Jesus told a parable of a great banquet. Although many guests were invited, they began making excuses once the feast drew near. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke, urging us to examine where we stand regarding the Lord’s ultimate invitation.
Today we will continue our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. I will be reading from Luke 14:15–24. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
Once again, our Lord teaches concerning the kingdom of God by means of a parable. This parable was given not only for the enlightenment and understanding of those who heard it in the first century but has been preserved by the superintendence and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit for our edification. So, I pray this morning we will hear the teaching of Jesus in this parable.
Our Father and our God, we understand that those who believe in You, whose eyes have been opened by a divine and supernatural light, hear Your Word and parable. But for those who resist Your Word, these things only tend to obscure Your truth all the more. So, we ask that in this hour, in Your mercy, You will be pleased to make clear to us Your intended meaning in this story. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
An Attendee’s Beatitude
In the previous passage in Luke’s gospel, Jesus had been invited to a dinner at the home of a Pharisee, and the Pharisees set a trap for Jesus to catch Him (in their opinion) violating the Sabbath day by healing a man with dropsy. Jesus took that occasion not only to heal the afflicted man but also to instruct those there concerning humility. He followed up that instruction with this parable.
We read, “When one of those who sat at the table heard these things,” that is, the previous things that Jesus had said, “he said to Him, ‘Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God!’” We do not know whether this was said cynically or skeptically, as those in attendance were in opposition to Jesus, or whether one of the group was a secret disciple of Jesus, as Nicodemus was.
Whether the man spoke cynically or genuinely, what he said abounds with truth. We remember when we studied the gospel of Matthew and looked carefully at the Beatitudes, each of which begins with the formula, “Blessed is he”: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” “Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers,” and so on. Jesus was using an ancient formula also utilized Old Testament prophets called an oracle. There were two kinds of oracles: the oracles of weal, which were good news, and the oracles of woe, which were bad news. The oracles of weal were used in conjunction with this term, “Blessed.”
When Jesus pronounced a benediction on certain kinds of people, it was one of the highest words of comfort that a human being could ever hear. Imagine if Jesus said to you personally this morning, “Blessed are you.” To hear that benediction from His lips was magnificent.
In this text, another beatitude is spoken. Who is it that is blessed in this context? The man said, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.” Blessed is the person who comes to the table of God in the heavenly Kingdom.
Like Mephibosheth, the crippled survivor in the Old Testament who was invited to the king’s table in the house of David, so are all who are born of the Spirit, redeemed by Christ, and adopted in His family invited to the heavenly feast God has prepared in all eternity, the marriage feast of the Lamb with His bride. All of us who are in Christ, who are in the invisible church, are His bride. We will participate in that bridal feast.
Invitations to a Feast
After the man pronounced the benediction, Jesus took the occasion to tell a somewhat troubling parable. He said, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’”
What lies behind this text is an ancient Jewish custom. When a wealthy person was preparing a major feast, there were two invitations given. The first invitation went out to the guests whom the host asked to participate. They would then give their RSVP, presumably in most cases to go. To be invited to a feast such as this was a great privilege and honor. So, they would almost always say: “Of course. Count me in.”
When the meal was prepared and the time was at hand, those who had accepted the first invitation would be notified that the time had come for the feast to begin. After receiving this second invitation, they would then come and participate.
In this story, everything went wrong. We read that when the servant came to give the second invitation to those who had presumably accepted the first invitation, saying, “Come, for all things are now ready,” we are told that all of those who were so notified, with one accord, began to make excuses. Even though they said they would come, even though they had marked it on their calendars, even though the RSVP was a strong affirmative, when the time came, one by one, all of them with one accord refused to come. They offered their excuses to the servant who summoned them.
Jesus only included three members of the group that made excuses. The first said: “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.” The second said: “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.” The third said: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
You may remember that a hymn based on this parable was popular years ago, called, “I Cannot Come.” One person after another who already acquiesced to the invitation, when the time came, said: “I’m so sorry, but I have other pressing needs. It’s impossible for me to attend your banquet. Please excuse me, but I cannot come.”
The accent in this story is on how feeble and flimsy the excuses given were. The first one said, “I bought a piece of real estate, and I have to go look at it, so I cannot come.” Would you like to have him as a client for some land for sale in the Everglades? He bought a piece of property without even looking at it. What kind of a person buys a piece of land sight unseen? Even if he were foolish enough to do that, that land would still be there the next day. There was no pressing need for that person to absent himself from the feast because he bought a field.
The second was like the first. The most important animal to the ancient Jew was the ox. The ox was the beast of burden responsible for much labor for the farmer. The man said, “I have to be excused because I bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to go test them.” What? You did not test the oxen before you bought them? Not only that, but you think the oxen are going to die this afternoon, and you will have no opportunity to check them out tomorrow? What kind of an excuse is that?
The third one said, “Well, I married a wife, and I cannot come.” You married a wife? What, yesterday? You did not know the date of the banquet? You did not know the date of your wedding when you accepted the invitation to the feast? What more wonderful, grand opportunity would you have to celebrate with your new wife than to come to this opulent festival? How flimsy. How lame. How feeble are all these excuses.
The Poor and the Outsider
Jesus said that the servant went back and reported all the excuses to his master. Then the master of the house, Jesus said, was disappointed with this news. He said: “I’m sorry to hear that the people I’ve invited to my feast were so inconvenienced and unable to come. Maybe I’ll postpone the feast and schedule it for another time when they are able to attend the banquet.” No, that is not what he said.
Rather, Jesus said: “The master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly. Go into the streets. Find the poor, the lame, the maimed, the blind, the am ha’aretz, the people of the earth, people who are hungry, and bring them to my table.’” The servant said, “That’s already been done, and still there is room in the banquet hall.” So, the master responded: “Then go into the highways and the byways. Go outside the city. Go to the strangers.”
You can sense the meaning: “Go over the borders of Israel. Go to the Gentiles. Go to those people who were no people and let them be now known as my people.” To you and me, the invitation was given. Then the master said to the servant, “Compel them to come that my house may be filled, for I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”
Three Ways We Are like Those Who Failed to Show Up
If R.C. Jr. were preaching this morning instead of me, he might take the opportunity to explain the R.C. Jr. law of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation, and the R.C. Jr. law of hermeneutics is simply this: if you read something in the text of Scripture, and you see somebody doing something stupid, you should think, “That’s me in the text.” If you see somebody in the text doing something bad, instead of saying, “Tsk, tsk,” you should realize that it describes you.
We have a tendency when we read Scripture and see activities like this to look at people and say, “How could they be so foolish and wicked as to say they were going to come to this banquet and then fail to show up with these lame excuses?”
Ladies and gentlemen, that is who we are. I would like to take a couple of moments for some brief application of this parable. I see three immediate ways in which we are like these people who failed to show up.
We Make and Fail Commitments
The first way is this: every one of us who is a church member has made a pledge, a vow, a commitment to participate in the life of the church. Everybody who is married made a vow to a spouse to maintain honor in the marriage. Every one of us who is employed or are employers have entered into agreements with those who labor with us or for us to do certain things.
In a word, we are people who make commitments all the time, in every aspect of our lives, that we do not always keep. So, in that regard we are like the people who said, “Sure, I’ll be there,” but when push came to shove, they were nowhere to be found. That is who we are in our fallen condition.
We Fix Our Eyes on This World
Secondly, why did the people not go to the feast? They were people who put second things first. Jesus had said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Instead, these people fixed their gazes on the horizontal plane, on the terrestrial plane. Their eyes were fixed on the things of this world.
There is nothing wrong with buying a field. There is nothing wrong with buying oxen. There is nothing wrong with getting married. Typically, however, our whole concentration is fixed on this world. We rarely think of heaven or eternal matters.
Recently, we came back from a trip to Seattle and Alaska, and the day we came back we immediately began packing boxes, books, and all the rest to move to our new home. For the next two weeks we were preoccupied. Every moment of every day, I did not give a thought to the kingdom of God. All I could think about was getting all my possessions from one place to another place. My gaze was fixed upon the earth.
It used to be said of spiritually-minded people that they were heavenly-minded that they were no earthly good. Now, the problem is the opposite. We are so earthly-minded that we are no heavenly good. We need to lift our gaze to heaven and think of the things God has stored up for us for eternity.
I often wonder how people can live in this world and not think about eternity. How can they not ask themselves: “What is it all about? Why am I here? What is ultimate truth? What is all ultimate reality? There must be more than this”? Every bone in our bodies and every fiber of our being screams that the significance of human life far transcends the daily activities we engage in, but for the most part we are thoughtless about eternal things. The buying of the field, the testing of the oxen, and the working out of marriage become far more important to us than our eternal destinies.
We Profess, but Must Possess
Thirdly and finally, my greatest concern for the church is that people who have made a profession of faith do not possess the profession that they have made. I have said many times that no one has ever entered heaven by a profession of faith.
If you have faith, you are supposed to profess it, but professing it does not mean you have it. Every one of the people in the parable professed that they were coming to the banquet, but no one came. They said, “I’ll come,” then they said, “I cannot come.” That has to do with our ultimate state. Maybe you heard an evangelist preach a sermon, walked down the aisle, and made a commitment of faith. Maybe you prayed the sinner’s prayer and then forgot it the next day.
What did Jesus say? To people who make the commitment and do not keep it, whose eyes are fixed on this world and not on heaven, who profess faith in Him but do not possess the faith they profess, He said, “None of these shall taste my supper.”
Notice the subtle change in the parable. At the beginning of the story, Jesus spoke in the third person about an anonymous man who produced a fine banquet. When He got to the end of the story, it was not an anonymous king or ruler. The feast is Jesus’ feast. It is His banquet, and He said, “None of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.