As a pastor, I often get questions of a more theological nature. Thursdays are the day I like to post some on the blog. Enjoy!
Here’s an e-mail I received a few days ago about Matthew 22:1-14.
Would like any thought you have on this Scripture. I have heard many things over the years and still do not feel I understand all that was going on here.
As always, this is a great question, and let’s start with the context.
Starting in Matthew 21:23, we see four interchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees.
They are all gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem, and in Matthew 21:23, the Pharisees start the sequence by challenging Jesus’ authority to teach and minister. Jesus deftly beats them at their own game, and then launches into a series of three parables, all directed at them.
First, He tells of two sons whose actions don’t match their words, and He points out that what truly matters in God’s eyes isn’t what you say with your mouth, but what you do with your life. He the comments that the “chosen ones of Israel” are not inheriting the Kingdom of God because they aren’t responding to Jesus’ message, but the “tax collectors and prostitutes” are being welcomed in because they are acting on the truth of the Gospel.
Second, He tells of a landowner who leaves his vineyard in the hands of tenants for management. But, when he sends servants as his envoys to claim what is rightfully his, the tenants respond by abusing and murdering the representatives of the master, right up to killing his son. The master responds to their unrighteous actions by destroying the tenants and giving the vineyard to others, to people who will obey the master by giving to him what is rightfully his.
Again, Jesus speaks directly to the Pharisees, telling them “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43, emphasis added)
Finally, we come to the parable that contains the passage at hand, the Parable of the Wedding Feast.
Once again, here is a story about a people who were chosen to be a part of something special, but squandered their opportunity by the way in which they lived their lives. The original invitees to the wedding feast chose not only to make their own pursuits and careers more important than the call of the King, but also to directly mistreat those people who were inviting them to come to the feast.
The King responds, then, by sending out his servants once more, this time to invite not a select few but as many as they can find, “both bad and good.” (Matthew 22:10)
Now, it is after all the guests are gathered that we find this curious statement.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a 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 22:11-14
The question is, “What’s the deal with the wedding garment, and why is it such a big deal?”
A Future Feast
Most of the time when Jesus tells parables, they are made-up stories to make a point. This time, though, His story is not just an illustration of an idea, but a presentation of an incident to come.
When Jesus speaks of the wedding feast, He’s telling us what’s going to happen at the end of all things.
Look at what the Bible says about this in the book of Revelation…
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
-Revelation 19:6-9 (ESV)
There is a wedding feast, and wedding garments, and look at what the garments actually are…
“The fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8b)
Now, remember that when Jesus told His parable, it was the third in a series. The first one was about two types of sons, and that those who inherit the Kingdom are those whose deeds match their words. The second was about two groups of tenants, and how the Kingdom is given to those whose actions are in line with the will of the master.
Here we are in the third story, and we see two categories of guests who actually attend the banquet, those who have the right garments, and those who don’t. It’s a continuation of the same theme that Jesus has been focusing on, that the people who inherit the Kingdom are the ones who are proved righteous by the way they live their lives.
The Best Things in Life Are Free
For many who hear this, the first thing that comes to mind is “Oh no, I’d better try harder to be righteous then!” The point and message of Jesus’ parables then becomes, “Do more, do better, try harder and then maybe you’ll be good enough to get in.”
However, this is totally antithetical to the Gospel! Not only that, but in Jesus’ day, there was NO ONE more dedicated and focused on “doing the right thing” than the Pharisees, and they were the very ones He was telling the parable against!
So what’s the deal?
Look one more time at Revelation 19:7-8. “Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
We know from 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-32 and other passages that the “Bride” is the Church, the people of God redeemed by the blood of Christ. Look, though, at this key phrase from the passage above, “it was granted her to clothe herself…” These righteous deeds of the saints, the “wedding garments” that God is looking for, they are not something that we tailor and toil for ourselves.
They are a gift.
This is the resounding message of the Gospel, and what makes the “Good News” so good!
This is why Paul rejoices in Romans 3:21-22 that, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
This is the hope and confidence in which all believers in Christ can stand, that on the day of judgment when the Master of the Banquet comes to see who is properly clothed and who will be cast out, we will not be showing up to the feast in the raggedy garments of our own righteous acts. No, we will be found dressed in the shining robes of the righteousness of Christ!
All of us who are in Christ will be found worthy of acceptance into the eternal Kingdom, not because of our own deeds done in the flesh, but because of the perfect life of Jesus, given as a gift to us in the Spirit. And, as a result of His perfect righteousness being given to us, we have the joy and desire to give ourselves to righteous deeds, not to earn our ticket to the feast, but because in Christ we’re already welcomed at the table.