The Great Banquet

Sermon by Ed Hartman on Nov 23, 2015

Luke 14:12-24

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Our Scripture reading this evening is Luke chapter 14 verses 12 through 24. It’s on page 874 in your pew Bible if you’d like to use that. Luke chapter 14. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Holy Spirit, we come to You this evening because we desperately need You. We stand at a crossroads with a divine transaction before us. You are enabling us to see the beauty and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and You’re calling us to come back. You have beckoned us over and over again. Sometimes we’ve responded; sometimes we’ve headed in a completely different direction. This evening, beckon us back again and cause us to find the delight of Your presence as we draw near. In the process would You enable us to find You, that it is You drawing us to Yourself and finding Jesus precious? We pray in His name, amen.

Luke chapter 14, verse 12. This is Jesus speaking.

“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’

 

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ But he said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

This is God’s Word.

This evening I’d like to begin with where I trust we’ll end, with two applications that will make up our conclusion. And then, Lord willing, we’ll work our way through this parable to see how we get there. One application is a clear warning. The other is a specific encouragement. The warning goes something like this. It’s possible to be surrounded by and wrapped up in the things of God all your life and in the end find you’ve missed it. That’s the warning! The encouragement is this, and that comes straight from verse 17. Still today, Jesus invites us to come, but in a certain way. It’s the only way we can come and it’s the only way we can follow. That’s where I trust we will end our study. So, three things I’d like you to see as we work our way through this parable. One is the story; actually that’s the second point but to get to the second point you have to see the back story. That’s the first point! And then the conclusions.

  1. The Back Story

So let’s begin with the back story. The back story, I’ve been helped tremendously by the book, “Through Peasant Eyes,” written by Kenneth Bailey. He’s an ancient near eastern studies scholar who taught in Beirut, Lebanon for years and years. But it’s that book that helps us see that to understand the parables you have to first understand the 1st century mind, their culture and their customs, so that you see these stories through the lens of their experience. So I’ll be pulling a lot from what he wrote. In chapter 14 of Luke you find that there’s a dinner party and Jesus is invited. We’re told in verse 1 that Jesus was invited not primarily to honor Him but they were looking to watch Him carefully, to trap Him, to find some advantage to use against Him. And so the dinner begins. It’s hosted by a prominent religious leader and as the meal is served, Jesus and another is, they’re having a discussion, and a man who’s listening to the discussion in verse 15 stands up, he raises his glass, and he says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Now that may just seem like an ordinary thing to us to say, however this was a formula toast. It was said often at gatherings of God’s people as a way of looking forward to what the prophet Isaiah had told God’s people to expect. If you go back to Isaiah 25, you find the real back story to this passage because in Isaiah 25, the prophet writes about the Messianic banquet that all of God’s people for seven centuries prior to Jesus had been looking forward to. Three verses out of Isaiah 25. Verse 6, the prophet says:

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD himself has spoken.”

Now with that Messianic prophecy ringing in the ears of God’s people at every banquet they’d be looking and they learn to offer this toast recorded in verse 15, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” And the expected response when that toast was offered was this, and all eyes were on Jesus because they all expected Him to raise His glass and say, “O Lord, may we be among the righteous and be counted worthy to sit with men of renown on that great day.” But imagine the surprise of the people who were there at that banquet when this man stands and robustly says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God,” and he’s looking at Jesus waiting for the response and instead of responding with the formula response, Jesus says, “Let me tell you a story,” and the parable begins. That’s the back story. It’s an important thing to keep in mind as we work our way through.

You’re Invited to a Dinner Party

The story breaks down into three scenes and the first scene I’d entitle, “You’re Invited to a Dinner Party.” Verse 17, “At the time for the banquet,” this is Jesus’ parable, “he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” Now, what you didn’t hear was what was in verse 16. “But he said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.’” What’s happening is in the ancient near eastern world there was a two-stage invitation given for a banquet. In the days before Whole Foods or Fresh Market or Kroger, in the days before electricity and refrigeration, before running water, when you held this kind of a banquet it wasn’t quite as simple a thing as it might be for us. It was a pretty involved process to figure out, “How do I figure out how much food, who’s coming, how many animals do I need to slaughter, how quickly can I do it so the meat doesn’t spoil, how much produce do I need to harvest, how do I get all of this prepared in time for the gathering of the guests?”

So the invitation was done in two stages. First, the servant went out and made the blanket invitation and he waited to get a commitment from those who would say, “Why certainly, I’ll be there. Count on me.” He would go back to his master and say, “This is the number of people who have committed to come.” Now once you told the servant, “I plan to come,” you could no longer back out. You were duty bound to attend. And so the servants would go about slaughtering the animals, harvesting the produce, preparing the bread, the meal, the wine, the table. Everything would be set, and when everything was ready the master would say to the servant, “Now go tell everyone it’s all ready; come now.” And when that second invitation came, you dropped what you were doing and you showed up. And in that custom, in that culture it was horribly offensive to ever not show up when you said you would.

Something’s Come Up

And so that takes us to scene two, which I would title, “Something’s Come Up.” In verse 18 we read, “But they all alike began to make excuses.” What I’d like you to see is that each of these excuses, while maybe to us they seem legitimate, in truth, in that 1st century world they were horribly offensive and insulting. You’ll see in a moment why! The first excuse comes in verse 18. “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field and I must go out and see it.’” Now, here’s the problem with his excuse! In that 1st century world, you could not purchase property without a sequence of events taking place because land was precious; it was even viewed as being sacred. Before you could purchase land you had to negotiate its purchase, and to negotiate a price, you had to go out and walk the property. You’d have to be able to memorize and define its characteristics, its typography, its history, the amount of income it had produced from its previous owners, and then you had to go to the village or town elders and recite from memory everything you’d learned about that land so at no point could there be the statement, “Well, I didn’t know. Well I wasn’t aware of that.” You had to declare everything you knew about that land because changing possession of ownership of land was a big deal. And so for someone to say, “Hey, I just bought some land and I need to go out and see what I bought,” is a blatant lie! It’s offensive and insulting!

The Second Excuse

The second excuse in verse 19. “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’” And like the first excuse, the second has the same problem. You couldn’t buy a yoke of oxen without first trying them out to see if they pulled together. The excuse would be almost as lame as calling your wife on the way home from work saying, “Um, I’m not coming home this evening because I bought five cars on Craigslist and now I need to see if they’ve got tires and whether they’ll crank.” Well your wife or whomever it would be whom you called would say, “You’re not telling me the truth! I know you wouldn’t do that.”

The Third Excuse

And then the third excuse, verse 20. “Another said, ‘I’ve married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” Well this one’s a flat out lie because in that ancient near eastern world, following a wedding would be a week-long reception. And what this man was saying was this, “Yesterday I said that I would come to your banquet, but tonight I’ve got plans for my new wife.” It just doesn’t work! It’s offensive and it’s a way of saying to the host, “You need to understand that I have other things to do with my time that I’d much prefer over against spending it with you.”

See, it’s really not primarily about excuses; it’s about the desires and our longings that Jesus is speaking. Think about it this way! In each of these excuses you have a man who’s made a decision in response to a gracious invitation from a generous host and he agreed, “I will come, I will enjoy relationship with you, I will enjoy celebrating the cause for this banquet. I’ll be there.” And yet in each excuse there’s an attempt to conceal the fact that other things are far more important, of far greater worth than spending time with the generous host. On one level, the application is relatively plain, isn’t it? The Christian is one who has made a decision in response to a gracious invitation. He’s committed himself to relationship with Christ, to following Him in discipleship. Yet many who respond to that gracious invitation choose to follow only when it’s convenient, only when there’s nothing else on their radar screen which they desire more, when they don’t desire something more than they desire following and delighting in the company of the one who extended the gracious invitation.

The Show Must Go On

And then there’s scene three in the parable. Scene three we’d entitle, “The Show Much Go On. The Banquet Will Be Held. My House Will Be Full.” And you need to notice that the master in the parable, the host, doesn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Suit yourself! Your loss!” But it says, he’s angry. “The servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’” The invitation now shifts from those who are worthy of being invited to the unworthy, to the outcast, to those who no one would ever expect to be invited to this kind of a banquet - the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And you notice, don’t you, that this group of people bookend this banquet. You see them mentioned both in verse 13 and in verse 21. Verse 13, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Verse 21, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And Jesus is not being redundant; He’s driving home a point! You know what’s unique about those people - the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame? It’s really rather simple! When they’re invited, they’ll come. You know why? Because the blind don’t go out to examine farmland. The crippled don’t plow with oxen. The poor aren’t invited to hang out with the rich. And the lame and the maimed, they don’t get married. Who wants them? And so when they hear the invitation there’s no excuses. They hear the invitation and they say, “Of course! There’s nothing in my world that I would value more highly than this! There is no treasure that you could offer me that would be more valuable than this. Of course I’ll come! I’ll come running, I’ll come crawling, but I’ll come.”

And look at the contrast between the two groups of people who had been invited to this banquet. The first group of guests I would describe as the independent, wealthy, self-sufficient, preoccupied, capable, visionary, self-assured, satisfied, and oh by the way I think I’ve just described you and me. Think about it! The first group of people, if you lined them up, they’d look just like us. They were the religious people. They showed up at the right times at their house of worship, they read their holy book when they were supposed to, they recited Scripture. They were well off, they were educated, self-sufficient, independent, capable, visionary, self-assured and pretty self-satisfied. And in the parable they found something other to do than come to the banquet. In contrast to that first group of guests you have the second. They’re dependent, needy, handicapped, broken, damaged, filled with doubts, marked by baggage, afraid, they’re hungry, they’re alone. But at the banquet, they’re the only ones there.

We have to slow the whole story way down, because as Gabe very beautifully described this morning you have the contrast between the reverent and the irreverent, here you have the contrast between the worthy and the unworthy. And when you look at the banquet, the worthy were outside and only the unworthy showed up - the people who recognize, “There’s nothing within myself that qualifies me to be at this banquet but praise God I’ve been invited in.” See, there are no party crashers at this banquet! You can only come by way of invitation, and the invitation as the same for both groups. Both the worthy and the unworthy heard the same invitation. The only difference was the response, and what was the deepest desire within each of the persons in the groups. What’s most precious? What is my great treasure? At the end of the day what will I value most? What’s the pearl of great price? There is a banquet and the invitation still stands.

A warning Against Presumption

That leads us to the application which I’ve already at least introduced to you. Two observations - one, there’s a clear warning and it’s a warning against presumption. Don’t presume that you’re an insider on your own terms or your own priorities. Don’t presume that you’re an insider because you’re here. Because as we said at the beginning, you can spend your entire life wrapped up in the things of God and at the end of the day find yourself outside. The question is, “What have you done with the invitation? And what have you done with the definition of worthiness and who is and who isn’t?” It strikes me that in Luke chapter 14 followed by Luke chapter 15 you’ve got two great banquets. The one of which Gabe spoke this morning; when the prodigal son returned there was a great banquet and an invitation to come. And in this parable you have a banquet and an invitation to come. Right between those two banquet parables is Jesus’ clear teaching on the high cost of discipleship. And what He’s telling us is, “Yes, grace is free, but it’s never cheap.” There is a cost! Jesus has paid an inestimable price to make good on the invitation. And as the cost is set before us, the clear warning is this - don’t let any excuse justify giving higher priority to anything above your relationship with the Lord Jesus and your commitment to walking with Him in discipleship. Not your job, not your stuff, not your family, not your future. It’s a warning against presumption.

The Invitation Still Stands

At the same time, there’s a specific encouragement, and I love the encouragement because it’s such a beautiful contrast to the warning. The encouragement is this. The invitation still stands! Jesus still spreads His arms wide and says, “Come! Welcome! Come, for everything is now ready.” I used to so enjoy visiting Charlene Woodward. Most of you probably don’t know her, some of you probably did. She was an artist; a member of the church that I pastored for ten years. When you walked in her front door, just across the hallway on the back wall, was this painting of this table lavishly spread with food and wine and bakery and desserts, and the lighting and the backdrop and the texture of the painting was so rich I’d stop and I’d look at it and I would salivate. And on the frame beneath the painting in very simple letters were written the words of verse 17, “Come, for everything is now ready.” Come! It’s all done! It’s all prepared!

And the invitation stands not at the end of your life, it does that, there is a Messianic banquet for us yet to come, but it also stands at the beginning of each day. Because, for example, when you wake up tomorrow morning the Lord Jesus stands before you and He says, “Come, for everything is now ready. It’s all prepared for you. Come meet with Me, not just at the beginning of the day, but throughout the entire day. I’ve prepared a day for you in which you’ll come to know Me to be precious to you. Come, everything is now ready.” That’s the encouragement.

But there’s only one way to come, and the only way you can come is to recognize that you are poor, crippled, blind, and lame, that you, like the second group of guests in Jesus’ story are dependent, you’re needy, you’re broken, marked by doubts, baggage, filled with anxieties, fears, you’re hungry and you’re not exactly sure for what. And Jesus looks at you and smiles and says, “Come.”

The invitation is open to you! It’s a free invitation, but not a cheap one. Because you see, even Jesus on the day He made that invitation, Jesus knew that on a hill outside of Jerusalem would stand a cross stained in blood, His own. And He knew that from that cross would be removed His broken and dead body, buried, dead, lifeless in a tomb. And yet He knew that three days later it would rise, He would rise, and ascend to glory so that He could prepare a banquet of global, eternal proportions such as you and I cannot even begin to imagine. And even this day He says, “Come, for everything is now ready. The table is lavishly spread. Everything is prepared. Nothing is missing, but you.”

One condition! The condition we’ve talked about, you’ve sung it, you’ve sung the words - “Come, ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore.” Poor, crippled, blind, and lame. And he says, “If you tarry till your better, you will never come at all.” Don’t make excuses. Don’t wait until you figure out how to make yourself more presentable. Don’t think you’ve got this figured out and you’ve got a plan. Don’t even say, “Well that sounds good but later,” because later won’t arrive. Jesus looks at you today and He says, “Come.” To some of us He says, “Come back. You’ve wandered. You’ve gotten caught up in all of your own things.” He says, “Come back.”

We sang a great hymn with which I’ll close. It’s hymn number 80, “Lord, With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee.” I don’t know that we’ve sung that before. It was a new one to me. But I’ve been thinking about it all week. I’d encourage you to go back to it sometime in your own reading and study but the first verse, the last phrases of that first verse included these words and they’re in response to the invitation. The words are these, “Help, O God, my weak endeavor; this dull soul to rapture raise: Thou must light the flame, or never can my love be warmed to praise.” Let me translate that for you. “God, I know you’ve invited me, but I can’t come unless you compel me to come. My heart is so hard. My affections are so distracted. My mind is so preoccupied with other things. Unless You grab my heart, unless You light a new flame within my heart, I can’t come and I won’t come. As good as the invitation is, I need You to grab me by the heart and pull me back. Thou must light the flame or never will my heart be warmed to praise. God, I want to come. Would You please take me by the hand and by the heart and bring me close?” That’s the grace that’s offered today. Let’s pray together.

Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee, rouse thee from thy fatal ease; praise the grace whose promise warmed thee, praise the grace that whispered peace. O Lord, let Your grace, our soul’s chief treasure, raise within us a new and deep and abiding love for you. Do this for the sake of Your people, for the sake of Your kingdom, for the joy of our hearts now and for all eternity. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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