Who Will You Bring to Jesus?
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: “Grace is given not because we have done good works,
but in order that we may be able to do them.” Augustine
I once heard the famous preacher Frederick Sampson tell about spending a summer on his uncle’s farm. His first morning, his farmer uncle rousted him out of his bed in the hayloft at 4:00 in the morning, and got him busy mucking out stalls, sweeping floors, chopping wood, heating water, doing whatever the house and barn required.
Finally Fred was done. He started back up the ladder to the hayloft to go back to sleep. His uncle stopped him and asked where he was going. Fred said, “I’ve finished my work.” His uncle bent down, put his finger in Fred’s face, and said, “I’m going to tell you something, and don’t you ever forget it. What you do around the house is chores. What you do in the fields is work.”
To extend the Kingdom of God, we must work in the fields. This week’s parable shows us how and why to do this work. But understand: this is a parable of grace, not works. To be invited into the Kingdom is grace. To extend that invitation to others is grace. Augustine was right: “grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” Here’s how to “do them.”
Look forward to the party
Our text begins: “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus . . .” (Luke 14.15). Luke 14 has already told the story of Jesus’ dinner at the house of a “prominent Pharisee” (v. 1). Here Jesus watched as “the guests picked the places of honor at the table” (v. 7). So he urged his host: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (vs. 13-14).
In response to Jesus’ reference to the resurrection, one of the invited guests at the banquet made his exclamation: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (v. 15). The man was well educated in rabbinic theology. The rabbis typically used the banquet table as a symbol for the bliss of heaven (Robertson 197).
They expected that the Messiah “would be a temporal prince, and that his reign would be one of great magnificence and splendor. They supposed that the Jews then would be delivered from all their oppressions, and that, from being a degraded people, they would become the most distinguished and happy nation of the earth. To that period they looked forward as one of great happiness” (Barnes 96).
Jesus did not at all deny the man’s theology. Heaven will in fact be a great feast in the presence of the Lord, for “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19.9). But Jesus corrected the man’s assumption that Jews, and only Jews, would attend the festival. The parable we are studying this week shows who will be part of the great feast, and who will not.
Before we explore Jesus’ story, let’s rejoice in its premise. Heaven will be a party. It will be a celebration, an eternal feast in the presence of our loving Father. It will be glory beyond description, for “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2.9). Those seated at God’s banquet table “will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21.3-4).
One day all of us who know Jesus personally will answer his invitation, “so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22.30). On that day, “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8.11).
The kingdom of God is a party. If Jesus is your Lord, you will spend eternity by his side, at his banquet. This is the good news of God.
Come when you’re called
Now, who will attend with you? Jesus’ story begins: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests” (v. 16). In Jesus’ parables the kingdom of God is always central. The hero is always the King. Here, he is the man giving the “great banquet.”
To his festival he “invited many guests.” God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3.9). Who can come to his party? “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16). The king wants “many guests” at his table.
So he sent out the first invitation. In ancient Palestine, banquets were announced long before the preparations were finished. There were many factors which affected the actual date and time of the feast. Weather was always a factor in their society, where meals were typically cooked and eaten out of doors. Harvests and the availability of food varied widely. Health issues were harder to resolve. Political circumstances changed often.
And so it was customary to invite people to a feast, then notify those who accepted the invitation when the meal was actually prepared. As people had fewer distractions than we face today, it was far more likely that they would respond to such an immediate notice. And once they had accepted the first invitation to come, they were honor bound to do so (cf. Esther 5.8; Bliss 235; Barclay 192-3).
Now the time was at hand. The master “sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready'” (v. 17). “Sent” is the word “apostello,” meaning to send as an official and authoritative representative (Rienecker 184; this is the root of the word “apostle”). This servant has come in the name and authority of his master, acting on his behalf. In the same way we are sent to our unbelieving world as “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5.20).