Text: Matthew 22:1-14
We have another difficult text this week. Jesus gets right to the point of the parable in verse 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Elsewhere He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14) It’s a perilous question, and one that every single one of us will deal with at one point or another; Why some, and not others? Why will some go to heaven and feast eternally at the marriage feast of the Lamb and some to the eternal darkness of hell, forever separated from God’s love? This is the question that one of Jesus’ followers already had in Luke 13, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Lk. 13:23)
Why is it that not everyone will go to heaven; why is it that not everyone we see is a Christian, or that some people we identify as Christians are yet proven not so by their words and actions? This question has driven many a Christian to and fro. Some, like John Calvin, who lived during the 16th century, placed the responsibility for this in God. He said that, from eternity, God chose who would eventually go to heaven and who would go to hell. Thus, he sort of placed the blame for hell on God. This is contrary to Scripture. Some, in more recent memory, have said that hell doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, it’s only temporary and one can get out of it once he’s in. This is also contrary to Scripture.
But rather than sit and debate the question within our own minds, let us look to the words of Jesus. He explains that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast. It is a sumptuous festival, prepared by the king to be given freely to everyone who is invited. And yet, not everyone who is invited takes to the invitation kindly. In the parable, Jesus shows that God calls and desires all to come to the wedding feast, and yet few are chosen.
The text for this week picks up as sort of a capstone to the previous chunk of Scripture we’ve been covering in the Gospel readings. We’ve heard Jesus says that the children of Israel were like a son who said he was going to work in the vineyard, but then later refused. They were like the tenants hired to work in the vineyard, but instead of bringing forth its fruits to the owner, they embarrassed and killed his servants, and ultimately killed the vineyard owner’s own son. Now today, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He “sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (vv. 3-6)
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet. It’s a banquet where all are invited to feast with the heavenly Bridegroom, the Word of God made flesh. They feast because Jesus has conquered death and brought the forgiveness of sins, life and immortality, to light. It’s God’s nature to be gracious and merciful, and He desires that all come to the feast. He begins by calling His chosen people, the children of Israel. The text says that the king first sends out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they wouldn’t come. Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther say this is like the time when the Patriarchs lived. At the beginning there were over a thousand years where people could hear the promise of salvation that God gave to Adam either from the man himself or from one of his sons, and yet people refused.
Jesus said that He longed to gather the children of Israel as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they would not. The Father prepared an incredible banquet for His Son and His chosen people, but they wouldn’t have it. Not wanting to be left alone, the king sends out servants again, this time appealing to His guests, “please come.” Everything was ready and prepared, all they had to do was come and receive God’s gifts. But instead, “they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized His servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (vv. 5-6)
God again sent servants to call His people to the feast. He sent John the Baptist, the Apostles, even Jesus, but His own people would not have it. They would not come to the feast because of their own hardness and sinfulness. Rather than receive the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, they clung to their own righteousness. Rejecting the invitation to the feast, the people brought the wrath of the king upon themselves. Jesus says that whoever does not believe stands already condemned. The king will not force those who reject his invitation to come and sit at his table, only to have them reject him there, too.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (vv. 8-10) God created man to be in fellowship with them. He created us to give us all good things. That’s what God wanted to do with His chosen people, but they rejected Him. So He sent out His servants a third time, this time to those who weren’t invited. Just as Jesus sent out the Apostles to spread His Gospel, so He continues to send pastors into the world to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments, calling all to the wedding feast.
The king sends out His servants into the world. They are to gather everyone they see, both the good and the bad, proclaiming to all the wedding banquet is prepared and ready. The servants do so and the wedding hall is filled with guests. The text continues, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.” (vv. 11-13)
The king in the parable, representing God, comes into the feast to check out his guests, but he finds one there who didn’t have a wedding garment on. The wedding garment is the robe of righteousness, the robe of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Though the man made it to the banquet, he was speechless when it was found that he did not have a wedding garment; he was not clothed in the righteousness of the Lamb of God. And so he was bound and thrown into the outer darkness.
This is a tough teaching, and I wish that I were more eloquent and could convey it better. Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 14) God desires the death of no one. He loves all and wants all to come to the wedding feast, but admittance to the feast comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, the Father has continually sent out prophets, apostles, and pastors to proclaim His Word, which works faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. The reason Jesus gives for why few are chosen is that the sinful nature rejects God’s invitation. It turns up its nose and goes to its own business or even ridicules God’s Word.
But thanks be to Jesus Christ, who through the washing of Holy Baptism destroys the power that sin and death and unbelief had over us. In the washing of Holy Baptism you have been made clean, you have been given the white wedding garment and welcomed into the feast, through faith in the Son of God. St. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Eph. 1:3-4) In Christ you have been chosen to feast in heaven with all the saints who have gone before us.