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A grain of mustard
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The Marriage Feast

The Gospel writer Matthew, records this parable told by Jesus:

`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, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and 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: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 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 to the marriage. 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 guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there 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 to 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. [Matthew 22.1-14]

WHY PARABLES?

A Marriage Feast

The beauty of the parables of Jesus, is that they are stories told as a means of teaching a lesson or which were prophetic of the future. The lessons were there to see plain and simple and did not need academic prowess or explanation, for wisdom and knowledge came from listening to the word of God, listening with an open mind and heart. It was what the listener brought to bear on what was heard that developed the understanding .

The disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to people in parables and he answered them in this way:

`He who has ears, let him hear... The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables. Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand . In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this peoples heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' [Matthew 13.9-15 NIV]

The wise man also wrote in Proverbs:

`Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.' [Proverbs 9.9 NIV]

So we see then it was what the listeners felt in their hearts which developed understanding and the lesson we can learn from this is that we must not allow our hearts to become hardened by the world around us. By not allowing God's word to filter through to guide our thoughts and our actions, is to live by our own standards; we only see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Let us try to understand this parable of the marriage feast and it's foretelling of the kingdom of God.

AN INVITATION DECLINED

The parable begins with the king arranging a marriage for his son, a time for joyous celebration, a time for a gathering of friends, to show support at this ultimate declaration of love. People were bidden to come to the wedding. An invitation from the king was a command and to refuse was to be disloyal even to the point of rebellion. Jesus was here talking about the people of Israel. This invitation was spoken about by the prophet Zephaniah, where we read:

`Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests. And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD's sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.' [Zephaniah 1.7,8]

The king's invitation fell on deaf ears and they would not come but the sacrifice had been made. We read again in Proverbs:

`Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city.' [Proverbs 9.1-3 NIV]

The effort, the sacrifices and the planning were made light of by those bidden to come to the wedding. They had other things to do and excuses were made. As mentioned in a previous article in this series, wedding banquets normally began in the last few hours of daylight and would continue well into the night. Therefore what use would it be to be working on one's farm, or dealing with one's merchandise at this late hour? These were lame excuses and with God there are no excuses:

`For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.' [Romans 1.20 NIV]

But for some, excuses were not enough and they became enraged with the persistence of the king and mistreated and killed the kings servants, as if this would make the king give up and forget the whole thing. Here Jesus was talking about the disciples, those people chosen to spread the word of God and the coming Kingdom. Much is written in the Bible of the mistreatment, torture and even the murder of these servants, sent out into the world to invite people to turn from their own ways and into the ways of God. The Apostle Stephen comes to mind at this point, and we can read about this in the book of Acts. He was talking to people who did not want to hear about God's plans. However tenacious the messenger was they would not hear.

The record tells us:

`At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him....' [Acts 7.57 NIV]

Man will find many ways of avoiding the truth even to the utmost extreme, but with God as with the king in the parable, extreme will be met with extreme. The king was angry and he sent his armies and destroyed them and their cities. We see then that retribution was carried out before the wedding feast could begin. This will be like the days before the kingdom. God's wrath will be poured out on those who have heard but have refused to listen, their hearts being hardened by the world. As we read in another Proverb:

`A king's wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life.' [Proverbs 20.2 NIV]

And the prophet Isaiah adds these words:

`See, the day of the Lord is coming - a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger - to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins....' [Isaiah 13.9-11 NIV]

GOD'S PROMISE - AN INVITATION FOR ALL

We see then, that those who were invited to the wedding were not worthy, but the wedding went ahead as the king had decreed, the invitation was to be made open to all. Like the promises of God, it would be fulfilled. The servants were to go to the street corners and invite everyone they could find. We can imagine that they would have come across people from all walks of life. They did not discriminate between those who deserved to have an invitation and those who didn't, all were invited. Paul and Barnabas, talking to the Jews in Antioch, are recorded as saying:

`...We had to speak the word of God to you first (the first invitation). Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us...' [Acts 13.46 NIV]

Paul and Barnabas continued with words which fulfilled the prediction made by Isaiah:

`I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth' [Acts 13.47 NIV]

The invitation was extended to all people, as we read in Proverbs, `"Let all who are simple come in here!", she says to those who lack judgment. "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding."' [Proverbs 9.4-6 NIV]

The banqueting hall was full with all sorts of people, generally keen and eager to attend. The parable now proceeds to its second stage, the calling has been sent out, people have heard the cry from the mountain tops and now is the time for judgement.

BEFORE THE BANQUET CAN BEGIN - JUDGMENT

The king entered the wedding room to see the guests and he found a man who was not wearing a wedding garment, perhaps still in his dusty soiled clothing that he was wearing when the servants bid him to come. The king said to him, `....Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.' [Matthew 22.12] On the surface this seems to be a little unfair, for the man had not started the day intending to go to a wedding, so how could he help it? If this had been the only reason surely he would have said so, but he was speechless and he had no answer. There are two points here which can be put forward as to the lesson Jesus was teaching. Firstly, we can assume that the king was a fair and just man and that he would have not expected people to be dressed in their finery. He would have provided garments, cloaks and robes for people to cover their inappropriate dress. In the same way, God knows we are all sinners and we will not stand before him without blemish; but we shall receive a garment of righteousness if we obey Him now, for Isaiah wrote:

`I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.' [Isaiah 61.10]

Secondly, this man was like a person who calls himself a Christian, who hears God's word, who does all the right things that are expected of him by those around him, and conveys the image of a true believer. It will not be until that coming day of judgement, that this mirage of cleanliness and purity is stripped away. Then that person will be seen as an empty vessel, with a heart that never knew God. Jude referred to such in these words:

`These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm - shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted - twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved for ever.' [Jude 12,13 NIV]

What then is to become of those people that God judged and found to be wanting? In the parable the king tells his servants (in the NIV, attendants, higher than servants, higher than disciples) to bind them hand and foot and throw them into outer darkness. Let us think of those men, without the proper garment, thrown out of the banqueting hall into the darkness of the night, unable to feed themselves or protect themselves from the attention of wild animals. They are still able to hear the rejoicing of the marriage feast but unable to participate, and maybe their last thoughts and feelings are sadness, (weeping) seeing how foolish they have been to reject, (ignore the words of the king) feeling anger, (gnashing of teeth) that whatever they do now will not be good enough; it is all to late. Is this not what it will be like on the day of judgment, before the Lord Jesus, the King of the world ?

We read in the last book of the Bible:

`Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.' [Revelation 22.12-15 NIV]

Jesus ends the parable by summing up in one simple but powerful statement, the most important message:

`For many are called, but few are chosen.' [Matthew 22.14]

God continues to invite or call people, to understand His great plan for this world. Many we know continue to decline this invitation, too busy with the world, so much to achieve, so little time to do it in. These people will not find themselves in the Kingdom. Then, there are those who accept the invitation but are ill prepared, they have underestimated God's promises and His great power to fulfill them. Each one of us has a choice, the invitation has been there for thousands of years, since the beginning of time. Only in our lifetime do we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves, for the date on our invitation will soon be here!

Will you still be too busy ?