Monday, April 20, 2009

A Joyous Feast

I want you to think about what event you would absolutely not miss. Everything else are side issues compared to experiencing this event. Perhaps it is the graduation of one of your children, the wedding of a granddaughter, or a dream vacation. We all have events and experiences that we want to be a part of that we would not let anything else get in the way of attending that event.

One of the experiences that I would drop everything in order to attend is the chance to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes play in a bowl game. If the opportunity came along for me to do that I would make the necessary arrangements to make it possible for me to attend. I wouldn’t miss that game for the world.

One of the ways we find out what is important to us is by identifying those experiences that we would not let anything else get in the away of our participating in. A person who loves football will make sure his Sunday afternoons are free and will make sure that nothing gets in the way of him and his remote. A dedicated golfer will golf in the wind and the rain and the extreme heat. Nothing except a closed golf course will get in his way. For many people family is important and they will drive hours for the chance to be with family. When we allow things to get in the way of certain events and experiences we are sending the message that these events aren’t all that important to us. Consider the message that is sent when you allow games, family gatherings, and work from participating in weekly worship services. It says that all those things are more important than worshiping God.

That is the message of one of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God and heaven. Through the parable Jesus tells us that heaven isn’t very important to many people.

This is the setting of the parable. It is the last week of Jesus’ life. On Sunday He came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, a symbol of a king, to the triumphant shouts of the people. On Monday Jesus, in righteous anger, cleared the Temple of the money changers and the animal sellers.

Now it is Tuesday morning and a group of religious leaders have come to ask Jesus by whose authority has He done these things. In response, Jesus asked them a question about the authority John the Baptizer, but they refused to answer Jesus’ question. Therefore Jesus refused to answer their question. Instead Jesus told them three parables to illustrate what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. In the last of these parables Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet. Not just any wedding banquet, but the wedding banquet of the Prince. Not only would this be a big event, but it would be an event that people who were loyal to the King and loved Him would want to attend.
And 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. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said 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.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there ca man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
(Matthew 22:1-14; ESV)

In the culture that Jesus lived in wedding feasts were a big deal. They typically lasted several days. But because the way weddings were done the actual day the feast was to begin was a mystery. Invitations would be sent out by messengers informing them of the upcoming party so they could make plans to attend. As the day drew near messengers were once again dispatched to tell people that the feast was ready and to come immediately. So while the exact time may have not been known, the guests knew what was happening.

The image of a wedding feast was a frequent illustration used to symbolize the fellowship between the Messiah and his people and often the image of the Bridegroom is used to symbolize the bridegroom (The Chronological Life of Christ: From Galilee to Glory; p. 163; Mark Moore)

I love this image of the Kingdom of Heaven. I love spending time with my family because of the fun and conversation that happens over the dinner table. When I think about heaven this is what I think about. I think of relationships, story telling, laughter, and the enjoyment of one another. What a glorious feast that will be to be able to listen to the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and the countless other saints who will be there. In a lot of ways I can’t wait for that day. Yet, we can experience a little bit of that right now as we focus on relationships with each other rather than being distracted by the things of this world.

As we look at this parable we realize that the invitation to come was extended to many people, but only a few accepted that invitation. Not everyone was part of the banquet. This parable reveals two types of people.

The first type of people we are the outsiders, those who failed to become part of the wedding banquet, because they had something that was more important to them. In this group there really are three subgroups that we can focus on. First, you have the group that was invited to the feast, but refused to come because they had other obligations. Take a moment and consider the message that is sent by those who insist that they have something more important to do than to attend the wedding banquet of the prince of the kingdom? If they loved and honored the king would they respond such a way?

The second subgroup we meet in the parable are those who were originally invited to the banquet, but they responded in a hostile manner by beating up and killing the king’s messengers. These people don’t just love something else more than the king, but they hate the king, and they aren’t afraid to openly express their hatred. They are sending a clear message to the king. They have been given an honor, and they have rejected that honor with an act of hostility.

How does the King respond to these individuals? He sends in his army and wipes them out and burns their village. Isn’t that a little harsh? Remember these people have shown disrespect and contempt for the King. They are treasonous and can’t be trusted, they are likely to side with the King’s enemies. They have to be put down.

Let’s make a little application. Who are these people who had been invited to the wedding banquet of the King, but rejected the invitation? Originally these people were identified as Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They had the Old Testament Scriptures, heard His teachings, and saw His miracles and they killed Him.

Today, I think it can be extended to people who live in places where Christianity has influence. The message of Jesus has been easily available to them and there are churches in every community and they still reject Jesus and are at times very hostile and nasty about it. What Jesus tells us is that one day people who reject the invitation for life and turn their back on Him will be punished, and they will be punished harshly.

There still one type of person who misses out on the wedding banquet. That person is the man who doesn’t wear the right clothes.

Kings in ancient times would would often provide wedding garments for their guests. This man showed his lack of respect for the King by not wearing the clothes the King had provided. The result is that he is thrown outside with all the other people who did not properly accept the King’s invitation. Instead of joy they experienced misery. Instead of laughter the experienced sorrow and fear.

How does this apply today? There are many people in the Church who identify themselves as Christians. They may even put on a good religious show for people, but they have not put on the new nature God has made available to us by trusting in Jesus by being baptized and living a life of faith. In other words their lives, aside of a show of religion, are not any different from the world. So while they enjoy the fellowship of the Church on earth one day they will be thrown out and will miss the joys of heaven.

I like what William Barclay wrote about this group of people in his commentary:
“It reminds us that the appeal of Christ is not so much to consider how we will be punished as it is to see what we will miss, if we do not take his way of things. Those who would not come were punished, but their real tragedy was that they lost the joy of the feast. If we refuse the invitation of Christ, some day our greatest pain will lie, not in the things we suffer, but in the realization of the precious things we have missed.” (p. 268; The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew Volume 2)

What precious things will we miss out on by refusing Jesus’ invitation? Let’s take a look at the second type of people we find in the parable: the banquet attenders.

The first thing that jumps out at us is that these are people who were not originally invited to attend, but since the people on the first guest list decided to disrespect the King and were punished the wedding banquet was empty. So the King sent word for everybody to be invited. His messengers went out to invite everyone that they could find to come to the wedding. These aren’t the nobles and well to do people of the kingdom, but the workers and beggars and the other low people on the totem pole. The King is more concerned about a full house than the prestige of the attenders. Everyone willing to submit to the King’s wishes, including proper attire, can come to the feast. In this way the wedding hall is full and the sounds of laughter and fellowship fills the hall. These people have the chance to be with the King!

How does that apply to us today? It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done, what matters is whether or not we will accept the invitation to the feast. Will we trust Jesus? Will we repent? Will we make the necessary changes in our lives? Will we put on the garments that God has provided us through Jesus?

Each of the wedding attenders had to make choices, they were not automatically accepted based on the invitation they received, they had to decide that this is where they wanted to be and trust that the King would provide what they needed to attend. Are you willing to go to heaven on God’s conditions?

In conclusion of this parable Jesus tells His listeners: For many are invited, but few are chosen. I have a question for you: Who are the ones who are chosen? Looking at the parable we realize that those who are chosen are the ones who accept the invitation. Not everyone is willing to accept the invitation: some have more important things to consume their lives, others hate God, and still others aren’t willing to put their complete trust in Jesus. They are not worthy of heaven and what God is prepared.

The ones who accepted the invitation aren’t anymore worthy to attend than those who refused, and in some ways you could say that they are less worthy because they were not the original guests, but they accepted the gracious invitation. It was their acceptance that made them worthy of what was being prepared. Remember we are not anymore worthy than anyone else to go to heaven, but because we have trust Jesus we are made worthy of what God has prepared for us.

This is what I want you to remember today: The joy of heaven awaits those who accept Jesus’ invitation. We can’t earn our way into heaven, we can’t love the things of this world more than God and His kingdom and expect to go to heaven, we can’t hate God and work against Him and thing Heaven awaits us, and we can’t expect to go to heaven if we are trusting our own good works. No, the only way we can be assured of Heaven is when we accept the invitation God has extended to us through Jesus, and trust Jesus enough to live our lives by faith.

Heaven isn’t based on our earthly success, it isn’t based on a religious life, but it is based on our faith in Jesus Christ, on our following Him everyday of our lives. What are you willing to do to get to heaven? Are you willing to trust Jesus with your life? Because that is how we accept the God’s invitation to His joyous feast of heaven.

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