In the Old Testament, the banquet was used as a metaphor for God’s Kingdom. Jesus says in the story we’ll look at this Sunday that there are many open chairs at God’s table, and His Father is very concerned that they get filled. In this message we will be encouraged to invite people to the party, for there are many places at God’s table and every chair will be occupied. Nothing is going to stop God’s party!Read More
Full Sermon Script:
Hi, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks.
Today we’re going to look at a story from Luke 14, where Jesus is sitting around a table with a group of religious leaders. And there was a banquet going on.
In that day, the Pharisees were very selective about who could join them at their dinner table.
And so Jesus, being the incredible teacher that he is, tells these religious leaders a story about God’s banquet, about God’s dinner table, because God has a lot of room at his table.
God has a place for you at his table. God has a place for me at his table. God has a lot of room at his table and he’s very concerned that every place gets filled.
And Jesus wants us to understand that, so here’s what happens.
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“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.’
Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“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.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 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. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”
Jesus tells this story about God’s table, and about God’s concern that every place at his table gets filled – about how God has an open invitation to anyone and everyone who wants to come.
Let’s look at what’s going on in this story – a guest at the dinner table says to Jesus:
“Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus sees this statement as an opportunity to teach these religious leaders about the kingdom of God. And so he launches into this story.
Now, let me say a few things so we understand the context of this story.
It’s important to understand the concept of a banquet or a feast in the Old Testament.
A banquet or a feast was often used as a metaphor for the coming of God’s kingdom.
The banquet was about the restoration of all things and the establishment of God’s community. Therefore to eat at this banquet was to receive salvation and life to the fullest.
And this is exactly what these religious leaders understood as Jesus began to tell this story.
An example of this is in Isaiah 25.
This is an instance in the Old Testament where the Prophet Isaiah is talking about a coming feast.
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.
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
It’s interesting that in the Old Testament when the writers would talk about salvation, typically they were referring to salvation from their oppressors or salvation from starvation, from famine, but here it is very clear that the Prophet Isaiah is talking about an eternal salvation.
There will be no more death. God will wipe the tears from every face.
The day of this feast will be the day of salvation. It’s a day that God is preparing for all of us. He’s planning a party.
Did you notice the kind of food that will be on the menu? It’s a bunch of fatty stuff.
No plant-based, low fat, low-carb, salt free, sugar free, taste free – there will be no tofu at God’s feast.
Just meat and wine – that’s my kind of party.
So who’s invited to this party? Isaiah says this is a feast for, “all peoples.”
In just those few verses in Isaiah 25 the little word “all” is used five times.
He will prepare a feast of rich food for ALL peoples.
He will destroy the shroud that enfolds ALL peoples.
The sheet that covers ALL nations.
He will wipe away the tears from ALL faces.
He will remove the disgrace of his people from ALL the earth.
The interesting thing is, by the time Jesus was telling this story, there had been a shift, and the religious leaders had become exclusive.
They would talk about how sinners would be excluded from God’s feast.
According to the Pharisees, there wasn’t a lot of room around God’s table.
So Jesus wants to address this. He’s at this dinner table with the Pharisees – a select group of religious elite.
There were no Gentiles around the table, no women around the table, none of what they would consider “sinners” around the table.
And someone at the table says:
“Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
And, so Jesus launches into this story, and there are several things we should notice.
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.
So the host invites many guests.
At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
Let me give a little context so we understand how parties worked back then:
There would be an invitation that was sent out. It would be days or weeks in advance.
And if you were invited you were expected to RSVP. That’s how a host would know how much food was needed to prepare.
This was very important back then because they needed to know if they needed to butcher a chicken or goat or a calf. It would depend on how many people were coming.
They didn’t have ways to preserve food like we do, so they had to be very accurate in how much food to prepare.
And when the invitation was sent out, it couldn’t say, “Come at six o’clock” because there were no clocks.
So when that day came and the food was ready, the servant would go out to the people and announce that the dinner was ready.
Now, to say yes when the initial invitation went out weeks or months in advance, and then to not show up at the last minute when the banquet was ready was unthinkable… according to a rabbi known as the Martha Stewart.
And this is where the story goes horribly wrong. People who had already responded to the invitation and were on the guest list start making excuses about why they’re not going to make it to the dinner.
The first guy says:
‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
This is like someone in our day saying, “I can’t come over, I just bought a house and I need to go look at it to see what kind of neighborhood it’s in.”
It’s as if the guy bought the property without looking at it.
The religious leaders who are listening to this story know this man is lying.
The next guy comes along and says:
‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
Again, in that day, five yoke of oxen would be a ton of money.
Buying a yoke of oxen was a normal thing to do, but it was a huge investment.
Typically, you’d go to the marketplace where they were being sold, and you’d see if they could work together – if they were equally yoked – because if they were unequally yoked, it would be a total waste.
No one would buy five yoke of oxen without testing them first.
Again, it would be like someone in our day saying, “I just bought five cars and I want to go see if they run.”
This is kind of a ridiculous excuse.
Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
Obviously, this guy had to know he was going to be married when he accepted the invitation.
Here’s the deal with all these excuses: none of them are legitimate.
This is not a story about people with schedule conflicts.
These are people who are trying to humiliate the host of this party with their excuses. They’re probably trying to stop the party from happening.
Think about what’s going on here. Jesus comes to earth as the Messiah, he announces:
“The kingdom of God is at hand. The party is beginning. The dinner is here. Anyone can come. There are enough seats at the table for everyone.”
And the religious leaders, the ones who are first in that culture, don’t like that arrangement at all, so they start making excuses about why they don’t want to be part of the kingdom Jesus is bringing: “He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
They say about Jesus, “He’s a drunk. He’s a sinner. He hangs around the wrong people.”
This is the way the religious leaders who he’s sitting with have treated him.
What’s brilliant about this is, the people who are making excuses in this story represent the people Jesus is eating with.
And now that the host has received all these excuses, the big question is how will he respond? Will Jesus soften his approach because of their rejection? Will he maybe spend less time with sinners?
You see, these religious leaders, they know they’re the life of the party. There can’t really be a party without them.
They’re just so prideful and arrogant that they think without them the host will call the whole thing off.
But Jesus says the party is not cancelled because they don’t show up. It’s actually quite the contrary, the host is not intimidated or frustrated or put off.
Although, he is angry; angry at what’s going on in their hearts.
Okay, now we’re going to look at the hinge of this story. We have the unexpected refusal of the people to come and now this is the response of the host:
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.’
Who are these people he’s talking about – the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame?
They’re beggars. Everyone on that list is a beggar. They’re not the elite guests.
No one has a party for these guys.
In that time when someone had a party, generally he would invite people who were from the same social status. They would be people who could return the favor. You’d bring them to your party, and they would have you at theirs.
These people get invited to a party knowing there’s no way they can ever pay the host back.
Which tells us the host is all about grace.
Can you picture these homeless people at the feast sitting in chairs they never dreamed they’d sit in, stuffing themselves with food they’d never thought they’d taste.
Can you imagine the laughter going on in that room? “What are we doing here? This morning I was picking for food from a garbage dumpster. Now here I am with steak and lobster.”
They’re just laughing because they think, “What a grace deal. We don’t belong here.” They know that. It’s just sheer grace.
Jesus says that’s what it’s like in his kingdom.
Jesus says, “Go into the streets and bring the beggars – the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame.”
He wants his banquet to be full.
And the servant responds in this story:
“‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 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.
Compel doesn’t mean force them to come against their will.
We need to understand etiquette in that society to get what the master is saying when he says, “compel them to come in.”
In the Middle East if you got an unexpected invitation, you were supposed to refuse, especially if it came from someone of higher social rank than you.
You would assume – “this is a gracious gesture from a nobleman, but I wouldn’t belong at a party like that. I wouldn’t fit in there. He’s not really serious about wanting me there. He’s just being noble, extending this invitation to me. So thank you very much. I really appreciate getting the invitation. I’d love to have a copy of it to show people that I was invited but, of course, I wouldn’t belong there.”
That’s the way etiquette worked.
The master understands this. He understands that his grace will be unbelievable to the recipients. He knows they won’t get it.
So he says to his servants, “Here’s what you’ve got to do. When you go out there, and you issue the invitation, and they nod their heads, and they say, ‘Thanks very much, but we can’t make it.’ Don’t take no for an answer because I want them. So after they’ve listed all the reasons why they can’t come, you smile, but grab them by the arm and carry them the whole way if you have to. I want them to come.”
God says, “I want my house to be filled.”
He says to his servants:
‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’
Jesus says, “Compel them.”
The principle behind that for you and me is to find out what’s keeping someone from receiving grace or from taking their next step spiritually. What’s keeping them from taking that step and help them remove the barrier.
If it’s doubt, then help them find a book or someone to talk to so they can get the information they need.
Think about the people in your life. What’s keeping them from taking the next step?
If they’re too busy, it may take patience and persistence. Just keep inviting them.
If they’re intimidated by church, remind them it’s an online service that they can watch from the privacy of their home.
And help them understand that we’re just an ordinary group of people who are messed up and have unanswered questions, but are pursuing Christ-centered living.
Help them take the next step.
What I want to do in the time that remains is talk about the most important way we can be involved in helping people come to the feast.
The most important thing we can do to help people come to the feast is pray.
Here’s what often happens: Around Christmas and Easter we pray for those who don’t know God. But then as time passes, as the year continues or the event fades away, we don’t have the same urgency in prayer.
I want to ask you to make a commitment of ongoing prayer for those who don’t know God.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells us we are to devote ourselves to prayer on this issue.
When Luke uses the word devote, he means persist at it. It means to remain at something or to cling to something or to continually be available for something. It was used of a boat that was continually available for service.
Resolve that you will keep praying and not give up.
There’s no area of life where the writers of Scripture encourage perseverance more strongly than in this area of prayer.
Writers of Scripture knew that we, as fallen people, are apt to get discouraged or bored or distracted or feel guilty and just give up, just stop praying. So constantly they said, whatever else you do or don’t do, don’t stop praying.
In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of the persistent widow. This is what Luke says:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
In Luke 11 Jesus tells the story of a persistent neighbor – a person goes to his neighbor and everything is against him – it’s midnight, the doors locked, he’s in bed, his children are asleep. Jesus says, “But if you persist with this neighbor, he’ll get up and give you whatever you need.”
And if that’s the case with a neighbor like that, how much more should we persist with God who is never asleep and always attentive to us.
In the same passage, Jesus tells a story about a parent giving good gifts to his children. And Jesus says, ‘If that’s true with parents who are fallen people, how much more will God give good gifts to us, his children, when we ask?”
The message is consistent throughout scripture – we are to persevere in prayer.
The apostle Paul mentions numerous times in his writings that we are to pray for the spread of the gospel. He says to the Colossian church:
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
The apostle Paul is in prison.
Let me ask you a question. If you were in prison and you were asking people to pray for you, what do you think you might ask them to pray for?
That you would be set free!
But you’ll notice here, Paul doesn’t say anything about getting out of jail. He says, ask God to open a door for our message. Ask God to cause the Gospel to spread. Just don’t stop asking. And so they didn’t stop asking.
The first century followers asked and asked and asked. And God did it, and the world was turned upside down.
So here’s the question to us: What if we were to ask and ask and ask God to open doors, and he did it?
What if we just asked God to spread the Gospel through our church more powerfully than it has ever happened before, and he did it?
What if everyone of us prayed this prayer: “God, let me proclaim the Gospel in a way that I never thought possible.”
What if every single one of us said, “God, let me have at least one person who doesn’t know you now come to know you soon? What if we all prayed that and God did it?”
And what if when we gather in our new building next year, hundreds of people walk through those doors because they walked through the doors of faith when they were invited to join us online in 2020. And we look at each other and say, “We just kept asking. We just kept praying and asking, and God did it, and this is the greatest adventure of prayer in our lives.”
Who wouldn’t want to have that happen? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a church like that? We can, and I believe we will.
So pray. Pray that God continues to use us to help people find their way back to God.
Let me give it to you in one sentence – because prayer changes what’s possible. Prayer changes what’s possible.
All throughout scripture, people of faith believed this. That’s why we’re instructed time and time again to be devoted to prayer.
People in scripture really believed that doors would be opened through prayer that would remain locked otherwise. People believed that.
They really believed that, because of prayer, people would find their way back to God.
They believed that, because of prayer, a vague presentation of Christ could be made clear.
So were instructed time and time again to pray for this.
Now, I’d like you to hear Celeste’s story. She’s the one who was invited to Blue Oaks by Jamie, who shared earlier.
You know something – there is nothing like seeing someone who is lost find their way, seeing someone who is filled with fear find hope, someone who is dying come alive.
So I want to ask you today, “Who are you bringing to the party?”
Because someone in your little world is just waiting for you to invite them.
Someone in your neighborhood is just waiting for a knock on the door.
Someone who you work with or go to school with is just waiting for one significant spiritual conversation.
Someone at the place where you buy groceries or get your hair cut is feeling like an outsider, is dead in guilt and sin, is just one relationship away from finding the party.
The master says, “Compel them to come in.” You have to use discernment and judgment, but the master says, “Compel them to come in.”
The master says:
“Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
He says, “Bring in the doubting and the confused and the lonely and the lost and the stubborn and the cynics and the difficult and the proud and the hopeless. Everyone who needs to be forgiven, bring them in.”
The master of the house says, “There’s room for everyone. Don’t be discouraged by excuses, and don’t take no for an answer, and don’t stop praying. Compel them to come in for I have lots of places in my house, and I want every chair filled because nothing is going to stop my party.”
Alright, would you pray with me?