Matthew 22:1-14 - Homiletics
The parable of the marriage feast.
I. THE FIRST INVITATION .
1 . The King . This parable resembles the parable of the great supper in Luke 14:1-35 .; but it was delivered at a different time, under different circumstances. It differs also in its ending and in many of its details. It cannot possibly be, as some have thought, a mere variation of that parable. The King is God the Father, the Lord God omnipotent. He made a marriage for his Son. The marriage is the union between Christ and his Church—the union described by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians ( Ephesians 5:23-27 ); the union which is to reach its perfect consummation and bliss in God's eternal and everlasting glory ( Revelation 19:7-9 ; Revelation 21:9 , Revelation 21:10 ). The bride is the Church, regarded in its ideal character, as one, holy, catholic, apostolic. The invited. guests are those who have been called into the Church, taken individually. So in Revelation 21:1-27 ., the holy city, regarded as a whole, is the bride, the Lamb's wife; while in Revelation 21:27 , individual saints, they which are written in the Lamb's book of life, are described as entering into it. The King made the marriage. The choice of the Church lies in the eternal purpose of God, the election of God the Father. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son." He determined, in his gracious love, to sanctify our human nature, by uniting it to the Divine nature in the Person of his only begotten Son. The Son of God loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church. The parable describes the preparations for the marriage; not the glorious marriage supper of the Lamb, when the bride shall have made herself ready, arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. For that marriage supper is the blissful consummation of the mystical union of the bride with the heavenly Bridegroom; all who are admitted there are blessed. The marriage feast of the parable is the kingdom of heaven which the Lord came to establish upon earth; the Church, his bride, is not yet in the full sense ready; she has not yet been transfigured by his grace into the likeness of the heavenly Bridegroom; her robes are not yet whiter than snow, made white in the blood of the Lamb. But she is even now his chosen bride, though she needs purification and sanctification. The great Catholic Church, the whole congregation of Christian people upon earth, is the figure, the beginning, of the congregation of the redeemed in heaven. The privileges offered to the faithful are spiritual communion with Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit, access to our Father in heaven through the atonement once made upon the cross, the blessed sacrament in which all true believers are strengthened and refreshed with heavenly food; all these are a foretaste of that great marriage supper which the Lord is preparing in heaven for those who are being sanctified by his Holy Spirit upon earth.
2 . His servants. The King sent forth his servants to call them which were bidden (as Esther sent the chamberlain to bring Haman to the banquet to which she had invited him the day before); but they would not come. The servants were John the Baptist, the twelve, the seventy. They called the Jews, God's chosen people, bidden long ago, to receive the salvation, the full gospel privileges of which all the prophets had spoken. The Lord himself called them. "If any man thirst," he said, "let him come unto me, and drink;" "He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." But, alas! they would not come. "Ye wilt not come to me," he said in his Divine sorrow, "that ye might have life." Again the King sent other servants. He did not at once reject his ancient people for their stubbornness and disobedience. He sent again, and now the message was more urgent: "I have prepared my dinner [it was not the supper, δεῖπνον ; but the midday meal, ἀ ì ριστον , which would mark the beginning of the marriage festivities]: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready." The other servants were the apostles and evangelists sent forth to preach after the great Day of Pentecost. Now the Sacrifice had been offered, the Victim had been slain. The eternal purpose of God had been fulfilled in that one sufficient Sacrifice, Oblation, and Satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. All things were now ready. These other servants preached first to the Jews; but still, as a people, they would not come. They made light of the gracious invitation; some, heedless and thoughtless, went their ways, caring only for the present life, its business or its pleasures. One went to his field: he was a man of landed property; he had all that he wanted. Another went to his merchandise: he was absorbed in the pursuit of gain; he had no time, no thoughts for other things. Both neglected the King's invitation: they had no desire for the royal banquet. Others, more zealous and more violent, because they were zealous for their own exclusive privileges, not for the honour and glory of God, persecuted and slew the servants of the King—the holy Martyr Stephen, the Apostle St. James, and many other saints of God.
3 . The wrath of the King. The King marked these wicked deeds. There was no need that others should repeat them to him (the words, "when he beard thereof," seem not to be genuine); he knoweth all things. He was wroth. Those wicked men had despised his grace and bounty; they had slain his messengers. He bore with them in his long suffering mercy till their iniquity was full. Then he sent forth his armies; he destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. The Lord saw again in prophetic vision that awful visitation over which he had wept when he looked upon Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives: "They shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee." Then he spoke in Divine pity and sorrow, now in the tones of awful justice. It must be so; they are hardened in their wilful unbelief; they will add sin to sin; the dreadful day must come. The wrath of the King is fearful exceedingly; the terror of the Lord is overwhelming. Let us listen to the gentle calling of his grace while there is time.
II. THE SECOND INVITATION .
1 . The message. Again the King sent forth his servants. The marriage feast was ready; the fountain was opened for sin and for uncleanness; the living Bread which came down from heaven was offered to men; all were invited to take of the water of life freely. They which had been bidden were not worthy. They judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life ( Acts 13:46 ). The King bade his servants go into the highways, and call all, without distinction, as many as they should find: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
2 . The obedience of the servants. They did according to the bidding of the King; they went into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found. The apostles and evangelists preached everywhere, whithersoever they could go; they gathered together a great company from all parts of the world. And now the wedding was furnished with guests, the halls of the palace were filled. For the messengers had worked hard, and had brought all who would come, without distinction of race, or social position, or education, or even of moral character; bad and good alike were invited, not only the righteous, but publicans and sinners also. The good (in the human sense of the word) would become better; the bad might, by the gift of grace, be cleansed and converted and saved. All alike were called to the dinner; that is, to the blessings and privileges of the gospel, which are an antepast of the full joy of heaven.
III. THE WEDDING GARMENT .
1 . The King ' s question. The King's house was full; the guests were already at the festal board ( του Ì ς ἀνακειμε ì νους ). The King came in to see them. His eye ranged through that great assembly. He saw all—every one. There was one who had not on a wedding garment. He had been brought from the highways; he had come just as he was; with clothes, perhaps, worn and ragged, soiled and filthy. How was it? The other guests were all suitably attired. They too had been gathered from the highways; there were high and low, good and bad, among them. But whatever they were when they were bidden, whatever was their condition then, all had wedding garments now. This one alone was "clothed with filthy garments," like Joshua the high priest when he stood before the angel ( Zechariah 3:3 ); but he was not now, like Joshua, clothed with change of raiment. The King's eye found him out. He could not be hid, though, we may well believe, he sought to escape that piercing look. "Friend," the King said (the word does not imply intimacy and affection, but only knowledge and acquaintance; it is used in the rebuke of the discontented husbandmen, Matthew 20:13 , and by our Lord to Judas, Matthew 26:50 ), "how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?" The question is gently expressed, but the negative particle used ( μη Ì ἐ ì χων ) seems to appeal to the man's consciousness; it seems to imply that he was aware of his condition, and knew that he was transgressing the rules of decorum. He was speechless; he could find no answer, no excuse. It may be that festal garments for all the guests were provided by the bounty of the King; this unhappy man had contemptuously rejected the offered gift; he had preferred his own mean and sordid raiment; he appeared at the King's board just as he had come from the highway, with no change, no preparation. Certainly, he had taken no pains to provide himself with suitable attire; plainly, he might have done so; all the other guests were clad in wedding robes; why was he in this unseemly garb? He could find no excuse; he could not plead want of time; the rest had found time. He could not plead ignorance; the others knew how the robes were to be procured. He could not plead poverty; the bounty of the King was inexhaustible. His presence in that guise was an insult to the King, a dishonour to the high festival to which he had been invited. He was unworthy of a place among the chosen guests. The wedding garment is the righteousness of saints ( Revelation 19:8 ); "but we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" ( Isaiah 64:6 ). Yet, thank God, we may find a place among the guests of the King, for Jesus Christ our Lord "is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." We must "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" ( Romans 13:14 ). We must appear before the King, "not having our own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." The robe of righteousness is ours, and yet not ours. It is the righteousness of saints, because it has been given to them. "To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen" ( Revelation 19:8 ). The King giveth the fair garments freely in his large and generous bounty. But that righteousness was not of nature; they were born in sin. It was not gained by any works of theirs; by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God ( Romans 3:20 ). It is a gift; it cometh of grace, the grace of God, "who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." We must seek it of him, for without that robe of righteousness we cannot sit among the guests at the marriage feast.
2 . The King ' s sentence. The King made no further inquiries; he read the heart of the miserable man; he knew his history. He pronounced at once the awful sentence: "Then said the King to the servants." These servants ( δια ì κονοι ) are not the same as the servants ( δοῦλοι ) who were sent forth to call the guests. They were Christ's apostles and evangelists; these are the angels of judgment, who "shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" ( Matthew 13:41 ). They were bidden to bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. The time for repentance was past; he might have procured the wedding garment; he had taken no pains to obtain it; he had not even asked for it; nay, we must believe he had rejected it when it was offered him out of the bounty of the King. Now it was too late; he was helpless; bound hand and foot, he could not seek it now. And without that wedding garment there was no place for him in the palace of the King. He must be cast out into the outer darkness; that outer darkness thrice mentioned in this Gospel of St. Matthew (see Matthew 8:12 and Matthew 25:30 ), and always with the solemn addition, "There shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth." Out of the kingdom of light into the kingdom of darkness; away from the joy and gladness, away from the presence of the King, away from the happy guests; into that place of remorse and misery where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth; bitter remorse for the past, and, alas! no hope for the future. Bound hand and foot as he now is, through his own contempt of the great King, he cannot attain unto that holiness without which (let us well ponder the awful words) no man shall see the Lord.
3 . The conclusion of the parable. "For many are called, but few are chosen." The words have a more awful meaning here than they can have in Matthew 20:16 , if, indeed, they are genuine in that place. In Matthew 20:1-34 . all receive the reward; the concluding words seem to point to the few who are chosen for the highest places in the kingdom of God. Here the distinction is plainly between the saved and the lost. Many were called to the marriage; few only came; of those few one was cast out, even as the traitor Judas, though one of the twelve apostles of the Lord, went to his own place. So now there are many open sinners, many more utterly apathetic and indifferent, and, alas! even among those who outwardly obey the calling, who come to church, and use the appointed means of grace, even among those who come to the holy table of the Lord, there are (we fear, in sadness and perplexity) not a few who have not given their hearts unto the Lord, who have not that white raiment ( Revelation 3:18 ) which may be bought of him without money and without price. In the parable only one of those who obeyed the calling is cast out. It is a parable of the long suffering mercy of our God. The King sends again and again. He is not willing that any should perish. But it is a parable also of his all-seeing justice. His eye searches out that one unworthy guest among the crowd. He knows the sins, the negligences, the unbelief of each individual member of his Church. None can stand before his face without that holiness which is so great, so precious, so awful a thing, which so few of us can dare to say or think that we have. He bids us buy the white raiment of him; let us come and buy, counting all things else as dross, that we may "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," and be clothed with that humility, that charity, which are woven into the white robe of his righteousness. Few are chosen. They who choose God for their portion on earth are chosen by him to be with him in heaven. Our choice of him proves that his choice has rested upon us. He first called us. Let us give diligence to make our calling and election sure.
1 . It is God himself who calls us; to refuse that gracious calling must be fearful guilt.
2 . The privileges of the Church will not avail without holiness of heart and life.
3 . Think of that weeping and gnashing of teeth; and pray and strive and hunger after righteousness.
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