Extending wedding invitations can become complicated. Jesus put that into a parable. Matthew 22:1–14, he told.
Beware of refusing God’s invitation. God graciously invites you into his kingdom. This parable is similar in some respects to one that Jesus told in Luke 14:16–24. Here he compares the kingdom of heaven to a king giving a great wedding feast. The Lord reveals himself as the great King in the Old Testament (Psalm 97). The imagery of a feast, to which the nations are invited, is used to describe the kingdom, Isaiah 25:6–8.
Double invitations were common for celebrations in the ancient Middle East.
To refuse the invitation is insulting. The guests had apparently already been invited, and the implication is that they had agreed to come. Now, when the second invitation goes out, they ignore it and go about their ordinary business. This parable lacks the blatant excuses of Luke 14, but the insult is just a real. No emergency, just ordinary business, prevents the guests from attending. Beyond simply ignoring the invitation, they mistreat, and even murder some of the king’s messengers. Jesus looks back at the way his people had treated the prophets. Jesus had come as the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven — and his people simply ignored him. The theme of this parable is not that different from the one which precedes it in Matthew 21:33–46. The refusal is even more insulting and surprising when you realize that this is a royal invitation that is being spurned. If you neglect God’s offer of grace in Jesus Christ, you reject, not just an earthly king, but the Lord of the universe.
The king judges those who insult him. The king sends out his army, destroys the murderers, and burns their city. You do not trifle with a royal invitation. The Lord had been patient with his people, but there comes an end to his patience. A day of judgment comes. The burning of the city may particularly refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, which would be destroyed in 70 A.D. because of its rejection of the Messiah. But it also looks beyond that to the judgment at the end of the age. There is no escaping the invitation / command of the King of kings to come to his banquet.
Respond to God’s grace. The king graciously fills his hall with guests. He will not have empty spaces at his feast, so he sends his servants out to the street corners to gather all the people they could find. These are not the nobility, the self-important, those who could be expected eventually to reciprocate the royal invitation. Rather, they are ordinary people, of all kinds (as Jesus puts it, “both good and bad”). Israel viewed itself as the proper recipients of God’s favor. Others were the despised Gentiles. But they missed the emphasis in Psalm 97 on the peoples rejoicing in the King. They overlooked Isaiah’s designation of the feast for all nations. You are the recipients of God’s favor. You have been brought in, simply by his gracious command and invitation, not because you have something of worth to offer him. This is a parable, but it’s more than a parable. Notice how the Scriptures describe the church of Jesus Christ in Revelation 21 and Ephesians 5. You, his people, are the bride of Christ. Praise God for the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus. Come to God in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Now there is no doubt that according to Scripture the characteristic essence of the church lies in the fact that it is the people of God…. The blessings granted to the church are primarily internal and spiritual in character and consist in calling and regeneration, in faith and justification, in sanctification and glorification. They are the goods of the kingdom of heaven, benefits of the covenant of grace, promises for this life and, above all, for the life to come.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 298)
Live as the recipient of God’s grace. This parable adds an element missing from the one in Luke — the wedding garment, and the guest who neglected or refused to wear his. We know relatively little about customs at ancient weddings. Some have suggested that the host provided appropriate attire. That may have been the case, especially in the case of those unexpectedly ushered into the banquet. But one person sits down to feed his face without bothering with the wedding garment. He has no legitimate excuse (he’s speechless, when confronted). Thus he is ignominiously expelled and punished for the contempt with which he treated his host, the king. You cannot earn your way into God’s kingdom. “Thus repentance and righteousness, while they do not in any meritorious sense earn the benefits of the kingdom, are yet indispensable concomitants of the state in which alone those benefits can be received.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church, p. 92) You are ushered in by grace. But you, as guests at his table, as citizens of his kingdom, are summoned to live as his covenant people. You may not despise what he has provided. (How do you use the means of grace God has given you?) If you do despise and ignore him, woe to you!
God’s grace is rich, abundant, and free. But you dare not treat it lightly. Respond to his invitation. Enter his banquet. And live as one who belongs at his heavenly feast.