Topic Scripture: Luke 14:15-24
Thesis: “Grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” —Augustine
I once heard the famous preacher Frederick Sampson tell about spending a summer on his uncle’s farm. His first morning, his farmer uncle rousted him out of his bed in the hayloft at 4:00 in the morning, and got him busy mucking out stalls, sweeping floors, chopping wood, heating water, doing whatever the house and barn required.
Finally Fred was done. He started back up the ladder to the hayloft to go back to sleep. His uncle stopped him and asked where he was going. Fred said, “I’ve finished my work.” His uncle bent down, put his finger in Fred’s face, and said, “I’m going to tell you something, and don’t you ever forget it. What you do around the house is chores. What you do in the fields is work.”
To extend the Kingdom of God, we must work in the fields. This week’s parable shows us how and why to do this work. But understand: this is a parable of grace, not works. To be invited into the Kingdom is grace. To extend that invitation to others is grace. Augustine was right: “grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” Here’s how to “do them.”
Look forward to the party
Our text begins: “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus . . .” (Luke 14.15). Luke 14 has already told the story of Jesus’ dinner at the house of a “prominent Pharisee” (v. 1). Here Jesus watched as “the guests picked the places of honor at the table” (v. 7). So he urged his host: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (vs. 13-14).
In response to Jesus’ reference to the resurrection, one of the invited guests at the banquet made his exclamation: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (v. 15). The man was well educated in rabbinic theology. The rabbis typically used the banquet table as a symbol for the bliss of heaven (Robertson 197).
They expected that the Messiah “would be a temporal prince, and that his reign would be one of great magnificence and splendor. They supposed that the Jews then would be delivered from all their oppressions, and that, from being a degraded people, they would become the most distinguished and happy nation of the earth. To that period they looked forward as one of great happiness” (Barnes 96).
Jesus did not at all deny the man’s theology. Heaven will in fact be a great feast in the presence of the Lord, for “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19.9). But Jesus corrected the man’s assumption that Jews, and only Jews, would attend the festival. The parable we are studying this week shows who will be part of the great feast, and who will not.
Before we explore Jesus’ story, let’s rejoice in its premise. Heaven will be a party. It will be a celebration, an eternal feast in the presence of our loving Father. It will be glory beyond description, for “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2.9). Those seated at God’s banquet table “will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21.3-4).
One day all of us who know Jesus personally will answer his invitation, “so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22.30). On that day, “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8.11).
The kingdom of God is a party. If Jesus is your Lord, you will spend eternity by his side, at his banquet. This is the good news of God.
Come when you’re called
Now, who will attend with you? Jesus’ story begins: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests” (v. 16). In Jesus’ parables the kingdom of God is always central. The hero is always the King. Here, he is the man giving the “great banquet.”
To his festival he “invited many guests.” God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3.9). Who can come to his party? “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16). The king wants “many guests” at his table.
So he sent out the first invitation. In ancient Palestine, banquets were announced long before the preparations were finished. There were many factors which affected the actual date and time of the feast. Weather was always a factor in their society, where meals were typically cooked and eaten out of doors. Harvests and the availability of food varied widely. Health issues were harder to resolve. Political circumstances changed often.
And so it was customary to invite people to a feast, then notify those who accepted the invitation when the meal was actually prepared. As people had fewer distractions than we face today, it was far more likely that they would respond to such an immediate notice. And once they had accepted the first invitation to come, they were honor bound to do so (cf. Esther 5.8; Bliss 235; Barclay 192-3).
Now the time was at hand. The master “sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready'” (v. 17). “Sent” is the word “apostello,” meaning to send as an official and authoritative representative (Rienecker 184; this is the root of the word “apostle”). This servant has come in the name and authority of his master, acting on his behalf. In the same way we are sent to our unbelieving world as “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5.20).
To refuse this servant was to refuse his master, a great and grave insult. But tragically, unbelievably, “they all alike began to make excuses” (v. 18). Every person who had accepted the master’s first invitation now refused to come. Their meal had been cooked, their place prepared, but now they declined.
Three examples of their excuses were offered. The first: “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it” (v. 18). One typically sees the farm before buying it. Some ancient purchases did require a postpurchase inspection, but it could be done at any time (Boch 252). The field would still be waiting after the banquet was done.
Here is a man who “allowed the claims of business to usurp the claims of God.” Unfortunately, “It is still possible for a man to be so immersed in this world that he has no time for worship, and even no time to pray” (Barclay 194). Jesus gives us the antidote to such materialism: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33).
The second excuse is no better than the first: “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out” (v. 19). Most landowners had only one or two oxen; this man is clearly wealthy by ancient standards (Boch 252). He could easily have sent a servant to do this work for him. And he had no reason to hurry. He would have tried the oxen before buying them, or could wait until the banquet was done to do so.
If the first man let materialism keep him from God, the second was the victim of “the claims of novelty”: “It often happens that when people enter into new possessions they become so taken up with them that the claims of worship and of God get crowded out. . . . It is perilously easy for a new game, a new hobby, even a new friendship, to take up the time that should be kept for God” (Barclay 194).
The third excuse is worst of all: “I just got married, so I can’t come” (v. 20). This man knew he would be getting married when he accepted the first invitation to the banquet. An engagement period typically lasted a year or more in ancient Israel, with the date for the actual wedding determined months beforehand. And the new wife would have been happy to go to the feast with her new husband if asked (Robertson 198).
The law excused a man newly married from war (Deuteronomy 24.5), but not from his social obligations. Here a man refuses to honor his commitment to the banquet, and blames his wife for his failure. Barclay is right: “It is one of the tragedies of life when good things crowd out the claims of God. There is no lovelier thing than a home and yet a home was never meant to be used selfishly. They live best together who live with God; they serve each other best who also serve their fellow-men; the atmosphere of a home is most lovely when those who dwell within it remember that they are also members of the great family and household of God” (194).
No wonder the owner of the house “became angry” (v. 21). “Angry” is actually the word for being “enraged” (Bruce 574). His honor has been insulted in the extreme. The entire town knew of his banquet, and would now know of this grave injury to the man’s honor. There is no surprise in his reaction. But his solution to the crisis would surprise every person who heard this parable from our Lord.
From this portion of the parable we learn a significant fact: we must come when God calls us. It is not enough to believe that the owner of the house exists. It is not enough to know that we are invited to his banquet. It is not even enough to decide that we will attend. We must come. We must commit our lives to his call. In this sense, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2.17).
Invite everyone you know
Have you accepted the invitation of Jesus to his banquet in heaven? Have you made him your Savior and Lord? Have you surrendered your life to his purpose and will? If so, if you know that you will be in paradise with him (Luke 23.43), here’s what you must do now: invite everyone you know to join you there.
The master of the feast “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'” (Luke 14.21). “Go out”—go to them. Don’t wait for them to come. They likely do not know they are welcome at the feast. They have no way to come.
Go “quickly,” urgently. The feast is ready; there is no time to waste. The harvest is white, the time is at hand. This is the only day we have: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6.2). None of us has been promised tomorrow. Go today.
Go to the “streets,” the broad roads traveled by a great variety of people. Go to the “alleys,” the small lanes or side paths (Liefeld 978). Go to all the streets and alleys “of the town.” Those living here likely heard about the feast, and probably envied those invited. But they would never expect to be admitted. Go and give them the good news.
Bring in the “poor,” though Jews thought the impoverished were being punished by God. Bring in the “crippled,” though the physically challenged were barred from full participation in Jewish worship (Rienecker 184-5; cf. Leviticus 21.17-23). Bring in the “blind,” though the Jews saw blindness as a sign of spiritual judgment (cf. John 9.1-3). Bring the “lame,” because they cannot come on their own. None of these unfortunates would ever expect to be welcomed at the estate of this wealthy master. None would come unless invited and brought.
The servant was obedient to his master: “Sir, what you ordered has been done” (v. 22). But this is a great feast, for “there is still room.” This is a banquet “on a grand scale, worthy emblem of the magnificence of Divine grace” (Bruce 574).
There is still room indeed. And we are grateful: “What a sad message it would be if we were compelled to go and say, ‘There is no more room—heaven is full—not another one can be saved. No matter what their prayers, or tears, or sighs, they cannot be saved. Every place is filled, every seat occupied.’ But, thanks be to God, this is not the message which we are to bear; and if there yet is room, come, sinners, young and old, and enter into heaven. Fill up that room, that heaven may be full of the happy and the blessed. If any part of the universe is to be vacant, O let it be the dark world of woe!” (Barnes 98).
There will be room at this table for “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev 7.9). There is room at this table for all who will come to the mercy of God.
Now the servant was sent to “the roads and country lanes” (v. 23). The “roads” were the main streets leading from town to town. The “country lanes” were hedges, footpaths between fields. These hedges were typically made of thorns, planted thick to keep cattle out of the vineyard. Those who lived and worked there would be poor laborers, the lowest class, people of great poverty (Barnes 98).
Those the servant would find on these roads and lanes would be people who did not know the host at all. They had no idea of his existence or his invitation (Boch 253). Jesus’ immediate reference may have been to the Gentiles who lived outside the Jewish community (Bruce 574). In a larger sense, the parable points us to those who have heard of our master (in the “town”) and those who have not. Every person is invited.
The servant was told to “make them come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14.23). The word “make” is the word for “compel.” But it does not mean to cause a person to come against his or her will. It means to persuade, to convince, to motivate. It is found in Matthew 14.22, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side”; it is found in Acts 26.11, “I tried to force them to blaspheme”; and in Galatians 6.12, “trying to compel you to be circumcised.”
This text must never be used to justify religious persecution. We cannot coerce people into the Christian faith. Tragically, Augustine and others used it as a pretext for such religious coercion, and it was later cited in defending the Inquisition and other campaigns against “heretics” (Barclay 193).
The meaning is simple: we must do all we can to encourage people to attend the banquet in heaven with us. We must not accept excuses. Just as a physician would not let a man dying of cancer excuse himself from treatment, so we must not allow our friends and family to excuse themselves from the kingdom of God. At the end of the day, the decision must be theirs. But we will do all we can to help them make the right choice.
With this result: “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” (Luke 14.23-24). If we will not come to Jesus while on earth, we cannot be with him in heaven, for “man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9.27).
Philip Yancey tells the story of just such an unusual wedding banquet, from the Boston Globe’s account in June of 1990. A woman, accompanied by her fiancé, went to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston to order the wedding meal. They arranged for an expensive party, with a bill of $13,000. After leaving a check for half the amount as a down payment, they went home to look at wedding announcements.
The day the announcements were supposed to be mailed, the groom got cold feet. “I’m just not sure,” he said. “It’s a big commitment. Let’s think about this a little longer.”
His angry fiancée returned to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, to discover that she had signed a binding contract and could only receive $1,300 back. She had two options: go ahead with the banquet, or forfeit the rest of her down payment. The jilted bride made a wonderful decision: she turned her banquet into a real party.
Ten years before, this woman had been living in a homeless shelter. Now, after years of hard work and progress, she had a sizeable nest egg. She decided to use her savings to treat those who were where she had been.
So it was that in June of 1990 the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston hosted a memorable party. The hostess changed the menu to boneless chicken, “in honor of the groom.” She sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters. That warm summer night, people who expected to peel half-gnawed pizza off cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedoes served hors d’oeuvres to senior adults walking on crutches and canes. Bag ladies, vagrants, and drug addicts took one night from the hard life of the streets outside and instead sipped champagne, ate chocolate wedding cake, and danced late into the night.
And so will we, one day. Who will join you? When you see Jesus at his table, he will ask, “Who did you bring me?” What will be your answer?
To extend the kingdom of God, invite everyone you know to its banquet. Tell your friends and family that it will be a joyful, eternal feast. Do all you can to convince them to join you at the table. Pray for those you don’t know. Support missionaries and ministries which will reach them. Go yourself. Do all you can to bring as many to Jesus as you can. And you will spend eternity in the joyful knowledge that others are in heaven because God used you.
The rabbis had a story which seems appropriate as a footnote to Jesus’ parable. A man died and went to heaven. Before he entered, he told the Lord that he had always been curious about hell. He wondered if he could see it before he entered heaven. So the Lord sent the man with an angel to hell.
The man walked into a banquet hall, and found a table heaped to overflowing with every kind of good food. Seated around it were thousands and thousands of people, starving to death. He couldn’t understand why, until he watched them eat. Each had a long wooden spoon. The spoon was so long that when the people used it to pick up food, they couldn’t get it to their mouths. They would spend eternity so close to food, and yet starving.
The man was horrified, and implored the angel to take him to heaven. So he did. There the man found another banquet table, identical to the one in hell. Heaped to overflowing with every kind of good food, surrounded by people with the same long spoons he had seen in hell. But these people looked well fed and happy. He couldn’t understand, until he watched them eat.
The people in hell tried to feed themselves. The people in heaven fed each other.