Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why we are in Denial about Heaven and Hell: Jesus’ Parable

An atheist insisted that if God existed, he would have made the eternal fate of a heaven and a hell very clear. Since he didn’t, he evidently does not exist.

Interestingly, Jesus had a lot to say about this. In one parable, Jesus gave us a picture of a heavenly marriage banquet to which those invited refused to come:

  • "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. 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, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:2-10)
Through the illustration of a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son, Jesus gave us a glimpse of the heavenly banquet of His marriage to His people. Those invited were regarded as exceedingly “blessed” (Rev. 19:7-9). This incredible marriage celebration between God and His people is even found in the prophecy of Hosea:

  • I will make a covenant for them... I will betroth [marry] you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. (Hosea 2:18-20)
This marriage embodied all the love and intimacy that heaven could offer. However, in the parable, those invited refused to come. Why? Were they confused or ignorant about the invitation? No! It was even issued a second time! Well, why didn’t they come? Was the price too steep? There was no admission fee! Would they have to endure a long and boring wait? No! The king’s servants announced that everything was ready. The guests just had to make their appearance.

Why then did they refuse to come? They “paid no attention” to the king’s servants, since they had other priorities. “One [went] to his field, another to his business.” Evidently, these were “men of means,” but it was worse than that. “The rest [of them] seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

Why such a display of violence against those who had invited them to a glorious banquet? If anything, they should have been grateful! In the prior parable of “The Tenants,” a landowner had also sent his servants to his tenants. Here too, they killed his servants. Why? They did not want to pay the Master what was His due. Finally, they killed His Son. As a result, they too would be “destroyed.”

Did the invited guests not know what they were doing when they killed the king’s servants? They certainly did? Why then did they kill them? Did they owe something to the king that they were unwilling to pay? They were unwilling to acknowledge the king’s sovereignty over them!

They were unwilling to be part of this marriage banquet – unwilling to admit that they were sinners who desperately needed this marriage union. Since they were people of means, they were able to convince themselves of their superiority. They had covered over their sins and guilt as Adam and Eve had done with the fig leaves of accomplishments and the admiration of others.

Evidently, they detested the king and his wedding banquet to such an extent that they killed the king’s servants. Why? They hated the light that would expose their sins (John 3:19-20) and therefore refused to come into the light.

Why did they put Jesus to death, even though He had done no wrong? He had exposed their evil – the evil that they were obsessively covering up. To His brethren, Jesus explained that this was why the world hated Him:

  • The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. (John 7:7)
Consequently, the world is self-condemned (John 3:17-20), rejecting their only hope of salvation. Did they know of a heaven and hell? Certainly, in another parable, Jesus explained that anyone who understood Moses and the Prophets also understood that there was a final reckoning. However, they had hardened their hearts against this inevitable fate (Luke 16:19-31).

The king then ordered his servants into “the street corners” to invite everyone that they encountered. Who were these people? Evidently, this was where the needy hung out, not in their fields and businesses. According to Luke’s parallel account, these were “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Despite their many infirmities, they came! Why did they come and not those of means? Evidently, they were more in-touch with their brokenness and need. Consequently, they were grateful for such an invitation as opposed to the others who were self-righteous and self-satisfied.

However, not all who arrived came with the right intentions:

  • "But 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. 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.'” (Mat. 22:11-13) 
Why this over-reaction about “wedding cloths?” It wasn’t about clothing but about the guest’s beliefs and trust. He trusted in his own covering, his own fig leaves. In contrast, the Prophet Isaiah provided a portrait of how the Bridegroom would dress His beloved bride, and how this bride would gratefully receive this gift:

  • I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
If we delight in our Lord, we will allow Him to clothe us in the only way possible, with His robe of righteousness. Instead, in Jesus’ parable the intruder had placed his trust in his own clothing – his own righteousness. He entered the presence of the light, but he was blind to it and was in such willful denial that he trusted that his own righteousness would suffice.

The atheist is also in denial about his guilt and righteousness, having convinced himself of his superiority - that he is a “bright,” an “enlightened” being, and a “freethinker.” Consequently, he too hates the light and wants to either distance himself or destroy it entirely.

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