Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly beloved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Last Tuesday evening, I came home, and as soon as I entered the house I knew that Katie had been baking for our Thanksgiving outings. The scent of two pumpkin cheesecakes hit me in the face as soon as I walked in. A few days before that, she had made three jars of praline pecan sauce to put over these cheesecakes. It also goes great over brownies and ice cream. We know that it’s the holidays just by the aromas. From October on, you’ll smell all kinds of sweet things, from pumpkin spice lattes to deep-fried turkeys.
If you’re like Katie and me, you’ve already had your Christmas tree up for three weeks, so your house also has the scent of pine and evergreen all over. For a lot of us, there’s just nothing more pleasant than those kind of smells. And that’s how aromas should work: they should be pleasing. You know that good food is on its way. We know that the holidays are near.
And that’s what we read about in Paul’s letter to Ephesus. Jesus Christ, the Son, is a fragrant aroma to the Father. The Son pleases the Father. But look at how Jesus pleases God—by walking in love, by having given himself up as an offering and a sacrifice for us. And Paul tells us to imitate God in this way.
So the question I want to pose to you tonight as we begin to celebrate something so miraculous as God taking on flesh to sympathize with our shortcomings and to be our priest is this: are you imitating God? Are you a fragrant aroma to God and to a lost and hurting world? At this time of year, we think of imitating kindness and charity, of course, but what about our worship and our holiness?
How can I imitate a gracious, holy, and sacrificial God to a watching and hurting world? So I want to look at this passage and see what kind of pleasing aroma the Son was for the Father and how we can imitate that.
What stands out to me more than anything in this passage is that the real, fragrant, pleasing aroma to God is the way that Christ loved the church—but what’s more is just how much that love cost him. Paul says he “gave Himself up for us” and that it was “an offering and a sacrifice.”
You see, true love, the kind of love the world doesn’t fully understand, is sacrificial. If there is no sacrifice, there is no Godly love. The world knows how to do good to someone as long as it doesn’t require too much. But the kind of love that God showed the world as he entered our sphere as an infant only to grow into a man to sacrifice himself on a cross is so much more than just the general kindness we show each other. But the greatest kind of love only matters if it loses so that someone else gains.
Paul says to imitate or mimic God as his children. Isn’t it terrifying how much your children watch you and you don’t even realize it? They see everything, and because you’re the parent, they think that whatever you do is good and right. In the same way we learn from our parents, Paul says to learn from God as our Father. And not just children but as beloved children.
Children that are loved act as if they’re loved, don’t they? You can always tell the kids who are happy at home and those who aren’t. Kids are just too transparent. So we need to mimic or imitate God like a child mimics or imitates his parents. So what kind of things are we to imitate about God?
In the chapter right before this, Paul gives considerable space to the “Christian’s walk.” By “walk” Paul is answering the question, “how do we then live?” Paul says in 4:25-32,
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger, do not sin;” do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not give the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and ager, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Speak the truth, don’t let anger make you sin, do something useful with your hands, speak grace-filled words to each other, don’t sin against the Spirit, be kind, be forgiving—these are the ways you imitate a holy God. Now, not a one of us is a poster child of these things. But our heavenly Father models them for us with perfection. He is the God of truth; his anger is always righteous; he uses his hands to create and sustain; he speaks kindly to his children; and he has forgiven our sins.
This is the third of three blogs in a series of posts about the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22:1-14.
A third invitation goes out, but this time it goes to the unexpected. Instead of the ones who were first invited, the king opens up the invitation to anyone walking along the streets. The ones who were invited first proved to be totally unworthy of the invitation.
The text says the servants gathered the good and the bad, and this shows us the extent of the gospel call to come to Christ for the cleansing from sin. No person is too far beyond the reach of the gospel. The good and the bad both need the gospel. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That’s the level playing field.
But in this third invitation, we have this very interesting note. Somehow, one of the people who got an invitation made it into the feast without the proper clothes. Today, most of the time the expected attire for a wedding is “morning dress,” or just a nice, clean suit or dress. If you go to an upscale clothing retailer website, this is what you’ll find. In that day, wedding clothes weren’t so much prescribed as they were just clean, white clothes that anyone would have had available. So instead of this guy going home to get what he knew was expected of him, he shows up in his work clothes, coming right off of the street, thereby insulting the king.
Now before we start think that this means we earn our salvation, this goes deeper than that. Here we’re getting to the problem of presumption, of presuming God’s grace, presuming no change is attached to salvation; essentially, presuming faith without works. Now this does get sticky, because some people do argue that to be saved and to continue to be saved, you have to bring your sins to the altar over and over or you have to rack up a bunch of good deeds to maintain your salvation. But this isn’t what this particular parable is about. If we’re not careful, we can make every parable about “once saved, always saved” when there’s something else going on here. The relationship between faith and works is important, and this parable gets to the heart of it. The invitation into the feast cost this man nothing. But once he received and welcomed the invitation, he did not respond with gratitude and humility.
A person humbled to their core by the sheer impossibility of being invited to the wedding feast of the king’s son while you were out sweeping the streets of your city would do anything to honor and respect both the king and the invitation, which would include no less than wearing the proper clothes. Essentially what we see here is a person offering lip-service and nothing more. So this ungrateful, disrespectful man will be kicked out just like the others before him.
Admittedly, even the most devout among us don’t always feel this level of gratitude. But we have to maintain the knowledge that we should be and act grateful by daily reminding ourselves of what God has done. Feelings come and go, but what God wants is obedience, not feelings.
Jesus ends this parable by saying that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Jesus says this to remind us that there is more than one way to respond to his invitation to come to the wedding feast. Some will outright refuse the invitation. Some will think that it looks good and might be able to do something for them. And then there are those who have been made new and desire to wear the wedding clothes prescribed by the king and joyfully enter the feast. These are the people who respond to God’s invitation with repentance and faith.
This is the second of three blogs in a series of posts about the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22:1-14.
Jesus tells the crowd a parable about a king who throws a wedding feast for his son. The king has sent out servants to alert them that it is time to come to the wedding, but they have refused. After the guests had refused the first invitation, the king sent out even more servants to let the same people know that the feast is ready. This is the kindness of God. Even after the rejection of one invitation, he sends out another. He’s still offering the guests a meal of oxen and fattened calf. The king says, “Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”
With the sacrifice that Jesus made with his life now complete, the feast was ready. All of the Old Testament hope was realized in Jesus Christ. Israel could come and see with their own eyes that God’s promises will always come true. They can now be joined to God eternally by being bound in the covenant of marriage to his Son by the Son cleansing them of their sin. Salvation has always been and always will be based on Jesus Christ bearing our sins for us and God accounting the righteousness of Jesus to us.
And I think it’s interesting that Jesus includes what the invited guests did instead of coming to the wedding. He mentions that they “went off, one to his own farm, and another to his business.” These stand in the place all the things that occupy a person’s time instead seeing the invitation for what it truly is. Who would turn down a personal invitation to a wedding feast thrown by a king for his son? The kind of person who thinks that what they’ve got going on and who they are is more important.
What’s even more incredible is that instead of just ignoring the invitations and reminders, the guests kill the servants sent to gather them. This is a call back to the way Israel treated the prophets that God had sent to be his messengers and servants with the invitations. It’s a really common theme to read about how poorly the nation of Israel treated their prophets. The consistent response to them is that Israel ignores them, beats them, or kills them.
But instead of just being gruesome, it reflects the truth of how defiant toward God man actually is. At all costs, without the prompting of God himself, we’ll do whatever we can to ignore his invitation and go about our own business, just like the guests who killed the king’s servants. Only by God’s mercy do any of us turn to him for grace.
What's distracting you from daily responding to God's call?
This is the first of three blogs in a series of posts about the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22:1-14.
We all understand basic wedding custom and courtesy. We know how important that is, because this is most especially one of those days where it's definitely not about us. That day is all about the bride, groom, and their families. Jesus told a parable to some religious leaders about a king who throws a traditional wedding feast for his son. The king sends out several invitations, and it's interesting who shows up.
So let’s look at the first invitation that the king sends out. The king’s son is getting married, so he starts the preparation for a wedding feast. Today, we spend a lot of time and money on our weddings, and the same was true back then. The main difference is that we have a ceremony and a celebration, and the whole thing lasts a few hours. In the time period that Jesus tells this parable, a wedding feast would last for days. There would actually be multiple large meals. It was totally common for a royal wedding to last for a week.
And since invitations went out early, you’d better have a good reason to turn it down. Even more so if the invitation came from the king. There’d be an announcement of the wedding date, then once all the final details were set, they would also be announced separately. Then, once the feast was almost ready, there’d be another announcement that it was time to make your way to the party.
Jesus says in Matthew 22:3, “He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.” It tells us that the people the servants have been sent to gather have already been invited. So they’d received their invitation and knew when the wedding would take place. No one could plead ignorance. No one could say they didn’t get an invitation. But these people still refused to come. This would have been the pinnacle of rudeness. You’ve gone through the trouble to invite people to what should be a very happy event, people you know and care about, and no one shows up.
But this is exactly what man’s response has been to what God has done. Over the course of history, God has sent out servants with the invitation to come to the wedding feast of his Son. God formed the nation of Israel to be a nation of priests to the world. Through the way he loved and disciplined Israel, the world would see God’s character and nature. God sent prophets to Israel to draw them back when they started to wander. But they ignored God’s warning and constantly went their own way. They consistently refused to come. And the leaders were most culpable. They ignored the prophets God had sent to draw them to himself. And what’s important to the leaders becomes important to the people.
But now, the Son is here. So God has sent John the Baptist as the last in a long line of prophets before Christ. John would preach the message that Israel is invited to join in the celebration of what God is doing, that is, uniting his Son and his people in marriage, an unbreakable union, thereby cleansing his people of all unrighteousness forever. And the religious leaders of Israel had still rejected the invitation that God sent out through John. They presumed that based upon their standing in the religious community that they were good. They didn’t need to come to the feast or respond to God’s invitation.
But how easy is it to think you’ve arrived? How easy is it to fall into the trap of the religious leaders no matter who you are? I think it happens a couple of different ways. Sometimes for those of us who have been raised in the church, it’s tempting for us to rely on what we’ve been blessed with—a lifetime of the church, as something that holds us above those who are just now coming to faith. And it’s usually subtle. No one just comes right out and says they think they’re better because of being raised in the church. But sometimes it comes out and other people see it. Or, because of our social standing in the business place, our profession, or our money that we should be revered in the church. Our success in the outside world should transfer into the church. But either way, we must never presume God’s grace. We need to remember that no matter when faith was given, it was all grace, whether as a child or as an adult.
The first invitation was rejected because the guests presumed the generosity and grace of the king.
What do you think the rejection of the first invitation shows us about responding to God's call?