Another parable to teach that the invitation to the Jewish people to believe in Jesus as Messiah had been rejected yet others were invited in to the Kingdom of God. Punishment would follow.
Another parable to teach that the invitation to the Jewish people to believe in Jesus as Messiah had been rejected yet others were invited in to the Kingdom of God. Punishment would follow.
Hello, and welcome to Series 11 and Episode 8, in which we're going to study a parable, ‘The Parable of the Wedding Banquet’, which is in Matthew 22: 1 - 14, which we'll look at in a few moments.
Introduction and Recap
All the way through Series 11 we've been reminding ourselves, at the beginning of each episode, about the context that we are addressing and the context in which Jesus is speaking, and in this particular case giving this parable. You'll be aware that Series 11 is describing the events in the city of Jerusalem when Jesus arrives in the last week of his life. We're halfway through the events that lead up towards his crucifixion. He enters on a Sunday, which we call Palm Sunday, is crucified on the Friday, and rises again from the dead the following Sunday. It's the most dramatic week in human history and described in great detail amongst the Gospel writers. But it's the climax of a process that's been going on a long time in the narrative. Luke in particular has made it clear that Jesus set himself the task of heading south from Galilee to Jerusalem, travelling extensively through the intervening areas, with the purpose of bringing the conflict that he had with the religious authorities to a conclusion in Jerusalem. They'd already set their face against Jesus; they'd already accused him of being a false Messiah; they'd already denounced him, and he was now going to face them down in the city of Jerusalem.
There'd been a lot of dramatic events on the way towards the city of Jerusalem. Notably, as I've mentioned on a number of occasions when we've looked at previous episodes, the astonishing miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which took place just a few kilometres outside the city of Jerusalem in the village of Bethany, just a short time before Jesus came into the city. This created a tremendous sense of expectation and excitement because it's one of the most remarkable miracles of Jesus' whole ministry, and performed right outside the city of Jerusalem. Then was the tremendously exciting time that Jesus spent travelling through Jericho, with huge crowds beside him on the final route up to Jerusalem, at which time it said, in Luke 19: 11, that the people were expecting the Kingdom of God to appear immediately, or ‘at once’. They were really so excited about Jesus. They thought he was going to create some kind of a political revolution when he arrived in Jerusalem; overthrowing the Romans, taking over the Temple, getting rid of all the corrupt priests, overturning the power of the Pharisees, and bringing the power of God, bringing justice and peace to the nation of Israel. That was the kind of expectation that was there.
The Triumphal Entry was a great moment on Palm Sunday, when vast crowds attended Jesus as he processed into the city of Jerusalem. They were waving palm branches, and throwing their cloaks along the road, and chanting some amazing chants of praise and adoration to Jesus as the Messiah,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the son of David!”Matthew 21:9, NIV
It was just an amazing day. The following day he went right up into the Temple and he cleansed the Temple. He literally turned over the tables of the money changers and those who were buying and selling animals in the Temple on behalf of the priests, and making a lot of money out of that ‘closed marketing’ environment. It was a sensation. Here we are on the Tuesday of that week, almost certainly, and there's been a sustained debate, dialogue and confrontation between Jesus and the leaders of the religious establishment. Jesus has been speaking in parables as he has been discussing the situation that is going on. It says in Matthew 21:23,
‘Jesus entered the Temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him.’Matthew 21:23, NIV
That's the context we still have here. ‘the chief priests and the elders of the people’ basically means the most senior religious leaders, who started questioning him, and then Jesus began to tell parables about the situation. That's the broader scenario that we are talking about. These days in Jesus' life are described by Luke, in Luke 21: 37 - 38:
‘Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on a hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came to him early in the morning to hear him at the Temple.’Luke 21:37-38, NIV
This was going on every day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of that week, until Jesus' arrest and eventual execution on the Friday. Events which we'll discuss in detail very shortly, as we continue the story.
We're now in the point of this very intense conflict that is going on between Jesus and the religious establishment. He's already made a very dramatic statement in this dialogue. Matthew 21: 32, speaking of John the Baptist he said,
‘“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.”’Matthew 21:32
Jesus is accusing the religious leaders particularly, of refusing to accept the message of the coming Kingdom, that started out with John the Baptist, who by now has been executed, and continued in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was essentially saying that, the Kingdom of God was breaking into human history in a powerful new way through him, and that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, who was bringing this breakthrough. It was coming to Israel first. It was the responsibility of the nation of Israel to respond to this new development, and to believe the message that Jesus was bringing. Now Jesus' statement here is that the religious leaders refused to do so. They condemned Jesus as a false messiah, and they turned away from him, and not only that, they encouraged the people to do likewise, thereby causing immense confusion amongst the people, whether to believe in Jesus or not. Their leaders were saying, ‘No! Definitely not!’ But they saw amazing and wonderful miracles taking place through Jesus, who spoke as one with authority and taught amazing things. He was a winsome personality, so the people were caught in this tremendous dilemma. They're going to be caught in the dilemma again this week. They greeted Jesus with huge enthusiasm on Palm Sunday, but that crowd had evaporated by Good Friday, just three days later, when Jesus died on the cross.
Jesus is Teaching in Parables
Jesus has already spoken two parables; the Parable of the Two Sons, and the Parable of the Tenants, which we've discussed in the last two episodes. In both these parables he points out how the religious leaders have not accepted God's offer of salvation through believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the Messiah. They've turned away from that and that judgement will follow. He also pointed out that surprising outsiders have believed that message and entered into the Kingdom, while the insiders, the religious establishment, missed the opportunity. Now we have a similar theme taking place in ‘The Parable of the Wedding Banquet’.
Before we read it, I'll make a comment about parables. As we often say, parables are a story with a symbolic meaning, and sometimes the details of the parable are significant and relate to actual people or events in the circumstance of the parable being delivered, Sometimes they're more general. In this case, there's some specific detail that we can identify, and some specific characters in the story that we can also be confident about. But it's the main meaning that we are looking for.
Another point of introduction, would be to say that this parable, Matthew 22: 1 - 14, ‘The Parable of the Wedding Banquet’, is very similar to the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14: 1 - 24, which we dealt with in Episode 2 of Series 9. Jesus often gave similar teaching in different places, and the two situations in Luke 14, and here in Matthew 22, are totally different contexts. Quite a few of the details of the story are significantly different, and so I'm teaching this parable separately from the one we dealt with in Series 9 and Episode 2. It's interesting to note that there's often a similarity which can confuse people. But it's not surprising that Jesus used similar stories and similar teachings in different contexts. We see quite a number of examples of this in the Gospels, and it's something that you'd expect of a great teacher, that they would repeat themselves, or maybe vary their stories somewhat in different contexts. Jesus was a tremendously good storyteller. Parables were one of his main methods of teaching. Here's a brilliant parable here ‘The Parable of the Wedding Banquet’. Let's read the text of this parable and then we can see how we can interpret it.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
‘Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 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.’ But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet, anyone you can find.’ 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. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 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.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”’Matthew 22:1-14, NIV
This is a very striking and powerful story. It centres around a very common and important event - the wedding banquet. In those days, in that culture, weddings and marriages were huge, social events that involved the whole community in villages, and lots of people would come. Even in bigger towns they were tremendously important events. People put a lot of effort into the wedding banquet. A marriage would often take place with all the ceremonies and celebrations over a number of days. But this is a story of, not just an ordinary wedding banquet, but a royal one. We have here, a king. The king is preparing this banquet for his son who's getting married. So, as would be standard in those days, all the preparations are being made and the servants go and bring personal invitations to guests. But the guests do two different things: some just ignore the invitation, they just carry on their business and don't bother to reply, and don't bother to come, others actually get hold of the servants, mistreat them, and even kill them! They're so resistant to this wedding invitation, they attack the servants. That's an extraordinary act, completely unexpected in the story.
The king is angry, sends his army, and orders that those who've been murdering his servants, should be executed, and their particular city set on fire, in order to indicate his judgement. It's a really unlikely story, a really difficult story, a really odd story. Why such a negative reaction to such a positive invitation? We're only here talking about coming to a wedding banquet. This indicates real hostility to the king, and real hostility to his son, on behalf of the initial invitees, who decided not to come, and some of them murdered the servants. A second invitation is sent out by the king. This time not to selected friends, and the obvious people from their society, who you'd want to invite. No, this is an indiscriminate open invitation, on the street corners, anybody passing by who hears one of the servants making the invitation, can say, “Yes! Can I come?” and he or she would be invited and they would be welcomed into the feast. Indeed, eventually the hall of the wedding banquet is filled with guests. All sorts of people; good and bad, rich and poor, they're there. They've been invited. They've entered into this marvellous event.
Then the story has another tremendously surprising twist. We've already seen one shocking surprise when the initial guests say, “No! We're definitely not coming.” and are very hostile. That in itself is incredible. It's been remarkable to see that the invitation list is extended so generously to all types of people. But then something equally shocking takes place with this second group of guests, because the king noticed one person who isn't dressed appropriately. It was important to dress smartly for wedding banquets. We don't have enough exact detail of the culture in first century Israel to be sure exactly what this meant. Some people think that the king would provide some of those wedding garments himself. We can't be sure about that. It appears this man made no effort whatsoever. He just drifted in, completely unprepared. When he was challenged about his clothing, he was speechless. He didn't have anything to say. He hadn't prepared for the wedding. So, he too was judged. He was tied up, taken outside and excluded from the wedding. It's a pretty shocking story. You'd have been shocked if you'd heard that story at the time that Jesus gave it.
The Meaning of the Parable
What kind of an interpretation can we give to this? I think the first thing to say is that, in Judaism, there was a strong understanding that when the Messiah comes - the Jewish Messiah, the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the Son of God - there would be some kind of a feast or celebration or gathering together of the redeemed. This is already alluded to by Jesus. For example, in Matthew 8, when talking about the centurion who had faith for his servant to be healed, Jesus says, verse 10:
‘“I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.I say to you that many will come from the east and the west,and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”’Matthew 8:10-12, NIV
There's a very similar theme there, isn't there? The feast is a representation of the kingdom of God coming in power and glory, with the Messiah at the centre. I think that idea underlies this wedding banquet. Here we have something very similar. We also have a very similar idea in the book of Revelation, with the marriage supper of the Lamb in chapter 19, a representation of the gathering of the redeemed people after Jesus comes at the second coming. Here we have the king and his son. It's pretty obvious that the King represents God, and the Son represents Jesus. We've already had, in the previous parable of the tenants, a landowner and his son. The son was rejected, and the landowner judged the people who rejected him. A very similar theme here; we have a king, and a son, and his wedding, and we find that some of the guests turn away the invitation. The original invited guests appear to be the Jewish people and, in particular, the religious leaders of the Jewish people, who turned down the invitation. The new invitees, the people who are invited from the street corners, is a representation of God opening up the invitation of his Kingdom to all of humanity; the ordinary people perhaps, in Israel, the outsiders like the tax collectors and prostitutes, as mentioned in chapter 21: 32, just in the same sequence of events, but also the Gentiles. They're going to be invited into the Kingdom.
The concluding verse is interesting. “Many are invited but few are chosen.” What does that mean? Many are invited, but only those who can accept the invitation are those who accept the terms of the invitation. The terms of the invitation are, that we are believing in the Messiah, 100% committed to him. The man who just casually walked into the wedding banquet was not connecting himself in any way with the wedding ceremony. Probably he was just looking for a free meal, or he just came in off the street. He was completely unprepared. The invitation was given to him but he didn't prepare himself. The ones who are chosen are the ones who respond well to the invitation. “Many are invited but few are chosen.” The invitation goes out widely, but the ones who are chosen are the ones who respond well. I'll come back to that point in a minute as we conclude.
The Main Point of the Parable
This is a really striking story. Within a period of great confrontation here, we've got three parables in a row: the Parable of the Two Sons, the Parable of the Tenants, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, that are essentially making the point that there's going to be a great reversal taking place in the Kingdom of God. The leaders of the people of Israel are rejecting the Messiah, just at the time when they desperately need to understand that he is their Saviour. They're turning away a golden opportunity and they will experience judgement for doing so.
What thoughts or reflections can we bring from this striking passage, and how is it relevant to us? The first thing to say is that religious leaders and national leaders can have a huge influence on the ordinary people in their nation or in their ethnic group. That applies to all religions, to all cultures, and to all periods of history. They can have a very negative effect. This is what is happening here. The religious leaders are having a very negative effect on the people. They're confusing them. They're being held accountable for their responsibility to point the way towards Jesus, to encourage people to accept him as Messiah. They have decided firmly not to do this. Very often, where the religious or cultural or national leaders go, the people will follow. That can be disastrous, or tragic, if those people are guiding their followers away from Jesus Christ. Israel is entering, at this time, into a tragic period of history that would see the nation literally destroyed by the Romans, after a four-year military conflict in 70 A.D., just a few decades after Jesus has died and risen again. Judgement came upon the nation.
They can be rejected by God and they can ‘enter into darkness’, with ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. What do these metaphors mean? ‘Darkness’ basically means separation from God. Turning down the message of Jesus when the opportunity comes to you is literally, to enter into darkness. It's a terrible thing to do. “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”, which speaks of regret later on. People come to regret the decision to turn down the offer of Jesus Christ.
The wonderful thing about this parable is, it also speaks about a glorious, new invitation that God is going to bring that's universal, that goes right across humanity. We are the beneficiaries of that invitation. If we now just move forward to the end of Matthew's Gospel, and we go past the events of Jesus' death, burial, his resurrection, and just before his ascension, he commissions his disciples, at the end of Matthew 28, with a wonderful statement, which I'm going to read here because it relates to this issue of the invitation. Matthew 28: 18,
‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”’Matthew 28:18-20, NIV
Notice there in verse 19, “go and make disciples of all nations”. The second invitation in this parable is a prophetic statement of what is shortly going to happen. The invitation, to believe in Jesus Christ, is going to be extended beyond the boundaries of the nation of Israel. It's going to be extended to nations all over the world. In fact, the followers of Jesus are going to leave the nation of Israel. They're going to move out on mission, and they're going to establish churches in all sorts of other communities. We see, very vividly, how the Early Church did this in the book of Acts, particularly through the work of Paul, the Apostle, as he travelled north and west through parts of the Roman Empire, and started establishing churches in major centres along the way. The Apostles moved off in all sorts of different directions from Jerusalem. They extended an open invitation to believe in Jesus Christ, to all the nations of the earth. And here we are, 2000 years later, and I've been a beneficiary of that. I have received that message, 2000 years later, because the early church shared the message with all nations. Jesus predicted that this was going to happen here in the parable; his servants are going to go on the street corners and invite all types of people into the wedding banquet, which is a symbol of God's Kingdom and his salvation.
My concluding thought is this - becoming a true follower of Jesus involves two things. Number one: accepting God's invitation, the invitation we've been talking about. But also, number two: accepting the terms of the invitation. This isn't just an invitation to a free meal. This is an invitation into a different Kingdom. One of those guests who walked in thought he was just going to get a free meal, on his own terms. But no, he wasn't coming just to a meal, he was coming to a big community event; he was connecting with an amazing wedding that was just taking place. He chose not to make any of that connection; he wasn't interested in that. We don't just accept God's invitation for salvation, we accept the terms of the invitation. That means repentance, accepting we're sinners, accepting we've gone off the track, accepting that we need forgiveness and grace and help. It means having living faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and it means committing our life to being his disciples. Thanks for listening to this episode and I hope to welcome you again to further episodes in Series 11.