Many Are Invited
Both Services — 15 October 2017
Christ Church, Stannington
Readings: Philippians 4:1–9
To get the true picture of what is being said in our Gospel Reading, we have to understand that the New Testament was written in Greek, and words can mean different things to people of different cultures. For instance, our concept of the word “many”, has a different meaning to that which a Greek would understand. In English, we might say many people believe that speed cameras are a good idea. This would imply that most people didn’t believe that; whereas a Greek’s idea of many people would be almost everyone.
So, when our Gospel reading says, “Many are invited”, it means just about everybody. If we’re all invited, why are so few chosen? How were they chosen? And how were they invited? Well, we have to look at the parable for answers. The king in the story of course represents the King of Heaven, who is God. The Son getting married is Jesus. The bride is the Church (see: John 3:29; Revelation 21:9; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-27, 29). The servants He sent out, referred to here, are the prophets, preachers and ordinary believers who took (and still take) God’s word to the people.
What happened then? Well, pretty much the same as when the word of God is taken to people today. They have all sorts of excuses for not accepting God’s sovereignty. Just as in the parable, by far the majority would rather be doing something else with their lives than serving God. And what happened to those brave enough to tell others about what God could mean to them? Just like today, they were mostly ridiculed, abused and even killed.
Yes, even these days, there are many believers martyred for their efforts. Did you know that from the year Christ died to the year 2000, 70 million Christians have been murdered for their faith? Even more shocking is the fact that almost 45½ million of those were killed in the 20th century. So what about more recent times? Since the year 1950 the average number of Christian martyrs per year has been 278,000. So, on average, each year over a quarter of a million Christians actually prove that they would sooner die than deny Jesus Christ (World Christian Handbook). That’s about one every two minutes, or three thousand every four days — around the number who died in the twin towers outrage and caused so much shock and horror that it changed the world we live in. Why isn’t anything done about this? Because many of the countries where this is happening are either nations “friendly” to the western powers, or we’re trying to hold onto a fragile peace (such as in North Korea – one of the worst offenders).
Back to the parable then! Some of the servants managed to survive and returned to the king and told him what was happening. What was his reaction? He burned down the city. Some believe that the rejection of Jesus by its people led to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The king in the parable said the people who avoided the call or refused the invitation didn’t deserve to attend this wonderful wedding reception. So He told his servants to go out and invite anyone they could find. So what’s that about? The people who were meant to come were the Jews — God’s chosen people. But almost all of them didn’t believe who Jesus was, so how could He be their bridegroom? So the servants went among the Gentiles, the good and the bad, who would not normally have been considered worthy to come before God, and they asked them instead.
So, what this boils down to is that a place in the Kingdom is offered to practically everyone, but refused by most. We’ve seen in the reading some of the excuses given and there are many more variations given by those who decline today. The offer is accepted by those willing to take Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and become part of the Bride of Jesus — the Church. As we know, when we do this, the Holy Spirit enters us, changes us in the way we think and act, and then we become numbered among the chosen ones.
What about the poor chap who was caught without his wedding clothes? Well, remember how Samson tried, with the aid of a riddle, to get his bride’s relations to provide 30 suits of clothing, instead of getting them himself, as he should have? That ended in the most terrible way for everyone concerned (Judges 14). In those days, as in the time of Jesus, the custom was that the host provided the wedding clothes and for a guest not to wear them was considered to be insulting. In the parable, the king carefully examined his guests, to see if they were all wearing the garments that had been offered to those invited to attend the wedding feast. The man without a robe stood out like a sore thumb. In his opinion, his own garment was good enough, so he refused the covering offered by the king. God wants to clothe us; Isaiah the prophet said the words now used in a modern chorus, “?I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10–11).
Those who are trying to create their own idea of righteousness are like the man who thought he could clothe himself. You must have heard them. They say something like, “I’ve never done anyone any harm so, come judgement day, if there is such a thing, I’ll be OK”. They’re like the people Paul described in his letter to the Romans, “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Romans 10:3).
From what we’ve heard, what are the wedding garments provided for us by the host to join in the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven? A very plausible idea is that they’re the righteous acts of the saints (that’s us by the way). That belief comes straight from the Book of Revelation, which tells us that, “those who come to the marriage supper of the Lamb are clothed in fine linen, for "fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints". (Revelation 19:8). The “righteous acts” refer to a changed way of living, when people accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and receive the Holy Spirit. God expects them to change to living in a way that pleases Him. That’s the proper response to the wedding invitation. Accept or refuse! It’s up to the person who’s called.
Isn’t it great that we’re invited to the feast as well as the original chosen people of God? Jesus prophesied this when He said, "I say to you, many will come from east and west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness". (Mt 8:11-12).
But what about the ones left out in the cold? They fall into three groups, according to how they handle the invitation: the disinterested, those opposed, and the disrespectful.
The disinterested may receive several invitations. Yes, it can be given more than once — it was to me. But, for many of these people, the word of God says nothing and their interest is never aroused. To them, as described in the Parable of the Sower, the word of God falls on “stony ground”. (Matthew 13:4). In other words, it goes in one ear and out of the other. This is unacceptable to God. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30 NIV).
Next we have those opposed, sometimes vehemently, to what is being offered. They battle against Jesus and His Church. They try to change what the church is about. They put more faith in the opinion of the majority or popular opinion, than in the bending of their knee and acceptance of the words of God. I read this week that an Oxford College (Balliol) has banned the Christian Union from their “Freshers’ Fair” by claiming the religion was “an excuse for homophobia and neo-colonialism."
And, finally, we have the disrespectful. Such a man was the one who was offered proper wedding clothes to attend the wedding feast, but thought that he should be accepted just as he was. The disrespectful don’t acknowledge that a Christian should live differently and have different values from those who don’t believe. They think the invitation is enough and they don’t have to give their allegiance to Jesus, in their thoughts and actions. As we saw from the parable, the invitation is not enough. That inner change into the wedding clothes is necessary for us to be a welcome guest.
So, who might our fellow guests be? Well, among them will be tramps, beggars and criminals. These are the people who were absolutely amazed to receive their invitations. Were they happy to accept and conform? You bet they were!
We can’t attend this wedding feast with any sense of pride (unless it’s pride in our Saviour who made all this possible). None of us deserve to be there. It’s probably easier for those unfortunates I first mentioned to understand just how much grace was necessary for them to be admitted to this banquet. But we’re all among the “second wave” of invitations sent out because the original guests wouldn’t come.
Aside from these plucked from the fire by the love of Jesus, there will be others there we know of. We won’t know them by sight, because we’ve never seen them and we’ll all have new bodies anyhow. But I think we’ll know when we see Abraham and the Patriarchs and Peter, Paul and many other amazing people of God that we’ve only read about. How will we feel then? Overawed? Will we think, “What am I doing here?”
By that I don’t mean the sort of times when you purposefully get up and go into the kitchen, you get there and think — “What am I doing here?” That’s not the kind of self- examination I’m talking about.
I mean the kind of “What am I doing here?” when we feel out of place. Those of you who’ve had conversations with me will know that I’m a pretty ordinary down-to-earth chap. I remember once, when I was working for the Trent Regional Health Authority, sitting at a long, beautifully-polished table with a group of very high-powered people. There were professors, consultants, chief executive officers of Health Trusts and others, all experts in their own field. I had that thought then, “What on earth am I doing sitting here with all of these people?” And I was in the chair. How did I possibly arrive at that point? I was there because the Chief Executive Officer of the Regional Health Authority said it should be so. And that’s what Jesus says about believers.
On my 54th birthday, Jean and I attended a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. Again, I looked around at the “great and the good” with the trappings of their high office in their morning suits and uniforms and thought, “Why am I here amongst all these people?” It was really nice that when she saw me standing there in the rain, she came over and said, “Jim, how nice! Happy Birthday!” I bowed and Jean gave a nice curtsey … No, not really, that bit was a joke but I was there, and I was there, because my invitation had come from Her Majesty the Queen. Our invitation to the wedding feast comes from God, our king.
Have you ever been sitting in church and looked around at all the lovely Christian people in the pews with you and wondered “How is it that I can be here with these?” I have — and sometimes still do. I often think to myself, “What right do I have to come up here and expound God’s word to people who’ve known the Lord for longer than I have?” Well of course, I don’t have any right at all. The piece of paper I have telling me that the Anglican Church says I can do this would be worthless if God hadn’t invited me, or if He didn’t want me to carry on. We can see from these three examples of being in places and doing things, that it all depends on the person with the power wanting us to be there.
It will be the same at the King’s feast in heaven. When we stand there at last in glory, we won’t have to wonder what on earth we’ve done to be there. As we know, nothing we’ve ever done ourselves, no matter how courageous, righteous or long-suffering, could have earned a seat at that table. Our place was paid for at the very highest cost — the blood of Jesus. We can think of the words in 1 Samuel, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour.” (1Samuel 2:8). We’ll remember that we’re there as someone very special — one of the living stones of the Church, which is the Bride of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And we’ll be where we really belong at last. Amen.
Have there been times in your life when, with hindsight, you now realise that what was occurring was Jesus knocking on your door?
What do you think about the wedding clothes we should be wearing, when Jesus calls on the Last Day? Are you happy with yours? Do you think they’re ones you’ve chosen for yourself, or have been chosen by God?
Do you think there is anything the ordinary Christian can do about the slaughter of innocent Christians all over the world?
When you’ve spoken to people about God how many excuses can you think of, that they have used to prevent their accepting His Sovereignty?
Into which category these fall? Disinterested, Opposed, or Disrespectful?