“The kingdom of heaven is like…” So many stories in the Bible begin with those famous words. We call them parables. Parables are an ancient teaching method that Jesus used to help the people understand what they couldn’t see. You cannot see the kingdom of heaven. It is an abstract concept. It is real. One day we will see it with our own eyes. But for now, we only see it with the eyes of faith.
That is why Jesus so often spoke in parables. How do you get someone to understand something they’ve never seen? Well, you say, “It’s like this.” And then you take something they have seen and compare it to the concept you are trying to convey.
Parables are memorable because of the images they put into our mind. They are stories of people and places that we can relate to and say, “I know what that is like. I’ve experienced that too.” So that when someone asks us about God and the Bible, rather than complicate things, we can say to them, “It’s like this.” That is what Jesus is doing with the parables he tells in the four Gospels.
Every single one of us has been to a wedding banquet. Right now, as I say those words, images of previous wedding celebrations appear in your mind. You think of the venue and its decorations. You think of the many guests, the abundance of food, and the celebratory nature. Jesus says, “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.” It is obviously much more than that, but in these verses, Jesus illustrates one feature of the kingdom of heaven. He is talking about the intimate moment when he will finally be in person together with his promised bride, the church.
That day is going to be a glorious day. That day is going to be the happiest day in the history of creation. That day is going to be even better than when the Messiah first came to his people on earth. People waited for him for so long. You and I still wait for him to come again. Like a bride longing to be close to her husband in the days before her wedding day, so you and I wait expectantly for that day to come.
In this parable the acceptance of the invitation is stressed. The reason Jesus uses the imagery of a wedding banquet is to underscore the celebration in heaven. It will be so wonderful that it is an absolute no brainer to accept this invitation. Why would anyone turn it down for something inferior on this earth? It makes no sense. And yet, Jesus says that some clearly do. Beyond all comprehension some clearly do.
We call that unbelief. Unbelief is the refusal to accept God’s invitation to put on the robe of righteousness acquired by Jesus Christ. That someone would refuse such a gift, that someone would scorn such a gift is the very reason why the thought of hell is so sad. Because the gift is already yours. It has already been purchased and wrapped up for you.
You think of how Jesus explains it in John chapter 14: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
So, he’s already prepared a home for us in heaven. To use the imagery of this parable—the table has already been set. The dinner is ready to be served. As the king says, “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” (v. 4).
“But they refused to come” (v. 3). It’s worse than that. Verse 5 informs us, “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.” Says one commentator, “They made light of it.” Well, yes, they did. They disregarded the invitation because they didn’t care for it. Other things engrossed their mind.
Do you know anybody like that? For them the whole notion of Jesus and the Bible, heaven and church is just ho-hum. It’s not that they think it is out-right bad. It is simply of no interest to them. “Big deal!” they think. Whether they happen to be saved or whether others happen to be saved, is not a front burner issue. “I have other things to deal with at the moment.”
Now this is the majority of America today. People are completely distracted. Indeed, I would say this is why so many youths who grow up in the church later abandon the church. They get distracted. Distracted by what? Well, it’s not necessarily sinful things, but when you compare whatever has their attention with the celebration God has prepared for us in heaven, there is no comparison. It is like being enamored with the tinsel rather than the actual silver and gold.
Or as I like to say—it is like choosing the city park over Disneyland, the happiest place on earth (or so they say). Is there really a comparison between Disneyland and the city park? But if you don’t know…
And I think that is what happens with so many when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. It is beyond them. It is beyond all of us, but at least Christians have the Bible to explain it to them, to give them a picture of it so that when they receive God’s invitation they say, “Well, of course! Going there is way more agreeable than anything else I can experience on this earth.”
And you see, Jesus knows this. After all, he came from heaven. He knows how wonderful it is. Which is why the king is so insistent on continuing to send out his invitation. He knows what it is like and wants others to experience it!
We saw his intentions in the Parable of the Vineyard. The owner of the vineyard continued to send his servants even when the tenants refused and mistreated them. Well, today’s parable is an immediate follow-up to last week’s parable. And you notice the same theme. God is very intent on getting his invitation out to as many people as possible. So, when one group rejects it, he sends it out to another group. And when they reject it, he sends it still out to another group. The people say, “Quit bothering me.” Jesus resonds, “You just don’t understand why I keep bothering you. Once you see it you will understand, and you will be so glad that I did.”
This is just an aside but keep “bothering” the people in your life with God’s invitation. Be nice about it, but don’t give up. And if they flat out refuse, and if they become hostile to you as what happened to some of the servants in the parable, then take that invitation to someone else, but don’t ever stop inviting. God’s promise is that some will accept it and come.
Now the acceptance of the invitation by those who did come is the acceptance of faith. An invitation is a promise. It is the promise by the host that your presence will be well worth your time. If you believe that is true, you will go. If you don’t believe that is true, you won’t go. Now, keep in mind that it is the king’s son who is getting married. If there is one thing that a king is going to spend his money on and pull all the stops out for, it is the wedding of his son.
So, the thinking people in this parable attended. Jesus says, “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” (v. 10).
One of the guests, however, seems to have slipped in. The point of the parable isn’t to provoke our imagination so that we wonder how it is possible that someone could slip into heaven. No. The point is just the opposite. Jesus is saying no one will enter without the proper attire. There will be no intruders.
Verses 11 and 12. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.”
The proper attire, and the only attire with which a man or a woman can enter heaven, is the righteousness of Jesus the bridegroom. A wedding garment, you see, is not part and parcel of the guest that is invited. It is something that you put on.
Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Isaiah 61:10, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”
Revelation 19:7,8 “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.”
“Jesus thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; Mid flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I life up my head.” (CW 376)
Says one of my favorite Lutheran commentators, F. W. Wenzel, “A wedding garment does not fulfill its purpose as long as it lies idle in the cedar chest. It must be put on” (p. 586). And the putting on of the garment is faith, faith in Jesus.
Every time the Gospel is preached, the wedding garment earned by Christ on the cross is offered to the individual. This is why me must preach the Gospel! It is offered to both good and bad. We don’t choose who to offer it to, for God doesn’t choose. The Gospel call is universal. Jesus is saying to all who would listen: “Believe. Believe because of what you will receive.” What did the Apostle Paul say? ‘Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, mind hath not known the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
It is real. The table is set. The dinner is ready. The invitation has gone out to all. It is a no-brainer. Believe and go. Amen.