Friday, March 21, 2008

The Parable of the Marriage Feast

"And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for His son." - Matthew 22:1-2


I thought it would be both instructive and helpful to write a short commentary upon this parable of Christ's, found in the 22nd chapter of Matthew just days before His crucifixion; and there is a great possibility that this parable was uttered earlier on the very same day that the Olivet Discourse was delivered (the Olivet Discourse given after he left the temple that evening, probably Monday). This particular day, which fell two days before the Passover, was one of the most intensive engagements our Lord entered into with the Pharisees, who, because of parables like this one, were filled with anger and sought to catch Jesus in His words that they might condemn Him to death.

What was it about Jesus that the Pharisees despised so much? Was it because He had exposed their hearts so precisely and shamed them publicly before the crowds? Was it because He had rode triumphantly into Jerusalem and had not restrained the people from declaring Him to be the Christ of Israel? Or, was it because Jesus was to them so evidently the Son of God, that the very prospect of this truth threatened the very core of their personal 'kingdoms' and 'autarchies', contesting that sacred place where dwelt their blackest pride, and manifested the deepest and vilest undertones of man's inherent hatred and envy against God and everything God?

It is into this setting that we turn to our study, and into this hostility that Jesus brought this parable.


A CERTAIN KING

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son." (v. 2)

This parable is about a king, and that king is God. God is the supreme personality in the kingdom of heaven; he is its architect, artisan and administrator all at the same time. The kingdom of heaven is also called the kingdom of God, because that's exactly what it is: the dominion, the authority and power of God.

Now what does this king do? Jesus says that the king makes a marriage for his son. The Father makes a marriage for the Son, and what a mystery this is! By divine revelation we have learned that God is complex unity, that three persons make up the Godhead of God, but what is this marriage? What would compel God, who lacks nothing and needs nothing, to, first of all, form the earth, and then call out a people for His own? The mystery of the marriage is the mystery of the Church, the ekklesia, the "called out ones". "To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ephesians 3:9-11) There are some things we may not fully understand now, but we will understand them later. There are mysteries that from the beginning of the world have been hid unto man, and who can sound the depths of the wisdom of God? That the infinite God should choose to manifest His wisdom to heavenly bodies by creating the universe and preparing a people for His own eternal purposes is not for us to decide. God has done this, and He knows perfectly. He has prepared a marriage for His Son; He has called out a people for Himself.


BUT THEY WOULD NOT COME

"And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come." (v. 3)

By this, "his servants", it is understood to be God's servants, the prophets, but who are these people who were bidden to the wedding; this choice few, this elect of God? Those here bidden are not all mankind, but friends and relatives of the bridegroom. It is plain to see. This is Israel, God's chosen people, the very ones who were listening to Jesus speak this parable, to whom pertains "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came." (Romans 9:4-5) This is the people to whom God disclosed Himself, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to Moses, to bring the true knowledge of God into the earth. This is the people who rightly had a place at the wedding, and who were so called: but they would not come.

"Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise."
(v. 4-5)

What wrong had the king committed, that would instigate such a reaction? He had done nothing wrong! He had made everything ready; he had prepared the dinner and killed the fatted calf, he had made ready a feast for joy and gladness and invited his friends to share in His joy. This was to be a jubilant occasion and a happy time! "But they would not come". What more could God have done for Israel? He had 'formed them in the womb' and had caused them to grow strong. He delivered them out of Egypt and from the house of severe bondage, he had brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey, with fields that they did not plant and cities that they did not build! He had given them His Law to be a lamp unto their feet in a world that was dark with wicked paganism and unspeakable idolatry. He had risen up unto them prophets, judges and kings to care for the flock and lead them into His perfect pastures. "What could have been done more... that I have not done it?" (Isaiah 5:4) But Israel "made light of it" and "went their ways".

"And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them." (v. 6)

One cannot but marvel at the folly of the nation! What foolishness of those bidden! They scorned the grace of God, they mocked His mercy, and made light of His salvation. To presumptuously despise the goodness of Him who cares and provides for you, to bite the hand that feeds, is the ultimate expression of contempt. What would be the motive for such a reaction? What would fuel such evil treatment of God's gracious prophets, as history so strikingly records, that would inevitably climax in the crucifixion of the Son of God Himself? There is no explanation but one, and this one, by its very nature, we reject. And that is: that man hates God because of the pride of his heart; and oh, how we are loath the admit it! And though we marvel at Israel for their treatment of the One who gave them such divine blessings, we cannot marvel at their folly without immediately applying the same to our own vile hearts. "What then? Are we better than they?" (Romans 3:9) No: if God had chosen the Sumerians, or anyone else, the parable would have still turned out the same. Therefore let us look upon Israel and fall on our faces as men.


INTO THE HIGHWAYS

"But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city." (v. 7)

We have here a most significant prophetic Scripture. It does not say that the king himself came to destroy, but that he "sent forth his armies", which prophecy was fulfilled precisely 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when three Roman legions, commanded by Emperor Titus, "the rod of mine anger", besieged and utterly destroyed Jerusalem. They burned the city and the temple as a frightening token of God's righteous anger and judgment against the nation. "Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2) The crucifixion of Christ, followed by the destruction of the Jewish temple, marked the beginning of a new dispensation in the unfolding of the mystery of God.

"Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage." (v. 8-9)

In accordance with the divine mystery which was hidden since the world began, God foreknew the rejection that He would experience by the Jewish nation. Jesus stood only a few days away from the cross, and yet He had been telling His disciples all along exactly what things He must suffer in Jerusalem. The king's command was not a second plan, nor a fall back position: "Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage." This was not some hasty proclamation given to save a reputation, but this was the great unveiling and opening of the kingdom of God unto all men, the broadest invitation of grace to a world now finally prepared to receive His grace, having beheld Israel's unsuccessful history with God. If Israel proved "unworthy" of God's covenant, who had had so much divine care invested into them by God, how much more the Gentiles, who had neither sought Him nor knew Him? "Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles..." (Romans 11:12) The falling of the nation of Israel is the conclusive statement to mankind that no one can attain the righteousness of God that is by law because the heart of man is desperately wicked and will not be subject to God's law and authority. Thus the necessity of the cross and the necessity of grace, which gospel alone has the power to transform the heart. This is the true wisdom of God, "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." (Ephesians 3:5-6)

"So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guest." (v. 10)

So it is that the gospel is preached today, which was first preached by the apostles of Christ and has since extended to "the uttermost parts of the earth." The message is "Come!" "Come to God through the Lord Jesus Christ! for no one can come to the Father but by Him." "Come! for you are a sinner, worthy of death, and unworthy of such an invitation, but God has grace for you." "Come! Come and drink freely from the waters of eternal life. Come and draw joyfully from the wells of salvation!" "Come to God! for Christ has died, the just for the unjust, and has purchased your redemption with the blood of His cross. There stands nothing now between you and God." "Come! and find forgiveness for all of your sins, for God declares peace on earth, and goodwill toward men." "Come! for Christ has risen and invites you to His wedding feast. You have been cordially invited, by this gracious invitation, which was bought by the precious blood of Jesus."

"The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." (Luke 16:16) Thus the house is being filled, with "both bad and good", for wherever men hear the gospel invitation they rush toward the gate. But just as God has sowed His seed, and has sent forth His invitation, so has an enemy sowed his seed, and has sent forth his invitation, speaking falsely, blinding men's eyes to the truth of grace and righteousness which is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Many shall come to the wedding saying 'Lord, Lord', who, by trusting in their own righteousnesses, have not been instructed in the wisdom of God.  
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)


WHEN THE KING CAME

"And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there was a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king unto the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen." (v. 11-14)

At last the king comes! At the end of the age, when the "fulness of the Gentiles be come in", when the "gospel of the kingdom shall have been preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations", when all things have been made ready and the end shall have fully come, "then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26), and then Jesus Christ shall ride forth out of heaven, with the name written on His vesture for all the world to see: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Our blessed hope, and the consummation of the mystery of the kingdom of God, is bound upon the second coming of our Royal Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Christ shall take His place at the head of the feast, and the Church, the Bride of Christ, shall present herself before Him.

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (Revelation 19:7-8) Who is this man who is not wearing wedding garments? "Friend, how camest thou in hither?" What right do you have to be here? Why would you come to the feast not wearing a wedding garment? You are not a saint, for you have not upon you the righteousness of saints, which "righteousness is of Me". You have not believed in My cross, and yet you have believed that you were worthy enough to come in here? Did you not know that Israel, My people, had proved unworthy of this marriage, and did you think that you were better than they? You wicked, unbelieving presumer. Who told to come here without a wedding garment? Servants! Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. "For many are called but few are chosen."

My dear reader, have you yet confessed yourself unworthy to appear before God, and have you admitted yourself unfit to attend the marriage feast of His Son? Have you understood the failure of Israel's history with God as a statement to all mankind of the sin and wretchedness of our own vile hearts? Have you beheld the cross of Jesus Christ and laid hold of the righteousness of God that is by faith in His blood? Have you cast your pride to the dust and humbled yourself under the mighty hand of God? There is no other way. Your garments will not do, but God has invited you to take off your filthy rags of sin and self-righteousness and be clothed with the priceless wedding garments of His grace. Many are called, but will you be chosen? Will you appear before the King "holy and unblameable in His sight"?

Even now the house is filling up and the King is almost here. Will you accept His invitation?

"And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God." (Revelation 19:9)

2 comments:

Dave Jamer said...

Hi Eli

Thanks again for this excellent posting! Very scriptural, accurate, concise,and timely!

Blessings on your continued ministry!

Sincerely in Him.
Gramp

Margie said...

Amen! Eli: Amen! Thank you, for declaring the truth uncompromisingly. Love in Jesus, Margie