June 28, 2010 David Balzer

Luke 14:15-24: Have you RSVP’d?

Last Sunday lunch, the music team from church got together. We had a BBQ at Jo’s place. It’s hard to beat a BBQ isn’t it? Especially with lots of good friends.

There we were. All sitting around a wonderful wooden outdoor setting. Under a grape vine. It was cool and shaded. The table was loaded with salads and rolls and meat and drinks. The air was filled with a dozen loud, boisterous conversations. Everyone seemed to be talking at once. Great jazz music was playing in the background. There was plenty of laughter.

For a moment I just sat back, and thought, “It doesn’t get much better than this!”

Meals with friends are special times, aren’t they?

And, at least for Aussies, it seems the more CASUAL the better. We never seem to enjoy the FORMAL occasions quite as much.

Things like wedding receptions, we never like them to get TOO formal. The best ones are where you can relax and enjoy yourself. Not worry about whether you’re using the right fork, or whether you’re allowed to pick up the drumstick with your fingers.

But it’s not just Aussies. Right down through history/ meals with friends have been a special time. And it was no different in Jesus’ time either.

1. Setting the Scene

In fact, in the story we’ve just read/ a special meal is just what Jesus is involved in.

a. Jesus and the Jewish leaders (14:1)

Let’s set the scene. It’s after church one Sabbath – just like our music meeting. But UNLIKE our music meeting, Jesus’ get-together seems to be one of those FORMAL dinners. Where you have to watch your P’s and Q’s. Be careful to make the right impression.

Let me show you what I mean. Look back to Ch 14 v1.

(Luke 14:1 NIV)  One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a PROMINENT Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

Jesus was at the good end of town. Classy house. Silver service. VIP guest list. And all the religious big-wigs were there. The Jewish leaders.

And to top it all off, they’re all WATCHING Jesus. Just waiting for him to slip up. Say something controversial. Or do something illegal.

And before long the conversation gets interesting. Jesus starts CRITICISING the way they do things. First he HEALS someone when they say it’s ILLEGAL. Then he starts poking holes in their rule books. Pointing out the inconsistencies. Then he starts redefining their social etiquette. Changing all their rules. Shifting the acceptable way of dealing with people.

It’s not really the best way to make friends and influence people! My guess is/ Jesus never got another invitation to THAT house!

But then, in the embarrassed silence, someone tries to lighten the mood. Change the subject. Move the conversation onto something a little less controversial. Look down at v15.

(Luke 14:15 NIV)  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.”

b. God’s Great Banquet – Is 25:6-9

It was a common enough idea. The idea that when God brought in his kingdom, he’d hold a great banquet for all his friends. The feast to end all feasts. Listen to the way the prophet Isaiah looks forward to it. Maybe 600 years previous. Isaiah Ch 25 v 6

(Isa 25:6-8 NIV)  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. {7} On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; {8} he will swallow up 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.

Get the picture? Imagine the best wedding reception ever. Money’s no object. Mountain top function centre. Great view. Gorgeous gardens. Opulent rooms. And then DOUBLE it. And it’s all there!

The open bar. Crown lagers all round. Top French champagne. Not a house wine to be seen anywhere.

And the food! The best of meats. Best desserts. Wonderful bread, and fruit. And so much the tables are groaning.

That’s what God’s promising. It’s a lovely idea. And something wonderful to look forward to.

But did you notice? It’s not ordinary banquet, because it’s going to be ETERNAL. The promise is/ there’s NO MORE . God’s wiped it out. Eternity is going to be one long party! That’s what’s in store for God’s people.

Some people think that’s what HELL’S going to be. But they’ve got the wrong end of the stick. HEAVEN’S where the party is.

And notice one other thing? It’s going to be for ALL NATIONS. All peoples. It’s an open invitation. God, and his people, enjoying each other’s company.

c. The picture corrupted:

But the problem was/ the Jews liked the FIRST two parts of the picture so much they forgot about the third part. Over the years they started to get a bit selfish. They didn’t want to share the party. “Put a bouncer at the door and don’t let anyone else in!”

And so the picture got corrupted. God’s open invitation had become an exclusive affair.

By the time of Jesus, not only did the teachers think that NON-JEWS weren’t invited, but that even many JEWS would miss out. The way they saw it, only the CLASSY Jews would make it. The healthy, rich, connected ones. And tough luck to everyone else.

And all that’s background to this guy saying, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Now what he’s probably expecting/ is that Jesus will say something like, “Yeah, it WILL be great won’t it? I can’t wait!”

But that’s not what Jesus does. How does he respond? Look at v16. He tells a story instead. And like the rest of this lunchtime conversation, it’s not going to be too flattering.

Jesus is saying, “You think you’ve got that banquet figured out? Well, let me fill you in on a few details. It may not turn out QUITE the way you thought!”

d. A story of a great banquet

It’s a story about a man who organises a great banquet. Many people are invited. And they all respond. “Love to come. It’s in the diary. As soon as we get the reminder, we’ll be there with bells on”

You see, that’s the way things worked in those days. The RSVP would help the host with the catering. He’d know whether to kill the duck, or the sheep. If 10 people were coming/ the duck copped it. 40 people/ the sheep drew the short straw.

And then, on the day, when the meat was cooked, and the table had been laid, and the decorations were up, the servant would go out AGAIN. Each of the guests would get a REMINDER (v17) “Come for everything is now ready”.

People who’d already said YES, were being told that the party was beginning.

2. Unbelievable ness

And how do they respond? With unbelievable ness. Suddenly they’ve all got another engagement.

And their excuses are so paper thin, it’s blatantly obvious that they’re trying to insult the host. If they were being polite, and just didn’t want to come, all they had to say was that they were SICK.

But listen to their excuses. V18. One says “I’ve just bought a FIELD and I must go and see it”.

AS IF! No-one buys a field without looking over it thoroughly.

A while ago one of the current affairs shows had a segment on people who’d bought investment houses in Tasmania over the internet. How dumb is that!

Sure, the PICTURES looked good. And the price sounded too good to be true. And surprise, surprise, it WAS too good to be true. When they finally went to look at the house in person, it was falling apart, and didn’t look anything LIKE the pictures. That’s foolish!

But even if the guy HAD done that. The field would still be there tomorrow. No, this guy was deliberately thumbing his nose at the host.

And the second guy was no better. “I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out.”

AS IF! That’s like buying five used cars sight-unseen, and THEN deciding you probably should check them out.

And he says he’s ON HIS WAY. If the feast was at the end of the day, why would he choose EVENING to head off and try out his oxen? Surely the cows will wait until tomorrow!

No. This guy, too, is deliberately insulting the host. Unbelievable ness.

The third’s a little different. But not much better. V20. “I just got married. I can’t come”. It’s not that he’s on his honeymoon, he’s not saying anything else except “I’ve got a wife”, so I can’t come.

Now either he’s incredibly “under the thumb”, or this reason is just as weak as the others. Simply being MARRIED is no excuse. This is another case of unbelievable ness.

So what’s Jesus saying?

God is the host. He issues the invitations. “The party’s coming. The great banquet. My kingdom’s on the way. Make sure you’re ready!” That’s the message he’s given Israel down through the years. Through prophets just like Isaiah.

And now Jesus arrives on the scene. He’s the servant who says, “The time is NOW. Come on in, for everything is ready. I’m the king, and the kingdom’s beginning. Come and join the party.”

But what do the leaders do? Suddenly/ they’re too busy. Jesus isn’t what they were expecting. And his kingdom isn’t quite the party they thought it would be. And so they don’t want anything to do with him. All sorts of excuses that are nothing more than unbelievable ness.

And even today/ people give the same sort of response to Jesus. He offers us the invitation to a wonderful party. But people are too busy. Perhaps it’s money-making ventures. Or family commitments. Or chasing acceptance, or significance, or power. Building your nest egg. Securing your future. Looking after Number One.

Many people don’t even THINK they’re blowing God off. They don’t see it as ness. It’s just that they’ve put him on the back-burner for a while. Just until they get to that next stage of life. Maybe that’s what YOU’VE done!?

But they’re all just EXCUSES. Nothing more than unbelievable ness. The God who made the Universe is offering us the chance to spend eternity with him. And we’d rather make an extra buck, or store up a few more moth-eaten treasures. Or have a few more people think you’re successful. Or whatever excuse you’re offering.

3. Unbelievable generosity

But what does God think about that sort of response? Look at what happens next in the story. V21.

(Luke 14:21 NIV)  “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became ANGRY

And UNDERSTANDABLY so. How dare they treat me like that? Who do they think they are?

But rather than seek revenge, he’s got another plan. Look at what happens next.

He 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.’

He’s got a wonderful feast sitting there. And it will go to waste unless he finds SOMEONE to eat it. So the servant goes out into the town and finds all the outcasts. The poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame.

The poor – who never get invited anywhere.

The crippled – who never get married.

The blind – who never get to inspect their new field.

The lame – who never get to try out their new yoke of oxen.

They all get an invitation to the feast. It’s an offer of unbelievable generosity. A radical reversal.

And Jesus’ point is clear. These rejects are the very people the religious leaders wanted nothing to do with. The ones they thought would miss out on God’s banquet. Because they didn’t measure up.

But they’re the VERY PEOPLE / Jesus WAS interested in. The ones he spent his time with. They were EXACTLY the sort of people to be invited to the feast.

And so they arrive at the banquet. But there’s a problem – there’s still room. The servant can’t find ENOUGH poor!  And so the master sends him out AGAIN. V23.

(Luke 14:23 NIV)  ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.

Get out of the town. And check along the highways. The fields. Under the bridges. And if they think the offer’s too good to be true. CONVINCE them. Insist. Don’t take NO for an answer.

They won’t believe you, so MAKE them come in. I really do WANT them at my party.

Who are these people? Jesus is talking about the invitation going BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES. Outside of Israel. To other nations everywhere. Just what God always intended. But what the Jews had forgotten.

And that means God’s invitation has come to YOU AND ME. And sometimes it can be hard to comprehend. That the God of Israel. The God who created the Universe. Is offering you and me, everyday, average Aussies, a FRIENDSHIP.

No cost. Completely gratis. No payment. No special conditions. No fine print.

And people need CONVINCING. “There’s GOT to be a catch!” they say, “It sounds too good to be true. Surely I have to EARN it. DO something. Build up some brownie points.

I got a phone call at work on Thursday. From someone at Optus. Asking me if I wanted a brand new mobile phone FREE. Now I knew there had to be a catch. And it only took me a few questions to find out the usual. “We’ll give you the phone for free. You just have to pay a minimum amount per month over two years. (Total cost $549 available to approved customers only.)

It’s no wonder we’re wary of offers that sound too good to be true… But that’s what God’s invitation is. Completely Free. Unrepayable.

And the job of the church is to CONVINCE people. To grab them by the arm. To not take no for an answer. Until they understand. There IS no catch. It’s all good news.

If you’re a Christian, is that something YOU’RE doing? Do you LIVE as if the party is something worth having? Is your life CONVINCING? Does it say “God’s invitation really IS great news!”

That’s what our job is. And one of the PRACTICAL ways we can do that is through hospitality. You see, meals are great opportunities to show our friends the FULLNESS of life under God. To show the joy and significance and purpose of life following Jesus. To reflect his concerns for ALL PEOPLE.

Meals are where we can PRACTICE for that final party. That great feast. Where God’s the host, and we’re the guests. And as we practice, we BUILD EXPECTATION for that day.

Our meals today are only a pale shadow of the banquet on that day. But there IS a resemblance. And so we whet our appetites for the banquet which will be SO MUCH MORE than what we can organise here, or even imagine. But it’s great fun trying.

And we get a chance to PRACTICE after church today. We’re having a spit roast. And you’re all invited!

But what if you’re NOT a Christian? Well, what about it? The offer’s there. God’s offering you something wonderful. It’s free. And all you have to do is accept it.

To accept it/ is to do the OPPOSITE of the religious leaders. It means recognising who Jesus is. God’s special messenger. Sent to bring us back to God.

Accepting the invitation ALSO means recognising something about YOURSELF. That up until now you HAVE been ignoring God. Putting up all sorts of weak excuses for not accepting his invitation. That’s what the Bible calls SIN.

You need to recognise that. And admit it. And once you’ve STOPPED that. You need to turn around. And start moving in ANOTHER direction. A direction that involves putting HIM as your first priority. Making your decisions based on what HE thinks, not on what YOU reckon.

And that’s basically what it means to be a Christian.

And it’s something you can do right now. Simply by talking to God. Here’s a prayer you might like to pray. It’s printed there in the news sheets.

There’s nothing magical or special about it. You could say the same thing in lots of different ways. Have a look at the words. I’m going to pray it slowly, and if that’s a prayer YOU want to pray, repeat the words to yourself.

“Dear God, thanks for your free invitation. Thanks for Jesus who shows us the way back to you. I’m sorry for how I’ve ignored you, and tried to do things my way. Forgive me. Help me to stop that, and to live your way. Amen”

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