Psalm 23:3

    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I hope that none of you ever make the same mistake that Marilyn and I made the first year we were married.  We were living in Fort Wayne, IN at the time and were invited to a friend’s wedding and the reception that followed.  We attended the wedding and then headed over to the reception, not exactly sure where it was being held.  Of course this was long before the days of GPS, but finally we located it, walked in with our gift, placed the gift on the gift table, and then found a seat.  As we settled in and looked around though, the strangest feeling came over us.  We didn’t really see anybody there that we knew or that we had seen at the wedding.  So we did some checking around and quickly discovered that we were at the wrong reception, that the bride and groom who would soon be making their grand entrance were not the same bride and groom whose wedding we had just attended.

Obviously, we couldn’t remain there because we weren’t invited.  But we had one small problem: what do we do about our gift?  As I mentioned before, it was already sitting on the gift table.  And had that particular bride and groom opened it, they would have had no idea who Doug and Marilyn Meyer were.  So guess what we did?  We just nonchalantly ambled over to that gift table and confiscated our gift and I’m sure with very red faces made a hasty exit from that reception.

Failing to attend the right wedding reception.  No doubt one of our most embarrassing moments as a married couple.  But not nearly as embarrassing or as bad as missing the most important wedding reception of all time. For you see, God is planning a reception.  At least that’s what we heard Jesus tell us in our Gospel reading before in the form of a parable where he says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come.”

As I thought about that, I got to thinking about what the guest list for that banquet must look like.  For example, in Matt. 8:11 Jesus says: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  Those are just a few of the many great saints and patriarchs who will be in attendance.  In other words, if you’ve ever wanted to ask Moses what it was like to see the Red Sea part in front of him, you’ll be able to do so at this banquet.  If you’ve ever wanted to ask Adam what it was like to be the first and only human being in a brand new perfect world, you’ll be able to ask him.  If you’ve ever wanted to ask Jonah what it was like to spend 3 days in the belly of a great fish or Daniel what it was like to sleep in a den of lions or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego what it was like to not just be thrown into a fiery furnace, but to come out of it alive without even the smell of smoke on their clothing, you’ll be able to do that.

But there will be certain guests that will not be present or welcome at this banquet, guests like pride, power, guilt, shame, sin, sorrow, disease, death, depression.  Without a doubt though the greatest guest who will be there will be the guest of honor, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Imagine that.  We will see him, not by faith any longer, but by sight.  We will know him not through the words of Scripture or through a beautiful sunset or a powerful thunderstorm, but from actually being in his visible, glorious, and majestic presence.

There is one hitch though to all of this and that is the price of admission.  According to the Bible, in order to attend this banquet you need to be righteous.  Not just good.  Not just decent.  Not just a taxpaying, churchgoing, law-abiding citizen of the U.S.  You need to be righteous.

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well, I think I can handle that.  I’m a pretty righteous person.”  If you’re thinking that way, you’re missing the point.  I’m not talking about being pretty righteous or occasionally righteous or even predominantly righteous.  I’m talking about being always righteous, perfectly righteous, sinlessly righteous.  And who among us would be so bold as to say that we are that righteous?  According to the Apostle Paul we aren’t.  In our epistle reading before we heard him proclaim in Rom. 3:10: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

Now some may beg to differ.  Some might say, “Well, maybe I’m not perfect, but at least I’m better than a lot of folks I know.  I try to lead a good life.  I don’t break the rules.  I don’t break hearts.  I help people.  I like people.  I get along with people.  So compared to others, I think I am a pretty decent, moral, righteous human being.”

As I was pondering this all-too-common way of thinking in our world today that I like to call the comparison game, I got to thinking about what my daughter Kim’s bedroom was like when she was years ago when she was a teenager still living under our roof.  There were times when I was tempted to put a sign on her door that said “Enter at your own risk.”  You especially did not want to go in there when it was dark because you stood a pretty strong likelihood of tripping over something lying on the floor and twisting an ankle or banging your head on something as you would fall to the floor.

Now from what I understood in talking with other parents, Kim’s rather untidy room was not unusual for teenagers back then.  In fact, as I recall, Kim would even bring that up when we would insist that she do something about her room.  She’d say, “If you think this is bad, you ought to see my friends’ rooms.”  And it’s at that point that I would say, “I don’t care what their rooms look like.  Their rooms are not the standard in this household.  Rather, our room is the standard.  And our room is neat and clean, the bed is made, the clothes are picked up.  You don’t have to enter our room at your own risk.”

Well, in much the same way, when we point at others’ mistakes and shortcomings to make ourselves look better, to make ourselves appear righteous to God, he says to us: “Their lives are not the standard.  Rather, I am the standard.”  And let me tell you something, my friends, the standard can’t get any higher or anymore righteous than that.  The word “righteous” is used of God over and over again in the Bible.  Ps. 11 describes him as a “righteous judge” and Isaiah 45 calls him a “righteous God and Savior.”  The Psalms tell us that his righteousness “endures forever” and “reaches to the skies.”  2 Peter 1:1 says: “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ does what is right.”

So there’s no getting around the fact that God is righteous – 100%, absolutely, unequivocally, impeccably, perfectly righteous.  Perhaps Dan. 9:14 says it best: “Our God is right in everything he does.”  Or to put it another way, our God is never wrong.  He has never rendered a wrong decision, had a wrong thought, experienced a wrong attitude.  He’s never taken the wrong path, said the wrong thing, or acted the wrong way.  He is perfectly righteous in his every thought, word, and deed.  Hab. 1:13 says of God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

All of which brings up a very important question.  How can such a righteous God who can’t even stand to look upon anything unrighteous allow those of us who are unrighteous into his heavenly banquet?  If he were to lower his standards, that would violate his righteousness.  If he were to simply overlook our sins and pretend as though they didn’t happen, that would do the same.  So if he is so right and we are so wrong, if his banquet is for the guiltless and we are nothing but guilty, what are we to do?

Before I answer that question for you, let me first of all tell you what he did.  He saw our predicament.  He recognized our plight.  And being the merciful, gracious, and loving God that he is, he decided to do something about it, knowing that we couldn’t.  So he did the unthinkable.  He put his own Son to death for us.  For when Jesus hung on that old rugged Roman cross, he in essence placed himself in the courtroom of heaven.  And sweeping a hand across all of sinful humanity, he pleaded with his Father, “Punish me for their mistakes.  See that murderer?  Give me his penalty.  See that adulteress?  Let me have her shame.  See that liar, that thief, that rapist, that drug addict, that child molester?  Do to me what you would do to them.  Give me what they deserve.”

And you know what?  That’s exactly what the Father did.  I Peter 3:18 says: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  Gal. 3:13 puts it this way: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”

But that’s just half the story.  Not only did Jesus the righteous One die for us and receive our punishment, before he did that he also lived for us.  You know that perfect, sinless life he lived?  He did it for you so that you could be credited with his righteousness, so that his righteousness could be imputed to you, or charged to your account.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 2 Cor. 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  And if we are the very righteousness of God, if we have the very righteousness of God, if we are robed in the very righteousness of God as we heard before in our Old Testament reading, you know what that means, don’t you?  It means it’s PARTY TIME!  We’re not just invited to the wedding banquet in heaven, we are welcome there!

But I still haven’t answered the question that I asked before when I said if God is so right and we are so wrong, if his banquet is for the guiltless and we are nothing but guilty, what are we to do?  Indeed, what can we do?  And I believe I got the answer to that question a few months ago when I had been through 2 of the busiest, toughest months I had ever endured in my ministry.  Six funerals in a month and a half including 2 in one day; people in 7 different hospitals that needed to be seen; the season of Lent getting underway; multiple Bible classes to prepare for.  I knew I was running on fumes and getting real close to burnout.  I spoke to our Elders about it at one of our monthly meetings and they were so kind and understanding and supportive.  In fact, so much so that they put a note in our May newsletter that I really didn’t want them to include, but they insisted – a note that not only told of the vacation at the end of May that Marilyn and I would be taking to California for our 40th anniversary, but that also included a request for members to refrain from texting, emailing, or calling me so that I could get the rest and relaxation they knew I needed.

Now what did I do to receive that kind of concern from the Elders?  Nothing really, except for one thing.  I simply confessed my need to them and they took care of everything else.  So what can we do to gain access to God’s heavenly wedding banquet?  Nothing, except to confess our need to him – our need for his grace, our need for his mercy, our need for his forgiveness – and allow him and trust him to take care of everything else.  And he’ll do it, my friends.  As our text for today puts it, he will lead you in paths of righteousness, all so that you might be not just his guest, but his pure and perfect bride at that heavenly wedding banquet that will never end.