Many are invited to the party; few bother to show up. Many are died for; few actually trust that fact. Many have a place at the heavenly banquet; few take their seat at the table. We already have a sense of that: Many are on the church’s roles; few bother to show up on any given Sunday. The mystery of faith and unbelief, inclusion and exclusion. Welcome to the parable of the wedding feast.
“Jesus spoke to them again in parables.” “They” are once again the religious leaders, who were plotting to have Him arrested and killed. Jesus is on His way to Calvary to die, and He delivers a party parable. It’s a great image of heaven, lifted right off of Isaiah’s messianic mountain where the Lord is the chef and sommelier. A feast of marbled meats and vintage wines. It doesn’t get better than that. Banish the calorie counters and the tea totalers and all the religions of dieting. The death shroud is lifted, swallowed up in life and resurrection joy. Who cares about cholesterol when your bodies are raised to eternal life? And who can help but raise a toast of vintage wine that gladdens the hearts of men when death is swallowed up in life?
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” This is back before the time when brides and their mothers took over the wedding business. Weddings were man’s work back then. You’ll notice that the BBQ was the main event. Oxen and fattened cattle and plenty of wine. They’ve got their priorities straight. The servants go out into the city with the word to the invited: The feast is ready. Come to my son’s wedding banquet.”
But, strangely, mysteriously, the invited refuse a free meal at the king’s table! A wedding party, and you don’t even have to bring a present, just be present! Amazingly foolish!
Again, the King sends out more of his servants, preaching the menu. Maybe they’ll come when they hear about the food and drink. Make ‘em hungry. Roasted meats and fine wines. It’s all there waiting for you. But again, the invitation is ignored. They go on with their lives as though there was no wedding, no feast, no son, no king. Some went to work in the field; some went to tend their business. Some played soccer, some slept in, some read the newspaper over coffee, changed their light bulbs, watched the playoffs on TV. We know all the excuses. We hear them all the time. We even use them ourselves, when the king’s feast doesn’t quite fit our schedules.
Then things get ugly. The invited guests seize the king’s servants and beat them up; some are killed. You can’t be neutral when it comes to the king’s feast. Sooner or later you will turn against the king and his servants. There is no polite and neutral “no” to Jesus’ salvation. Refuse Him and you must silence Him and His servants – by the courts, and even by force. A wedding turns into war. Grace becomes wrath. The king who started out in a party mood turns in anger against the murderers and their city. There’s hell to pay. But don’t blame the king; he just wanted a party.
Listen. The only way to get on the God’s bad side is to refuse his goodness. These were invited folks, the A-list. They had a place at the wedding feast. There was roasted lamb and sides of beef and vintage Cabernet ready all waiting for them. But they said a foolish, unbelieving, hard-hearted “no” to the king’s goodness. More than that, they beat and killed his servants. Big mistake. Refuse the king’s mercy, mistreat his servants, reject His gifts, and you risk His wrath. You wouldn’t want to do that, would you? Faith never refuses the gifts.
The A-list has proven itself unworthy by its refusal. Jesus would soon lament over religious Jerusalem, “How l longed to gather you under my wing, O Jerusalem, as a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” If we’re left outside in outer darkness, we have only ourselves to blame. Refusal of our acceptance is what excludes. Or to put it bluntly, hell is in view of your own salvation. The only sin that isn’t forgiven is the refusal to be forgiven.
Out into the streets and alleyways the servants go again, this time inviting anyone and everyone they could find. Tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of every stripe. The least, the lost, the losers, the dead of this world. Those who had never been invited to anything in their lives. Those who would never consider themselves worthy to sit at the king’s table. The good and the bad. Isn’t that remarkable? The good and the bad both are welcome. There’s hope for all of us! And please notice: The goodness of the good doesn’t get them included, any more than the badness of the bad get them excluded. It’s all a gift, by grace, for the Son’s sake.
Why don’t we get that? Why doesn’t the church seem to understand that all the King wants is for his hall to be filled with hungry and thirsty guests? Why are we so preoccupied with making the bad good and keeping the good from going bad? It’s because we can’t resist biting into the notion that good and evil is the way to handle things. It’s our legacy from Adam. We’re religion junkies. We’d rather snack on spiritual junk food than dine in the king’s banquet hall. We’d rather belly up to the bar of bogus spirituality than be fed the rich food and strong drink of salvation in Jesus. Be good and you’re in; be bad and you’re out. That’s our moral calculus, and we think God is the same sort of bookkeeper.
Not so with the king of the party parable. He welcomes the good and the bad. Don’t have a ride? He’ll send a limo to pick you up. Don’t have the right clothes to wear? He’s handing out Armani suits and Dior evening gowns. He wants a well-dressed crowd on his dance floor. It’s all his grace, gift. Undeserved, unearned, unmerited.
The king looks out over his banquet hall and smiles. The banquet hall is full. The party is on. The people are eating and drinking and dancing. But off in the corner there’s a party pooper. A man sipping iced tea, wearing a t-shirt and shorts and a scowl on his face. He goes over to the man. “Hey buddy, how’d you get in here without a wedding suit?” But the man had nothing to say. Speechless. The king’s good mood turns foul, and he orders the royal bouncers to bind him up and toss him outside into the darkness. The man was in before he was thrown out. And he was out for his refusal to be in on the king’s terms. It’s the king’s party, not ours.
What should the man have done? What would you have done? What would you have said if you were caught looking like a wedding crasher? What would you have said to the king? How about, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That always works with this king. He’s the king who clothes you. “Those of you who were baptized into Christ, have been clothed with Christ.” You are covered with His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection. Baptism is your wedding suit, your tuxedo or gown, formal wear fit for eternal life and a wedding feast that never ends. But refuse the suit, and you will find yourself grinding your molars and weeping in the darkness. Such a pity. Such a waste. Refusing a gift from God is utter foolishness. Unbelief. Your fault, not God’s.
“God would have all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and doesn’t count men’s sins against them.” “God has consigned all to disobedience in order that He might have mercy upon all.”
Notice at the end of this parable, there is no one who didn’t have a place at the wedding party – not the first invited A-list, nor the loser B-list, nor even the man without the wedding suit. All were called to the feast. All had a place. Jesus died for all; He embraced all in His death. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His blood was shed to save the inclusive many- the good, the bad, the ugly, the religious and the unreligious, every child of Adam. Those who are in are in by grace, undeserved kindness. Those who are out, are out by their own refusal to be in.
You have been called, invited to feast on God’s mountain. Your Baptism is a personal invitation signed by the Father, written in the blood of His Son, sealed by the Spirit, addressed to you by name. You have a place at the King’s table. The Body of the Lamb has been broken in death to save you. His Blood has been poured out to save you, His life for your life. Your life is atoned for; your sins are washed away. This divine service is a little sneak preview of The Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
You are worthy to be at His table, to receive all that Jesus died to win for you, not because of what you have done for Him, but because of what He has done for you. He has gone the way of weeping and gnashing of teeth, the way of death and God-forsaken darkness and hell, the way of the cross. He has taken your sin into Himself, He has borne your shame in nakedness on the cross in order to clothe you with His wedding suit. “Behold, a host arrayed in white,” you among them, wearing their white baptismal robes of righteousness.
You may not realize it, but you are already at the party, now in Christ. He has incorporated you into His death, embraced you with the Word of forgiveness, fed you with bodied bread and bloodied wine. Hidden yet here for you. Soon enough you will see and feel and know fully what you now must trust and believe, on that Day Jesus raises you up from the depths of your grave to the heights of His mountain, and sets you at His banquet table, and you raise the cup of salvation to toast His goodness:
“Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
In the name of Jesus,