You’re invited to the Feast!

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Matthew #77 Matthew 22:1-14

When we deal with texts that are longer than just a few verses, I don’t usually include them in the written version of the notes. I think it would help you if you opened your Bible and read the text yourself, and follow along as we go over it.

This chapter begins with some important words: “Once more, Jesus spoke to them in parables.” This is important because when we read the Bible, we need to pay attention to the genre of what we are reading; Matthew tells us it is a parable. A parable is a story that is told to illustrate just a few main points. The story is not meant to correspond to reality in every detail, and we can misinterpret a parable if we try to find meaning in each small detail. For instance, we may read verse six and say: “That’s not realistic. They would never mistreat or kill the king’s messengers, just because they were invited to a wedding they didn’t want to attend.”

Of course it isn’t realistic: it is a parable. The story is told to illustrate spiritual truths. It is not intended to be understood literally. On the other hand, this over-the-top treatment of the messengers is meant to illustrate something: that the behavior of those who reject God’s invitation is outrageous, as offensive as the behavior of the people in the story.

This is the third parable in a row in this part of Matthew. Like the other two, it is aimed at those who claim to be God’s people but do not act like it. In the parable of the two sons, the main point was the difference between saying you will do what God wants, and actually doing it. In the parable of the vineyard tenants, it was similar: God gives his people all that is necessary to produce good fruit, and expects to see that fruit. Here, Jesus addresses the relationship between God and his people.

He says the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King throwing a wedding feast for his son. I think he has in mind God the Father inviting his people to the great celebration of the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is the Son.

First, the original guests were invited. Here, I believe Jesus was speaking to his immediate audience: the religious leadership. He has been doing so all along, and there is no indication that his audience has changed. So, he is illustrating the fact that the people of Israel were chosen by God. They were the first to be invited to the feast. But they rejected the invitation. Many of them simply weren’t interested – they had other things they wanted to do. Some of them were offensive about it – they mistreated, and even killed the messengers sent by the King. I think Jesus wants to remind his listeners of the many prophets who were rejected by God’s people. Most certainly, he is pointing out that they have rejected the Son of the king.

In the next part of the parable, the king sends messengers to invite “everyone you find.” Jesus says they gathered everyone they found: “both evil and good.” In other words, this invitation is open to everyone.

However, the fact that the invitation is open to all does not mean that there are no standards for the wedding feast. The expectation is that the guests should be wearing clothing that is appropriate to the occasion.

The great Christian thinker, Augustine, suggested that on such an occasion, the host of the wedding feast would provide a “wedding garment.” Therefore, if someone was not wearing “wedding clothes,” they had overtly and deliberately rejected what was provided by the host. Unfortunately, Augustine lived about 300 years after the time of Jesus, and does not tell us how he knows that this was the case during the time of Jesus. I myself could not find any reliable evidence one way or another about whether the clothing was supposed to be provided by the host or the guests.

Even so, I don’t think it matters much either way. Remember, we are dealing with a parable. I don’t think we need to get bogged down in details like where the appropriate clothes were supposed to come from. I think it is safe to assume that one way or another, the person who was not wearing the right clothing had made a deliberate choice about what to wear.

I think even today we can see how offensive this would be. Imagine you are invited to a Royal wedding, like the wedding of Prince William of England to Kate. Would you show up to such an event wearing ratty old jeans with holes in them, and a dirty T-shirt? Of course you wouldn’t; and the reason is that you know it would be disrespectful. Wouldn’t the royal family have every right to turn you away if you showed up to the wedding in those types of clothes? After all, it is their private family occasion; you are there by invitation, not because you have a right to be there.

Or, suppose one of the movie stars from Star Wars decided to hold a party. Anyone is welcome, however, everyone must be dressed like one of the characters from the movies. The rich and famous are going to be at that party. You might meet any number of movie stars. The food and drink will be awesome; the evening will be one to remember for your whole life. Is it too much to ask that you dress as the host requested? Would it not be ungrateful to show up in ordinary clothes? Wouldn’t the host have every right to kick you out if you made no effort to comply with his wishes?

So, it seems to me that the parable is making these three main points:

  • The Jewish people, God’s chosen ones, did not respond to him, and in some cases, even violently rejected his messengers.
  • God is seeking out those who will respond to him. The invitation is open to everyone.
  • Though the invitation is open to everyone (“both good and evil”), it is still required that we accept it on God’s terms.

I think it is hard for us today to understand how radical it was for Jewish people in the first century to accept that God now wanted to treat even non-Jews as his chosen people. The religious leaders at that time felt secure in that they had the temple; they also felt secure as God’s specially chosen people. However, as in the previous two parables, Jesus is saying: “None of that matters if you actually reject God. And not only that, the time has come when God is going to welcome anyone who will receive Me in faith.”

Now, of course this is not particularly radical to modern Christians. So how does the first part of this parable apply to us today? Just as in Israel during Jesus time, today there are many people who feel secure because they are religious in one way or another; however, in spite of their religion (or perhaps because of it), they have rejected God’s will and purposes for their lives. Jesus’ words were offensive to the religious leaders of his day. My next words may be offensive to some of you. I’m not setting out to be offensive, I only want to make sure that we get the full impact of the teaching of Jesus in our lives today.

Just as in Jesus’ time, some people today feel spiritually safe and self-satisfied for all of the wrong reasons. Some of them say things like: “I go to church pretty regularly. All in all, I’m a pretty decent person. I’ve done the best I can.”

Others might say: “Well, at least I’m not a hypocrite. I’ve never pretended to be a better person than I am. And I try to do right. The Bible says God is loving, and people who follow him are supposed to be loving; well, I am loving. I’m probably better off than a lot of those hypocritical church-goers.”

Still others might say: “I got saved when I was 13 years old. I prayed the prayer, and I got baptized. I know I haven’t been perfect since then but praise God, when I die I’m going to heaven.” Now, someone like this might indeed be going to heaven. But if their lives show no evidence at all that Jesus is living in them, and leading them into greater holiness, then I’m concerned for them. “Getting saved” is not a ticket that you buy, after which you can live however you want. If you are really saved, it means that Jesus owns your life.

The problem with each one of these things, is that while the people may trust in one form or another of religion, or right-living, they’re rejecting the life of faith and obedience in Jesus Christ.

Some of the people in Jesus’ parable chose not to come to the wedding because they were busy with their lives. Everyday things interfered with them accepting the King’s gracious invitation. At one level, they were supposed to be the friends and guests of the King. But when it came to actually doing something with the King, they preferred other things. This part of the parable concerns me greatly. Everywhere I look, I see people who say they are Christians, but their lives are really no different from others who say they aren’t Christians. They are still living essentially for their own goals and purposes. Sometimes those goals and purposes are not bad. They want a good family, and a stable, secure life. God is fine, as long as he is merely an accessory to that life, or perhaps as a means to getting that life. But they don’t want a King who has the right to tell them to change that life in any way he pleases. They don’t actually want a regular, meaningful relationship with the King.

I think the very last part of the parable goes along with the first. The man who went to the feast without any concern or respect for the King is also someone that we can learn from. Too many people today talk and act as if God must accept us based upon our standards, rather than his own. We think the deal is that Jesus died for our sins, and now we can live however we please. We think that receiving salvation from Jesus does not have to involve any change in our lives. The last part of the parable shows us that this is not true. Trusting Jesus should change us. The change may be slow, it may come in fits and starts, but if we truly trust Jesus, if we have truly allowed him to be our king, it will make a difference in our lives. And if our faith makes no difference in our lives, it is a warning sign.

There are two types of people who read this blog, who might misunderstand what I’m saying here. Some of you are dear, beloved Jesus-followers, but you are afraid that you are not. Every time you hear a sermon like this one you think: “Is that me? Has Jesus really changed me at all?” Let me remind you that Jesus has already reached the perfect standard on our behalf. You don’t have to be perfect. In addition, it is often hard for us to see, from within, what Jesus is doing in our lives. We often are not the best judges of whether or not we are bearing fruit.

Others who read this blog may be very inclined to excuse themselves. Their reaction might be: “At first I thought maybe that was me. But then I remembered the basic thing is just that God loves me, so I’m fine as I am.” These are people who either justify, or blow off the fact that they live in a regular pattern of ongoing sin.

The apostle Paul has some words for both types of people.

16I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The desires of the Spirit and flesh are opposed to each other. So if you desire what the Spirit desires, your heart can be at rest. If, when you fail and engage in works of the flesh, you are upset, and think, “I didn’t want to do that,” then you know that the Spirit is at work in you, making you desire what is right. Paul goes on:

19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We don’t have to wonder – the works of the flesh are obvious. Many of them are listed right here. If you practice such things – that is, if they are a regular part of your life – then you should be concerned. Next, Paul describes the life that is surrendered to Jesus:

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.

24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit (Gal 5:16-25, HCSB)

The basic point is that the works of the Holy Spirit, and the works of the flesh, are obvious. If the fruit of the Spirit are increasing in you – even in small amounts – that’s a very good sign. If you desire to be better than you are – more like the Spirit, less like the flesh, then that is also a very good sign.

But if you are practicing (verse 21) – that is, repeated engaging in, living in a pattern of – the works of the flesh, then in all honesty, you ought to be concerned.

The point is, it should be pretty obvious whether the fruit of the Spirit is gradually increasing in you, or whether the works of the flesh are present in the regular pattern of your life. Even your reaction when you sin can guide you. If you think “Rats, I really wish I hadn’t done that. I really want to be better,” the Spirit of God is at work in you. But if you think “No big deal. Everyone does it,” then you are in spiritual danger.

But this parable can be good news, very, very good news for us. The party is open to everyone. Everyone. Jesus even says: “both evil and good.” Your sin, your failures do not disqualify you, if you are willing to come on God’s terms. Of course, if we come, he will change us from evil into good, but we don’t have to make that change ahead of time. Instead, we come as we are, and allow him to make those changes in our lives. Those who are willing to come, and come on his terms, are welcomed into his joy.

One thought on “You’re invited to the Feast!

  1. Pingback: Dressed for the Feast | Tricia's Journal Jots Blog

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