I heard about people who were very excited to attend a concert. They bought their tickets online and looked forward to the day of the concert. On the day of the concert they made a day of it, getting to the concert hall early, having supper together and talking excitedly about what they would experience. Then they got in line to enter the hall and when they got to the front of the line they were told that their tickets were a forgery and they would not be allowed in. How disappointing to look forward to something and believe that you were going and then to find out that you were not going.
I can recall a number of situations in which I have been standing in a church foyer and listening to a group of people plan something for after the service. On one occasion, I recall that I was not really a part of the group that was doing the planning, but then one of the group said to me, “Are you coming?” It was nice to be invited, but then I had to decide if I wanted to go with them.
God has given all of us an invitation. Are we going? Will we be welcomed when we get there? These are the questions which are asked in Matthew 22:1-14 about our participation in the kingdom of heaven. What important questions which all of us need to answer! Let us read the text and see what Jesus has to say to us today.
As we begin this section of Scripture, we notice that Jesus was speaking to the people in parables. Jesus often spoke in parables and through these stories was not only telling a nice story or making an illustration for his point. Parables are fairly complex and one of the complexities is that they usually contain some element in them that makes us say, “huh?” This parable seems fairly straight forward, but there are a few things in it that make us do a double take and wonder what is being taught. It is a nice story about a wedding feast and some rude guests who refuse the invitation. But then we come across the violence of the way in which the king destroys those guests and we wonder. When the invitation is made for others to come in, we feel that it is a good thing, but then we are surprised to hear that both “good and bad” are invited. In the end of the parable as we hear about the man who did not have the proper wedding clothes and who is violently cast out of the wedding banquet we once again wonder. As we listen to the parable, these unexpected items must be taken seriously.
This parable has a very specific context. In Matthew 21 Jesus told several parables in response to the chief priests and elders who questioned his authority. In Matthew 21:45, we discover that these religious leaders began to look for a way to arrest Jesus. Immediately following this parable, we read, “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.” In this context, it is clear that what Jesus was saying was written directly to the situation in Israel and to the Jewish people, particularly the Jewish religious leaders. However, the parable also has a word for us today and makes two important points about participation in the kingdom of heaven. It invites us to ask, “Are you coming?” and it invites us to think about the consequences of the answer we make to this question.
I. The Immediate Context
The first lesson which we need to recognize in this parable is the lesson it has for those who were listening, especially the Jewish religious leaders.
The invitation to a wedding banquet described here is quite close to the cultural practices of the day. A person would send out invitations, and then would begin preparation for the celebration. When all was ready, the person would send out a second invitation to let people know that now they could come because everything was ready. These celebrations were not just one or two hours, but often lasted several days.
The king who is mentioned here is clearly a reference to God and the son is a reference to Jesus. It is also important to understand what is meant by the wedding banquet. What comes to mind first of all is the end time banquet which will take place when the Son celebrates with his bride, the church. But I think we should not limit it to that end time event. I think it also speaks about participation in God’s reign. When we follow Christ, we enter into God’s reign and it is at that point that we participate in the banquet. The conclusion of that reign will be the final banquet, but we are already part of the celebration of God’s reign even now.
The servants who are sent are those who have proclaimed God’s word. At first the reference is to the prophets who proclaimed God’s Word in the Old Testament. Later the servants include not only the New Testament prophets, but also the evangelists like Philip, Stephen, Paul and all the others since that time who have made the name of Jesus known.
Those who rejected the invitation are the Jewish people who repeatedly had refused to listen to the messages which came from God. Some suggest that the two invitations are first of all the invitation which came in the Old Testament and then the invitation which came to the Jewish people in the New Testament. We know that when Paul went on his missionary journeys, he always went to the Jewish people first.
Those invited offered no excuses. They simply refused to come and thus insulted the king who had invited them. Many Scripture passages speak about this refusal by the Jewish people. For example, Jeremiah 25:4 says, "And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention." Matthew 23:37 tells us that Jesus longed for the Jewish people to respond but they did not. There we read, "“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."
Their refusal was violent, as it so often was when they killed the prophets and even the Son who was sent, as it says in the parable in Matthew 21. In response, the king destroyed those who refused to come. Although surprising, this response is a noteworthy indication that if those who are invited do not come, they will be dealt with by a severe judgment. Some suggest that the violence of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD may be a fulfillment of this part of the parable.
Those in the street corners who were then invited by the servants of the king is a reference to the Gentiles. What happened in Acts 13:46, is a clear reflection of what Jesus was saying in this parable. There we read, "Then Paul and Barnabas answered them (the Jews) boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles."
The parable is an accusation of the Jewish people, such as is also reflected in John 1:11, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." But the mention of “good and bad” and the surprise that someone has come into the banquet without proper clothing and the violence of the way in which he is removed suggest that the application is broader and that we also must consider what it means for us.
II. Are You In?
A. The Invitation is Wide
There is an invitation given in this passage. The early part of the text speaks about the invitation which is given to the original guests. Then when they refuse to come, the invitation is also given to “all the people they could find.” When we consider these invitations and the fact that “both good and bad” are invited we notice that the invitation is wide. In the end the invitation is not just to Jewish people, but to all people. This was a radical thought for Jewish people of Jesus’ day, but not so much for us. How thankful we should be that the invitation is wide because we are those who have come from the street corners.
Yet sometimes we forget that the invitation is wide. When I hear that some people don’t want to open up Rosenort to other people I am surprised that a community with so many Christian people would want to put restrictions on who could live in this area. If we are the servants of the king, we should be the first to open wide the gates of opportunity for people to come to this community. We should be the first to seek to befriend them and let them see the love of Jesus in us. The wide invitation which Jesus makes to the wedding banquet expresses an attitude that should be a conviction in us to open our arms wide to all who would come into our community so that we could show them the love of Jesus.
The wide invitation is also sometimes restricted by us when we expect people to clean up their act and change their lives before we invite them to Jesus. Jesus is in the business of changing lives and he welcomes the good and the bad and we should also have the same attitude towards the “good and the bad” desiring that they will come to Jesus, welcoming them into our community and inviting them to meet Jesus so that they too can participate in the wedding banquet.
When Jesus declares a wide invitation to the wedding banquet, we ought to be very careful that we do not limit that wide invitation in any way.
B. Are We In?
But we also notice in this parable that this wide invitation requires a response. Those who were first invited did not come when they received the invitation. The Jews were called, but subsequently rejected because they refused the invitation. Can the same thing happen to us as well? Just because we have received an invitation does not mean we are in. We need to accept the invitation.
The statement in verse 8 that says they were not worthy is a powerful indictment against a heart which refuses God’s goodness. We have received an invitation from God to the same wedding banquet, are we worthy? Those who refused the invitation “paid no attention.” The truth of the matter is that they did not want to participate. If we know all about Jesus and understand that He is the way, the truth and the life, but refuse to give our lives to Him, that reveals that we are not worthy.
Hebrews 12:25 ties the refusal of the Jewish people to the refusal of people today. There we read, "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?" Hebrews 2:3, asks a very powerful question, "…how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"
The incident of the man who came to the banquet without proper wedding garments is surprising. We wonder, “How did he get in?” “Why was he not stopped at the door?” But we have already noted that the invitation is wide. In the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:30, Jesus warns that the enemy will sow weeds among the wheat and Jesus allows them to grow together. Many people are invited, but not all are actually following Jesus. Perhaps this is a reference to someone who has participated in church all his life and has even served in church, but has never given his heart to Jesus. It is possible to be part of church culture without being part of Jesus. Perhaps this is about someone who knows all the right answers and can even tell others the answer, but has never allowed Jesus to rule in His heart. We need to be careful that we do not judge others in this regard, but we do need to examine ourselves. In this text we have a gracious invitation to the reign of God. But in this text we also see that the invitation is refused. We also see that not everyone who enters into the reign of God is really in. It is possible for someone to be invited but not to be in. So the question which all of this makes us ask is, “Am I in?”
Carson says, “Many are invited; but some refuse to come, and others who do come refuse to submit to the norms of the kingdom and are therefore rejected.”
These questions could get us into the debate about God’s call and the security he offers, but we won’t get into that debate. Instead, as we ponder this question about whether we are in or not, I would point to what comes out of the text which allows us to come to assurance.
Those who were rejected after the first invitation were rejected because they refused the invitation. We will not be in if we refuse the invitation, which is to say if we do not believe in Jesus and all that He has done. So the first answer to the question, “am I in?” is, “Do you believe?” If you believe in Jesus then you are in. I John 5:13 assures us, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."
The second section of the text which may create some doubt about whether we are in or not is the case of the man without the proper clothing. How do we know if we are wearing proper clothing or not? How do we know if we will be sent into darkness or not? The text implies that he knew that he was not wearing the acceptable clothing. His silence reveals his complicity. I believe that his failure has to do with failure to live a life of obedience. The acceptance of the invitation to follow Jesus implies an acceptance of the Lordship of Christ. The acceptance of the Lordship of Christ implies a life of obedience. Those who belong to Christ must live in a different way. Those who belong to Christ will live in a different way if Jesus is Lord of their life because Jesus will change their heart and life. Improper clothing will reveal that the person does not have Christ in their heart.
So we can know that we are in on the basis of two things. One is if we believe and the other is if we are living a life of following Jesus. Whenever we examine people for baptism, we ask these two questions. We want to know that they believe in Jesus and we want to know if they are living in Him. If these things are evident, then the answer is clear and we accept them for baptism. The answers to these same two questions will help us know that we are in.
III. If Not…
The other part of this parable that causes us to sit up and take notice is the two violent incidents. Those who refused to respond to the invitation were killed and their city was burned. That is a final, violent and decisive end to their refusal. The man who was not in because of not having the appropriate clothing was bound and thrown into darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” which is an image of pain and deep sorrow. Some might want to soften these parts, but they stand before us in all their stark reality.
What both of these images tell us is that the consequences of failure are severe. They are warnings of the judgment which is coming on all people. It is not very culturally sensitive in our day to declare these things and one may be reluctant to proclaim this truth, but it is the truth of the Word of God and to fail to warn would be a greater insensitivity. To fail to warn a child not to run into oncoming traffic or to fail to warn teens of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse or to fail to warn adults of the dangers of smoking or gambling addiction would be reprehensible. The government severely warns people who want to smoke with violent images of what happens to people who smoke. How much more important to warn everyone of the serious consequences of failing to accept the invitation from God. The violent images of Matthew 22 are such a warning. Peter also extends such a warning in 1 Peter 4:17, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?"
So if you have refused the invitation or if you are not following through on the invitation, please know that you are in a dangerous place. Yet the invitation remains today. Believe in Jesus and follow Him today!
But the text does not only contain warning. Although the warning is strong, the invitation is also present. We need to be reminded that the invitation is to a wedding banquet. The image of this banquet is intended to convey the idea of a feast with great abundance and great blessing. Being part of the reign of God is being part of an eternal kingdom which is filled with blessings. Take the warnings seriously, but also rejoice in and respond to the invitation to joy.
Do you only think you are in, or are you really in? My invitation to each one is to make sure. If you have refused the invitation until now, don’t refuse any longer. If you have accepted the invitation, but are not following through, I would invite you to make sure you are not rejected, but that you walk in Christ.
Take the warning of coming destruction seriously. Take the invitation to life and joy seriously. God’s invitation is wide. May we respond willingly and with joy!