In church on Sunday our pastor, Pr. Gary Englert, told a story that really touched me and got me thinking. I decided I wanted to post both my retelling of the story and the thoughts I had on it. After church I asked if he had come up with the story on his own or had borrowed it. He said he had first read it in Vital holiness: A theology of Christian experience : interpreting the historic Wesleyan message by Delbert R. Rose. I have not read this book, but it sounds like a good one. Pr. Gary said that Rose was able to tell this whole story in a single paragraph, but I like his somewhat embellished version better.
The story is of a great King who ruled over a large and wonderful kingdom. He was a good and fair King, loved, feared, and respected by his subjects throughout the kingdom. The King had a Son, who was also loved by the people. He was a good, courageous, and loyal Prince.
In one of the many cities of this kingdom was a woman who lived in the gutter. She had lived in the gutter for a very long time, and had not bathed or changed her clothes in what seemed like forever. Most people walked by her without a second glance.
One day, the Prince went traveling throughout the kingdom. He took a large entourage with him of servants, knights, and people of his court. They traveled to the city where the woman lived in the gutter. As they proceeded down the very street where the woman lay in the gutter, and came to the place where she was, the Prince ordered that the entourage stop. He got out of his carriage, approached the woman in the gutter, and kneeled before her. He spoke gently to her, “I love you and I want you to come with me and be my wife.” The woman was surprised by the Prince’s offer, but accepted.
The Prince then told the woman that he was sending her back to the palace with his servants and attendants, and that they would prepare her for their wedding day. Over the next few months, the kingdom, and especially the palace, was busy with the wedding preparations. The day of the wedding arrived, but the woman was not there. The Prince ordered that a search be made for her and that she be brought to the wedding banquet.
After much searching, the woman was finally found in her room. The servants and attendants were all around her with soaps, perfumes, and her beautiful wedding dress. But the woman sat upon the bed still dressed in the clothes she had been wearing when the Prince found her in the gutter, with the filth and smell of the gutter still upon her. When asked why she was still dressed that way, why she had not allowed the Prince’s attendants to clean her up and dress her in the finest white wedding dress, she replied, “He loved me this way when he found me, and he will love me this way when we are wed.”
In case you haven’t guessed, the King is our heavenly Father, the Prince is our Savior Jesus, and the woman in the gutter is you and me. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul clearly states our position in the gutter before we knew Christ:
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. Ephesians 2:1-3 (NLT).
But even though we lived in sin, Jesus came to us, humbled Himself before us on the cross, and professed His great love. He called us to Himself, to be His beautiful bride. Although He loved us when we were in the gutter, He wants so much more for us. He wants to makes us a new creation clothed in the most beautiful white robes of salvation. We are saved when we first accept His invitation, and then begins the process by which He changes us into His likeness, washing away each speck of dirt and sin with His precious blood. He is preparing us for the wedding day when we will be joined forever with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
As I listened to Pr. Gary’s message and this story, a few questions came to mind. Have you accepted Jesus’ astounding offer of salvation? Do you realize how amazing it is that He would make such an offer? Can you imagine an earthly Prince seeking the hand of a woman living in the gutter?
If you have accepted the offer, have you allowed His attendants, His Holy Spirit, to make you a new and beautiful creation in preparation for your wedding as the bride of Christ? Or are you sitting on the bed in your new-found room, still wearing your gutter clothes, insisting that if He loved you this way at first He will love you this way always? Have you allowed Him to change you for the better, or are you sure you are just fine the way you are? Are you allowing Him to wash you clean with His precious blood, or are you clinging to your sins?
So often we want to hold onto the gutter clothes we have become accustomed to for so long, not comprehending that the wedding clothes provided by the Prince of Peace are so much better. But if we want to enjoy the eternal wedding feast, we must allow Christ to clothe us in His righteousness. We must allow Him to change us. No one who is not properly dressed will be allowed to remain at the wedding banquet. In the parable of the great feast, Jesus said:
“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:11-14 (NLT).
So are you allowing Christ to prepare you for the feast of an eternal lifetime? Or are you clinging to who you were when He found you, hoping He will let you in anyway?