Accept the Invitation

Matthew 22:1-14

23 January 2000

Greyfriars Church


In politics it is generally regarded as a weakness for a politician to change his or her mind. For example, one of Mrs Thatcher's most famous sayings is, "you turn if you want to, the lady's not for turning" . Now I'm sure you all have your own views on whether Mrs T was right or wrong, but in my opinion this kind of stubbornness is not always admirable, it could even be regarded as complacency. Sometimes, I contend, it's good for us to change our minds, in particular when we're wrong about something.

The Pharisees in these few chapters of Matthew's gospel were certainly guilty of complacency. They were stubborn, they could not see that they were in the wrong, they refused to change their minds when confronted by Jesus. So we find Jesus engaged in an extended clash with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. The incident begins in the middle of chapter 21 and continues all the way to the end of chapter 23, with Jesus getting more and more forthright in his condemnation of the religious leaders as he goes on.

The parable we have before us tonight is the third in a series of parables that Jesus has told against the Pharisees in quick succession. He starts in the middle of chapter 21 with the parable of two sons, and he goes on to the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, and finishes with this present parable of the Wedding Banquet.

The parables all have a common theme, which is that God's kingdom and favour would be taken away from the complacent Jews and given instead to the apparently undeserving Gentiles. Jesus says as much in chapter 21 verse 43, where he says, therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruitref.

So, that's the context for this parable. Let's move on to studying it in a bit more detail. The first section is about the Pharisees in verses 1-7. I've called it a complacent people .

A Complacent People

Jesus begins his parable by likening the Kingdom of Heaven to a Wedding Banquet. In this context Kingdom of Heaven means eternal life with God, and perhaps you think that a Wedding Banquet is a very appropriate illustration for this. After all, some weddings do seem to go on for eternity, don't they, especially when the photographer gets going!

But seriously, this Wedding was going to be a splendid affair, the food was going to be fantastic, the oxen and fatted calf were already prepared. A royal wedding always causes quite a stir. Who could forget the wedding of Charles and Diana? Months of preparation went into it; the anticipation was amazing; people lined the streets a dozen thick, just to catch a glimpse of the procession, and millions and millions watched it on television all over the world.

It was an incredible spectacle. Surely the wedding in this parable was going to be no less amazing.

How would you have reacted if you had been invited to a royal wedding? Of course there will always be some who through some perversity would refuse to go, but I think that most of us would leap at the chance to be part of such an amazing occasion. We would prepare for weeks choosing appropriate clothes, and no doubt bore our friends and family witless talking about it. It's inconceivable, isn't it, that everybody who was invited would refuse to go. But that's just what happens in this parable.

It's not through want of trying on God's part. Here we are reminded that God is a good God, always prepared to go the extra mile for his people. And we can see that God tries really hard to get his people to come to the Banquet. He doesn't just send out invitations, he actually sends two rounds of servants to go and collect the guests personally. But there are two types of reaction to the servants that God has sent. In verse five we see that some are complacent, they paid no attention, simply ignoring the invitation and going about their daily business as usual. In verse six we see that others were wilfully disobedient, attacking the servants, ill-treating and killing them.

At this point Jesus is clearly having a go at the Jews of the day who had ignored, mistreated, and even killed the prophets of God. The story Jesus tells is dripping with irony: here he is, himself a messenger of God, and already the Pharisees are planning to arrest him, as we see at the end of chapter 21, and eventually to kill him, as we know.

They were a complacent people. They did not see their need for Jesus. They preferred to go on living life their own way, without him. They stubbornly clung on to what are they were familiar with, refusing to meet with God himself. "You turn if you want to, the Pharisees are not for turning" .

But in the end, ignoring God has serious consequences. We're told that the King, unsurprisingly, was enraged. Those who had offended him were in the end destroyed and burnt.

These reactions are reflected in our world today: many simply ignore the gospel call, continuing to go about their lives their own way. Others are distinctly hostile towards the messengers of the gospel, in some countries they are in fact abused and killed, but in this country the hostility is more often manifested as anger or ridicule.

We live in a complacent nation. Many people are stubbornly self satisfied about their spiritual state. I was like that once. I was an arrogant atheist who thought he had all the answers, always looking for a laugh at the Christian's expense. It's possible that there are some people here tonight who have the same attitude. If that is you, then I urge you to take care. Have another look, reconsider the facts before you declare that you are "not for turning" . The consequences of ignoring God should not be taken lightly. Whether a man is merely complacent or actively hostile, the consequences are the same: he faces the wrath of God.

We must make no mistake, those who ignore God and reject his invitation will one day face judgment before him. God has done everything possible: he has prepared the Banquet; he has paid the price for our sin; he has sent many messengers over many centuries, yet most of the world simply ignores him or abuses him. This cannot go on forever. There is judgement ahead for those who will not accept his invitation.

A Compassionate God

The harshest messages of judgement in the New Testament are always to be found on the lips of Jesus. Jesus is always as ready to talk about God's judgement as to talk about his love. And we see that in this parable which alternates between illustrating God's love and God's judgement. First we saw his love: he has prepared a banquet for his people: he is a God who longs to do amazing things, always wanting to give to his people. But then we see God's judgement. He is right to be angry with those who wilfully ignore and abuse him. And now the focus changes back to his love, in verses 8 to 10, as he sends his servants out into the highways and byways to gather a new set of guests for the wedding.

So, first we had a complacent people, but now we see that we have a compassionate God.

Our God longs to have people to lavish his love upon. His original chosen people had spurned him and rejected him, so now he goes out to find a new people to make his people: and that means you and me. Jesus is clearly prophesying here the time when the gospel message will be spread amongst the Gentiles, and the doors of the kingdom of heaven will be flung wide open to them, to us.

We have done nothing to deserve being invited to this Wedding Banquet. We were not God's chosen people. We are not good people who deserve his love. But because our God is a Compassionate God he has come out to find us. His compassion, and our salvation, is illustrated in the middle of verse 10, where we are told that the servants gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad.

Perhaps the impact of this is a little lost on us in our comparatively open society, but to the Jews this idea would have been deeply disturbing. To have the gentiles enter the Kingdom of God? It's an outrage! Penny and I made our first visit to a Muslim country last summer, which was rather fascinating. It was, in fact Morocco, and we have about 170 photographs of it. One obvious cultural aspect was that the mosques were totally out of bounds to us. Of course, no infidel is allowed in to defile the place. But, in terms of this parable, God's invitation to anyone his servants could find to come to his banquet would be like the mosque in Mecca opening its doors and saying to all the tourists, "come in, come in" . It's inconceivable, isn't it? But that is what God is like; he does not exclude.

People do characterise Christianity as an exclusive religion, don't they? But this parable shows us that the truth is very different. We have a God who flings his arms wide open to welcome anybody who will come.

Some people worry that they simply aren't good enough for God's kingdom. But this little phrase, they gathered everybody they could find, both good and badref, shows us that entry to the kingdom is not a matter of our moral standing, but of God's gracious invitation to us. Even bad people are welcomed into God's kingdom, which is just as well for you and me, isn't it.

However wretched you feel tonight, however far from God, whatever sin that you're guilty of, God is calling you to come to his Banquet. Don't be like the Pharisees, don't resist his invitation. You have a compassionate God who longs to know you. Accept his invitation tonight.

A Complete Impostor

So, as Jesus originally told the story, there is a complacent people, the Jews, who would not come to God's kingdom, and who, therefore, he would destroy. But there is a compassionate God who then extends his love to the Gentiles, and makes a new chosen people for himself.

But there is danger here. Just as the Jews became complacent, so God's new chosen people are in danger as well. Just because we have been invited to the Banquet is no reason for us to be smugly self-satisfied. This is illustrated by Jesus in this strange and worrying final section of his parable, from verse 11 to 14, where he reveals a complete impostor. This is my third heading. We have had, a Complacent People, a Compassionate God, and now a Complete Impostor.

The King comes in and spots a guest who is not dressed in wedding clothes. At an occasion like this the guests clothes would have been supplied by the host, so there is no excuse for not wearing them. When questioned about this the man has no answer, and his fate was similar to that of the Pharisees: bound hand and foot and thrown outside into the darkness. Again we see God's wrath interspersed with his love.

What are we to make of this? Well, Jesus is clearly saying that there will be some impostors in the Church of God. Simply being in the right place is not sufficient to guarantee escape from judgement, we also need to be clothed in the right manner.

Sometimes the way we are dressed reveals who we are. For example, consider sitting on the North Bank at Highbury football stadium, watching the home team, Arsenal, playing a match. You, and everyone around you, is dressed from head to toe in red and white. Suddenly, a few rows forward, you spot somebody in white and black. It's a bit of a giveaway, isn't it? A Tottenham supporter in the wrong end. He will be lucky to get off as lightly as the man in this parable.

In the same way, someone who is incorrectly dressed spiritually speaking is revealing themselves to be an impostor in God's kingdom.

The Apostle Paul puts it like this, All of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christref. That's what it means to be a Christian: it means to be clothed with Christ. If we are not clothed with Christ then we are not part of the Church, and not part of God's kingdom. When we become a Christian God doesn't leave us as we were, he changes us. The Bible says this in many different ways. For example,

All these are different ways of putting the same truth: God changes us in a fundamental way when we come to him. Indeed, he has to change us! None of us could survive his awesome holiness if he left us in our sinful state. So, in this parable, the wearing of the wedding garments that the host had provided —that is, being clothed with Christ—is the sign that God has done this work of regeneration in us. Have you let God do this transforming work in your life?

In the latest Bond movie one of the gadgets that he has is a pair of spectacles that enable him to see through people's clothing. These are quite handy when it comes to spotting the hidden weapons of the baddies, and quite entertaining when it comes to studying ladies' undergarments.

Now, if I had spiritual spectacles, if I could see as God sees, then I could look around tonight and see what spiritual clothes everybody is dressed in. I guess I'd see that most of you are dressed in the glorious wedding garments that God provides: glowing with Christ-likeness; ready to join the Banquet with God. However, according to Jesus is quite possible that I'd see some of you sitting there in your filthy old spiritual rags, never having put on the glorious clothes that Jesus is offering you.

Thankfully, I am not able to see your spiritual clothes. Your spiritual state is just between you and God.

How can we make sure that we are wearing the glorious wedding clothes that God has provided for us? Well, first we must take off our old clothes: our self-reliance, our self-confidence, our self-satisfaction. These things are just filthy, dirty, smelly rags before God. We can't enter God's kingdom if we are relying on our own merit; we have no merit. Therefore we must put on the clothes that God has provided, we must clothe ourselves with Christ. That means whenever we come to God we must come trusting in Jesus. It is not because of our own merit that we can come to God, but because of Jesus' death for us.

Practically speaking, this means that we will frequently come to God with repentance. Jesus main criticism of the Pharisees in chapter 21 is that they would not repent. To repent is to say to God I am wrong, you are right. It is to take off our spiritual rags and to put on God's glorious wedding garments: to put on Christ. Repentance is the opposite of pride; it comes out of humility.

If repentance is the hallmark of your daily relationship with God then I think you need have no worries about whether you are appropriately dressed. If not, then this would be a good time to ask yourself if you are perhaps guilty of complacency, falling into the same trap as the Pharisees: taking God for granted. Are you letting God do his transforming work in your life?


Jesus ends the parable with a sad, but realistic, summary statement, For many are invited, but few are chosenref.

We have seen that God first of all invited the Jews, but they turned out to be a complacent people, like many of the people around us in the world today.

But we saw also that God is a compassionate God. He extended his invitation to the whole world: to all people, whether bad or good. As it says, many are invited.

But it also says that few are chosen. In the end, the sad truth is that most of the people God has invited will not enter his kingdom, whether they are complacent people, or complete impostors.

The statement is voiced passively: few are chosen. It might just as well say, but few choose God, for both are true aren't they? Just like when we fall in love: did I choose Penny, or did she choose me? Both are true. All are called to God, but it is the few who choose him, the few who fall in love with him, who are the chosen ones.

Tonight is an opportunity to answer God's invitation. Perhaps you have been happy running your life your own way, but you have recently heard God calling you to come to his banquet. Perhaps, unlike the complacent people around us, you want to do something about your spiritual state of health. Well, tonight you can choose God; come and pray after I've finished.

On the other hand, perhaps you have become aware that you might be an imposter in God's kingdom. You've been happy to call yourself a Christian, but you see in your heart that you've really been trying to come to God on your own terms, dressed in your own clothes. Maybe you are longing for him to dress you in the glorious garments of Christ-likeness. Well, God is calling to you as well. Come and pray to him this evening: pour out your heart, and tell him that you are sorry. He has a wonderful party organised for you!