Today’s text represents the third in a series of temple parables that draw a distinction between a faux-faith and a true faith. Previously Jesus taught in the temple about different kinds of sons, different kinds of tenants, and now he will talk about different kinds of wedding guests.
In this parable, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a king’s invitation to a wedding feast. There are two great responses to the wedding invitation. Most intriguingly, the several features of those invited are underscored by our Savior. And in doing so, he distinguishes between authentic faith and superficial religion. But there is one great feature in the parable that stands out above all the others.
To begin with, I want to talk about our experiences of weddings. The weddings of today are considerably different from the near Eastern weddings and, in particular, the Jewish wedding customs. Having said that, as in most things ancient and new there is continuity as well as discontinuity. There was a bride, and there was a groom, and there was a ceremony, and there were invitations sent. There was a great feast that followed. Marriage represents the very bedrock of civilization. In a new marriage between a man and a woman represented — and represents until the end of the age — one new precious jewel set in the magnificent foundation of civilization. So, this is the continuity. While marriage has undergone attacks in our day, unwittingly weakening the foundation of our civilization, not to mention disobeying God’s order for creation, there remains the extraordinary truths of the vitality and importance of God ordained marriage. And there remain customs and traditions that are reflected from this high and holy ordinance.
When I was a boy, I came to learn that there were differences between English weddings and Cajun weddings. I say “English” to differentiate between those settlers’ descendants in that part of Louisiana East of the Amite River and those settlers and their descendants who lived west of the Amite River. My great-great-grandfather came ashore with his wife Martha at Benton’s Landing on the Amite River, and he went and settled in the area called Milton Oldfield (later the community was renamed for a Civil War Lieutenant Colonel and medical doctor whose name was Dr. William E. Walker of Springfield, also a State representative). My family was one of many other families settling in that area after the War of 1812 when the U.S. Government gave veterans the right of claiming land to help the nation expand westward. Thus, my family moved from Anson County, North Carolina, which at that time included Union County, and went, first, to settle land in Alabama; then, to settle land given to Michael Milton in the English settlements east of the Amite River. I give you that background because it is this singular division of peoples that came about in history — French settlements and English settlements — that mark not only the demographic distribution of that state, down to this day, but also the tradition and customs of the respective people groups. So, when I say “English” and “Cajun” I mean to differentiate between the customs of Carolinians and Virginians who settled in the eastern part of the state and those folks west of the line of demarcation, the Amite River, represented their Francophile forefathers. Now, with that setting in mind let me get to my point. The wedding banquets that I was used to were based upon our English speaking, Protestant communities. I was surprised if not shocked when I went to my first Cajun wedding and wedding banquet following it. There were all kind of folks there. And they were all loud and sometimes obnoxious and, one thing is for sure, they were nothing like our English, Protestant weddings and wedding parties. I understood a wedding banquet be a polite little reception in the fellowship hall of the local Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or independent church (there were Episcopalians, but not out in the country where I lived; even the Presbyterians were in the nearest town of Denham Springs; we had only Baptist, Methodist, and disgruntled Baptists and Methodists who founded their own tabernacle). Now I say again the wedding parties that I was used to were mere receptions. All true Protestant weddings had the same fare: the punch bowl on a folding table in the middle of the fellowship hall which was invariably filled with pineapple or lime sherbet floating in 7-Up.
There was rarely any deviation from the ingredients of that concoction. There was always a nice big plate of chicken salad sandwiches, sometimes fried chicken, and sometimes ‘tater salad, if it was a rich man’s daughter. I do remember tuna salad sandwiches on one occasion, and in fact, I believe the first tuna salad sandwich I ever consumed was in the fellowship hall following a wedding. Now, the music was fairly tame: respectable country music, and by that, I mean Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, or Little Jimmy Dickens, but no Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard. Later, as I grew older, The Carpenters were allowed. There was always a backwoods redneck who would sneak over to change the record and put on “Jumping Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones or, later, “Free Bird” by Leonard Skynyrd. Appropriately, the deacon was standing nearby for such cases. After a few scratch sounds over a Sears and Roebuck record player with quad speakers, the more mellow strains of The Letterman would resume the temperate but blissful assembly. There was no dancing per se. However, the bride and groom were expected to dance to at least one stanza, though it made us all uncomfortable. The father or perhaps a brother would step-in for another stanza. That was it. With the cake cut, sandwiches were eaten, and the bride and groom made an exit, folks started looking at their watches. The preacher would remind everyone that the chairs had to be set-up for adult Sunday School the next morning (the redneck with the rock-n-roll records was the custodian, but we all helped him out).
Now, all this doesn’t sound like very much fun to you, but you must remember it was the way things were. I thought. Then, I learned that there were other ways of having wedding “receptions.” One of our relatives crossed that Amite River Bridge, which goes right over Benton’s Landing, and married a girl from the other side of the river. “Her people are ‘Franch,’” my Aunt Eva opined. There was a lot of darkness that I sensed in the way Aunt Eva intonated the word, “Franch.” So, Aunt Eva and I caught a ride with a cousin, an equally curious Methodist (I think he was), to our first Cajun wedding. Firstly, while I was very impressed with the service at the Catholic church, a sense of transcendence and mystery that seemed to befit Man’s relationship to God, I was, also, anxious, if not inquisitive, by the priestly movements, which seem to infuse spirituality to the participants by act or even by fiat, rather than by faith (the theological dynamic of ex opere operato is discerned, if not articulated). But not even transubstantiation (another difference I noted but could not name) could shock me as much as what came after the service. The wedding party gathered in the Catholic Youth building next to the old white clapped board Catholic church. As Eva and I walked in, we were greeted by a very cheerful fellow with a decidedly different accent asking us if we would like “a cold one.” I could instantly tell that this fellow was “Franch,” all right. Aunt Eva gathered her purse close to her body, took a quick breath of indignation with her eyes fixated upon the Dixie beer bottles held by the crab-like fingers of the “Franchman.” She seemed to protect herself with the black patent purse, keeping her head steady on the beer bottles like eyes on a water moccasin, but lifted her gaze to the jolly, red-faced host. In this position, she whispered, “No, thank you. We do not drink alcohol.” Before you could say “filet-gumbo” we were welcomed—no, accosted—by further astonishing sights and sounds: there were not record players playing soothing strains of Elvis singing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” but rather fiddlers, guitar players, and several accordion players playing songs I had never heard (nor could I understand the singers). We were clearly from the “other side” of the river. There was no lime or pineapple sherbet, but there was a whole lot of 7-Up going around: 7-Up and bourbon, 7-Up and rye, 7-Up and Jack Daniels, 7-Up and Rum. And there were no chicken sandwiches. There were boiled red crawfish thrown across the Times-Picayune newspaper placed in layers across several picnic tables, convened with stainless steel pots and butane tanks under a Live Oak tree just outside. There was something called crawfish Étouffée. There was something else called fried crawfish. There were crawfish-hush-puppies. I had never eaten any kind of fish other than a perch and a catfish. We fished for perch with crawfish. The priest, previously pious, was, in this arena, as loud as everyone else; a far cry from our pastor who usually stood with his wife at such occasions, keeping a dutiful eye on the proceedings and for any sign of rednecks trying to change the record player. The people who came to our sort of weddings and receptions were all invited, usually, a modest and respectable guest list that included the Sunday school class, some high school friends, the groom’s football coach, and family. And the sheriff and the funeral home director seemed to be at all such gathering for their own relevant reasons. But these Cajun weddings were different—way different: they seem to be an occasion that drew all living flesh. In fact, I learned that you had to have a ticket to get in. I also learned that there were, well, I guess you would call them “bouncers” at the door of the Catholic Youth center. The bouncers seemed to be present to certify that you had a voucher to get into the wedding feast and not just out on a Saturday night, trying to suck crawfish heads and get some free Dixie beer. In a phrase, the Catholic Cajun wedding feast was an all-out party.
But the Cajun wedding feast may, in fact, look more like the kingdom of heaven that Jesus was describing. Now, I am not endorsing wild, uninhibited drinking, and dancing, nor am I endorsing “Down on the Bayou” over “Baby I’m-a Want You” by Bread (although I think we can all agree that “Free Bird” should be carefully discussed before adding to a church wedding playlist). However, I am asserting that the Kingdom of heaven is just a little more inclusive, and, perhaps, more festive than the Protestant side of the river. According to the Parable of Matthew 22:1-14, the Kingdom festivity over the marriage of the King’s Son attracts all kinds of folks, without the bouncer.
The parable that the Lord Jesus told in Matthew 22:1-14 had five major movements in the story. Firstly, there were servants sent out to welcome those who had already been invited. Clearly, the scribes and religious leaders within the temple represented the nation of Israel and the people of Israel who had been invited before anyone to come into the kingdom of heaven. Yet, the first movement of the parable concludes quickly with the invited guests refusing to come in. And so, too, many of the religious leaders and the people refused to the call to repentance and faith in the coming Messiah by John the Baptist. The second movement involves servants that were sent out by the king. This time, the servants not only urge those who have been invited to come, but they also tell them of the sumptuous spread just waiting for them. Rather than entice them to come to this wonderful wedding feast, the servants’ words work to either annoy them to the point of disregard or distresses them to the point of savage anger. The latter group murders the servants. This shocking reaction leads to the third movement in the parable, and that is the king sending out an army of soldiers to punish the wicked people who killed the king’s servants. The telling of the story leads even the religious leaders to have to admit that given the murders, the king was exercising appropriate if not severe justice. The fourth movement of the parable involves the King’s new and most magnanimous decision. The king issues an edict that everyone, the “good and the bad,” should be invited to the feast. So, the servants went and gathered them all, everyone they met, and “the wedding hall was filled with guest.” Another conclusion represents the fifth and final movement. This part of the parable also represents the climactic message of the sacred story: whether you were an initial guest or in eager guests in the second wave, you could not get in without—not a mimeographed sheet of paper that had been runoff in the Catholic parish office—but, rather, a garment, a wedding garment.
Now, we must ask ourselves what this parable is saying to us today. Usually, a parable has a main message and may, also, have ancillary teachings, In this case, we may say that this third temple parable Jesus continues with the theme of not only “who is in and who is out” of the kingdom of heaven, but, the dynamics of how one gets into the kingdom of heaven.
What are the features that we may identify in this process of becoming part of the kingdom of heaven? Let us examine the parable carefully and summarize our response with three significant features of how we enter the Kingdom of heaven.
- THE INVITATION
The first feature of those who will be in the kingdom of heaven is clearly they must be invited.
We must say that Jesus is stressing that God has made His Son the center of His Plan to reach humanity. Further, the parable shows the graciousness, the long-suffering, and the loving disposition towards His subjects. However, the King is jealous of His Son. His Son must be honored. Those who refuse to honor His Son will be crushed. How did David describe this situation about the King and His Son?
“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Psalm 2:12).
The parable is also a history. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of heaven came from God to Abraham and to the nation that was promised to Abraham. As Jesus told a story about the rejection of the King’s honoring His Son by those invited would surely remind some in the temple of the bloodstained saga of Israel’s prophets. Whether Isaiah or Jeremiah for a minor prophet such as Amos, who was sent by God to the Northern Kingdom, the story was the same. That was rejection and even killing of the servants who were inviting the people to the feast of heaven. Just as our Lord said in another place that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to the Gentiles, so, also, in this passage we see the same message told again in the parable.
It is a sad thing, indeed, to see children of believers, those who are very much like Israel, beneficiaries of the covenant of grace, become covenant breakers by rejecting the faith the parents. How often in my ministry have I seen the sad countenances and broken hearts of loving Christian parents the grieved over a prodigal son or a prodigal daughter.
Clearly, the Lord is calling those of us who have been blessed with hearing the gospel from infancy, from living in a country (though we are indeed in a “secular age”) where we still have the gospel preached, and the teachings of Jesus presented in many venues. Yet, as in the parable of the first group, we reject it. We are too busy. We have better things to do. The holy and the sacred has become so commonplace that it no longer excites our hearts that a loving God would invite a sinful people to be His sons and daughters. We sing the hymns and listen to the preaching of the Word, participate in the liturgy of the Church, take the elements of salvation to our lips, watch the covenantal waters being poured over the heads of God’s children and remain unmoved. Oh, may this passage be a “Word from Another World” which awakens us to the glory of the treasure that has been given unto us, perhaps by our parents, perhaps because we live in such proximity to a nation that yet bears, at least, the memorials of an earlier revival.
My beloved, you and I have been invited; and that one remarkable fact should cause us to live in Thanksgiving throughout all of eternity: The King has invited us into His kingdom to live with him forever.
Now, the parable places a second great truth before us:
- THE RESPONSE
The second feature of those who will eventually come into the kingdom of heaven is that they will have to respond to the invitation.
The truth of the history of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that the gospel has gone out to all creatures and continues to go out to the four corners of the earth. This is the plan of God. In the lexicon of theology, this is the general call. The General Call goes to every man, woman, boy, and girl through those messengers called to bring that message. In the Great Commission, you are I are called by our Master as soldiers in this divine campaign. Mercifully, the General Call becomes an Effective Call when those who have been invited to the banquet accept the invitation. Now, this is a work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is “the gift of God:”
“By grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Yet, we see that there are those who simply refuse, there are others who ignore the invitation, and there are those who are quite angry about the invitation. They not only passively reject the offer but actively seek to killed the servant to bring the message. And history is filled with the story of martyrs. Today, more than at any other time in history, we see the persecution of believers in a mass scale as the gospel moves into the global South in the global East. We see the horror of Libyan Christian men, courageous and faithful, lined up with the sack over their head, executed by diabolical Islamic radicals on the shores of the Mediterranean. We have not come so far from the days of violent opposition to the gospel of Christ. We are not so far from the cross of our Savior after all.
Now, most of us who share Christ do not meet with hostility that turns physical. I have had my share of angry responses to Christ’s invitation that I have delivered, including being spit upon, in my face, by a bedeviled woman. I have had people scream at me in anger and walk out of my pastoral study slamming the door behind them. Yet, I certainly have never suffered like our brothers and sisters in other lands.
The Bible says that God the Father sent His only begotten Son so that the world might be saved through him. God’s plan of salvation required that He give His Son to live the life we could never live and die a death on Calvary as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus Christ met the terms of the Covenant of Works, keeping all the Law, dying for violation of it. He was obedient to God in every way that we are not.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with His stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 KJV).
The liability of our wickedness fell upon him like the shadows of the night fell in daytime upon the Roman cross; yonder, outside of the Holy City, where our Lord and Savior gave up His sinless spirit on Calvary’s hallowed altar.
Will you not respond now? We do not respond with the eagerness of these ignoble men and women in the main highway? You say, “Yes, Lord, I want to come.”
He has extended His invitation. How will we respond? And this leads us to the third and the climactic conclusion of the parable.
III. THE COVERING
The third feature of the process of entering the kingdom of heaven is that we can only enter the Kingdom through the King’s covering.
In the Parable, the king asked one of the eager guests, “How did you get in without my wedding garment?” And here we see that there was as harsh a punishment for this man as there had been for those who had first been invited but who violently rejected the invitation.
“Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Jesus is saying it is not merely a matter of a response, but the divinely prescribed response. The will of God is that no one may enter without being clothed in the righteousness of the Son, the righteous life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Be careful to remember that Adam and Eve were clothed with the skins of a wild animal which God Himself provided. Only recall that when the children of Israel were saved from the maniacal, Godless tyranny of the bloodthirsty Pharaoh of Egypt, it was the Lord Himself who provided a way out. God prescribed the blood of the lamb upon the doorpost. He prescribed the preparation of the meal for the quick departure. God Himself parted the waters of the Red Sea that the children of Israel may go forward. And God Himself provided a leader, Moses, who Himself recognized that he was the lesser leader of a Messiah to come. So, also, the Bible teaches us that we must be covered in the righteousness and in the crimson blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Have you “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ, as St. Paul has put it? Is the blood of the Lamb on your life? By faith, you repent and trust in Jesus Christ our Lord and you are granted the clothing you need for Another World.
Oh, what a magnificent parable! It is as if the Cajun wedding feast came to a halt. It is as if the priest called off the fiddles and the accordions of those little “Franch” country fishermen. It is as if the priest announced, “May I have your attention, please? There has come to me a rumor that some of you are present at this party without your ticket. Now, we appreciate you all coming. But, there can be no one here enjoying this great festivity merely because you know the bride or the groom or you know their family. You may only remain here by invitation and the authority of the bride’s father. He is your only provision. All others must go.”
When my wife and I were married, I can honestly say that there was neither accordion nor Cajun fiddle music. There was no 7-Up and bourbon, but there was no 7-Up and sherbet punch. Mae and I were married in a church in Sevier County, Tennessee. How well I remember strolling down the quaint lanes of Sevierville and Gatlinburg, both of which were quiet, peaceful, mountain hamlets. The biggest attraction was a famous pancake house. Over three decades ago, those mountain towns were very different from the tourist magnet that they are today. While we didn’t have a record player to play Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadours nor the South Louisiana Acadian fiddler, we were strolling down a lane in the evening on our honeymoon and heard music coming from within a cafe. We walked in. I asked the leader of the little band if they knew a song from a little-known folk artist by the name of Dan Fogelberg. The song was, “To the Morning.” It was our song. I would never suspect that anyone would know it. It was not a hit. In fact, it was on Fogelberg’s very first album, “Home Free,” which had more of a cult following, not widely received. Yet, the band leader told me, “Why, that is our favorite song, too. You got it!” They begin to play, and we danced to our song on our special day.
My Beloved, what is so very vital in this passage is not merely that you are invited, or that you come, but that you come in the provision of God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. But even that is but the entrance into your very special day: the day when your own imaginable dreams come true. The perfect time when truth and justice, redemption, forgiveness, and everything wrong is righted. It is an unlikely song sung by the angels to the saints, “Welcome home.” And when the angelic choir is hushed before His radiant presence, there will likely be no crawfish in a Catholic Youth house and probably no sherbet and 7-Up punch in a Baptist fellowship hall. There will be just a voice that you have dreamed of deep in your soul all the days of your life, speaking from the golden glow of the throne-room of God:
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).
 “He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 NASB); “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,[a] 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, ESV); “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37 KJV)!
 For a peer-reviewed article on suffering, consider Lewis Bayles Paton, “The Problem of Suffering in the Pre-Exilic Prophets,” Journal of Biblical Literature 46, no. 1/2 (1927), http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3260192.
 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).
 For an example of the fate of the Apostles, see, e.g., Mitchell B. Merback, “Torture and Teaching: The Reception of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Martyrdom of the Twelve Apostles in the Protestant Era,” Art Journal 57, no. 1 (1998), http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/777988.