An Invitation From the King!
Suppose there was a knock on the door. When you open the door, a distinguished-looking man is standing there. “I have just come here from Washington, D.C., to give you this,” he says. He hands you an envelope. Inside is an invitation from the President of the US to come to an affair of state. “I have transportation waiting,” the man says. “Get ready as quickly as you can, and I’ll take you to the airport. The President’s plane is waiting for you.” That would be exciting. However, Matthew 22:1-14 is about an invitation far more thrilling and important: an invitation from the King, the ruler of the universe.
The setting is the last week of Jesus’ personal ministry. The events occurred on Tuesday, “the great day of questions.” As Christ was teaching in the temple, he was confronted by representatives from the Sanhedrin. They asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matt. 21:23). As part of His answer, the Lord spoke three parables that exposed the sinfulness of his enemies. The first two were the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wicked tenants. The third was the parable of the wedding feast of the king’s son. It is similar to a parable Jesus had just spoken several weeks earlier (Luke 14:7-15), but a number of the details are different. It is unique in that it is a double parable, two parables in one. The second could be called the parable of the wedding garment.
The study on our text can be titled “An invitation from the king!” Let us pull from it three truths concerning this invitation.
It Is An Invitation to Rejoice (Matt. 22:1-3)
The passage begins with these words: “Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son’” (Matt. 22:1, 2). The king in the parable represents God. As the story opens, the king “Sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast” (Matt. 22:3a).
Note first the nature of the invitation. It is an invitation to a wedding banquet, a festive occasion. In the Old Testament, the figures of a wedding and a feast were used to foretell the coming Messianic Age – that is, Christianity. In the New Testament, these figures continued to be used. The wedding symbolism is seen in Matthew 9:15 and John 3:29, while the feast symbolism is seen in Matthew 8:11, 12 and Luke 22:30. The church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23-27, 31, 32; 2 Cor. 11:2). In a sense, the “wedding feast” has already begun, and it will continue into eternity. In Revelation, the triumph of God’s people is celebrated: “Blessed are those who are invited (called - NKJV) to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9a).
From this imagery, we should be impressed with the inherent blessedness and happiness of the Christian life. Yes, there are somber aspects to being a Christian. Parables also compare the kingdom to working in a vineyard or toiling in a field, but that is not all there is to Christianity. There is an underlying joy.
Unfortunately, Christians have not always realized this. A letter composed no earlier than the fourth century purported to give a physical description of Christ. Among other things, it said that the Lord had “never been seen to laugh, but oftentimes to weep.” That description has no basis in fact. Nevertheless, because it was the first written description of Jesus, it had a lasting effect on the art and sculpture of succeeding ages, so that even today Jesus is often pictured as the man who never laughed.”
Through the years, supposed followers of Jesus have frequently demonstrated their conviction that little joy is to be found in Christianity. The Puritans condemned toys for children as “works of the flesh.” When John Wesley established a boarding school for children, he required them to get up at 4:00 a.m., winter and summer. His school had no recess periods or holidays, and allowed no play of any kind.
In contrast to this perpetual gloominess, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Once more, I say that the invitation to the wedding feast is an invitation to joy.
It Is An invitation Requiring A Response (Matt. 22:3-10, 14)
Let us return to the story. The king “Sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast” (Matt. 22:3a). A double invitation is suggested in the text: Certain individuals had previously received the invitation to come to the feast; then, when the feast was ready, slaves were sent to tell these invited guests that it was time to come.
Those who had received the invitation represented the Israelites. They ahd been “invited” by the prophets who had taught concerning the Messianic feast. The fact that the parable speaks of a second invitation implies that the Jews had accepted the first invitation; that is, they had accepted the concept of the coming Messianic kingdom.
When those invited were told that the feast was ready, “they were unwilling to come” (Matt. 22:3b). They thus exposed their stubborn and rebellious spirits. However, the king was willing to give them another opportunity. Maybe he thought, “They didn’t understand the first messengers. I will give them the benefit of the doubt.” Therefore…
…he sent out other slaves saying, “Tell those who have been invited, ‘Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered [these animals were not butchered until the day of the feast] and everything is ready [the meat had been cooked and everything was ready to serve]; come to the weeding feast” (Matt. 22:4).
In the Luke 14 parable, at this point, the invited guests began to make excuses. In this parable, those invited ignored the summons: “But they paid no attention” (Matt. 22:5a). The original language emphasizes their lack of concern. In Hebrews 2:3 the same Greek word ameleo is translated “neglect.” Those invited failed to appreciate the value of the opportunity. The KJV says, “They made light of it.”
The king received a double insult. Some insulted him by being overly involved in other matters: They “went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business” (Matt. 22:5b). These were not evil activities; they were just not as important as an invitation from the king. William Barclay wrote, “It is very easy for a man to be so busy with the things of time that he forgets the things of eternity, to be so preoccupied with the things which are seen that he forgets the things which are unseen, to hear so insistently the claims of the world that he cannot hear the soft invitation of the voice of Christ. The tragedy of life is that it is so often the second bests which shut out the bests, that it is the things which are good in themselves which shut out the things that are supreme.”
Others insulted the ruler by violent rejection: “And the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them” (v. 6). This referred to the Jews’ treatment of the prophets and perhaps anticipated the way they would later treat the apostles. Some ignored the summons and some opposed it – but the end result was the same in both cases.
That which was done to the king’s representatives was, in effect, done to the king himself. Thus, when the king heard what had happened, he “was enraged” (Matt. 27:7a). Understand that God can be benevolent, but He can also be angry. When God is angry, stand back!
The king “Sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire” (Matt. 22:7b). in context, this probably referred to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in A.D. 70.
Nevertheless, the feast had already been prepared. The king said to his slaves, “the wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy” (Matt. 22:8). “Not worthy” does not refer to a general lack of worthiness, but to the fact that they showed themselves unworthy by rejecting the invitation (Acts 13:44-46). The NIV says that they “did not deserve to come.”
Servants were thus instructed, “Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast” (Matt. 22:9). The Greek phrase translated “The main highways” (epi tas diexodous ton hodon) indicates areas where people normally gathered. The NIV has “The street corners.” Is there a place in our community where you are likely to find people gathered almost any time of day or night? That is the idea implied in the term “the main highways.” The king said, “As many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” This sounds like the Great Commission, doesn’t it? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
The messengers did as the king commanded: They “went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good” (Matt. 22:10a). “Evil and good” does not mean that evil has a place in God’s kingdom, but it does mean that God is interested in all people – whether evil or good. The gospel invitation is for everyone. In the previous chapter, the Lord pointed out that the “evil” people in His day were much more receptive than the “Religious” people (Matt. 21:28-32).
The doctrine of salvation by grace is implied here. Those “in the streets” had done nothing deserving of the invitation. They had not earned the right to come to the feast. It was wholly by grace (Eph. 2:8, 9).
After the slaves completed their search of the surrounding area, “the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests” (Matt. 22:10b). The king did not cancel the banquet because some had rejected his invitation and insulted him. He still had his feast, and his chamber was packed with celebrating guests. Even so, people cannot thwart God’s plans and purposes.
We can learn much from the first part of the parable, but let us especially learn this: The invitation comes to all of us, but each has the right to accept or reject it. Understand, however, that if we reject the invitation, we make the King very unhappy.
Glance at verse 14: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The word “many” refers to “all”: Everyone is called by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14). Unfortunately, only a “few are chosen.” In context, “chosen” referes to being allowed to enjoy the wedding feast. Did the king make an arbitrary decision regarding each individual as to whether or not he was admitted? No. Each one who was invited decided if he would be one of those “chosen” – by accepting or rejecting the king’s invitation.
It Is An invitation Involving Responsibility (Matt. 22:11-14).
After the hall was filled, “the king came in to look over the dinner guests” (Matt. 22:11a). Literally, he looked at “the reclining ones.” The people were already reclining at the banquet table, ready to enjoy the lavish feast.
As the king’s gaze traveled over the crowd, “he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes” (Matt. 22:11b). It was an insult to a host for a guest not to wear an appropriate garment at such a function. Eldred Echols illustrated this with the following:
“At the end of World War II, the Russian head of state gave an elaborate banquet to honor visiting British prime minister, Winston Churchill. The Russians arrived in their best formal wear or military dress uniforms, but their honored guest did not. Churchill arrived wearing his famous zipper coveralls that he had word during the German V-bomb attack in London. He thought it would provide a nostalgic touch the Russians would appreciate. They did not. They were humiliated and insulted that their prominent guest of honor had not considered their banquet worthy of his best clothes.”
Controversy has raged over why the man in the parable was expected to have on a wedding garment. Men have protested, “But the king had the guests rounded up from the streets. Why should he expect them to have on formal attire?” By way of answer, it has been noted that in some Mideastern cultures, a caftan or white robe was supplied by the host and was given to each guest at the door by an attendant. It is my understanding that this was to avoid embarrassing the poor. Regardless of social or financial standing, all were dressed alike. If something similar was the norm of Palestine in those days, the man insulted his host by refusing to wear the garment provided. Others have suggested that the king had given those invited time to go home and get cleaned up. If that was the case, the man would be expected to wear his best.