Good morning First Baptist, and Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are able to celebrate today, whether it be with a full turkey dinner or a Costco chicken and fries; either way we are glad to be with you this morning for worship.
The library is being made available to you starting this week. If you would like to have access to it, just call Laura at the office and make arrangements to meet her here at the church on Thursdays from 9-10:30 am.
Psalm 36:5-9 New International Version
5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
We come into your presence this morning with thankful hearts, that are at the same time heavy. There are those who we will greatly miss today because they won’t be able to be with us this Thanksgiving, and we pray that they will know our love, as we know theirs. May our thankfulness be expressed in generosity to those around us living in a world that is struggling. May we all gain an awareness of our need for You, and may we reach out to You and Your unfailing arms. As we worship here today with our brothers and sisters, and in our homes, may You draw us together and help us to fix our eyes on only You. Open our eyes Lord, that we may see You! Amen.
Today's Message - The Banquet
Matthew 22:1-14 – The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “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.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13 “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.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Our Thanksgiving celebrations are usually all about getting together with family to celebrate over a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. That never changes in our family. In the midst of this, the whole idea of Thanksgiving being about thankfulness can sometimes become a bit of an afterthought, because the main event is sitting down to a table overflowing with food.
At least, that is how Thanksgiving usually goes. This year will be very different for most of us. I wonder; will this make us more thankful?
Jesus used that powerful ageless image of a celebration banquet to describe His “Kingdom of Heaven” – in this instance, the occasion was a wedding. Weddings are a big deal in our culture, but in Jesus’ day they were even bigger occasions that included the whole community.
So, what is “The Kingdom of Heaven?” Simply put, it is whenever and wherever God is the King. It isn’t a political or geographic reality; it isn’t an organization; it’s more powerful and inclusive than those things. It is a kingdom of the heart; and it exists wherever God is lifted up above all else. And unlike it’s earthly rivals, the Kingdom of Heaven (or the Kingdom of God) exists in the eternal past, present and future!
A number of Jesus’ recorded parables describe the Kingdom of Heaven – all of them fictional stories that reveal an important truth. So, what does this parable tell us?
1. God’s Chosen People
This parable reminds us that God’s kingdom on earth began with an exclusive invitation to the nation of Israel; the family of Abraham and his descendants. They are referred to in scripture as God’s chosen people, the ones through whom God decided to reveal Himself to the world. The nation who received the law; to whom the prophets were sent; and the nation and nationality of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.
It’s important to notice that God didn’t choose Israel because they were an impressive nation. It’s true that there was a period of time when this relatively small regional power was able to exert quite a bit of influence in the region, during the glory days of king’s David and Solomon. At that time, there was no dominant world super-power exerting its influence, and so Israel was able to live relatively peacefully and prosper. They had enemies, but they were manageable ones. But not long after the death of Solomon, the nation was divided by a bitter civil war that would never be fully resolved.
And so, this undeserving nation – one who over and over again flirted with and openly worshipped the foreign gods of their neighbours – remained God’s chosen people. They had their ups and downs, but God never gave up on them; at least not until their rejection of Him was complete when they executed His Messiah-Son. Just a generation after the cross, in 70 A.D., Israel would finally be defeated and dispersed. The guests who refused to come to the banquet found themselves on the outside looking in.
2. The New Covenant
When it became apparent to the host in the parable that the invited guests were not going to show up, the plans were changed. Now, everyone was invited to the banquet! An open invitation was extended to whoever could be found to fill the seats; to whoever would come. No restrictions.
This is a very critical point to make about the Kingdom of God; that the invitation has truly gone out to the whole world. There are many Christians who don’t believe this. They interpret the Scriptures in a way that makes God’s Kingdom more exclusive. They are convinced that God is far more selective about to whom He offers the gift of His grace; that He only picks a few people to enter His Kingdom. Further, they teach that we really have no role to play at all in the process; if your name isn’t on the list that was made out before Creation, then there is no way you can be saved.
The scripture passage this morning contradicts this surprisingly popular understanding of salvation known as radical Calvinism, or sometimes Hyper-Calvinism; a view held by many popular Bible teachers like John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul.
Clearly, God’s love is wider than that narrow interpretation. Though Calvinists and their opponents both can quote Scripture to support their views, it is a significant problem to believe that God not only decides ahead of time who will go to heaven, but who will receive eternal punishment in Hell. Rather, the truth of John 3:16 reflects the heart of the God of grace:
“For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
How else do we know that this narrow interpretation of God’s salvation is false? Because it is an understanding of God that no faithful Christian can live by; and it does not fit with the overall arc of Scripture.
Jesus, Paul, John, the Old Testament Prophets, even Moses; all of these Biblical writers, challenge humanity over and over to choose God, and to seek His way. Not choosing God always carried consequences that could be avoided. If everything was determined ahead of time, then why all the warnings? If we had no choice in the matter, then what are we guilty of? And if Hell is the unavoidable destination of the majority of humans, then what does that say about God’s love for the world? Certainly, God could act this way, but the gospel tells us that He doesn’t.
The 3rd truth this passage tells us is that we will run across imposters in God’s Kingdom; people who may on the outside look like they belong and act like they belong, but in reality, serve only themselves. As well, some will try to earn their way into heaven, appearing to be a super-Christian, but on the inside, they are far from God.
These are represented by the man who didn’t wear the proper wedding clothes, even though he was clearly at a wedding banquet. There is only one way to the Kingdom, and that is through faith in Christ; humble, honest, repentant faith. We may have a hard time spotting the imposters, and that’s ok because it isn’t our job. In fact, another parable teaches us to let the weeds grow up with the wheat, because pulling them will hurt the crop by destroying the good wheat with the bad weeds. It’s not our role to remove the imposters, it’s God’s job.
What does this all mean? It means that God loves us, and His plan is that we spend eternity with Him. But we do have a free will and the capacity to rebel; so, we need to, by faith, choose between God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of this world. Forgiveness is available for all who will repent and believe!
We don’t worship a stingy God, or an arbitrary God, or a God who pretends to love everyone. We worship a God who lavishes His love on us; who had given us countless second chances; and whose desire is that every one of us be with Him forever.
We come before You and confess our sins:
We confess that we do not always love you with all of our hearts, souls and minds. Instead, we look to satisfy our own desires, our own agenda’s, our own appetites and neglect what You have called us to. We seek to be the gods of our own lives. We ask Your forgiveness.
We also do not love others as we love ourselves. Instead we give our love conditionally; reserved only for those who will love us back. And we are stingy with our forgiveness; choosing to let our hearts grow hard and cold.
Forgive us for breaking Your law to love You and love others. Give us more and more of Your empowering Spirit so we can change and become who you have called us to be.
And be near to those who are struggling today. Struggling with sickness, with sadness, with confusion and with loss. You promise that you can bring good in all circumstances, and we cling to that promise, even when it seems impossible.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving today, we pause to think about the faces who can not be around our table; we give thanks for their presence in our lives and ask for God’s blessing in theirs. (Pause for a moment and bring their faces to our minds)
Above all, we are thankful for You, and your presence in our lives, our citizenship in your Kingdom, and the gift of eternal life.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen.