Matthew / chapter 22 (read the chapter)
I know a lot of people who have, what I would term, a “namby pamby” view of Jesus and draw a sharp contrast between Him and the “Old Testament God.” I’m pretty sure those people don’t often read the things Jesus said and did during the final weeks of His life. When He knew it was coming down to the end, Jesus thundered and roared and threatened no less than the God on Mount Sinai. (And just as an aside: Paul says it was Christ Himself in the Old Testament anyway, so there goes that theory.)
During His ministry on earth, Jesus said a lot of things about the kingdom of God, and quite often, we hear a lot of those things in church. But you don’t often hear this one: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” (vs 2) That starts out rather nice, but as the story progresses, the king’s invitations are rejected and his servants even beaten and killed by the invitees! That leads to this: “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (vs 7)
Wow, that’s not a description of God you hear often out of the mouth of Jesus. But it sure sounds a lot like that “Old Testament” guy, doesn’t it? It seems like you can’t turn one page in the Hebrew Scriptures without God threatening to do something or other to some nation because they haven’t done what He wanted them to do.
So, the big question is, is this what God is really like? Or is there some other explanation for this story?
Actually, I think Jesus meant exactly what He said, but He meant it in the same way a parent means, “If I ever catch you doing that again, I’ll kill you,” when they catch their child smoking a cigarette. Their words are chosen to convey the absolute severity of the situation. But, of course, the parent isn’t going to kill the child; on the contrary, the parent is trying to keep their child from being killed by the cigarettes.
And it’s the same way with God. This particular story came in the midst of a long discourse with the Pharisees. At this point in Jesus’ life, they were openly hostile toward Him and, He knew, plotting how they could kill Him. They were rapidly nearing the point of shutting themselves off from the Spirit completely, closing their ears, their eyes, their hearts to truth. Soon, they would be irrevocably trapped in darkness.
But it was never supposed to be that way. It never had to be that way. They were invited to the party! They were the ones who were supposed to be celebrating. If anyone should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, it was them. And, as it turns out, they did recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but they decided they’d rather not go to any party that was being held in His honor.
For the Pharisees and religious leaders to persist in this course of action was suicide, not because God would kill them, but because they were going to kill God. And when a created being gets to the point where they kill the Source of their own life, guess what happens? The same thing that happens to cancer cells when they finally kill their host.
That’s why Paul describes God’s wrath in Romans 1 as His handing the wicked over to death. He doesn’t kill them, execute them, or punish them. He doesn’t even hate them. But they have determined to separate themselves from Him—their Creator and Sustainer—and He eventually says, “Okay. If that’s what you want, I’ll give you up.”
Deciding not to the come to the party is one metaphor Jesus used to point out this rebellious attitude which leads to death. But Jesus also gave a second example in this story of a person whose rebellious spirit kept them from the party: “When the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man who was not dressed for a wedding. The king said, ‘Friend, how were you allowed to come in here? You are not dressed for a wedding.’ But the man said nothing.” (vs 11-12)
In the culture of the day, not being appropriately dressed would have been a huge insult to the guest of honor as well as the host of the party. That, coupled with the fact that this man said nothing when addressed—even as friend by the king!—indicates that he intended only to be there on his own terms. He was glad to receive what the king would give him, but he couldn’t have cared less about respecting the feelings or wishes of the host.
And who does that sound like? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt 7:21-23) It doesn’t matter that those people “show up” to the party; Jesus says that, in their hearts, they have never cared about having a relationship with God.
God wants to have a relationship with everyone. He invites everyone to the party. But, sadly, as He said at the end of this parable, many will refuse to come. In the meantime, He does everything He can to keep people from rejecting His offer of life. He knows just how to reach us, and He will do whatever it takes to get our attention—whether that means whispering or yelling.
God invites everyone to the party.
And that means He’s invited you, too.
I hope you’re coming.