Who's Coming to the Banquet? (1): One Less Than You Think
January 10, 2015
Read Lu 14:15-24 – One of the great football coaches (I forget which – maybe Lombardi) saw an article one morning that called him “great.” Taken with his own press, he looked into a mirror and asked his wife, “How many great coaches do you think there are?” Her response: “One less than you think.” That is the warning Jesus issues in this passage on the kingdom. How many will be there? Be careful; it may be one less than you think.
It’s a wonderful passage; it pictures the glories of the kingdom of God as a feast to end all feasts. And the invitation is open to everyone – absolutely everyone without exception. BUT underlying the glory is the grave warning – not everyone is going to be there who thinks they are going to be there.
The context is the Sabbath lunch to which Jesus was invited by a group of Pharisees. In vv. 12-14 Jesus tells a parable noting that they should invite the poor, crippled and blind to their parties instead of just friends who can reciprocate. He is alerting them to consider their self-centered ways and to encourage repentance for entrance to His kingdom. In v. 14 He notes serving others as an expression of faith will be rewarded. “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” These guys knew this reflected Jesus’ opinion that their current lifestyle did not indicate such saving faith.
So, v. 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!” That sounds innocuous, but in the context it is almost certain that a threat lies behind those words. He’s countering Jesus, claiming he and his pals will find a place at the table in God’s kingdom BUT implying Jesus will not. He’s countering Jesus’ reference to reward at the resurrection by saying, “Yes, we will be blessed to break bread in God’s kingdom, but we have doubts about you.” And Jesus answers, “The kingdom! Ah, yes! The kingdom will be wonderful. Let’s talk about the kingdom.” And then He launches into a parable: “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.”
In doing this, Jesus is agreeing with the man’s statement, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Any feast can banish hunger and sadness for or a day. But this man believes the kingdom of God is like a feast to end all feasts – a time and place when hunger will be gone forever and our sorrow will be gone forever; when the blessing will be forever!
And Jesus is agreeing, “Yes, the kingdom is a feast.” That’s an assessment of someone who knows very well what the kingdom is all about. It takes us back to Jesus’ first miracle in John 2, when Jesus turned water to wine at a wedding feast -- fine wine that turned a mediocre party into a great party. That was His first miracle. But in the NT miracles are always signs. They are not just exercises in bare naked power but always have significance beyond themselves. As Tim Keller says, they are supernatural marques revealing deeper truth about who He was and why He came. So why would His first miracle be turning water into wine to save this wedding party? Why didn’t He do something less frivolous? Why throw a great party with your first miracle?
Why? To stress the unmitigated joy of being part of God’s kingdom. It’s easy to think that Christianity is basically, “Don’t smile too much. Keep your nose clean. Obey the rules. Pass out the bulletins. Do your time in a soup kitchen and forgo the new car for the Building Fund.” Is that Christianity? Listen, our faith may demand that and more. Jesus said in Mt 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” His life wasn’t easy and neither will ours be. He promises the world will persecute us just like it persecuted Him. But while Christianity is hard, it is not joyless. Just the opposite. Our hardship is leading somewhere – to something wonderful. And accompanying us on the way is the Lord of feast who was signaling by that miracle, “I come to bring festival joy. Where my face turns, the trees laugh and sing for joy. Where I am there is inescapable joy.” If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand Him.
Listen to Isaiah describe the kingdom as a feast: Isa 25: 6) On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7) And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations (Veil, what veil? Next v.) 8) He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” Yes, the kingdom is wonderful – like a great feast.
“But,” Jesus goes on, “it’s not the kind you think. You would limit the list to the best and the brightest – to those you revere and admire. You want the fun crowd, the party crowd, the in-crowd. But while the kingdom of heaven is the feast to end all feasts, it is not the kind you think. Getting in is not how you think. And those who get in will not be who you think. Very likely, there will be one less than you think.” To be part of God’s kingdom requires a humility the Pharisees never came close to demonstrating. Entrance is not earned as they think. And it is not limited to the Jewish elite as they think. Jesus shows 4 ways we must humble ourselves to enter God’s kingdom. These are ways we must continually humble ourselves to experience the joy of the kingdom even in the middle to the crises of this life. It’s there for all. But we must humble ourselves under kingdom principles – under the Phasing of the kingdom, the Pricelessness of the kingdom, the Priority of the kingdom and the Proliferation of the kingdom. These teach us a lot about the kingdom.
I. Humble Yourself Under the Phasing of the Kingdom (16)
16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited (or had invited) many. At a high level this parable is not difficult to interpret. The Master who gives the banquet is God. The servant who invites is God the Son – Jesus. And those invited are various people-groups. The first group, represented by the religious elite and Pharisees, is the nation of Israel. They have had the benefit of hundreds of years of revelation from God and are first invited as we saw in Isa 25. And, certain individual Jews, like the disciples, have accepted the invitation and be at the banquet. But as a nation, Israel is rejecting the invitation. They will not humble themselves under the phasing of the kingdom. They have expectations of Messiah – immediate political deliverance – and if that is not on the program, you can count them out.
They are unbelievers because they do not understand nor accept the nature of a kingdom that demands rulership of the king from the inside out. Nor do they understand the timing (phasing) of the kingdom. Verse 16 indicates the invitation had gone out, but the date is unsure. This was in keeping with the custom of the time. A great banquet of this sort involved two invitations – one that indicated a feast would be held, but without a specified date – and a second that indicated things were now ready and the time was now.
The kingdom of heaven is like that – like a feast that is in preparation. You might come by and taste a little. You smell it. You get a lot of the joy of it. But it doesn’t come in fullness until the end. It is “now”, but “not yet”. It is now in the sense that those who have accepted the invitation have Christ ruling in their hearts right now, and much peace and joy come with that regardless of circumstances. But it is not yet in the sense that external kingdom conditions are not yet. Jesus is not yet sitting on the throne; tears are not yet wiped away. Sin still pervades our universe; persecution and pain continue and circumstances are often very difficult. The kingdom is now – but not yet. And the Jews of Jesus time did not get that at all.
But for believers, the kingdom is something we taste now; a power that comes into our lives. But it won’t completely heal; it won’t completely restore; it won’t completely renew until that last day, the judgment day. It’s already here, but it’s not yet. It’s phased in its timing.
To enter a kingdom like that takes humility. You have to humble yourself under the slowness of it. For example, suppose you have a birthday party planned for one of your kids. So at 6:00 while you’re trying to sleep in, guess what? The kids come running in asking, “Is it time yet?” Right? Is it time? You say, “No, guys, it’s not time yet. Let Dad and Mom sleep in a bit, then we have a lot to do before the party.” So they stomp off a bit disgruntled. 8:00. Now you’re up and around and here they come, “Is it time yet?” “No, gang, we’re getting ready. We have to make the cake and set up the yard.” More grumbling. Now it’s 11:30 and you’re getting a snack for lunch. “Is it time now?!” Full of hope. “No it’s not time yet. We still have a lot to do. Your friends aren’t coming until 3:00 and besides you have to take a nap before we even have a party.” There it is – the last straw. “A nap? If this is the way life is going to be, I don’t want to live!”
A child wants what they want, and they want it now, right? All kids know is, the party hasn’t started yet. The parent is pleading for understanding and it takes humility to believe the Dad knows best. But kids don’t have humility; they have feelings, and they think they know everything. Which is exactly why the Pharisees missed the kingdom and exactly why we may as well. So many reject Christ because He doesn’t operate on their timetable and by their expectations. Tony Compolo is a well-known Xn speaker, and his son, Bart followed his Dad’s footsteps. But not long ago he announced that he has become an agnostic and has accepted a position as humanist chaplain at USC. When asked how he lost his faith he gives a common answer – that he can’t believe in a God who allows evil in the world. Then he goes on, “I lost my faith because God didn’t show up when I asked Him to.” Wow! God let me down. Didn’t meet my timing and my expectations. “Count me out.” He’s not wanting a God He can serve; He wants a God who serves him!
We must not think that we are in charge of God, Beloved. Or that we know more. Even John the Baptist doubted: “They are about to cut off my head here, Jesus. I thought the kingdom was now. Why haven’t you taken over and put down evil.” And remember how Jesus pointed John to the miracle and said, “You have the right person, John. Yes, I am Messiah. Look at the miracles. You can taste it; you can have kingdom joy now. But the ultimate timetable is mine. The fulfillment is not quite yet. Don’t be put off. Trust me.” And so must all kingdom members trust Him, humbling ourselves under the phasing of the kingdom. The invitation is now; the fulfillment just a little further on. That’s what Jesus is asking – submission to His timing!
II. Humble Yourself Under the Pricelessness of the Kingdom
What does that mean? Remember the Mastercard “Priceless commercials? A dressed up couple goes into a gas station food place and the announcer says, “Chips $3. Soda $2. Gas $31. Starting a new life together – Priceless.” Well, Beloved, starting an eternity with Christ is the same way. It is priceless. It can’t be bought, earned, merited or arranged. It can only be accepted. But oh, how people fight that concept. Surely we must do something to get in – some acts of kindness, some ritual, something religious, something selfless. There must be something we can do. But look at v. 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.” Come, everything is ready. Who made it ready? The invitees? Did they prepare the banquet? Not a bit of it. All they do is come.
Have you come? Have you humbled yourself under the pricelessness of the kingdom? Have you realized that no price you could pay would ever qualify you to enter? But Jesus has already done everything there is to do. The feast is prepared by Him, not you. Turn to I Pet 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to [our good works, he has caused us to be born again. Is that what it says? No!] According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” That’s the invitation to the banquet, Beloved. But it is by His mercy, not our works, that He invites us to come. You can’t earn this invitation, you can only accept it.
Look at I Pet 1:18, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold [no human works allowed], 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him [no thru you but thru Him] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” It’s all done by Him. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” that’s what He meant. All that was needed for salvation was already completed. You and I can add nothing to it. Just receive it.
It takes humility to do that – to declare all my works good or bad as rubbish, like Paul, in order that we might gain Christ. If you present anything other than His invitation at the door, you will be rejected, just as you have rejected Him. A girl was taking her driving test when she accidentally put the car into reverse and backed into a building, tearing a hole in the wall and flattening the back of the car. The proctor trying to be gentle said, “You can go ahead and finish the test if you like. It’ll be good practice for next time.” Flabbergasted the girl asked, “Are you saying I’ve failed?” Yes, that is just what God is saying. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It’s not your glory that counts. It is God’s. When it comes to meeting His glory, your life and mine are a car wreck. Kingdom entrance demands a price we can’t pay. It’s priceless. All we can do is accept the invitation that’s paid for by Christ.
Remember how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but they no sooner got started on the journey than here came the whole Egyptian army with orders to bring them back. And in front of them was the impassable Red Sea. Slavery behind and death in front. No way backward and no way forward. But we often forget what Moses said. Remember? Exod 14:13, “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.” He didn’t say, “Battle and create salvation for yourself.” He said, “Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.” Humble yourself under the pricelessness of the kingdom. Accept His invitation – bought, paid for and prepared by Him.
Conc – Entrance to God’s kingdom requires ultimate humility. We must drop all of our sophistication, all our good efforts, all our sin, all our desire to help and just come. Just come. Spurgeon used to tell of an epitaph he once came across in an obscure cemetery in England. The headstone was small and of inexpensive material. On it were chiseled just two words: “Freddy!” as if someone had called a boy’s name. The underneath this, as if the boy had answered, just one word, “Yes.” Not “Yes, and here’s my resume.” Not “Yes, and here’s my list of accomplishments.” Not “Yes, and here’s my baptism certificate.” None of that. Just “Yes!” Have you ever said just, “Yes”? Make sure there’s not one less in heaven than you think. Let’s pray.