By Res Spears
Message delivered October 28, 2018 at Liberty Spring Christian Church
During our last communion service together, we talked about some of the things that happen over shared meals, and we talked about the significance of shared meals to the building of community.
Today, we’re going to continue in that vein as we explore a parable that Jesus told when He was a guest for a meal at the home of a Pharisee.
Turn with me to Luke, Chapter 14, and — as you’ve probably grown accustomed to by now — while you’re doing so, I want to give you some background to set the scene.
It’s important as we study the Scriptures to recognize that the verses we read and the statements that are made did not take place in a vacuum. There are a variety of contexts for every story we read in the Bible, for every event we see taking place and for every parable that is told.
Your own Bible study will become much richer as you look for the context and ask questions about it.
What was happening in and around the place where the action is happening? Who was there? What preceded the action? Do those things reveal anything to us that shed light on our interpretation?
In the case of the parable we’ll be reading today, Jesus had been passing through the villages around Jerusalem, on His way to the city where He would be crucified, where He would sacrifice His body and His blood for the sins of mankind.
He had looked sorrowfully toward the city from the road and mourned the unfaithfulness of His people, saying,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”Luke 13:34 (NASB)
He was sorrowful — not about the cross that He knew waited for Him at the end of His journey, but about the hard hearts of so many He had come to save.
And that leads us to one of the other contexts of this passage: There is an eschatological context here, too. That’s a seminary word for end times or last things.
There is a message here about the future Kingdom of God, a message about heaven and about who will be there.
But as we read this passage, we need to recognize that Jesus was talking to a certain group of people in a certain place at a certain time — and this passage, as every other one in Scripture — must be read first in the light of what He was trying to tell them.
In Verse 1, we see that Jesus enters the home of a Pharisee to break bread with him and others on the Sabbath. We’re told that the Pharisees are watching Him, waiting for Him to do something they for which they could condemn Him.
Of course, Jesus knows this, but He has a higher purpose, and He will not be put off from doing His Father’s work. And a big part of that work is ministering to those who are hurting.
He sees a man suffering from dropsy, which was an edema, a painful condition that caused excess fluid to collect in the cavities and tissues of the body.
He asks the Pharisees whether it’s lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath, but they remain silent, so He heals the man and then puts a tough question to those who would try to condemn Him for doing work on the Sabbath.
“Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath?”Luke 14:5
They had no reply to that. Surely the Pharisees had invented a lot of rules about Sabbath-keeping, and some of those rules were hard on the people, but nobody would expect even a Pharisee to stand by while his child suffered, right? So why would they want to stand in the way of this man being healed. Jesus had them cornered.
So, with the pleasantries out of the way, the invited guests begin to jockey their way around for the best — most honored — seats at the table. And then Jesus gives them a lesson in etiquette: Don’t try to take the best seat for yourself, or the host might move you to the end of the table when someone of a higher station than you arrives.
It’s good advice even today. But it’s not the kind of advice you might expect your dinner guests to hear from another guest.
Jesus is surely meek, but He isn’t always mild.
And His etiquette advice isn’t over, because He then turns to the host and suggests that perhaps He should pay better attention to his guest list.
12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.
13 “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”Luke 14:12-14
So He’s basically just insulted the host and all his guests in three sentences. I imagine that by this time, things had grown very quiet in this home.
That’s the immediate context of our passage today, and let’s pick up the story in Verse 15.
When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”Luke 14:15
One of the guests gets up the nerve to speak, and he decides to see if he can be more spiritual than Jesus. Can we all agree that was a losing proposition? In fact, he played right into the whole purpose of Jesus’ visit.
Picking back up with Verse 16, let’s read the Parable of the Dinner, which our self-righteous guest introduced so well:
16 But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;Luke 14:16-24
17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’
19 “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’
20 “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
21 “And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
22 “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
23 “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.
24 ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’ ”
So we have a big dinner — Matthew calls it a wedding feast in his account of this parable. Many had been invited to this dinner, but when it was ready, they all found excuses not to attend.
So the man holding the feast tells his servant to go and find people from the streets and lanes to bring to the feast. The poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame.
And in the context of Jewish culture at this time, these were people who would never have been invited to the feast. In fact, they were the kind of people with whom the original invited guests would never have shared a meal.
In the context of the Mosaic covenant between God and His chosen people — Israel — the point of this parable would have been clear to the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders hearing Jesus tell the story: The Kingdom of God had been offered to them, but they had chosen to ignore and even ridicule the Servant who had been sent to tell them the Kingdom was at hand.
Matthew adds another detail to the parable that is important in that end-times context we talked about a few minutes ago: The man holding the feast in the parable was so angry at His original invited guests that He sent His armies and destroyed them and set their city on fire.
And then He sent his servants back out, saying,
“The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.”Matt. 22:8
Both accounts then describe the people whom the Pharisees would have considered to be unworthy being brought to the feast. They represent the Gentiles to whom Jesus had turned much of His attention as so many of the Jews had scorned His ministry on Earth.
But even then the master’s house was not filled, so he sent his servant back out to the highways and hedges to look for more people to come and celebrate the wedding feast. They were beating the bushes for guests, because the master wanted his house to be filled.
Luke’s account of the parable ends with this: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”
Characteristically, Matthew adds another detail that would have seemed chilling to those who were hearing Jesus telling the parable: A man was found at the feast who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes.
“Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”Matt 22:13-14
The sinless Son of God came to earth and sacrificed Himself on the cross so He could be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven, where He awaits the eschatological wedding feast that is being prepared for those who confess their sins and follow Him.
We are all unworthy to sit at that table. We are all unworthy to be part of the community of heaven. We all have sinned, and we have no standing before a holy God. We have no wedding clothes to wear. Even our best good deeds are but filthy rags in God’s sight.
But God in His grace provided a way for us to put on the righteousness of His Son, whose obedience was even to death on a cross. When we follow Him, the sins that have made us so filthy are washed by His blood, and we become white as snow.
Today, as we prepare to remember the blood he shed on that cross, as we prepare to recall how His body was broken for us, we look back in humility at his sacrifice on our behalf.
But we also look forward to the wedding feast to come in heaven, where we who follow Him will be raised from our physical death and seated with him as adopted sons and daughters of God for all eternity.
This communion, this Lord’s Supper, looks back in somber recognition at the unfathomable price of our sins. But it also looks forward in joy at the manifestation of God’s unfathomable grace.
If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit beat the bushes to bring you to this table of grace. Jesus paid the debt for your sins so that you could be brought to the table at the wedding feast.
If you have never chosen to follow Jesus, to accept Him as your Lord and Savior, you are right now as one of those first invited guests. But there is still time, and God wants nothing more than to have a seat set aside for you at the feast in heaven.
If you are not a follower of Christ, you should not partake of the elements of this table today. There is no saving power in what we do today. But there is power to save you, and I would love nothing more than to talk to you about it at the end of our service.
What you’ll see this morning is the church sharing the bread that represents the body of Christ and the wine — or juice in our case — representing His blood. We eat and drink these things as a symbol of taking Christ into ourselves.
Bread is important in Scripture. It appears about 315 times in the Old and New Testaments and has an important role in about 45 different events related in the Bible.
None of those events is more important than when Jesus broke bread with His disciples at the Last Supper. That is the event that set the example we follow today.
Luke wrote about this occasion in Chapter 22. Here is his account of it:
14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.Luke 22:14-20
15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;
18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
We’re going to sing How Deep the Father’s Love For Us now, and you can remain seated as we do so. While we’re singing, think about just how much God must love us to have sent His only Son to sacrifice His body so that we might have eternal life.
When we’re done singing, the deacons will come forward, and they’ll distribute the bread. Please be prayerful during this time, asking God to reveal to you any unconfessed sins, any resentment or bitterness that you’re clinging to and anything for which you need to repent.
As with bread, wine plays an important role in the Bible, appearing more than 260 times. It appears at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, when He turned water into wine, which, by the way, took place at a wedding feast. And it appears as He is dying on the cross, when a soldier gives him a sponge full of sour wine. After tasting it, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he gave up His Spirit.
As His blood spilled to the ground on Mt. Calvary, it looked to many people that Jesus was utterly beaten. But on that cross, He gained victory over sin, having paid its penalty for all who would follow Him, forever. And when He was raised from the dead on the third day, He proved that He had won the victory over death, as well.
We’re going to sing You Are My All In All now. Please remain seated. When we’re done singing, please be in prayer, thanking God for the Son who is our everything. The deacons will distribute the fruit of the vine, and then we will celebrate the victories that Jesus has already won for us.
Now, as we prepare to leave the sanctuary today, I want us to remember that we are a community of the Holy Spirit. We who have followed Him are brothers and sisters in Christ. This family is a family of love and unity.
Let’s celebrate that love and unity as we gather in a circle and sing Bles’d Be the Tie That Binds.