about the doctrine of election, then, we have to make sure we have the full teaching of the Scriptures in mind. One way to do this is to speaks of grace, especially these three things: universal grace, grace alone, and the means of grace.
If we have these right we will stay on the straight and narrow road of the teaching of election. We have all three of these in the parable that Jesus tells. This is why this parable is one of the most complex parables that Jesus speak for us in the Scriptures.
The parable of the Marriage of the King's Son moves back and forth between law and Gospel, between celebration and disaster, between the gracious call of the Lord and the expression of His wrath and judgment.
First there is the call for all the invited guests to come to the wedding. They all, in varying decrees, reject the invitation, and so they are judged. The king sends His armies to put all those who refused the invitation to death.
Then the king sends his messengers out again, this time to the highways and byways, to invite all that they find. And now they come and the wedding banquet is full. But the King comes in and finds one of the guests not dressed in wedding garments, and this one is thrown out and condemned. The King “said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
It is stunning how the parable moves from grace to judgment, from the joy of the wedding feast to the horrors of eternal condemnation. But we see in this the wonder of the Lord's mercy in contrast to the harshness of His judgment. And in this the Lord is teaching us about the comforting doctrine of election.
Remember the three teachings that we need to hold together for the teaching of election to bring us comfort: universal grace, grace alone and the means of grace? We will see these three teachings in this parable.
First, universal grace is the teaching that Jesus' death on the cross was for the sins of all people. There are teachers in the church who teach what is called “limited atonement”, that Jesus' death did not atone for all sins. The Scriptures speak otherwise:
“For this reason Christ has commanded that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. For God loved the world and gave His Son, [John 3:16]. Christ bore the sins of the world, [John 1:29], gave His flesh for the life of the world, [John 6:51]; His blood is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, [1 John 1:7; 2:2]. Christ says: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, [Matthew 11:28]. God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all, [Romans 11:32].
We see this teaching in the invitation of the king: ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ The Lord does it all; He makes all the provision for our salvation.
So the Scriptures teach that Jesus' death covers all sin, and the the Lord desires that all people would be saved. This also is included in the teaching of universal grace.
The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, [2 Peter 3:9]. The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him, [Romans 10:12]. The righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe, [Romans 3:22]. This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one that sees the Son and believes on Him may have everlasting life, [John 6:40]. Likewise it is Christ’s command that to all in common to whom repentance is preached this promise of the Gospel also should be offered [Luke 24:47; Mark 16:15].” [Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. XI.28, Triglotta]
This is seen in the parable when the King sends His servants to the highways to call all who they find. There is no discrimination; the church is no country club. “9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
So the Scriptures teach universal grace. Second, the Scriptures teach that we are saved by grace alone, sola grati. That there is nothing in us that has caused God to love us or choose us or call us. That we poor miserable sinners have not merited one bit our salvation. Let's have the Scriptures:
“By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” [Ephesians 2:8] “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” [Romans 3:28] “4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” [Romans 4:4-5]
Grace alone is seen in the parable especially in the wedding guest who is not properly dressed. Rather than dress in the robes provided for the occasion, he wore his own. This is like the person who relies on their works instead of the forgiveness of their sins and the robe of Christ's righteousness which is given at baptism.
Universal grace, grace alone, and finally the means of grace. This is the Scriptural teaching that God works through means to call people into His kingdom, His church, especially the means of the preaching of the Lord's word and His sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Jesus is in earnest when, before His ascension into heaven, He sends out His church to preach the Gospel to every creature [see Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:7-8; John 20:21-23,30-31].
“For I am not ashamed,” writes St Paul, “of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe.” [Romans 1:16] “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” [1 Corinthians 1:21] For “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:10]
The means of grace is seen throughout the parable in that the King continues to send out His servants to call the guests to the feast. This is the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments. Through these things the Lord calls His chosen and elect children to faith in Him.
And now the doctrine of election is not so much of a mystery, for the Lord has not told us to pry into His before-the-world-was-created mind, but He has given us the good news of His Son crucified for us, and bids us to repent and believe. And He, by His Holy Spirit, grants us this repentance and faith. And then, having washed us with His water, and promised us His forgiveness, and fed us with His broken body and spilt blood, He tells us: “I have planned this from the beginning.”
How marvelous it is to know that we are the Lord's, and He is ours.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight. [Ephesians 1:3-8]
“Many are called. Few are chosen.” May we, world without end, thank the Lord Jesus that we are chosen in Him and by Him, and my His choice of you continue to strengthen your faith and trust in Him until we all are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb of God that knows no end. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO