By Pastor Glenn Pease
A king once stopped at a village inn to rest after and unsuccessful attempt at hunting. While putting his horse in a barn he noticed several chalked targets drawn on the barn wall with bullet holes right through the bull's eye. He was impressed and asked the inn keeper to call the marksman who did this fine shooting. He was astonished when a young barefoot boy came and introduced himself as the marksman. "Who taught you to shoot like that," asked the king? "It was easy," replied the boy. "I just shoot at the wall and wherever the bullet lands I draw a circle around it."
You can count on it that though the lad was called to the king he was not chosen by the king to join him in the hunt. It is one thing to be called, and another to be chosen. Jesus is making this distinction clear in this parable where the king calls many to his sons wedding feast, but where only a few of those called are actually chosen to participate in the feast. To be called is to have an invitation to the feast, but to be chosen is to have participation in the feast.
To understand this parable we must see just where it is in the total context. In 21:43-45 we see Jesus making radical judgment against the leaders of Israel, and we see the leaders seeking to find a way to do away with Jesus. This is the setting in which Jesus tells this parable. When it is ended we read in 22:15, "Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk." The context helps us understand the very unusual and insulting behavior of the people whom the king invited to his son's feast. It is not normal to refuse a chance to go to such a feast. It was a great honor and privilege to be invited, and yet these people refused and gave excuses. They made light of the invitation and even killed the messengers. This is so abnormal that it can only refer to one thing, and that is the unbelievably foolish rejection of God's invitation to the kingdom feast of his Son by the leaders of Israel.
Jesus paints for us the ugly picture of the folly of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in refusing to accept him as the Messiah. They not only refuse to come into the kingdom, they seized the messengers of the kingdom and killed them. This is what they did to James, Stephen, and others. Such an ungodly response to God's gracious call can only lead to judgment, and so we see in verse 7 the king in angry wrath sends his troops to destroy these murders and burn their city. This represents the wrath of God that fell on Jerusalem in 70 A. D.
The amazing part of the parable, however, is not the wrath of the king, but his persistence in grace. It makes sense why he destroys those who made light of his invitation and killed his servants, but what is amazing is that he refuses to let their refusal ruin his plans. He is going to have a feast no matter what. He has made plans for a great wedding banquet for his son, and no amount of folly on the part of men can ruin his plans. The whole point being, that no matter what men do they cannot altar God's plan to redeem men for an eternal life of joy in his presence. Men can raise all the hell they want, but they cannot lower heaven. It is a goal God will never forsake, and if he calls a billion people and they all say no, he will find a billion others to take their place.
The reason history has not ended already is because God has not yet had enough positive responses to his invitation. No matter how awful history gets, and how corrupt man becomes, God will not stop calling people until he has someone for every spot in the banquet hall of heaven. We see in this parable both the unbelievable perversity of men and the unbreakable persistence of God. God will not have a flop of a feast because of men's failure to respond. Therefore, Jesus says in verse 9 that the king sent his servants out to bring in anyone they could find in the streets. In other words, the invitation was no longer limited to the noble people who had first chance. They refused and so the door to the feast was opened up to everyone. The poor and the under privileged, and every Tom, Dick, and Harry who wanted to come were welcome.
Most of us have had people invited over for a dinner when some emergency made it impossible for them to come. We are stuck with a wealth of good food and no guest. So we consider who can we get to come and share it with us. We hate to prepare for a great meal and then have it be just another ordinary meal. We want company to enjoy it with us, and so we get on the phone and see if we can round somebody up to join us. This is what the king did, and most everyone agrees this represents the kingdom of God opening up to the outcast of Israel, as well as the Gentiles. The harlots will enter the kingdom before you is what Jesus said to the Pharisees, and they did. The weak and the sinful and the poorest characters in Jewish society were welcomed into the kingdom and the feast, while the bit shot Pharisees looked down their noses at the invitation. They were too busy in their own world to bother with what Jesus offered. They gave up his diamonds to cling to their dust.
In verse 10 we note the servants gathered in everyone both bad and good. In other words, there were no requirements. Whatever kind of person you were, you were welcome. You could be a godly pagan like Cornelius, or a very ungodly pagan like the Corinthians, but all were accepted. It is not being bad that kept the first ones called out of the kingdom, but it was their refusal to come. Good or bad, you cannot be at the party if you refuse to come. If you do accept the offer, you can come as you are, good or bad. This parable makes it clear that whosoever will may come. Verse 10 ends with the good news that finally the wedding hall was filled with guests. God will not fail to fill heaven for the wedding supper of the Lamb. Any idea that heaven will lack population is contrary to Scripture. It will be packed so that the occasion will be one of great honor and glory to the Son. There will be multitudes out of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Jesus goes on in the parable to tell of another negative incident that takes place at the feast. The king spots a guest with no wedding garment, and since he has no excuse for such improper attire, he is cast out of the wedding feast. Others made light of the invitation and were judged, but here is one who accepted the invitation, but still made light of the occasion and was judged. He represents those who are willing to come to the feast but on their own terms. Many wonder why the king was so hard on the man, for after all, the crowd had just been hurried into the feast hall from the streets and fields. They would not have had their best clothes on, for they were not prepared for a wedding. Yet, he was the only one there without a wedding garment. It is clear that the king supplied each guest with an appropriate garment. We know that at the marriage feast of the Lamb all will have a robe of white supplied by the Lord. This was a common practice in the ancient world.
When Jehu plotted to kill all the prophets of Baal he sent for them to come to a worship service, and they all came. Then we read in II Kings 10:22, "He said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal." In other words, king Jehu had an enormous wardrobe to supply a garment for all his guests. In his case they were burial garments, for he killed all his guests, but in our parable they are garments of glory appropriate for the wedding.
The man who did not have one had no excuse, for he could have had one since they were freely given. He obviously refused the garment and stood on his own self-sufficiency. He represents those who come and respond to the call, but refuse to exchange the rags of their own righteousness for the robes of the king's grace. This picture prevents the perversion of the Gospel. Anyone good and bad, was welcome, but all had to receive the king's garment. To think you can come as you are and stay as you are is to miss the purpose of God. He wants to save men from their sin, and not to save them in their sin so they can continue in sin and self-righteousness.
Whosoever will may come, but he just as well not bother if he will not submit to wearing the king's garment of grace. You can join the church, and try to live the Christian life, but still not be included in the marriage feast of the Lamb if you depend upon your own works to make you worthy. Only those who take the garments of grace are worthy to be at this feast. Here was a gatecrasher who proved that just as Christians can be in the world and not of it, so a proud unbeliever can in the church but not of it.
Jesus closes this parable with a statement that has been become a proverb: "Many are called but few are chosen." It is clear from the parable and the context that Jesus means, first of all, that many Jews were called to be at the wedding feast first, but only a few of them made it because the majority refused. The few who are chosen does not mean the king only chose a few to be there. On the contrary, he chose to have all of them there. All who were called to come were chosen by the king to be his guests. If only a few of them made it, it was not the king's choice, but their own. The idea here of being chosen is not the doctrine of election. It is not God's choice, but man's choice that is emphasized.
Jesus said to the Jews, "I would have taken you under my wing as a mother hen covers her chicks, but you would not." When Jesus went to his home town of Nazareth we are told he could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief. Man's choice, or response to God's choice is what makes the distinction between the called and chosen. The called are all whom God wants at the feast. The chosen are all who choose to come. When men want what God wants for them they are the chosen.
Gerald Kennedy tells the story of a Sunday School teacher who wanted to have a surprise party for a boy in her class. She planned with the mother to have him home on such and such a day. She and the class came with presents and refreshments. The mother called him but there was no response. They had the party anyway and left. Later the boy came in and the mother got the truth out of him. He heard her calling and thought she had some work for him so he hid in the barn. He heard the call but interpreted it in a negative way, and so refused to respond, and he missed the party. Everybody involved wanted him to be there. Nobody chose for him not to be there but himself. So he was called, but not chosen to enjoy the party.
D.L. Moody in a great London meeting spoke on this text, and when he came to this verse of many are called but few are chosen, he turned to a scholar on the platform behind him and said, "I would like to read it like this, many are called, but few are choice." The scholar replied, "You are quite right Mr. Moody, that is the whole intention of it." Only those who chose to accept the invitation are the chosen. Anyone can be called, but you must choose to be among the chosen. That is why there are many called but few chosen.
The king is not to be blamed for the few chosen, for he prepared the feast and invited the many. The few chosen is due to man's response and not God's call. The few chosen is not to be interpreted as a failure of the king. On the contrary, because only a few chose to accept his invitation he came up with a plan to make sure that many are saved anyway. He extended the invitation to everyone. What we see in all the failure is due to man's folly. All the success is due to God's love and persistence. So though many are called and few chosen, God will make sure so many are called that in the end many will be chosen to fill the banquet hall of heaven.