The bible is replete with examples of weddings and references to weddings or marriage. And when there are no actual weddings under discussion they seem to be a favorite form of reference, particularly when used by Jesus, to describe the relationship between God and his people. This week we are going back in Matthew, prior to the Olivet Discourse we discussed last week to a parable told by Jesus regarding a royal wedding. This is another in my series of highly unpopular and disquieting parables (at least for me).
This particular parable in Matthew 22:1-14 and is sort of the darker, more sinister and brooding twin of the parable in Luke 14:15-24. It seems to me, like all good preachers, Jesus had a set of preacher stories that he told when he talked and modified them each time to fit his audience and/or make a particular point. In the text from Matthew, the story is pointed indeed.
Some context. In Chapter 21, Jesus makes his triumphal entry to Jerusalem, drives the money changers from the Temple and curses a fig tree. Then, the next day when he was teaching in the Temple courts, those of the religious establishment came to him and asked him by what authority he was teaching and doing the other things he had done. Jesus countered their question with one of His own, asking where the Baptism of John came from. The religious leaders answered that they did not know because they were afraid that if they said John’s Baptism came from heaven then Jesus would answer that was where His authority came from and if they said it was from man the mob, who believed John a prophet, would tear them apart.
Jesus then told them he would not answer their question since they could not answer His. But then He proceeds to not only answer their question but to tell them their place in the story. If we’ll listen He’ll tell us what ours can be as well. Jesus does this with three parables — the Parable of the Two Sons (which we discussed briefly last week), the Parable of the Tenants, and finally, our text for today, the Parable of the Royal Wedding Feast.
Some notes on the first two parables:
The Two Sons — A man with two sons asks one to go work in his vineyard. The son says he will not go, but later changes his mind and goes to work. The man also asks his other son to work in the vineyard. The second son agrees to go readily, but never does. Jesus asks which son obeyed his father? The religious leaders said it was the first and Jesus makes immediate application:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
This parable was obviously directed at the religious of Jesus’ day, what if any implications (applications) does it have for the Christian life today?
The Tenants — A man built a vineyard, rented it to others and moved to another town. When the harvest time came he sent servants back to the vineyard to collect the portion of the harvest that represented his rent. The tenants killed one servant, beat another and stoned a third. A second group of servants, more than before, fared no better, so the Landlord sent his son believing the tenants would respect him. But, alas, the tenants plotted and killed the son with the express purpose of seizing the vineyard from its rightful owner. Jesus asks how the Landlord will treat the tenants when he comes himself. The religious leaders answer that he will bring the tenants to a deservedly bad end and lease the vineyard to honest tenants.
Once again Jesus makes immediate application by saying:
Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
That he was speaking to the religious leaders is obvious, even they knew about whom Jesus was speaking. 21:48 says that the leaders knew Jesus was speaking to them. And instead of choosing to listen and obey, they plotted to arrest Jesus, only their fear of the crowd kept them from doing it on the spot.
Does this have any application today? Would we rather fight than obey? Are we willing to take the good things from the vineyard but ignore our obligations, even kill the one to whom the vineyard belongs?
And finally we come to our text in Matthew 22:1-14. Jesus tells one more parable, an extended simile. “The kingdom of heaven”, says Jesus,”is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Stop for a moment and consider the biggest fanciest wedding you have ever been to. How do you believe that would compare to a royal wedding? How would you feel if it were happening in your town and you were invited?
Well in this story, the king sent messengers to those who had been invited (note this was not their invitation, this was the signal the party was on). Some ignored the messengers (Is it wise to ignore a message from a king?), but some of the people killed the messengers, and the king sent his army and killed all those people and burned their city. Kings are like that, they are not used to having their wills thwarted. They can get testy.
With a feast ready but the guests all deceased, the King sends his servants into the streets to gather up everyone they can find to come to the feast. The servants did as they were instructed and filled the wedding hall with guests both good and bad. The king, however, noticed one guest was not dressed for the wedding. The king inquired how the man got in without appropriate attire, and the man had no answer. The king had him bound and thrown out “…into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus then closes with the famous line, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
What does it all mean? Is there a dress code in heaven? What about just as I am? I think everybody understands the first part just like the religious leaders understood the first two parables. We all understand that if you willfully disobey the King your going to be in trouble sooner or later, so if he invites you and you ignore him or worse, kill his messenger, you’re toast. Got it. That even seems just to us I think.
But what about the guy who shows up and his only crime is being under dressed, that seems to be just petty. Charles Spurgeon has another thought on the matter.
The guests were bidden to come to the wedding to show their respect to the king and prince; some would not come at all, and so showed their sedition; this man came, and when he heard the regulation, that a certain garment should be put on, comely in appearance and suitable for the occasion, he determined that he would not wear it. In this act of rebellion, he went as far in opposition as they did who would not come at all, and he went a little further, for in the very presence of the guests and of the king he dared to declare his disloyalty and contempt.
Wow. And what is it that this garnet represents? Spurgeon suggests that it is not any one thing, but many. Had Jesus meant a particular attribute he would have spoken more plainly. Instead he thinks:
The wedding garment represents anything which is indispensable to a Christian, but which the unrenewed heart is not willing to accept, anything which the Lord ordains to be a necessary attendant of salvation, against which selfishness rebels. Hence it may be said to be Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, for alas, many nominal Christians kick against the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of the Saviour and set up their own self-righteousness in opposition to it.
Are there things “indispensable to a Christian” against which we rebel? Are we stubborn and stiff necked, unwilling to accept the rule and reign of God? Do we flinch when asked to love as Jesus loved? Are we in this life for our comfort only? Are we willing to accept God’s grace but not the sacrifice it entails? Anxious for eternal life but not the death of ourselves?
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, author and martyr, thought grace while freely given, was costly never the less. He wrote:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Are we willing to be dressed in the righteousness of Christ or do we just want to be at the party?