When I was young kid, a familiar sound was often heard in my neighborhood about 5:00 p.m. It was the sound of my mother’s voice calling out, “Steve! It’s suppertime.” I would usually be playing with the neighborhood kids and within hearing distance. I cold heard her, but was busy playing, so I would ignore the call and not respond. A few minutes later she’d called again. “Steve, it’s time to come home! Supper’s ready,” but I would continue to play.
If I waited too long, I might hear a final call. This one was tinged with frustration and quite a bit of irritation. “STEVEN EARL KRAMER! You get home right now or you won’t get supper!” That’s when I knew mom meant business, and I’d better hustle on home. Looking back on it, I’m sure mom would not have followed through on her threat. She had a lot of grace in her.
I’m telling you this story because, as we continue our sermon series – Stories With Intent – we find Jesus telling a parable with a bit of the same sentiment and feeling. It also holds an irritated warning.
Jesus is sitting at a dinner table with Pharisees and scribes. It’s the Sabbath, and He is their guest. He observed things going on around Him at this party and eventually shared His observations with them. They probably weren’t very happy because it was a very tough critique.
To the other guests surrounding Him He said, I can’t help but notice you guys fall over each another trying to grab the place of honor at the table. Don’t do that! Humbleness is the name of the game.
To the host He said, A very select group is attending your dinner. You seem to have invited only the rich and pious in your circle of equal status. Instead of inviting those who can pay you back, invite the poor, the lame, and the blind – those who cannot reciprocate. It pleases God, and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
Ha! Tension must have filled the air when Jesus gave these criticisms. Perhaps a long, pregnant silence filled the room. AWKWARD! Who does He think He is, speaking to us like He is God or something! What does He know about the resurrection of the just anyway?
At that point, someone at the table spoke up and made a statement, a religious platitude. “Blessed is everyone who will eat the bread in the kingdom of God.” He was referring to the great day of God’s salvation, which had long been anticipated by the Jewish people. The day when Messiah comes, all would be well.
They commonly thought about the coming day of salvation as a great banquet as it was referred to in Isaiah 25. It would be a new day of peace and prosperity. God would be in charge. Experts among the Jews believed and taught that this kingdom would only be enjoyed by the Jewish faithful, meaning them. No sinners, outcasts, or unclean types would be allowed at the table – especially not Gentiles (the non-Jews of the world).
“Blessed are those who eat the bread of the kingdom.” Why do you suppose this person made the statement anyway? Was it because Jesus said something about the future resurrection of the just and just needed to respond with something religious? Perhaps. As if he was saying, Resurrection day, Jesus? We’re in! When the role is called up yonder, I’ll be there. Yes, sir! Or was someone trying to ease the tension in the room as if to say, At least we can all agree that when the kingdom comes, it will be great, and we will be blessed. Perhaps, but if it was the reason, it didn’t work.
In response to the man’s statement, Jesus told a parable, which had to have upset them all the more. It was the story of a man who once gave a great banquet and invited many people. His initial invitation was accepted by many at first, but when the man’s servant made the announcement that all was ready, it was met with excuses from the invited (weak excuses at that). The man’s generosity was treated with great rudeness and rejection. One said, I bought a field and have to go check it out. Please hold me excused. This excuse was weak, for no one would buy a field without examining every square inch of it before putting a penny down for it. It would be like someone saying today, I just bought a house, and I have to go see what it looks like. It is unlikely to happen, a made-up excuse. The host was made to feel that the field was more important than him.
Another man said, “I just bought five yokes of oxen I have to go examine them. Please hold me excused.” Again, the excuse limps. He would have checked those oxen out before buying them to see if they can work together in pairs and so on. It was the way things were done. A modern-day equivalent would be a man calling his wife and saying, I can’t make it home for dinner. I just bought five used cars and now I have to go down to the used car lot to see if they’ll start. What’s being communicated was those oxen were more important than the host and the commitment made to him.
Finally one said, “I just married. I need to be with my wife.” Notice he doesn’t even ask to be excused. He was really rude!
By the way, in that culture, women didn’t have much status, so his excuse would have been extra insulting to the host. She’s more important than the commitment you made to me, would be his feeling.
Well, Jesus went on with the story. The host became angry and changed the entire guest list. He wants a full house, so he sends his servant out – first to those who would be the least expected to be invited, the poor, the lame, the blind, people who couldn’t reciprocate his generosity. To those who didn’t deserve to be there – outcasts, unclean sinners upon whom the religious people looked down. And when the host sees the hall is still not full, he sends a servant out to invite travelers and strangers to join them in celebrating.
Some biblical scholars point out that this invitation was really talking about the Gentiles, the non-Jews. It’s almost like a prophecy pointing to the book of Acts. Gentiles and non-Jews were witnessed to about the resurrected Jesus who came to faith in Him.
Jesus turns to those at the table who were listening to the story and lowers the boom. He says, “For I tell you, NONE of those who are invited will taste my banquet.”
Now remember Jesus has been announcing the kingdom of God throughout His ministry telling people that all is ready, and He is met with rejection and excuses. He eats with sinners and welcomes outcasts. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath like us. He doesn’t fulfill our theological and political expectations of the Messiah who would usher in God’s new day. He is a carpenter’s son!
Jesus is saying to those Pharisees and scribes through this parable, The kingdom of God has actually been staring you in the face. As you reject me, you are rejecting God’s kingdom. You will lose your place at the table if you don’t come to me. Know this: The party will go on with you or without you. The decision is yours. You are invited. Why don’t you come?
This message applies to us still today. The Good News God wants everyone to hear is this: The kingdom banquet with Jesus is ready for you. Everyone is invited, and everything has been prepared for you through the suffering, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus. The supper is ready; come and eat. As the psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (34:8). The invitation stands. It is up to you to accept it. This party will not be canceled, if you don’t come. But you will miss out on its blessings and joys (the forgiveness for your sins, eternal life, abundant living in the power and presence of God, and an intimate relationship with your heavenly Father). If we wish to enjoy these things, we must respond. Coming into the party involves placing your trust in Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. It means to follow Him as the Lord, the leader of your life.
While the announcement is made that God’s dinner is ready and available, it is still met with excuses even today. Just like in the parable, God’s generous invitation to receive Christ is rejected. Excuses are made.
• I’m busy with important things, like my work and career, or building my own little kingdom, success and recognition.
• I’m busy with pursuing, collecting, caring for earthly possessions.
• I have family activities, and other obligations to attend to.
• No thanks. Not now, anyway.
These things I’ve just described – work, career, possessions, and so on – are gifts from God. There is nothing wrong with them. However, they have a tendency become idols making us deaf to the invitation of Jesus Christ. They can cause us to miss God’s great banquet. What a tragedy it is when these blessings are allowed to shut out the claims of God who has made us for Himself! Remember, the party goes on – with or without those who have been invited.
I few years ago, a couple came into my office for some premarital counseling. It quickly became clear that they didn’t have much of a spiritual foundation and were missing out on the blessing we have been talking about. When I asked them, “If you were to die tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?” they didn’t know. I also asked, “If God asked why He should let you into His heaven, what would you say?” their response was, “Well, we’ve tried to live as good as we can. We haven’t hurt anybody too much.” So I shared with them the Good News of the free gift of salvation, which has been prepared for them through faith trusting in Christ. I then asked if they’d like to receive the gift from God right now. My invitation was met with silence. Finally, this soon-to-be husband said, “I don’t think so. Not now. We’re not ready for that kind of thing at this stage.” How sad.
Fortunately, though, some hear Christ’s invitation to His banquet, accept it, and gladly come. They come humbly, empty-handed knowing they don’t deserve this gift, for all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Salvation is only by grace. They come gratefully to receive forgiveness, a new start, and an intimate relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A joy-filled future awaits them, which will last forever. They have a new purpose for living in this world. Their lives are blessed by the bread of life – Jesus Christ.
How about you? Have you accepted His invitation to come to the celebration banquet? I heard someone say years ago, As the invitation goes out, we are all writing our replies. It’s true!
Either the response is,
Please accept my apologies, but I’m busy right now,
which is another way of saying I have more important things to do than walk with God,
Or it is,
I know my heart’s deepest need. I am weary.
I need forgiveness from God.
You have offered it to me in Jesus Christ,
who died on the cross
and rose again to give me eternal life.
With all my heart, I accept it.
This is what God longs to hear from each and every individual.
The greatest invitation you will ever receive in your life has been given. God says, Everything is ready. It’s suppertime! Come home. I want you to come now, trusting in Christ Jesus, my Son, who laid down His life for you at the cross so you might attend and enjoy my banquet. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer