Yesterday we looked at the Gospel call from God’s side. Today let’s look at it from our side and consider six possible responses to God’s Gospel invitation we find in Matthew 22:
1. Apathy: Some “were not willing to come” (v. 2). No big deal, no furore, no emotion. They just simply decided not to come. It put them neither up nor down. Just, “No thanks!”
2. Amusement: Some “made light of it” (v. 5). Bit of a laugh, really. Snigger, snigger. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”
3. Activity: “They went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business” (v. 5). Sloth has killed its thousands; but busyness has killed its tens of millions.
4. Aggression: “The rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them” (v. 6). We can’t kill the message, but we can kill the messengers. And that can be done by razor-sharp tongues as well as by double-edged swords.
5. Act: One man came but rejected the wedding garment provided by the king (v. 11). He wanted to be there on his own terms, felt he was fine just as he was. But the king could see through the act, the pretended love. He unmasked him, and threw him out.
6. Acceptance: “The wedding hall was filled with guests” (v. 10). Both “good” and “bad” were there. These are relative terms for two kinds of sinners – the outwardly upright and the outwardly evil. As someone said, it reminds us “that the good still need the Gospel, and the bad can still have the Gospel.
The parable of the royal wedding invitation in Matthew 22 illustrates twelve characteristics of the Gospel Call:
1. A Divine Call: Although the Gospel comes to us through the mouths of His servants, it is the Sovereign God who ultimately issues the invitation (v. 2)
2. A Well-timed Call: Just as wedding invitations are issued when everything is in place, so the Gospel invitation comes when God has everything in place, ready, and waiting (4).
3. A Personal Call: A person (God), calls people (us), to a person (His Son). It’s not a call to a system, or a philosophy, or an experience, but to a person, the Son of God (2).
4. A Doctrinal Call: Although it’s a call to a person and not just to some facts, the person is defined by facts, by propositional truth. You need to know something about the Son to want to come to His wedding (2)
5. A Generous Call: Look at what God has prepared in His Son – Rich food for the hungry, cool water for the thirsty, deep joy for the sad, warm company for the lonely, full forgiveness for the guilty (4).
6. A Gracious Call: Look at who God invites. He sends his servants out to the highways and byways, to call as many as they can find, “both good and bad,” implying that the “good” still need the Gospel and the “bad” can still have the Gospel (9-10)
7. A Wide Call: God does not just call the elect, but as many as His servants can find. The question, therefore, is not, “Am I one of the elect?” but, “Am I one of the human race?” If so, I’m invited (9).
8. A Sincere Call: God does not send out invited hoping people do not come. Look at the repetition, the passion, and the persuasion in His invites (2,4,10).
9. A Patient Call: He invites again, and again, and again.
10. A Simple Call: “Come to my Son’s wedding (4).” What’s so complicated about that? Why do we complicate it so much then?
11. A Solemn Call: Unlike most invitations where a refusal does not carry too many consequences, continued rejection of God’s invite eventually results in divine punishment (7).
12. A Successful Call: Although many refuse and reject, many do accept. The wedding is furnished with guests and there are no empty seats (10).
My son, Allan, has been looking for a car or pickup truck for many months. Since he started learning to drive a few months ago, most of his waking (and probably sleeping) moments have been consumed with getting his own vehicle. Craigslist has been his meat and drink. He probably knows more about cars than I’ve learned in 46 years.
But, there’s a fairly major problem.
Money. Or rather, the lack of it!
So he starts looking for a job. But to get a job, you need a car. But to get a car, you need a job.
He’s been totally stuck. Despite weeks and weeks of seeking, searching, planning, talking, he doesn’t have even a steering wheel to his name.
Until last Monday (yes, Christmas Eve), when we were driving along 3 Mile Rd near our home and God dropped an F250 into our lives. Free! And even added a bow!!
There’s a corner near our home where people put cars for sale from time to time. It was late on Monday afternoon when Allan begged me to stop to look at the black pickup truck that was sitting there with a red bow on it. I said, “Come on, Allan, you’ll never be able to afford that.” But it was Christmas time so I graciously stopped and waited while the “expert” surveyed the vehicle.
“Dad, it’s free! It’s free!”
“Allan, there’s no way it’s free. And if it is, it’s not worth having!”
I reluctantly got out of my car to take a pessimistic look, and sure enough, it was “FREE!”
“Dad, can we phone the guy and ask to drive it?”
As Santa was flying overhead at the time, I thought I’d enter into the spirit of the season and entertain his fantasy a bit longer. So we phoned and within minutes we were in the home of a lovely older couple who explained that they had been through really hard times with the recession, but that God had recently blessed them, and they were able to buy a new vehicle. They were going to sell the old F250 on Craigslist for $4000, but decided to simply put it at the end of the road, and then prayed that God would send someone who would really value it. That was 15 minutes ago, and we were the first to call.
“I don’t know if you believe in God…” he said.
“Eh, is it enough to be a preacher of the Gospel?”
We all laughed.
One hour later, after sharing God’s gracious dealings with our respective families, we were home with an F250 that God had just dropped from heaven into my son’s lap. Admittedly it’s got @250,000 miles on the clock. But it’s had only one owner, who’s treated it as “my baby” for 15 years and who recently pumped $4000 into it.
Allan said to me a few days ago that he still can’t believe he actually owns it. He posted the story on Facebook and some of his friends thought he was lying! It’s ridiculous, said one. Too good to be true! “Must be a piece of junk!” said another.
No, it’s just the God of all grace, giving my son, and my family, a vivid and unforgettable little snapshot of the Gospel of grace and of our common reactions to it. Most say, “Can’t be free,” or “Can’t be true,” or “Can’t be worth much,” or “That’s ridiculous!”
The Apostle Peter wrote that the angels desire to study salvation (1 Pet. 1:12). In his commentary, Grudem portrays these angels as standing on their tip-toes, craning their necks, trying to peer into the phenomenon of God’s saving sinners by grace. If angels who don’t need salvation have such a joy-filled interest in it, how much more should we, whose whole life and eternity depends on it?
Few of us can remember much of what we learned in High School. Some of us can hardly remember what we learned yesterday. However, it’s no big deal if I can’t remember the French for frog, or the number of ions in sodium phosphate. I can actually survive quite well without that knowledge. But I cannot survive or thrive if I forget the Gospel (Heb. 2:1-3).
That’s why we need to be constantly studying salvation. End-times prophecy, combatting the cults, church history, biblical languages, ethics, practical Christian living, etc, all have their place, but they must never displace salvation as our favorite topic of study.
It’s a vast subject with numerous ways of looking at it: justification, redemption, victory, reconciliation, atonement, adoption, etc. Perhaps you don’t recognize or understand some of these words, Yet if you’re a Christian you’ve experienced them! So why not take one of them every year, and explore it through sermons, books, articles, etc., and experience angelic delight as you expand your mind and heart with the joy of your salvation.
And don’t let the study of these salvation truths distract or divert you from Jesus. The great doctrines of the Bible are like majestic royal robes. But they must not be studied in the closet. Take them off the hangers and clothe Jesus with them. They fit Him perfectly and beautifully. It’s Jesus who justifies, it’s Jesus who redeems, it’s Jesus who reconciles, etc.
So we believe in Jesus and rejoice in His salvation. Then we sin; again.
Obvious isn’t it, we need to do something good to make up for it and then bring it to the table to ensure our forgiveness. Or maybe we should just set a reasonable period of time, a healthy and respectful delay, before confessing. Or perhaps we manufacture some tears and some really deep guilt pangs in order to prove how genuinely sorry we are. We need to do some deed, do some delay, or do some guilt, don’t we?
We need Jesus’ DONE! again. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Don’t do anything. Don’t do a deed, don’t do a delay, don’t do a despair. Do nothing and turn to Christ’s Done! Confess your sin without delay. Don’t wait even a minute. Don’t carry one miserable sin for one miserable second. Immediate sin, immediate confession, immediate forgiveness, immediate joy.
Begin and end the day with “Done!”
“Beep, beep, beep, beep….thump!”
The day’s agenda floods your mind and twists your stomach. So much to do. Too much to do.
Whisper, “It is finished!”
Repeat. “It is finished!”
Louder. “It is finished!”
Whatever you will complete or not today, rest in the only work that will never need to be done again. Rest in the fact that Jesus has done the most impossible job in the world, done it perfectly, and made it available. Take it. Enjoy it. Build your life on it. Let it change your whole view of your life and work. Use His work to put your work into perspective. Believe His work is counted as yours. Despite all that you fear and dread about the next 10 hours – a critical boss, a vicious competitor, a looming deadline, a complaining customer, an impossible sales target, unrelenting children, monotonous drudge – you have Christ’s perfect work credited to your account. Yes, it’s counted as yours, as if you did it. Are you humble enough to receive it?
And as you re-set the alarm clock at the end of each day of incomplete lists and unfinished business, rest again in Christ’s “It is finished.” The most important work has been done and covers all our laziness, all our foolishness, all our time-wasting, all our bad decisions, all our temper tantrums, all our losses, all our everything.
Christ offers us His perfect C.V. and says “Take this and put your name on it. It’s yours. Let this satisfy you, let this fulfill you. Let this calm your mornings and soothe your evenings!” It is finished!
Yesterday we looked at four hindrances to believing the Gospel of Done, hindrances that keep us in miserable fear and darkness, and away from the joyful rest and peace of Christ’s finished work. However, God has provided four helps to get us there and keep us there. We’ll look at the first two today, and the remaining two tomorrow.
Re-believe the Gospel of Done.
The remedy for unbelief is belief. The Gospel of Done must be believed again, and again, and again.
And it must be preached again, and again, and again. Too often it is assumed. “Well, we all know that already.” But do we? Does the world?
Why don’t you take a survey, with a sample of unbelievers and believers, and ask them: “What is a Christian? What is the Christian faith? How does someone become a Christian?”
You’ll be stunned at how much misunderstanding and ignorance there is. The vast majority of people think that you become a Christian via do’s and don’ts, and you stay a Christian in a similar way. Little wonder that so few are attracted to our churches or that Christians experience so little joy and zest.
God’s Law and conviction of sin have an important place in our lives and ministries. They show us our desperate need of outside help. However, the greatest emphasis of our lives and churches must be the divine Done not the divine Demand. God’s deeds, God’s acts, must be kept ever in the foreground.
Our works are always waiting in the wings, looking for any opportunity to run onstage and replace “Done” with multiple do’s, don’ts, shoulds, oughts, and musts. Hogging the spotlight, their ugly costumes, stumbled lines, and ham acting changes the whole mood of the show, silencing the applause, emptying the theatre, arousing the ire of the critics, and bringing down the curtain on any hope of a long and prosperous run.
The most successful Christian lives are those that manage to keep the spotlight on Jesus Christ, the incarnation of the divine “Done!” But how do I get in to enjoy this show?
Faith in Jesus is the entrance fee. Faith carpets the foyer. Faith unfolds the seat. Faith’s program notes list Him as the only actor in this one-man-show. Faith’s spotlight fixes on Him alone and refuses to allow anyone or anything else onstage. Faith’s ears hear the show’s final line, “It is finished” and says “Amen!” Faith’s hands clap, applaud, and praise Christ alone. The noisy and cantankerous old critic, Mr Conscience, is nowhere to be found in this scene of unmixed peace and joy. No encores are called for. None are required. It is done. It is finished. The End!
Re-focus your Bible Reading
Here’s another survey question for you: What’s the Bible all about?
Most popular answer: “How to help us live better lives.”
In other words, it’s all about ME. I am the main subject of the Bible. Hate to disillusion you – no, actually I’m glad to – but the Bible is all about God. He is the subject, and the object, and every other grammatical term in between. As a book about God, our first question when reading it is not, “How does this apply to me?” but “What does this reveal about God?”
Although I sometimes imagine that if only I can get the whole world, including God, to orbit around me as the center of the universe I will be happy, that’s the way to end up in a black hole.
By putting God’s Word and works at the center of our religious experience, especially of our personal Bible reading, we will begin to orbit around the heat and light of His divine Son.
I’ve tried countless different kinds of To-do lists. I’ve experimented with colorful cards, complicated mind-maps, sophisticated software, and innumerable Apps. And none of them ever gets me closer to “Done!” I keep hoping that somehow the right technique, the right method, or the right program will get my Inbox to zero, my desk trays to empty, and my latest To-do list all ticked off.
All in vain. Emails keep arriving, reports keep dropping, To-dos keep multiplying. An insatiable cacophony of “Do, Do, Do,” taunts me as I reluctantly come to the depressing conclusion that I will never be finished, that I’ll never be done.
Then I turn to Christianity and, to my unutterable and indescribable delight, I encounter the rare and refreshing words: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
It is done. All done. Nothing in my spiritual Inbox. Nothing on my desk. No To-dos to be done. It is finished!
That’s the foundation, the starting point, the beginning of all true Christianity. Done! Done! Done!
And yet it’s so difficult to believe, isn’t it? Can it really be totally finished? Nothing left to do? What a difference it would make to our lives if we could really, really believe that. So why is it so difficult to believe the Gospel of “DONE”? There are four main hindrances.
Conscience It’s difficult to believe because we all have a loud inner voice that keeps saying, “Do! Do! Do!” We’re born with a prodding, needling conscience, a gnawing innate sense of God’s demands upon us, and in our own way we try to meet those demands and quiet our conscience.
We do what we can, when we can, as we can, and hope we have enough in the can. And yet our can is still rattlingly empty, isn’t it?
We hear “Do!” We do. We hope to hear “Done!” Instead, we hear, “Not done…do more.” The relentless, merciless, grueling, harrowing, voice of God’s law burrows deep in our souls. We yell, “Quiet!” “Give me peace!” “Go away!” Will you never be satisfied?” But the “Do’s” keep coming, adding, multiplying, and expanding.
Is Christ’s conclusive cry loud enough to silence this depressing, demoralizing, and discouraging cacophony?
Church It’s difficult to believe “It is finished” because of the church.
Most sermons major on, “Do this, do that. Don’t do this, don’t do that.” And if “Duty, duty, duty,” is the preacher’s demanding message, “Disobedience, disobedience, disobedience,” is the hearer’s condemning conviction.
Check the most common preaching topics in most churches: Christian parenting, Christian finances, Christian marriage, Christian vocation, Christian citizen, Christian communication, etc. Do, do do! Sermon upon sermon, each demanding more money, more time, more commitment, more zeal, and more doing. Do, do, do! Fail, fail, fail! Down, down, down we go.
Is Calvary’s decisive cry preached enough to ensure that His “Done” is heard above the preacher’s “Do”?
Culture It’s difficult to believe “It is finished” because it contradicts the most basic rule of life in this world: Work = Reward. From our earliest days to our latest days, this is the law that governs everything. Do = Dollars. You work, you get rewarded. You don’t work, you don’t get paid.
That societal norm can make it so difficult to believe the core idea at the heart of the Gospel: Christ works and I get the reward. I don’t work, but I get paid! That turns our culture upside-down, back to front, and inside out. It’s hard to get our heads around it.
Is Calvary’s counter-cultural cry convincing enough to break this unbreakable rule?
Failure It’s difficult to believe “It is finished” because we keep on failing even after believing it. I mean God might let us into the Christian faith through His divine done, but we’ve got to stay in by our own doing, don’t we? Only fair, isn’t it?
If so, we’re done in, because our own doing is never going to do enough, even after believing in Jesus. We get in by His “Done!” We stay in by His “Done!” We finish by His “Done!” If not, we’re done.
Is Calvary’s successful cry long enough to not only get you into faith but to keep you in faith, keep you believing in Him rather than in yourself, and keep you looking to His Done rather than your doing?
I visited Scotland last summer, including a wonderful 5-day trip to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, where my wife’s parents live and where I used to pastor.
To reach my international return flight from London to Chicago, I had to take two internal UK flights with two different airlines, one from Stornoway to Inverness with Flybe, and one from Inverness to London with Easyjet.
Knowing the unpredictability of Scottish weather, even in July, I decided to pay for delay/cancellation/missed flight insurance on both these flights, at about $10-$15 per flight.
And sure enough, when the morning of July 6 rolled round, the fog rolled in, delaying my Stornoway-Inverness flight, and causing me to miss my Inverness-London flight.
Not a big problem, though. The flight was only delayed two hours, I was able to purchase a ticket for a later Inverness-London flight, and my international flight was the next day. I’ll just claim the insurance and get the $300 back in a month or so.
Terms and conditions
Three months, multiple forms, long delays, and many phone calls later, I still have no insurance refund, and won’t be getting one either.
I first tried re-claiming from Flybe, whose Stornoway-Inverness plane was originally delayed. Eventually, they told me that their insurance only covered flights going outside the UK, not domestic flights. “Read the terms and conditions,” I was told.
OK, I’ll try Easyjet, the Inverness-London flight I missed. They refused payment too, because I was not a UK resident! “Read the terms and conditions, etc.”
Both companies allowed me to purchase insurance knowing that their policies could not cover the flights I was booking. Flybe knew I was booking a domestic flight. Easyjet knew that I was not a UK resident. Both took my money. Both refused to payout. Both had small print excuses. Does anyone ever read these terms and conditions?
It’s not the money. OK, it’s partly the money – my wife I could do quite a lot with $300. It’s mainly the principle, the injustice of taking money on false pretenses, and then using small print that they know no one reads to cover their tracks. Why advertise it as delay/cancellation/missed flight insurance when it isn’t, and why take money from people you know can’t re-claim it even if they do miss their flight?
American tourists be warned! Read the small print – although you probably need an attorney to understand it – and don’t trust the capital letter promises.
True and trustworthy promises
One upside of this little episode is that although my bank balance has decreased, as has my trust in human organizations, my valuation of the Gospel and trust in God has increased. As I was preparing a sermon last week on John 10:10 and Jesus’ gift of abundant life, I couldn’t help but rejoice that His CAPITAL LETTER promises are true and there’s no small print.
What a joy to be able to proclaim the good news of free salvation for sinners through Jesus Christ! No small print, no terms and conditions, no attorney required. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Full stop.
What do you do when you find a perfect fishing pool, the ideal vacation spot, or a great new friend?
You keep it to yourself, don’t you; because sharing means less for you.
What do you do when you taste the grace and mercy of Jesus?
You want to tell others, don’t you; because sharing means more for you.
When King David was given the gracious Christ-centered promises of an everlasting King and Kingdom, he asked in utter humble awe, “Who am I, O Lord God?” (2 Sam. 7:18). Why me?
But one of his next questions was: “Is there anyone who is left of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” (2 Sam 9:1,3).
Having tasted the grace and mercy of Christ through His covenant promises, he thought: “How can I best illustrate and demonstrate the kindness of God I’ve just experienced?
I know…I’ll try to find someone from the worst family in the nation, the family that’s my greatest threat and enemy, and lavish the greatest kindness upon him. That’ll be the best way of showing what God’s just done to me!”
You can imagine Mephibosheth’s thoughts when David’s servant Ziba knocked on his door and said the King wanted to see him. That could only mean one thing in those days. Neck, meet stainless steel.
What a traumatic journey as the lame man was carried helplessly and hopelessly into the King’s palace.
Then the sentence…
“Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather; and you shall eat bread at my table continually.”
Or as Mephibosheth put it: ““What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”
When our dogs die, we cry. When these dogs died, people laughed. Dogs were pests not pets. They were vermin. The only good dog was a dead dog. And that’s what Mephibosheth felt like – a splattered, stinking, dog corpse that people shuddered to look at.
Yet the king not only looked at him, but scraped him off the ground, cared for him, clothed him, fed him, and sat him at the royal table continuously.
From roadkill to a royal son. What mercy?
I wonder if Mephibosheth kept the chain of grace going?
Go find your Mephibosheth and show the kindness of God to him.
For those of us brought up in the church, the Gospel of Christ is so, well, so believable. We’re used to it (too used to it). Yes, we have to believe it for ourselves, but it doesn’t shock us or stun us so much (though it should).
But try to put yourself in the shoes of an unbeliever; I’m thinking especially of those who have never heard the Gospel. Have you ever tried to imagine how hard it is for such unbelievers to believe the Gospel message? I mean consider what we’re asking them to believe:
God spoke to lots of people in lots of places about lots of subjects using lots of methods over lots of years, resulting in an infallible document called the Bible that we can totally trust.
That’s actually relatively easy compared to the next bit. Hold on tight because in the person of Jesus Christ:
God became an embryo in the womb of an unmarried virgin.
God was born
God grew up – baby to toddler to infant to teenager to young unmarried man
God learned and slept and tired and thirsted and hungered and sweated and cried and laughed
God lived as a man for 33 years in this world and never committed one sinful act, spoke one sinful word, thought one sinful thought, desired one sinful desire.
God lived as a man for 33 years in this world and never omitted one duty to his parents, his siblings, his friends, his community, his boss, his church, or his civil rulers
But that’s still elementary school compared to what comes next: In Jesus Christ:
God suffered the wrath and curse of God
God was crucified
God came alive again
God went back to heaven with his human body and soul
God runs the universe today in a human body
And if you’re still breathing, brace yourself to graduate to these truths:
God offers the perfect earthly life and justice-satisfying death of Jesus to murderers, rapists, adulterers, gamblers, liars, Jihadists, homosexuals, Pharisees, and even to religious and moral people.
God will save anyone, yes anyone, and everyone, yes everyone that puts their faith in Jesus alone
It does not matter what you have done or not done, if you repent and believe in Jesus you will avoid hell and go to heaven forever when you die
Let me put that a fourth way – you do not contribute one atom of effort to your salvation.
And a fifth – because it is so “unbelievable” – Salvation is a gift to trusters not a reward to workers.
And if anyone’s managed to believe all that, try this for a finalé:
The one life and death of Christ, lived and died 2000 years ago, has saved and is saving millions and millions of people from every country and generation
God will come and live in your heart when you believe in Jesus – and He will never leave you – EVER.
I mean, come on, are you not beginning to sympathize with unbelievers a bit?
Well, if you’re starting to soften, let me now turn it around a bit so that we don’t let unbelievers off the hook. First, this Gospel Good News fits the human condition perfectly. Although it’s stunning, it’s not like whiplash jarring. It fits what everyone knows in their conscience about their spiritual need. That’s why Paul says that unbelievers are without excuse. And that’s why when the Gospel is preached to unevangelized people, they often believe it quicker than churchgoers who have been hardened by Gospel unbelief over many years. It answers and meets humanity’s deepest needs so nut-and-bolt perfectly.
And, second, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to rely upon as we preach and witness to the “greatest” unbelievers. What else could have made us believe all that? And what else can make unbelievers believe any of that? Thankfully we need not rely on our own powers of persuasion, but on His.
And that’s what makes the unbelievable so incredibly believable.