As I said last week, at the beginning of Matthew 21 we have the story of how the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey and the crowds welcomed him as the Son of David and their king. But he was a king who had come, not to lead an army into battle against the Romans. No, he was a king who had come to suffer and die for his people on the cross to free us from our sin and misery and to give us eternal life in the presence of God.
And after he entered Jerusalem, he went to the temple and cleansed God’s house of prayer from those who had turned it into a den of robbers. He also healed the blind and the lame. And the little children in the temple praised God because of him. But the chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant because of the things he was doing and because of the reaction of the children. And in this way they demonstrated that they were Christ’s enemies, because instead of praising God for him, they were angry with him.
And then we had the story of the cursing of the fig-tree; and then there was the parable of the two sons; and then there the parable of the wicked tenants; and today we have the parable of the wedding banquet. And all four of these passages are connected because all four of them relate, in the first instance, to the people of Israel.
When the Lord went to the leafy fig-tree, he expected to find fruit on it, because leaves normally indicate fruit. But despite the leaves, there was no fruit on this tree. In a similar way, the Lord went to the people of Israel, who had been blessed by God in so many ways. And he expected to find fruit in their lives: good deeds, done in obedience to God’s commands. But instead of discovering fruit, he discovered that they were living disobedient lives.
And so, they were like the second son in the parable of the two sons. The second son in the parable of the two sons said he would do what his father wanted, but he did not do what his father wanted. And the chief priests and the teachers of the law and many others in Israel at that time were like the second son in that they claimed to be obedient, but really they were living sinful and rebellious lives. And the prostitutes and tax-collectors — those who were regarded as the worst kind of sinners — were like the first son in the parable, because the first son at first refused to do what his father wanted, but later he repented. And the prostitutes and tax-collectors and others like them were at first disobedient to God. But when they heard the preaching of John the Baptist, or when they heard the preaching of the Lord, they turned from their sin in repentance and they returned to God.
And then there was the parable of the wicked tenants. When the landowner sent his servants to collect his share of the harvest, the wicked tenants beat one and killed another and stoned a third. When the landowner sent more servants, the wicked tenants did the same to them. Finally the landowner sent his son. He thought: ‘Surely they will respect my son?’ But the wicked tenants killed his son.
And that parable summarises the whole of the history of Israel and how the people were disobedient and they turned away from the true God to worship false gods. God sent his prophets to call on them to return to the Lord, but the people would not listen and they even killed some of the prophets. And so, the Lord sent his Only-Begotten Son. Surely they will respect God’s Only-Begotten Son? But no, they were getting ready to kill the Son. And at the end of the parable, the Lord warned how God would take his kingdom away from them and give it to others. He was referring to how God would take the kingdom away from all those in Israel — like the chief priests and teachers of the law — who rejected him; and he would give it to others who will produce its fruit. In other words, he’ll give his kingdom to the church which is made up of believers from every nation in the world. It’s made up of all those who, instead of rejecting the Son, believe in him and trust in him for salvation. And they will produce the fruit God desires, because they will live obedient lives and lives which display the fruit of the Spirit.
Those three passages are related in the first instance to the people of Israel. But what he says to them applies to people in every generation, because in every generation there are those who are like the fruitless fig-tree. And though God has blessed them and you’d expect them to be obedient to him, nevertheless they’re not producing the fruit he desires. And there are people who are like the second son in the parable of the two sons and who claim to be God’s obedient children, but really they’re not prepared to give up their sins. And there are those who are like the wicked tenants, because instead of loving and trusting the Saviour, they refuse to bow down to him. But what God wants is for us to trust in his Son and to produce the fruit he desires which is an obedient life and a life which is full of the fruit of his Spirit.
And so today we come to the parable of the wedding banquet which is again about Israel in the first instance, because God invited the people of Israel into his kingdom. But they refused to enter it. And so, he has invited others into his kingdom: men and women and boys and girls from around the world. And yet, the last part of the parable makes clear that we can only come into the kingdom on God’s terms.
Verses 1 to 3
And so, the Lord began to tell them another parable to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. And so, the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is a like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. And therefore he sent his servants to those who had been invited to tell them to come.
The commentators tell us that this invitation was probably the second invitation which the king sent. Just as people today sometimes send out a ‘save the date’ notice before they send out an official invitation, so the king has already sent out a ‘save the date’ notice to his invited guests. In other words, the invited guests know the wedding is taking place and that they’ve been invited. In fact, it’s likely that they have already responded and said that they would come.
And, of course, since this is an invitation from the king, it’s both an honour and an obligation. What an honour to be invited to the wedding of the king’s son when all the most important people of the nation will be there. And no doubt the guests will have a great time, eating the best food and drinking the finest wine. It was an honour to be invited. But it was also an obligation, because when the king invites you, you don’t really have a choice, do you? The king’s invitation is really a summons. Your attendance is not only requested, but it’s also required.
In any case, the king has already sent out an initial ‘save the date’ invitation; and now, when the day of the wedding banquet has arrived, he has sent his servants out again to let his invited guests know that the time has come. Everything is ready. So, come!
But they refused to come. That’s what we read at the end of verse 3. At this stage we don’t know why they refused to come, but their refusal is very unusual, because as I’ve already said an invitation from the king is both an honour and an obligation. And yet, they refused to come.
Verses 4 to 7
The king, though, was both patient and persistent. Instead of sending soldiers to punish them immediately, or instead of giving up on them, he sent more servants to issue yet another invitation to them. So, this is really the third invitation to them. And he makes clear that everything is ready.
Have you ever gone to pick up some friends who say they’re all ready to go. But when you arrive, you discover they’re not really ready and you have to wait five or ten or fifteen minutes or more before they’re really ready to go. And so, the next time you have to pick them up, you know that there’s no hurry, because they’re not likely to be ready in time. Well, the king wants his invited guests to know that he is actually ready for them and there’s no need to wait. The dinner has been prepared. The ox and fatten cattle have been slaughtered. It’s out on the table and getting cold. So, come and get it, because everything is ready.
And by mentioning the ox and fattened cattle, he’s making clear the treat that is in store for them. This is what’s waiting for you. Roast ox. The best beef. Come on. It will be great. Come to the wedding banquet!
But, according to verse 5, they paid no attention. And the Lord gives us a couple of examples of what they did instead. One went off to his field; and another went off to his business. And the point is that they didn’t really have anything important to do. They weren’t having to deal with some emergency. One just wanted to check his field, which he could do any time; and they other went to check his business, which he could do any time. They can’t be bothered to come to the king’s banquet.
And then there were others and their reaction was more extreme. They seized the king’s servants and ill-treated them before killing them. They ganged together and murdered the king’s men.
When the king found out what they had done, he was enraged. And so, he sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
It might be worth our while pausing at this point just to think about the meaning of this parable. Since it’s a parable, we know that the Lord is not really talking about a king and a wedding banquet for his son. He’s talking about the kingdom of God. And therefore the king in the parable represents God the Father. And the son in the parable represents the Lord Jesus, who is God’s Only-Begotten Son. And the invitation to come to the banquet is the message to repent and believe the good news. In Old Testament times, God sent his prophets to the people to call on them to repent and to return to God who was willing to pardon them and to remember their sins no more. At the opening of the New Testament era, John the Baptist was sent by God to call the people to repent and to believe in the coming Saviour. And then the Lord Jesus himself arrived and his message was: ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ God issued his invitation to the Israelites again and again and again: Come. Turn from your sins. Believe in the Saviour. Enter my kingdom.
And just as the king in the parable made clear to his guests the treat that was waiting for them, so God made clear through the Old Testament prophets the treat that was awaiting his people, because he spoke to them of the forgiveness of sins; and of the new heavens and earth; and how he would make everything new; and they would live in peace and safety in the presence of God. He was inviting them to a feast! So, come!
But many of people of Israel paid no attention to the Old Testament prophets. And though many listened to John, many others — including the chief priests and teachers of the law — refused to listen to his message. And many who heard the Lord Jesus refused to believe in him, even though they saw his miracles which made clear that he had come from God. And it wouldn’t be long before the crowds in Jerusalem began to call on Pilate to crucify the Lord Jesus.
And so, the first part of the parable is about how God sent preachers and prophets to call on the people of Israel to repent and to believe the good news. But they refused to repent and believe. And when the Lord says in verse 7 that the king sent his army to destroy those murderers and to burn their city, it’s possible that he’s referring to the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in AD70 when the Romans besieged the city before setting fire to the temple and to the city itself so that it was destroyed.
Verses 8 to 10
But let’s go on with the parable, because in verses 8 and 9 the Lord tells us that the king commanded his servants to go to the street corners and invite into the banquet anyone you find. The king is determined that the seats will be filled and that there will be guests to celebrate his son’s wedding. So, invite all and sundry: everyone and anyone.
And the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad. And in the end, the wedding hall was filled with guests.
And so, if the guests who refused the invitation stand for the people of Israel who refused to listen to the message of the kingdom to repent and believe, who are these people who were invited afterwards?
Well, he’s referring now to what happened after the Lord’s death and resurrection when the apostles were commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. Since the Israelites refused to respond to the gospel, God has now sent his preachers into all the world to preach to all and sundry, everyone and anyone. The invitation has gone out into all the world and everyone is commanded to repent and believe.
And the invitation is both an honour and an obligation. It’s an honour to be invited to come into God’s kingdom and to receive from Christ what we cannot earn and do not deserve, which is eternal life in the new heavens and earth. It’s an honour and a delight to be treated so kindly by God. But it’s also an obligation, because the one who calls us is God our Creator, who has given us life and breath and everything other good thing we enjoy. And when he calls, we are duty-bound to respond.
And when the Lord refers to good and bad in verse 10, he might be referring to those who were considered good and bad by the religious authorities at that time. And so, the invitation is extended to prostitutes and tax-collectors and all those who are regarded as the worst kind of sinners. They are invited to come through the preaching of the gospel, as are those who live good and upright and moral lives. The invitation is made to all, because the gospel is for all and everyone is commanded to repent and believe in the Saviour.
Verses 11 to 13
And the parable might have ended there, but the Lord adds this last detail to make sure everyone realises that we can only enter God’s kingdom on his terms.
According to verse 11, the king came to see his guests. We can imagine him, walking around, among the people, saying hello and chatting to this person and that person and making sure everyone has what they need. But then he noticed one man who was not wearing wedding clothes. People were expected in those days — as they are in our day — to dress up for a wedding. They weren’t expected to buy a whole new outfit, but they were expected to wear clean clothes and not the clothes you wore when you were working in the fields. And some of the commentators think that it was customary in those days for the king to provide suitable clothes for his guests. And so, if you didn’t have anything suitable, there was no need to worry or to stay away, because the king would supply his guests with the right clothes to wear.
And so, when the king found this man who was not wearing the right clothes, we’re not to think that this is some poor man who couldn’t afford a nice suit. No, this was a man who was presumably offered the right clothes to wear, but for some reason he refused to wear them. He was offered the right clothes, but he had said: ‘I will not wear them.’
But you can only enter the king’s banquet on his terms. And so, because this man was not wearing the right clothes, he was tied hand and foot and thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And it’s as if the Lord had forgotten all about the parable now and he’s thinking of the eternal punishment of all those who do not enter his kingdom on God’s terms.
What are God’s terms? Some of the commentators think the wedding clothes stand for repentance. In order to be accepted by God, we must repent. Others think the wedding clothes stand for Christ’s righteousness. In order to be accepted by God, we need to be covered in Christ’s righteousness. In other words, our sins must be covered by his perfect obedience. But then others think the wedding clothes stand for good deeds, which come from a true faith in Christ. This interpretation recalls Revelation 19 where we read about the wedding supper of the Lamb and how the church, the bride of Christ, has made herself ready by receiving fine linen to wear. And in Revelation 19 John goes on to explain that the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.
However perhaps the best interpretation of the wedding clothes comes from Isaiah 61:10 where the prophet refers to ‘garments of salvation’. And the idea of garments of salvation includes all of the above, because the kingdom belongs to all those who have been saved from the condemnation we deserve. And we are saved by turning from our sins in repentance and by trusting in the only Saviour of the world, whose perfect obedience covers us and who enables us to live a new and obedient life, filled with good deeds.
And so, the Lord is depicting those who have heard the gospel message. They’ve heard the call of the gospel to repent and to believe. And he’s offered them the right clothes to wear, because he’s offered them salvation through faith in his Son which then gives rise to a life of good deeds. But though they have heard the call of the gospel, they have refused to believe in God’s Son.
And in the end, in the end, if they continue in their unbelief, they will be bound up and thrown into the darkness of hell to be punished forever for all the ways they have disobeyed the Lord their God.
And the Lord ends the parable by saying that many are invited, but few are chosen. The contrast between ‘many’ and ‘few’ is really a contrast between ‘all’ and ‘not all’ or ‘all’ and ‘some’. So, the gospel message is proclaimed to ‘all’. ‘All’ are invited to come and to put their faith in Christ for salvation. ‘All’ are invited. But ‘not all’ respond to the invitation and ‘not all’ put on the garment of salvation which is necessary for eternal life in the presence of God. ‘Not all’ respond, but only those who have been chosen by God.
And that’s a reminder to us that our salvation is by grace. It’s due to God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
None of us deserves a place in God’s kingdom, because all of us inherited Adam’s guilt; and we are born with a fallen nature so that we sin against God continually. All of us — by nature — are wearing the wrong clothes. And therefore we deserve to be condemned and tied hand and foot and thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And because of our fallen, corrupted nature, we are not able — by ourselves — to respond to the call of the gospel. By ourselves, we are like deaf men who cannot hear; and we are like the blind who cannot see. By ourselves, we are unable to respond to the gospel. By ourselves, we are unwilling to respond to the gospel. We are completely dis-inclined to respond to God’s invitation in the gospel. In fact, left to our own devices, we would find the call of the gospel to be offensive to us and to our fallen human pride, because in our human pride we would only want to come to God on our terms and not on God’s terms. We would be like the man in the parable who refused to wear the right clothes, even when they were freely offered to him.
And so, we should give thanks to God for his kindness to us, because not only did he send us preachers to tell us the good news and to invite us to come, but he also sent his Spirit into our hearts to make us able and willing to respond to the gospel invitation and to believe in the Saviour for eternal life. And having enabled us to respond to the gospel invitation, he clothes us in garments of salvation.
And the God who graciously saves us invites us to come to his table on Sunday and to eat the bread which speak to us of Christ’s body; and to drink the cup which speaks to us of his blood; and to take part in the Lord’s Supper which is a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb which his bride, the church, will enjoy in the new heavens and earth. And while we wait for that day to come, when we sit down to enjoy the wedding supper of the Lamb, he commands us: to produce the fruit he desires, which is a life of good deeds, done in obedience to his commands; and to display the fruit of his Spirit in our lives. And so, when people look at us and see how we love God and our neighbour, they will see that we belong to Christ and that we are members of his kingdom.