2279) A Sermon on Going to Heaven (part one of two)

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Matthew 22:1-14  —  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.  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.  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.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So 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, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’  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.”


     If you are interested in going to heaven someday, you should pay close attention to this parable of Jesus.  Notice how it begins:  “Jesus spoke to them in parables saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Like what?  That is what you want to pay attention to, especially because the parable has to do with who gets into heaven and who doesn’t.  More than anything else in all of life, you want to be clear and correct on this.

     It is the common belief these days to just take for granted that everybody goes to heaven, no matter what you believe and no matter what you do.   After the tragedy of 9-11, Oprah Winfrey confidently declared at the Yankee Stadium memorial service that there were now 3,000 new angels in heaven.  Now how did Oprah know where all those people went, and what makes her think they become angels?  Who told her all that?  For many folks these days, it is taken for granted that everyone goes to heaven.  But is that what Jesus says here?

     Now, what I say doesn’t matter much more than what Oprah says, because all you have to do is disagree with my interpretation.  Everybody is a Bible expert these days, so who am I to tell you I’m the one that has it figured out?  So forget me.

     But you do need to listen close to what Jesus says, so I am going to stick to that.  I’ll be adding a bit here and there, as I always do in sermons.  That’s what you hired me to do, but you can still just ignore whatever I say if you want to.

     But you can’t ignore what Jesus says, because as we heard in the children’s sermon a little while ago, “Jesus is the boss.”  Not me, not you, and not even Oprah with all her money and influence.  Jesus is the boss.  Jesus is the one we need to listen to on this subject.

      And why should we listen to him and not Oprah?  Because Jesus is the only one who told us about living on somewhere else after our death, and then rose from the dead to show us that it can be done.  When Oprah or anyone else manages that, then I will pay some attention to what they have to say.  But I don’t know of anyone else who has ever done that.  Nor do I see any other evidence anywhere for such an incredible hope as life after death.  Everything else I have ever seen tells me that dead is dead.  Only in Jesus do I see anything more.  We know about heaven only because Jesus has told us about heaven, and so we should listen close to everything He says about it.

     So here is what Jesus says:  “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.”

     My wife and I put on a wedding banquet one time, so I know something about how that goes.  We didn’t have any servants to take the invitations around in person, so we just had to put them in the mail.  But we were just like that king in that we were anxious to see what people did with those invitations.  We had a little RSVP card to send back, and we were hoping to get those back by the deadline so we know how many meals to order from the caterer, and how many chairs to set up.

    It was irritating when people did not get back to us, and we didn’t know why.  What happened?  Did the invitation get lost in the mail, do people not know yet what they will be doing that day, are they just ignoring you, are they irresponsible, or what?  It is important to get all the responses back to those invitations.  Most came back, but many did not.  Lots of people were coming, but still we did not know for certain how many.

     The king in this parable had it even worse.  Every single person he invited refused to come.  So he sent out 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 on now,” pleads the king, “come to the wedding banquet.”  But again, no one paid any attention, and they all just went on back to whatever they were doing.  In fact, this time, some of those who were invited took the servants and beat them up.

     What Jesus is describing is already an outrageous situation.  This is a method Jesus often used in his parables.  He tells a story that is beyond belief, and then uses it to really drive home a point.  First of all, people loved wedding banquets in those days.  It was the primary social event of their lives. Wedding feasts could last for several days, even a week, with everyone eating and drinking all the best, and the father picking up the whole tab on everything.  Who would want to miss that?  And this was the banquet for a king’s son!  No one would refuse such an honor.

     But in this shocking parable, everyone refuses.  The king then pleads a second time.  This is a very patient king, because kings were kings, and in those days kings did not plead with their subjects.  They told them what to do.  But even after the king’s pleading, the people refuse.  Such rudeness, disrespect, and lack of gratitude was beyond belief.

     Recall now how the parable started.  This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, said Jesus.  It is a tremendous, incredible, invitation; and yet, many will refuse it.  Does everyone get into the banquet, into heaven?  No, says the parable, even after the king gives a second chance, begs, and pleads, many will flat out refuse.  The kingdom of heaven, said Jesus, is like a most wonderful gift that is freely offered, but then is ignored and refused by many.

    Then, “the king was enraged and sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city.”  I will allow you to put your own interpretation on that.  (continued…)