An offer you can't refuse? - Matthew 22:1-14
A few weeks ago I came across a story in the newspaper which told how one couple who had planned a holiday of a lifetime found themselves having a completely different holiday because of a major mistake. Emma Nunn and her boyfriend Raoul Sebastian had been saving for months for a special trip to Sydney Australia. They would see the Sydney opera house, the beautiful Bondai beach and many of the other attractions Australia had to offer. But when they set off on their trip they found that something was terribly wrong. Instead of flying round the world to Sydney, they ended up flying to Canada. At that point they weren't too bothered, since they had got their tickets cheaply and they thought that this was just a longer way to Australia. However when they got to Canada, they were told to get on a tiny propeller powered plane which would take them to their final destination. It was then that they began to panic. 'Surely this propeller powered plane is not going to take us all the way to Australia from Canada?' they thought. Sure enough, when they got to their final destination, they found that they were not in Sydney, Australia, but Sydney, Nova Scotia, a small mining town in northern Canada, with next to nothing for tourists. The mix up had happened at the ticket agents which made them go to the right destination, Sydney, but just the wrong country, Canada instead of Australia! One mistake had had huge consequences.
Now this morning we are looking at another of Jesus' parables of the kingdom. Jesus begins his story in verse 2 with the familiar phrase: 'The kingdom of heaven is likeJesus is telling another parable about the kingdom of God, a parable about what it means to come under the kingly rule of God. And this parable, the parable of the wedding banquet is about a mistake that the leaders of God's people were making, a mistake of eternal proportions. Now since chapter 21 verse 23, Jesus has been talking to the chief priests and the elders. These were the religious leaders of the day, the clergy and bishops of Israel. And he's told them two parables about a vineyard in chapter 21. First there was a parable about a vineyard owner and his two sons, and second a parable about a vineyard owner and his tenants, which we looked at a few weeks ago. And both have been aimed at the religious establishment that Jesus is talking to. And his conclusion comes in chapter 21 verse 43, and it's very stark. He says that 'the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.' What he is saying is that the kingdom of God, heaven, will be taken from these religious leaders and given to others.
Now that is very shocking. These people thought they were going to heaven, and Jesus turns round and says to them: 'Actually you are going to hell.' It would be like Jesus getting up at a meeting of the house of bishops with all the bishops in England gathered round him and saying: 'You think you lot are going to heaven, don't you? Actually the reality is that you are going to hell. And your places in heaven which you thought you'd reserved by your impressive deeds and religious credentials are going to be given to others.' Now to us that would be very shocking. But that's the shocking thing that Jesus is saying to these religious officials.
Now why is Jesus saying these things? What have these religious leaders done to make them subject to Jesus' criticism like this? Well Jesus tells another parable to explain exactly what they have done. Their problem is that they have made two terrible mistakes which will have huge consequences. And it's not just a question of getting on the wrong plane. It's a question of heading to hell instead of heaven. And we'll find that it's just as possible for men and women like you and me in the 21st century to make the same mistakes. Indeed some of us may be making them right now. So this parable of Jesus' is not here in Matthew's gospel for mere historical interest. It's here to warn us not to make the same mistakes as the religious leaders of Jesus' day. So let's turn to Matthew 22 and look at it together. It tells the story of a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. And we'll see that there are two mistakes that it is possible to make concerning the kingdom of God.
1) The Invitation is Rejected (Vv 1-10)
2) The Dress Code is Ignored (Vv 11-13)
1) The Invitation is Rejected (Vv 1-10)
So the first mistake is that the invitation is rejected in verses 1-10. Now Jesus' story is about a king who wanted to give a wedding banquet for his son who was getting married. Now in those days, the groom's father picked up the tab and sent out the invites, and so it is here. And it seems that there have been some invitations sent out already. What happens in verse 3 is that those who had been invited are now told to come. It's a bit like me inviting you all to a party at my house next weekend, and I say to you 'I'll be in touch nearer the time with the final details.' And so sure enough on Saturday afternoon, I ring you up and tell you to come because everything is ready. So the same way the King sends out his servants to tell everyone the banquet is ready. The wine is uncorked, the orchestra is tuning up, the fireworks are lined up and the beef roast is slowly turning. Everything is ready. But what happens? Verse 3: 'But they refused to come.' Well maybe there has been some misunderstanding. So verse 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.'' This time the king lets them know what's on the menu. Roast beef, the finest veal steak money can buy, washed down with a fruity Chateau Nazarethberg AD 33. Surely they will come now. But no. Verse 5: '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.' Can you believe it? What a terrible way to respond to an invitation to a party. And not surprisingly the king is furious. Verse 7: 'The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.' But of course, the king cannot let all that lovely food go to waste. So he tells his servants to go round the streets and invite anyone they find. And that's what happens. Verse 10: 'So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.' The invitation has been rejected by the original guests, and the king gets others to come to the feast.
So why did Jesus tell this parable? What was his point. Well the parable is about the kingdom of God. God is the king and Jesus his son, and he's talking about entry into heaven. How to get into God's kingdom. And the first mistake the religious leaders made is that they rejected the invitation. And according to Jesus, there are two consequences of their rejection of the invitation into heaven.
a) God's Grace is Spurned- And the first consequence is that God's grace is spurned. You see the king in this story didn't just send out his servants once. He didn't say one chance was enough. He sent them out a second time. He gave the guests plenty of opportunity to respond. That is exactly what God did for Israel. Time and again God sent his prophets in the Old Testament to tell the people that one day God's rescuer would come and they would all be able come to the feast in heaven at the end of time. And God gave his people plenty of opportunity to get ready for the day when the feast was ready. He is a God of great grace and generosity. And when Jesus arrived that time had come. He was the one who could bring the people to the feast. Through his death on the cross, there could be forgiveness of sins and entry into heaven. So they should trust in Jesus and come to the feast. But the people of Israel, led by their religious leaders rejected him. They refused to come to the feast through Jesus.
Some rejected God's grace out of cold apathy. Like some guests in the story they said they had better things to do- their businesses, their personal problems. Far more important than accepting Jesus and coming to the feast. But others were openly hostile to Jesus. Either side of this parable in 21 vv 45-46 and in 22 v 15 we are told that the leaders were trying to kill Jesus. And eventually they would succeed. They spurned the grace of God shown to them in Jesus. Jesus was the only way they could get to the feast, the only way they could come to heaven. And they rejected the invitation.
And sadly today those same characteristics are seen in people's response to Jesus. Some reject him out of cold apathy. They just cannot be bothered to give Jesus a second glance. Their own lives are too important for them to bother. Others are openly hostile to the grace of God shown in Jesus. Whichever the reaction is, it is spurning God's grace. The God who lovingly seeks to rescue sinful people like you and me is shoved out of the way.
I can think of two people who showed both these reactions to Jesus. One heard that Jesus had died on the cross for him and was offering a place at the feast in heaven to him, and he simply said: 'It's all very nice but really it's not for me.' That's cold apathy. He had no desire whatsoever to accept the invitation God was making to him. He refused to come. His own little life was too important to bother with Jesus. And I can think of another person who when she heard of God's forgiveness to her through Jesus, she was enraged and stormed out the meeting. That was open hostility. Both showed their rejection in differing ways, but both rejected the kind and loving offer of God. Both spurned the grace of God.
Just imagine for one moment that a new sports hall and health centre was built on the lawn for the staff team. Melvin's pulled a few strings and managed to get the Queen to open it for us. It's a brand new state of the art complex with gym, swimming pool and saunas and full time masseurs, one for each of the staff. And as the Queen steps out of her car, all the clergy and parish assistants and student workers are there, looking very smart. But then as she walks up the line, an extraordinary thing happens. One by one, the staff spit in the Queen's face. Can you imagine the outrage? Can you imagine what the Hull Daily Mail would say. Local clergyman insults Queen. There would be an uproar wouldn't there?
Well if there is no way in the way world that we would ever snub the Queen in that way, then why on earth do we snub the King of kings in that way. Christian, if you are playing with sin and not being ruthless with sin in your life, then your snubbing God in that way, saying his rule in your life doesn't matter. Maybe cold apathy is creeping into your Christian life. Bible reading is taking a back seat. Church is becoming a bit of a chore, Homegroup a distant second to everything else. Realise what you are doing. Don't snub the King of kings. Don't spurn his grace to you in these ways. And if you are not a Christian and you are continuing to turn your back on God's offer to you, then you too are snubbing God in the most offensive way possible. May be you're saying 'life's too busy to really go for this Christianity business too keenly.' Or maybe you are thinking: 'It's not really relevant to me. It's OK for the religious type people, but not for me.' If you are just not bothered to give God a look in, or if you are more concerned with running your life your way, then you are spitting in God's face and saying I don't want anything to do with your invitation to the feast. You're spurning the grace of God. You're tearing up the invitation and shoving it back in God's face. Whether is simply cold apathy or open hostility, it's all the same to God. You're spurning his grace.
b) God's Judgement is seen- But there is a terrible consequence of doing that. Because the second consequence of rejecting the invitation is seeing God's judgement. In the story, the king sends his servants and they kill the people who rejected the invitation. The prophets of the OT used this sort of language to warn of God's judgement at the end of time. The religious leaders would face God's judgement for rejecting the invitation. And it's a very serious warning to us, that if we reject God's offer, if we spit in his face and ignore his offer of rescue and forgiveness through Jesus, then we too will face his judgement.
You see this is not just a question of personal taste. We cannot say that God may be important to some but not to me. Because like it or not, the God of the Bible is the true and living God before whom we will all one day stand. But amazingly this God offers you a place at his eternal feast today. That place has been secured for you through Jesus' death on the cross. The king's son has paid the price so you could go to the banquet. The banquet will be full of people. The question is, will you accept the invitation. The party will go on with or without you. So whatever you do, don't make the same mistake as the religious leaders. They rejected the invitation. And in doing so they spurned God's grace and they saw God's judgement. And if we reject the invitation, whether by cold apathy or open hostility, we too will spurn God's grace and face his judgement. So let me ask. Have you accepted the invitation or are you turning down the offer. You are in one camp or the other, for with God there is no fence to sit on. Make sure you accept the invitation. Accept that Jesus is the way to God, the one who died for you on the cross and join the feast. Don't make the mistake the religious leaders did and reject Jesus. For their first mistake was to reject the invitation.
2) The Dress Code is Ignored (Vv 11-13)
But the parable doesn't stop there. You see we could be forgiven for thinking that that was the end of the story. Either we accept the invitation or reject it. That's it. But Jesus doesn't stop at verse 10. He goes on. And verses 11-13 highlight another mistake the religious leaders are making, one which you and I might also make. And that is that the dress code is ignored. You see sometimes when you get invited to party there are two instructions on the invitation. One says RSVP. You must respond. Jesus has tackled that instruction in the first half of the parable. But there is often a dress code on the invitation as well. It may be a seventies party, so you've got to dress accordingly, or it may be fancy dress, so you need to dress properly. And if you turn up the party in the wrong clothes then you're going to look a fool. I remember once being invited to a very posh wedding reception, and as well as saying RSVP the invitation also said Black Tie. Well after a bit of research, I found it did not mean that I had to turn up to this wedding looking like the Blues Brothers, but rather I had to wear a dinner jacket and a black bow tie. There was a dress code to be followed. And Jesus is saying in the second half of this parable that there is a particular dress code for heaven. And we must take care to note what it is, otherwise we won't get in to the party.
But with the wedding banquet in heaven there is something very striking about what happens to those who are not wearing the right clothes. Let's read again verses 11-13. 'But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without
wedding clothes?' 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.'' You see at God's wedding feast, if you're not wearing the right clothes, then Jesus says you will find yourself going to hell. That's what the language means in verse 13, this business about the weeping and gnashing of teeth. We've seen it before in Matthew 13. It's only used by Jesus, and he's talking about hell, the place for those who reject God's kind offer of forgiveness and heaven. It's no joke. Rather Jesus, the gentlest and most loving person who walked the earth says the most about hell of any person in the NT. And he tells us about hell because he loves us and wants none of us to end up there. So we better listen carefully to what he says. But we may say, 'Come on Jesus, I mean it's a bit harsh isn't it? I mean maybe this bloke misread the invitation. Maybe he didn't have time to change having just come in from the street corners. Go easy on him!' If I had turned up at that wedding reception I was invited to not wearing black tie, but jeans and trainers, then I may have been ushered away quietly and not let in, but I wouldn't have been executed for it would I? But this flouting of the dress code is far more serious.
You see the Bible teaches us that all our righteous acts, all our good deeds are like filthy rags. We are not fit to go to God's wedding feast because we are not dressed properly. Our lives are mucked up by sin and disobedience of God. But the amazing thing is that God is willing to give us new clothes. He's willing to dress us in perfection. He is willing to give us forgiveness. We can be holy, we can be like God. We can go to his feast, because through Jesus' death on the cross we can be washed clean and dressed properly. But this man in our story arrogantly rejected the king's offer of new clothes and waltzed into the feast wearing his own clothes. And that was what the religious leaders of Jesus were doing. They too were arrogantly assuming that they could come to the feast on their own terms. They thought they were good enough for God. They thought that they were nice enough and religious enough for God. But Jesus tells them sternly: Unless you are humble enough to accept the King's clothes, unless you are humble enough to come to Jesus and receive the forgiveness he offers and the new life he promises, you will be thrown into hell. That's the price of rejecting the invitation and ignoring the dress code.
And sadly many 21st century men and women make this mistake too. It is possible for the both the non Christian and the Christian to be in danger of ignoring the dress code of heaven. For the non Christian, I guess most people would say they want to accept the invitation and go to heaven, but much less are willing to submit to God's dress code and humbly admit their complete inability to get themselves to heaven. Many people still believe that they are good enough for heaven. They are basically decent people and God is nice enough to let them into heaven. They've never broken any of the commandments in a serious way, and they are kind and upstanding members of the community. Well if you are thinking that, then can I say to you in the most loving and gentle way I can that no-one is good enough for God and unless you accept the invitation on God's terms, unless you accept his offer of fresh clothes, forgiveness and a fresh start though Jesus, then you won't be at the party in heaven, you'll find yourself in hell. You see it is a huge offence to the king to ignore the dress code, to ignore the clothes of forgiveness and holiness that he graciously gives you. There's no other way to heaven except to come to him in his terms. Surely if God could have found a different way other than sacrificing his own Son on the cross, then surely he would have done it. But there was no other way. So don't ignore the dress code. Receive the rescuer Jesus as your Saviour and Lord and put on the fresh new clothes of forgiveness that God offers you. Surely that is too good an offer to refuse. Wonderfully God's invitation goes out to many, but sadly few accept the invitation and take note of the dress code. Many are invited but few are chosen. Make sure you are not one those.
Charles Spurgeon was one of those who accepted the invitation and respected the dress code of heaven. Spurgeon lived in the 19th century and as a young man was brought up to believe in Christian truth. He classed himself as a good person and one who knew all about Christianity. And yet for many years he had been afflicted with a terrible feeling of not being good enough for God. He was acutely conscious of his own failings and his inability to live up to God's perfect standards. He once said of himself: 'I thought I would rather have been a frog or a toad than have been made a man. I reckoned that the most defiled creaturewas a better thing than myself, for I had sinned against Almighty God.' And yet one day he came to hear of the forgiveness that is offered to us through Jesus' death on the cross. Spurgeon happened to be in a church in Colchester one Christmas. The regular preacher had got stuck in the snow. So one man got up who was no preacher. In fact, Spurgeon in his autobiography says he was downright stupid. His sermon simply consisted in repeating over and again in slightly different ways the verse of the Bible that he was preaching on: 'Look unto me, and you will be saved.' But sure enough it did the trick. As the preacher was running out of things to say after ten minutes, he looked directly at Spurgeon and said: 'Young man you look very miserableand you will always be miserable unless you look to Jesus. You have nothing to do but to look to Jesus.' And that was what Spurgeon did that very day. He suddenly realised that it was only in Jesus that his sins could be taken away. Only by accepting Jesus' offer of forgiveness and receiving his new clothes, could he be freed from sin and given new life. And that is what happened. And Spurgeon was a changed man from that very day. He accepted the invitation on God's terms and had obeyed the dress code.
And yet as we finish there is a warning here too for the person who claims to be a Christian not to ignore the dress code. You see I think there is a danger for those of us who profess to be Christians to come to God on our own terms. It's a 'yes but' sort of faith. It's a faith which says: Yes, I'll accept your forgiveness Lord, but I don't want you to have all my life. Yes, I'll accept the invitation Lord, but I don't want to give you too much of my time. Once a week's enough isn't it? I've done my bit. Yes, I'll accept the invitation Lord, but I want control of my relationships and I'll decide when it's time to tell everyone at work I'm a Christian. Yes, Lord, I'll accept the invitation, but I don't want it to be too uncomfortable. I think I'll retain control of just how keen I become. The problem with the yes but type of faith is that in reality you're in serious danger of ignoring the dress code of heaven. You're in danger of treating your faith like just another hobby. Some play golf, some are Christians. But when the King of kings calls you to his wedding feast, you accept on his terms. Otherwise you'll find yourself leaving by the back door. Don't make the same mistake as the religious leaders. Don't ignore the dress code.
You see ultimately if we get on the wrong plane, it's just a minor inconvenience. But Jesus tells this parable to warn us not to make mistakes of catastrophic proportions. Ultimately it's not our holiday that is at stake, but our very eternal destinies. Whatever you do, don't reject the invitation and don't ignore the dress code.
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