Flashback Episode — Accepting Two Free Gifts: Matthew 22:1-14

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During the week that leads up to the cross, the gospel of Matthew shares a powerful, challenging parable that is just as applicable for our lives today as it was for those living in the first century. In this parable, we discover two key details that are worth paying attention to, and both these details are necessary for our salvation. While modern Christian culture focuses a lot of attention on one of these details, we find out that only having one detail in place may actually be worse than having neither detail.

Let’s read this parable and unpack some big themes we can learn from it. Our passage is found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “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.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

It is at this point in the parable where Jesus could have stopped. When thinking about salvation, the great news for each of us is that all we need to do is accept God’s invitation and we are all set. When those who the king originally invited rejected his invitation, the way opened for anyone and everyone, regardless of their past, to be invited. Jesus describes the wedding hall being filled with both good and bad people.

But Jesus didn’t stop the parable here. After the wedding hall was filled with guests, Matthew continues Jesus’ parable in verse 11:

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

What begins as an amazing parable about inclusiveness and being invited ends with someone being thrown out. Jesus’ concluding words are also challenging to think about: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.

All too often, we’d rather focus entirely on the first portion of the parable: the portion focused on inviting the many, and we don’t like thinking about the disturbing way Jesus ended this message.

However, let’s look at the details of this scene, with what is said and what is not said to discover something amazing about God, who is represented in this parable as the king.

Early on in the parable, when those who were originally invited reject their invitation, the king has a problem. The king has a feast ready, and no guests to eat and celebrate with him. They had already killed and prepared the food and if too much time passes, the food will spoil and the banquet feast would be a failure.

Since everything is ready, those the servants find in the streets and alleys don’t have time to go home and change to get ready for a banquet. If they did, they risk missing out because the food would have spoiled, or there would be no food left, or there wouldn’t be any space left. The invitation the servants share is one focused on simply coming because you have been invited.

However, this sounds great on the surface, but after inviting everyone they could find and when the wedding hall is full, the king arrives and throws someone out who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. This sounds like a double-standard – except when we look at the unwritten implication that the wedding hall was full of people wearing wedding clothes.

Those who accepted the invitation didn’t have time to get changed into wedding clothes, and since the invitation was given to people of every background, some of those who were invited likely didn’t even own wedding clothes because they were too poor.

The only way this parable makes sense is if between the first and second portions, we conclude that when these last minute guests arrive, they are offered wedding clothes to change into. If everyone was offered wedding clothing in addition to the invitation, then the king has every right to challenge someone who is present but who isn’t wearing the second gift that was freely offered.

The person not wearing wedding clothes, because they chose to reject the king’s second gift, is thrown out of the banquet. This means that two things are important when we focus on what is needed for salvation.

The first is simple: We must accept the invitation that God freely offers to us. This invitation is made possible because Jesus died on the cross for sinful humanity, and because those who were first invited rejected their invitation. Accepting the invitation is as simple as praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart.

The second is a little more difficult: We must accept the gift of wedding clothes that God has offered to us. Clothing in this context symbolizes our character and our actions. We must be willing to remove our sinful character, habits, and lifestyle, and replace it with God’s perfect character, habits, and lifestyle. This sounds impossible to do, but it’s only impossible when we forget one tiny detail: God is the one giving this free gift.

Perfecting our lives on our own is impossible, but letting God change our lives and being willing to let Him change us makes the impossible become possible. Accepting God’s gift of clothing means that we choose to focus daily on growing closer to God and that we focus on becoming more like Him. When we focus on God and on Jesus, the Holy Spirit will begin changing our lives and our priorities, and we will be transformed by God into who He wants us to be. When the Holy Spirit transforms us, we will be fully clothed in wedding garments fit for the king’s wedding!

The only people who lose in this parable are those who reject God’s invitation, and those who reject the gift of wedding clothes that the king offered. The challenge for each of us is to accept these gifts in preparation for the wedding feast when Jesus returns to bring His people home.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always intentionally seek God first and be willing to accept His invitation and His gifts. God wants His people to be clothed in His character and to model His love to the world around us. God’s love was demonstrated best through Jesus, who pushed back at those who wanted to get between people and God, and who loved sinners enough to die on a cross to take their place. That is the love God modeled for us, and the love He calls us to model for others.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself, in order to grow personally closer to God. Don’t take my word at face value for anything the Bible teaches. Instead, study it out for yourself because when you study the Bible for yourself, you will grow personally closer to God – and you will have the Holy Spirit as your teacher. The Holy Spirit is a way better teacher than me.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 8: When Jesus told a parable about a king inviting guests to a wedding feast, we discover that not only must those the king invited accept the invitation and come, they must also accept another gift that is hidden within the finer details of this parable. Otherwise, those who accepted the invitation risk being thrown out into the darkness.

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