Session #131 Dress Right
Scripture Matthew 22:1-14
Summary The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-14 is about two groups of people with two different responses to God’s gracious invitation to His kingdom. Rejection of the invitation brings with it a dire consequence. Acceptance comes with a condition – to honour the dress code. This teaching considers what it means to dress right, to be rightly dressed for the kingdom party.
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘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.” ’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 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. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 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.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1–14
In some establishments, clubs or restaurants, a certain dress code is required. If we want to gain entry to these places, we abide by the dress code. Similarly, for some functions, the host may state a dress code befitting for that occasion. To honour the host, we abide by the dress code. To disregard or to ignore the dress code would be to dishonour the host.
What about the kingdom of God? Is there a dress code that we should be aware of?
In case you are wondering, this is not a teaching about Christian fashion trends. It is about the Parable of the Wedding Feast where a certain dress code was expected. While we know it is not about physical, outward appearances, we must discern the point of this parable as it pertains to what constitutes being rightly attired, to be rightly dressed for the Lord.
We are still in the section where Jesus shared three parables. It covers His collective response to the religious leaders’ rejection of His authority. In the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32), it was a rejection of instruction and in the parable of the wicked vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46), it was a rejection of inspection. Here in the parable of the wedding feast, it was the rejection of invitation.
We will start by making two important observations. Firstly, all three parables are about two groups of people. The tendency is to presume that the two groups are Israel and the Church. This is not necessarily wrong but can be potentially deceptive, thinking that Israel missed it and we, the Church, are all alright; that it was harder for Israel and it is now easier for the Church. This is not exactly so as all three parables are simple stories that highlight the contrast and response of two groups or types of people. In the parable of the two sons, they represent either the group that obey or disobey depending on whether you accept or reject the instruction. In the parable of the wicked vinedressers, they represent either the group that are accountable or refuse to be accountable. If they accept the inspection, there is accountability and fruitfulness. If they reject the inspection, they refuse the accountability and there is no fruit, bad fruit or wrong fruit to account for. In this parable of the wedding feast, the two groups are either one that accept the invitation or the other that reject the invitation. This is applicable to everyone who considers themselves people of the kingdom, both then and now – Israel and the ekklesia of the church of Jesus Christ, His kingdom community. The key is to discern which of the two groups best describes you.
Secondly, we will look at the significance of the wedding feast and the invitation. The wedding feast is a picture of messianic fellowship at the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus used this phrase before, talking about sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is about the consummation of the kingdom when all God’s people will come together from the east and west, from the north and south and sit down in the kingdom of God (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:29). Jesus talked about a great supper and this was in response to the remark “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” He shared a similar parable, the parable of the great supper in Luke 14:15–24. Again in Revelation 19:9, it was recorded about the marriage supper of the Lamb. The significance of the wedding feast will have us determine the significance of the invitation and hence the significance of accepting or rejecting such an invitation. Clearly, it is not just any event, but a very important one. It is about entry into the fullness of the kingdom of God to have eternal fellowship with God and His people. This is not just any invitation but an extremely important one. If the invitation is rejected, there is a consequence. If the invitation is accepted, there is a condition.
We will now examine both groups and their responses.
Group One: Those Who Rejected the Invitation
In this section, we will consider the invitation, the reasons for rejecting the invitation, and the consequence of rejecting the invitation.
In Matthew 22:3-4, we see that the servants were to invite those who have been invited and to ‘tell those who were invited’. There was an invitation and reminders. This corresponds to the standard Oriental practice of issuing an invitation to an event without specifying the exact time until a later date. This is because big events and feasts require time and preparation and it is difficult to determine the exact time of completion. The first invitation is to ‘book’ the guests who responded positively; and the second invitation is to inform them that everything is ready with the timings and details for them to come. This is not unlike the way we invite and gather responses for events. Then, nearer the event, we email or text guests with a reminder. Unfortunately, the standard practice is to allow a percentage of no-shows i.e. those who cannot make it, double-booked or forgot, etc. Therefore, in this parable, it is a repeated invitation with reminders.
Next, we consider the reasons given for the rejection of the invitation and reminders. We were told there were a few reasons. Some were not willing to come as they were not interested at all to attend such an event and the king sent out a repeated invitation with more details that it is going to be great and there is good food (Matthew 22:3-4). The group made light of it, finding that it is no big deal and not attractive or important enough to even consider. They went their own ways and did their own things instead; one went to his own farm and another to his own business. They were not willing to be disrupted from their work and they were too busy to find time to attend the event.
Was it an excuse? If it is a wedding dinner, it is at night and they are not likely to be working. Here is an interesting discovery. The word ‘ariston’ that is translated as ‘dinner’ for this event comes from a word that means ‘without boundaries, indefinite’. It refers to a meal taken at an uncertain time, usually it can be in the morning or a little before noon, or just after noon. In any case it was during the workday and it was no wonder that the guests were unwilling to go as they had work to do. Further given the uncertainty of the timing, they were not willing to commit and drop everything to come. It was not a wedding dinner as we were used to. This meal was also a light meal but the king said it came with oxen and fatted cattle. It was an uncertain meal at an unexpected time with an unexpected menu, a great offering and that is why it is called a parable as it has got some of these items exaggerated for effect and to make a point.
Another group seized his servants, treated them spitefully and killed them. Putting it in another way, this group is saying ‘stop bothering me, go away’; ‘stop calling me, I am going to give you a missed call right now’, ‘you are emailing me again, I am going to unsubscribe you’. This is a reference to the prophetic voices and reminders that God would give to His people over and over again. It is the same today when we say ‘stop bugging me with this end times message that I have to be ready’, ‘this Archippus Awakening message to wake up, to be aligned and assigned’. I am going to unsubscribe from your mailing list. Any reasons to reject the invitation.
The rejection comes with a consequence. If you reject the messengers and servants, you are rejecting the king. Rejecting the invitation is to reject the king and dishonour him. In Matthew 22:7, the phrase ‘burned up their city’ is possibly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem to come. Generally, it is a picture of judgement on those who reject the king. The point is those who reject God will be rejected by Him, judged, removed and dealt with. The king said that those who were invited were not worthy (Matthew 22:8), not because they were worthy to be invited in the first place. By inviting them, the king honoured them with his favour (grace) and rendered them worthy. By not responding in a worthy manner, their final rejection of the invitation would render them unworthy or undeserving.
In summary, the invitation is not one initial invitation, but repeated invitation and reminders. Next, I am sure many can identify with the responses and reasons or excuses for rejecting the invitation. Are they really reasons that we can give or mere excuses? The consequences of rejection is not just being struck off the invitation list, never to be invited again but totally destroyed, removed, judged and dealt with.
Group Two: Those Who Accepted the Invitation
Having considered those who reject the invitation, we will look at those who accept the invitation (Mattthew 22:8-10). The invitation is given to all, to everyone and to be drawn from everywhere, both the bad and the good. It is not that the good is more deserving but they are all not worthy and yet, the king by his grace invited everyone. In view of the urgency, the meal is ready and it is no longer two invitations but now or never as this is the final call. Many are invited, all included but not necessarily all accepted. Some may still have rejected too but our focus here is on those who accepted. The wedding hall was filled with guests. Can we say that all who accepted feasted and lived happily ever after? The story does not end here. We must not miss the twist, a very important point in Matthew 22:11-12. A reminder here is that the focus is on those who accepted the invitation. They knew the dress code and all came with proper wedding garments which was the expectation. They dressed right and were rightly dressed.
What is this wedding garment? Simply, it refers to clean garments as opposed to dirty or soiled ones. To come to a wedding in a soiled garment would have been inappropriate and insulted the host. The host would have provided wedding garments to guests at the door. This demonstrated the wealth and generosity of the host. It is especially helpful for those who do not have such proper clothing and could not afford such garments. It was also very helpful for those rushing from work, from the field where their clothes would have been dirty.
The man without the wedding garment was speechless. He knew the dress code but ignored or disregarded it. He knew what was expected but did not meet the condition. Even if he did not have time to get a proper garment, he did not even bother to put on what the host provided. He had absolutely no excuse; nothing to say.
This is where we see how acceptance becomes rejection (Matthew 22:13). Given the last-minute invitation and response, it seemed rather harsh for the king to throw the man out.
But therein lies the main point of the parable. The man knew the dress code i.e. the condition as well as the consequence. Acceptance comes with a condition i.e. those who accept must dress rightly by being rightly dressed. If not, face the consequence that acceptance will result in rejection. This rejection is from the kingdom of God. If the feast represents messianic fellowship in the fullness of the kingdom, then to be rejected means to be removed from such kingdom fellowship. This is not the first time that Jesus warned that ‘sons of the kingdom’ could be cast out. In Matthew 8:11-12, Jesus said “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Craig Kenner wrote in his commentary, “Matthew leaves no doubt as to the interpretation: the wedding garment signifies repentance. Just as most of the Jewish leaders were unprepared at Jesus’ first coming, some professing disciples of Jesus will be unprepared at his second. Professing Christians who insult God’s grace by presuming on it without truly honouring His Son will be banished to outer darkness and weeping with gnashing of teeth. As in verse 14, many are “called” or “invited” with the message of repentance, but only those who respond worthily will share the inheritance of the chosen, covenant people.”
In summary, it is not just about accepting the invitation but also accepting and abiding by the dress code. I.e. either we meet the condition or face the consequence.
This parable is about two groups of people – those who reject God’s invitation to the messianic feast and those who accept. If you are a believer of Jesus Christ, it is easy to presume that you have accepted that invitation, that there is nothing else required of you, other than to turn up for the party. This parable challenges us to consider more carefully.
Do not let Acceptance become Rejection
Christians may have accepted the first invitation to believe in Jesus. Do not forget that there is a second invitation. The word ‘ariston’ refers to a meal at an uncertain time. We do not know when it is going to happen but we know we are in the last days. Do not miss or reject the second invitations or repeated reminders. Do not ignore or disregard or presume. Do not be apathetic or distracted by the cares of this world. Do not go about doing your own things, running after your own business. Do not treat it lightly and reject the prophetic voices that the Lord has graciously sent our way. If we want to accept, accept all the way. Acceptance can become rejection if we are not rightly dressed. Rejection brings with it a consequence of judgement.
Honour the Dress Code
Firstly, notice that God provides the right dress. Our righteousness is like filthy rags. We are clothed in sin. However well we try to hide or cover up, no one can stand righteous before a holy God. Thankfully, when we accept and believe in and through Jesus Christ, we are clothed with God’s righteousness. We have been given garments of salvation, robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). This garment is provided by God Himself, the host of the feast. This is done by grace through faith because we believe we are made righteous in Christ.
We have to put on what God has provided in and through Christ. No one is going to do it for us. This simply means that we are to live it out all that we have received in Christ. In the New Testament language, we are to put on Christ, to grow in righteousness, to do righteous works, to bear fruit worthy of repentance. All these bring honour to God and Jesus. We are to walk worthy, to live worthy of the call, to put on what God has provided.
For example, Isaiah 61:10 said we are given garments of salvation, robes of righteousness. We put it on i.e. we have been made righteous to live righteous. We cannot put on the robe of righteousness and keep sinning. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous just as He is righteous (1 John 3:7). Those born again do not sin but live righteously (1 John 3:9). Isaiah 61:3 also tells us that we are given garments of praise in replacement of a spirit of heaviness. We put it on and stop moping, griping, complaining, getting depressed and anxious. We are not saying but people do not struggle with these but let us align with what God has provided for us. Let us believe and appropriate every promise that we have in Christ. If we need help, find help, walk with kingdom-minded people, rejoice in the Lord, put on joy, put on praise, put on all that the Lord has provided for us that the joy of the Lord may be our strength.
In Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10, we are told to put on the new man in Christ by being renewed in the spirit of the mind and knowledge. We got to know who we are now and what we have in and through Christ. Paul made it even clearer in Colossian 3:12-14 where he wrote, ‘Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.’ We can put on love because God has poured His love upon us, that we have experienced that we can live it out.
In Ephesians 6:11 and Romans 13:12, we are told to put on the armour of God – helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shoes of the gospel of peace, shield of faith, sword of the Spirit. We are to live out the salvation, righteousness, truth, peace, faith and the living word of Christ to quench the fiery darts of the enemies and win the spiritual warfare.
We are to put on what God has already provided i.e. we are to live out the Christ life. The dress code is Jesus – put on Jesus, dress like Jesus, become like Jesus.
Beware of Easy Christianity
The king asked, “How did you get in? Who let you in?” This was addressed to the one who accepted the invitation but was not rightly dressed. Some think this refers to unbelievers but they have not accepted the invitation. I think it refers to believers who have believed in wrong teachings and have wrong presumptions. We are to beware of one-sided preaching that only promises nice things, nice cushy preaching that tells us that nothing is required of us. We are to just come as we are and stay as we are and just believe and we are righteous and there is nothing else to bother about. We are already dressed and clothed by grace, which is partly correct. Paul was careful that he did not receive God’s grace in vain. What God provides, we put on and do not receive it in vain. What God has given by grace in Christ, we live out by grace in Christ.
The king asked ‘Who let you in?’. The leaders, teachers and preachers have the heavy responsibility to preach the Word rightly without compromise as they will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). We have to remind everyone to ‘love the blessing but heed the warnings’. We do not need to make the good news better or more attractive. Discipleship is costly. If the disciples want to become like the master, they have to follow everything the master does, even dress like the master so that we become like the master.
God is not mocked. You may fool some but you cannot fool God. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap of the flesh (Galatians 6:7-8). If you practice lawlessness, and not the Father’s will, Jesus will tell you that He never knew you (Matthew 7:21-23).
No one can give any excuse. There are many other ‘dress code’ passages in Revelation and we are warned not to turn up in soiled garments or be found naked.
For example, Jesus warned the Church in Sardis and the Church in Laodicea. In Revelation 3:4, Jesus said to the Church in Sardis, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” If we flip this, then there are many in Sardis who have defiled their garments. They may have pushed aside what had been provided and continued to live in unrighteousness. In Revelations 3:17-18, Jesus said to the Laodiceans, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eyesalve, that you may see.” These warnings are given to believers.
In Revelation 16:16, the warning is also issued generally to all believers, “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” And finally, the church as the bride/wife is clothed in white linen, representing “the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8) and when Christ returns, His armies return with Him, “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:14).
We thank God for what He has provided for all of us in and through Christ, but we are expected to put on what He has provided. Our acts, words, lives and conduct become an expression of what we have accepted, and an indication of how worthy we are in Christ to partake in the messianic feast and fellowship. We have no excuses at all. Jesus has stated everything clearly. We cannot blame anyone or give any excuses. When we stand before the King, we cannot claim ignorance, that we did not know the dress code. We either stand rightly dressed to give account or we will be exposed and speechless before Him.
We close with the last verse, Matthew 22:14. “Many are called, but few are chosen’. It means all are invited. We must be careful that those who accept can still be rejected.
Only those who honour the dress code are chosen.
God has already provided everything we need in Christ. What God has provided, we are to put on. Do not leave it hanging in the theological or doctrinal wardrobe. Do not just wear it on Sunday. We are to put it on – put on Christ, dress right and live right for Jesus.
Right dressing in the military means to be aligned with the marker on the right, or the right marker. The religious leaders rejected Jesus’ authority and refused to align with Him. We who have accepted His authority, must also accept and align with all that He requires of us.
All three parables in this section involve sons. All point to Jesus, the Son of God. In the parable of the two sons, Jesus serves as an example of an obedient son. In the parable of the wicked vinedressers, Jesus is the son who becomes the cornerstone. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus is the son, the bridegroom that the king threw a wedding feast for.
As sons and daughters of the kingdom, let us be rightly aligned with Jesus the Christ, to be obedient, accountable and ready and to be rightly dressed for the messianic feast and fellowship.
Dress Right. See you at the party!