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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Responding to the Greatest Invitation
Text:Matthew 22:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place
From Out the Depths I Cry
I Sought the Lord, and Afterward I Knew
Come, for the Feast Is Spread                     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Responding to the Greatest Invitation”
Matthew 22:1-14
A wedding invitation is usually received with joy. A couple who is starting a new life together wants you to share in their joy! You have the opportunity to gather with those who are closest to you to share in the joy of what God has brought together, a husband and wife.
You would think that the same would be true in this parable that Jesus tells us in Matthew 22. After all, the invitation is not just to any banquet, but to a very special wedding banquet. The king’s son is getting married! The best food, the most tasteful of drinks, and the most elaborate settings will be used. Certainly, people would love to attend!
The picture painted for us in this parable is clearly the picture of Jesus Christ with his bride, the true church of all ages. In our call to worship from Revelation 19, we read about that wedding feast of the Lamb. John describes one of his many visions this way:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
    For our Lord God Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
 Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”
     (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
The bride who was once filthy, stained and polluted with sin, now is presented spotless, without blame or blemish before God’s throne to be one with Christ forever. What a blessing to be invited to such a wedding feast!
Yet the parable brings us a great surprise: Those who hear the invitation are less than eager to attend. Verse 3 describes how those who were invited refused to come. And verse 5 adds: ...They paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business.”
From a parallel account in Luke 14 we know that all sorts of excuses were made. Luke writes, “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can't come.’”  (Luke 14:17-20)
While many people were indifferent to the invitation or too busy – too preoccupied with themselves to accept the King’s invitation – verse 6 describes how the messengers who brought the King’s invitation were often mistreated and even killed. The King was, understandably, enraged.
Verse 6 is a clear reference to how the people killed the prophets and apostles who brought the good news of the wedding invitation. That is still done today as many are persecuted and killed for proclaiming the gospel message, for bringing the greatest invitation ever given.
From those two reactions – hostility on the one hand and indifference and apathy on the other hand – we see that both are equally sinful in God’s sight. We often focus on the hostility that some have toward the gospel and understand that unless they repent they will perish eternally. 
But Jesus is also teaching here that those who are so preoccupied with their own lives that they have no room for him, making one excuse after another not to come to the wedding feast, will suffer eternal judgment. All those excuses will lead to eternal judgment unless there is sincere repentance and true saving faith in Christ.
To hear so many excuses, such as Luke describes, might seem unusual to some of you. But you would be amazed at the excuses that I hear, as a pastor, why people won’t come to church, why people won’t commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ and live for him, and why they are indifferent to the greatest invitation ever given – the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Many pastors can relate to what Rev. Eugene Peterson speaks of in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He describes how when he first went into the ministry he tried to listen with a straight face to all the excuses that people gave him for not attending church: “My mother made me go to church when I was little.” “There are too many hypocrites in church.” “It’s the only day I have to sleep in.”  
Then he writes:
There was a time when I responded to such statements with simple arguments that exposed them as flimsy excuses. Then I noticed that it didn’t make any difference. If I showed the inadequacy of one excuse, three more would pop up in its place. So I don’t respond anymore. I listen (with a straight face) and go home and pray that that person will one day find the one sufficient reason for going to church, which is God. I go about my work hoping that what I do and say will be usable by the Holy Spirit to create in that person a determination to worship God in a Christian community.  (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, pg. 45)
Because the first people who were invited to this great wedding banquet refused to come, Jesus tells how invitations went out to many others. Verse 8 to 10: “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
Many people from this second group responded to the invitation and came to the great wedding banquet. But this one fellow wasn’t dressed properly. The only requirement to attend this great feast was to have the proper robe, but when he was spotted by the King without wedding clothes, he was kicked out. He was assigned to an eternity where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
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Why? What is going on? How do we apply this parable, (especially as we prepare for the Lord’s Supper next Sunday)?
One truth the parable teaches us is that the Lord’s invitation to attend his wedding banquet – the call of the gospel to believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation – requires a sincere personal response.
The first group of people to whom the invitation was given in verses 1-7, were the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. Many commentators believe that verse 7 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Josephus, the well-known and respected historian, describes how Titus, the Roman emperor, came and destroyed Jerusalem. He set the temple on fire and murdered over one million Jews.
Josephus writes: “While the sanctuary was burning… neither pity for age nor respect for rank was shown; on the contrary, children and old people, laity and priests alike were massacred” (History of the Jewish War, VI. 271). That was the end of the Jewish nation until recent times when Israel was reestablished in 1948. 
Because the majority of the Jews rejected the invitation to the wedding feast – rejected the gracious gospel invitation to believe in Christ Jesus – the invitation was given to the Gentiles. That is what verse 8 and 9 refer to as they describe how the King sent the invitation to the street corners to invite to the banquet anyone who would come. That represents the spread of the gospel to the Gentile world, the whole world, not just Israel as in Old Testament times. One of the signs of the times is that the proclamation of this wedding invitation – the gospel – will go to every nation on earth before the Lord Jesus returns.
However, the rejection of the invitation cannot be seen just on a national level with the Jews of the first century rejecting the Lord and the gospel going to the Gentiles. It must also be recognized on a personal level. Imagine how a bride-to-be would feel if most of her wedding invitations, sent out with that little stamped return envelope beautifully done, were never returned. How would she feel if people simply did not care? How would she feel if people said, “I'm way too busy to come to your wedding!” And how would she feel if they responded with outright hostility?
Imagine how the Lord feels about those who never respond to his invitation. How does he feel when instead of a willingness to attend the wedding feast of the Lord Jesus Christ there are foolish excuses? Or lame apathy? Or outright hostility?
One common excuse is to respond to the gospel invitation as a formality or habit, but not in a truly personal way. That frequently happens in churches (like our own) where for generations the same families have attended church. That is a good and blessed experience in itself, unless a certain apathy builds. We can so easily be lulled to sleep by apathy brought on by familiarity. We begin to think, “Everyone in my family attends this church, surely I must be saved.”
But a personal response is required when the invitation to believe is sent out. Young people, your parents’ faith can’t save you, just like their baptism, their profession of faith, and their church membership can’t save them. A personal response is needed by each one of us. As Luther, and so many others have pointed out, Christianity is the religion of the personal pronoun.
Through Christ Alone
A second truth taught in this parable is that there is no way to be saved without the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of Christ is represented by the wedding clothes of verse 11 and 12.
The picture of verse 12 is consistent with other Scriptures: Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag in God’s sight. Zechariah 3:1-5 describes how Joshua, the high priest, was standing before the Lord dressed in filthy rags. Right beside him was the devil, accusing him. In Zechariah’s vision, the Lord rebuked Satan, and then removed the filthy clothes from Joshua, and put clean clothes on him. Zechariah 3:4 says: Then he said to Joshua, “See I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”
Scripture teaches that through faith in Christ the filthy rags of our sin are replaced with the robe of his imputed righteousness. We call that the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. As 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Yet many people, instead of accepting the righteousness of Christ, look for their salvation in their own deeds. Or in their church membership. Or perhaps they believe that they can gain entrance into the great wedding feast on the coattails of their parents. But there is no way to be saved without the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He alone is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through faith in him. (John 14:6)
For those who do not make a personal response to the invitation of our Lord there is only that eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth spoken about in verse 13. Without the righteousness of Christ imputed – credited – to us, we cannot be saved. And that righteousness of Christ comes only by true saving faith in him alone.
Some people look at this parable and say, “How unfair! People were invited in off the street. That poor man couldn’t help it if he didn’t have wedding clothes. This is totally unfair!” Others point out that it was a custom in the Near East in Jesus day for the host of the banquet to give a fine robe to each guest as they arrived. If someone did not accept the robe it was like saying, “I don't need your robe. Mine is just fine.”
It would be similar to me, when I’m asked to conduct a wedding and told to rent a tuxedo from a certain place, to say: “I really like my flannel shirt and my blue jeans. I will just wear those to the wedding.” That is essentially what this man did in the parable. He rejected the righteous robes of Jesus Christ, credited by faith, and appeared at the banquet clothed in his own good works, his own perceived obedience to the law, his own clothes, instead of the righteous robes of Christ given to us through saving faith in him.
The King was – and the true King will be – completely fair when he consigns those who have rejected his invitation to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, through faith in him alone, to eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As a side note, the King called the man “Friend,” yet consigned him to eternal punishment. Jesus also addressed Judas Iscariot as “Friend” when Judas came to Gethsemane to betray Jesus. It teaches us that there are many who say they are friends of the Lord. Most Americans still say that they are Christians. But the only true Christians are those who acknowledge that they have nothing by way of their own righteousness, and having repented of their sin they trust wholeheartedly in Jesus alone for salvation. They are then, as a result of God’s grace and regenerating Holy Spirit, clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  
Only by Grace Through Faith
As Jesus closes this parable, he adds a verse that reminds us that our salvation is not due to anything in us but due to God's electing love.
Many are bothered by verse 14: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Some do like the pastor Karen and I heard a number of years ago when we were on vacation. He preached through verse 13, but he never even read verse 14. He pretended that verse 14 didn’t even exist. But how do we deal with a verse like that?
We deal with the verse as come to the place in our lives as Christians, and this comes with spiritual maturity, when we realize that the reason we love God is because he first loved us. It’s the truth written about in 1 John 4:19: We love because he first loved us,” and also in the words of Jesus in John 15:16: You did not choose me but I chose you to bear fruit.”  It’s the truth written about in Ephesians 1, that classic chapter on God’s electing love, which describes how God chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves.” (Eph. 1:3-6)
We sang about that earlier:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.  (Anonymous, 1878)
That hymn describes what verse 14 is speaking about. The gospel invitation goes around the globe to everyone. Yet, although many are called few respond with true, saving faith. The reason we respond is not due to our wisdom or goodness or inner discernment, but it is due to God’s electing love.
In Acts 13 we read about the ministry of Paul and his companions in Pisidian Antioch. Luke describes how they went to the synagogue and proclaimed the gospel, but many refused to believe. Yet Acts 13:48 records how When the Gentiles heard the gospel, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord, and all those who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
Nowhere does the Bible take away our human responsibility to repent of our sins, to have saving faith in the Lord and to increase our faith by using God’s means of grace: his word, prayer, the sacraments and fellowship with his people. In fact, in Philippians 2:12-13 we are told towork out (our) salvation with fear and trembling.” Why? “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” And 2 Peter 1:10 tells us to “be all the more eager to make (our) calling and election sure” by living consistent, faithful Christ-centered lives.
As we grow in Christ, we realize that even though we are responsible to grow in grace, knowledge, love and service to our Lord, our salvation is all of God’s doing. He predestined us in love before the world was ever made to live to the praise of His glory. That’s why salvation is all of his grace without any merit on our part. 
Grace has been defined as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” which is true enough and a nice acronym. But grace, in its truest definition, means unmerited favor. We don’t deserve God’s favor. We deserve His righteous judgment. We don’t merit his redeeming love, and yet we receive it through the sacrifice of Christ and the gift of faith that God gives us in Jesus Christ, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
If the Lord had not first worked in your heart and mine, we would be no different from those who rejected the King’s invitation. Without God’s sovereign work of unmerited favor – saving grace – we would be among those who in the words of Isaac Watts, “make a wretched choice and rather starve than come” to the great wedding feast of the Lamb. (Isaac Watts, How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place)
(Next week all of us who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are invited to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper focuses us back to Calvary, to the shed blood and pierced body of our Lord, but it also focuses us forward, to the greatest wedding banquet the world will ever know, the wedding feast of the Lamb). [For reading services in a non-preparatory service the parenthetical portions can be omitted].
The invitation is given, what will you do with it? Will you and I gladly accept the robe of Christ’s righteousness and be seated with him at his wedding banquet? Or are you and I among those who are still making excuses? Or in our heart of hearts do we bear hostility against the very God who has extended his gracious invitation to us?
By God’s grace may you and I, as the Lord works within us, accept his gift of salvation and respond with joy (to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper next Sunday morning), as we look ahead to the wedding feast of the Lamb, that glorious time when we will be presented spotless and without blame with Jesus, to be one with him forever! Amen.
bulletin outline:
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet
for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the
banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. - Matthew 22:2-3
                      “Responding to the Greatest Invitation”
                                          Matthew 22:1-14
I.  Invitations to a great wedding banquet have been sent out (1-10):
     1) The banquet, which represents eternal life through saving faith  
          In Christ alone, is the greatest banquet ever (Revelation 19:6-9)
     2) Most of those who are invited make excuses not to attend (3, 5;
          Luke 14:17-20) while others kill the messengers who bring the
          invitations (6)
      3) The only requirement to attend the banquet (have eternal life) is
           to have the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness (12), which is
           given to all who repent and have saving faith in Christ alone (Acts 16:31)
II. Applications:
     1) The Lord’s invitation, extended through the gospel message,
          requires a sincere, personal response (8, 9)
      2) There is no way to be saved without the righteousness of Christ
           (12; Zechariah 3:1-5; Isaiah 64:6; John 14:6; 2 Corinthians 5:19)
      3) Our salvation is not due to us (John 15:16, 1 John 4:19), but is a
           result of God’s electing love and grace (14; Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:3-14)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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