One day Jesus told a parable which likened the Kingdom of God to a wedding feast. This parable of Jesus is found in Matthew 22:1-14 and contains our next intentional tension. In brief, a king has prepared a wedding feast for his son. Notices had been sent out weeks in advance and invitations were repeatedly delivered when the feast was ready. But those invited rejected the king’s offer, some even resorted to violence against the messengers. The king, angry and upset, sent his servants to the main roads to invite anyone they encountered to the feast. And so the hall was filled with rich and poor, good and evil. As the King walked among his guests, he noticed a man that was not wearing the appropriate clothes for such an occasion. The king asked the man about his condition, but the man was speechless. The king ordered him bound and thrown out of the hall. Our next intentional tensions is that of whether we enter the kingdom of God by His election or by our own choice.
There is strong evidence that God chose all those that would follow Jesus long before they even existed. The Bible calls this predestination. God in His infinite foreknowledge predestined or elected or chose those that would enter into His kingdom. Consider, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,” (Ephesians 1:5, NASB95) And, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44, NASB95) Lastly, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29–30, NASB95) If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, I can firmly say that God chose you. Not because of anything you did, where you live, what family you are from, or anything else. You may think that you are worthless because of your life experience, but God chose you.
Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves it doesn’t feel like God chose us but that we decided to choose Him. In a sense, God invited the whole world. Every single human being is invited, but most will reject the invitation. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible declares, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95) Also consider, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:24, NASB95) And, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB95) God’s invitation through Jesus Christ is sent to everyone. The standing order of Jesus to his followers embraces that message, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, NASB95) We, like the servants in the parable, are sent to the highways, streets, and alleys of life to invite all those we encounter to the King’s feast.
Somehow these things seem contradictory. That God chose in advance those He will call to His kingdom, but those who come must choose. Yet, both are true and that tension is intentional. Part of the tension is resolved by considering the point of view. All stories have a point of view; the eyes through which we see the story unfold. From our point of view, we responded to Christ’s invitation. From God’s perspective, He drew us to Himself. But the reality is just a bit more complicated because Christ’s parable shows us three types of people; three different responses to God’s invitation.
The first type are those who receive the invitation but reject it. It is fairly obvious that Jesus had the Jewish folks of his day in mind. The Messiah had come, but they rejected Jesus’ claim. They refused the invitation because they were too busy or simply didn’t want to accept or wanted to protect what they already had. This type is not limited to first century Judaism but exists today whenever someone spurns the invitation to enter into God’s kingdom.
The second type are those that accept the invitation. The parable indicates that the servants didn’t discriminate but that they invited everyone they could find. It didn’t matter if they were good or evil, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, or anything else we use to divide ourselves from others. What is unsaid but assumed in the parable is that the guests were made ready for the feast according to the customs of that day. We know this because of the third type of person encountered in the parable.
The third type is represented by one poor fellow who somehow snuck in. For whatever reason he wasn’t dressed according to the tradition or expectation of the day. I’ve heard various explanations and speculations about this. It could be that he accepted the king’s invitation but refused to make himself ready. It could be that he never received an invitation and just showed up on his own accord. The parable makes a point to say that he wasn’t dressed properly and that he was speechless when confronted by the king. He didn’t have a reason or an excuse to offer for his condition. I believe that this fellow represents all of those that want to join the feast, but only on their own terms and not those of the king.
Considering again our guitar string metaphor for God’s intentional tensions. Both of these truths; whosoever desires may come and God’s choosing those that will come are true. The note sounded when this string is tuned is one that poets and writers have struggled to express since the dawn of creation. For this reality can only be called love. God’s love for the world, the love returned by those who accept the invitation, and the ever growing love of those that God knew would accept and resonate with His love. It’s like a husband and wife continually expressing their love for each other.
The larger question, of course, is which of the three kinds of people are you? One that has rejected the king’s invitation? One that has accepted the invitation and is being made ready? Or one that doesn’t like God’s offer and expectations but would like to eat at His table anyway? Even though God knows who He has chosen the decision to accept His invitation is yours and yours alone.