Jesus has been telling stories about what his kingdom is like. He has told a story about two sons and a story about farming tenants who refused to give the fruit of the land to the owner, which are recorded toward the end of Matthew 21. Jesus has one more parable to tell about the kingdom and about the rejection of his invitation. This parable is going to describe who can enter Christ’s kingdom and who cannot and why they cannot.
The Rejection (22:1-7)
The story begins by describing a great king who is preparing a wedding feast for his son. Immediately we would be able to hear that Jesus is telling a messianic story because the prophets foretold about a wedding and wedding feast that would occur when the Messiah/Christ came (cf. Isaiah 25:6; 61:1-5). Revelation 19:7-9 likewise depicts the wedding of the Christ. The message is sent out to his constituents that the great wedding feast is prepared and ready. Come to the wedding feast (22:4). Now please have in mind that this is not your average wedding. As exciting as it might be to be invited to go to a wedding, this is the wedding for the son of the king. The expense, the glory, the size, and the fanfare would be unmatched. To be invited by the great king to his son’s wedding would be the greatest of honors.
But notice the responses to this great honor. Verse 3 reveals that the invited refused to come. So the king sent more servants come enjoy this great day. But notice the response in verses 5-6. But again we see that those who were invited paid no attention to the invitation. They were given this amazing invitation to a luxurious, glorious wedding feast. But they instead went off to their own farms and businesses. So they would rather work than enjoy what the king is offering. Further, those who were invited seized the king’s servants, shamefully mistreated them, and killed them. The king is then enraged at the injustice and murder of his servants. He sends his troops to destroy the city and those murderers. Up to this point it is clear that Jesus is referring to Israel’s rejection of God’s prophets and the present rejection of God’s Son, Jesus. Their rejection will lead to the destruction of their temple and city, Jerusalem. This is consistent is the prior parables Jesus just told.
The Extended Invitation (22:8-10)
The king proclaims that those who were invited were not worthy. Now I want us to hold this idea in the context of the parable. Why were the invited unworthy? Quite simply, they were unworthy because they refused the invitation. More importantly, they did not see the value of the offer. They were more interested in their businesses. They were more interested in their homes and fields. They did not see the surpassing value and worth of what they were invited to enjoy. If this were not enough, we then also read that some not only rejected the invitation but were actively aggressive against the king. Those who reject the invitation will not be part of this messianic feast. Friends, it is hard for me to understand why people think they are going to spend eternity in paradise with God when they are actively rejecting his invitation. You are not worthy to enter if you reject the invitation. The condition set forward by the king is clear.
Notice what the king does next. In verse 9 the command is given to go out to the roads and start inviting people to come into the wedding feast. We were told that the meal was prepared. Go find anyone who wants to enjoy this luxurious, glorious wedding and wedding feast. So the servants do as they are commanded. They go out and gather all the people they could find. Now I want you to carefully listen to what Jesus says in verse 10 regarding those who were invited and came in. Verse 10 says that the servants gathered all the people they could find, “both bad and good.” Friends, the invitation is not only to the righteous. God is not looking down and saying that he will only invite people that he thinks are not doing too badly. The invitation is to everyone. There is no picking and choosing. It is a universal offer. The invitation is given to every person they could find. They gathered all they found. In doing so, the wedding hall was filled with guests. Please hear this, friends. There is not one single person who is not invited to this luxurious, glorious wedding feast. There is no one who is excluded. No one can say that they are not good enough. No one can say that they are not allowed to go. Every person is invited. But I want you to notice that this is not the end of the story. Let’s see how Jesus brings this parable to its conclusion.
The Wedding Clothes (22:11-14)
The king now comes into the banquet hall and sees all the guests that have come to his son’s wedding. But he notices that there is a person who was not wearing wedding clothes (22:11). So the king asks this person how he was able to enter without wedding clothes. But this man had nothing to say. Therefore, the king instructs the attendants to bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is quite an ending to Jesus’ story. Immediately we are wanting to know what are the wedding clothes and why this person does not have them on while everyone else at the feast does. We also want to know about this outcome in verse 13. So let’s spend a few moments trying to understand the conclusion to this parable.
What are the wedding clothes? It is important to remember our context. Jesus is telling three parables to the religious leaders who are challenging Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple and to proclaim judgment on the nation in his teachings (cf. Matthew 21:23; 21:12-17). In the first two parables Jesus told, he made an important point. In the first parable he spoke about two sons. The son who said he would not obey his father but then changed his mind and went was the son who did the will of his father (cf. 21:28-31). In the second parable Jesus spoke about giving the kingdom to those who will give fruit in the vineyard (cf. 21:41). The wedding clothes become a symbol for making yourself ready for the wedding feast. The wedding clothes symbolize changing your mind from rejecting the will of the Father to obeying the will of the Father. The wedding clothes symbolize producing fruit for the king.
Now I want you to think about this story. We just said that the bad and the good were invited into the wedding feast. So the problem is not about being righteous. The problem is that this man without the wedding clothes refused to change. The invitation to this glorious wedding feast did not cause this man to rethink his life and change his ways. He went into the wedding feast wearing the same dirty clothes he was already wearing. Friends, the good and the bad are all invited and no one is excluded from the invitation. But you are expected to change your clothes. Listen to how the apostle Paul expanded on this picture.
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24 NRSV)
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 NRSV)
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14 NRSV)
Do you see the picture Jesus is giving? The king is insulted when we do not even bother to change our clothes for the invitation to this glorious, immense wedding feast. We have been given this amazing invitation! Can we at least change our clothes? Can we honor what we have been invited to enjoy? For those who refuse to change, there is a consequence. Jesus describes eternity has a place of separation from the light and glory of God and as a place of torment and anguish. We saw this imagery used earlier in Matthew 13:42,50.
So I hope we see something very important. Not everyone is in the kingdom of Christ. Not everyone will enjoy eternity with God. You will notice that this is how Jesus ends this stretch of parables. Look at verse 14. “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
But I want us to see that it is not about if you are good or bad. You are not going to be good enough to be included. You are not so bad that you cannot be invited to enter. The excluded are the people who do not pay attention to the invitation. They find this world and this life worth more than what our Father in heaven is offering in his kingdom. The excluded are those who find the temporary ways of this world better than the eternal ways of God.
It is important who else we see excluded from God’s great salvation feast. The excluded are also those who do not change their lives. God wants you to put on new clothes and stop wearing the old clothes of sin and unrighteousness. Now here is what I want us to carefully consider. This man who was cast out in the story accepted the invitation. When the servants went into the streets calling for all to come in, he responded and he went into the banquet hall. So he thinks he is in good shape. He heard the invitation, received it, and went. But there was a problem. The problem was that he was not properly clothed. The problem was he did not change. We must see that the free gift of God’s salvation comes with obligations. It is not enough to fill out a card, pray a prayer, and accept Jesus as your Savior. Life change must happen. You need new clothes. We cannot walk into this wonderful messianic feast without being changed. Listen to how the apostle Peter made this point.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
Friends, God is patient and does not want you to perish but that you should change. God wants you to turn. God wants you to put on new clothes. God wants to give you a new way of life. The invitation has come to you. The question is not if you are good enough. The question is not if you are too sinful. The question is will you change your clothes? Will you turn? Will you clothe your life according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness? Our acceptance is not enough. I want you to listen to what Paul says is the starting place for your new clothes.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:25-27 NRSV)
The clothes are handed to you when you accept Jesus in baptism. Then you are going to go forward with these new clothes, living a new way because you have been brought into God’s kingdom. Come to the feast that our God has prepared for you.