I would like to offer a “Question Answered” structure for a sermon on Matthew 22. The first section identifies a question my hearers may be asking and helps them see what is at stake. Then I try to clearly state the question in a repeatable way: “Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough?”
The sermon then looks at three potential answers. The first two (which some people in the pews likely hold to) invite both affirmation and critique. This models for the hearers how we read and interpret Scripture, as well as providing a sic et non approach, as we engage with people who might think or believe differently than we do.
The third answer takes the first two into consideration and leaves my hearers with what I want them to walk away with: A careful reading of Scripture which lands on a clear proclamation of the Gospel.
Introduction: Establishing the Question
My mom kept a spray bottle by the door. After dragging us kids out of bed on Sunday morning, she would make sure we wore our Sunday best. As far as I could tell, “Sunday best” meant the shirt with the scratchiest tag which never quite fit right. And then there was the spray bottle. If one of us boys had a stubborn tuft of hair that did not know what it meant to get ready for church, then the spray bottle would subdue it back into place. After all, we were going to God’s house. We would then get to church and sing a hymn like “Just as I Am.” It seemed a little ironic after our weekly ordeal to change our whole appearance before we left for church.
Today, some churches are really vocal about particular behaviors that will not be tolerated. Some preferences and actions are presented as clearly unacceptable. As a result, people who struggle with those behaviors or identities leave those churches and say, “I am going to find a church that will accept me ‘just as I am.’ The church down the street from me has a series of doors, painted in the colors of the rainbow, planted across their lawn along the busy street. The words across the doors read: God’s doors are open to all.”
Are God’s doors open to all? Is ‘just as I am’ really true? The images of the feasts in Isaiah 25 and Matthew 22 beg the question: Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? So, let us ask that question, and wrestle with how God’s Word answers it.
Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? So, let us ask that question, and wrestle with how God’s Word answers it.
Considering One Possible Answer
If you ask the average American, “Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough?” the answer you would probably hear most often would be a simple, “Yes.” Afterall, God is love. A simple, “Yes,” because God is love. And Jesus Himself said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Our Old Testament reading tells us God’s love is indiscriminately universal. Isaiah 25 says:
“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for “all peoples.” On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds “all peoples,” the sheet that covers “all nations.” He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from “all faces.””
God’s love is universal. The promise given to Abraham is that one of his offspring would be a blessing to all nations. And in Mathew 11, Jesus Himself says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So, is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? Maybe it is a simple, “Yes,” because God is love.
But then we read this parable of Jesus in Matthew 22. There is a king who is hosting a wedding banquet for his son. He invites people, but they do not come. So, he invites more and more and more people, and all kinds of people come. As the king is enjoying the party, he notices one guy who stands out. He is not wearing wedding clothes. He did not come prepared. He is not dressed for the occasion. So, the king asks, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes?”
The man was speechless. Perhaps he was banking on ‘just as I am’ being enough. The king says, “Tie him hand and foot, throw him outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That is the language of Hell! The part about darkness and weeping and gnashing, it is the language of God’s judgment! Just in Matthew’s Gospel alone, Jesus talks about weeping and gnashing of teeth at least five other times.
Considering Another Possible Answer
Clearly God does judge, and He does have standards. So, is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? It does not look like it. Therefore, maybe the answer is a simple, “No.” We have to be holy because God is holy, this is what the parable seems to say, and all those other verses about God’s universal love can still be true. Maybe God loves everyone, as long as they are holy. Maybe God accepts all people, just so long as they are perfect. So, is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? Maybe the answer is a simple, “No.” We have to be holy because God is holy.
People talk about how loving and accepting Jesus is. But have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount?
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder,’ but I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ is in danger of the fire of Hell. You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you everyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her. If your right eye causes you to sin, cut it out. And if your right hand, cut it off.”
To sum it all up, Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
God is perfectly holy, and He demands holiness. So, is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? Maybe the answer is a simple, “No.” We have to be holy because God is holy. Yet, this same Jesus went to dinner parties with prostitutes. He hung out with tax collectors and called them friends. This very Jesus said, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor but the sick. I did not come for the righteous and holy, I came for the unrighteous. I came for the sinners.
We have to be holy because God is holy. Yet, this same Jesus went to dinner parties with prostitutes.
So where does that leave us? Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? Neither a simple “yes,” nor a simple “no” is going to cut it. God is love but He does not tolerate sin. And while God is holy, He hangs out with and loves the unholy.
Concluding with the Gospel Answer
Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? The first stanza to the hymn holds the answer:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me.
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee.
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
‘Just as I am,’ without one plea. In other words, I am not good enough. I am not holy enough. I am not righteous enough. I am not worthy enough. I do not have a single leg to stand on. I do not have a single plea... but that Thy blood was shed for me. Even though I am not good enough to come to You, You come to me. My unholiness deserves death, but instead of me paying the penalty, You died in my place. Thy blood was shed for me. I was not able to come to You, so You came to me.
“And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” I could not come to You, so You came to me. You died for me. You rose for me. You washed me in the blood of the Lamb. You clothed me with the wedding white robe of royal righteousness. And in Your righteousness, and at Your invitation, I come to You. I am unworthy in myself, but perfectly worthy in Jesus.
Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? Our answer has to be a nuanced “Yes and No.” No, because I am not perfect enough to come before God. But for that reason, God came to me. God came to earth. Jesus came to meet us right where we are, just as we are. Is ‘just as I am’ really good enough? No, not by myself, but yes, in Jesus. Yes, because Jesus has come to us and invited us to come with Him to the Father. Clothed in His righteousness, we are welcomed to His banqueting table.
God comes to us just as we are, and He gives us a new identity in who He is. And in Him, in Jesus, God sees you and has declared you righteous and holy, just as you are, in Jesus. Amen.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 22:1-14.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 22:1-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 22:1-14.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 22:1-14.
 Latin for “yes and no.”
 Elliott, Charolette. “Just As I Am.” Lutheran Service Book 2006. Pg 570.