How do you think of a life lived with God? What do you imagine a life of obedience to God is like? Is it sort of an other-worldly experience? A little bit dry experience? An experience of deprivation or loss?
This morning we’re going to see how Jesus described the experience of life lived in the kingdom of God. And we’re going to see what he said about the type of people who will be in that kingdom.
First a quick review: we’re at a diner party which some religious leaders have thrown for Jesus. What these leaders usually meant by having a dinner for Jesus is “we’re going cross examine you and carefully record every word you say as evidence for the trial we’re planning for your execution.”
At this meal Jesus broke all social norms to address the social maneuvering for status which was taking place and suggested an alternative way of living. Instead of elbowing for status, why don’t you gain true status by taking the lowest place? Instead of angling for rewards by throwing dinner parties for those who can return the favor why don’t you give a dinner party for those who have nothing to offer and God will see your kindness and give you true rewards that will outlast time.
What happens next? Let’s read.
What are we talking about?
Look at verse 14. The subject is the resurrection. We’re talking about a day when time will stop, life as we know it will end and you and I will rise to face eternity. Specifically we are talking about the moment those who were just in this life will experience resurrection and the rewards God has promised.
One man, perhaps with a glass of wine too many calls out, “blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Which is a way of saying, blessed are those who will be in heaven.
Jesus picks up the theme introduced by this man in verse 16 with another parable: a man once gave a great banquet and invited many.
The Greek word which is translated great in verse 16 in your Bible is “mega.” What kind of banquet are we talking about? A mega-banquet. A man is throwing a mega-banquet and who does he invite? He invited many. He wants a mega-banquet with a mega-crowd. His son has returned home safely after nearly losing his life on a tour of duty and he wants to throw a home coming party.
All throughout the city and perhaps the state people receive a save-the-date flyer and a Facebook event invite. Come to my mega banquet! Later that day he watches as hundreds click “going” on the event page. This is going to be legit.
Weeks go by and the host sends out his people to buy decorations and drinks and food. He reserves an event hall. A band is hired. Someone has the great idea of ordering hundreds of floating lanterns to release for a grand finale.
We’re getting closer and for several days there is intense preparation: people are setting up tiki torches and hanging Edison lamps, preparing sauces and baking cakes.
It’s now the day of the banquet and early that morning the host and his men roll in the giant smokers for the goat and the lamb. The ladies are setting out candles and arranging plates, bringing out the wine glasses. The wine casks are rolled out.
Now everything is ready, the scene is set for feasting and celebration. In just a few minutes the place will fill up with joy and the sound of conversation and laughter.
5:00 comes and goes and the early arrivers are nowhere in sight.
A few minutes becomes a half and hour and the confused host sends one of his people out – go and tell them it’s ready. While the host team waits impatiently the man heads out the door and down the road. “
He knocks on the first door. “Hey Nathan, the party is ready, you coming?” Nathan says, “hey I’m sorry I just bought a property and I have to go check it out. Can you please excuse me from the party?” Property? Right now? But you said you were coming? Alight, your loss.
So he turns the corner and walks up to the next door. Knock knock. “Hey Jessica, what are you doing? The party is starting.” “Oh is that tonight? I’m sorry I just bought a new tractor and I have to go examine it. Please tell the host and have me excused.” Now the servant is getting a little impatient, a tractor? Now?
He moves on to the next house – alright, surely Mark is coming, he’s just running late like he always is. Mark answers the door, “oh hey. I just got married recently. We can’t make it.”
Now the man has had enough. This is ridiculous. What is going on here?
So he returns to the house, the hosts all jump up from their seats expecting a train of people, but it’s just the one guy. “I don’t know what’s happening. No ones coming.”
“What do you mean no ones coming? I have hundreds of RSVPs.”
“They all made excuses. They all have other things to do.”
How does the host respond?
How would you respond?
He’s angry. For good reason. They said they would come, he invested so much time and energy and money into this thing and they all ghosted him at the last minute. Of course he’s angry.
So what does he do?
“Fine. They’ve got better things to do? I’ll feast without them. I’m going to have my mega banquet one way or another.
Go out and find the beggars. Go find the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame and bring them to me. (By the way, that’s exactly the line up of people Jesus just told the table they should invite to their parties.)
Go find the Poor. Crippled. Blind. Lame. Bring them to me.”
The man looks at the host for a minute, then he heads downtown.
He finds the guy with no legs who always sets up his pile next to the motel. “You’re in luck buddy. How’d you like a filet mignon?”
Then he goes down to the day labor office where a line of sweat-caked men are clocking out for the day. “Hey you guys look like you could use a couple of glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Get cleaned up and come to this address ASAP.”
He makes a stop at the urban league and walks up to a group of single Moms, “wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to cook or wash dishes tonight? Come with me and be served for a change.”
Then he makes a last stop at the group home and calls out to all of the people with disabilities who lived there – “hey guys! free food! Music! Let’s go!”
Back at the banquet the crew jumps up again when they see their man who is now followed by an eclectic crowd of beggars and day laborers and widows and people with disabilities.
The host stands at the door smiling to greet each person.
“Thank you for coming to my party.”
When the last guest walks in swinging his walking stick, the recruiter comes back to the host.
“Have we filled the place?” the host asks. “No there are still empty tables.”
That’s not good enough.
The master says to the servant, “go to the streets and the parks and compel everyone you see to come in. And don’t stop until every last seat is filled.”
The servant goes out to the city park and one by one tries to convince everyone he sees to come with him. By the end of the night the banquet is jam packed and flowing out the windows was the sound of glass clinking and people laughing and all of the joyous sounds of feasting and celebration. And a mega room full of the poor and tired and disabled are having the night of their lives.
Quite a day for our host right? Quite a night for his servant. Quite a crowd. Quite a party.
Now we’re back at the dinner table with Jesus and the man who is so excited about eating bread at the table of God’s kingdom.
Having finished his story, Jesus says “friend, I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”.”
Isn’t that interesting. What was a fictional story about some man who gave a banquet has now become the true story of the banquet.
Jesus has personally appropriated the resurrection feast of the kingdom of God. It’s my banquet. I’m the host of the mega banquet. I’m the one who sits at the head of the table breaking the bread in the kingdom of God.
I’ve invited many. I’ve come to tell them the time is now. And everyone is preoccupied.
What does this mean for us?
1. Heaven is like a mega banquet.
It’s like multiple course meals and flowing wine. It’s like beautiful decorations and sublime music. It’s like tiki torches and lanterns. It’s like the loud murmur of hundreds of hearts warmed with a great meal and couple of drinks overflowing in laughter and joy. I don’t know what you have been told or what you believe the Christian view of heaven is like. Some have the idea that to enter the kingdom of God is to renounce all pleasure. Some have the idea that heaven is a disembodied experience of pure spirituality.
Jesus tells us it’s like a mega banquet. This is not the first or last place in the Bible to describe heaven like a banquet. Look at this from the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah:
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Isaiah 25:6 (NIV)
One of the saints who knew God more than perhaps anyone else was David. Listen to his description of life with God:
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
If you don’t know that the best feast you have ever enjoyed was one of the closest moments you have ever gotten to the kingdom of God, you don’t know the kingdom of God.
Joy is the serious business of heaven.
-C. S. Lewis
This is the first lesson this morning. The kingdom of heaven is like a mega-banquet, it is a place of eternal pleasures, of feasting and delight in the presence of the source of all life.
2. Not everyone who is invited will be at the banquet.
Not everyone who clicks “GOING” to Jesus banquet at the resurrection of the just will be there.
Who are those who were invited? There are a couple of layers to the answer.
- First layer: Those who were invited were the children of Abraham. The Jewish people up to this point were God’s chosen ones. God had set apart Abraham and his offspring to be a vast and blessed people of faith. He gave them everything – the law, the prophets, the promises of the Messiah. Now here he was and they invited him to a feast in order to trap him and destroy him. They weren’t ready for the kingdom, they were preoccupied.
- Second layer: Those who were invited may also represent all who respond positively to the invitation. There are many Christians who are spiritual children of those preoccupied Jewish leaders. There are many Christians who have publicly declared their acceptance to the great banquet, yet have no time for the master of the banquet when he comes calling.
There are a couple of interpretations of the excuses made by the invitees of the banquet. It could be that their excuses were all clearly ridiculous. No one buys a field or oxen without examining them first.
There is another interpretation. It could be that the excuses the host receives are not smokescreens, but legitimate reasons – taking care business, property, family. It could be that these are the kinds of things that people choose over God. Maybe the one who is in danger of missing out on the great banquet are not people with millions of dollars and all the pleasures of the flesh, but the person with a spouse or a dream home or a great job. Maybe it’s the average Christian following the American Dream.
Not everyone who RSVP’s will be at Jesus’ great banquet. Who will be there?
Those with nothing better to do.
At the great banquet of heaven, many of the people you least expected will be sitting in the seats of those you most expected to be there.
That’s what this parable is about.
As one scholar commented: “The focus of the parable is on the invitations spurned by one group and extended to others unexpectedly. . . The question the parable addresses is not “What counts as shame and honor?” or “What should be one’s attitude to the poor?” but “Who will be present at the banquet.”
Jesus’ answer mirrors the kinds of people he chose to be with on earth. It wasn’t those who had it all together and were so full of their own goodness they couldn’t see his. It was those who were so needy and whose hands were empty enough that they could recognize heavenly grace when they saw it.
It was those who were so bankrupt spiritually that they had nothing better to do than gladly come running at the invitation of Jesus to His great banquet.
God is filling up a house. He is gathering a family. He is putting together the feast to end all feasts. He has extended an invitation that is gracious and broad. We are in danger of putting off the invitation in our preoccupation with today’s business.
If this is true,
3. Nothing is more important than making sure we respond to that invitation.
Maybe you are not convinced at this point that there is a heaven or that the heaven revealed in the Bible is truth. I was once there. You may not be sure that there is a heaven coming but you can be certain of this – death is coming. Aren’t you interested in what will happen when that day comes for you?
Isn’t it worth considering the message of Christ who claimed to know what is coming?
This isn’t something we should put off for a better time. What we must recognize in this parable is that the invitation of heaven will always come to us in time. It will come to us in the business of life. It will come to us when we have other things occupying our attention. We should not think that we can wait until a better time to give it some thought. God’s call to you is not something you put off until a convenient moment. It will come and if you are serious about your soul and your eternal future you will drop everything and respond to that call, not later when you are ready but right now when it comes.
“This is not a bluff. This is not a joke. Refuse Jesus in time and you’ll lose him in eternity. Life is so full, there is so much to be done. The only thing that must be done is to prepare for eternity. You can’t have fellowship with God in eternity if you won’t respond to his invitation in time.”
So we should believe that the kingdom of God is not a negative but is a great, satisfying feast.
We should not believe that everyone who says they are coming will taste the feast.
What should we do?
We should fill our imagination with heaven.
“We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine. That’s why, I believe, God has given us glimpses of Heaven in the Bible – to fire up our imagination and kindle a desire for Heaven in our hearts.”
“Surely it is not wrong for us to think and talk about Heaven. I like to find out all I can about it. I expect to live there through all eternity. If I were going to dwell in any place in this country, if I were going to make it my home, I would inquire about its climate, about the neighbors I would have — about everything, in fact, that I could learn concerning it. If soon you were going to emigrate, that is the way you would feel. Well, we are all going to emigrate in a very little while. We are going to spend eternity in another world. … Is it not natural that we should look and listen and try to find out who is already there and what is the route to take?”
We should check our hearts for preoccupation with lesser things.
What’s your response level to Him right now?
Do you have anything better to do than respond to his voice?
Or are you preoccupied with the business of life. Are you too preoccupied with property or possessions or people to hear his call?
Here’s one clear action point:
Demonstrate your preoccupation with Jesus, the Master of the banquet, by setting aside time at the beginning of every day to read your Bible and pray through your plans for the day. This simple step can keep your heart fresh, your mind clear and open your life for the call of Jesus.
One more thing we should see in this parable.
We have something in common with the servant sent out into the streets and parks. We serve someone who sends his servants with a joy and an urgency to fill up his banquet hall for a great feast.
Is there an urgency and a joy in our efforts to compel others to join us in filling up Jesus’ great banquet?
As we take communion, we have an opportunity right now to respond to Christ, to open the door in time to the eternal invitation of Christ.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Jesus says I want you for time and eternity, open the door.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown