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“The Wedding Banquet,” Matthew 22:1-14, October 9, 2011
 

Wedding dress? Check.

Flowers? Check.

Cake? Check.

Preacher, music and photographer? Check, check, and check.

Documentary film crew, ready to capture every second of your special day, edit it down to 22 minutes, and air it on basic cable? Check.

That's right. Weddings are now the hottest setting for entertainment on television; be it the buying of the dress, the making of the cake, or any number of variations on the wedding theme.

American television is obsessed with weddings. These are a few of the wedding-themed reality shows on TV right now.  There's Say Yes to the Dress which features brides-to-be trying on expensive gowns and Cake Boss on The Learning Channel lets you admire the antics of an eccentric Italian family as they crank out extravagant wedding cakes.

Or, you can peek in on the nuptials of the super-wealthy on WE's Platinum Weddings and then flip over to CMT for something slightly less formal with My Big Redneck Wedding.

Yes, American culture seems obsessed with all things "wedding" and basic cable is cashing in.

Jesus was fond of weddings, too. At least, it seems that way. After all, he did help cater one in Cana by providing some last minute wine.  Jesus employed wedding imagery throughout his teaching and preaching to illustrate important truths about life in God's kingdom.

In Matthew 22, Jesus gives us a wedding parable in which the people involved have the opposite attitude toward weddings. If we are wedding-obsessed -- then those in Jesus’  parable are wedding-allergic.

Jesus tells us that a wealthy king has invited those special to him to a lavish feast to celebrate the marriage of his son. Only, rather than jump at the chance to attend a royal wedding, everyone on the guest list RSVP'd with a big, fat "no."

The king reiterated its extravagance: 4"He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, 'Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!'" (The Message)

In other words, "This event is going to be monumental! You don't want to miss it."

5-6"They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them.

Enraged at such apathy and violence, the disrespected king revokes their invitations and sends out a call for the rest of the world to attend the crown prince’s celebration instead. With the wedding hall now full, the groom and father finally receive the respect they deserve. Now that would make for some entertaining television.

Note: This is a post-Palm Sunday discussion. It’s probably Wednesday. In two days, Jesus will be dead. And he knows it.

In the previous chapter we had the Jesus’ triumphant entry, followed by temple cleansing and the fig tree episode. Thereafter, Jesus’ authority is questioned, and then Jesus tells the two different tenant parables. He is trying to jar his listeners into changing their minds about Him and accepting his kingdom offer.

The wedding banquet is a metaphor for salvation, and a reference to the coming kingdom. People often don’t have a logical excuse for refusing God’s gracious offer. Some are openly hostile while others are passively apathetic.

But notice that God’s invitation extends to all, even the “good and the bad.” Even the bad are given wedding garments to wear before entering the hall and therefore, their badness is covered, as it were, by robes of righteousness.

One person, however, thought his own garments were good enough. The king is enraged at this arrogance and insulted by it and throws him out, demonstrating that indifference, hostility or arrogant self-confidence are equally damning in the eyes of God than all other forms of sin.
 

For most of Jesus' audience, and those of us who paid attention in Sunday school, the meaning of the parable is painfully obvious. A wedding feast was a popular way of describing the coming consummation of God's kingdom; that day in the future when the long-awaited Messiah -- the bridegroom -- would receive the honor rightfully due him and enjoy an extravagant feast of blessing and joy.

Yet, rather than being honored and filled with excitement for that day, rather than "save the date" and mark their calendars, God's chosen people, like the guests in the story, simply couldn't care less.

The bridegroom had appeared in the person of Jesus and rather than embrace him in anticipation of the party, God's people would eventually throw him on a cross. As a result, the feast, the kingdom, the new age of heaven on Earth, and the blessing from the bridegroom would be opened to everyone else.

And that's where we come in. We, beginning with the first 12 disciples, are the "other ones," the "found ones," the "good and bad" ones Jesus talks about. The invitation to the wedding now belongs to them, to us.

The invitation has come to you and me in the form of the gospel, preached to us by other invitees and applied to us in baptism. Our sins are forgiven. Our status is secure. Our RSVP for the resurrection is in the mail. We will be a guest of the groom at the great feast, on the last day.

And God's goal for us, as special guests, is to learn from those who were invited to the wedding but rejected the offer. God would love for some of that interest and excitement we seem to have for crazy cakes and pricey dresses today to be focused on what is in store for us. We should make the most of this special invitation.

How to make the most of your invitation

There are three aspects of making the most of God's kingdom invitation.  First – and this may sound painfully simple – but enjoy the fact that you've been chosen.  A second way in which we make the most of this kingdom invitation is by inviting others to join us at the feast. Third, we make the most out of our invitation to the wedding of all weddings by letting God be the bouncer at the door. (I’ll explain that in a moment.)

First – and this may sound painfully simple – but enjoy the fact that you've been chosen. If the promises of God are true and the gifts we enjoy now -- like forgiveness of every sin, a mission-for our lives, and the power of the Holy Spirit, are just a glimpse, a snippet of what we will enjoy when the real party arrives, then we should be the happiest people on the planet.

Yet far too often, followers of Jesus Christ seem to have no joy, as though they’d been overlooked (not invited). We get mad about the same things. We're distracted by the same things. We gripe, complain and worry about the same things.

We live like the Bridezillas we love to hate on reality television: bent out of shape about small things and letting it overshadow the big thing. You know that, regardless of what happens, you're still invited to the banquet. So lighten up.

According to one website, the most expensive wedding ever produced took place in India in 2004. The wedding of Vanisha Mittal and Amit Bhatia is said to have cost some 60 million. Invitations arrived in silver boxes containing round-trip airfare and accommodations at a five-star Paris hotel.

When invited to something so lavish, there's something in most of us that feels honored and excited, even joyful that we get to take part. The same should be true as we considered this invitation from God. We should feel excited to be involved.

We need to get back in touch with the sense of awe we once had in knowing we are average people picked for an extravagant affair.

Maybe that's what David meant when he wrote in Psalm 51: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (v. 12).

A second way in which we make the most of this kingdom invitation is by inviting others to join us at the feast. Jesus' parable could not have been clearer. No matter who you are or where he can find you, God's desire is to see the guest hall packed to the gills on the last day with people enjoying the party that's been arranged for the Son. Jesus says that the king's servants "went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests" (Matt. 22:10).

A typical wedding invitation allows for what's called a "plus 1" that is, the invited and just one guest. But God's invitation is different. It's not you "plus 1." It's you "plus everybody."

Earlier this year, the entire world was invited to watch and help celebrate the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. Hundreds of millions tuned in. God is planning a party for his Son that is a thousand times bigger and a million times less boring. So who have you invited to the party? Who have you introduced to the kingdom?

Start at home. Do your children worship with you? Will your spouse be sitting next to you? If not, why? When was the last time you asked someone to join you at church and hear the gospel? Let's get going. This will be, after all, a "can't-miss" celebration!  Do you believe that?

 Royal weddings revisited:

The wedding Jesus describes in Matthew 22 is no ordinary celebration. It's a royal wedding. As we well know from the marriage of Charles and Diana in 1981, and from the more recent nuptials of William and Kate, a royal wedding sets the style standard for every wedding to come.

Invitations to such a ceremony are among the most sought-after pieces of paper of all time. They are "to die for." The strange thing about the royal wedding in Matthew 22 is that, as the hour of the ceremony draws near, the king looks out on a roomful of empty seats, and despairs.

This scenario Jesus sets up is so unlikely, it surely made his listeners smile. Just picture it: a monarch who plans a magnificent wedding for the prince, and nobody comes! Can you imagine the Queen and Prince Philip standing in Westminster Abbey, looking around at wide-open spaces and asking, "Hey! Where'd everybody go?"

That's exactly what happens in the "Parable of the Wedding Banquet." All those Lords and Ladies who received the elegant, engraved invitations "made light of it and went away." Inconceivable! This sort of behavior is simply not an option at a royal wedding. A royal wedding's a command performance. Shun the invitation at your peril.

The king in Jesus' parable is outraged. He does what kings do when they get angry. He calls out the army to kill his ungrateful subjects and burn their homes.

An overreaction on the king's part? Not really. A mass boycott of the crown prince's nuptials can mean but one thing: a coup is at hand. This action was akin to treason. These invitees had no regard for king or son, no loyalty, no proper respect. The enraged king dispatches his army to save his kingdom.

Last, we make the most out of our invite to the wedding of all weddings by letting God be the bouncer at the door. We tend to spend too much time in the church worrying about who's in and who's out. There's a lot of buzz about this. Rob Bell is wondering whether hell exists. Others are saying that as a God of love, no one will be excluded. Still others say there are conditions one has to meet before getting into the ballroom. Christians have been jabbering about this wedding feast for more than 2,000 years.

And we even make the whole debate more personal. We bicker over who worships the right way, who dresses appropriately, whose theology is tightest and whose life is cleanest.

The end result is that such discussions end up either robbing us of the simple joy of being invited -- weighing us down with largely unimportant concerns -- or stopping us in our tracks from asking anyone else to join us.

Who is invited and who's not is a God thing. If you recall, at the end of the parable, the king enters the party and expels one guest for not having the proper attire. This person's disregard for the king's dress code showed a lack of honor and respect for the party and love for the king.

Many commentators believe it to be an allusion to the righteousness afforded by faith and gifted by God that allows us to enter and enjoy God's kingdom. That's likely.

But the larger point is that only the king himself did the bouncing. He determined who was in and out. God will determine who's wearing the righteousness of Christ.

Our task is mostly to enjoy and invite. Others have put it like this: Found people find people. Invited people invite people. God sorts out the rest. It's not our job to decide who's in and who's out.

Question One in The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions says this:

Q.1. What is the chief end of man?

A.1. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet explains the nature of God’s freely given, mercy-driven, and grace-based salvation. God likes weddings, and a big one's planned for a date yet to be announced. And we're invited.

What would happen if the church became as excited about the party that awaits us as we do the one-day affairs we watch on TV and get invited to in the spring?

We'd be grateful guests. We'd be inviting others. We'd stay out of the unfruitful arguments and unnecessary details. We'd let God throw the party, and we'd simply look forward to it. After all, it's going to be “out of this world!” Amen.
 

 

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