Make the Invitation | Wk 3

Growing up in Western PA I assumed that everyone had a seat at the same table I did…but I went to school with a hunting, refinery employed, hard working, catholic, ethnic group of people…they were loud but kind and very caring for each other. I didn’t even recognize there was a world so different than mine until college in Nashville. I’d been a fairly well behaved, white, middle-class, country, Christian boy. I had supported parents, a loving family, and by most measurement’s a child’s dream childhood, filled with pizza binges, hunting, sledding, playing b-ball till dark, spontaneous campouts in the mountains behind our house and epic hide and seek games at dark. When I think about those days now I recall laughing a lot, paying way too much attention to how I looked, the girls at school, and dreams of being a rock star…but generally feeling safe and secure in our cozy…often frozen corner of North western PA.
 
My mother loved to can vegetables out of our acre garden and the house always smelled of baked pies and bread. As it is true for most of us the heart of our home was the kitchen and dining room table…most of the family meetings, jokes and catching up happened around an all American meal of Roast/carrots and potatoes. It was a holy place…the place of our family connection… belonging… counsel… correction… homework… arguments…and love. Early on…it was religion, rules and rituals that were the foundation of our daily routines. It was woven into my everyday studies, athletics, music, and my social life by parents who valued structure and moral values they hoped they were giving me. As a result, this faith formed in the background of my life and I knew God was hovering over me like we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in creation…or like the parents I never wanted to disappoint or let down. So as long as I remember I had two stories going on in my head…
 
1. I had a family that loved and supported me(a place where I belonged) 2. I had a story about God and he was real, good, and I was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of this good God.
 
These truths in my head steady me and challenge me to need the Lord more everyday…I was never alone, God has been with me. There are also times when He has corrected me… Because along with adopting these two wonderful truths, I also adopted some false stories…about people who were different than me, skin color, economic class, religion, maybe originally shared with me for my safety…but all the while I owned those things that today I don’t see as truth or my heart or the heart of God. In my handed down narratives, “These people” were to be avoided or feared, or at the very least approached with skepticism, and one of the most difficult thing to admit is that because of these stories I’d learned that I was just a little more deserving of the love of this big God than they were. I was “blessed”.
 
I think some here today can connect to this narrative…our faith story hears “If God is for me, who can be against me?” and we assume that there is some competition with others that we are required to win or secure our place in order to win our acceptance.
This thinking can make us experts at excluding people at our tables.
 
My story has told me I was “in” and those who were foreign to my experience all needed to do some work in order to earn a seat at God’s table.
 
The truth I later would learn was that I was just another religious begging Pharisee thinking of myself more righteous than I’m pleased to admit. As long as I never drank, smoked, cussed, dated inappropriately, I was set….I was HEAVENBOUND
False stories and small tables will do that to us…My prayer today is that we challenge the narrative of our upbringing and seek to hear from God’s narrative and listen closely to the spirit’s directions.
 
We love to party at the Harden house…we’ve had spiderman parties, cowboy, food fight, Dora the explorer, and even a glow in the dark dance party for 150 students… We love people coming together and God has given us a home that invites people to come join the fun…The huge table at the Chouse is often call the last supper – but it’s where everything happens…where we sit and talk and feast, and laugh and play games and so on…our favorite thing is hosting a dinner party…much like the one found in Luke 14:15-24 (The Parable of the Great Banquet) The unstated question that lies behind our scripture is, “What sort of person will be INVITED TO THE PARTY?”
 
What’s up with this PARTY? The feast, the party, the table—these were the settings for some of the most powerful and pivotal moments of the life of Jesus. He loved the table. It’s where he spent time with tax collectors and zealots, Pharisees and prostitutes, wealthy women and influential men.
At the table with Jesus, the powerful were confronted, the oppressed were uplifted, the outcasts were invited, the self-righteous were ridiculed and the seekers were given a glimpse of the kingdom of God. We can’t miss the significance of the table.
 
• He performed his first miracle at a wedding. • He called Matthew to be his disciple and then Matthew threw a party so all his friends could meet Jesus. • He invited himself to lunch at Zacchaeus’ house, and it changed the trajectory of Zacchaeus’ life. • He ate with sinners and saints and religious insiders and social outcasts. • After the resurrection, he appeared to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Before the disciples could meet him there, Jesus was already cooking breakfast. • On the road to Emmaus, he revealed himself, not in his exposition of the Old Testament prophecies about him, but at the table.
 
Something Unique and Significant happens around the table. It’s there that we see glimpses of Jesus and experience transformation like in no other environment. ….It shouldn’t be surprising that communion—one of the two sacraments the church has observed for its entire history—takes place around the table.
 
In Luke 14, right after the healing of another man we see Jesus, once again, around the table—this time, not of a tax collector, but a Pharisee. The conversation turns to the future feast in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus tells a rather provocative story. A nobleman planned a party and sent invitations. People turned him down for a variety of excuses—needing to inspect some recently purchased property, needing to test-drive some new oxen, and needing to go on a honeymoon.
The excuses do seem a bit ridiculous. Or at least they lack any creativity or imagination. -You purchased a field before inspecting it? -You bought oxen without test-driving them?
But we have all turned down party invites for less compelling reasons, so it’s a little difficult to understand the anger of the host. Here’s where we need to once again remove our own cultural filters and enter the world of first-century Middle Eastern culture.
In Middle Eastern culture, there were always two invitations issued. The first was issued a number of days in advance so the host could get a headcount. But it was more than just a “save the date.” It was a commitment. These were extravagant events. The meats and the wines would have been carefully selected and matched. The amount of food would have been meticulously calculated to ensure there would be enough. An accurate headcount was important. Once the party was ready, a second invitation would be sent. A servant would be sent to declare, “dinner is ready, the table is set, it’s time to eat.” The servant would then escort the guests to the banquet. Often, the process of guests to the dinner would feel like a parade, accompanied by drums or musicians.
 
The guests were giving their excuses in the midst of the grand escort.
 
John 14:12
12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[b] or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
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[c] 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,[d] none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
 
Now, when we read this story in light of the cultural backdrop, these excuses go beyond just being ridiculous. They are insulting. The people listening to Jesus’ story would have recognized that these three excuses did not represent legitimate distractions or inconveniences that got in the way of something better. They didn’t even represent lame and pathetic attempts to get out of something they didn’t want to do. They were intentionally aimed at bringing public disgrace, dishonor, and humiliation to the host. When the servant returned with this news, the master boiled over in anger. If we don’t understand the cultural context and what’s really behind these excuses, we assume that the master is just having a super sensitive moment. But this isn’t a guy who has gotten his feelings hurt because his buddies found something better to do that night. He had been publicly humiliated, and his anger would have been culturally understood and justified. While contemporary readers May be shocked by the extent of the master’s anger, that would not have been shocking at all to Jesus’ original audience. What shocked the original audience was the way the master channeled his anger: not in retaliation, but an explosion of hospitality. The master is angry at the insult to his character. So his response is: “Go fill my house.” He tells his servants to go get the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.
 
This is difficult for us to understand, but in that society, the new invite list would be considered unclean. These weren’t just people who were uncomfortable to be around. You were compromising your reputation and your spiritual purity by sharing a table with them. And remember the audience. The Pharisees. The ones concerned about ritual purity and working so hard to preserve the right worship for God.
 
Jesus expanded the scope of what it meant to be a part of the family of God.
The master invited the people that were typically rejected to have the places of honor at his table. That is the heart of the master. In the face of public humiliation, he retaliated—with grace.
When his hospitality was rejected, he extended it further. When he was dishonored, he honored the least respected members of society.
 
God loves a full house and a diverse table. Do our tables reflect the table of the Kingdom of God? Who are you bringing to the table?
 
To catch the full flavor of this parable, you must understand the setting. Jesus was eating in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. They were watching Jesus carefully to catch Him in some violation of their Sabbath laws (14:1). They believed that to heal someone was work and therefore not permitted on the Sabbath. They probably planted this man with dropsy right in front of Jesus to trap Him. Jesus was not your typical, “polite” dinner guest who went out of His way not to offend anyone. So, He defied the Pharisees by healing the man (14:1-7).
 
Next, Jesus watched as these proud men picked out the places of honor for themselves at the table. Then He delivered a pointed message about humility, which must have humiliated the guests (14:7-11). Finally, as if the tension were not great enough already, the Lord told the host that he had invited the wrong guests! He said, “You should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind instead of all these friends, relatives, and rich neighbors who can return the favor” (14:12-14)! At this point you could have sliced the atmosphere with a knife!
 
At the end of Jesus’ rebuke (14:14), He mentions the resurrection of the righteous. To break the tension and to try to sound spiritual, one of the guests exclaims, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15). He probably thought that both Jesus and all the guests could agree with this pious comment. Everyone around the table probably nodded in agreement and said to one another, “Amen! It will be wonderful when we’re all there, won’t it!” Perhaps there was some nervous laughter.
 
But Jesus wasn’t one to pass up opportunities! He was quick and ready to correct wrong ideas in the spiritual realm. And so He told this parable about the great dinner to correct this man, who wrongly was assuming that he and all of his cronies would be present at that banquet due to the fact that they were Jews, and not just any Jews, but Pharisees. They saw themselves a few notches above the common Jewish people, and not even in the same league with pagan Gentiles. Jesus shows them that many of them would not be in the kingdom because they were refusing the Lord’s invitation. To their great surprise, many whom they assumed would not be there would in fact be there because they responded to the invitation. The last would be first and the first last (13:30). The answer to the question, “Who will be at God’s banquet in the kingdom?” is, those who respond personally to the invitation.
 
To have dinner with Jesus in His kingdom, you must respond personally to His invitation.
Let’s look first at God’s invitation and then at the responses to His invitation.
 
A. GOD’S INVITATION IS A BROAD INVITATION. Verse 16 states, “He invited many.” In the imagery of the parable, the many who first were invited refers to the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. These men had the privilege of studying the Scriptures. They had read Moses; they knew what the Prophets predicted concerning the Messiah. As Paul puts it in Rom. 3:2, they had the advantage of being entrusted with the oracles of God. When the dinner hour came, God sent His messenger, John the Baptist, to say, “Everything is ready now.” But the Jewish leaders made excuses and did not come.
 
So the Lord expanded the invitation to the “outcasts” of Israel. The Pharisees despised these people as “born entirely in sin” (John 9:34). Many of the prostitutes, tax collectors and other notorious sinners responded to God’s invitation and were following Jesus. This proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner would never have thought of extending his invitation to these outcasts (14:13), but Jesus is telling him that God’s invitation includes those whom the proud Pharisees had rejected.
But there was still room at the master’s table (14:22). And so the invitation goes still wider, outside the “city limits” of Judaism, to the Gentiles who are out in the highways and along the hedges (14:23). At His great banquet the Lord will have a great multitude which no one can count from every nation and tribe and people and tongue (Rev. 7:9). God’s invitation is a broad invitation! It includes every person from every race, no matter whether his or her background is very religious or completely pagan.
 
It’s up to us to offer the invitation…our story is the way we can connect (earn the right) to offer the invitation. To everyone…
We commit a great error when we make the church an exclusive club for the religiously inclined. Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “That person would not be interested in the gospel because he lives a very ungodly life”? Or, you see someone who looks like he belongs to a motorcycle gang and you think, “That person doesn’t look like a good candidate for a Christian!” Or perhaps we see a person whose attire identifies her as a Hindu or a Muslim. We think, “She has her own religion and way of life. The gospel is not for her.” Whenever we think like that (and we all have), we’re limiting God’s broad invitation of the gospel.
His gospel will transform every sinner from every background who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. To every person on this planet the Lord says, “Come, for everything is ready now.”
 
B. GOD’S INVITATION IS A FREE INVITATION. God provides it all, totally free to you, but at great expense to Himself. Human nature is so inclined to boast in good works that when you tell people the good news about Jesus, you must take pains to make it clear that God’s invitation is free and only free.
 
C. GOD’S INVITATION IS AN AMPLE INVITATION. What a great picture of the abundant salvation God so freely provides for sinners! When you come to His banquet table in Christ, He doesn’t just give you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He gives you the works! He is a fountain of living water to wash away all of your sins. He gives you the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives you peace to replace your anxiety, joy to replace your depression, power to overcome your sins and wisdom to make the right decisions. You have fellowship every day with the gracious Savior and the promise of eternity with Him in heaven. The apostle Peter describes it like this: “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3).
 
With that kind of offer, you may wonder, “How can anyone refuse?” But Jesus’ parable clearly warns that some do refuse God’s broad, free, and ample invitation.
 
The responses to God’s invitation: Some refuse with excuses, while others personally accept it. To ignore or postpone responding is to refuse the invitation, because the table is ready now. At some point soon, every seat will be full and the door will be shut. Those who procrastinate may miss the opportunity. Let’s look first at those who refuse: When we offer the invitation we will experience many of the same responses…there’s only 2 possible options yes or no (maybe is no, later is no)
 
A. SOME REFUSE GOD’S INVITATION WITH EXCUSES. Each of those who are first on the invitation list responds with an excuse for why he cannot come. The first man says that he cannot come because he has bought a piece of land and he must go out and look at it. This is a flimsy excuse! Who would buy a piece of land sight unseen? Besides, why does he need to go to look at it at the same time as the dinner? If he wanted to, he could plan to do both. Clearly, he did not want to come to the dinner. He represents the person who is tied up with his possessions or investments so that he has no time for God. He forgets that this very night his soul may be required of him, and then who will own what he has worked so hard to accumulate?
 
The second man says that he cannot come because he has bought five yoke of oxen and he is going to try them out. Again, it was a flimsy excuse. No one would buy oxen without first trying them out. Like the first man, this man was caught up with his possessions and his work. He can’t even take time off to have dinner with Jesus. He is living for the things of this world, but he is neglecting his soul.
 
The third man says that he cannot come because he has married a wife. Perhaps he is saying that he couldn’t bear to be apart from his beloved for even a few hours. Maybe his wife didn’t want him to go anywhere without her. At any rate, he was making an idol of his wife, putting her above his need for God. As Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (14:26).
 
The interesting thing is that none of these excuses was sinful, in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with buying land or animals (or machinery) to work the land. The Bible commends enterprise and hard work. There is nothing wrong with marriage and the love of family. The Bible commands us to love our families. But the point is, things that are legitimate in their rightful place can be wrong if they hinder us from getting right with God. It is not just gross, flagrant sins that keep people out of God’s kingdom. Good things wrongly emphasized will do the trick just as well. If a person gets wrongfully caught up with these otherwise good things, he can invent all sorts of excuses for not accepting the Lord’s invitation to His dinner.
 
There may be someone here who is so caught up with your possessions or your life pursuits or your career that you are neglecting your soul. Perhaps you are single and longing for a mate and you would consider marrying even a non-Christian, because you think he or she would bring you fulfillment and happiness. You would put momentary pleasure above the eternal pleasure of dinner with Jesus. You’re saying, “Lord, I can’t come to Your dinner because I have married a wife.”
 
We have to be willing now…not like my kids say…”in a minute.” Like the diet we’re planning to start tomorrow. We are called to respond to Jesus now – and in the same way we are called to share the invite now. Where ever, when ever, how ever…we’re called to “be prepared to share the hope we have.”
 
To allow anything to cause you to refuse or put off accepting God’s offer of salvation is a foolish decision. The host gets angry at the refusal, because it was a rude personal insult to turn down such a bountiful invitation. God offered His own Son as the sacrifice for sinners to be reconciled to Him. As the author of Hebrews asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3). As the host here declares, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner” (14:24). The refusal of the first group led the host to send out the invitation to others who accepted his offer.
 
B. OTHERS RESPOND PERSONALLY TO GOD’S OFFER IN SPITE OF POTENTIAL EXCUSES. The striking thing is that everyone who accepted the invitation could have come up with seemingly legitimate excuses for not coming. The poor man could say, “I don’t have anything decent to wear to such a feast.” The crippled man could say, “I can’t get anyone to carry me there.” The blind could say, “I can’t see to find my way.” The lame could say, “It hurts me too much to walk on my bad leg.” Those along the highways and hedges, the street people, could say, “I haven’t had a bath in days and my clothes are dirty and ragged. I can’t come.” But they all accepted the offer because the servant convinced them that they were welcome and they clearly knew their own need; (we show people through our stories) they were hungry. They believed the offer and they responded personally to it in spite of the potential excuses they each could have come up with.
 
The servant didn’t run a background check on all these people before he invited them to the feast. Their background didn’t matter. He didn’t find out their nationality. He didn’t ask about their religious background or whether they even had one. He didn’t get a promise that they would behave and show proper manners at the dinner table. The invitation was not based on anything in the recipients; it was based totally on the goodness and bounty of the host. All that these people had to do was recognize their hunger, believe that the offer was true, and say, “Yes, I’ll come.” When they came, they found that the feast was far better than they had ever expected or imagined.
 
Closing
One of the main hindrances that will keep you from having dinner with Jesus is that you are so full of your own goodness that you won’t acknowledge your need for His banquet. Your pride will make you say, “I’ll bring the salad and dessert.” But the Lord says, “No, I provide it all. You just come.” Like my personal story at the beginning of the teaching…I thought I was “BLESSED” and everyone else had work to do…when in fact God wanted to work on me. And He greatly broke me and has given me a new heart and mind for others… and he continues to do that in ways that blow my mind.
Imagine a multimillionaire who sends his servant out in his limousine to the poorest section of town. The servant tells the chauffeur to stop by a bum in ragged clothes. He gets out and asks, “Would you like to come to a feast at my master’s mansion? We’ll take you. Please, get in.”
 
The guy on the street eyes the servant warily and asks, “What’s the catch?”
“There’s no catch; my master is a kind and generous man. He has prepared a meal like you wouldn’t believe. Won’t you come?”
“I haven’t had a bath in days. I haven’t washed my clothes in weeks, and these rags are all I own. I would feel out of place at a mansion.”
 
“There will be many others there just like you. The food is on the table and the dinner is about to begin. Just come as you are.”
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It is good, but it’s also true, according to Jesus. The main catch is, we have to see and admit that we are that needy bum. Spiritually, we have nothing to commend ourselves to God. Salvation is not based on anything in us. In fact, it is offered freely in spite of us.
It is all of God’s free grace, not at all of our works, lest anyone should boast.
Jesus is saying to each person, no matter how great your sins, “Come, for I have prepared everything for you to be saved from God’s judgment and to dine with Me for all eternity.” Will you say, “Yes, Lord. I’ll come!” and then in that divine supernatural response we can say “Yes, Lord, I’ll make a bigger table and I’ll seek out those to invite”
Activate + Share a meal with a neighbor. Some ideas might be: Invite a coworker to coffee or lunch. Invite a neighbor over for a meal or to hang on your front porch. After a kids sporting event, grab lunch with teammates. Sit around a table and get to know one another. Plan a progressive dinner in your neighborhood.
 
Report back… – We want to hear your story – your life change – We want to hear your story – your “banquet” – We want to hear your story – your neighbor’s life change

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