How much attention do you pay to warnings? (Sadly Newcastle United didn’t pay attention early enough.) The other week we had our boiler serviced and the engineer said everything’s fine but by law I have to leave this warning sign because of a minor issue. Now you tend to ignore those kinds of warnings. But many people also fail to take note of more serious warnings. Some of you are in the middle of exams. Well I remember reading but failing to do anything about the warning on my Geography GCSE paper which read, ‘failure to fill in your details, i.e. name and candidate number - will result in loss of marks’. I failed to fill them in and so I failed Geography GCSE! And then there are those major health warnings which many people understand but choose to ignore such as those you find on alcohol or on cigarette packets – warning smoking kills. Or the warnings about eating too many unhealthy foods – and you say yes Jonathan! Well this evening we come to a parable of Jesus which includes an even more serious warning that none of us can afford to ignore, a warning to both religious leaders and to all of us, of the eternal danger of not accepting him, his word and indeed his clothes.
Look at v2. Jesus begins the parable of the wedding banquet with: 'The kingdom of heaven is like…’ So Jesus is telling a parable about the kingdom of God, in other words a parable about what it means to come under the kingly rule of God, about how we enter the kingdom of God and heaven. And, as he’s been doing since the previous chapter, he’s speaking to the Jewish religious leaders, the chief priests and the Pharisees. What he’s been warning is that the kingdom of God and heaven will be taken from them and given to others. To those who will humble themselves before God, to those who will change their mind and direction and trust in Jesus whether they’re prostitutes or tax collectors (as in chapter 21) or today whether they’re bankers, MPs, Joey Barton or Mike Ashley. Now that would have seemed very shocking. The Pharisees thought they were going to heaven, but Jesus says to them: 'Actually you’re going to hell. And your places in heaven which you thought you'd reserved by your impressive deeds and religious credentials are going to be given to others.' You see there won’t be any good or ‘religious’ people in heaven only forgiven people, only those forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.
And what Jesus says here to Jewish religious leaders also speaks profoundly not only to religious leaders today but to all of us. This parable isn’t just recorded by Matthew for historical interest. It's here to warn us not to make the same mistakes as the religious leaders of Jesus' day. So let’s look at the first 7 verses under my first heading:
1. REJECTION OF THE KING’S AUTHORITY AND THE CONSEQUENCES
The generous king (God) prepared a wedding feast for his son (Jesus). Following eastern custom the king sent his servants to those who’d been invited to tell them that the time had now come, the feast was ready and they should be there. Now a banquet put on by a king would be a more than magnificent occasion, especially at the wedding of his son. It would be expected that people would be glad to receive an invitation and make a point of being there. Certainly I’m not aware of many today who’ve refused a royal invitation to a royal wedding or a garden party at Buckingham Palace. A royal invitation carries weight. But those who’d been invited to this wedding banquet simply refused to come (v3). They were rejecting both the invitation and the authority of the one who’d sent the invitation.
Perhaps there’d been some misunderstanding. So he sent some more servants with more details. This time he tells them what’s on the menu. Tasty home made oxtail soup, followed by the choicest beef and steak. It is simply out of this world. Everything is ready. Come to the banquet. Surely this time they would. But no (v5), this time they simply paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, ill treated them and killed them. What a terrible way to respond to an invitation to a wedding feast! Not surprisingly, v7,
“the king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
So what is Jesus saying up to this point? As I’ve said the king is God himself, and the banquet is a feast at the end of time for Jesus. The servants are the prophets and also John, Jesus and the Apostles. And we see God’s patience and grace in action. The invitation went out three times. He sent his servants not once but twice. He gave the invited guests repeated opportunities to enter his kingdom. And that is exactly what God did for Israel. He sent his prophets time and again to announce that one day God’s Son, the Messiah, would come and they would be able to come to the feast in heaven through him. He also gave Israel opportunity to get ready for the day the feast was ready. When Jesus came that time had come. He was the one who could bring people to the feast. Through his death and resurrection there could be forgiveness of sins and entry into heaven. So they should put their faith in Jesus and come. Surely it was an offer they couldn’t refuse? But they did. The people of Israel led by the religious leaders rejected him. They refused to come to the feast through Jesus. They rejected God’s grace.
Some rejected God's grace or undeserved favour out of apathy. Like some guests in the parable they ignored the invitation and carried on with their preoccupations, oh yes, legitimate preoccupations: making a living, seeing to their affairs, sorting out personal problems etc, but they rejected the invitation and the authority of the one who issued the invitation, namely God. But others were openly hostile to Jesus. Either side of this parable we are told that the leaders were trying to kill Jesus. And eventually they would succeed.
And aren’t those same reactions seen in some people's response to Jesus today? Some reject him out of apathy. They just can’t be bothered to give Jesus a second glance. Their own lives are too busy or important for them to bother. Others are openly hostile to the grace of God shown in Jesus. I know because I used to be one of them. I used to think Christians had two brains – one was out there and the other was out there looking for it! We shove the God who lovingly seeks to rescue sinful people like you and me out of the way and use him as a swear word. As I’ve said that used to be my response – perhaps it’s been yours, perhaps it still is.
The consequence of rejecting God’s invitation and authority is judgment and hell. In the parable, the king sends his servants and they kill the people who rejected the invitation. The religious leaders would face God's judgment for rejecting the invitation. The same is true of church leaders and others today who reject Jesus, his Word and his righteousness. And therefore it's also a very serious warning to us, that if we reject God's offer, if we ignore his offer of rescue and forgiveness through Jesus, then we too will face his judgment. We too will face eternal death rather than eternal life. Our sin can’t be swept under the carpet – it must be judged.
So what about you? You’ve accepted the invitation to come to this service and the barbecue banquet afterwards. But will you accept God’s wonderful free invitation to the feast in heaven? Will you accept by repenting and trusting in Jesus as Saviour and Lord or are you going to refuse, pay no attention to it when you leave here and go back to your preoccupations in life? Please understand that we can’t get to heaven on our terms. No-one gets a room in heaven without going through Jesus. The Jews and the Jewish religious leaders who rejected Jesus forfeited their place at the wedding banquet. But of course, the king can’t let all that lovely food go to waste. The banquet is still ready. So he tells his servants to go round the streets and invite anyone they find. The gospel went first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Yes we really are all invited. So secondly,
2. ALL AND SUNDRY ARE INVITED vv8-10
The invitation now goes out to all and sundry. Vv8-10:
8Then the King said to his servants…9’Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find’. 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Amazingly God offers us a place at his eternal feast today even though we turned our backs on him. What will you do with his invitation to the feast? Recently someone who was invited to his best friend’s wedding decided he didn’t want to go and put his invitation up for sale on eBay. Someone offered £10 million for it! But a place in heaven can’t be sold and neither can we buy our way into heaven. The King's son has paid the price by dying in our place on the cross, so that you could go to the banquet. We are simply to accept the invitation and put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says that the banquet will be full of people. The criterion is not whether you are good or bad, or how good or bad, for we have all sinned and fall short of God’s perfect standard, no-one is good but God alone, no the criterion is will you accept the invitation? Will you admit your sinfulness and repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord? The party will go on with or without you. So whatever you do, don't make the same mistake as the religious leaders. They rejected the invitation. And in doing so they rejected God's grace and saw God's judgment. And if we reject the invitation, whether by apathy or open hostility, we too will reject God's grace and face his judgment.
If you’ve accepted the invitation and follow Jesus as your Lord then go out to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. We are to hand out God’s invitation to all and sundry, good and bad. Thirdly and finally
3. DRESS APPROPRIATELY vv11-14
You see the parable doesn't stop there. Look at verses 11-13:
11But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. 13Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
Last year I famously went to a party without having read the dress code on the invite. It was embarrassing and I almost felt I couldn’t go in and be acceptable but I was let off and still welcomed. But at God's wedding feast, if you're not wearing the right clothes, then Jesus says you will find yourself not only unacceptable but also going to hell. That's what v13 means. It's language only used by Jesus, and he's talking about hell, the place for those who reject God's kind offer of forgiveness and heaven. And he tells us about hell because he loves us. As we saw from 2 Peter he doesn’t want us to go there. That’s why he loved you to death on the cross. He’d rather die than live without you.
The people Jesus was speaking to, the self-righteous chief priests and the Pharisees, would have thought their clothes were good enough, they would have thought they were right with God. Some today believe they’re good enough for heaven. I’ll never forget visiting a man who told me straight up that he’d never done anything wrong and that he’d always helped anyone in need, so why did he need to repent? He thought his best was good enough for God but God says that it isn’t. Isaiah 64:6 says that: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” And that is our predicament as human beings. We are literally not fit to be seen before God, let alone to enjoy the feast of his kingdom. So the king not only provides the feast free, not only invites everyone to it, but also provides the wedding clothes for everyone to wear (as was customary in Jesus’ day). The man, who pushed in wearing his own clothes, thinking he was good enough, was thrown out. And God will do the same to anyone who relies on his own fancied goodness to gain entry into the kingdom. This may sound morbid but if you were to die tonight and God asked you why he should let you in to the wedding feast of his Son, what would you say? If your answer is all about you and your good deeds then he can’t let you in because we’re never good enough and that doesn’t deal with the problem of our sin. No, the right answer is because of what Christ has done, trusting in his death in our place, being clothed with his righteousness.
So Jesus is saying: unless you’re humble enough to accept the King's clothes, unless you’re clothed with his righteousness, unless you’re humble enough to come to Jesus and receive the forgiveness he offers and the new life he promises, you’ll be thrown into hell. That's the price of rejecting the invitation and ignoring the dress code.
And there’s a danger for those who claim to be Christians to come to God on their own terms. It's a 'yes but' sort of faith. It's a faith that says: Yes, I'll accept your forgiveness Lord, but I don't want you to have all my life. Yes, I'll accept the invitation Lord, but I don't want to give you too much of my time. Once a week's enough isn't it? I've done my bit. Yes, I'll accept the invitation Lord, but I want control of my relationships and I'll decide when it's time to tell everyone at work I'm a Christian. Yes, Lord, I'll accept the invitation, but I don't want it to be too uncomfortable. I think I'll retain control of just how keen I become. The problem with the ‘yes but’ type of faith is that in reality you're in serious danger of ignoring the dress code of heaven. You're in danger of treating your faith like just another hobby. But when the King of kings calls you to his wedding feast, you accept on his terms. Otherwise you'll find yourself leaving by the back door. You see wonderfully God's invitation goes out to many, but sadly few accept the invitation and take note of the dress code. V14: “Many are invited but few are chosen.”
So the meaning of the parable is clear. God has provided the feast of the kingdom. It is the wedding feast for his Son. The invitation goes out far and wide. If you reject it you miss the party. If you think you can get in relying on your own fitness and clothes, you will be thrown out. Many are invited, but few show by their response that they are chosen. So are you going to accept God’s invitation and clothes or reject them? You can accept them now through faith in Christ by prayer.
Heavenly Father, I have rebelled against you. I have sinned in my thoughts, my words and my actions – sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately. I am sorry for the way I have lived and ask you to forgive me. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross so that I could be forgiven. I accept your invitation and his clothes. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me follow him whatever the cost. Amen.