(A) Introduction. Read: Luke14v15to24

Jesus told the Parable of the Great Banquet in response to a remark from one of the guests of the prominent Pharisee who invited him to lunch. The rather banal statement: "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God," was probably an attempt to change the subject and move onto something everyone could agree on. Jesus had, after all, been handing out some rather disagreeable advice to his host and his guests.

We need to ask what the man meant by his assertion. It is likely the Pharisee believed that when the Messianic age dawned and great David's greater son established God's kingdom on earth the righteous Jews would be invited to a celebratory banquet. He probably thought that if he was alive when that great day came he would be among those invited to the feast.

Jesus told the parable to illustrate what was in fact happening. The Messiah had been long promised to the Jews. God's invitation to the feast had been out for some centuries. Now the Messiah was among them. God says, "Come for everything is ready." v17. But the Jews don't come. They have other preoccupations. So Jesus teaches that others will be invited and come to the feast. Gentiles will enter the kingdom. This is suggested by the command: "Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full." v23.

Although the parable was told specifically to address the Jewish condition it does have a wider application to all those invited to become Christians. This is what I shall concentrate upon. I found Pastor Alan Carr's outline on this Scripture very helpful. See his sermon notebook.

I will study the Parable of the Great Banquet under four headings:

(B) A generous initiative. A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. v16.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God - or to put it in a way we all understand - being a Christian, is like attending a wonderful party. This picture of the Christian life illustrates three things:

(1) God's provision.

The guests at a party know that the hard work has been done for them. The price of everything has been paid. The food and drink is all free. The guests are able to relax and enjoy themselves knowing that there is nothing else for them to do.

Similarly salvation is free. Entry into the Christian life and all its attendant blessings is free. Jesus has paid the price.

            Ye wretched, hungry, starving poor,
            Behold a royal feast!
            Where mercy spreads her bounteous store
            For every humble guest.

(2) Man's responsibility

All people have to do to enjoy a party is turn up - but they are responsible for turning up! Throughout Luke's gospel Jesus stresses the part we play in establishing a relationship with him. Towards the end of chapter 14 Jesus urges his hearers to count the cost of following him. He said: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." v33. See also my exposition on Luke9v57to62. All the blessings of Christianity are conditional upon belief in Jesus. Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life." John6v47. There is not the slightest suggestion in John's gospel that belief is anything other than man's responsibility.

(3) The Christian's experience.

The Christian's experience should be like being at a very nice party - not like attending a dismal funeral. Jesus expected the Christian life to impart many blessings and to be enjoyable. Perhaps it would help to examine what makes a party pleasurable:

    (a) The welcome. The host is invariably pleased to see you! I can remember attending my first adult party. It was thrown by Mrs Bloomfield and Miss Greig two teachers at Beyton Secondary Modern School where I taught for a year before going to UCL. I didn't really want to go! I had to cycle 7 miles into Bury St Edmunds after playing cricket on a very hot Saturday. But to say I was surprised by the welcome the two ladies gave me is an understatement. They threw their arms around me and kissed me. I think by the time I turned up they were fairly drunk!!

    God makes men and women welcome when they become Christians. Some are welcomed to the party with an overwhelming display of love - especially those who come scarcely expecting to be accepted at all.

    (b) The company. The people who we are sure to find at a party are other friends of the host. We can be certain to have this in common with the other guests. It will be an opportunity to chat about our host and to find out more about him. We can also share in his evident enjoyment at seeing his admirers about him.

    Church is the place where God's family meet. It is there that we meet with people who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians have him in common. Our fellowship should be sweet as we share our experience of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    (c) The celebratory atmosphere. Guests are usually happy to celebrate a wedding or a special anniversary. I have been to several such jolly gatherings. It has been a great pleasure these last couple of years to attend George's 70th birthday party, Beryl's and Roy's 80th birthday celebrations and Edward and Dorothy's diamond wedding anniversary. Whenever we express love, appreciation, admiration and thanks it does us good.

    Surely the same should be true of church life. Whenever Christians genuinely praise God and love one another it is life enhancing and life enriching. Joy abounds!

(C) A gracious invitation. "At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'" v17

Pastor Alan Carr points out three characteristics of the invitation. It was:

(2) Simple. "Come .... ."

No invitation could be simpler. A child knows at a very young age what it means to 'come'. Why, even a dog will respond to the command, 'Come'.

Jesus said: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." John6v37. But sadly many, like some defiant children and disobedient dogs, won't come. No one can ever say that it's because they do not understand the invitation!

Solid. "All things are now ready."

God has done everything necessary to make salvation and new life available. He did it all by sending Jesus to earth and revealing to him his will. Jesus fulfilled his Father's will by offering himself as a sacrifice for man's sin. It was well done, it was lovingly done, it was perfectly done because God showed his entire satisfaction with the sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead. The cloth has been spread, the table laid and the feast prepared. God stands at an open door and says, "Come! All is ready. Enjoy!"

D.L. Moody once illustrated the difference between religion and true faith. He said to church goers trusting in their good works, "Your salvation is spelled, 'Do.' Mine is spelled, 'Done.'

(3) Serious. "Now."

God has prepared with such care so many good things for the sinner. He is ready and waiting for you to respond to his invititation. He wants you to come - NOW. Paul wrote in his epistle to the Corinthians: I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation. 2Cor6v2.If you put God off now you may never have another opportunity.

(D) A graceless indisposition. "But they all alike began to make excuses." v18.

The people who refused to attend the party made excuses. It is instructive to look at:

(1) What motivated the excuses.

The excuses were made by individuals who did not want to go to the party but who didn't want to cause offence or be ill thought of. It is, after all, pretty insulting to refuse an invitation to a special meal. It is churlish, ungrateful and ungracious to say to a benefactor who has gone to a lot of trouble and much expense on your behalf, "I shan't come." Excuses are a way of justifying a decision over which you may feel a certain amount of guilt. Someone has thought sufficiently highly of you to extend an invitation to their party and so you feel the need to put yourself in the right.

People make excuses for refusing God's offer of salvation for very much the same reasons. They don't want to feel too bad about their ingratitude and so they come up with excuses to justify their behaviour to themselves. It makes them feel better to fob God off with spurious reasons for spurning his grace.

(2) The nature of the excuses.

The excuses are interesting because they are all similar. They have three key elements to them which are:

    (a) Circumstances have changed. Each of the persons involved was going to attend the banquet until something else cropped up. For one it was an investment in land, for another it was the purchase of new agricultural equipment and for the third his recent marriage.

    This is a very common excuse for not honouring an engagement. I have had the occasional phone call from a preacher booked to speak at Brockley chapel along these lines, "I'm sorry I cannot come on the date agreed - I'm going on holiday that particular weekend." It is possible to plan your holiday so that it doesn't clash with church commitments!

    When people look back over their lives a change in circumstances is often an excuse for not making a commitment to Jesus and joining the church. They attended church until they went to college, changed jobs, moved away or married a non-Christian. It was at that point they drifted away and lost interest.

    (b) Other priorities. The three individuals in the parable couldn't possibly attend the party because they had more important things to deal with. One man needed to maximise his investment by planning carefully how to use his purchase of new land. A second man had bought a really large team of 10 oxen and had to get used to ploughing with them. The last man had just married and couldn't cut short his honeymoon.

    Very many make commitment to business, work and family an excuse for not becoming Christians and serving Jesus. These are all so demanding and time consuming that Jesus cannot be fitted in. There are others who sit down to the feast and then get lured away by worldly interests. Jesus dealt with such in his Parable of the Sower. See exposition on Luke8v4to15. It can all happen so innocently. A married couple can start spending weekends away at their holiday home and other weekends away visiting their family. Church attendance becomes increasingly irregular and it is not long before it stops all together and belief is lost.

    (c) Pressed for time. Notice how one man says, "I must go and see it" and another, "I'm on my way to try them out." The men are in a hurry, in a rush, their affairs are urgent, they can't hang about - there is such a demand upon their time.

    I wonder how often someone has made the excuse, "I just hadn't the time to .... ." A son hadn't the time to visit his mother. A woman hadn't the time to lend a helping hand to her old neighbour. A father hadn't the time to play with his children. A nurse hadn't the time to properly attend the sick and dying.

    How terrible if time is a man's worst enemy. If he has to say, "Time flew so quickly, there was always something needed doing, it was just one thing after another, I lived at such a pace - so I never got round to joining a church, thinking about God - or preparing for death. I somehow missed out on the party."

Make no mistake - these are all excuses. None of them is a good reason for not attending the party. There is something fundamentally dishonest about all of them. There are plenty of people whose circumstances change, who work very hard and who have great demands upon their time who nevertheless make a commitment to Jesus, join his church and serve him with dedication.

(3) The reasons lurking behind the excuses.

The excuses were a kind of camouflage hiding behind which are the real reasons why the men invited to the party did not attend. I find it easy to think of several of these reasons as I have often been a reluctant party goer! They are:

    (a) Regard for the host is not high enough. We must admit that there are invitations we would not refuse. Not many mothers would stop away from their daughter's wedding reception. Very few men would absent themselves from their girl friend's 21st birthday party.

    Most people decline God's invitation to party because they don't like him very much! On the whole they prefer to keep God at arm's length and to have as little to do with him as possible. If this attitude persists a day will come when God will disown them!

    (b) Fear of change. I have a kind of phobia of change. A party is something different - a change of routine. New people will be met. Perhaps I won't fit in and find myself all alone.

    Becoming a Christian involves a great change. A lot of people fear this change. They are apprehensive about what will happen to them. Some worry about whether they will be able to maintain a Christian lifestyle. This is a bit like saying, "I'm not going in the swimming pool until I learn to swim." The person learning to swim will have a helper. Similarly Jesus provides a helper, his Spirit, to all those who accept the invitation to follow him.

    (c) Don't feel like going. It is easy to miss out on a party because we are not in the mood to attend. Perhaps we are tired and miserable and just do not feel like being sociable. A certain amount of effort is required if we are to be agreeable company at a party.

    Many don't come to Jesus because they 'don't feel it.' They expect to be drawn to Jesus as they were irresistibly attracted to their wife or husband. It was easy to make the commitment of marriage because love made the risk worthwhile. If only they felt something similar for Jesus.

    Now I do not subscribe to the view that it is impossible to come to Jesus before the Holy Spirit makes you 'feel it.' Jesus says, 'Come' - if you do that then as Alan Carr remarks, "You will feel it." Submission to the Lord Jesus Christ is something God demands before the Spirit regenerates and gives new life.

    (d) Don't imagine it will be enjoyable. When young I never thought I would find a party pleasurable. The lights would be dim, the music loud, the atmosphere stuffy, the rooms overcrowded and dancing the only form of recreation. There would be nothing for me to do but sit around - if I could find somewhere to sit - and carry on a shouted conversation with people I hardly knew.

    Young people are deterred from becoming Christians because they find it hard to imagine that it could be at all enjoyable. It would involve meeting with a lot of old people, singing old fashioned hymns and enduring long and boring sermons. How could that be life enhancing?

    It is foolish to make judgments based on imagination. What we imagine isn't real! You might imagine that you will not like curry - but how you imagine it, is not how it actually is. When I went to Japan I didn't imagine I would enjoy raw fish but in the event I did - because I tried it. I can recall attending a party in Barnes when I was a student - over 40 years ago. I hardly knew the girl who invited me. I couldn't understand why she'd bothered. But I went - and enjoyed it - mainly because the hostess, Claudette Camrass, made such a fuss of me. She even tried to teach me to dance - without success!

    The majority of people who accept God's invitation to party don't regret it. Very few people who make a commitment to Jesus find the Christian life boring or unfulfilling! In the words of the Psalmist: "Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm34v8.

    (e) There are better things to do. I was always reluctant to attend a party - even a wedding reception - on a Saturday in summer because I much preferred to play cricket. This was definitely my number one priority. As I get older a quiet night in - reading or watching TV - seems preferable to partying on a Friday night.

    The three men who refused to attend the generous benefactor's splendid banquet did so because they had better things to do. It would be more fun gloating over the new land that had just been purchased or trying out the new oxen or playing games with the new wife.

    Many people decide that they have better things to do than be a Christian - with all that entails. A man might refuse Christ because there is no way he is going to give up his Friday night booze up or his Sunday morning golf. Those who reject Jesus and his salvation because there is too much to give up are like a man with cancer telling the doctor to leave it because he is too attached to it.

(E) A galvanising instruction. "Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in." v23.

The reaction of the householder who organised the great feast to those who refused his invitation tells us four things about him:

(1) His determination. "Make them come in, so that my house will be full." v23.

The host was determined that many enjoy his provision. All the places at his table would be filled. There is no doubt that Jesus will redeem a great number. So many will benefit from his salvation; will you be one of those who miss out?

(2) His daring. "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." v21. "Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in." v23.

The householder was prepared to accept all sorts and conditions of men - the impoverished, the handicapped, the socially unacceptable, the marginalised and outcast.

God welcomes to his party all kinds of undesirables - people with little to offer except their need, individuals who have ruined their lives and the lives of others, sinners with no religious background whatsoever - strangers and aliens. God's grace is very wonderful - it risks all on such unlikely converts as Ko Byu Tha, a member of the Karen people of Burma. He came to the party and was saved in 1827. Ko Byu Tha was a most unlikely convert. In early life he was a robber and murderer. Adoniram Judson, the great Burmese missionary, redeemed him from slavery and led him to Christ. Even as a Christian Ko Byu Tha was something of a liability. He never lost his reckless spirit. But Jesus knows how to get the best out of the 'bruised reed'. Ko Byu Tha's rough, undisciplined genius, energy and zeal for Christ were used to bring salvation and new life to hundreds upon hundreds of the Karen race.

C.S. Lewis in the account of his surrender to God admits that he was possibly the most reluctant convert in all England. Later he recognised the greatness of God's grace in accepting him - in spite of his reluctance - to the party - and into the kingdom.

(3) His delegation.

The master's servants were the ones who persuaded the needy and irreligious to 'come to the feast' - to feed on the living bread and drink at the fountain head. So God's servants are reminded of their role in persuading men and women to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

(4) His disgust. "I tell you, not one of these men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet."

God will hold men and women responsible for their decision to reject Christ and his salvation. Absolutely no excuse will be accepted. The question is, "What will you do with God's invitation? What reply will you give?" Imagine you had an invitation card before you. A response is called for. A decision is required immediately. Make up your mind. Come to Jesus today and be saved.