The following sermon was preached by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas. Listen online or subscribe to the podcast.
God calls all to repent and believe and many refuse, but others believe and are welcome to the feast.
The parable of the wedding feast is the third parable of judgment spoken by Jesus on the week leading to his crucifixion. While the first two primarily targeted the Pharisees, Saducees and Jewish priesthood, this parable applies to all in the nation of Israel who do not follow Christ in faith, but are guilty of rebellion against God.
God will judge everyone who refuses to repent and believe, but will show mercy by bringing to himself repentant believers who had not previously been associated with his covenant people.
Rejection of the Call (Matthew 22:1-7) And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
- The setting of the parable of the wedding feast is a feast thrown in a kingdom by the king for his son.
- It was customary to send invitations with the expectation of a response of intention to attend, followed by a second call—an announcement that the meal is now ready, and that those invited are to now come to the feast.
- Historically it was often a crime for those who promise to attend to then refuse to do so.
- Jesus’ parable portrays an absurd exaggeration of this scenario.
- In verses 5 and 6, the rejection of the invited guests evidences their ingratitude: some ignored the servant sent to call them, others mistreated and killed him, just as the Israelites always did the Old Testament prophets.
- In verse 7, the king is rightfully angry and sends troops to kill the invited guests and burns down their city.
- The guests reflect what Israel had been doing to God for generations. The king’s judgment in the parable reflects the wrath to come both in AD 70 and the Final Judgment upon Christ’s return.
Invitation to All (Matthew 22:8-10) Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
- In verse 8, the food is made ready.
- In verse 9, the servants are sent to anyone who will come, who demonstrate a faith not found among the invited guests, as the Centurion whose servant Jesus healed in Matthew 8, of which Jesus said “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12).
- Throughout all of the Scriptures, one plan of salvation is revealed: both Jew and Gentile must have faith in the Messiah of Israel. Just as Old Testament Judaism sometimes included Gentiles, so Christianity does not exclude all Jews—for example, first century Christianity was largely Jewish—but all who respond to the invitation are welcome to the wedding feast.
- Thus the invitation in the parable is what is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q&A 31) as “the free offer of the gospel.”
- The church offers salvation to all—God sorts out those who respond from those who do not respond. The church gives a general call which may be rejected or falsely received. The Holy Spirit gives an effectual call by which those who respond will necessarily be saved.
Responsibiltiy (11-14) “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
- The king of the parable goes in disguise to inquire of one who attends the wedding feast without a wedding garment, and throws him out into outer darkness.
- The wedding garment represents the fruit of faith: grateful, obedient works.
- In the local church, all respond to the call to worship, but not all truly believe, evidenced by a life of unrepentant disobedience. Thus, some in the local church will be found to be without their “wedding garment.”
- In verse 14, God’s choice is shown to be the ultimate factor. If God doesn’t effectually call his chosen, all would refuse to come as the invited guests at the beginning of the parable, and as the citizens of Israel who will not have Jesus to be their Messiah.
- Though many be called, few are chosen. True believers must humbly and charitably receive all who profess faith in Christ, they must not proudly exclude those who differ on non-essentials, as if they belonged to the one true church.
- There is a visible church comprised of all professing believers (all who have responded to the general call), and there is an invisible church comprised of the elect (all brought effectively to Christ by the Holy Spirit’s effectual call).
- Thus, church membership alone is not saving; renewal of the heart by the Holy Spirit to repent and believe is necessary.
- Without faith, there is no hope. With faith comes true membership in the invisible church, which the parable portrays by those who come to the wedding feast wearing their wedding garment.
In fulfillment of the old Testament Scriptures, Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to every sinner who repents and believes in him.
A Question of Authority (Matthew 21:23) And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
- The beginning of a long series of exchanges between Jesus and the Temple leaders which culminates in the seven woes pronounced upon their hypocrisy in Matthew 23.
- The leaders should have known Jesus’ authority was from heaven.
A Question in Response (Matthew 21:24-27) Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
- Jesus demonstrates his authority by asking a question of the chief priests.
- Jesus’ question makes them weigh the politics of their answer. They want to admit John’s authority from heaven, but knew doing so would be to regard Jesus as something more than just a rabble rouser.
- The leaders lie when they claim to not know the source of John’s authority, and Jesus, knowing this, refuses to answer them.
The Answer (Matthew 21:28-32) “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
- Jesus’ parable illustrates the chief priests’ weakness and inability which comes from unbelief.
- Neither the first nor the second son were honorable in their response to the command of their father.
- The tax collectors and prostetutes represent the first son of the parable.
- The chief priests and elders represent the second son who professes faith and obedience yet fails in both regards. They should have known
- Christian churches are full of unbelieving, unrepentant sinners who profess faith but do not demonstrate this faith in their walk.
- It is often asked how can we hold accountable to God those who never hear about Jesus? But this parable, and Jesus’ encounter with the chief priests and elders of Israel show us that knowing about Jesus is no guarantee of faith and repentance.
- Without God working in your heart, you will not be able to believe but God is working, using his Word, calling each of us, believer and unbeliever, to repentance and faith.
- Christ suffered the consequences of the sins of the first son in the parable, and likewise those of sinners today who come to Christ in faith. Repent of your sins and trust Christ today, and you will be forgiven of your sins, and you will have done the will of your Father in heaven.
The following sermon notes summarize “The Fruit of Faith,” preached on Sunday, October 23, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Chruch (OPC) in Bedford, Texas (listen online or subscribe to the podcast). My apologies for not posting last week’s sermon on the cleansing of the Temple, on which this sermon builds. I’ll try to post it at a later date. In the meantime, you can listen to that sermon, “The King Comes Home” (Matthew 21:12-17) at this link.
Text of Preparation: John 15:1-17
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Jewish worship was coming to an end. The Temple gave the appearance of worship as the leaves on the fig tree in today’s text give the appearance of fruitfulness. In their Temple worship, the Jews honored God with their lips, but their heart was far from him. Christ’s cleansing of the Temple in the previous passage was a judgment against their worship, not their commercialism.
Matthew 21:17-22 illustrates the importance of context. In his cursing of the fig tree, Jesus was not being vindictive, but performing a prophetic act against the nation of Israel as a whole: Those who don’t bear fruit will be cursed like the fig tree, but those who believe will bear the good fruit of true worship and righteousness.
In Search of Fruit (Matthew 21:17-19) And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
- The glory of God having departed the Temple, Christ returns to Bethany. Matthew and Mark use differing chronologies in their accounts of the cleansing of the Temple and the cursing of the fig tree. But both show the relationship between both events. One cannot be understood apart from the other.
- The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. “Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires (Micah 7:1).
- Jesus went to the tree in search of fruit, just as he went to the Temple in search of true worship. Neither provided what he sought.
- Professed faith is unfruitful for those who do not truly abide in Christ by faith (see John 15 above). As John the Baptist warned, the tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. “’Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’” (Matthew 3:8-10).
- Thus Christ’s cursing of the fig tree as a prophetic warning was an act of mercy and a call to repentance. May believers never depart into false worship—we must trust the Lord to instruct us in the true worship of God, not our own wisdom.
Faith Yields Fruit (Matthew 21:20-22) When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
- Christ’s reference to the moving of a mountain by faith seems to allude to Zechariah 4:6-9, in which Zerubbabel’s obstacles to rebuilding the Temple after Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity are compared to a mountain being made a plain. “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
- The marveling of the disciples evidenced their lack of faith. Had they the faith of a mustard seed, they would have understood that nothing is impossible for God, be it the withering of a tree, the moving of a mountain or the production of the fruit of true worship and righteousness.
- True worship is impossible “in the flesh,” that is, apart from faith in Christ, but is possible “in Christ,” that is, through saving faith in him. The corporate worship of God is an amazing event: believers stand on holy ground in God’s presence. Unbelievers who presume to worship will prove unfruitful in the worship of God, and they will be judged by Christ as were the fig tree and the Temple.
- The promise in verse 22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith,” is simply an encouragement to come to God in faith by prayer in acknowledgement of our utter dependence on him. Lack of prayer is the result of self-sufficiency. Christians depend on the outpouring of God’s grace upon them, as a tree is dependent on the rain for life and fruitfulness. Faith in Christ will bear the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23, which reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”