Monday 15 February 2010

The Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14)

(Preached on 14 February 2010 - Valentine's & Chinese New Year Day)


How do you know that you will be in heaven?

Some of us will say, “Of course, I’ll get in”. But how do you know?

Others might be more humble. “No one really knows for sure.But to say this is to imply that the bible is unclear - Unclear on how we are saved and unclear on who will be saved.

How do you know that you will be in heaven?

To help us answer this question, Jesus tells us not one but three parables, beginning from the previous chapter, at verse 28.

The first parable tells us of two sons with two different reactions. Their father tells both to go work in his vineyard. One son says, “I will not!” but changes his mind. And the other answers, “Yes, sir!” but doesn’t turn up for work. The lesson there is repentance. RepentanceA change of mind that leads to a changed life. The son who says no to his Father, yet later repents, is the son who does the will of his father.

The second is the parable of the tenants and the vineyard. Here the lesson is rejection. The farmers reject the owner by killing his servants and even killing the owner’s son. They want the land; they want the farm and fruits of the farm all for themselves. In the same way, it is very possible for us to earnestly want to be in Heaven, to sincerely desire the blessings of Heaven and yet at the same time wholeheartedly reject the King of Heaven. The tenants want the land; the tenants reject the landowner.

Which brings us to our third parable – the parable of the wedding banquet. Verse 1 reads “Jesus spoke to them” and already we come to the important question of “Who is Jesus speaking to?”

The answer is found a couple of verses earlier in verse 45. We read, “When the chief priests and Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables they knew he was talking about them.”

Jesus is speaking to those who are religious; to those who are confident of their religion. How do you know that you will be in Heaven? What makes you so sure?

Yet what we will find in this third parable is that Jesus is speaking to all of us here today – whether you consider yourselves religious, irreligious or even ignorant of religion. Because the big question at the when considering Heaven is the King of Heaven – not who we are, but who God is. Not how we will get in, but why God graciously calls us into his presence.


Verse 2ff:
“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, but they refused to come.”

This is not an invitation. It isn’t. The king sends servants to those who have been invited. Meaning, they already know there is going to be a celebration. Yet they refuse to come. What does the king do?

(Verse 4) He sends more servants to tell them about the wedding banquet. He says to tell them it is all ready and it is all good! My oxen and cattle have been slaughtered – meaning there is plenty for everyone. This is the good stuff. Not Tesco Value but Tesco Finest. Come! Everything is ready!

Verse 5: But they paid no attention and went off. What follows is a range of different responses.

One went off to his field, the other to his business. “Can’t you see I’m busy? I’ve got work to do.” The emphasis here is not just that they cannot spare the time; there is too much work to get done; there are bills to be paid. Rather Jesus makes it a point to say that one goes to his (literally his own) field and the other to his business or enterprise – the emphasis being that these men are owners.

The mention of the field or farm, ought to remind us of the second parable, where the farmers do everything they can because they want to own the land. But here, this man owns his farm, his land; his business.

These men are not responding in ignorance, they respond with idolatry. They see, they compare, but they refuse.

They see what the king offers, but when compared with what they already have and own, it does not measure up. “You have slaughtered cows? I will have you know I can afford my own steak dinner, bought with my own hard-earned money, thank you but no thank you.

CS Lewis, a Christian author and thinker writes:

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered usWe are far too easily pleased.”


If the first reaction is weak desire, then the second is strong contempt.

Verse 6: “The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.

This just sounds crazy to me. They killed them?

If you get an invitation and you don’t want to go – you don’t go. You might make excuses or ignore the invitation but who goes to this extreme?

Arresting the servants? Mistreating them? The word “mistreat” used here means to publicly humiliate and even torture a person.

The question is “why”? What drove the people to such extreme violence?

The answer is the message they carried. The message from the king saying: Come! Everything is ready and there is nothing but the best for the celebration.

Nothing but the best for the wedding of my son!

That was the message from the king. But now the villagers want to send their own message to the king. A message that said: We don’t want to be a part of the celebration, because we do not want you to be our King, and we do not want your son to as your heir.

Here is radical rebellion and wickedness and it is in response to radical grace. The message that this was to be a day of celebration and rejoicing was also the signal that it was the perfect opportunity to rebel.


So today of all days is the perfect day – a perfect day for rejoicing or rejection.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to declare your affections to the one you love most. It can also be the perfect day to be hurt by the one you love most.

Chinese New Year can be time of celebration and thanksgiving –Family members gathering from afar to gather over food for that wonderful traditional of the annual reunion dinner. Yet how many disagreements happen right at the dinner table – how many arguments, misunderstandings will take place tonight in our homes.

The perfect opportunity for one can just as easily lead to the other – it is the best occasion for celebration and joy; it could be a great opportunity to inflict maximum damage and hurt.

How? Through rejection.


Verse 7: “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed the city and murderers in the fire.”

This sounds harsh. Destroying an entire city? Sending in the army?

Here we need to consider two things:

First, know who you are dealing with. Know who you are dealing with.

The king represents God in awesome power and justice. If defying the head of an earthly kingdom is fearful, imagine what it means to defy the King of all Kings and the Lord of the universe.

Know who you are dealing with. Our God is an awesome God – both in creation and in judgement; both in goodness and in holiness.

But secondly, know who this God is dealing with. Who is this parable about?

On one level, we have seen it’s about the religious leaders. They are overconfident in their heritage, in their positions of leadership, in their history. Jesus says to them they have rejected God.

Yet the amazing thing is that as you go back and look at these three parable, the charge that Jesus makes towards the Pharisees and religious leaders is not that they have rejected God as much as they have rejected him as the Son of God.

You see, rejection is at the heart of what the bible describes as sin.

We think sin is breaking rules, doing bad things or being naughty. Yet how exactly have the people in this parable sinned against the king? By rebelling against his rule and by rejecting his authority and goodness. Sin is saying I don’t want a king over my life. Sin is saying I want to be my own king.

And to understand sin rightly as rebellion is then to understand what judgement over sin entails. It is punishment for rebellion. That is why the king sends in the troops. It is what a monarch does when his authority is challenged. The king is quelling the rebellion.

This means the warning that Jesus gives is not just to the religious authorities but also to us. When we reject God’s word; when we reject God’s servants who present us with the claims and promises of God’s word; and indeed when we reject God’s son who is at the centre of God’s word – we stand under judgement of the king.

The parable reveals how we reject Jesus again and again in our lives. Through idolatry: choosing to live our own lives instead of in submission to him. Through outright rebellion: in defiance against his rightful position as Lord over this earth and over our lives. Through religion: By foolishly trusting in our own observance of rules rather than his fulfillment of the will of his Father.

Yet deeper still, the parable is about Jesus in a much more revealing way. It points to us who he is and what he came to do.

Jesus is the true son and heir of God’s kingdom, yet is sent as God’s true servant. He comes to bear the message of God’s promises and blessings, but moreover he enters creation to bear the punishment of our sins and rebellion.

He is the one who will be arrested, humiliated publicly, tortured, and killed on the cross. That happens in just a few chapters on in Matthew’s gospel.

And the parable will go on to show that beyond redefining sin: as the rejection not just of God but Jesus as the Son of God; he will also go on to redefine righteousness.

Not as something we do in order to earn our way to God, but righteousness as something we can only receive from God, and only through Christ.


The robe of righteousness

Verse 8

“Then (the king) said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.

Go to the street corners and invite anyone you find.”

Nothing can diminish God’s passion for his glory – not even our sin. In fact, the gospel shows how God uses our sin for his glory and our joy.

The rejection of the accepted has now resulted in the acceptance of the rejected. The hall is now filled with people both good and bad. It’s not based on what they have done or who they are! They are nobodies. They weren’t even on the original guest list.

You could say that this parable gives us a glimpse into what heaven will be like. But I think it’s truer to say that Jesus is showing us what the church on earth should be like. Look with me to verse 10

The servants going into the streets corners –literally the road exits – meaning the servants went right to the end, as far as the roads would take them – searching everywhere for everyone they could find.

More importantly, they did this in order to gather them together. That’s talking about the church. The word church” simply means – gathering. Anytime you read in the bible the words “assembly”, “synagogue” or “church” – it means the one and same thing. It means gathering.

The word of God – the gospel – goes out to furthest ends of the world, gathering everyone and anyone into God’s presence to rejoice in God’s Son.

“Anyone” verse 9. “All the people”, “Both good and bad” - verse 10. “Guests” of the king – verse 11.

These are the words of Jesus of the church – and they are words designed to shock! He says to the religious leaders “… tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (21:31)

But at the same time: These are words meant to encourage.

I wonder if you can remember the first time in a church, or a bible study or a gathering of Christians. For some of us that day is today. Everyone is singing but you don’t know the songs. Everyone is reading the bible which you are holding for the very first time.

Can I ask you to remember that experience? How new, and how strange and how awkward you felt because that’s the experience of these guests.

There’s so much food. This is the palace of the king. What am I doing here? I’m nobody.

But then they look around and they’re nobodies too! What’s he doing here! Or, that guys doesn’t deserve to be in here either!

And that’s the same way you should think of the church. None of us deserve to be here.

The only requirement for you to be in a church is this: you must be undeserving. You cannot say, because I’m the speaker, because I played music, my parents have been coming for decades, I gave so much money, I cooked so much food today – therefore I deserve… no, none of us deserve to be here… except for the gracious invitation of the king. We have done nothing.

He calls us. He prepares the feast. The church is the product of God’s word and God’s generosity… and not the other way around. The church comes out of the gospel, the gospel does not come out of the church. The word of God produces the people of God.

That’s why it is so important to have it in the center of all that we do. The best way I can welcome you today is to pass you the invitation from the King himself. To call you into his presence. To show you his generosity.

God’s generosity which defines who we are - not what we’ve done, but all that he has done – but also a generosity that determines where we will be in his kingdom… let’s read on.


Verse 11ff

“But when the king came in to see the guests,
(God looks around his gathering… he walks among us)
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. (Meaning he had no excuse)

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.’”

What are these wedding clothes? And why is this man punished so severely?

In Ezekiel chapter 16, God speaks to his people in Jerusalem as a husband who woos his bride, dressing her in fine clothes.

Verse 10: “I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and … fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk.”

He says, “… I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made a vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declared the LORD God…”

Granted that in Ezekiel, God speaks to his wedding bride, and here the king addresses the wedding guest. But in both cases, what makes the bride and the guest suitable; acceptable is not their inner worth, but their outer righteousness.

In Romans 13, Christians are called to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and not to think how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

The message there is that our righteousness is external – it clothes us. On the inside we are unworthy sinners, but on the outside we are covered by the beauty and worthiness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the cross Jesus is stained with our sin, stricken with our pain, punished for our condemnation. But from the cross, we receive his purity, his righteousness and his life.

Without Christ, the bible says our righteous acts are like filthy rags before God. We are without excuse and face the anger of God.

But in Christ, we are loved by God as guests at the banquet, as citizens of the kingdom and as sons and daughters in God’s family.


Many are called, but...

The parable ends with the sobering words, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” In quite a few English translations, verse 14 reads “For many are called…”

That’s because every time you see the word “invite” or “tell” in this parable, the word there is actually “call”. God calls us. Again and again, sending his servants, sending his word, and in the end - sending his own Son – to call us into his kingdom.

He calls the good and the bad, both the wicked and the righteous. Any and every, and many are called, but the truth of verse 14 is … few are chosen.

To dwell on being called is to dwell on our privilege and our position – that was what happened to the Pharisees. They thought they were called because they deserved to be called.

But to reflect on God’s choice .. well, that reminds us of just what kind of God we are dealing with. He is an awesome God in justice and holiness. He is a generous God, providing grace to sinners, clothing them with righteousness even at the cost of the death of his son.

We began with the question: How do you know that you will be in Heaven?

But the real answer Jesus gives is not a future promise (will you be in Heaven?), but a present reality (are you in Heaven?). To be in Christ, is to be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (according to Ephesians 2:6).

For the king says banquet is ready, and all the preparations are finished! The Son of God even now clothes us in his righteousness that we might enter into the very presence of the Almighty who we call our King, our God and our Father.

Every meal we have, not least the great feast we will enjoy today, points forward to the certainty of the fulfillment and joy that waits for us at the end of the age, but also backwards – to a simple meal of bread and wine symbolizing Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed on the cross.

The King says “Come!” For everything that needs to be done has been done in Christ. All we have to do – all we can do is simply respond and rejoice in the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Son of God in his glory!