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Dressed in His Righteousness

Ephesians 4: 17 – 5: 14; Matthew 22: 1 – 14

There was a king whose son was being married, and so he planned a great feast
to celebrate the occasion. He sent out his servants to invite all of the most
important people in the kingdom, hoping that this would be an occasion that
none of them would ever forget. But when the RSVP cards began to arrive, it
turned out that not one of them would be able to come.
So the king sent out more servants, thinking perhaps that those who had been
invited didn’t understand the nature of the occasion. “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 wedding banquet.” But some
ignored even this second invitation and went off to attend to their own fields and
businesses. Some even seized the servants who had been sent, and mistreated
and killed them.
Well, by now, the king was enraged. Having prepared the banquet and then done
everything to make sure that those who had originally been invited would come
only to see them disregard his goodness and grace to the point of doing violence
to those who represented him, the king sent out his army to destroy those
murderers and to burn their city.
Then he turned to those servants who were still with him, and he said, “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.” The servants obeyed,
and went out to the streets. There they found all kinds of people; the hungry and
the homeless, the poor and the lonely, the sorrowful and afflicted, and they
invited them all to come to the banquet until the wedding hall was filled with
guests.
And we who according to the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians were
...Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call
themselves “the circumcision”...separate from Christ, excluded from
citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
without hope and without God in the world...
have learned to rejoice in God’s amazing grace. In fact, all things must now work
together ultimately for our salvation. Because we belong to him “body and soul,
in life and in death”, we know that our faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ, has fully paid
for all our sins with his precious blood setting us free from the tyranny of the
devil, and causing God to look at us now, just as if we had never sinned or been
sinners; just as if we were as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
In Ephesians, we even come to understand that we are not invited to the wedding
supper of the lamb as mere guests; we are in fact, the bride of Christ for who he
gave his body and his blood. We are living stones, built into a spiritual house
where God dwells in the Spirit. We are
...no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people
and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
But the story with which I began this morning was originally told by Jesus in
Matthew chapter 22, and it wasn’t over. You see, once the hall had been filled
with all the people that the servants brought in from the streets, all the people
they could find, “both good and bad”, the king then came into the hall and
looking around found there a guest who was not wearing clothing suitable to the
occasion, so he approached the man graciously, and asked, “Friend, how did you
get in here without wedding clothes?”
And it seems an odd question at first. In truth, the whole story may seem rather
odd to us. We may even feel some sympathy for those who had been invited the
first time around. After all, their “reasons” for not coming to the feast seem quite
legitimate. They had business of their own that required their attention. In the
version of this story found in Luke’s gospel
The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please
excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to
try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
And we’re tempted to think, “Well, of course not. People need to live and work.
We have business to attend to; fields to cultivate; lives of our own. Who does the
king think he is anyway? Hasn’t he heard of democracy? Doesn’t he know we
have the inalienable right to do whatever we want with our own time, especially
when it comes to putting our families ahead of all? What arrogance to believe
that the concerns of the kingdom (or in this case, the king’s son) would take
precedence over our own!” It almost seems unreasonable, doesn’t it?

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Then this new outrage! Remember that the servants had been sent to the street
corners and alleyways—anywhere they needed to go to find people who would
leave their own business to come and celebrate with the king and his son.
They’re doing him a favour. They’re filling up the hall so that food, already
prepared, need not go to waste. And they’re poor, and sad, and lonely, and
afflicted, and homeless; how could he even expect that they would have proper
attire to attend a royal wedding? You almost feel sorry for the poor man,
confronted by the king about his want of proper clothing, he is left speechless;
and then the king reacts. “Bind him hand and foot,” he orders, “and throw him
outside, into the darkness where there will be sorrow and frustration.
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
And what does all this have to do with our text this morning from Ephesians
chapters four and five? Well, the story was actually suggested by John Stott’s
commentary on this section. He entitled his chapter dealing with our text this
morning, “A New Set of Clothes” and wrote
“The apostle continues to describe the new standards which are expected
of God’s new society, or the life which is worthy of God’s call. Called to be
‘one’ people, he has argued, we must cultivate unity. Called to be a ‘holy’
people, he goes on to argue now, we must also cultivate purity. Purity is
as indispensable a characteristic of the people of God as unity.” (Stott,
John R. W.; God’s New Society; p. 174)
We must, in other words, be clothed, spiritually speaking, in a manner
appropriate to our calling. We must be “dressed in his righteousness”, as the old
hymn-writer put it. And this is evident from the text itself.
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live
as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking…
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way...You were taught,
with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is
being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of
your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true
righteousness and holiness.
So we see immediately that while God is pleased to meet us wherever we may be
found—he sends his servants into the streets to call us to the feast—but he is not
pleased to leave us there. He calls us out of the world, out from among those
who are “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them due to thee hardening of their hearts...”

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and bids us come to the feast. He calls us from lives characterized by sin and
darkness, but he calls us to lives that are characterized by the light and the life of
Christ himself.
“Surely you have heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with
the truth that is in Jesus.”
And what we were taught is to put of the old self and to put on the new. This is,
in fact, according to our catechism the very essence of what it means to be
converted. We are asked, “What is involved in genuine repentance or
conversion?” and we are taught to respond; “Two things: the dying-away of the
old self, and the coming-to-life of the new.” (Heidelberg Catechism; LD 33; Q&A
88) Further still, we learn that the coming-to-life of the new self is a
“wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good
as God wants us to,” exactly as we are taught in our text.
We are told there to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbour,
for we are all members of one body.” And on those occasions when anger rises
up within us, we are not to allow Satan a foothold in that body by letting “the sun
go down” while we are still angry. In fact, we are to “get rid of all bitterness, rage
and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” and to speak
only such as may be helpful for building others up “according to their needs, that
it may benefit those who listen”. We are to “put off” that which pertained to our
old way of life, and to clothe ourselves, “to put on the new self, created to be like
God in true righteousness and holiness.”
These are garments fit for the marriage feast of our King. This is what it means to
be dressed in his righteousness. In fact, having been created by our salvation “to
be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” we are now called to “be
imitators of God.” Of this expression Calvin writes,
“The same principle is followed out and enforced by the consideration
that children ought to be like their father. He reminds us that we are the
children of God, and that therefore we ought, as far as possible, to
resemble Him in acts of kindness...” (Calvin, John; Commentary on the
Epistle to the Ephesians; p. 303)
Ultimately, this is what the king in the story was looking for. Not a self-
interested self-righteousness that seeks only to be “good enough” to make it in
the end. That was the righteousness “of the scribes and Pharisees.” That was the
so-called “righteousness” of those who could not be bothered to come to the
feast. Their interest is not in seeking first and above all the dominion of God in

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their lives and in their world, but rather in simply enjoying everything that this
world has to offer now (including the right to bitterness, rage, anger and
malicious speech), without being condemned to judgement in the next. This is
not the Christ we have come to know. He is looking for those whose conversion
is genuine; for those who would rather imitate God’s own behaviour, making the
king and his kingdom their ultimate priority, and those who continue to wear the
clothing of the world will find themselves finally left out.
As Paul wrote,
among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any
kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy
people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking,
which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be
sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—
has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one
deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath
comes on those who are disobedient.
Instead,
you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as
children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,
righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have
nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose
them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in
secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is
light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Of course, the temptation to believe that the king asks more of us than we are
able to give may still remain. How are we, broken, empty and sinful as we are, to
clothe ourselves with the righteousness of Christ? In the end, won’t we all find
that the best we had to offer was not enough? Won’t we all stand speechless
before the king as he orders us bound and cast outside into the darkness? And so
we would, were God to leave us to ourselves.
But here’s the thing. The king in the story does not judge the man for being poor,
or broken or homeless. He judges him for not availing himself of a garment
provided at the master’s own expense. Just as we are not expected to read these

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verses in Ephesians and then go out and try to generate an adequate covering of
our own righteousness. Rather, we are to read these verses and to understand
that this is our calling in Christ. This is how we have come to know Christ. This is
true conversion. We have been saved by his grace. We have been changed; and,
as someone has said, if the grace that saved us didn’t change us, it probably
didn’t save us either. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things
God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
But we are called to be different. We are called to
Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,
righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
We are called to be imitators of God. We are called to be found, “dressed in
his righteousness alone—faultless—to stand before the throne.”