Have you ever been invited to a feast or banquet? Well I suppose that a wedding would come into this category wouldn't it? We get the invitation through the post and although we are excited, the worries almost immediately come upon us. For the ladies it's, “what shall I wear”, “how much weight do I need to lose”, “how should I have my hair done”, etc. For the blokes it's a little easier, as all it requires is getting the suit out of the wardrobe and dusting it off a little. Then it comes to buying the present. Usually these days, people have wedding lists, which are a good idea, until you try to buy a present off the list and find that all the cheaper items have already been bought and the only things left are the solid silver egg cups or the Japanese Mahogany bird table, both of which would require you to part with half that months salary!
Have you ever been invited to the wedding of someone famous? That must be really exciting, but the pressure to look right and buy the right present must be even more immense. In the Bishop's house, there is a very modestly sized photo on the wall of him taking the wedding ceremony of David and Victoria Beckham, in many ways, and for many people they are like a kind of royalty. They are very famous, known all around the world, for better or for worse.
In our gospel reading for this morning (Matthew 22:1-14), the Lord Jesus tells a parable with a wedding feast as the backdrop to the story. He tells us that, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son.” As was the custom in those days, two invitations were sent out, the first to ask the guests to attend, the second to announce that the feast was ready. (Of course all the guests would have been living nearby, so it was easy enough to do this.)
The strange thing is that upon receiving the second invitation, as the servants of the king went to tell everyone that the feast was ready, we are told that they did not want to come. Why not? Why did the people refuse the invitation? This was a very special wedding, it was the kings son, so why did they not want to come?
What is the Lord Jesus saying? His original audience would have understood exactly what He was saying. God's chosen people, the people of Israel were those invited to His Kingdom. They were His honoured guests. He wanted them to join in the festivities of His Kingdom, He wanted them to celebrate Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would truly save them. The servants in the parable are God's messengers, prophets and preachers, those who invite others to accept God's message and offer of salvation. Yet they chose to ignore this invitation and to turn their backs on God and on what He wanted to give them. In verses 5 and 6 we read:
"But the invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his shop, while others grabbed the servants, beat them and killed them.”
It is bad enough to ignore the invitation that was given through the servants, but to kill them was totally and utterly wrong. Of course, the Lord Jesus is referring to all the prophets and messengers who had been killed for proclaiming God's message, including John the Baptist and countless martyrs both before and after John the Baptist, even up to the present day.
So, what's the kings reaction? We read:
The king was very angry; so he sent his soldiers, who killed those murderers and burnt down their city. (v.7)
Some people interpret this as the fall of Jerusalem in about 70 AD, when the Romans came in and destroyed everything, including the temple and thousands of people were put to the sword. But it also shows just how seriously God deals with those who take the lives of His servants and of those who continually reject His invitation. God invited His people, the people of Israel to believe in and accept His Son Jesus as the Messiah, and many of them did, (the disciples and the early church were all Jews.) But many of the people of Israel and indeed most people today do not accept God's invitation. In the parable, we see that many of the invited could just not be bothered, one went to his business another to his shop. In other words, the cares of this world were more important to them than accepting God's invitation. And how true that is today. The things of this world, our jobs, our friends, our hobbies and our leisure time all crowd our time, space and energies. “How can I have time for God? I've got to go and do something else instead.”
A good friend that Sonja and I have used to do all that he could to avoid coming to church when we were all students. On Sunday mornings I used to go round to Sonja's house and then together we would call on our friend to see if he was coming to church. There was nearly always some excuse and usually it had something to do with fixing his old MG car. The excuse would be something like “oh I can't come to church this morning, the brakes need bleeding”, or “the carburettor's a bit clogged, it's going to be a while I'm afraid.” My personal favourite was when he claimed that it was going to rain that afternoon and he needed to waterproof his wax jacket!! The funny thing was, if any of us came along to see if he wanted to go to the pub or the cinema there was never a problem, even if he was under the car covered in grease, he would down tools in no time and be ready!
Of course, it's more than just about going to church, it's about our whole lives. Do we make time to live our lives for God, or are we just too busy? Too busy making up excuses!?
In the parable, the king didn't give up when the initial guests refused to turn up. He sent out his servants again and told them:
“Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.” So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people.”
“Yay”, that includes us! God sent us an invitation. How did we hear about the Lord Jesus? Was it from our parents, was it at Sunday School? Was it through Confirmation classes? Somehow, somewhere along the line we all heard about Jesus and at some point in our lives we have to either accept or reject the invitation. Some of us are perhaps still holding the invite in our hands, looking at it and wondering what to do with it. “How can I give my life to God”, we might ask, “I'm not good enough to accept this invitation”. The point is that none of us are good enough, if we were good enough, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the cross. He died in order that our sins might be wiped out. ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS ACCEPT THE INVITATION.
When we get to the bit in the parable about the man at the wedding feast who was not wearing the right clothes we might think that his treatment was a bit harsh! We've all done it haven't we? You know, when we go to a meeting dressed in shirt and tie and everyone else is wearing jeans and tee shirt, or we go in shorts and everyone else is in formal evening wear complete with black tie! Yet we were never tied up and thrown out into the darkness, not even on our stag night! So why is the punishment so harsh?
In the time when the Lord told this parable, it was customary for guests to be given a garment to wear at a feast. It was usually longer than a persons normal robes and white in colour. So to refuse to wear the garment was to be very arrogant and insulting to the host, making a clear statement that he did not want to take part in the wedding celebrations. The application of this is that Christ has provided the garment of righteousness for us to wear through what He achieved on the cross. But each of us must choose to put that garment on in order to enter the King's banquet / Eternal life. We are all given the invitation and offered the garment to wear. It is entirely up to us whether we accept the invitation and whether we wear the garment.
Let us seriously and soberly ask ourselves the question this morning: Have I accepted God's invitation? Have I put on the garment of righteousness or is the invitation still unopened in the envelope and the garment on the floor? The invitation will not remain valid for ever. There is only so much time we can delay. Come on, let's get ready, let's accept the invitation and let's put on the garment of righteousness that was won for us at such a great cost. And what gift do we bring? Oh, that's easy, we bring ourselves, that's all God wants, us, because He loves us and because we are so precious to Him...
(I got some useful bits of background for this from Michael Green's book “Matthew for Today”, Hodder & Stoughton 1988).