Expository Sermon on Matthew 22
Bellevue SDA Church 00/00/00
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
To hear the audio for this sermon, click the white “play” triangle on the line below.
Please open your Bible again to Matthew chapter 22.
This is still another sermon in a series I’m calling “Red Print.” Since the beginning of the year we’ve been going through the book of Matthew, looking at the words Jesus actually said. A lot of people have opinions about Jesus. Many people hold Him in great reverence. But how much of what we feel about Him is based on what He really said?
If you look in your bulletin on the announcement page you’ll find the Red Print schedule up through the end of August. What I plan to do, once we are to the end of Jesus’ words in Matthew, is to turn to the book of John. There are a lot of things Jesus said in the book of John which are not found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. So if you like to read ahead, keep your eye on the bulletin announcement each week.
When was the last time you were really outraged?
I think I’ve mentioned that my mother was outraged by beer and other alcoholic drinks. We kids knew that if any of us even felt the urge to take up the habit of drinking beer, we would face my mother’s wrath. She had seen what alcohol did to her father. He was never abusive to his family that I know of, but alcohol turned him into a different person, and he didn’t seem to be her dad anymore, until he sobered up.
Something else that outraged Mom was a person. His name was Ray, and he and she worked the night shift at a state institution for the developmentally disabled. She and Ray and others were basically dorm parents, staying awake during the night, making sure that all the residents slept peacefully through the night.
I myself worked the fulltime night 11-to-7 shift there for seven years, doing the same thing, and those nights can get pretty long. And if you knew you were going to be working with someone, you hoped desperately that your midnight companion would be a genial one. I think that mom’s coworker Ray was a genial person, but he was also someone who liked to talk. And somewhere he had acquired a PhD in something, and none of us ever knew why someone with a PhD would end up as a humble dorm parent on the night shift at a state institution. There was probably a story there, but neither Mom nor anyone else ever figured it out. But Ray loved to talk, and give mini-lectures about philosophical topics, and he especially enjoyed bringing out all of the $10 words he had learned while getting his PhD.
Unfortunately, Ray developed throat cancer, and his vocal cords had to be removed. He was given one of those devices which you place against your throat, which emits a buzzing sound which you then use in place of your vocal cords.
When he got back to work, everybody discovered that Ray still loved to talk. He would just push that vibrating device up against the side of his throat and let his eloquence flow. And mom was fine with that, until she discovered that Ray still insisted on using his wide vocabulary. And the luckless fellow dorm parent, weary from not getting enough sleep, was forced to listen to Ray pontificating on some abstruse topic, using words so unusual that they couldn’t understand them, especially when filtered through the buzzer.
After a few nights of this, this gets old. So mom would earnestly take Ray to task on the subject. “Now Ray, you have got to stop using those big words, because we can’t understand them with that buzzer of yours.” He would reform for a while, but soon he was back at it again. Mom fumed quite a bit about Ray.
This morning, here in Matthew 22, we’re going to spend some time looking at two outrageous events. Even with 2000 years of history and culture change between us and them, we can still feel the outrage of what happened.
And since this is Red Print, the words of Jesus Himself, let’s pay close attention to them. Because it’s perfectly possible for sin to entice us into the same selfish obstinacies that the people in Jesus’ story showed.
In just the first 14 verses of this chapter, I could discover two separate outrages. Let’s take a look at them to make sure we are not committing them ourselves. Because as I think you’ll see, these are truly outrageous.
Matthew 22:1 – 2 [NKJV]: “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . .
We need to stop right here for a moment to remind ourselves that this isn’t just a story told for entertainment purposes. What happens in this story is what the kingdom of heaven is like. This does not mean, of course, that the kind of thing we see happening in the story is what goes on up in heaven. The kingdom of heaven isn’t only for heaven – the kingdom of heaven is also God working out His plans here on earth, right now, to get us ready for heaven. The vast majority of Jesus’ “kingdom parables” didn’t say anything about the hills and meadows of the New Earth. Instead, they were often direct challenges to people God wanted to enter His heavenly kingdom.
So as we read what follows, we see God’s kingdom at work, right here, challenging the hearts of those who were listening. And this includes us.
Verses 1 – 3: And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding . . . .
Back when I was in seminary, I learned a little more detail about how such feasts were arranged. I was reminded of this by the footnotes of the very excellent NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, which Shelley acquired not long ago. The footnote to verse three says, “such invitations were normally RSVP, followed up by a second notice once the food was ready.” In other words, these guests had already been invited, and had said they would come. But now watch what happens.
Verses 2 – 3: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.
So you have all of these guests who were invited, and said they would come, yet when everything is ready, they decide not to show up. And not just a few of them. All of them.
Now if this were an ordinary citizen who had planned an ordinary wedding, that would be one thing. But this is the king, and the people he has invited are his subjects. And they had just committed not only an outrageous discourtesy, but maybe a dangerous one as well. There seems to be the odor of revolution in the air.
But the king tries again.
Verses 4 – 6: Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.” ’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.
And now, added to be outrage of discourtesy, is the outrage of direct rebellion. Which explains why the King takes the action he does.
Verse 7: But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
Those actions sound pretty drastic today, at least in most countries. Nowadays we do things differently. For example, recently in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel just barely survived a no-confidence vote. But back in Jesus’ time, you had kings and their subjects. And if the subjects treated the King with such outrageously despicable behavior, there is only one thing for the king to do – make sure that those subjects were eliminated so that a coup does not happen.
Let’s pause in the story to try to find out what any of this might have to do with us.
This is one of those parables Jesus told to point out how despicably the Jewish nation had treated the God who loved them. And the reason Jesus told these stories with such intensity was that this outrage was still happening even as He spoke. Down through the centuries, God’s faithful prophets would bring warning messages to straying people, and rather than humbly listening and repenting, these people often persecuted God’s messengers, and killed some of them.
And Jesus is speaking these words just a few days before His own crucifixion. He was the Son of the heavenly King, He had come to invite His Father’s people to gather together and rejoice in His goodness. And when Jesus began His ministry, the devil was doing his very best to try to make sure that Jesus would not survive. And on the Friday afternoon of the week He was telling the story, Jesus Himself would be killed by God’s rebellious subjects.
So what is the outrage here? How can we put this into the sermon point we can take away and use? Here’s what I would suggest this first outrage is.
When I sense God inviting me closer to Jesus His Son, if I react with disinterest or even rebellion, that’s outrageous.
Why is this so outrageous? Because if we have been raised with opportunities to learn about God and what He is really like, and still turn our backs on Him, that is serious. Think about all the angels in heaven, a third of them according to Revelation, who in the very presence of God, surrounded by every evidence of His goodness, decided to believe Satan’s lies. Because of this, the peace of heaven was destroyed.
God wants a happy universe. He wants us to understand that He loves us so much that He provided His Son to die for our sins. If we know that, but still carelessly put Him low on our priority list, the way those invited guests did, that’s outrageous.
As I’ve been reading through the “red print” in Matthew over the past many weeks, my blood has run cold as I think of those Pharisees who followed Jesus around. Something inhuman had happened to their minds and hearts. Back in Matthew 21, the multitudes of people who followed Jesus around and heard His words and watch His work, these people knew without a doubt that He was the Messiah. But the Pharisees, whose obstinacy matched those of the invited guests in the parable, refused to humbly realize that Jesus was sent from God.
So what can you and I do to avoid this kind of outrageous behavior? For one thing, I need to make very sure I understand what the heavenly King is like. I need to thoroughly discover, from prayer and Bible study, that He is not the tyrant Satan claims that He is. I need to find out for myself who God is, and who Jesus is, and how the Holy Spirit can increase my faith.
And then, as I become better acquainted with God, I need to stay open to His leading. That’s what my parents did. How can I do this? I need to set my preconceived ideas and my traditions aside, and read my Bible. A lot of people are doing that these days. Within the last two or three months, I know of two non-Adventist individuals who attended this church on Saturday because they have discovered, from the Bible, that this is the Bible’s day of worship
And it’s essential, as I’m learning more about God, that I gather in groups with other people who are doing the same thing. When you’re in a Sabbath school class, other people’s comments can encourage you. Insights they have learned from the study of the lesson, or from their general experience, can strengthen you.
Now let’s discover the other outrage I found in these first verses of Matthew 22. We pick up the story where the King is standing pretty much alone, but a few faithful servants left, in the middle of a vastly empty banquet hall.
Verses 8 – 10: Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for these new guests? 10 minutes before, maybe half an hour before, maybe a little more depending on how far those servants had to search, these people had had no clue that they were going to be feasting on royal food.
Back in May, when Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, thousands and thousands of people gathered outside the wedding chapel, and along the routes that the couple traveled to get there and to leave from there, and probably most of them fervently wished they could have been really close.
But here you have a banquet hall filled with people who probably never thought that they would ever get the chance in their lifetimes to feast as royally as this. Yet here they are, and they’re probably storing up memories, and remembering comments, that they can take back home and tell everyone they know.
But there’s one man who calls attention to himself by what he is wearing – or not wearing.
Verse 11: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.
When I read this story as a kid, this startled me. I mean, from the story it sounded like these newly-invited guests were just grabbed in off the street and plopped down in front of the table. Where would they get a wedding garment?
There’s really not a lot of ancient Jewish writing about this wedding garment custom. Most Bible scholars down through the centuries have therefore assumed that since it was so important to have a wedding garment, the King and his servants probably provided these festive robes. These were almost certainly the robes designed for the disinterested rebels who refused to show up.
What probably happened was that as soon as a guest arrived at the palace door, somebody handed him or her a robe and said, “Quick, put this on.” And that meant that every guest who put on that robe could walk calmly into the banquet room with all its gourmet food and quality furniture and high-powered national leaders, and feel right at home. Farmers probably had their work clothes on under this robe. Mothers, and maybe even their kids, were now all dressed properly.
Years ago I told a story on myself. It happened when I was taking voice lessons at the college I attended. I was also in the choir, and the music director told us that he was taking a group of students to Minneapolis to hear Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida. And when I heard that the tenor role would be sung by Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Tucker, I immediately signed up.
I knew I had to dress up a bit, so I wore my best Sabbath outfit. The suitcoat was blue, and I think the pants were gray. The idea was that we would all ride in a couple of buses to Minneapolis. And I still remember gathering with other students at the door of the bus, and realizing that all of the guys – and I mean every other guy in the group – were wearing suits which were black. White shirts, black coats, black pants. And there I was with a blue suit jacket and gray pants.
It is very difficult to appear poised and cool when you are dressed markedly differently than everybody else. Nobody had gotten me the memo. I realize now that all these kids had probably been in band in their high schools, and those were their band or choir uniforms.
Back in the parable’s banquet room, all these happy, now well-dressed people are feasting. But notice that it says that as the servants gathered all these people in, some were good and some were bad. Here’s what happens to one of the bad ones:
Verses 11 – 12: “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.
Okay, what’s going on here?
Evidently this gentleman came up to the door of the banquet room, and was offered a robe, and refused it. If they’d run out of robes, he wouldn’t have been speechless. He would have said, “Your majesty, they ran out of robes by the time I came along.” But he said nothing. He knew that there was indeed no excuse that he was sitting there in his street clothes.
If my college music director had come up to me on that Minneapolis-bound bus and said, “Friend, how did you get on this bus without a black suit?” I would have had my answer ready for him: “How was I to know we had to wear black suits? Nobody got me the memo.” But this wedding guest had no excuse.
So why is this such a big deal? Well, in the wedding story, this man’s robelessness probably signals grave discourtesy. This man is clearly contemptuous of the king and all he stands for. He’s not really interested in celebrating the wedding of the king’s beloved son. He just wants a free meal. He’s probably like one of that previous batch of wedding guests—he doesn’t care for the king at all, and if he had a chance, would probably join the rebels against him. Maybe he’s even here as an infiltrator. Whatever his reasoning, it’s very clear that he certainly doesn’t want to appear as though he respects the king.
Well, the king deals abruptly and immediately with this rebel too.
Verse 13: Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
So what was this man’s outrageous act?
Bible interpreters generally agree—and so does Ellen White in her book on Jesus’ parables called Christ’s Object Lessons—that this robe symbolizes the righteousness of Jesus. And this man refused it. In Revelation 3:5 Jesus says, “He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments.” In Revelation 3:18, speaking to the church in Laodicea, Jesus said, “I counsel you to buy of Me . . . white garments, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.”
Here comes Sermon Point Two:
When I am invited into God’s presence, yet refuse the gift of Jesus’ righteousness, it’s an outrage.
So what should I do to make sure I don’t commit the outrage that this man committed?
First, I need to accept the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. How do I do this? I tell Him that I am a sinner, and I know it. I confess my sins to Him, and repent of them, and ask for His forgiveness. And I ask Him to apply His own righteousness to me.
And then I ask Him to fulfill the promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And then I ask Him to change my heart and make it more like His, so that I will live the way He wants me to.
Would you like to do that with me this morning? Would you like to pray silently with me as I make these requests of the great heavenly King who loves us so much?