The Marriage Feast, Part Two

Matthew 22: 5 -10 . “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he  to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found both bad and good, and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

Israel’s rejection of the king’s invitation to the marriage feast is described here as “making light of it.” They scorned the invitation, going off to their farms and shops to make money while the banquet hall awaited them. Not only did they refuse the invitation; they also mistreated the King’s servants and even killed them. 

The king will be patient only for a time. When he heard of the rejection of his invitation and the murder of his servants, harsh judgment followed. He sent his armies to their city,  burned it down, and destroyed those who had murdered his servants. Calling those murderers unworthy guests, he then told his servants to go out into the highways and find whoever they could to come to the wedding. 

This is the point at which the gospel became available to the Gentiles, those who were not invited in the first invitations. Since Israel (the original guests) had rejected the king, he then offered the feast to all nations. Indeed, many have come to the banquet hall and enjoyed the generosity of the good news!

It wasn’t long after Jesus returned to heaven that the Roman army came in all its might and destroyed Jerusalem, desecrating the temple and killing hundreds, and burning the city with fire. The nation was dispersed, and Jesus’ prophecy in this parable was fulfilled.  But God’s Word never returns empty, and there were believing Jews who were in that dispersal who carried the gospel with them to the nations. The whole world has been blessed with the invitation to the marriage feast!

Parable of the Marriage Feast, part 1

Matthew 22: 1-4. “And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.”

The chief priests and elders would have tried to arrest Jesus as soon as He finished His parable of the householder and the vineyard, but it was not yet time. He immediately launched this third parable, the story of the marriage feast.

There are so many important features for us to understand in this parable. First, it is God’s gracious offer to give joy, comfort and blessings  to those whom He wishes to partake of it. It is  for the Son, in honor of the Son. Nothing is mentioned, in this parable, of the Bride, the Church. In this parable, the focus is entirely on the Son. 

This parable goes beyond the parable of the householder, in which the Son is killed. This parable goes beyond the Cross,  as we’ll see later when the invitation is extended not only to Israel, but to the Gentiles. 

The invitation we read of in the third verse was given in the preaching of the Kingdom before the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus  Christ.  Between verses three and four, we can insert those two key events, as well as His return to heaven. In chapter 12 of Matthew we learned that the preaching of the Kingdom with all its blessings stopped, and Jesus began teaching, in chapter 13, the mysteries of the Kingdom, those things that take place during this present dispensation.  The fourth verse of chapter 22  contains a second invitation. This invitation was given, again, to the invited guests, to Israel, immediately after the Cross when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven.  The Book of Acts, chapter 2, gives us the historical record of this second invitation to Israel to come to the marriage feast. All things were ready. The work of redemption was done. 

 

Forgiveness, part 3

When we forgive, it is not so much for the benefit of the offender as it is to release ourselves from the prison of anger, bitterness, and depression. 

Have you ever met this poor woman?  Have you ever seen any other expression on her face than this one? Hard to deal with, isn’t it?  No matter what you do, she’ll always spot the error, always bring it loudly to your attention, always be angry. The sad thing is, she doesn’t even know why she’s so unpleasant and hard to please. 

When I was working on my master’s degree, I did a year of practicum in a nursing home.  I was a case worker, which meant that I had a regular list of residents that I looked after.  Sometimes it was just a matter of going in and spending some time talking with them.  There were other things to deal with, too, like family members who had questions or complaints; convincing a resident that she needed to stop ringing her bell every minute all night long; convincing them to eat, to tend to hygiene when they could, and so on. 

There was one man that I was warned about. “He’s a real grouch, Linda.  He’ll complain incessantly, and his language turns the air blue.  You’ll have to handle him carefully.”

Well, good grief.  This should a fun! 

The first time I went to see him, he greeted me with,”Well, finally!  I heard they were sending me someone new, and it’s about time you showed up.  Where have you been, anyway?”

“I’ve been avoiding you, Mr. Z, that’s where I’ve been.  And if you’re going to continue with this attitude, I’m leaving.”

He was stunned, speechless.  After a few seconds, though, he got his second wind and started in on a tirade ranging from his childhood to his most recent meal.  I gave him about ten minutes before I interrupted him. 

“Okay, Mr. Z, I think I’ve heard enough. It’s clear you’ve been mistreated, misunderstood, and abused all your life. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m just not going to come here every day to listen to you complain.  So here’s the deal. Tomorrow, when I come, you need to have a story to tell me about something good that happened to you when you were a kid. No griping, no complaining.  One positive story, and that’s all. If you can’t think of anything, I’ll come again the next day and the next until you come up with something positive. Understood?”

Again, he sat on his bed gaping at me, with nothing at all to say.  Finally–“You can’t do that!  I’ll report you!  I’ll have your job! I’ll—“

“See you tomorrow, Mr. Z.”

What he didn’t know was that I’d already informed all the appropriate people about my plans for Mr. Z, and they were all curious to see how it would go.  He’d been terrorizing the caregivers for months, and they dreaded having to go into his room.  I wasn’t worried at all. 

He had a positive story for me the next day. As time passed, we actually became friends.  Finally, I was able to talk with him about spiritual things, and I suggested to him that he would be much happier if he would learn to forgive those who had hurt him over the years.He was astonished at the idea, believing sincerely that the only possible reaction to mistreatment was anger.

The trouble with that, of course, is that the anger was eating him up from the inside, and it wasn’t affecting those he hated in any way. 

Anger itself is not sin.  What we do in our anger is another story, and often the greatest sin we commit in anger is against our own hearts and spirits.  Years ago, I read Tim LaHaye’s book How to Win over Depression. He wrote that offense leads to hurt and anger, leads to self-pity, leads to bitterness, leads to depression.  The only way to break that progression is after the hurt/anger part, and the thing that breaks the chain is to choose to forgive.  It is to realize that you yourself are far more hurt by your bitterness than is the person who hurt you. Even more important, your bitterness spills out like acid over all the other people in your life, who have no idea why your tongue is so sharp and your attitude is so critical.  They don’t understand that you learned those behaviors as a defense against mistreatment. They only know you’re hard to deal with, and they try to avoid you when they can. 

Mr. Z was transferred to another facility about halfway through my year.  I don’t remember why. But he left me a note, since the transfer was made over a weekend when I wasn’t there.  The note said, “Hey, smartypants, you won’t have to see me again.  But I’ll remember  you.”

 

The Stone Which the Builders Rejected, householder part 3

Matthew 21:40-46. “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the Head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eye? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.  And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard His parables, they perceived that He spake of them (italics mine). But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitude, because they took Him for a prophet.”

“What will the householder do to the husbandmen?,”  asked Jesus.  Again, the priests and elders were caught on the horns of a dilemma. If they gave the correct answer, that would show that they completely understood the parable.  If they lied, it would show them up for the scripturally ignorant men they were. Interestingly, they chose the correct answer.  They said, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men!”  I think they figured they’d come off better with the truth on this one. Of course, they still weren’t completely convinced that Jesus was Who He said He was, so they were willing to take a chance on being shown up yet again.

The next thing Jesus said was based on Psalm 118:22-23,  The builders were the religious leaders of national Israel. Jesus, of course, was the Stone that the builders were rejecting. Cast out of Israel, the vineyard, Jesus would become the Cornerstone of the Church that would spread the gospel to all nations, bringing the truth of salvation by grace through faith to all who would hear.  And finally, those who refused the Cornerstone would be destroyed.

What a dramatic prophecy, one that made the chief priests and elders grind their teeth in fury.  But they were afraid to lay hands on Him, because the common people still looked on Him as a prophet.

Next week, we’ll start Chapter 22, with another familiar parable, as Jesus sets the stage for accomplishing what He came to earth to do.

The Householder, part 2

Matthew 21:36-39. “Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.”

In a final effort, the householder sent his son to the vineyard to gather the profits from the husbandmen.  Surely, thought the father, they will respect my son and heir, and he will settle the problems there.

Imagine the consternation and fury the elders and priest must have felt as Jesus uttered these words. The very Son that the Father had sent was standing in their midst. They had to understand what He was saying. How would they treat the Son? Will they receive Him and His message? No, not for a moment. Their desire to see Jesus destroyed must have hardened in that moment into the plans they made to trick Him, trap Him, accuse Him and kill Him; to take Him outside the city and destroy Him, and seize His inheritance.

It is through His death, and resurrection, that we receive His inheritance, becoming joint-heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17).  That all would benefit by Jesus’ death was not in the plans of the chief priests, of course, but they did not know that they were part of the plan to bring salvation to a lost and dying world. They only knew that they had to destroy Christ before He destroyed their influence and power.

Jesus made sure they knew that He knew their hearts and minds. He knew what they wanted.

The Householder, part one

Matthew 21:33-36. “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.”

This is a more complicated parable, and still it keeps the religious leaders in place. This time, the parable reviews the history of their nation and predicts the calamity that will soon come to Israel.  Later on, we’ll find that these men understood exactly what Jesus’ story was about. They must have figured it out pretty quickly, when Jesus spoke of the vineyard, the hedge and the winepress, the tower and the husbandmen, as well as of the fruit the vineyard was to yield.  Israel, the nation to whom He had come to offer the Kingdom.  Israel, a vineyard, is an Old Testament picture. The parable is founded upon Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, and Psalm 53:8.  All these words had already been spoken to the prophets of old, and now He was come in the flesh  to flash the truth of God’s mercy to Israel, their shameful past and the still greater sin in the hearts of these national leaders. The vineyard was not bearing fruit.  The servants who came to the vineyard are the prophets sent by God, who had been rejected and mistreated.

We’ll look at the rest of the story tomorrow.  It is a heartbreaking picture of the hearts of men who have had every opportunity to thrive, and yet when they are held accountable, they fail to bear fruit.  Let’s not be too quick to point the finger at unbelieving Israel.  We’re no different. Our hearts easily grow cold and hard, and it often takes persecution to bring us to our knees in repentance for our unbelief.

The Two Sons

Matthew 21:28-32. “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons: and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?  They say unto Him, The first.  Jesus saith unto them, Verily, I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”

 

Jesus  was still addressing the chief priests and elders when he told this parable.  He had just refused to answer their question about His authority, because they would not answer His question about John’s baptism. He then went on to teach this parable, and I can only imagine the consternation, anger, frustration, malice, and deadly rage those haughty men must have felt as the Master spoke. Why didn’t they just walk away and leave Him standing there talking to Himself?  They couldn’t!  I believe that His authority was so compelling that they were literally unable to turn their backs on Him until He was finished with them. 

The story doesn’t need a great deal of interpretation. Jesus made the meaning and the application clear. These polished, cultured, educated religious priest and elders were far worse, far more obnoxious than the tax gatherers and harlots they despised, yet Jesus told them clearly that publicans and sinners would enter heaven ahead of them. Outrageous statement! Preposterous!

The publicans and harlots are represented by the son who said he would not go, but then repented and went. The second, the liar, is not repentant. He represents the proud religious Pharisee, the high priests and elders. The root of their problem was unbelief. 

The next parable is even more inflammatory.  Stay tuned.