The Text: Matthew 22 1-14
Have you ever been to a themed party where you had to wear a costume to get in?
In the Northern Territory, bush sports weekends often have a ball on the Saturday night, even though everyone is camping out in the bush in tents or swags. The ladies get dressed up in their fancy dresses and the blokes put on a tie. In fact if you don’t have tie, you don’t get in. But so that no one misses out, the organisers often have a collection of ties at the door so that any man who doesn’t bring one could put it on and meet the dress code.
This I think gives us a clue as to what Jesus was on about in his parable where the man is thrown out of the feast. He didn’t have the correct celebration clothes on. But how did all those others get the right clothes?
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:
2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Kingdom parables often begin with that word “like”, or the ESV uses the phrase “can be compared to.”
Not everything about heaven is ‘like’ a wedding feast, but there are some similarities. We need to know what are those similarities and where does the likeness stop.
For instance Jesus doesn’t talk about the drunk uncle boozing up in the corner, or the bride who over indulges – he tell us the things that are similar.
Invitations go out, maybe even save-the-date-invitations, sometimes months in advance. In the parable the first recipients don’t want to come; some are too busy on the farm, others in the office and then the rest of them kill the messenger. It is obvious by where Matthew has put this parable who these people are. The invited guests are the nation of Israel, especially the religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees. The same nation who killed the prophets, God’s messengers. It matches exactly with the previous parable we heard last week.
However, this parable is not in the Bible so we can point the finger. As those who have heard the message of the Gospel, we also have the invitation. This parable is now a warning for us, to not be like the Pharisees and ignore the invitation. The invitation is quite simple, all it requires is for us to believe the Gospel – that our righteousness is not righteousness at all and that we instead need the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s righteousness is our only hope to stand before God with a good conscience and receive his favour. The problem with the Pharisees was that they looked to themselves and mistakenly thought that God would be pleased with them by how they measured up. We are tempted to think like this too. We are inclined to think, ‘I’m a good Christian’, or ‘I’m not as bad as those other people’. When we think like that, we’ve become self-righteous and when we are self-righteous we have decided we don’t need Jesus and we’ve rejected his invitation.
So the self-righteous are out.
The party must go on, the feast is ready, the tables are spread, the wine is about to flow, so we need some guests.
Bring in all those who never thought they would ever get an invite!
Just we would at our wedding, God invited his family first, his people, the nation he had chosen. When the tables are not filled he brings in all those who are left on the streets, good and bad. He doesn’t send them home to get dressed, he doesn’t give them a chance to get busy, he just brings them in to the feast. Truth be told this was the intention all along, that the whole world would be invited, but the Scribes and Pharisees don’t realise that.
Weddings have a dress code, guests need to wear the right clothes. But none of those dragged in off the street would have been suitably attired, yet they are all dragged in.
Why is it that one person is singled out as not being dressed correctly? Shouldn’t all those rushed in at the last minute be in the same situation? Obviously not, somehow they managed to meet the dress code, to put on the right clothes. The only logical conclusion is that the host graciously provided clothing for his guests. How else would they have met the dress code? But one obviously wouldn’t receive the gift, he would not put on the free clothes.
So who is he like?
The clothes that we are provided when we are rushed in at the last minute to the feast, rushed in at that last minute to heaven, is Christ’s righteousness. We see it all through the New Testament, and even in the Old, ‘Put on Christ’, ‘be covered with his righteousness’. That is the dress code for the feast, either perfect obedience where we fulfil the law ourselves – that’s impossible – or righteousness that is not our own but a gift of the host.
All those who missed out on the feast were self-righteous. The one singled out for not wearing the right garment was self-righteous because he obviously didn’t think he needed to put on anything else than his own clothes. He was good enough in himself. He had a take-me-as-I-am attitude. But he wasn’t good enough in himself; only one garment gets you in and that is the righteousness of Christ. The nation of Israel were self-righteous and the incorrectly dressed man was self-righteous; the warning for us is not to be self-righteous, but to put on the righteousness of Christ.
We put on this righteousness every day, and sometimes many times a day. Whenever Christ proclaims his forgiveness to us he puts his righteousness on us. Every time we see that we are sinners and receive forgiveness, Christ puts his righteousness on us. Jesus didn’t say ‘the kingdom will be like’ as if it was to happen sometime in the future, he said ‘it is like’, it is happening now. The king has already been crowned, the table has already been spread and we are already living in the kingdom. We might not see the table, the food or the wine, but the feast is happening, heaven isn’t waiting for us to die or be ready before the celebration can begin. The celebration is continuous, and we need to be dressed in his righteousness in preparation and participation.
This parable must be a warning to us on both accounts. We are just like the nation of Israel, in that we have the invitation but are inclined to reject it saying; ‘I’m too busy’, ‘I’m shearing this week’, ‘I’ll get to that another day’, or ‘I’ve got a crop to plant’. We have the message of salvation but are we accepting the invitation?
This is a warning also not to think we deserve to be at the feast without the proper clothes. It’s a bit rude really that a man dragged in off the street after being offered fresh clean party clothes would not put them on. It’s not as if he deserved to be there in his own right, so we must realise we don’t deserve to be at the feast in our own right, but we are assured that our clothing is provided, new and bright, ready for the celebration.
While the celebration is continuous in heaven we get a taste of it here on earth, not just as we put on Christ’s righteousness when we receive forgiveness, but also when we join in his heavenly meal kneeling at the table. So we get a foretaste of the feast that is yet to come for us, but is already in progress.
You are invited to the feast of the King!
And the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.