I gave this sermon at Elm Park Baptist Church on Sunday 20 November 2022.
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ 16 Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” 18 ‘But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” 19 >Another said, AI have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I=m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.” 20 ‘Still another said, “I have just got married, so I can=t come.” 21 ‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” 22 ‘ “Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.” 23 ‘Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” ‘
What I like about the gospels is that they record how Jesus dealt with and talked to ordinary people, how he used the everyday things of first century Palestine to explain the things of God.
It makes it so much easier to understand.
Take today’s Bible reading, about the man who had a great banquet.
How many of you here like parties?
What do you need for a good party?
The Jews and other peoples in the Middle East loved parties, wedding feasts and other celebrations. Indeed it was felt by many Jews that heaven would be like a great feast, where all the righteous people would meet at God=s table. Isaiah 25 v.6 predicts a time when Gods people will be with him “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines“.
There again we read of a more intimate meeting in Song of Songs 2 v.4 “He has taken me to the banqueting hall and his banner over me is love.” What a wonderful picture this is, that our God wants to be in a personal intimate relationship with each believer.
The New Testament talks about those who believe in Jesus meeting with him and with God our heavenly father at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God and the meeting of his people with him in heaven is like a marriage, a joyful union which will never end. In Revelation 19 v.7-9 we read “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! And he added, These are the true words of God.“
For many people of Jesus’ time, the greatest event in the social calendar would be a wedding in the village or town in which they lived, or perhaps to be invited to a feast or banquet of a rich and powerful man. In a land where there was just enough to live on, the thought of a vast banquet of wonderful food would have been a great dream.
When Jesus told this story he was having a meal at the house of a prominent Pharisee after the Sabbath day synagogue service. It was rather like inviting someone to Sunday lunch. The Pharisees were the religious lawyers of the day those who interpreted the bible laws and tended to make them as complicated as possible. They were very important in the eyes of most people and so to be invited to have a meal with them was usually considered a great honour and no doubt most of the town’s people would be watching to see who had been invited.
Jesus, earlier in Luke 14, had already made several comments and observations about healing on the Sabbath as well as not exalting yourself by taking the best place at the table, but rather being invited by the host to come up higher.
Years ago, my theology lecturer at Pilgrims Hall told of when he was a young Methodist minister at his first church. He invited some of the congregation back to the manse after the evening service and as they enjoyed tea and biscuits and a chat, his wife who was expecting their first child sat there knitting. Certain worthy members of the congregation were horrified that she would be knitting on the Sabbath!
As usual with the stories that Jesus told, there is more than one meaning. Bible scholars think that Jesus based this parable on a Jewish story about a newly rich man, probably a tax collector, who tried to buy favour with the aristocracy by inviting them to a banquet. The man was probably anxious, like many who make large sums of money, to show off his possessions and his newly acquired status. However those who were invited made up excuses to avoid the man and his company. So no doubt to begin with Jesus= listeners liked the story until they looked at the true meaning of the story which we will come to shortly.
So to the story which Jesus told:
There was a great banquet being prepared and the man sent out the invitations to many people. He clearly wanted many guests to come and appreciate his hospitality. Normally, this was just the sort of occasion that people would be thrilled to attend, and be quite happy to be invited. He followed the custom of the time by sending two invitations.
The first was what we would call “Save the date”. We received one last Christmas stating that our eldest son and his fiancée will be getting married in 2023. So the date is in our diary and we are so looking forward to the wedding.
The second invitation was to remind the guests that the party was now ready and to make sure that they were still coming. I do not know what the correct way of replying was in First century Palestine, but I think today we reply fairly quickly to say whether we can come or not. However, none of the guests appear to have refused the first invitation.
So when all was ready, the jellies made, the balloons blown up or whatever they did in those days, the man sent out the second invitation which more or less said “Its ready, come on round.” This was the custom at the time.
Surprisingly, at this point all the people invited started to make excuses and they were rather lame ones at that. All of the excuses show that the people are either more concerned with other things or quite frankly didn’t want to go but could n’t come straight out with it!
You begin to wonder if they had wanted to come in the first place. To accept the invitation beforehand and then to refuse it when the day came was a grave insult.
“I’ve just bought a field and I must go and see it” Does anyone really buy a plot of land or a field without looking it over? I doubt it. However, there was a story in the news recently of a young couple who accidentally put in a bid on the wrong property at a house auction and ended up with a real wreck of a house.
“I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them out.” I don’t suppose anyone here has ever bought even one yoke of oxen, it’s a thing we don’t tend to do in this part of the world. But I suspect it is the equivalent to a farmer today buying a tractor out of Exchange and Mart or from a card in the Newsagent’s window without seeing it or giving it a test drive before parting with the readies.
“I have just got married, so I can’t come.” There is no indication in the story that this was an event just for the men, so the man is not prevented from coming.
What is the host to do?
Clearly this banquet has cost a lot of money to get ready and it would be terrible to let it all waste. He had all the right ingredients for a good evening except the most vital, people. So he gave orders to his staff to “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame“.
Well his servant did all that, yet there was still room. The host replied “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will me full. I tell you not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.“
The people who came to the banquet were the sort of people that the rich and influential had no time for and would not be seen dead with them at an important social event. Yet here they are.
I am sure that those who actually came to the banquet will have enjoyed it and appreciated it more than all the fine people who were invited and made excuses to avoid it.
We now get to the question of what is the meaning of the story?
As I said earlier, the Jews liked to think of heaven as a great banquet where all the followers of God would meet with him. However, as we know the Jews rejected Jesus, God’s son, and have hence lost the chance to come to the banquet. After all Jesus said in John 14 v.6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“
So God like the man in the story has decided that as the original guests don’t want to accept the invitation he will extend his invitation to all sorts of people, the sort that the Jews call Gentiles. Just as many people in society today look down on the unemployed, the outcasts and the homeless, so the Jews looked with loathing and disdain on all other peoples. I can imagine that when the full meaning of the story was realised by Jesus’ hearers, the Pharisees, they would not have been pleased to think that God was inviting the gentiles to share in his kingdom.
The invitation is extended to all people in the world, as the original guests don’t want to accept. God sends his servants out to every corner of the world to bring his invitation to everyone no matter who they are, regardless of what society things of them. Indeed, as in the story, the people now invited including those on the edge of society are likely to appreciate God’s forgiveness and grace and mercy more than people who have lived “nice lives” and feel that they have earned their place in heaven.
He has given the invitation to all of you, and many of you have clearly said “Yes, I would like to come to your banquet.” If you haven’t said yes, to be honest with you, you have up to your last breath to answer the reply. But I would urge you to accept it before then, because you never know when it might be too late. Please don=t make lame excuses now because they will affect your eternal future.
For those of us who have accepted the invitation, we, like the man’s servants in the story have to go out into the streets and alleys of the towns and the roads and country lanes to take the invitation to all people, so that God=s house will be full.
Lets end in prayer:
Lord God you are so gracious that you have invited us to join you in heaven at your banquet. Please help us to accept your invitation to eternal life, and then to take your invitation to others so that you house may be full. We ask this in the name of he who is the way, the life and the truth and the only way to you, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.