When I was in high school, a local business organization sent me an invitation to a dinner at a local restaurant. The purpose of the gathering was to give me information about a business symposium geared for future leaders. The group wanted to sponsor me.
Since the dinner was over a month away, I decided I’d deal with it later. I laid the invitation in my bedroom. It somehow got buried under other papers. Guess what happened?
You guessed correctly. I completely forgot about the invitation. That is until dad came into my room one evening and asked, “Son, did you get an invitation to a dinner about a business seminar?” He’d just gotten off the phone with a teacher who helped organize the meal.
“Yes,” I sheepishly replied, realizing what I’d done.
The next morning, I went into the teacher’s office and profusely apologized. I then told him I wasn’t interested in attending the event. He accepted my apology.
Ultimately, missing that dinner didn’t affect my life in any way. But what happens if we refuse an invitation to a banquet in heaven?
We read about the setting of our scripture lesson at the beginning of Luke 14. It happens during a meal in the house of a Pharisee. The meal took place on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees were a prominent group of religious leaders during the time of Jesus. They believed God would bless them for being radically obedient to the Old Testament law. To help everyone keep these laws, they developed detailed rules of how each law should be lived out in their lives.
Since the law forbid working on the Sabbath unless it was necessary to save someone’s life, they were adamant no work should be done on that day. One guest at this dinner had a serious illness. Jesus asked the Pharisees if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath.
They refused to answer him. After all, this man wasn’t dying. Technically Jesus shouldn’t heal him until the next day. Jesus did it anyway and sent him away. Jesus then asked the Pharisees if they would get their son or ox out of a well if either fell into it on a Sabbath day. The Pharisees still refused to answer him.
Jesus then tried to teach them humility by telling them not to take the place of honor at banquets. The story continues in Luke 14:15-24, “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.”
A banquet was Israel’s image of their final communion with God. The choice food and wine represented the joy and abundance they would receive when they made it to heaven. The Pharisees were sure they had God figured out. Their way of serving and worshipping God was the right way. Certainly, their invitation was on its way. Those who didn’t serve God the way they did might not make it in, but they were secure.
Several years ago, there was a movie released called Ghosts of Mars. Miners on Mars had unearthed some lifeforce that took over and possessed the humans who came into contact with it. When these humans died, the lifeforce found other people to possess.
Some of the Pharisee’s beliefs were like the lifeforce in this movie. When the Pharisees died out, these ideas found Christians and possessed them. Many Christians today believe they have God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit figured out. Their interpretations of the Bible are right. The way they serve and worship God is right. Anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. They’re going to be invited to the great banquet but those who don’t worship God the same way might not make it in.
Our story continues. 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.’ This wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill community banquet. It was to be a grand event.
In this culture, two invitations went out for banquets. The first one was to make sure there were no other community events scheduled on the same day. It was shameful to hold your event after someone else had already scheduled something. It was also shameful if very few people attended your banquet.
In this story, the first invitation was sent and apparently a large number of people agreed to attend. Now the second invitation was sent to tell people the preparations were made. The villagers needed to honor their commitment to the first invitation and come to the banquet.
They didn’t. 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, ‘I 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 just got married, so I can’t come.’
Many folks in our culture wouldn’t have a problem with these excuses. Even though these people had initially agreed to attend, things come up. Cultural norms were different when Jesus told this story. These excuses would have been totally unacceptable.
Land was associated with the identity of your family and tribe. It wasn’t sold casually. Selling some of your land was a big deal. Sometimes it took months to complete the sale. No one would buy land from someone else without looking at it first and knowing exactly what they were getting.
The price of oxen was determined by the oxen’s ability to pull and work together. No one bought a single pair of oxen, much less five pair, without trying them out first.
The man who used his wedding as an excuse not to attend was the rudest of all. He doesn’t even say, “Please excuse me.” He just says “I can’t come.” Plus, Jesus is inferring this man is refusing to attend because he wants to be intimate with his bride. Even in our culture, using this excuse to renege on a banquet invitation is considered rude.
All three of these excuses are false and very insulting to the host who sent out the invitations.
At this point, we need to remember the setting for this story. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. They believe they are worthy to be invited to God’s banquet but anyone not like them won’t be welcome.
Look how Jesus concluded the story. 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.’”
The host wanted his banquet hall full. He went far and wide, searching for people to invite. But those who were originally invited weren’t going to make it in.
What’s Jesus saying here? He’s telling the Pharisees that if things don’t change, they aren’t going to make it to the banquet hall where they think they’re supposed to be the guest of honor. They’re caught up in being God’s chosen people but they don’t really know God. They don’t even care about a man with a serious illness. This is bringing shame to God.
Who will make it in? The poor, the outcast, the Gentiles. Those whom the religious people deemed unworthy to attend such a banquet are invited.
There are three important points we need to take from passage. The first one is: Everyone is invited to the banquet.
The Pharisees wouldn’t eat with those who weren’t like them. They couldn’t see that by inviting the “sinners and tax collectors” to their table, they would be showing God’s love. Through the death of Jesus on the cross, we receive an automatic invitation to the banquet if we have accepted him as our Lord and Savior. If you know Jesus, you’re not an outcast, crippled or lame. You’re a child of the King. You’re worthy of an invitation.
The second point is: We can choose not to attend. The business organization that invited me to their dinner didn’t force me to attend once I said I wasn’t interested. This parable makes it clear God gives us the same option. However, if we refuse to follow Jesus while we’re alive, we won’t be allowed in the banquet hall once we die. Earthy choices have heavenly consequences.
The final point we need to understand is: We can be “religious” and still be far away from God. The Pharisees were. They knew all about God but they didn’t actually know him. The same thing happens today.
I recently heard about a man who worshipped for decades with a local congregation. He was very active and sang in the choir. He became ill so the pastor visited him. During this conversation the man revealed he’d never accepted Jesus as his Savior, even though he’d been a lifelong church goer. After talking with the pastor some more, he accepted Christ into his life. The man died two weeks later.
During his funeral, a relative shared that this man said he wished he’d accepted Jesus a lot sooner in his life. The last two weeks were the most peaceful his life had ever been. It shocked people in the congregation to learn this man had been coming to church all those years but didn’t know Jesus as his Savior. Like the Pharisees, he was very religious. But he still didn’t know God.
Even though you’ve been attending worship for years – or even decades – have you accepted Jesus?
God wants us to attend his banquet. What are we doing with the invitation? Are we burying it under all of the other things we have to do in life? Or have we accepted the invitation by following Jesus?
If you’ve never asked Jesus into your life to be your Lord and Savior, please do it now. May today be the day of your salvation.