The Parable of the Wedding Banquet: Or “Why They’re Not Flocking to Your Church”

Here’s a question worthy of serious reflection some wintry morning when you’ve thrown a log on the fire and want to do something better than watch a rerun of the worst sitcoms of the 70s:

Ask yourself, “If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news, why aren’t people breaking the door down to get in?”

Images of Target or Macy’s on Black Friday come to mind, with crowds pressing against the door, eager for the management to open up so they can take advantage of the great buys inside.

One would think we would be just that intent on getting in on the blessings of Heaven Christ came to give us.

Instead, for the most part, people stay away in droves.

Why is that?

The angel told the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields, “I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2)

Christians maintain that this was the best good-news ever delivered, that it was heaven’s greatest gift and humanity’s best night.

It’s for everyone, it’s free, and what it does is transform lives for now and forever. It signs you up for a Heavenly inheritance that cannot be taken away (see I Peter 1:4) and assures you of a future beyond your fondest imagination (I Corinthians 2:9, among other places).

So, why aren’t they packing the pews of your church next Sunday and storming the altars at the invitation time.

We happen to know the answer to that question. Well, much of it. There may be aspects we haven’t found, but there is not a great deal of mystery to this.

One: we who are the “keepers of the flame,” so to speak, the ones entrusted with the message and sent as examples of the divine reality, have so watered it down and messed it up as to make it meaningless.

An article in the December 12, 2009, Times-Picayune, our New Orleans paper, tells of virtual churches existing on-line that offer everything normal churches do without the “member” ever having to walk outside the house. At communion time, the individual can go in the kitchen and find some bread or wine–or even water, the article says–and participate. He can even baptize himself.

Give me a break.

“Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25) Any believer with even a few scriptures under his belt can shoot this down in a minute.

Easy believism is rampant. “Pray this prayer and you go to heaven.” It’s all around us. Nothing is said about becoming a disciple of Jesus and living for Him. It’s just “say these magic words.”

A child asked a Sunday School teacher, “Do you think Hitler went to Heaven or hell?” The woman said, “Well, darling, we can only hope that when he was a little boy he prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior.”

Please!

No wonder people stay away in droves. I would too. Who wants such a gospel? In fact, why would that even be considered a gospel, offering nothing but pie-in-the-sky by-and-by and no transformation or reconciliation in this life?

That’s the first reason you’ll not find crowds waiting for the custodian to unlock your door this Sunday. The issue has been so confused people today don’t even know what the gospel is.

Here are our other reasons. (You can find most of these in Matthew 22:1-14.


Two: Many do not know the gospel. They do not know Jesus died for their sins and all He has to offer.

Have you ever seen someone push back from a huge meal and say half-seriously, “Well, I feel like everyone in the world has eaten!” I have. It’s a real phenomenon.

When we are well-fed, we make the assumption that everyone is also. When we are feeling healthy and pain-free, it’s easy to forget that others are ill and hurting. When we live in a community with churches on every corner and preachers on TV and radio all the time, it’s natural to assume everyone in our town knows the Gospel of Jesus. But they don’t.

And if they don’t all know the Gospel in your town, you can bet they don’t in Pakistan and Malaysia and Somalia.

The Apostle Paul addresses this problem in Romans 10. “How shall they call on Him in whom they’ve not believed? And how can they believe in One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone going to tell them? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (10:14-15)

I challenge every church leader in our country which has been saturated and soaked and sated with preaching to seek out the overlooked ones in their community who may not have been able to discern the gospel through all the ecclesiastical clutter. Find them and tell them the simple and wonderful Good News.

Three: Some do not come because they don’t want to come. “Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

I was witnessing on the beach at Panama City. Seeing the fellow I was talking with was distracted, I decided to give him an out. “Is this making sense to you?” He smiled, “Buddy, I appreciate what you’re doing, but see–I don’t want to change. I’m enjoying my life just the way it is.”

An honest man. A lost one, yes, but at least he had made his choice and wasn’t trying to play word games.

Four: Some do not come to Jesus because they are too busy with lesser things, like climbing the corporate ladder or pursuing their hobbies, following their team or watching their television shows. They rush to the casino when they get off work or head to the golf course or the bar.

It’s not that they have considered the way of Jesus Christ and made a rational decision against Him; they have not given Him serious consideration at all. And unless they change, that omission is going to cost them dearly.

I’ve told on these pages the story of my United Methodist preacher friend Wallace Roberts, now in Heaven. As a child in the Meridian, Mississippi, area, he knew the old gentleman who ran the local grist mill. That’s all the man did, seven days a week. When, as a child, Wallace, who had just come to know Jesus, tried to talk with him, the old man rebuffed him.

While a ministerial student in college, Wallace received a call from the man’s family. The old man was elderly now and critically ill. He had slipped into a coma and was doing something strange that troubled them. Apparently, Wallace was the only preacher they knew, and they felt someone should try to get through to their father.

“I drove to the house and walked into his bedroom,” Wallace said. “The old gentleman was lying there, apparently dead to the world. But every now and then, he would raise up and stare at the door. He would say, ‘I see Him. I see Jesus. He’s standing at the door. He’s saying something. What’s He saying? I can’t hear Him. Somebody shut off the mill–I can’t hear what He’s saying!'”

“Then, he would fall back to his bed and into the coma. He died that way.”

My friend Larry told of his uncle who was driving him around town one day. They pulled up in front of an office building several stories high. “I own that building,” he said. “That building is my life.”

That’s the problem. God made us for greater things than sitcoms and bottom lines, good abs and community awards. He made us for Himself, and many of us are using up life’s days and resources on far lesser things.

Five: Many people want the Gospel and all that it offers, but on their own terms.

As a kind of addendum to this parable, Jesus told of a man who came to the King’s wedding supper in his own clothes. Had he entered by the door, the palace servants would have fitted him with the proper garments. Jesus said, “When the king came in 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.” (Matthew 22:11-12)

That man was promptly ousted, Jesus said. Oddly–to us at least–the Lord did not go into detail explaining the application of that fascinating tidbit. He said, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (22:14) The chosen, it seems clear, are those who accept the invitation on the Lord’s terms and not their own.

With a smorgasbord of churches in every town, people can pick and choose which best suits their wishes and convictions and prejudices and, yes, their ignorance. If they have a dislike for churches that are “always trying to get people saved,” they select one that doesn’t. If they want a church that emphasizes working one’s way to heaven, they will find one or more that do just that.

The tragedy, to me at least, is that a huge percentage of the faithful church members in any town in America will easily confess that they formerly belonged to another church in that community but left because someone did something not to their liking. We do not abide sermons that interfere with our way of life, preachers who do not conform to our expectations, or doctrines we find offensive. No problem; we just join the church down the street.

God help us.

A fellow wrote to our local paper, “The Christ I know was not judgmental. He accepted everyone regardless of their preferences and orientation.” I responded–and surprisingly, the editors ran it–“Just where did you find this Christ who had no standards? You didn’t find Him in the Bible, and that is our only source for information about Jesus Christ. I suspect you concocted one of your own imagination?”

Again, on these pages, I have told of the mission house that was giving away clothing to the poor but which neighbors were trying to break into. When I asked why, the mission director said, “Why, they want to steal what we have.” I laughed, “That doesn’t make sense! Everything you have is free.”

A short time later it occurred to me that the people trying to break in wanted the contents of that house on their own terms. They did not want to be beholden to anyone. I recalled a hand-lettered sign inside. “Thou shalt not steal; ask and it shall be given you.”

If you require proof of man’s wickedness and utter depravity, consider that God in Heaven has done everything necessary to get us all to Heaven for good and for always and has offered it freely without any condition except that we believe and turn our lives over to Him, and we still reject or ignore or corrupt that invitation.

Why, God even brings His gifts right up to our front door, so strongly does He want us to have them. (Revelation 3:20)

He does everything to get us into Heaven and to get Heaven into us except force it on us, and He will not do that.

That’s the message of this parable. Well, a huge part of it. The sad part.

God gives us good news, the best news ever, and we turn up our collective noses at it.

God help us.

What? You already have? Yes, You have. Thank you, Lord. Now, help us to receive all You have sent us. Thank you.

3 thoughts on “The Parable of the Wedding Banquet: Or “Why They’re Not Flocking to Your Church”

  1. Enjoyed the story from Wallace Roberts and will probably include it in my sermon tomorrow. I’m doing an Advent series based on Dickens'”A Christmas Carol”—but with scripture, of course—and the old grist mill operator sounds a lot like old Ebeneezor Scrooge before his heart changed. Thanks!

    Don

  2. Joe: The longer I live, I see and hear more and more why people do not go to our churches. As the old Pogo comic strip. “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

    An example that is a true story. I could give the primary source if needed.

    A lady in a very large populated area was interested in her neighborhood. She got acquainted with one lady that had no church background. She was burdened for that lady and witnessed to her and befriended her. For three or more years she invited and sought to get her to go to church with her. Finally her neighbor decided to go and one Sunday they went to the church. The lady took her to Nursery area where her children could be cared for and they went to the sactuary where they sat together. After the services they went to get the ladies children. (She had been given a number to identify her children so no one else could get them.) When a worker was given the number she said out where the lady heard it, “Thank God she is here! Those are the most unruly children I have ever seen.” Needless to say the three years of effort to get the lady and her children in church had come to a sad end. She has not been back to the church and possibly may never go to any church.

  3. Charles Stanley probably said it best, “The religion that won’t get you to church probably won’t get you to heaven, either.”