In a week where yet again we have seen some Anglican church leaders compromise and undermine the gospel and seek unity at the expense of truth in the Eames Commission’s ‘Windsor Report’ and in some of the reactions to it; and when we’ve seen the Evangelical Alliance in confusion over the fundamental message of the cross of Christ (with regard to Steve Chalke’s denial of penal substitution), we come to a parable of Jesus which warns religious leaders and also the rest of us of the dangers of not accepting him, his word and indeed his clothes.
Jesus begins the parable of the wedding banquet in verse 2 with: 'The kingdom of heaven is like…’ So Jesus is telling another parable about the kingdom of God, a parable about what it means to come under the kingly rule of God, about how we enter the kingdom of God and therefore heaven. And, as he’s been doing since v23 of chapter 21, he’s speaking to the Jewish religious leaders, the chief priests, the Pharisees and the elders of the people.
Have a look at the previous chapter, chapter 21, for a moment, beginning with v31. Jesus castigates the religious leaders after the parable of the Two Sons for not repenting and believing. As a consequence those who do repent and believe such as tax collectors and prostitutes, two of the lowest of the low groups in their society, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them, says Jesus. In the parable of the tenants (v33 onwards) the tenants are the Jews and their leaders. The servants represent the OT prophets, many of whom were killed by the tenants; and the son represents Christ, who was condemned to death by the religious leaders. What happens to the tenants? Look at v41. Those wretches come to a wretched end and the vineyard rented to other tenants, the Gentiles. V42: The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus. “Therefore”, Jesus says, in v43, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” What he’s saying is that the kingdom of God, heaven, will be taken from these religious leaders and given to others.
Now that would have seemed very shocking. These people thought they were going to heaven, but Jesus says to them: 'Actually you are going to hell.' It would be like Jesus getting up at a meeting of the house of bishops and saying: 'You think you’re going to heaven, well at least those of you who believe in heaven. Actually the reality is that you are 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.' But that's what Jesus is saying to these religious officials. V45: ‘When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.’ But, as with so many religious leaders today who reject the Lord Jesus Christ and his Word, their reaction was not one of repentance and faith but rather one of plotting and politicking against him, though delaying any action until a more opportune time. Look at v46: “They looked for a way to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”
And Jesus is still speaking to and about the chief priests and the Pharisees in this next parable in chapter 22. Still he’s castigating them for their lack of integrity. In the parable of the two sons he pointed out their inaction in the vineyard of Israel. In the parable of the tenants he pointed out their disloyalty in that same vineyard. Now, in the parable of the wedding banquet, he tells them plainly that they have no standing in the kingdom of God. And what Jesus says here also speaks to church leaders today and to all of us. This parable is not 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 turn to Matthew 22 and look first at the first 7 verses under my first heading:
1. REJECTION OF THE KING’S AUTHORITY AND THE CONSEQUENCES v1-7
Look at verses 1-7. Jesus spoke to the chief priests and Pharisees again in parables. The generous king (God) prepared a wedding feast for his son (Jesus). Following eastern custom the king sent his servants to those who had 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 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. I’m not aware of many today who’ve refused a royal invitation to a royal wedding or even to a garden party at the Palace. A royal invitation carries weight. But those who had been invited to this wedding banquet simply refused to come (v3). They were rejecting the invitation and the authority of the one who had sent the invitation.
Perhaps there had 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 on the cross in our place 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 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 sadly today those same characteristics are seen in people's response to Jesus. Some reject him out of apathy. They just cannot be bothered to give Jesus a second glance. Their own lives are too important for them to bother. Others are openly hostile to the grace of God shown in Jesus. The God who lovingly seeks to rescue sinful people like you and me is shoved out of the way and used as a swear word.
The consequence of rejecting God’s invitation and authority is judgement. In the parable, the king sends his servants and they kill the people who rejected the invitation. Some see v7 as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 but also to hell. The Old Testament prophets used this sort of language to warn of God's judgement at the end of time. The religious leaders would face God's judgement for rejecting the invitation. The same is true of church leaders and others today who reject Jesus, his Word and his righteousness. Many Anglican church leaders in the West are facing God’s judgement unless they repent and believe the good news. To go back to chapter 21 and v43, ‘The kingdom of God will be taken away from liberal unbelieving Anglicans and others who reject God and given to those who will produce its fruit.’ And 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 judgement. We too will face eternal death rather than eternal life.
So what about us? Have you accepted God’s wonderful free invitation to the feast? Is there someone here this morning who still has not? 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 this morning 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 cannot 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. Perhaps you’ve been invited here this morning. You’ve obviously accepted someone’s invitation to come here. But will you accept God’s to come to heaven? The gospel went first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. So as my next heading states:
2. ALL AND SUNDRY ARE INVITED v8-10
The invitation now goes out to all and sundry. Look at v9&10:
“Then the King said to his servants…’Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find’. So 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. What will you do with his invitation to the feast? This week someone who was invited to his best friends wedding in Aberdeen decided he didn’t want to go and put his invitation up for sale on ‘e bay’, the online auction site. 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 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 glory, the criterion is will you accept the invitation? Will you admit your sinfulness and repent (change your mind and go God’s way) 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 they saw God's judgement. And if we reject the invitation, whether by apathy or open hostility, we too will reject God's grace and face his judgement.
If you have 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. He has commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. We see here both God’s sovereignty and our urgent responsibility in evangelism. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. We are not to discriminate in our witness. We are to hand out God’s invitation to all and sundry, good and bad.
3. DRESS APPROPRIATELY v11-14
But the parable doesn't stop there. Look at verses 11-13.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then 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.''
You see at God's wedding feast, if you're not wearing the right clothes, then Jesus says you will find yourself 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.
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. And many today believe that they are 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. Isaiah 61:10, which we read earlier, has the solution: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest.” 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. God will do the same to anyone who relies on his own fancied goodness to gain entry into the kingdom.
So Jesus is saying: Unless you are humble enough to accept the King's clothes, unless you are humble enough to come to Jesus and receive the forgiveness he offers and the new life he promises, you will be thrown into hell. That's the price of rejecting the invitation and ignoring the dress code.
And there is 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.
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, you will be thrown out. Many are invited, but few show by their response that they are chosen.