Several years ago, a good friend of mine who I met when he was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy called me with an invitation of a lifetime. My friend, who was now an officer on a nuclear submarine, asked if I could meet him in an eastern seaboard city a few days later so that I could ride along on the submarine’s final leg of its deployment from that city back to its home port.
I wish I could tell you it was an amazing experience, but I can’t because as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t make it work.
An opportunity of a lifetime missed.
When opportunities like this come along, human nature is to do everything we can to make it work because we recognize the uniqueness and intrinsic value of the opportunity. I sure did. I didn’t pass on riding on a nuclear submarine because my favorite show was on, I had to wash clothes, or because it was Friday Fish Fry at Cracker Barrel. That would be… well… foolish. I tried everything I could to make it work, but I just couldn’t.
In Matthew 22, Jesus shared a parable that the listeners of His day surely thought was absurd… foolish even. We know it as the Parable of the Wedding Feast.
In the parable, a king is organizing a wedding banquet for his son. When it is time for the feast, he sends his slaves out to inform the invited guests that it was time for the celebration (they would have received an invitation earlier telling them of the approximate day of the event, but throwing a party like this in that time was not an exact science so a second invitation with specific details would have been sent).
Now, in Jewish culture during the New Testament period an invitation to a wedding banquet – especially when it was that of the king’s son – was a can’t miss opportunity. Perhaps even a once-in-a-lifetime event. The invited guests would have kept their schedules open during the event window and even if they had made other plans during the feast, they would have cancelled them to not miss the banquet.
But not in Jesus’ story.
When the slaves delivered the second invitation, this is how the invited guests responded:
5 “But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them.
One guy skips the king’s banquet to go back to his farm. Another went back to his business. And as absurd as their responses were, they were the most rational of the invited guests.
The others attacked the slaves who brought the invitation and even killed them.
I imagine that at this point some of the crowd listening to Jesus’ story chuckled nervously. Surely Jesus was telling them a joke of some sort. This story was outrageous!
But Jesus was just getting started.
After the king punishes the invited guests who killed his slaves, he sends more servants out to invite anyone they can find standing in the roads and by the city gates to the party. The first guests were surely the nobles and elites of the city. The second guests were outcasts. Commoners. Perhaps even social misfits.
Unlike the first invited guests, the second responded in full force. They came to the banquet and enjoyed what was surely the party of the year.
And then, as the audience was surely laughing at the absurdity of Jesus’ story, he provides one final detail. In the midst of the large group of guests who came in off the streets to attend the party, there was a single man who stood out because he was not dressed appropriately. Everyone else had taken the time to dress for the wedding feast except this one man.
When the king asked why he was not dressed properly, the man could say nothing.
It wasn’t because he was too poor to have appropriate clothing.
It was simply because he did not regard the invitation highly enough to take the time to get dressed for the occasion.
And so he was thrown out of the party.
The king’s final words of the parable in verse 14 explain the heart of it:
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
If you glance back at the latter part of Matthew 21, you will see that just before Jesus told this parable, the chief priests and elders had challenged Jesus’ authority. As a result, Jesus began to roll off a series of parables that all centered on Israel’s rejection of Him, their Messiah. The parable of the wedding feast was one of these parables.
In this parable, the original invited guests represent the Jewish leaders who believed that their ethnic background guaranteed their entrance into the Kingdom. That is why they responded with disinterest and even anger at the gospel when it was presented to them by Jesus and His disciples.
The second group of guests represent the Gentiles who would be grafted into the Kingdom and become the church after Pentecost in Acts 2. From the elitist Jewish perspective, Gentiles were dogs – completely undeserving of God. And yet, as we know, God reached out to them and the early church quickly shifted from having a Jewish base to a Gentile one.
And then there is the under-dressed guest. Now who is he?
He would represent superficial people in the church. This is a person who came to the feast but he did not take the invitation seriously. Remember, when the king asked why he was not dressed properly he was speechless. He had the means, but he simply didn’t care.
Be careful. Jesus is not saying that we have to do anything before we respond to the gospel invitation. He is not saying we have to get “cleaned up” first. The gospel is all about the work of Christ, not us.
But what He is saying is that the gospel invitation is weighty. It is an invitation we cannot take lightly. (Check out Matthew 7:13-23; Matthew 8:18-22; and Luke 14:25-35 as a starting point to see how Jesus said we have to take the gospel call seriously.)
Responding to the gospel and giving your life to Christ is a weighty decision. It involves dying to yourself and living for Christ – alone. It involves sacrificing everything to gain the only thing that matters – Jesus. It involves laying your life bare fore Jesus and allowing Him to do with it as He pleases.
And here’s the thing. I am not talking about a one-time response (yes, conversion is a one-time event, but I am talking about the ongoing process of sanctification). Every day we are to allow the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel into our minds and hearts and then respond with renewed commitment to live for Christ and His glory alone. The gospel is weighty on day 1 of following Jesus and it is equally as weighty on day 10,001.
We don’t want to be the disinterested first invited guests. We don’t want to be the nonchalant under-dressed guest. We want to respond in proportion to the immeasurable value of the invitation from the King.
Let us seek to always look at following Jesus as a serious, weighty, and glorious invitation. Let us marvel at the depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace for us and let us allow that to stir our affections for Him and respond in living lives that properly reflect deep gratitude to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is what children need to see in us and hear from us. Responding to the gospel is not a light and easy decision.
It is a weighty one.
And it is worth our full measure of devotion and love to our King who has so graciously invited us to His Son’s feast.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the February 8, 2015 session (Unit 30, Session 2) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.