“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:2-14
In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. The feast involves a king, and the king’s own son is the groom. Yet when the people are invited to this once in a lifetime event, they respond with indifference, belligerence, excuses, and even murder the messengers! The king does not respond well to the news of these events, and responds with vengeance before inviting new guests to the feast.
This parable is the third in a series of challenges directed toward the Jewish leaders. Jesus has been teaching in the temple following His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After that grand entrance, He went to the temple where he cleared the temple of money changers and taught with authority. The chief priests and elders were upset with Jesus’ popularity among the common people. So the religious leaders interrupted Jesus and challenged His authority:
When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” Matthew 21:23
In response to this challenge, Jesus began to rebuke them for their hearts of disbelief and rejection of the Messiah through questions and parables. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it” (Matthew 21:43). For those who reject the Kingdom, it will be taken away from them and given to another. Jesus was predicting the preaching and the receiving of the Gospel to Gentiles.
In this morning’s parable, the religious leaders, chief priests, and Pharisees are represented by the original invited guests who lose their place at the royal feast. The servants are the prophets who God raised up throughout history to proclaim hope and redemption – many of the prophets were rejected for their message and even killed.
The king then sent new servants to invite anyone who would come, representing the preaching of the Gospel to Gentiles or non-Jewish people. The servants obeyed the king, and invited everyone they could find, free or slave. The new guest list was made up of both “bad and good” (Matthew 22:10). The king was insistent that his son would be honored, if not by the original guests then by the new guests. Although his invitation was broad and many were invited, there were still expectations. The guests had to honor the king and his son, which we see in the second part of the parable.
During the feast, the king found a man who was not dressed in wedding clothes. This was a sign that he was oblivious to the significance of his invitation, and dishonoring to the king and his son. In Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness and it is through Him that we enter the great feast or the Kingdom. That righteousness in us produces a fruit of the kingdom – if there is no change or fruit in our life, then do we belong at the feast?
This explains why the king acted so severely and threw the man out of the feast. The guest was there under false pretenses. His heat was not inclined to honor the king or his son. This also brings us back to the point of the parable: Jesus said that the kingdom would be taken away from the Jewish leaders and given to a people producing its fruits. The wedding feast is an open invitation, but there is a dress code. Everyone is welcome at the table, but the invitation to the table changes us (or our clothes). If it doesn’t, then we aren’t truly guests. We’re simply pretending to be guests. This is why Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
The word call runs through the parable. In the Greek text, the servants are said to “call those who had been invited” (Matthew 22:3). The Jewish invitees are the “called ones” (Matthew 22:4, 8). The servants were commanded to “call” or invite the Gentiles (Matthew 22:9) and “many are called” (Matthew 22:14).
This pattern helps us understand the nature of the call in the parable. It is the summons or invitation of God through His servants: the prophets in the Old Testament, and future ministers in the New. The call is for repentance, to believe the good news. The servants are all of us. It is possible that some do not want to attend the feast of the King and so refuse, as many Jews did. But to all who receive the call, He gives them the right to become children of God. No one who accepts the invitation will be denied, but all who refuse the call will be held accountable.
It is also possible to respond to this call only externally. The man without the wedding garment responded to the invitation, but his lack of wedding clothes proved that he didn’t belong at the feast and he was banished. What is the wedding garment? It is likely a picture of salvation, freely offered in the Gospel. Only those who receive this gift will be seated at the wedding banquet of the Lamb at the consumption of all things.
If many are called, why are few chosen? What did Jesus mean by chosen, if all are invited? Because man’s heart is wicked and deceiving, we cannot want righteousness or salvation on our own. The Holy Spirit reveals spiritual truth to the natural man. In Romans 1, God describes this and what is called common grace. If man has a desire to know God, the work of His hand can be seen all around us. As man pursues understanding of God through this working of the Spirit, God works efficaciously through His spirit to bring salvation. These are the ones who say yes to the invitation – it moves from an external invitation to an internal response. Some simply have no desire and decline the invitation; some respond to the invitation with external acceptance but not in the heart because they do not desire God. No one who is truly searching for God will be lost – He is not hiding and will be found by all who truly seek Him.
From this parable, we see three things. First, the gates of the kingdom are open wide. Salvation is not based on ethnicity, education, income bracket, popularity, morality, religiosity, or any external feature. Grace eliminates pride – we did not do anything to achieve salvation and we all need Jesus. We also need to be careful not to develop preconceived ideas about who will or will not respond to the Gospel. We have been collected from the highways and byways, and we are the people Jesus calls His family, the church.
Second, though the gates of the kingdom are open wide, the kingdom has narrow gates and we must enter through them. Jesus is the only way and those who are committed to Him produce fruit. In other words, we have a particular kind of clothing to wear to the feast. Paul describes it this way:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; Colossians 3:12
Third, the kingdom of God is a feast. It will be a celebration of all that is joyous and good because Jesus is there. We will be excited to just be in the presence of God. David says that in His presence, there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Do you believe that?
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” Revelation 19:7-9
Everything is prepared for the feast and the King invites you to come. God is calling, have you responded? If you have accepted the invitation, now is the time to live like it.