15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” (ESV)
Introduction: A Gracious Host and His Ungracious Guests!
A man once gave a great banquet, invited many, and sent out invitations through his servants. According to the custom of the day, such a banquet would be hosted by a prominent man—someone who was well-known and well-respected in the community. The banquet was free of charge. It only remained for the guests to believe in the gracious character of the host, to receive his invitation, and to eat in his presence. The invitation, Come, for everything is now ready, was issued only when the meat had been cooked and was ready to be eaten. So the meal was set. The meat was literally ripe off the bone. Come and eat!
But how did the invited guests respond? They all alike began to make excuses. The first said, I have bought a field and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused. This statement makes no sense. No one in the ancient world would buy a field sight-unseen. Another man said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused. Again, no one could take this excuse seriously. Prospective buyers of oxen would go first to the seller’s field to look at and even test-drive the animals. No one would buy oxen before examining them. Still another man said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. Again, this is a poor excuse, for even if this man were a newlywed, his wife would certainly have been welcome to join him at the banquet.
It is a banquet— that’s the point. It is not a friend calling at the spur of a moment asking you out for coffee or over for dessert. Then, you would be justified in saying, “sorry I have other plans.” This is a banquet. A banquet requires lots of advance planning. The host has to reserve a room, hire a caterer and musicians, buy decorations, and send out invitations.
And a banquet is a BIG occasion, like someone’s retirement or 90th birthday or a couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. If you have been invited to a banquet, it is because the host thinks you are worth inviting. After all, by the time you figure in the cost of the food, the room, the musicians, and the decorations, your seat at the banquet is costing him over a hundred dollars. To say “no” to a banquet for a frivolous reason, well, that is saying that you do not think much of the host. It means you do not consider him a gracious host. And your saying “no” means that you think you do not need what the host is offering you—that you can get along just fine without his stupid little banquet.
That was exactly the attitude of the three men who declined to attend the master’s banquet in today’s Gospel. They snubbed the master, thinking they did not need what he had to give them, and they considered the things of this world more dear and precious than the banquet.
Our calling: To yearn to eat and drink at God’s feast of salvation
There is a lesson here for us. You and I are baptized into Christ. We are God’s dear children—we bear His Name, the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And so our calling is to live in holy opposition to the sinful, stubborn excuse-making of these three men. Our calling is to yearn to eat and drink at the feast of salvation God sets before us.
God the Father has prepared a great banquet of salvation for all people. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, to rise from the dead, and to send the message of His forgiveness to the ends of the world. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit desire to feed all people the banquet of salvation in baptism, absolution, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. It is all here, paid for with Jesus’ blood, and now distributed in the Christian church for the life of the world. Come! All things are now ready!
Unbelief tempts us to neglect God’s feast of salvation
Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God. Now, to be so blessed, we must believe that God is a good and gracious Host. But there’s the rub: in this fallen world, with its troubles and temptations, you and I are often inclined to disbelieve the Bible when it says that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145:8).
Perhaps we think that God is a rude and arrogant host; after all, if God is so gracious, why does He allow so much evil in this world and so many problems in our lives?
Perhaps we are carrying so many hurts, disappointments, and personal failures that we think God is out to get us, that God is our enemy. Now, if this is what you think of God, then you probably are going to decline to attend His banquet.
Then there is the problem of thinking you do not need what God has to give you. Lots of people have this problem, not just unbelievers, but even people who grew up in the church. This problem starts whenever a sinner says to himself, “I am really not that bad of a person, and so I really do not need to go to church, pray, read the Bible, confess my sins, or receive the Lord’s Supper.” Do you see the heart of the problem? Here is a sinner who refuses to admit that he is a beggar before God. And when you do not like to admit that you are a beggar before God, then you will have no yearning to feast at His banquet of salvation.
Finally, there is the problem of considering the things of this world as more precious than God’s gift of salvation. The three men in today’s Gospel despised the master’s invitation. They used their property, possessions, and even family as excuses for staying away from the banquet. What about you? Are you using your property, possessions, and family as excuses for neglecting God’s gift of salvation?
Two certainties—our needing to repent and God’s banquet being full
Martin Luther said a Christian should be willing to run a hundred miles to take advantage of confession and absolution. But we have it easy. We need simply set the alarm in time to drive to church, and we know that our pastor will be there to absolve us, to preach the salvation God gives in Jesus, and to distribute the very Body and Blood of Jesus, the same Body nailed to the cross, the same Blood shed on the cross to save sinners. Your pastor is also willing to meet in private with any parishioner to absolve, to pray with, and to commune. You also have Bibles and devotional materials in your homes to help you pray and mediate on God’s Word each day. Truly, your days should be overflowing with the holy things that deliver the feast of salvation to you. But is your life overflowing, daily and weekly feasting on God’s Holy Word and Supper? Or do you need to repent of how you have misused your property, possessions, and family as excuses for neglecting God’s invitation to feast with Him? I invite you to join me in repenting, for I too need to repent of thinking too little of God, too much of myself, and of misusing earthly gifts in order to snub God, the gracious Host of our salvation.
The truth is that the banquet hall will be filled—God will see to that! God will send out His servants to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame. God will send His servants out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that [His] house may be filled. But those who make excuses will not taste the feast. Those who think God is not gracious and loving toward sinners; those who think they do not need God; those who consider the things of this world as being more dear and precious than God’s gift of salvation—they will not be there, at the banquet. But then they would not want to be there. Their absence from the banquet is not a matter of God uninviting them, but of their snubbing God.
We are the undeserving guests who feast at God’s banquet!
But notice who does sit down at the banquet—those who know themselves to be poor, crippled, blind, and lame—those who were so far removed from God’s presence that they had to be compelled to come in. That’s you and me! We are the undeserving guests who actually sit down and feast at God’s banquet. And the first words out of our mouths are “I don’t understand. I don’t deserve to be here! All I can say is that the Host is the very best and most gracious and loving and kind Host there ever could be!”. Or, in the words of that great reprobate slave trader-turned-Christian, John Newton, “I am a great sinner, but Jesus is an even greater Saviour!”. And what a Saviour we have, this Jesus who died for us sinners, bearing our sins, paying the penalty for our high treason against God; this Jesus, who rose that we may live with Him forever, and who now gives us the feast of life and salvation in His Name.
Every Lord’s Day, the feast of salvation is set once again for you. You have already enjoyed the first course, as you were absolved of your sins and as now you hear the Gospel preached to you. And in a few moments, you will enjoy such a delectable entree that you will think you have died and gone to heaven. Actually, after feasting at this table, you are prepared to die, even at a moment’s notice. That is why we pray the Nunc Dimittis. It as as if we are saying after communion, “Lord, now I’m ready to die, to depart in peace, for my very eyes have beheld the Lord’s glory and salvation”.
As you journey through this world— the valley of the shadow of death —, pursued by enemies that seek your eternal destruction, your Good Shepherd Jesus is ever preparing before you a feast of salvation that renews and sustains you in the true faith all the days of your life, even unto death. And your death is not the end of you, but the open door that ushers you into the eternal, heavenly banquet, where you will feast with Christ and all His saints forever. Yes, indeed, blessed is everyone[—blessed are you—] who will eat bread in the kingdom of God! And so we needy beggars sing the praises of our gracious Host—thanks be to Jesus for His banquet of salvation! Amen.
+ + +
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.