“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
At the point at which the king welcomes his replacement guests, the parable seems to be over. But it is not, and I am glad, because the Lord goes on to give a much-needed warning in the account of the man who came to the feast without a wedding garment. I say it is needed because there is sometimes a kind of inverse pride found in the disadvantaged that imagines that, because they are not rich or famous or powerful but poor and unknown and weak, therefore, they deserve the king’s bounty and can come before him in their own character and on the basis of their own “good” works. Jesus exposed that error by showing how the man who came to the feast without a garment was immediately confronted by the king and then thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 13).
What is the wedding garment? It is the righteousness of Christ, provided freely to all who will repent of sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. We sing of it in one of our hymns:
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
If we are clothed in righteousness, we will be able to stand before God and rejoice in our Salvation. If we are not clothed in it, we will be speechless before him.
I am interested in that detail – “the man was speechless” – because that is the same thought Paul expresses in Romans 3:19 when he says that “every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” During the long years of his ministry, Donald Grey Barnhouse developed a way of presenting the gospel that used that text. When he was speaking to a person who was not sure he was a Christian, Barnhouse would ask, “Suppose you should die tonight and appear before God in heaven and he should ask you, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’, what would you say?” Barnhouse had learned from experience that there were only three answers a person might give.
Many would cite their good works, saying, “Well, I’d say I’ve done the best I can, and I’ve never done anything particularly bad.” That is an appeal to one’s record. But, as Barnhouse pointed out, our record is one of sin and thus “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20). It is our record that got us into trouble in the first place.
A second group of people would respond as did a woman whom Barnhouse once met on a ship crossing the Atlantic. He asked, “If God demanded of you, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’, what would you say?”
She responded, “I wouldn’t have a thing to say.” In other words, she would be “speechless.” Her “mouth [would] be silenced and [she would be] held accountable to God.” Jesus says that will be the case of all when God actually does ask that question. In this life we may get by with the delusion that our record is pretty good and that God will be satisfied with it. But in that day, when we see God in his glory and understand what true righteousness is, our folly will be apparent to ourselves as well as to all other beings in the universe, and we will be reduced to silence – if we are not clothed with the wedding garment of our Lord’s own righteousness.
That is the third and only acceptable answer, of course, “What right do you have to come into my heaven?”
“None at all, so far as I myself am concerned. But Jesus died for my sins and has given me the covering of his own righteousness in which alone I dare to stand before you. I come at your invitation and in that clothing.” Will God reject such a one? He will not, for it is such persons he has bid come to him.