Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Matthew 22:1-3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
If you start out wrong when you read a parable, you’re going to end in the wrong place. And generally, people start out wrong. They focus on what all the sinful people are doing in the parable, trying to find a moral lesson to follow. But when Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven, the focus of the parable is on the King of heaven. Jesus is not seeking to tell you what to do but proclaiming what great things God has done for you. Therefore, as we look at today’s parable, we don’t focus on the wedding guests, even though we’ll get to them. No, this parable is about the King and His invitation to His Son’s wedding feast.
On the surface, it’s a simple story. The king has arranged a marriage for his son, and he is sparing no expense. He sends out the invitations to those whose company he desires—and who is going to say no? This is the king! At worse, you accept his invitation because you want to avoid offending the king. At best, this is going to be the celebration of the year. But inexplicably, the guests decline.
Ever the gracious host, the king sends out servants to invite them personally. “All the work has been done, and all things are ready! It’s all free for you! Come to the wedding feast of my son!” Once again, who would say no? You’d have to be a fool, or hostile to the king to skip this invitation. Yet some beg off, saying things like they must keep working on the farm or at the business. It’s irrational, it’s ridiculous, but it seems some people would prefer to muck out the cattle stalls or taking inventory than to spend a day feasting with the king.
And this is where the story takes an ugly twist: rather than merely say no to the king’s servants, some seize them, treat them shamefully, and kill them. The king invites them to a party in goodwill, and they RSVP with the blood of his servants. Such treachery must be dealt with; so it should come as no surprise that the king sends out his army and destroys those who killed the messengers of good news, those subjects who want nothing to do with him.
But what now? The plans are already set. The marriage has been arranged and declared, and the king will not go back on his word. Even though the guest list proved hostile, he will still have guests at his son’s wedding. He says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.”
The servants go out and find whoever they can. It is, no doubt, a sketchy crew—not the sort of people who you’d normally find around the king. They often have lower incomes and checkered pasts. They’re held back by one problem or another—a lot like you and me! Nevertheless, the servants extend the king’s invitation, and the wedding hall is packed with guests.
They would be an unimpressive lot, maybe even laughable to the king’s enemies, but the king takes care of everything. Why, the king even gives each guest a wedding garment to wear. This is his son’s wedding, and he spares no expense. Whoever receives his invitation and comes to the wedding receives clothing, lodging, food, and drink by the king’s doing. Once they’re in the feast, they’ll all look like the king’s own children, because the king provides everything.
And yet, when the king surveys the wedding hall, there is one man who isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Please note, this isn’t because he couldn’t afford a new suit; it was the custom of Israelite weddings to provide all the guests with wedding garments. The king has provided clothing for all. Rather, the guest’s actions, if not his words, say, “I will go to the king’s hall, but only on my terms.”
His appearance is a sign of disrespect to spite the king, and the king does not take the offense lightly. “Friend,” he says, “how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And when the man has no response, the king commands his servants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It is an honor to be in the presence of the king, and certain decorum is required. It is a great pity that the man is unprepared, since the king sought to give him everything he needed to be ready. But if he does not desire to be the king’s guest on the king’s terms, then he has no place at the wedding feast.
It seems odd, but it will be the king who will come under attack when this account is heard. He will be criticized for destroying the first set of guests, even though they killed his servants who came with good news. The headlines will be all about how he throws out the one guest into darkness just for failing to follow the dress code. People will ask, “How could a loving king cast out anyone?”
In fact, while many notice such aspects of the parable, they’ll miss the amazing, wonderful point: the wedding hall is packed full of undeserving people who had no idea they would be guests of the king. If you’re one of the originally invited guests who scoffed at the king’s generosity, then you’re not going to like this story. But if you started out as a commoner on the byways, this parable has a delightful ending. When the day began, you were a nobody out on the streets. Now, the king has given you all good things. And as long as this feast lasts, you are the king’s people, members of his household.
And here’s some more good news: the feast is going to last forever. Remember, this parable is about the kingdom of heaven. In Revelation 19, heaven is called the “marriage of the Lamb” (v. 7): it’s a wedding feast! And the Lord goes on to say, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).
Here is your reason to rejoice, today and always: The Lord calls you to that marriage supper. He has done all that is necessary to prepare it. Rather than kill the fat cattle, He has sacrificed His own Son: The Son must die for the bride to be delivered. He has also raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead: the wedding will take place. The marriage feast will happen.
Throughout the centuries, our Lord has called out His invitation. To Israel in the Old Testament, He sent prophet after prophet. The words might have been different, but the invitation was always the same: “Israel, I have promised to send a Savior, and I will keep My promise. Because He will die for you, heaven is yours. Therefore, turn from your false gods and idols that cannot raise you from the dead. Forsake those sins that keep you from Me. Do not try to dress yourself with your own works of righteousness. The wedding feast is coming, and it is all for you!”
You know what happened. Time and time again, the people refused the invitation. When the Lord continued to send prophets to call them to the wedding feast, they began to beat them, persecute them, scorn them…yes, even kill them. Eventually, the Lord had enough. He allowed first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, to conquer and captivate Israel. If people did not want His help and protection, He would not force them to be safe. Because they rejected Him and killed His messengers, they and their cities were destroyed.
The Lord still faithfully sends out His messengers today: not just to Israel, but to all nations. Around the world, pastors publicly preach, in the stead and by the command of Jesus, the Good News that all are invited to the feast of heaven for Jesus’ sake. All around the world, Christians share the Gospel as they have opportunity in their daily vocations. All around the world, the Holy Spirit works by that Word—calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping in the faith. People hear and believe by the Spirit’s work, and so they are numbered among the wedding guests for eternity.
But sadly, many also do not believe. In fact, many seek to persecute the Church for the message of Jesus. Insulated and protected as we are, it is difficult to believe that Christians suffer, and suffer terribly, for proclaiming the Gospel. Houses are lost, children are kidnapped, and Christians are killed for the faith. Even today, the king’s messengers die for inviting people to the feast.
In America, we are still relatively safe, perhaps suffering a snub in the neighborhood or the loss of a job for our faith. But should you witness such trouble or be its victim, beware: the devil will use it to turn the screws. He will seek to convince you to abandon Christ, lest you suffer hardship for the faith. When you are tempted to moderate your faith to avoid trouble in this world, confess the sin and be forgiven. For the sake of Christ, the eternal feast is yours.
As you go about your life, beware of one more temptation—it is the temptation of the guest without wedding clothes. When the Lord invites you to the wedding, He gives you all good things. By His Word, He gives you the faith to believe and thus He transforms you into His own. By Holy Baptism, He clothes you with Christ and His righteousness (Galatians 3:27); by water and the Word, you are prepared and robed for the wedding. By His Holy Supper, He keeps you fed and nourished until the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven; and indeed, each Holy Communion is but a foretaste of the feast to come. Jesus is present here though unseen, His body and blood in bread and wine. In heaven, we will stand in the glorious presence of the risen Savior, and the feast will go on forever.
Therefore, do not sin by seeking to wear your own clothes to the wedding. Old Adam will always tempt you to believe that heaven is yours because you have done enough good, or haven’t done enough bad to be kept out, or you’ve been doing better than others and so God should cut you a break. No matter how you slice it, such temptations say that you go to the wedding by your own efforts. They say that your righteous works are proper attire to wear in the presence of God.
But the Word of the Lord reminds us: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The one who seeks entry into the eternal feast by his own efforts seeks to wear filthy rags of his own works righteousness to the wedding. In doing so, he snubs the Savior who died to clothe him in Christ’s righteousness; and he will be cast out into hell.
That is why you rejoice daily to confess your sins and rid yourself of filthy rags; and that is why you daily rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ, who clothes you with His righteousness for the wedding day. For this is the Good News: you have a place at the marriage feast of the Lamb, and the feast will last forever.
Here’s more Good News: you’re not just a guest. You’re a member of the Church, the bride. St. Paul writes, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
It would be more than a blessing to simply be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, but the Lord has bigger plans for you. You are not a wedding guest, but God loves you so much that you are the bride of His Son, and He has cleansed and prepared you, made you pure and holy by Christ’s own holy, precious blood, and His bitter suffering and death.
You’re not just invited to an everlasting marriage feast. You’re invited to your own wedding, where you are united with Your Savior forever. In Christ, the banquet feast of heaven is yours, for He has made it so. In Christ, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.