Sermon for Sunday, October 11th, 2020,
The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
Lessons: Psalm 23; Isaiah 25:1-9; Philippians 4:4-13; St. Matthew 22:1-14
The Text: St. Matthew 22:1-14
The Topic: The Parable of the Marriage Feast
Carol, a career counselor, was meeting with a client, George, who said to her in their first session, “I’ve got to get out of the rubber industry.”
She gave him some homework to do before their next session. He came back the next week without having done a lick of homework. Carol asked, “What will happen if you don’t get out of the rubber industry?”
“My wife will divorce me,” George said.
“Do you want that to happen?” Carol asked.
He couldn’t keep the smile off his face. She knew then that he would never change his job till it gave him what he wanted: a divorce, with his wife taking the initiative and the guilt.
Carol named this behavior “the doctrine of the prior agenda.” “You can’t help people change or find their mission when they have a conflicting prior agenda,” she said. People will not change until they want to.
— Daniel H. Pink, “What Happened to Your Parachute?” Fast Company (September 1999)1
Today’s Gospel Lesson, the Parable of the Marriage Feast, demonstrates how those who have “a conflicting prior agenda” treat God’s kind and gracious invitation to the Wedding Banquet of his Son.
Indeed, our Lord’s saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14) is demonstrated by the Parable of the Marriage Feast. The saying does not refer to an arbitrary choice of the elect by God in such a way that individuals have no role to play in their election. The Parable shows that people so often reject God’s grace and rebel against it, preferring instead their own ideas of happiness on earth.
To understand this Parable more clearly, we might ask the questions, “Who are the many that are called?” and “Who are the few that are chosen?” In answering these questions, we can see that the Parable can be understood on two different levels. Firstly, the “many that are called” are the Jewish nation, while the few that are chosen are the Jews and Gentiles who respond to God’s call and persevere in faith and obedience until they at last receive God’s inheritance laid up for them in heaven. Compared to the vast majority of Jews and Gentiles, Christians who persevere to the end are indeed few.
But there is another level on which this Parable can be read, a level which regards the many that are chosen as the visible Church on earth, only few of whom persevere in faith and grace to inherit God’s Kingdom, since many members of the visible Church in fact have other priorities in this life, things which they regard as far more important in this life, than responding to the invitation to come to the Wedding Banquet of the Son of God. One is reminded of the words of St. Thomas à Kempis, who wrote: “It is vanity to be devoted to the present life only, but to make no provision for the future things beyond the present life.” (Imitatio Christi, Lib I, Cap 1, 4).
THE PARABLE OF THE MARRIAGE FEAST
The Kingdom of God, our Lord Jesus tells us, is like a king who gave a marriage banquet for his son. He sends out servants to invite the guests, but they will not come. A second group of servants is sent out later, to say that everything is ready for the marriage feast. The guests may now come. But the wedding guests treat even this second invitation lightly, and go their ways, whether to farming or to business. The rest of the invited guests mistreat the king’s servants and kill them. The king is angry at this response and sends armies to kill those who murdered his servants and to burn up their city. On one level of the Parable, the burning of the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies in AD 70. At this point, the king concludes that the guests originally invited to the wedding were not worthy, with the result that he commands his servants to go out into the highways and invite as many as they find to the marriage feast. Again, at one level, this corresponds to the gathering in of the Gentiles, through the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world. These come in “both bad and good”, that is, in various levels of sinfulness, but the wedding garments provided by the host, correspond to the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses all penitent believers from their sins.
THE GUEST WITHOUT A WEDDING GARMENT
One guest in that crowded banquet hall is found to have no wedding garment. He is bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness, that is, into hell, “where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). At this point, it is quite clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is concerned to point out the spiritual danger represented by the man without a wedding garment. In a passage in the Book of Revelation about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we read that the Bride of the Lamb, the Bride being the Church, “… was granted to be be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8, NKJV). The one man without a wedding garment represents those who come into the Church but show no faith in Christ and obedience to Him, and are not thus clothed with the righteousness of Christ that comes through faith and repentance. This is what the wedding garment signifies. As a result, such people appear to belong to God’s Kingdom, but, in fact, do not! In this connection, Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote:
There are thousands of hearers of the Gospel who derive from it no benefit whatsoever. They listen to it Sunday after Sunday, and year after year, and do not believe so that their souls are saved. They feel no special need of the Gospel; they see no special beauty in it; they do not perhaps hate it, or oppose it, or scoff at it, but they do not receive it into their hearts. They like other things far better. Their money, their land, their business, or their pleasures, are all far more interesting subjects to them than their souls. It is an awful state of mind to be in, but awfully common. Let us search our own hearts, and take heed that it is not our own.2
It is easy to think that because this Parable of God’s Kingdom speaks of the Wedding Banquet of the Son, and refers to the Messianic Banquet at the close of this age, that it does not matter how we live our lives now. Yet all of our worship in this life is a preparation for the life to come. How we treat the Lord Jesus now, how we treat the Lord’s servants and messengers now, and what we do with the message that they bring, matter greatly.
Even now, as we grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, we grow in our experience of the foretaste of the joys of heaven, for the salvation which we have received and are receiving through the Lord Jesus Christ, means more to the devout Christian than anything in this world. The Wedding Banquet of the Son contains and expresses the unspeakable joys which God has prepared for all who love Him. As we grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and in our faith in Him, we are strengthened to know with all the saints the incomprehensible dimensions of God’s love.
In view of all this, we should see all these things, the Holy Bible, the Prayer Book, our worship services, sermons preached, whenever and wherever we hear them, the testimonies of the saved, the witness of God’s people, the voice of the Holy Spirit, as God’s invitation to the Wedding Banquet of His Son, an invitation to which we must respond with great eagerness in the affirmative. For this time, this day, the Son’s Wedding Day, we must prepare ourselves by prayer, increasing faith and love, growing obedience to God, praise, intercession, evangelism, witness. As the Day draws closer, we must prepare ourselves the more thoroughly, that we may be ready to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ in all his brilliant glory!
1p.535,Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.
2pp. 203-204, J.C. Ryle: Matthew. J.I. Packer & Alister McGrath (ed.): The Crossway Classic Commentaries. 1993.