Come to the Wedding Feast
Scripture: Matthew 22:1–14
1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Today is the last Sunday in August, and that means it is the last Sunday in our ministry calendar. I’m excited about the start of a new ministry year that begins this next week.
My excitement does not stem from the great plans we’ve made, although of course we have made some plans. I’m excited because of the great work God is doing. The message of Jesus—the gospel of the kingdom—and the church that he has made us members of, is all for the purpose of sending us out on a mission, with an agenda, with good news, and with anticipation for what God is going to do through us.
This morning as we bring our annual sermon series called Crosstown Basics to a close, let us consider how the Gospel of Resurrection should excite us all about the mission he has sent us on together. Consider this observation:
The resurrection is not an isolated supernatural oddity proving how powerful, if apparently arbitrary, God can be when he wants to. Nor is it at all a way of showing that there is indeed a heaven awaiting us after death. It is the decisive event which means that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.
So, the resurrection of Jesus means, not just personal salvation, but mission to the world. It is the whole reason you are a Christian. God wants to advance his purposes in his world through you and me. To be a Christian is to embody the mission of Christ's gracious invitation into the transforming power of the kingdom of God.
What could be more exciting? I want us to recapture that excitement by seeing that the Christian mission is not different from Jesus’s mission. We are sent on a mission to announce the arrival of the kingdom of God and to invite everyone into it, allowing the kingdom of God’s present reality to do its transforming work on us along the way.
Announce the Kingdom
If we are going to succeed in carrying out the mission of God, then we must, of course, know what that mission is. And central to knowing the mission that God has sent us on is knowing the story that stands behind it all. And that story is the one about God and his kingdom. The story of God’s promise to restore all of creation, and to bring it to its intended completion. It is the story of the kingdom of God, the promise of God’s sovereign rule over all creation so that justice and beauty and truth shine brightly in his world. Our mission is to announce that that kingdom has come.
A Subversive Telling of Israel’s Story
Now, Jesus told many parables about this great story. The one we are looking at today is the third and final parable that Matthew has Jesus telling in a series, going back to Matthew 21:28. These are meant to tell us something about the kingdom of God since Jesus’s massive claim was that he was ushering in the long-awaited kingdom. But if so, he was doing it in a quite subversive way, which is what his parables are meant to show.
How so? Well, just look back at the end of the last chapter, where the chief priests and the Pharisees get the point of the parables: “He was speaking about them” (Matt 21:45). Jesus was telling the story of Israel but casting Israel’s leaders as Israel’s chief enemies. So, we can see the point of this parable quite clearly. The kingdom of God, like the king’s wedding feast, is ready. It is “at hand,” as Jesus so frequently preached. The problem is that the original invitees refuse to come to the party. Some even respond viciously against it.
This is not just a re-telling of Israel’s story in the past, where everyone in Jesus’s day was quite aware of Israel’s long and troubled history. Carried away into exile in Babylon, Israel’s hope had been renewed by Cyrus the Great’s decree allowing whoever wished to go to return to the land of Israel. Yet even though so many Jews were again living in the Promised Land, the promise of the kingdom of God was still unfulfilled, as the Roman centurion standing nearby with hand on his sword was sure to remind everyone. Jesus went about proclaiming that God was finally about to do what he had promised. Indeed, it was happening right now in and through himself. And though he would be resisted and rejected by his own people, this would not frustrate the fulfillment of the promise. Rather, it would be the divine plan for bringing it all to pass.
Staying with the Story
Now let me pause here long enough to say that many Christians today have not been taught to read the story of Jesus like that. Many have been taught that, yes, Jesus came announcing the kingdom, but since Israel rejected it, God’s promised kingdom must have been put on hold. If we read the Jesus story like that, we will understand the mission of Jesus today quite differently. It makes a big difference if we view God’s mission in terms of a kingdom that has been put on hold or a kingdom that has been inaugurated. This sermon will go in vastly different directions depending on how the preacher (and the hearers) understand the kingdom of God. If you think that the kingdom of God has been put on hold, maybe until the Second Coming or at least until some secret rapture of the church, then the mission will consist mainly of news about how to go to heaven when you die or how not to be left behind when the rapture takes place. But if you understand Jesus to have succeeded in inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom, then the mission simply cannot consist only of news about the well-being of your bodiless life after death; it also must consist of news about what the king would have us do now in light of his kingdom that has already come.
It is no doubt true that Israel, through her authorized leaders in Jesus’s day, resisted the arrival of the kingdom of God. It was like they had waited for so long for something which, when it finally came, they simply no longer cared about it. I’ve got all kinds of things on my Amazon list which seemed like something I’d really like at the time I put it on there but that I probably wouldn’t care anything about today if I got it. That’s how Israel is being portrayed here. They are like people who get an invitation and respond that they are coming but then decide not to show up to the event, probably because something better came up in the meantime. And again, some even violently oppose it.
The Kingdom Comes—with Judgment!
The parable includes, in verse 7, a telling sign of God’s response: “the king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murders and burned their city.” It is quite likely that this reflects the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 when the Romans torched large parts of the city. But this is, Jesus said, exactly what God had planned. This did not delay the kingdom; the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign, not that the kingdom had not come but that it had. In telling this parable, Jesus predicted that this is exactly what the coming of the kingdom of God would be like.
This parable about the coming of the kingdom goes on. But the point we should grasp is that what happened to Jesus—his rejection by his own people and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, did not hinder the arrival of God’s kingdom but was the divine means for inaugurating it. That is, of course, surprising. But if it’s true, it means that the mission of God for us today cannot be altered from what it would have been upon the inauguration of the kingdom.
Keeping the story of Israel before us—the story of God’s kingdom now come in and through Jesus—helps us understand the mission before us.
Invite Everyone to the Kingdom
Already we see the subversive way that Jesus is telling Israel’s story. He is saying that the arrival of the kingdom of God will be matched by the opposition to it—opposition from the very people who were on the original guest list. So, what now? This opposition against the kingdom of God, and the violence that ensues, does not mean that God’s kingdom will be delayed in its coming. No, rather, it means that the guest list has changed. Now, that is sad news for the original invitees who are going to miss out, but it’s glad news for those who would otherwise have never been invited. Seen from their perspective, this is evidence of God’s grace extended to them. And our mission is to invite everyone into the grace of God and his kingdom.
A Spectacular Opportunity
Now, let’s let the parable do its job on us first. This is a story meant to show how it is the kingdom of God is being inaugurated. While on the one hand the refusal of the original guests to come to the party presents a dilemma (for what good is a feast if no one will come to eat it?), from another perspective this is a spectacular opportunity.
“The wedding feast is ready,” the king says to his servants in verse 8, “but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find” (v. 9).
There can be no misunderstanding of the point being made here. Israel’s resistance to the kingdom will not stop it from coming. God will see to it that his kingdom is filled with his citizens. This time, the invitation is met with happy receptivity. Verse 10 concludes, “So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Who are these who have now come? From Matthews’ perspective, these are no doubt the lower social classes within Israel, the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other despised Jewish “sinners,” the very ones Jesus hung out with (Matt 9:11-13). We who have read Paul’s letter to the Romans know that the point can be expanded out. Israel stumbled, Paul argued in Romans 11, and the result is that “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles.” (Rom 11:11). Again, it is not that God’s program, his mission to the world, had to adapt because Israel’s resistance to its arrival frustrated the divine plan. No! This was the plan all along. This parable is telling us to look for comparisons to how the king filled his banquet room and how the kingdom of God gets its citizens.
An Open Invitation
When we step back then and see what has transpired since the first century AD, since the coming of Jesus and the arrival of God’s kingdom, what we can say is that God has filled his kingdom with quite the cast of characters. The invitation has gone out to anyone and everyone to come to the feast. Bring in “as many as you find,” the king tells his servants (v. 9). And they did just that, gathering a congregation of “both bad and good.” These descriptors reflect the way every society works. We all have our ways of deciding who are the good guys and the bad guys. The point being made here is that the invitation into the kingdom of God is an open invitation. Everyone who hears the invitation is welcome to come.
Brothers and sisters, this, too, is the nature of the mission we must carry out. We are to proclaim good news to the world. We are to pronounce a gracious welcome from Jesus Christ, the ally of his enemies, the defender of the guilty, the justifier of the inexcusable, the friend of sinners. He welcomes everyone and anyone to the feast of his kingdom, not because everyone is worthy but because everyone is invited. Oh, that the message we proclaim to the world would take on the atmosphere of such lavish grace! The invitation into God’s kingdom must be made without any hint of a prerequisite. The only reason the original invitees “were not worthy” (v. 8) is because they would not come. But whosoever will may come! As John brings the book of Revelation to a close, he hears the Spirit of God and the church, the Bride of Christ, saying, “Come.”
And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty, come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17).
An invitation like that will not go unanswered. As verse 10 says, “So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” And why not? There is good food here—the best food—and plenty of it. There’s plenty to drink, and no one will go thirsty.
A Celebration of Love
Let’s not forget that our mission is a mission of good news. Too much Christian evangelism is framed as bad news: God is terribly angry, so you better do something about it. We need to be very careful that the message we proclaim sounds like the message of love that it is meant to be: God is infinitely loving, so he has done something remarkable, and the door is open for you to come join the party.
Again, our mission must be one that welcomes everybody to come. If you want to come, you can. You will not be cast out.
What are we inviting people into? The kingdom of God. In the terms of this parable, the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast, a celebration of love. It is, of course, a wedding feast for the king’s son. The kingdom of God is centered on the great story of Jesus and his love for his people. So, what we are inviting people to come to is the story of Jesus, his life, his love, and his hopes and dreams for the future.
The kingdom of God is not about you and me. It’s about Jesus, but it certainly will affect you and me, and everyone else who wants to come join the party. This point is made plain here at the end of the parable.
Be Transformed by the Kingdom
Verses 11-14 bring the parable to a close and leave us with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, especially if we misinterpret its point. Just when we might hope that we might hear something like, “And everyone had a fantastic time of joyful feasting,” the story zooms in on one guest and his fateful encounter with the king. The point of these verses is quite clear however much we might want to make it say something otherwise: the mission requires us to not only announce God’s kingdom and invite everyone into it, but it also demands that we be transformed by its reality. The king’s invitation “is both an honor and a command,” and that command is not simply to say “yes” to the invitation but to come to the party dressed appropriately.
The Wedding Garment
The important feature of the story in these verses is the wedding garment. First of all, we need to know that the clothing expected to be worn at a wedding was not some expensive set of clothes but decent ones; just clean, white clothes that pretty much everyone had available. Notice that when the king confronts this individual, the man is speechless. He is without excuse. And he gets the same fate as the first set of invitees who would not come to the feast at all. He is cast out. Jesus is saying that people like this also do not enter into the kingdom of God.
Ok, so let’s interpret this part of the story. The wedding garment signifies the “norms of the kingdom” that must be accepted if one wants to be a part of God’s kingdom. Does this invalidate the open invitation? Of course not! No one who came to the feast would say they earned the right to be there because they had dressed appropriately for it. This is not Jesus sneaking in some meritorious aspect of salvation after all. Some might be tempted to read it that way, or knowing it must not be read that way simply ignore the point that Jesus is making here.
The point is readily understood if we have the story of the kingdom straight in our minds. This is not a question about how to qualify for the kingdom, the usual question we have in mind when we think only about whether or not a person will be accepted into heaven when they die. The kingdom of God is not about that. It’s about the expectation that God has for the world he made now that he has—through Jesus—redeemed it.
Holy People for the New World
The Old Testament prophets said that when the kingdom of God comes, God would give his people a new heart (Ezek 36:26). When the kingdom of God comes, the citizens of the kingdom will be transformed. So, if Jesus did in fact inaugurate the long-awaited kingdom, then those who are its true citizens must be dressed appropriately. The reason we Christians stumble over this and into the endless debates about the difference between legalism and obedience is because we are looking at each other’s clothes, setting ourselves up as the standard or justifying ourselves for feeling ashamed at how far short of the standard we know we are.
But what we are talking about are the norms of the kingdom that Jesus and the rest of the New Testament has made plain to us. The kingdom of God is a kingdom in which God’s love and justice and truth and mercy reign unhindered, and if you don’t put on these clothes, you are making it plain that you really aren’t interested in being at this party.
Remember, the kingdom of God is a celebration of Jesus and his story. To be a citizen of the kingdom means to be transformed by that story rather than by some competing story. And the way to be transformed by this story—the only way to put on the “norms” of the kingdom—is to know Jesus, love Jesus, and obey Jesus. Know. Love. Obey. Yes, this is easier said than done, but God’s promise is the power of his Holy Spirit to see it through in every one of his people.
His chosen people. “For many are called, but few are chosen,” verse 14 says. God’s chosen people are not those who merely say “yes” to his invitation but those who actually show up and find themselves transformed by its glorious reality.
This is the whole reason why gospel and community necessarily precede mission. The story of Israel, the story of God’s “chosen” people, is the story of God transforming his world through his chosen, transformed people. Don’t you see, if we are not transformed, we will only bring darkness rather than light. We will collude with evil. We will be cast out into outer darkness. Every professing Christian needs to be appropriately fearful of the warning here.
At the same time, we need to be appropriately hopeful, for this transformation is what God has promised to bring about in his people for the sake of his kingdom agenda. And that kingdom agenda, our mission in his world, is sure to succeed as well.
It will succeed evangelistically as we throw open the invitation to everyone and invite them to come join us in the work of the kingdom.
It will succeed politically as we seek first the kingdom of God rather than our security that the kingdoms of men want to offer to us if only we will sell our souls (if not our whole-hearted endorsement, than at least our vote) to them.
And it will succeed vocationally as we see the problems and opportunities in this wonderful world God has made and then get to the work only after we sit before Jesus in his word, in prayer, and in community, seeking the wisdom of his Spirit to allow us to bring his will to bear in every circumstance of life.
What are the problems and opportunities you see in the world? What might be the power of Jesus and his resurrection bring to those problems and opportunities? This is our mission, church, it is our mission to be pursued together. As one writer explains:
Of course, no one individual can attempt more than a fraction of this mission. That’s why mission is the work of the whole church, the whole time. Some will find God nudging them to work with handicapped children. Some will sense a call to local government. Others will discover a quiet satisfaction in artistic or educational projects. All will need one another for support and encouragement. All will need to be nourished by the central, worshipping life of the church, and that central life will itself be nourished and renewed as the friends of Jesus come back to worship from their mission in the world. 
I hope by now we see how the gospel of Jesus, the community of his people, and the mission of his kingdom work together. And I hope we are now once more energized by these three basics to Christian discipleship to move forward together in the new ministry year ahead of us.
More in Crosstown Basics
August 21, 2022Community: God's Proclamation
August 14, 2022The Gospel of Resurrection
August 29, 2021God Blesses Us for the Purpose of the Nations to Praise Him