The King's Marriage Feast

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

Christ is soon to be condemned by the rulers and put to death, but as He stands now in the holy city He speaks as the Judge, pronouncing the doom upon the people who are rejecting Him as their Messiah. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, who made a marriage for his son.” The marriage feast suggests two great thoughts concerning gospel blessings. The figure of a feast pictures abundance of provision, and also gladness and good fellowship. Then the figure of marriage suggests the closeness of the relation into which God invites us. Marriage represents the highest ideal of love and friendship. It expresses mutual affection and delight; on the one hand, protecting care; on the other, perfect trust. The blending of two lives in one, which is the meaning of true marriage, suggests the union of Christ and His people in thought, purpose, feeling and motive. We are Christ’s, and Christ is ours. Christ and we become one. He lives in us, and we live in Him.

The forms of Oriental life are preserved in the framework of the parable. The king sent forth his servants “to call them that were bidden.” They had already received a preliminary invitation, and now they are formally called by the king’s messengers. The refusal to accept such an honor was a distinct and intentional insult and showed that they were in heart rebellious and disloyal. The meaning of the parable is plain. God was the King who made the feast. The invitation shows the Divine earnestness in seeking to bless men. God does not merely invite them once and then if they refuse, give no more thought to them; but He invites them again, and most urgently presses upon them the invitation.

We all have been invited many times to the feast of Divine love. The invitations begin to fall upon our ears in childhood, and are repeated all through our life. Dr. Marcus Dods says:

If God is in earnest about anything, it is about this; if the whole force of His nature concentrates on any one matter, it is on this; if anywhere the amplitude and intensity of Divine earnestness, to which the most impassioned human earnestness is as the idle, vacant sighing of the summer air — if these are anywhere in action, it is in the tenderness and sincerity with which god invites you to Himself.

After all that God had done for His people and all His efforts to win them to accept His love, they treated His mercy with contempt. “They made light of it.” That is, they simply ignored the invitation, paid no heed to it, treated it as a matter of no importance, and hurried on to their own business. It is in this way that a large class of people always treat the gospel invitation. They do not oppose Christ in any active way. They do not rush into great wickedness — they are fairly moral people. They speak patronizingly of the gospel and of the Church. But they pay no heed to the calls of Christ. They treat them as if the gospel were only a sort of child’s play, something for sick people and the very old, but not important enough for them to give thought to. They treat the gospel as if there were no real importance in the messages of love it brings, which break so urgently upon their ears. They regard their worldly business as of far more importance than personal salvation.

Silent neglect is one of the most offensive ways of treating anyone, and those who “make light” of the gospel insult God even more than those who openly refuse its invitation. Yet these people imagine and often say that they have never rejected Christ because they have shown no open enmity to Him. Countless thousands of souls have been lost by simply making light of the guilt and danger of sin and neglecting the way of mercy.

Those who were first invited and made light of the invitation “went their ways, one to his own farm, and another to his merchandise.” That is, their business was more important in their estimation than their king’s feast. It is easy to see the same spirit today. There are thousands who have more interest in their business affairs than they have in the affairs of God’s kingdom.

This is the way some of the king’s servants treated his son’s marriage and the invitation to it which they received. They made light of it, paid no respect whatever to it and went on with their business as if they had never received an invitation to the royal marriage. Then there was another class of the king’s servants who rose up in anger against the messengers, laid hold upon them and treated them shamefully and killed them. There are those who are not content with ignoring Christ and His messengers, but become open enemies and violent rejecters.

The king turned to others when the first invited had refused. “They which were bidden were not worth.” This does not mean that those who had been invited were too wicked to be saved, for the gospel is offered for the worst. Their unworthiness was shown in their refusal to accept. The final responsibility when men are shut out of heaven cannot be laid on God — his part is fully and faithfully done. The feast is ready, even at infinite cost. The invitations are given in all sincerity and pressed with Divine urgency. But if men will not accept the mercy, there the matter must end. They will not be compelled to come to the feast. The weakest sinner can refuse the greatest honor of Divine love. The final responsibility rests upon the rejecters. “They would not come” is the reason that they are shut out. The king then bade his servants to go into the partings of the highways — that is, among the Gentiles, and in a little while the tables were filled.

The king came to see his guests, to know whether they had fulfilled the conditions of their invitation. “The framework of the parable presupposes the Oriental custom of providing garments for the guests who are invited to a royal feast.” When the king made his inspection, he “saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment.” The man came to the feast, but came in his own way, refusing to accept the conditions and to wear the garment prescribed by the king. The man may represent those who enter the Church but do not accept the garment which is the invariable mark of all Christ’s true followers. Church membership is not this garment — one may have this honor and not have on a wedding garment. Nor is it baptism or the Lord’s Supper — one may observe these sacraments and yet lack the essential mark of true discipleship. The wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ. We do not become Christians merely by associating ourselves with Christians, by adopting the forms of religion. We must have in us the mind of Christ, conformity to God, an abhorrence of that which is evil, a love for that which is good, a sincere desire to honor God and do His will.

Notice also that this garment is an individual matter. One man in all that great company lacked the required dress, and was excluded. Each one must have the garment for himself. God looks at us as individuals, not in companies. Being in a good family, or among holy persons, or in a Church of saintly members, will no excuse the lack in the one of us who may lack the prescribed garment.

When the king asked the man why he had come to the feast without the wedding garment, he had nothing to answer. “He was speechless.” He had no excuse to offer. He knew that he alone was to blame for this lack of preparation, since he had rejected what was freely offered to him. So will it be with any who refuse the grace of God. They are not speechless now; they find many excuses when they are urged to accept Christ. But when they stand at length before the Judge, they will be speechless; they will have nothing to say for themselves.