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A Foreshadowing of Judgment, Part 7: Parables Against the Pharisees, Part 3: The Marriage Feast

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 21, 1999

Matthew 22:1-14

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew 22. As we continue studying through this glorious gospel. In the final verses of Matthew 21, we looked most recently at two parables there, the parable of the two sons and the parable of the land owners. And each of these three parables, and we're going to be looking at the third of those three parables today, are directed against the religious leaders of Israel. If you remember all the way back to the parable of the two sons, one of the main points was that the religious leaders of Israel were hypocritical in their profession of their love for God. They pretended like they loved God, but they didn't live like it. And Jesus explicitly in that parable condemned them for their lack of response to John the Baptist's ministry. What was the central message of John the Baptists' ministry? Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And basically Jesus said well, you acted like you had honor and time for John, but you didn't listen to his message. You are hypocritical. You didn't repent. And then in the parable of the land owner, Jesus explicitly deals with the religious leaders of Israel's rejection of his ministry.

And here in this parable today that we'll study, the parable of the royal marriage feast, we will see Jesus address the issue of Israel's rejection of the church's mission as the church goes out to extend the offer of salvation. So as we prepare to read God's holy word, let's turn to Matthew 22 and listen attentively. This is the word of God.

Matthew 22:1-14

Our Father, this is Your word. And we bless You for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We bless You for His work and for His wisdom. And as we listen with our own hearts to the message that He intends for us in this his word, we pray that You would open our hearts by the Spirit to perceive that message, to embrace Him and to walk in the way of peace and righteousness. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.


This is a shocking parable. Perhaps you have missed some of the irony and the shock value of it because of the cultural differences that we experience or have in our time as opposed to that time. But today I'd like to look at that parable, and I'd like you to see especially two things that God sets forth very clearly. He very clearly sets forth the wickedness of the guests who reject this invitation to the feast. And He also clearly sets forth the love of God in this parable. The patience of God. The pursuing love of God going after those who are unwilling to come to the feast that He as prepared for them.

And as we look at those two grand themes in this parable, I'd like you to see these as they're set forth in three different sections in the parable. Really, the parable outlines nicely into three parts. If you look at verses 1-7, it focuses on the issue of this rejected invitation. An invitation has gone out. It's been rejected. That's the focus of verses 1-7. Then if you look at verses 8-10, that section focuses on this filled wedding hall. Guests have been brought in from all over. And they now fill the wedding hall even though the original people have rejected the invitation. And then the third section of the parable you'll see in verses 12-14. And it focuses on the man with the missing wedding robe. Everybody else is prepared. Everybody else is in their finery. But there's one man sitting in that hall who doesn't have his wedding garments on. And that's the focus of that section. As we look at those three sections today, I'd like to consider this parable with you.

I. Indifference to Christ and opposition to Christ are both rejection of Christ.

First, let's direct our attention to verses 1-7. Here, we see a picture of the rejection of Christ and his ministers by the jewish people in Jesus' day and especially, of course, the Jewish leaders. And we learn a very important lesson. We learn that indifference to Christ and opposition to Christ are both rejection of Christ. Whether you're indifferent about Christ or you're utterly and openly opposed to Him, it's the same thing. Both are just two different ways of rejecting Christ. That's made very clear here in verses 1-7.

Now, as I said this is a shocking story. It's even a funny story. Let me recount it to you and let's remember the elements of the way Jesus describes it, and then I'll try and give you a modern parallel. A king has a son, it's a royal son, who is going to be married. And he sends out an invitation to his subjects to come to the wedding feast. Now undoubtedly the original list who are sent this invitation would be a rather esteemed multitude of those who are part of the petty courtiers and supporters of the king. And so this invitation goes out. And surprisingly everyone turns the king down. Now you need to understand that everyone hearing this parable as it was originally spoken would immediately have been offended by that. Not only was that an outrageous display of rudeness, but it was a foolish act which might make the person who was refusing the invitation look like he was actually treasonous. Because when a king sends out a wedding invitation, it's really not an invitation you can turn down. If the king tells you to show up at his hall, you show up at his hall. And so this king sends out the wedding invitation, and it's turned down. And so He sends out some more slaves, and it's turned down again. Now, we do know from the time of Israel, that cultured people in Jerusalem usually had to be invited to things twice. And so they would wait until you came around the second time to invite them before they would actually go through with the process and accept your invitation.

But you'll notice in this parable, that the king sends out his men three times. In fact, the next time He sends them out He even has them describe the menu that's going to be served at this particular celebration as if to coax you into coming, because you know the food is going to be so sumptuous. You know we do that sometimes in our first epistle. We're going to have a meeting and we tell you, and by the way what will be served is this, this and this. We're saying, look, you may be bored to tears by what we're going to do at the meeting, but there's going to be really great food, please come. And so the king implores these people to come. He says, look, I'm going to be serving great food. This is going to be a tremendous party. Please come. And we're told that still people don't care. They're indifferent. They go on to their farms. They go on to their businesses. In fact, some of those people take the messengers of the king and mistreat and kill them. And then the king enraged on the very day of his son's wedding feast, sends out his armies and burns the town to the ground.

Now, that is an ironic story. Let me see if I can help you feel the force of that irony by updating it some and speaking it as if it happened today. Let's assume that the governor of Mississippi was a native Jacksonian. And he and his wife were well connected in the community. They were from upstanding citizenry. Most of their political base and supporters were here. And their daughter was going to be married. And they are very wealthy. And they send out two or three thousand invitations to this wedding. And it's going to be, this wedding list, is of all the leading citizens, of not only this community, but communities all around. And I'm standing here and I'm telling you this story, and I tell you and you know what? Every single person turned down the invitation. Now you would be standing back agog. You would be saying, how rude. Certainly, their political supporters and friends would want to show up for their daughter's wedding. And then I go on to say, in fact, not only do they send out a beautifully scripted Crane invitation to these three thousand people, they actually had people that were on their payroll go out and hand deliver those invitations, and invite people personally to come to this particular occasion. And everyone turned them down. In fact, when they sent out the next wave of people to bring the invitations to their guests, some of their guests abused them and others of their guests took their messengers and killed them. The good citizens of Jackson took some of their messengers and killed them. You would be thinking, you're telling me a crazy story. This just wouldn't happen. You don't ever kill people who are coming to invite you to a wedding. You may want to, but you don't ever do it. This is a crazy story.

And then the story gets crazier. And I say you know what happened next? Well, I mean it was the afternoon of the wedding, the wedding was going to be that night at 6:30 and the governor sent out the national guard or the Mississippi guard and slaughtered all the people of Jackson and burned the city down.

Jesus is telling a colossal tale here. And He's doing it to shock you into the reality of what it is when we reject the gospel offer. God has spread this feast for us in the gospel. It's cost him his son. He's invited all to come. And when we reject that offer, either by indifference or direct opposition, it is not something that is acceptable. It is not simply rude. But it is an offense to God almighty, and that is precisely what Jesus is trying to drive home in this particular parable.

Now there are two or three things that I'd like to zero in on in these first few verses with you. First of all, I want you to see that Jesus is making it very clear that by rejecting these invitations, the people are not simply rude, they are positively sinful. They are actually engaging in rebellion against the king who is, of course, God. They are not neutral. They're not victims when the slaughter comes. They're not innocent people who have been perpetrated against with a horrible crime. They are unwilling. They are indifferent. They are opposed to God. This is the picture that Jesus paints here. And, of course, He's describing the leaders of Israel in response to the gospel message. But, this is a picture of everyone who fails to embrace Christ. This gospel invitation is universal. It goes out to everyone. There's no one excluded from this invitation by their rank or file. And when those turn this invitation down, it is not a matter of indifference, it's a matter of unwillingness and opposition to God. And so, Jesus paints very clearly the wickedness of those who refuse the invitation. That's the first thing you see in those first few verses.

The second thing you see is the extravagant love of God. We see the patience of God in this passage. We see the provision of God in the passage. We see His constraining love. He is coming up with every argument possible in order to draw in as many as is possible to a feast which they have not earned or deserved. It's a banquet. It's a celebration. He's inviting them to it. And yet they're not interested. And again, there is this emphasis on the Father's lavish provisions, and His patient calling and inviting of these people in order to do what? To explain that when what happens in verse 7 happens, that is the slaughter of the people who refuse the invitation, that this is not a capricious and arbitrary act by God, it is an act of justice, because they have rebelled against Him.

God's love is highlighted in order to justify the awful judgment that you see in verse 7 against Israel. But it is also essential for our understanding of the gospel. This is an invitation that cannot be turned down. This is literally an offer that you cannot refuse without dire consequences. When the king invites, it is a command. When the king says come to the wedding feast, you don't think, well, do I have the time to spend? And let's face it, in this day and time, in this culture, it would have been a tremendous sacrifice for people to come to a wedding feast. They usually lasted seven days. And you can see people saying, boy, that's going to take a long time. But when the king says, "Come to the wedding feast," you come. I you read medieval history you will see the same pattern happen over and over? A king gets crosswise with an earl or a duke or a baron. And the king invites the earl, and the duke or the baron to his castle. And they have a meal together. And then the king kills the earl, or the duke or the baron. And you've read so many of these things, that the minute you see that invitation go out, you're screaming at your book, saying, "Earl William, don't go, he's going to kill you!" But what can Earl William do? I mean, when the king invites you to his castle, you go.

So, Jesus is stressing, this invitation is a command. And rejection of this invitation is not due to the time constraints of it or any other minor concern like this. Rejection of this invitation is open rebellion against God. It is our sinful hearts that refuse the invitation, because God has provided and spread a feast and given us every reason to join that feast. That's the second thing we see. Not only the sinfulness of people in the rejection of this invitation, but the extravagant love of God in the provision of the invitation.

We also see in these first few verses the certainty of God's judgment against those who reject the invitation. There in verse 7 we see the king sending out his servants and burning down the city. And again the application is very apparent. The judgment that Matthew is warning of here. The judgment that Jesus is warning of here is God's judgment of Jerusalem. It came in forty short years. Forty years from the time that Jesus spoke these words, and probably less than ten years from the time that Matthew wrote them down, the Romans came in and wiped Jerusalem out.

And Jesus is warning of this, and He's reminding us of the judgment that awaits with all those who trifle with God. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus. God is the God of love and justice. He is the God of mercy and judgment. He is the God of grace and righteousness. And He will not tolerate forever wickedness and rebellion. And so Jesus is giving us a picture here of the judgment to come. When Titus sacked Jerusalem, forty years later after Jesus spoke these words, he burned the temple down. The temple was scraped clean, and for 600 years during Roman and Byzantine occupation, it was left scraped clean as a standing witness to the end of the nation state of Israel. But the judgment was worse than that, friends. It is said that a million Jews were slaughtered in that judgment. A million Jews were killed when Titus, the son of the emperor, entered into Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that children, old people, mothers and infants, and priests alike were all massacred by the Romans. As a political unit Israel ceased to exist. By comparison, the heartbreaking scenes that we have seen this week from Littleton, Colorado or from Kosovo are child's play. This judgment was horrendous and swift and terrific. And yet, Jesus is telling us that in light of the final judgment, even that judgment pales in comparison. Indifference to the gospel, opposition to the gospel, they garner judgment. Because both of those actions, both of those attitudes are the same thing in disguise. To be indifferent to the gospel, to be opposed to the gospel is to reject the gospel.

And we see both kinds in our culture today. We see open opposition to the gospel in our culture. You know, I just heard this morning, some of you have already heard this, and it's being spread abroad in the various news media, I just heard this morning before I came in to the early service, that the two boys in Colorado, were asking students, are you a Christian? Do you believe in God. There was a girl reading her Bible in the library. They asked her do you believe in God? She said, yes. They shot her. There is open opposition to the gospel in our culture. There's, of course, even more insidious open opposition to the gospel in our culture. If you have read Peggy Noonan's wonderful article in The Wall Street Journal called "The Culture of Death" commenting upon the Littleton tragedy, you will have read her words where she says, "a man called into Christian radio this morning and said a true thing. He said, and I am paraphrasing, ‘those kids were sick and sad and if a teacher had talked to one of them and said, ‘Listen there is a way out. There really is a love out there that will never stop loving you, there is a real God, and I want to be able to talk to you about him,’ if that teacher had intervened in that way, he would have been hauled into court.’" Our culture openly opposes the gospel. Judgment will come. Judgment has come.

But that's not the only thing, of course, there's indifference. The indifference of nominal Christianity in pews all over the land. And J.C. Ryle says, "Open sin may kill its thousands, but indifference and neglect to the gospel kill their tens of thousands." Are we indifferent to the gospel? Are we, ho hum, about the calls of God to receive His invitation to the banquet? You know, the difference the difference between those people in Littleton, the people in Jerusalem at the time of Titus' invasion, and the people in Kosovo? There's so many hundreds, and thousands and millions in that group of innocent people, people who are the victims of some other invasion, some other agenda, some other task, but in the judgment that Jesus is speaking about in this passage, there are no victims. There are only enemies of God and friends of God. And the enemies of God are judged. And the friends of God find their way to the banquet feast.

II. God’s offer of the gospel is free and His inducements to come are great.

Let's look at verses 8-10. Here we see this filled wedding hall, and it's a picture of the call of the gentiles. Matthew from the beginning to end is concerned to show us that the message of salvation, as Paul would put it, is to the Jew first and also to the Greek. That is, that the message of the gospel of the kingdom of heaven is not something that is only for ethnic Israel. It is for the Jews to whom the covenant promises were originally given in the days of Abraham, but it is also for the Gentiles. And here in this picture in verses 8-10, He shows us the calling of the Gentile. But He also reminds us of something very important. And that is this, that God's offer of the gospel is free. And the inducements to our accepting that offer of the gospel are great.

There's more irony in this parable than just the ironies that we've pointed out in the first seven verses. And the very first irony that meets you, you find right here in verse 8. Then he said to his slaves, (this is the king speaking), the wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Let me transpose this back to my governor's illustration. The governor's talking to his wife. Some of his staff have been killed by those who were going to be invited to the wedding. The governor has sent out the rest of the guard to slaughter all those people who had rejected the invitation, and now he's talking to his wife. He says, honey, you know, the first people we sent the invitation out to, they weren't worthy. This is the understatement of the century. Not only were they not worthy. They were murderers. And so again, Jesus uses irony to understate and at the same time draw attention to the wickedness of those who had rejected the invitation. And so, when this king sends his servants out into the highways and byways to gather anybody who happens to be standing there and to draw them in, we sense the justice of it, but we also see what an inducement they have to come to this dinner. These are not people of rank. These are not people of importance. And yet the king is now coming to them and giving them an invitation to come to the wedding feast that he has prepared for his son. And isn't there a hint here of the Father's determination to honor His Son? And isn't that a hint as to why God is so determined in His missionary effort? Isn't there a hint here as to why God is such a determined missionary Himself? He wants that banquet table filled for His Son. He wants the nations streaming into that banquet table. Because to honor His Son, He wants the whole hall filled. Because He loves His Son so much, He wants His Son to be honored by many. And He is determined to fill that hall. You see one of the great motivations of God and the work of missions. He is determined that His Son will be honored by the nations. And when we go out to the corners of the earth, sharing the gospel, we are going out so that we can help be a part, by God's grace and His appointment, of the honor of the Son. For the Father wants the Son to be honored. And He wants the Son to be honored by the nations being converted to Him. And is Jesus not hinting at this great determination of the Father to honor His Son?

And so, they're sent out into the highways and byways, and all manner of people are drawn in. Perhaps, mostly from the underprivileged ranks. And we see here the unrestricted offer of the gospel. The provisions of the glory in both of these things, the unrestricted offer of the gospel and the provision of the Father's glory at that marriage feast, are rooted in his desire to honor the Son. The fact is, the sacrifice of Christ is for all. And so, regardless of race and nationality or sex or social standing. No nation has any special standing before God, Matthew says. But God desires all to come to Christ.

III. Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom.

And then in verses 12-14, we see God's judgment against the false profession of faith. As many are drawn in to this marriage feast, but not all have truly embraced God in the gospel. And so we learn in Jesus' words that not everyone who says, Lord, Lord, is a member of the kingdom. And again, here's another irony in the passage. These new guests, this second wave of guests, would not have had time to go home and change. It was already afternoon by the time they had been invited. They would not have had time to make the walk home and come back to the king's palace. So they wouldn't have had time to change. They wouldn't have had time to clean up or get out of their work clothes. Most of them would not have owned anything that would have been suitable as a wedding garment. And so when Jesus pictures people from all the highways and byways sitting, all but one in their wedding garments, He is implying that those garments have been supplied by the king himself. That was not uncommon in those days for the king himself to supply those wedding garments. And so when you walk in and you see this one man not sitting in wedding garments, it's not because he didn't have time. It's not because he didn't have a set of wedding garments on his own. It's because he has clearly refused the king's offer, or the king's servant's offer, of a wedding garment.

And so, the king walks in to survey the crowd. And here we see yet another irony. He walks up to him, if you'll look at verse 12, and he says, "Friend, how did you come to be here without a wedding garment?" And the man is speechless. And the reason he is speechless is that he has no excuse. If he could have genuinely said, ‘Well, I mean, I didn't have time to go home and change,’ he would have said it. If he said, ‘Well, you know, I'm to poor to own a wedding garment,’ he would have said it. But he was speechless. What is Jesus saying? He had no excuse. He was without excuse. He was stunned into silence. He had nothing to say. But it's so ironic, because the king says, "Friend" and then one of the very next words out of the king's mouth, "bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness." Not normally something you say to a friend. Why? Jesus is showing us that there are some people who like to think of themselves as friends of his who aren't. Let me give you a direct example from Matthew. If you'll turn with me to Matthew 26 verse 50, you'll see Jesus use this term in the same way. Matthew 26 verse 50. We're in the Garden of Gethsemane, and a friend of Jesus' comes to see Him. A friend named Judas. And he comes up to plant a kiss on Jesus' cheek. And the first word out of Jesus' mouth is "Friend, what are you doing?" You see, Jesus knows that there are people who pretend to be His friends who are not. The feast has been spread. The way has been prepared. The invitation has been given. The garment's been provided. Everything's there for them, but they're not His friend, because they won't repent. You see, the one thing that's waiting is repentance. And Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, just as surely as He's saying to you and me today, ‘The feast is spread, but you must repent to eat it. And if you don't you'll be consigned to the same end as this man without the wedding garment in the end.’ May God bless His word. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we can hardly think of a more solemn message. And as ironic and even comic as Jesus' illustrations are, yet there is every bit of earnestness and sobriety and solemnity in everything He says, and our hearts tremble. We don't want to be like that pretended friend. And we don't want to be like those who are indifferent to the invitation. And we don't want to be like those who are opposed to Christ. We want to see Him. We want to embrace Him. We want to trust in Him, and we want to turn from ourselves and from our sin and glorify and enjoy Him forever in the feast that you have prepared for us. We ask it earnestly in Jesus' name. Amen.

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