Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
What is church supposed to be like? I’ve heard quite a few sermons with varied opinions from various pastors as to how church should be conducted; how to do worship, how not to do worship, when to pray, etc. Last week I finally typed up and posted Get off Your Mountain: Church on a Hill; an article that details some of the ills found within a church. But during a read-through of Matthew, the Holy Spirit reminded me of one of the primary roles of the church.
Let’s just jump right into it. One of the parables Jesus used to tell in his travels was the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Before dissecting the parable, why don’t we take a look at it? The Bible records,
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come” (Matthew 22:1-3).
A king decided to throw a banquet for his son’s wedding and invited some people to come, but they didn’t want to come. So he tried again,
Then he sent some more servants and said, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet”
But they paid no attention and went off- one to his field, another to his business (Matthew 22:4-5).
Again, the people refused to come. When pulling the story from Luke, some pastors will note that the distractions of life can be perilous to our salvation. However, there are some differences between the Matthew and Luke versions of this parable (which makes me think they’re told on different occasions with different audiences and goals in mind). I suspect in Matthew, the major focus is on the Jews and their refusal to prioritize (or even pay attention to) God. Because Jesus continues, “The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:6-7). Presumably, this references Israel’s continued refusal to listen to prophets (eventually developing into persecution and murder) and then God’s response through the exile to Babylon (which in itself is likely a reminder of the situation with Rome in Jesus’ days). So those invited were God’s chosen people (Israel), but they refused to come. Therefore, the king of the banquet had an idea,
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.” 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 (Matthew 22:8-10).
The king tells the servants to bring in everyone, good, bad, whatever- everyone else is invited to his banquet (since the original invitees already turned down the offer). Even how, the king still threw some guy out. We read,
But when the king came to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. “Friend,” he asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man was speechless.
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.”
For many are invited, but few are chosen (Matthew 22:11-14).
For the longest time, I’ve always had problems with the end of Matthew’s version. I mean, come on king, you told them to invite everyone so invite everyone they did. And then you act surprised when some dude’s not ready? Really? Anyway, we’ll talk about that shortly. That’s the parable of the wedding banquet.
The second part of the parable (where the king sends his servants to grab everyone else) is about the mission and primary role of the church. Before Jesus went to heaven, he told his followers what they were to do:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
This is the Great Commission; just as the king had his servants go round up everyone for the banquet, followers of Christ are called to round up everyone and get them into church. In fact, this ties into the two primary commands that believers are supposed to follow. What are the two primary things believers should do? History records,
Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
And who are our neighbors to be loved? According to Jesus, everyone:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46)
We’re called to love people indiscriminately, no matter who they are or how they treat us. As Christians, we show our love for the world by spreading the gospel and trying to fish as many as we can into the church towards Christ so that they may be saved. Consider this, do you want to go to heaven and avoid hell? Of course you do! So if we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we should help them to achieve such an outcome as well. And keep in mind again; we’re called to do this for everyone. The king had his servants bring in all sorts of people, good and bad. The same goes for us. Don’t look for easy saves or people who you think will be good for the church- talk about Jesus to everyone. When I think of churches that embody this sort of thinking I consider the Brooklyn Tabernacle, they have a world famous choir- but that choir is made up of former addicts, pimps, and prostitutes all brought to Christ. When they were brought it, they had nothing to give and nothing to add; they were only there because people cast the net for everyone, not selectively. Church isn’t a club for clean people- it isn’t on us to decide who is and isn’t worthy of salvation; for it is written, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you- who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12) Try to save everyone: this is the goal and primary role of the church.
However, there are people who have no business being in church. Unfortunately, they think that because they attend church (though they deny Christ in their hearts) that they will be saved; this is not true. Paul defines salvation when he writes,
…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
As you can see, salvation requires belief and faith that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. So if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus as God, then they have no place in church because they’re not even really saved- Having said that; it is not the church’s role to weed such people out. Our Lord once told a parable that relates to this situation,
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then weeds also appeared (Matthew 13:24-26).
This is the same situation we find in churches; there are people there who really shouldn’t be there. So his men, loyal servants as they were, asked if they should go out and pull up all the weeds (this would be like us trying to eject unbelieving members from our churches). However, the farmer had another idea:
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:29-30).
Through this parable, Jesus explains that it’s not our problem to figure out who and who isn’t going to make it to heaven and to adjust accordingly. We’re just supposed to welcome everyone into the church, nurture them, and love them- then God will sort it out later. This brings us back to the banquet. Remember that dude who got kicked out because he wasn’t dressed appropriately? He’s the non-believing church member. He came to church and stayed, though refuses in his heart to believe that Christ is King, therefore he’ll be kicked out of the feast in heaven. Jesus tells us,
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:18).
The clothes he’s talking about is the righteousness that comes through salvation via Jesus’ death on a cross. Without Christ’s sacrifice and our acceptance thereof, we’re unfit for heaven- much like the guy who showed up to the wedding banquet without wedding clothes- and the king kicked him out before the banquet started. Your job, though, is to grab everyone; the Lord will sort out the good from the bad.
So, Christian (presumably), let the love of Christ flow through you as you go out into the highways and the byways and gather up people for the celebration of the Lamb!