Robert Jeffress - The Kingdom of God is a Party
Hi, I'm Dr. Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". When most people think about heaven, they picture an idelic city floating on clouds with angels lazily plucking up their harps. Sounds a little boring doesn't it? More gratefully that dull depiction of heaven is anything but biblical. And today we're going to open to the parable of the wedding banquet to see what God's kingdom is really like. My message is titled, "The Kingdom of God is a Party", on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
In his book, "What's So Amazing About Grace"? Philip Yancey recounts a story that first appeared in the Boston globe in June of 1990. It was about a wedding banquet that was about to take place. A few months before the banquet, the prospective bride and her fiance went to the Hyatt hotel in downtown Boston to order the meal. The two of them poured over the menu, they made selections of china and silver, pointed the pictures of the flower arrangements that they liked. They both had expensive taste and the bill came to $13.000. After leaving a check for half that amount as a down payment, the couple went home to flip through the books of wedding announcements. The day the announcements were supposed to hit the mailbox, the potential groom got cold feet. "I'm just not sure," he said, "It's a big commitment, let's think about this a little longer".
When his angry fiance returned to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, the event manager couldn't have been more understanding. "The same thing happened to me, honey", she said, and told the story of her own broken engagement. But about the refund, she had bad news, "The contract is binding, you're only entitled to $1.300 back. You have two options, forfeit the rest of the down payment, or go ahead with the banquet. I'm sorry. I really am". It seemed crazy but the more the jilted bride thought about it, the more she liked the idea of going ahead with the party, not a wedding banquet mind you, but a big blowout.
You see 10 years before the same woman had been living in a homeless shelter. She had got back on her feet, found a good job and set aside a sizable nest egg. Now she had the wild notion of using her savings to treat the down and outs of Boston to a night on the town. And so it was that in June of 1990, the Hyatt hotel in downtown Boston hosted a party such as it had never seen before. The host has changed the menu to boneless chicken in honor of the groom, she said, and she sent invitations to rescue missions and the homeless shelters. That warm summer night, people who were used to peeling half gnawed pizza off the cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served hors d'oeuvres to senior citizens propped up by crutches and aluminum walkers. Bag ladies, vagrants, drug addicts took one night off from the hard life on the sidewalks outside and instead sipped champagne, a chocolate wedding cake and dance to big band melodies late into the night.
You know, contrary to what most people believe, heaven is not going to be like one long boring never ending church service, instead Jesus taught that heaven more than anything could be described as a party, a big blowout party to which everyone is invited, but only a few of the most unlikely guests are actually going to attend. And that's the theme of the parable we're going to look at today.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew 22 as we discover why the Kingdom of God really is going to be a party. Matthew 22. Now in our study of Jesus' favorite stories, we've seen that these parables were not standalone stories Jesus told just to entertain the crowd. They were all given in a particular context. And the context of this parable is actually found back in chapter 21, verse 43, Jesus was speaking to the Jews and notice what he says in verse 43, "Therefore I say to you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, the Jews, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it".
Now, this is what drove the pharisees crazy when Jesus started teaching that because Israel rejected Christ, God wasn't going to cancel the kingdom of heaven, he wasn't going to call off the banquet, instead, he was going to invite other people to share in the banquet, gentiles, people like you and I. And you see the Jews couldn't handle that truth. They thought of the gentiles as scoundrels, dogs, second-class citizens. And to think that they would actually be in heaven ahead of the Jews who had rejected Christ, that was unthinkable, but that's what Jesus taught. And to emphasize that truth, he tells this story beginning in chapter 22, verse 2, it's the story of a wedding banquet.
Now this story could actually be told or seen as a three act play, a play in three acts. And we have act one of the play beginning in verse 2, look at it with me, "For the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son". Here was a king, his son was about to get married, he wanted to throw a gala celebration to end all celebrations. Now it was customary in the Middle East for such a celebration not just to go on for a couple of hours like it did at the Hyatt that night, but to go on for several days. After all, it was a banquet to honor the king's son who was getting married. Not just anybody got invited to the palace for such a celebration.
I want you to imagine for just a moment, you go to your mailbox one day and there's an engraved invitation. You look in the left-hand corner, it's from the White House, and you've been invited to a state dinner. To think that you had been singled out to come to the celebration. Well, that's what it was like to be invited to the wedding feast for the king's son. Now look at verse 3, it was normal in the Middle East to send out two invitations to such an occasion. Verse 3, "And he," that is the king, "Sent out his slaves to call those who had already been invited to the wedding". That's the first invitation. The second one was a couple of hours ahead of the party, the slaves went out to remind the guest that the wedding feast was about to come.
However, even though these guests had not RSVPd months earlier, and now he sends out his slaves to ask them again, they still are unwilling to come. The king could have canceled the celebration right then, but he didn't do it, after all he wanted to honor his son so he goes an unprecedented step of actually sending a third invitation. Look at verse 4, "And he sent out the other slaves saying, 'tell those who have been invited, 'behold, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fattened livestock and all were butchered and everything is ready. Come! Come to the wedding feast'". And what was their response? Verse 5, "And they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business".
How did the people respond to this third invitation? Jesus says there were actually two responses, some declined the invitation because of their indifference. They were indifferent to this opportunity to come and be a part of the wedding feast. Now in Luke's account of this story, hold your place here, turn over to Luke 14. Luke 14:18, Jesus expands on the reason that this first group, the indifferent said, "No, I'm not coming even after a third invitation". Look at verse 18 of Luke 14, "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it, please consider me excused'".
Now think about this for a moment, was that really grounds for not coming to the banquet? He had bought a piece of land. Was the land going any place? No, it would have remained after the celebration, but he was coming up with a lame excuse. Now another one said, verse 19, "I bought five yoke of oxen, I've gotta try them out. Please consider me excused". In that day, you wouldn't buy animals without having first inspected them. Another lame excuse. And then verse 20 another one said, "I have married a wife for that reason I cannot come". And a lot of times I like to blame Amy for reasons I can't come to things you know and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work. But here it wasn't logical. I mean, after all, if this guy had married, she could have come to the wedding feast with him. And they were indifferent, that's why they didn't come.
Some people respond with indifference, but amazingly verse 6 says some actually responded to the third invitation with anger. Verse 6 says, "And the rest seized these slaves, mistreated them and killed them". It doesn't make sense that people would get angry about being invited to a party. Just like it doesn't make sense for people to become angry when you invite them to become a part of the Kingdom of God. Have you ever thought how illogical it is that when you share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with some people, when you say, "Would you like to join me and escape hell and experience heaven forever and ever? Would you like to join me in experiencing every wonderful thing God has planned for you"? That they get red faced angry, they are insulted that you would invite them to become a part of the Kingdom of God. And that's what happened here.
What was the king's response? Look at verse 7. "But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and he set their city on fire". There's some believe here that Jesus was alluding to God's soon coming judgment on Israel. When in just a few years after this, Titus, the son of the Roman emperor Vespasian would march into Jerusalem with his Roman troops and burn the city to the ground killing more than a million Jews. Perhaps that was the judgment Jesus was alluding to. Of course, all of it is pointing to that ultimate judgment. When those who have rejected the king's invitation to come to the wedding banquet, those who have rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior will spend an eternity in hell separated from God.
Now after such a rejection, not one, two, but three rejections, again the king would have been justified in calling the party off, "Maybe this just isn't a good idea". But after all he had a son who was about to get married. He wanted to honor the son, and so he came up with an idea. And that begins act two starting in verse 8, "And then he said to his slaves, 'the wedding is ready, the down payment has been made, but those who were invited were not worthy. So go therefore to the main highways and as many as you find their invite to the wedding feast'. And so those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all that they had found both evil and good, and the wedding hall was filled with the wedding guests". In Luke's account of this in Luke 14, Jesus said that they went out into the highways and the byways and they brought in the lame, the crippled, the maimed, the deaf and the blind, those whom that society considered the dregs of society, they were the ones who were invited to come and be a part of the wedding feast.
It was unthinkable that these people were the ones who would enter into the king's palace. But you know the fact that they came made a much more exciting party. James Montgomery Boice wrote, "In the same way when the Lord saved us by his grace, it was no common event. When he brought us great sinners to his feet and washed us and clothed us and fed us and made us his own, it was a wonder to be talked about forever and ever". Jesus' point was very simple. The reason the first group neglected or rejected the king's invitation, they had no need to come to the banquet. They felt like they were satisfied. They felt like they had all that they needed to satisfy themselves. The second group, they accepted the king's invitation because they were hungering for something, they wanted to be satisfied. And what a great lesson for all of us, those who accept God's invitation are those who recognize their need before God.
Now, Jesus could have ended the story right here. The story could have faded to black after act two with all of these homeless people, street people dancing late into the night to the big band melodies, but had Jesus ended the story here, we might've been tempted to get the wrong idea. Remember, this is a parable Jesus said about the kingdom of heaven and had Jesus stopped the story here, we might've made the wrong application. We might've thought, "Okay, what Jesus is saying is those who are going to be in the kingdom of heaven are the poor, the handicap, the disadvantaged". In other words, there's an inverse relationship between our net worth and our salvation, the lower our net worth, the greater the chance of getting into heaven. That's not what Jesus is teaching here. Our standing in heaven has nothing to do with our socioeconomic status in life.
And to illustrate the real point of this parable, there is a third act, a surprising act that begins in verse 11. Look at it with me, the underdressed guests who is judged. "But when the king came to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in the wedding clothes". Get the picture. The king's up in his quarters, the slaves come and say, "Your majesty, we now have the banquet hall filled". And the king is delighted, he walks into the great banquet hall and there are people eating and dancing, fellowship, having a great time. He looks over the crowd, he is so pleased until he zeroes in on one person, one guest who is not dressed appropriately. And he zeroes in like a laser on that one person and he says to him in verse 12, "Friend, how did you come in here without the wedding clothes"? And the guest was speechless.
Here's a place where understanding the culture helps you understand what Jesus is saying. You see, it was very common in Jesus' day at a wedding banquet for the host to provide a wedding garment to every guest who attended. The guests would come, he would be greeted at the door by the host or one of the host's servants, and he would be offered the proper wedding garment to be put on. And the person said, "You know what? If what I have isn't good enough so be it. The king can talk to me about it if he wants to". So, almost in the sense of arrogance he said, "I'll come to the wedding banquet in my own clothes instead of putting on the garment the king has provided me". And that's what most people are banking on that they are good enough, they don't need anything else to enter into God's presence.
Notice what happened to this guest, his excuses for not putting on the wedding garment seemed logical until he stood in the splendor of the king, stood in his presence. He saw him and all of his majesty and the Bible says, "The guest was suddenly speechless". He realized at that point, he was underdressed. It's going to be the same way when some people stand before God, all of the excuses of why they didn't become a Christian, why they didn't trust in Christ as Savior, they all seem so logical on earth until they find themselves standing in the holiness and the majesty of God the Father.
Romans 3:19 says, "At that moment, every mouth will be silenced". How did he respond? How did he respond? Verse 13, "Then the king said to the servants, 'bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness in that place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth'". Does that sound familiar to you? It's a phrase Jesus uses repeatedly to talk about hell. The person who is not dressed properly is dispatched to hell. Pastor, isn't that kind of an overreaction? Just because the person isn't dressed properly, he goes to hell? You know what Jesus is saying here, this parable is not about how to dress for a wedding, it's how to stand before God.
Listen to me this morning, in the Bible, a garment is a sign of righteousness, a sign of our right standing before God. And all of us have a choice about what garment, what righteousness we want to use when we stand before God. We can either stand before God in our own righteousness or in the righteousness God offers us through his son Jesus Christ. Only God is capable of providing a covering for our sin. And that's what he did with his son Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross in order to provide a covering, an atonement for our sins. And when we trust in Christ as our Savior what we're saying is, I'm not trusting in my own righteousness, my own goodness, I'm trusting in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives this application in verse 14, "For many are called, but few are chosen". Have you heard that before? Many are called, fewer chosen. It's clear what he means in this parable by that, everyone has been called, every one has been invited to attend the wedding feast. Everyone is offered the gift of salvation. However, some neglect that invitation, they are so caught up with the things of this world, they don't have time to prepare for the next world, they simply neglect the invitation. Other people angrily reject the invitation, they shake their fist in the face of God and say, "I don't need your salvation". Some people decide they'll approach God in their own way and their own righteousness.
Ladies and gentlemen the point of this parable is very simple, there is only one way to be accepted by God and that is to put on the righteousness he offers you. He offers to clothe you with through his son, Jesus Christ. I believe that's what the hymn writer had in mind when he wrote that song we sang a few moments ago when he shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in him be found dressed in his righteousness alone faultless to stand before the throne on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.