Monday, October 20, 2008

Matthew 22:1-14

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward

October 19, 2008

Read Matthew 22:1-14.

When I asked Sarah to marry me, I had no idea how much work weddings are. We spent months picking out clothes, cakes, flowers, decorations, snacks, locations, invitations, pastors, everything. We addressed invitations until our hands felt like they would fall off. But when you compare our wedding with the wedding that this king was throwing for his son, our wedding seems like instant ramyun.

In Jesus’ culture, a wedding feast lasted for days, and the wedding feast for a king’s son might last for weeks. Thousands of people would be invited. The expense and preparation time would be huge!

And this was not just any wedding and not just any feast. This was the wedding of the king's son, the probably heir to the throne. Celebrating this wedding was an act of loyalty to the king. Participating in the joyful party was a way for the nation to affirm their ongoing commitment to the king and to his son, the heir. Throwing a lavish, abundant party was the King's way to prove to the people that he could care well for them.

Imagine the palace of this king as he makes preparations for the feast. In the barnyard are dozens of cows eating rich grains and salts. They have been on a special all-you-can-eat diet for months, getting them nice and fat for this big occasion. Gardeners are pushing cart after cart of carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, apples, and more – all to be eaten during the feast. There are mountains of onions, with little ajuma’s and halmoni’s peeling them one by one and wiping the tears from their eyes. The grain mill has been rolling non-stop to get enough flour for all of the baking. There is a forest of chopped and dried wood just to fuel the fires needed for roasting, baking, and boiling. The blacksmiths are sharpening all the knives and shoeing all the royal horses. The decorators are having special stages built. The florists are buzzing around planning flowers and comparing color schemes. Carts of oil are coming from hundreds of miles away toward the palace just to fuel the lamps which will burn all night for many nights. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been mobilized from all around the city and country just to prepare the supplies for this monumental feast. This is the kind of feast that nobody deserves. It is too good for even the best of us. It is grace upon grace to be invited.

When everything is almost ready, the king sends the final notice to the guests that it is time to come. “But they refused to come.” They refused to come? How could they refuse to come? No one refuses the king. No one passes up an opportunity to go to a feast like this.

The king sends out his servants again with this message: “Maybe you misunderstood. The feast is ready. All of the months of preparation are coming to a close. We have already butchered the animals. Now is the time. The meat won’t last forever. We can’t wait much longer. Please come now.”

But the guests still don't come. Some say they are too busy with other good things – a farm, a business. No one would argue that these are bad things, but are they more important that loyalty to the king? Some attack the messengers. They are not loyal to the king, and they don't want anyone to ask them to be. This seems a bit harsh – killing someone for delivering an invitation, but remember, this was not just an invitation to a wedding. This was an invitation to affirm their loyal commitment to the king. They were rebels, so they acted in rebellion.

The king understands their message. They have rejected him as king. Rebellion can't be tolerated. He sends his soldiers to burn their city to the ground.

But the king's party cannot be stopped. His wedding feast is ready, and it must be filled. He sends his servants out to the street corners and highways. If this kingdom were in Cheonan, the king would have sent his servants to Yaoori and Cheonan Station, to the KTX and the Cheonan Interchange. They gather together anyone they can find: good and bad, thick and thin, short and tall, Jews and Gentiles. Every last person is invited to the banquet feast of the king's son, and the hall is filled with guests.

So what did this mean for Jesus and for the people of his time? As usual in Jesus' stories, the king is God, and Jesus is the king's son. The wedding feast was a common Biblical image for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Isaiah imagined salvation like this: “In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven's Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat” (25:6).

God had been preparing the nation of Israel for this “feast” for centuries. He sent them Moses to explain the Kingdom way of life to them. He sent them the prophets to remind them that the Messiah would come to bring in this Kingdom way of life. Like the king in this story, God had been making preparations for a long time for this event. Paul says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son” to redeem us (Galatians 4:4-5). In the fullness of time, when all of God’s preparations were complete, he sent Jesus the Messiah to fulfill his Kingdom in the world.

The feast was on the table. The long awaited time had come. The promises from centuries of prophets were reaching fulfillment right then at that time.

But what happened when the feast arrived? What happened when Jesus, the Messiah, walked into Jerusalem? Some ignored the feast and continued on with their own busy lives. Others seized him and killed him.

What was the result? The first and deepest consequence was that the missed the feast that Jesus was offering them. Jesus was giving them priority invitations the feast of a lifetime, no more than a lifetime, the feast of all time. And they walked away. They passed it up. They ripped up the invitation and slapped the messenger because they wanted their own ways and their own things. They were way too busy and important to be interrupted by God and new ways of doing life.

Second, about 30-40 years after Jesus was killed, the Jews staged a major revolt against the Roman Empire. They kicked the Romans out, but the Romans came back bigger and stronger and completely destroyed Jerusalem. Many Christians in the New Testament times believed that this is what Jesus was talking about. Was it? Is that how God works? I honestly don't know, but I'm pretty sure that if the people of Jerusalem had decided to love their enemies (the Romans) like Jesus said – instead of slitting their throats in rebellion – then the Romans would have left Jerusalem alone.

But remember that God started this big party. He had been making the preparations since Abraham: “I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. … All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). The time of blessing the earth through Israel had come, and God's party could not be stopped. After Jesus was raised from the dead, his last words to his disciples were: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (28:18-20).

This is where we come into the story. We are the people who are being gathered into the wedding hall, both good and bad. We don’t deserve to be there. We aren’t important people. God simply shows his grace to us by giving us the invitation of a lifetime. God's party must go on, and so he sends out his invitation to everyone everywhere in the world: “Come to the feast of the King. Come and learn the Kingdom ways. Come and feast on the goodness of God! Come and be transformed!”

We could easily be too busy with life to accept the invitation to Feast of Life. I love how William Barclay, and old Bible scholar says this: “[We] can be so busy making a living that [we fail] to make a life; [we] can be so busy with the administration and the organization of life that [we forget] life itself.”1 Work and school and hakwons and laundry are all good things, but we can get so busy with those that we miss the life of God which is always available to us. Don't miss the feast that is set on your own table! Don't miss the feast that is waiting for you every minute of the day!

We might also reject the invitation to the party because we don't like the guest list. We might look at the church and say, “Look at all those hypocrites. They don't really believe that stuff. Look at how they live!” Well, I hate to break this too you, but that's kind of the plan. The king sent his servants out to invite everyone: good and bad, honest and dishonest, healthy and unhealthy. Jesus the Kingdom of God is like a fishing net that catches all kinds of fish, good and bad. Later, at the end, the fish will be sorted out, but for right now, everyone's just all together (See Matthew 13: 47-50).

And that's kind of a good thing. The point of the gospel is that God can change bad fish into good fish. Who we are is not fixed forever. We can change. Because of God's grace and Jesus' power in our lives, we can become new people, and hanging around the feast is a good way to help that transformation get started.

That leads us to the last part of this story. The king's feast is going well. The party is rolling. The food is delicious. The music is great. Everyone's having a good time. But there's this one guy who comes in without the right clothes. This would be an insult to the king and to everyone at the party. The King questions him and then kicks him out into the bitter darkness or into hell.

Hell seems like an awfully strong response for someone who just didn’t put on a suit and tie. But we have to remember that this story is full of symbolism. We can get some help explaining this symbolism from Revelation 19. Thousands of voices sing out, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give [God] 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.” Then John adds, “Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8).

So this guy didn't just forget his tie. He wasn't living right. He didn't put on a lifestyle to match the King's wedding. It's kind of like this guy is a wedding crasher. He doesn't care anything about the wedding or the couple getting married.

So that made me think of the movie Wedding Crashers. There are two good looking guys who are “wedding crashers.” They go to weddings uninvited and pretend to be part of the family and friends. They are players, and they figure that women will fall for them more easily when they are caught up in the romance and passion of a wedding.

Watch the movie's trailer. (We only watched the first minute, and we edited that some.)

Let me warn you. This is not a good movie to watch, but it does help illustrate our text. These guys are misusing the wedding ceremony. It's supposed to be a celebration of lifelong commitment and love, but they are just there to get some free wine and easy sex. The wedding crasher guys always had great suits or tuxedos or whatever. But their attitudes and actions were terrible. They were just using the wedding for their own selfish ends.

The guy in Jesus' story was like this. He was just crashing the wedding with a bad attitude. He's just there for the free stuff: good food, good fun, and maybe a good woman.

Here's the catch. We can be wedding crashers too. We come to church. We hang around the Kingdom Party. Maye we even bring our wedding gifts in nice little envelopes. Maybe we wear all the nice clothes on the outside.

But we have to face the possibility that we don't have the kind of clothes that Jesus expects. Maybe we don't have the right attitude about all of this, or the right perspective on life. Maybe we're just in this whole church thing for the food, friends, and feelings. Maybe we're just here for the “fire insurance.” You know - “I don't to go to hell, so I guess I'll go to church.” It's really easy for us to come to the party without wearing the right clothes.

Like Paul said in Colossians 3, we need to “strip off [our] old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds, and put on [our] new nature, and be renewed as we learn to know our Creator and become like him” (3:9-10). “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. ... Above all, clothe yourselves with love …” (3:12-14).

In Ephesians 6, Paul talks about putting on the whole armor of God, and he makes these cool little names: the belt of truth, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, etc. Today I want to suggest some other clothing items that we might not usually think about. However, these are simple spiritual disciplines that we can practice to put on wedding clothes, to live in the Kingdom way, helping God's Kingdom to come among us. So here they are, the wedding clothes of the gospel:

Put on the Pantyhose of Thanksgiving.

My friends Nicki and Aaron were talking with each other, and Nicki said, “Man just see how long you can go without complaining. Count how many minutes or hours or days you can go with complaining about anything.” Wow! Some days, we wouldn't last 10 minutes for most of the day.

Brennan Manning says that a true Christian can be identified by how thankful she is. We have been invited to the Wedding Feast of the Son of God. We live with the Kingdom of God all around us. Life is a feast! Don't be the guest who walks around the party complaining about everything. Be thankful. Thank God for the sun, the air, the flowers, your food, your friends, your family, your work.

Put on the High Heels of Slowing.

Seriously. (High heels will slow you down; well maybe not if you're Korean, but they would definitely slow me down.) We wear busyness like a badge of honor: “Oh, I'm sooooo busy. I just don't know what I'm going to do.” You can't party if you're too busy. Don't be like the guests who skipped the king's party because they were too busy. Slow down! Make time for your family and friends. Practice saying, “No.” Practice saying, “No,” to good things. You can't do all of the good things, so you've got to say no to some so that you can have time for God's feast.

Put on the Hankie of Mercy.

Remember this party is a mixed bag. Don't be too hard on each other. Make allowance for each other's faults. Forgive people. Accept people who don't fit our rules. Maybe God accepts them, or maybe they're going to change. Either way, you're not the bouncer or body guard of the party. God will sort out who belongs and who doesn't. In the meantime, our job is to help people feel welcome.

Put on the Apron of Hospitality.

Have you ever been to one of those huge parties where everyone kind of becomes a host? I think that's kind of what God has in mind with this Kingdom Wedding thing. We stop sitting around waiting for the waiters to come and take our order, and we get up and start helping the party happen. We show new people the way to the bathroom. We help out the drinks and snacks.

These may sound like strange disciplines. They are definitely strange clothes to wear all together! But these are all wedding items that we should all have as a regular part of our life. These may not come easily, but they are desperately important – just like brushing our teeth or taking a shower or exercising.

Without these, we can become Wedding Crashers at God's party, turning life and church into something that we use for our own selfish ends. Don't be a wedding crasher. Accept God's invitation to the party of a lifetime, and let that invitation change the way you live making you more thankful, more merciful, more hospitable, and a little slower moving. You and everyone you know will be glad you put on those clothes.

1William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, revised (Philidelphia: Westminster, 1975), 268.

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