God’s Invitations Rejected! (November 26, 2017)

God’s Invitations Rejected! (November 26, 2017)

November 27, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

God’s Invitation Rejected!

Romans 11:1-10

There’s a movie that came out in 2008, starring Jim Carrey, called “Yes Man”. In this movie the main character, Carl, is a bank loan officer who lives a fairly dull life because he always says no to any and every invitation. That is, until he goes to a seminar where he learns to become a “yes man” – a person who says yes to new opportunities and is willing to try new things! Well, Carl soon finds out the hard way, that even being a “yes man” he is really in the same state that he was before. He was a robot. First programmed to always say “no,” then programmed to always say “yes”. In the end, he learns how to exercise free will! It’s true, being a “yes man” opened him up and made him more adventurous. But he learned the importance of being able to make decisions.

When God created us, he didn’t create us to be “yes men”. He didn’t create us to be “no men” either. He gave us a free will that was able to love and obey him because we wanted to! It is our act of love and devotion to say yes to God’s will and no to sin. After the fall into sin, although it greatly damaged his creation and made our freewill slaves to sin, God still called out to us by the gospel. He invited us to see all that he has graciously done to free us from the slavery of sin, and he gives us the ability to say, “Yes, I want to remain a part of God’s family.”

In the gospel reading for today (Mt 22:1-14), Jesus illustrates what that all looks like. “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” (Mt 22:2-3). The date has already been set. The engagement of his son to the bride guaranteed the marriage – especially in those days, the engagement was much more of a commitment than it is today. Then the king painstakingly went about the process of preparing the wedding banquet for his son. Everything had to be perfect. He loved his son, and he loved his son’s guests. The tables were set. Food was prepared. Musicians standing at the ready. And invitations were sent out.

Then the king sent out servants to inform those invited that it was time for the wedding banquet to begin! Everything is ready. Come! “But they refused to come” (Mt 22:3). Was it that they never really intended to come? Did they secretly hate the son? Did they find their own matters more important on that day? All the king’s efforts wasted on them. All his preparations were for naught.

But this king was persistent. “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.’” (Mt 22:4). A reminder that it wasn’t just that this king could order from a caterer and, if everything fell through, cancel his order and take not hit. No, he had already given up some of his prized possessions. His oxen had been butchered – his means of work – along with his highly valued fattened cattle. There was no way to get these things back! “But [those invited] paid no attention and went off” (Mt 22:5), even mistreating and killing the king’s servants.

I think you already see the very close parallel between the king and his son and God and his Son. The engagement has been made! Christ has already betrothed himself to the Church – the body of all believers. You became a part of that betrothal when you were baptized in his name! The date is set, the banquet is being prepared. And although we don’t know that date, we know that soon we will partake in the marriage feast of the Lamb – all the glories of heaven that God has prepared for you.

However, sadly, some reject that invitation. In fact, in a very vivid way, God chose an entire nation to be his own. To be a living, breathing example of what he does for all those, Jews and Gentiles, who are invited to be his own. Yet even though this nation of Israel had their bridegroom in front of their very eyes… Although they saw his mighty deeds, witnessed his working for them, and had many prophets who spoke directly from him, many of them still rejected his invitation. Many of God’s own Old Testament people preferred their own activities, rejected God’s invitation, and even killed God’s prophets. By grace God persisted, though, till he had gathered a remnant chosen by grace. The others, who continued to reject him, were hardened, given a lethargic spirit, trapped and enslaved in their attempts to obtain God’s favor by their own works.

You see, it’s not that they didn’t like what was being offered. They just didn’t like the way that it was being offered. A free gift just seemed too cheap in their eyes. They would rather have to earn this gift by hard work and paying in. They earnestly sought the righteousness that God freely offered, but they tried to acquire it in the wrong way and therefore did not obtain it. This righteousness is offered freely by grace! “It cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Rm 11:6).

Now it’s easy to stand in line for the wedding banquet and shake your finger at those who rejected the invitation. But before you do that, perhaps we should also do some digging. How often have I been a “No man,” rejecting invitations from God? How many times have I been weary and burdened trying to solve problems on my own, work through difficulties, and squeeze every hour out of the day trying to lighten the burden? Yet God invites you saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). How many times have I wrestled with my own guilt, trying to keep a sin hidden or struggling to cover it up? Yet God invites you saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Listen to his invitation! Trust the promises connected to his invitations. Stop rejecting and believe him!

Thankfully, we have a persistent king. One who rings out his invitation again and again. One who goes out to where you are and brings you in! “Go to the street corners,” the king said, “and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 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” (Mt 22:9-10).

Now some might judgingly retort, “Did God reject his people?” (Rm 11:1). They hear the parable that Jesus told and focus on the fact that the king destroyed those he originally invited so that he can bring others in. Or they look at the nation of Israel and focus on some of God’s punishments in the Old Testament. Or they see how Jesus spoke harshly against some Israelites, and some of the apostles focused specifically on the gentiles. “Did God reject his people?” (Rm 11:1). It’s not at all that the king rejected them. Sometimes we focus on the wrong details and fail to see that this king persistently and repeatedly called on those who were first invited. Or we fail to see the longing heart of Jesus which caused him to groan, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and YOU were not willing” (Mt 23:37). It’s not that God was not willing. He invited many to his wedding banquet and will continue to do so until the wedding hall is filled with guests – until all those who will heed his invitation have been gathered.

That still doesn’t quite answer the question. “Did God reject his people?” (Rm 11:1). That nation that he graciously chose to bring up out of Egypt and carefully groomed for centuries, did he reject them? That’s perhaps what Elijah thought. Even after he had displayed God’s stunning power over the false god, Baal, he was still hunted down and mistreated. He fled for his life to Horeb, and when God asked him, “What are you doing here” (1 Kgs 19:9), Elijah responded “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kgs 19:10). It’s in these depths of despair, when all seemed to be darkness around him, that God lets shine a glimmer of his grace. “I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (1 Kgs 19:18).

Sometimes it feels like that, doesn’t it? Maybe at school, maybe at your place of employment, maybe just as you turn on the nightly news. “Everyone has rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and persecuted your people. I am the only one left, and now they are persecuting me too.” Yet remember what we have learned these past few weeks. Your God is King of kings and Lord of lords! Nothing happens in this world without his allowing it. Nothing happens to you that is out of his control. Your God will also come one day as supreme judge of all. You don’t have to personally avenge injustice because your God promises you that he will set the record straight. Yet your God is also gracious, preserving a remnant throughout history. A remnant who, although just as guilty as anyone else, clings to the cross of Christ for the forgiveness and redemption found in him.

It makes me think of the times when I should be asking myself, “Have I rejected God’s invitation?” Yes, I have. Time and time again I still do. And it makes me wonder, when we stubbornly reject God’s invitation to come to him to lighten our load or confess our sinfulness, will God reject us? Is there a limit to God’s forgiveness and love for his lost sheep? Paul offers himself as an example. “By no means! I am an Israelite myself” (Rm 11:1). In fact, he was not just an Israelite, but an Israelite who stubbornly rejected God’s invitation again and again. He was like one of those in Jesus’ parable from the gospel reading who “seized [the king’s] servants, mistreated them and killed them” (Mt 22:6). He witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He obtained letters of commission to hunt down and eradicate Christians. And yet God persisted with Paul until he finally saw the light of God’s invitation, confessed his sin, was forgiven, and readily given a seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb! God persists with you as well. He always calls you back to the cross where you can leave your sin before entering the banquet where he has prepared a place just for you! There’s a seat with your name on the name card! And he will do anything to make sure you are in that seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

God’s invitations rejected! Yes, sadly they are, again and again. And for those who persist in this rejection, there will be a day when they will have to answer for it. But thanks be to God that he is stubbornly persistent. He continues to call and invite. And he makes sure that his remnant, chosen by grace, will be with him in heaven – at the marriage feast of the Lamb.