The Lord's Day Morning
November 28, 2010
“Why was I a Guest?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 14. We’re going to be looking at verses 7 to 24 today. And as you get to that passage in your Scripture, I'd like you to take your hymnals back out and turn right back to number 715, the hymn we just sang, because I want you to see an image that's used in the hymn and compare it to what we're about to read.
The first stanza of this hymn speaks about thanksgiving to God for the good harvest that He's provided. It's the classic harvest hymn. We sing it very often at Thanksgiving time. I'm sure that was the occasion it was originally intended for. But in the second, third, and fourth stanzas, that theme of thankfulness to God for the harvest that He's given, the rich provision that He's given to His people, the hymn writer takes and turns into a meditation at a spiritual level on the final harvest. And the harvest becomes a metaphor for the establishment of the fullness of God's kingdom at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we're spoken of as the harvest that He's going to gather home to Himself. So the picture of the harvest that starts out in stanza one becomes a picture of God's final kingdom and the gathering in of all things at the end.
Now, of course that's not an image that the author of this hymn came up with. If you look at the top of the page, you’ll see a passage from Matthew 13 where Jesus Himself uses the harvest as an image for the final judgment, for the second coming, and for the gathering in of God's people and the separating of the wheat and the tares. So that is an image of the final coming of God's kingdom in its fullness and power.
Well, in the passage today, Jesus is going to use a similar image. It's an image that you find in various places in the Gospel. It's the image of a banquet or a feast or a party. Jesus, in the passage, is literally at a party and He makes some comments about the etiquette of the guests and the host at the party, but by the time He finishes this encounter with the guests and the host at the party, He has turned the party image into a discussion about the end, and the coming, and the establishment of God's kingdom.
As we look at the passage today, I want you to see three parts to it. First of all in verses 7 to 11, Jesus is going to address the issue of the humility of His own disciples. And you’ll see that there is a section in verses 7 to 11 that is directly addressed to the invitee. Look at verse 7 — “He told a parable to those who were invited.” So the comments in verses 7 to 11 are especially addressed to the guests that were at this party.
Then, if you look at verses 12 to 15, He will change the emphasis of His exhortation from humility to generosity. And that section of this story is directed not at the guests but at the host, at the person who has thrown this party and come up with the guest list and invited these people in. So we see again, if you look at verse 12 — “He said also to the man who had invited Him” — so from talking first to the guests, now He talks to the host of the party.
And then there's this awkward thing that's sort of blurted out in verse 15 by someone at the dinner table and it evokes a third section in this passage. Jesus tells another story beginning in verse 16 and this is directed especially to the person who blurts out the phrase that's recorded in verse 15. And so from verses 16 to 24, Jesus changes the discussion especially to ask us to think about who is going to be on the invitation list to the final party, to the party that God is going to throw in the new heavens and the new earth in the day of the coming of the Lord. Who's going to be on that invitation list? So He speaks about humility, He speaks about generosity, and then He turns our attention to the issue of who's on the invitation list to the final party.
Well let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We ask that You would arrest our attention with it, that You would take our minds off the cares of this life and world for a few minutes to think about something very, very important, the most important party that will ever occur and who will be there and what their characteristics are and who will not be there and what their characteristics are. We pray, O Lord, that we would see very particularly what You have for us as we come to sit under Your Word. Search us out. Search out our hearts, O Lord, and show our hearts to us so that we see ourselves and see our need and see Your provision in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
This is the Word of God beginning in Luke 14 verse 7:
“Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’
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 or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’
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!’ But He said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 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.’ 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.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 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.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 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. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
You know, this is a parable which perhaps speaks uniquely to you, because among all the people that I have ever dwelt, I have never dwelt among a people who know as much about a party as you. No wonder the saying has been coined that “we may lose the game but we’ll win the party afterwards” — a say that has peculiar meaning and application this morning, I might add. We know a lot about parties. We know a lot about social etiquette. There are particular standards that we have for parties. When I go to parties in other parts of the country, they just don't quite measure up to the kinds of parties that you give here. There's a lot of attention to detail and social etiquette and there's a lot of interaction that happens still in this culture around gatherings, frequent gatherings, that has been lost in other parts of our culture.
Well, Jesus is at a party, and while He is at that party He takes opportunity to address the guests that are present at that party because He sees something in their behavior that tips His hat as to the state of their hearts. And He talks to them about something very, very important. It's the issue of humility. And then He turns to the host of the party, the person who's giving the party, and He sees in the guest list something that tips Him off as to what that person who's giving the party really wants to get out of that party and He speaks to him about something that is very, very important — being generous as opposed to being selfish, being selfless instead of being self-preoccupied. And then someone at the party, in an awkward moment in the conversation blurts out a saying, a saying which in and of itself is true, but a saying which perhaps indicates that the person who said it was nervous because of what Jesus had just said. He said something that was actually pretty bold, pretty countercultural, pretty contrary to the normal etiquette of parties and there was an awkward silence. And the person blurts out this saying and Jesus, in response to that saying, directs their attention to a greater and a more important party than the party that they are in, the party that God Himself is going to give at the end of time. And He beckons them all and you and me to think about who is going to be there. Let's look at these things together this morning.
I. Jesus call His disciples to cultive habits of humility.
The first thing I want you to see is the humility that Jesus speaks of in verses 7 to 11. Jesus calls His disciples to deliberately cultivate habits of humility. And it's interesting, while He's at this party He's noticing how people are positioning themselves to be in the most important seats. Now my friends, all of us know something of this. Most of us have been to a party or a gathering or a reception when there was a certain person or certain people that we really, really wanted to talk to. There were people who were going to be very important who were there and they’re the ones that we want to see and we position ourselves in the room to make sure that we get to see those people. Have you ever decided before you went to a social gathering or to the party, “You know it's this one person that I really, really want to talk to”? It may be a very important political figure or it may be a person who is very important in terms of philanthropy in the community or it may be a famous celebrity who's there and we really, really want to talk to him. Invariably, something happens like this — as we're moving across the room, we've positioned our prey and we're moving in for the conversation, somebody stops us and talks with us for twenty-seven minutes about something that we have no interest in whatsoever, blocking us repeatedly from getting to the person that we really want to talk to.
Well, Jesus was observing something like this among the guests at the party. Look at verse 7 — “He told a parable to those who were invited when He noticed how they chose the places of honor.” And then notice how He ends His words to them, verse 11 — “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is a very important statement of Jesus about humility and the need to cultivate habits of humility. Isn't it interesting that Jesus is at a party and He's watching party behavior and He's drawing deductions about people's hearts from the way they behave at a party and He is commending to them the practice of humility even in the way they behave at a party? It's a sign again, isn't it, that Jesus cares about every aspect of life.
It's interesting that the passage doesn't say, “Oh, Jesus is too holy ever to go to a party.” No, Jesus is found at parties all the time in the gospels but even when He's at parties He's thinking about what is most important and He's looking at how people behave. And He's exhorting these people who are positioning themselves to be humble instead. Why? Well in part, because pride can keep you from the party that really counts. Pride is something that can keep you from the party at the end that God is going to throw. And so He exhorts His disciples especially to practice deliberate habits of humility even in the context of a party.
A friend of mine a few years ago said to me that this passage had struck home to him and he had determined that whenever he was in a room that he would first go speak to the people in the room that are perceived to be least important rather than seeking to go speak to the people who are perceived as the most important in that particular room. Another friend of mine was with us when he said this and overheard this and said, “Ah, so that's why you always come to speak to me first when we're at a party!” But it's interesting that even in social gatherings this friend of mine was trying to think about what is the right and Christian and humble way of behaving in this social engagement? Should I go immediately and sidle up to the most important person in the room and capitalize on his or her time, or should I go speak with other people who are not perceived as being the focus of the event or the most important in the room? Well Jesus is exhorting these guests who are clearly positioning themselves in places of honor to be humble, to deliberately practice habits of humility even in the context of a party. Why is He saying that? He's saying that in part because His disciples are characterized by humility.
I love what J.C. Ryle says about this passage. He says this:
“Humility may well be called the queen of the Christian graces. To know our own sinfulness and weakness and to feel our need of Christ is the very beginning of saving religion. It is a grace which has always been the distinguishing feature in the character of every true Christian. All do not have money to give away. All do not have time and opportunities for working directly for Christ. All do not have gifts of speech or tact or knowledge in order to do great good in this world. But all converted people should labor to adorn the doctrine they profess by humility. If they can do nothing else, they can strive to be humble.”
And then Ryle asks a very pointed question: “What is the root and spring of humility?” Where does humility come from? How do you get humble? Here's his answer:
“One word describes it. The root of humility is knowledge, right knowledge. The man who really knows himself and his own heart, who knows God and His infinite majesty and holiness, who knows Christ and the price at which He was redeemed, that man will never be a proud man. He will count himself like Jacob, unworthy of the least of all God's mercies. He will say of himself like Job, ‘I am vile.’ He will cry like Paul, ‘I am a chief of sinners.’ He will think anything good enough for him and in lowliness of mind he will esteem everyone else at better than himself. Ignorance, nothing but sheer ignorance, ignorance of self, of God, of Christ, that is the real secret of pride. From that miserable self-ignorance, may we daily pray to be delivered. He is the wise man who knows himself, and he who knows himself will find nothing within him to make him proud.”
Now Jesus in this passage actually reminds us of this because in the passage at the end it is clear that one of the points that He is making is that whereas the religious people of Israel have rejected Him, the Gentiles will receive Him. And He groups them in with those who are crippled, lame, blind, and poor.
You know, a lot of people may look at the members of First Presbyterian Church and think that we're people of privilege and from a worldly standpoint many of us are. But if we are believers in Jesus Christ, guess who we are? We are the crippled, the lame, the poor, and the blind, and those who are out by the hedges. We are not the ones who got the original invitation to the party.
And our attitude to being at the party is simply, “How in the world did I get on this guest list because I'm among the crippled and the lame and the blind and the poor?” That's the attitude of the true believer and Jesus is speaking to that in this passage in verses 7 to 11.
II. Jesus wants His disciples to unselfish and generous.
But then, having addressed the guests who were jockeying position, He now speaks to the host of the party, the one who invited them. Look at verse 12 — “He said also to the man who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’” Now Jesus has just said something very provocative at this dinner party. He turns to the host and He begins to critique his guest list! Can you imagine what that did to the conversation? Now can you imagine sitting around the dinner table with a friend to whose home you had been invited for a nice engagement party and let's say that friend's daughter is going to be married soon and an engagement party invitation list will be made for her. And what if at that engagement party you said, “You know, you really ought not to invite your friends and your wealthy neighbors. You ought to invite those who are crippled and lame and blind and poor, the outcasts, the dregs of society here in Jackson. That's who you should invite to your daughter's engagement party.” There would be awkward culinary noises if you said that at a party. That's exactly what Jesus does.
My family and I were at a Mexican restaurant just a couple of days ago and when we walked in there was a street person. He looked like a homeless man, he smelled like a homeless man, and he was clearly mentally disturbed. My daughter and I thought that he needed to be immediately removed from the room because his odor was permeating the whole place. The Mexican family that owned the restaurant however, they were very kind to him and patient. Even when he would stand up and dance badly to the Mexican music that was playing over the speaker system, even when he would get up and down repeatedly and wander around the room, they very patiently and kindly took care of him. I don't think he paid for his meal. And eventually after he had eaten, they very kindly escorted him out of the restaurant. I know they lost business because I saw people come into the room and go out of the room. Now I don't know whether they went into other rooms in the restaurant or not, but this Mexican family was giving great care to this homeless, smelly outcast.
Now, Jesus is saying to this man who has invited Him to this very nice dinner party, “You know, next time you give a dinner party, don't invite the wealthy and prominent. Invite some smelly outcasts.” It was a provocative thing.
What is Jesus saying? For one thing, Jesus is saying this not to tell us that we can't ever have friends and family on our party lists, but to emphasize the importance of His disciples taking care of those who are poor and downtrodden and overlooked by everybody else. Jesus spotted in this host's attitude something that was self-serving. In other words, his guest list indicated that one of the things that this host wanted to get out of this party was some reciprocity. He wanted either to get status and position because he had thrown a really good party or he wanted to get some reciprocal invitations to some good parties because he had thrown a good party. But there was at least a part of his heart that wanted to get something out of his guests and the very prominent nature of the guest list gave that away.
And Jesus is saying to His disciples, “You ought to look at people and not ask, ‘What can I get out of them?’ but ‘What is my opportunity to give in this situation that couldn't be given back to me?’” And He stresses that in the passage. Did you notice how He says, “You invite them” verse 12 “in order to be repaid, but when you give a feast, invite those who cannot repay you. Let God repay you. Bless those who can't repay you.” It's an exhortation for Jesus’ disciples to care for the poor and those who cannot repay them. Jesus is indicating here the kind of unselfish concern and generous care that His followers will show to those who are disadvantaged, who are physically impaired or economically deprived.
Again, I love what J.C. Ryle says about this passage:
“It is certain that our Lord does not mean by this parable to forbid us from showing any hospitality to our relatives or friends. It doesn't mean that people of any means must be permanently written off of our guest lists and invitations. But,” Ryle goes on to say, “we must not forget that this passage contains a deep and important lesson and we must be careful that we do not limit and qualify that lesson until we have pared it down and refined it into nothing at all. The lesson of the passage is plain and direct. The Lord Jesus would have us care for our poorer brethren and help them according to our power. He would have us know that it is a solemn duty never to neglect the poor, but to aid them and relieve them in their time of need.”
III. Jesus wants His disciples to care more for Him than they care for the world.
Now, that rather awkward exhortation at the dinner party apparently leads someone there, look at verse 15, to break the silence with these words — “Well, blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Now again, that statement is true, but it seems to be attempting to downplay the radical thing Jesus has just said about the crippled and the lame and the blind and the poor. It's almost like the guy says, “Yes Jesus, it's wonderful that crippled and lame and blind and poor people can come to the party, but really, anybody who's at that party is blessed.” And it's almost as if Jesus says, “Yes friend, let's think about who is going to be on that invitation list because it may surprise you who's there and who's not there at the party at the end of time.”
And so we see it in verses 16 to 24. Jesus begins to describe a typical circumstance for an invitation to either a wedding feast or a party or some kind of banquet. Now in Jesus’ culture, two invitations would have been sent out to wedding parties or feasts or banquets. There would have been an invitation that would have been sent out that would have indicated a date or a time at which a party was going to be given. And then a second invitation would be sent out on the day that the party was going to occur. That invitation would be delivered personally. Servants would go out and personally say, “The party is to begin at this particular time and it's to be at this particular location. Come now.” The guests would have already indicated that they were going to come, they would have done their version of an RSVP, and then on the day of the party the servants would come to them and deliver a verbal, direct, second invitation to bring them to the party.
And in this story all of the people that had been given the original invitations start making excuses as to why they can't come. Now you notice, none of the excuses are for doing bad things. They’re not saying, “Oh I have to rob a bank; I can't come. I have to cheat on my wife; I can't come. I have to defraud the government of its taxes; I can't come.” None of the things that they’re giving as excuses are bad things, they’re good things — business, “I bought a field, I bought some new animals, just married my wife.” They’re all good things, but they’re excuses for not coming to the party.
What is Jesus saying here? Well in part, of course, He's speaking to the Jewish people of His own time who thought, “Who's going to be at the party that God throws when the kingdom comes in its fullness? Righteous, Jewish people, and you can tell those people because God blesses them. And those people that are crippled, lame, blind, and poor, clearly God's judgment is on them. The kind of people that are going to be at the party at the kingdom at the end, they’re righteous, Jewish, upright citizens, well-respected in their community, many of them wealthy. Those are the people that are going to be at the party.” And Jesus says, “No, actually the invitation list is going to have none of them. It's going to be the crippled, the poor, the lame, and the blind, and those who are out at the highways and byways.” Notice how He says this in such a dramatic way. Verse 24 — “I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my banquet.”
What's Jesus saying in this passage? Jesus is saying that over concern with this world can keep us from the party; who are all caught up in things that we think are very important — marriage and family and business — and we miss the claims of God, we miss the kingdom of God, and we miss the invitation of God's party. In this passage, these people cared more about the business of everyday life than they did the claims of God.
So what's Jesus saying in the passage? He's saying, “Don't miss the party. Don't miss the party.” Those who are invited missed the party because they cared about their own party more than the party that God is going to throw in His kingdom. And the people that ended up being there, frankly they didn't deserve to have an invitation to the party, but they cared more about God's party than anything else.
Jesus is giving a solemn warning to all of us. And very frankly, in this passage as it speaks of humility and generosity and the true kind of fellowship that we ought to long for, it's very apparent to me that this is uniquely applicable to us. And Jesus’ message is, “Don't miss the real party.” That's a timely message for us, don't you think?
Heavenly Father, we ask that You would grab our attention so often given to the cares and concerns of this life and the busyness of this life and the things that we seek for and long for and desire and aspire for in this world and our eyes are off of You and Your joys and Your claims and Your party. By God's grace, wake us up today. Draw us to Yourself. And when You draw us there, grant that we would give You all the praise and all the glory, for You’re the one who brings the strangers home. You’re the one who brings us to Your table. It's not done because we're good, because we're not. We’re the least, the lost, and the limping. We’re the very last people that deserve the privilege of Your fellowship or an invitation to Your party. Teach us these truths. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now we're going to sing this passage. Isaac Watts did a rendering that very beautifully applies this image to the question of salvation. Turn to number 469 and let's sing, “How Sweet and Awesome is the Place.”
Receive now the Lord's blessing. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.