The Great Banquet
This morning we continue a series on certain parables of Jesus that are recorded in the gospel of Luke, the third book in the New Testament. Scholars call them the “unique parables of Luke” because, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke all record many of Jesus’ other parables, these are recorded only by Luke in Lk.10-19. A parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” – a story or commentary about a normal event that illustrates a spiritual lesson.
This morning we will look at the parable of the great banquet. Jesus told this parable while He was ostensibly the “guest of honor” at a dinner hosted by a Pharisee (14:1). Out of love, Jesus had already reproved the guests who were seeking seats of honor, and the host who was inviting only guests who could return his invitation. At this point, perhaps because the air was tense and to change the subject, a guest proposes a toast (read 14:15). Jesus responds to him with this parable (read 14:16-24 NIV).
What this parable does not teach
Before we consider the spiritual lessons of this parable, we first need to identify what spiritual lessons it is not teaching. Parables are not allegories, in which every detail has a corresponding spiritual meaning. Parables are stories of common events which teach one or more spiritual lessons. Many of the details are simply “local color” – details that are simply typical of the common event, but have no spiritual significance. How can we tell what details are “local color” vs. what is a spiritual lesson? We have to interpret the details in light of the Bible clearly teaches. On this basis, we can say that this parable does not teach:
That God invites other people into His kingdom only after initial invitees reject His invitation (“I can’t be embarrassed by a small turn-out!”). God has always wanted everyone to enter His kingdom (1Tim.2:3; 2Pet. 3:9).
That God is angry in an infantile, vengeful way when people don’t accept His invitation (“You showed me up, so I hate you! Just see if I ever let you come to my house!”). God is sad when people reject His invitation (Lk.19:41; Matt.23:37), and He is righteously angry about people’s hard-heartedness.
That God wants to force people to accept His invitation. “Compel” in 14:23 has been used to justify coercion (ORIGEN >> INQUISITION). God does not compel people to come to Him (Rev.3:20), and the rich man obviously did not force his first invitees.
Now we’re ready to learn and apply the spiritual lessons that this parable does teach (which are also clearly taught elsewhere in the Bible). I see four key lessons:
Beware of thinking you’re in when you’re not
The Jewish man’s comment in 14:15 clearly implies that he expects to be in the kingdom of God when it comes (because he is a religious Jew). Jesus’ parable is a correction of this man’s expectation: “Beware of thinking you’re in when you’re not!”
This is a lesson that is still relevant! Many in 21st century America (and elsewhere) assume that they have a place in God’s kingdom when in reality they have no such thing.
Beware of thinking that you’re in because you have a certain religious or national or family heritage (Jews: Americans; church members). God has no favorites in this sense (Deut.10:17; Acts10:34).
Beware of thinking that you’re in because everyone is in (universalism). This view may be very popular in American culture – but it is “magical thinking” (EXPLAIN). Nothing could be clearer in the Bible (and especially in Jesus’ teaching) than that many people who expect to be included in God’s kingdom will be excluded from it forever (14:24; read 13:27,28).
Beware of thinking that you’re in because you are “good” (moralism). “Maybe bad people are excluded, but I’m a good person – so I’m in.” But who defines “good?” Why should our definition of “good” be definitive – especially when we tend to change the definition to fit our behavior (EXAMPLE). God is the only One who is “good” (Mk.10:18), He is the only One who authoritatively defines “good.” Why should God compromise His moral character and “grade on the curve” to accommodate our sin? Fortunately, God is not ambiguous on an issue as crucial as this one. He declares that no one is good enough to merit a place in His kingdom (Rom.3:23 – past and present failure to meet His glorious standard).
The truth is that God has found a way to invite everyone into His kingdom despite our sin, but each person must respond to His invitation. That’s the second lesson of this parable ...
Admittance into God’s kingdom requires an active response to His invitation
When great banquets were given, people were invited well in advance and they replied with something like our RSVP’s. Then on the day of the banquet, when the food was prepared, the host sent out servants to call those who had RSVP’s to come. To respond the way the characters did (14:18-20) was totally lame and rude in the extreme.
God’s banquet is salvation and life in His kingdom through His Messiah. God prepared for His banquet for centuries by sending prophets to predict the coming of His Messiah. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah and extending the invitation to the religious Jews (quote Matt.4:17). But they (like the invited guests in the parable) were turning Him down with lame excuses (EXAMPLES). What will God do? He will exclude them because they refuse to respond actively to His invitation.
And that’s the application for us. Re-read 14:17b. Admittance into God’s kingdom requires an active response to His invitation. How did the rich man know who responded to his invitation? They were the ones who actually showed up. In the same way, God has invited us into His kingdom through Jesus. He provides ample evidence (DEN’S BOOK) that Jesus is the Messiah, so that we can make an informed decision. But He requires that we respond actively by saying to Him: “Yes, I receive Jesus as my Messiah, and I want to live under Your reign.”
It’s not enough to be passively nice – to say: “Well, I appreciate the offer.” That is a “No.” What if I when I proposed to Bev (“I love you and I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?”), she replied: “Well, I appreciate that you asked me?” That would be a “No!” How much more when God proposes to you?
It’s not acceptable to give a relativistic “Yes”: “I believe in Jesus as one of many ways to God.” That’s not what Jesus is offering; He is offering Himself as the only way into God’s kingdom (Jn.14:6). That’s a “No.” That’s like Bev responding to my marriage proposal by saying: “I agree to marry you along with many other men.” That’s not what I was offering. That’s a “No.”
What about saying “Yes – but later?” In view of the infinite value of God’s proposal, this is not only a “No” – it is also an expression of contempt for God (“Your kingdom is second-rate”). No field, no oxen, no spouse, no career plan, no hobby, no human relationship, no NOTHING is more valuable than God’s kingdom (refer to Matt.13:44-46).
Furthermore, every deferral of God’s invitation is dangerous. He graciously extends it until we die or until Jesus returns (whichever comes first), but we don’t know when either one of these will happen. That’s why the Bible says that the time to respond to His invitation is now (2Cor.6:2). Will you come today? Yes or no?
God’s kingdom will have a huge, diverse population
This parable teaches that God is intent upon having His “house full” (14:23) – having His kingdom filled with all kinds of people. Not just the neighbors in the village (who represent mainstream Jews), but also the village outcasts (14:21, who represent Jewish “sinners”) and the rural dwellers (14:23, who represent Gentiles). Although in the parable, these people are invited because the neighbors declined, God’s plan has always been to bring people from every kind of racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious-moral background into His kingdom through faith in His Messiah. This is one of the ways that God demonstrates (to people and angels) that He is the one true God. And this will happen before Jesus returns (read Rev.7:10,11)!
This lesson has several implications:
The spread of Christianity into other people-groups is the most significant thing happening in the world today (EXPANSION STATS vs. HEADLINES). Every Christian should become informed about this (Operation World; “Perspectives” Class this winter) and ask God to give us way more zeal about this than any other “current events” issue (e.g., left/right-wing politics; sports teams; etc.).
There is no basis for any kind of prejudice/bigotry in biblical Christianity. No individual or group of people is beyond God’s redemption. Every kind of person is invited into God’s kingdom through repentance and faith in Jesus. Therefore, Christians should welcome other Christians from different backgrounds into their lives (Rom.15:7).
This lesson leads directly to the last lesson of this parable...
God invites others into His kingdom through His servants
How did the rich man invite people to His banquet? Not by putting up a billboard, or by sending a Facebook invite, or by dropping invitations from a plane, but by sending His servants! In effect, He invited them through his servants’ invitation (14:17,21,23). His servants were his banquet ambassadors, and it was their great privilege and responsibility to announce his banquet and to invite them to come.
Every single Christian is Jesus’ ambassador (read and explain 2Cor.5:18-20). This is our greatest privilege and responsibility in this phase of our lives. I am amazed that God has decided to speak through people like you and me to issue this invitation, but He has – so who are we to argue with Him?
God has already placed every one of us (in different ways) in proximity to friends, family and neighbors (people near to and like us), to people who are different from us in various ways, and to people from other parts of the world. No one is able to be Jesus’ ambassador to them exactly like you are.
Let’s talk to our friends and family members and near-neighbors about Jesus! Let’s get involved in Renegade or the medical Clinic community volunteering or some other way with local people who are different from us, and let’s talk to them about Jesus! Let’s get involved in IFI to befriend an international student, or with the Nepali refugees, etc. and talk to them about Jesus!
A hundred years from now (or perhaps much sooner!), you won’t have this opportunity any more. A hundred years from now, the fact that you talked to others about your favorite foods or sports or movies will pale in significance compared to talking to them about this! Let’s do it!