This Tuesday of Holy Week finds Jesus speaking in parables, debating the religious leaders, and pronouncing woes upon the Pharisees and teachers of the law. One of his parables, the parable of the wedding feast, concludes with these words from Jesus: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
This parable highlights the surprising invitation to those who were not initially invited to the wedding feast, referencing the availability of the gospel to all people, both Jew and Gentile. It is also a striking condemnation to those who dare hear the king’s (Jesus’) invitation but refuse to attend the feast (kingdom). Jesus’ final words of the parable provide helpful insight to the soon coming work of the cross. Here are two quick applications of those words.
First, Christians must remember that the road is narrow that leads to eternal life. There will be many, regardless of the effectiveness of a sermon, the power of apologetics, or the sincerity of those sharing their faith, who will refuse to accept the truth of Christ. Last night at a parent/teen study, where parents and teenagers have been reading through a book together leading up to Easter Sunday, a discussion of the effectiveness of apologetics was very helpful. We discussed how apologetics should be used and that it has a very important place in evangelism, but that unless Christ opens the darkened eyes and heart of an unbeliever, that person simply will not be “chosen.” This truth is not a “doom and gloom” message designed to depress us. Rather, it is to help us remained encouraged in sharing our faith and not place unhealthy expectations on ourselves as ambassadors for Christ. We have no power to save, nor have we been called to do so. We do have the power to share.
Second, these words of Jesus describe what is sometimes referred to as the “general calling” of the gospel. This is an area that at times can be wrought with theological emotion and debate. For those who hold to God’s sovereign choice of unconditional election, they would add to this something called “effectual calling.” This, in a more specific manner than the general calling, is where God moves in the heart and mind of a person as to secure their salvation with finality. For those who are 5 point Calvinists, this is sometimes referred to as “irresistible grace.” Others will hold to the position that a general calling is all that God offers and it is based on the decision of those who hear whether or not they would choose Christ based on that calling.
Although there are important differences between the two positions that I believe have ongoing consequences, for the purposes of this article and for the purposes of evangelism, the differences are moot (although I do believe your take on these two positions can radically alter the confidence and joy of evangelism). Andrew Fuller, an 18th century Baptist pastor and theologian, was Reformed in his theology and held firmly to the absolute sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation. Yet, his most famous and cherished work is entitled “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation.” In other words, Fuller believed that all Christians, regardless of their theological framework, had a responsibility and obligation to share the gospel with all who would listen. And, those who heard had a responsibility and obligation to accept. Thus, believers should be on the same page when it comes to reaching the world for Christ; we need to tell the old, old story to everyone who will lend us an ear.
If there were ever a time during the year to find a place of unity and peace, it is Holy Week. Surely we can all agree that the gospel needs to be preached, taught, spoken, counseled, and sung to all people. We can debate all we want about how people actually come to faith when hearing that message. But they must hear it. And we must tell them.