Sermon: Matthew 22:1-14
Pentecost 21 - October 29, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
How many people do you think are going to be saved? Take a guess at the percentage of people who have ever lived or ever will live who will be saved. What percentage would you say? If you say 100% that means you’re a Universalist and believe that everyone in the end will be saved. The Bible certainly indicates that’s not the case. Would you guess 50%? You’re probably being a little optimistic. You might guess 25% or 10% or maybe as low as 5%. The sad truth is that those lower percentages are probably closer to the number of people who will eventually be saved.
Some people might say that we’re being very judgmental to speculate on how many people will be saved. After all, God is the only one who knows who really has faith and will be saved. That’s true, but we also know there’s a lot of people who profess no saving faith, and many who don’t live like they have any faith in God. Furthermore, God’s word indicates that there will be lots and lots of people who won’t answer God’s invitation for salvation and eternal life. It will be a minority, a few, who will finally be saved.
In our text today Jesus tells a parable that says these sad statistics are true. “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” That’s why you’re encouraged today to
MAKE SURE YOU’RE ONE OF THE FEW
This topic about how many people will be saved, and particularly that only a few will be saved, is not a very pleasant topic. Some would say it’s not even proper to speculate on such a matter. But the truth is that Jesus addresses this very issue at least two or three times in his preaching, and each time he concludes the same way - that only a few will be saved.
In the gospel of Luke a person asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus answered, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus is very clear that only a few will be saved in his Sermon on the Mount: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” And then he ends the parable in our text today with that statement, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
So what do you really think? Do you think only a few will be saved? Or are we supposed to interpret Jesus’ words in a different way? There are a lot of people who are “universalists” in their thinking. They think everyone will go to heaven or to nirvana or to some better life than this world. Most non-Christian religions teach that all will go to some form of eternal life. But even among people who call themselves Christians there are many who say most people, if not all, will finally be saved. Christian denominations that lie on the liberal end of theology don’t even teach the doctrine of hell any longer or seldom mention it. And how often don’t you hear people say when someone dies - “He’s in a better place,” as if everyone just goes to a better place.
What do you think would happen at a funeral sometime if someone said, “He didn’t go to a better place, he went to hell”? That may not be a polite thing to say at a funeral, but what if it’s the truth? Why do we have a tendency to sugarcoat those situations and say, “He’s in a better place”?
Why don’t we deal more honestly with this truth that only a few will be saved? Why don’t we deal more honestly with the truth that lots and lots of people are going to go to hell? We don’t because it’s uncomfortable. We don’t because we might think we’re being impolite or judgmental. But most of all we don’t because our sinful natures like the idea that most people will be saved or that everyone will be saved. It’s silly but some of us might even think that if the percentage is higher for those who will be saved then we’ll have a better chance.
Don’t count on what your sinful nature wants or what your human reason tells you. Don’t bank on a high percentage of people being saved so your chances are better. It’s much wiser to listen to the word of God and what Jesus has to say on this topic.
This parable of the wedding banquet is the third of a group of parables that Jesus teaches in the gospel of Matthew. Each parable is a clear indictment of the religious leaders of Jerusalem and Judea who thought they were very religious children of God but were in fact not repentant, not faithful at all to God.
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. Many people had already been invited to the banquet so the king sent out his servants to tell the people to come because all was ready. But the invited guests refused to come. So the king sent out the servants to call the guests again. This time he told them to give a description of the abundant menu.
But the guests still didn’t listen. As a matter of fact this time not only did they not respond to the invitation, they mistreated and killed the servants who announced the banquet. The king of course was outraged and sent his army and destroyed these murderers.
First of all, we clearly hear in these words Jesus’ indictment of the Jewish religious leaders who hated Jesus and were already looking for a way to arrest him. The Old Testament scriptures had more than abundantly invited them to be a part of God’s kingdom. God the Father had sent his own Son as the Messiah and their Savior, but they wanted nothing to do with him. They didn’t repent of their sins. They were lost in the falsehood that they were automatically God’s children because they were physical descendants of Abraham and kept the Law of Moses almost perfectly. They were work-righteous and self-righteous. They didn’t need a Savior. They didn’t have any sins to repent of. Their forefathers had mistreated and even killed many of the prophets who warned them to repent.
But let’s be careful that we don’t just point our fingers at the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. That was 2000 years ago. The gospel has now gone out to the whole world. This parable could now be an indictment of the whole world. Most Gentiles, most of the rest of the world, have responded in exactly the same way. Most have mistreated and killed the messengers because they want nothing to do with God’s Son.
The vast majority of people in the world aren’t interested in really repenting of sin and coming to God’s banquet of forgiveness and salvation. It’s the same old work-righteous, self-righteous story. I don’t need a Savior. I don’t want a Savior. I don’t have time for a Savior. I don’t have time for God. I’m pretty good the way I am. I’ve lived a pretty good life. I’ve tried to keep the commandments. Everyone goes to a better place anyway.
No they don’t. That’s why all of us, even us who sit in church every Sunday, need to listen very attentively and carefully to God the Father’s invitation to his Son’s banquet. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’”
In Jesus’ day these words were an indication that the gospel message was going to go to other people - to the Gentiles, to the nations of the world. And in the 2000 years since Jesus told this parable we’ve seen the fulfillment of his words. The gospel message has gone to every nation on earth. The Bible has been translated into hundreds, if not thousands, of languages and dialects.
The fact that the gospel has gone out to the whole word, the king’s words in this parable to his servants to go out and invite others, are a good indicator to us of God’s amazing mercy, patience, and desire that all people be saved. The Apostle Paul in his 1st letter to Timothy reminds us that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” You and I are here today as believers in Jesus only because God in incomprehensible love wanted to save us, didn’t give up on the gospel, and sent the message of Jesus Christ farther out into the world.
“So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” God will fill heaven with people. But did you notice that the servants gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad. Both good and bad. It’s very interesting that Jesus adds those words in his parable.
So are you one of the good ones or one of the bad ones? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of the bad ones. I know my sins better than anyone else, except God himself. I’m not one of the good ones. But these words of Jesus thrill me because heaven will be filled with lots of people who were bad sinners in this world. I’m one of them. I bet you are too.
So how do we get to come to the eternal wedding banquet? The answer to that question is ironically found in the very interesting twist that Jesus adds to this parable. The wedding banquet was full. But then the king noticed one man who was not dressed in wedding clothes. He asked the man how he got in without the proper clothes. The man was filled with terrified silence.
Are you wearing the proper wedding clothes? Proper wedding clothes that make us worthy to sit in God’s eternal wedding banquet won’t come from our closet or our storehouse of alleged good works. Proper wedding clothes for heaven come from one place. In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Jesus lived a holy life as our Substitute. He died an innocent death as our Substitute to atone for our sins. When we repent of our sins, are baptized, and come to faith in Jesus, God the Father wraps us in the righteousness of Jesus. Those are our wedding clothes.
Most people don’t want to wear Jesus’ righteousness. Most people don’t care. Most people think they can wear their own righteousness. Most people aren’t too concerned because they think we all just go to a better place. They are as wrong as the man not dressed in wedding clothes.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” And then Jesus concluded, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Make sure you’re one of the few. Amen.