Obviously from our scripture text this morning, I am not planning a typical Easter message. We celebrate Easter every Sunday morning and we certainly celebrate Easter this morning, but I will not be preaching an Easter message, per se.
However, millions of people all over the world are celebrating Easter today. And undoubtedly many people are attending services who rarely go to church at all except for on the major holidays like Easter and Christmas. And I don’t want to disparage people that only come to church on major holidays. I would always want to encourage people to come to church.
But I will say that merely observing and participating in religious ceremonies, holy days and rituals really have no bearing at all on the ultimate outcome of your soul. Jesus makes it clear in His teaching that simply an external exercise of religion is not what God is interested in. But God looks at the heart, and He wants a heart that is devoted totally to Him.
So today the world celebrates Easter, the resurrection of Christ. Yet it must be obvious that even though they know the story, the world has largely rejected the message. And while I don’t want to discourage anyone from attending church on a holiday, I would hope that those that do so today are challenged to examine their hearts before God, and not just be duped into thinking that merely going through the motions of rituals and ceremonies, or giving lip service is going to please God.
Jesus said in Matt. 15:8 quoting from Isaiah that God isn’t interested in lip service, but in the heart; ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.” So God doesn’t honor lip service, and neither does He honor empty ceremonies or rituals as indicated in Heb. 10:6, “IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE.” Jesus went on to show in Luke 13:26 that going to church is not enough either; “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ What these passages indicate is that God is more interested in the heart than He is in our words or even our actions.
Now that passage in Luke 13 was a reference to those who had an external form of religion but had an unregenerate heart. Their heart was still evil. And Jesus says that they would be denied entrance to the kingdom of God. Jesus added in 13:28, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” What Jesus is saying is that Abraham’s children, the children of Israel will not be in the kingdom of God, but others from outside of the nation of Israel will come in and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.
Now the Jewish religious leaders understood that the kingdom of God was often likened to a banquet, or a great wedding feast, and so when Jesus uses the idea of a great banquet as a metaphor for the kingdom of God they understand exactly what He is referring to. And they realize that He is referring to them being denied entrance to the banquet table in the kingdom of God.
Now when you come to the next chapter, chapter 14, you see that these same Pharisees had invited Jesus to a prominent Pharisee’s house for dinner, and He uses this as an opportunity to teach them further concerning the nature of the kingdom of God by means of a couple of parables about a banquet.
Now I’m sure most of you are probably familiar with the Pharisees. They should need little introduction since it seems that Jesus is constantly dealing with the Pharisees. But I’m afraid that we often caricaturize them as terrible people; we think of them in such a negative light that we lose sight of the reality of what they were really like. So I want to make sure you understand something about these Pharisees. Pharisees were the most God fearing, moral, law abiding citizens in the country. These weren’t the moral delinquents of society – no, far from it. They knew the Bible backwards and forwards. They knew most of the Torah by heart. They meticulously attended every temple service, every festival, every feast day, every Sabbath observance. They were the religious elite of the 1st century. If you were to ask someone in that day who for certain was going to be in the kingdom of God, everyone without question would say if anyone gets in it will be the Pharisees.
In fact, Jesus Himself said in Matt. 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” That verse, by the way, was the verse that caused my dad to become saved. He had been studying the Bible, and was convicted of how much of a sinner he was. And when he found that verse, he realized that he could never be good enough to be saved. And that is when he discovered that salvation is by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God.
But the point I want to emphasize is that when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, when He tells them they will see Abraham and Isaac and the prophets in the kingdom, but they won’t be there, when they see people coming from all quarters of the globe but they won’t be at the table, He is speaking to the most religious, God fearing, law abiding citizens on the planet. These people worshipped the one true God, they intensely studied the scriptures and they diligently fasted, tithed and attended services and they were more zealous about it that any of us can even imagine. And yet over and over again, Jesus calls them hypocrites, and says they will not enter the kingdom.
Now this was shocking. That would be equivalent today to walking into a large evangelical church and announcing that none of the leadership, none of the pastors and deacons and elders would be entering the kingdom of heaven. And then turning to the congregation and saying the same thing. Then saying that God had declared their hypocrisy to be so offensive that the riffraff of the world would get in, but no one in that church would enter the kingdom of heaven. That would be a shocking statement, to say the least. It probably wouldn’t endear you to your audience. In fact, you would probably be lucky to get out of there without being stoned to death.
So to attempt to apply Jesus message to us today should be troublesome. It should give you reason to examine yourselves. In fact, it should prompt you to ask, as one of the disciples asked him in the last chapter, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And Jesus answers in the affirmative, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” According to Jesus, not many of those that think that they are going to heaven will be there. Now that is a troublesome thing and it should give us all a reason to examine ourselves.
Now with that context in mind, let us look at this parable that Jesus gives as He is having dinner with this prominent Pharisee. I don’t think Jesus was a great dinner guest, by the way. Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of Jesus as some sort of soft spoken, demure, retiring sort of character who wouldn’t hurt a flea, Jesus has no problem calling the host out on numerous occasions when He visited in various people’s house. And this time is no exception.
If you remember, the Pharisees had invited Him to dinner on the Sabbath because they wanted to trap Him into healing on the Sabbath so they could discredit Him. They had a person there with dropsy and they were trying to set Him up. Now Jesus knew that, but He went anyway and in spite of their duplicity he was compassionate and healed the man with dropsy. But as He questions the Pharisees and lawyers present, they remain silent. They are speechless. They are afraid to answer His questions. And so first Jesus rebukes them for their hypocrisy, then He rebukes them for the way they tried to elbow their way to the head of the table which revealed their lack of humility, then He rebukes them for their guest list which revealed their selfish motives. Like I said, Jesus wasn’t the kind of dinner guest you would invite back again.
So maybe that’s why eventually this guy in the group calls out ““Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” I mean, up to now they didn’t know what to say. By this point they are feeling pretty uncomfortable. So maybe this guy recognizes that Jesus is preaching on the kingdom of heaven, and he is trying to patronize Jesus. Maybe He says this thinking that it might get Jesus to think that they were all on the same side.
But what is evident about this statement is that this Pharisee is obviously inferring that he is going to be at the great dinner banquet in the kingdom of God. And I’m sure that all his friends thought the same thing. I’m sure there were a chorus of “Amen’s” directly following that statement. It was an attempt to say, hey Jesus, we’re all going to be in the kingdom of God at the great banquet. Like I said earlier, if anyone was going to be there, you would think that these guys were going to be there. And they were convinced that they were in the kingdom. After all, one of the doctrinal distinctives of the Pharisees was that they believed in the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife. But the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and of heaven. And they fully expected that they were going to be there.
So this man, as the spokesman perhaps of the group says, “Blessed is he who eats bread in the kingdom of heaven.” They take for granted that they are in. Yet Jesus doesn’t answer him by confirming his assumption, but rather offers a story that rebukes them all, and confronts them in their self assurance.
So Jesus tells a story about a man who gave a big dinner and he invited many people. Now as I said last week, a banquet was a big deal in those days. It was the primary means of socializing and entertainment. There weren’t a lot of other options in those days other than for someone to have a dinner party, or a wedding feast, something similar to what we might think of as a ball. And the way this was arranged according to Middle Eastern custom was they would send out two invitations. The first one was simply to let you know that you were invited to the dinner party on a general day and time. And the invitees would rsvp to let the host know how many to prepare for. Everyone who was invited was expected to be there, but it was a matter of courtesy for both parties. And then there would be a second invitation. That one would go out on the day of the event and the messenger would say, “Come now. Everything is prepared.” And the people would come immediately. They too would have been preparing to come at a moment’s notice.
Now in the story that Jesus gives, the first message had already gone out. All the people who would normally be expected were invited and the implication is that they all said that they would come. But then the day and hour comes when the slave went out and said, “Come; for everything is ready now.” Everything has been prepared for them. The house is ready. The banquet is ready. The food has been prepared. The entertainment has been made ready. The guests have already been invited in advance, now they just need to come.
Now the Pharisees would have been familiar with this scenario. But then Jesus inserts this next section which under normal circumstances would have been unthinkable in Jewish society. Vs. 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.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
“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.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
“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. ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”
So here is the situation. This parable is yet another affirmation of what Jesus said back in chapter 13 vs. 29, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” In other words, the Jews were the first invitees to the banquet table of the kingdom of God, and yet they wouldn’t come. They rejected the Son of God who had been sent to make it possible for them to enter the kingdom. They insulted Him. They ridiculed Him.
And though it’s a rebuke against the self righteousness of the Pharisees, it is also a picture of all who reject the gospel of salvation. Oh yes, we all want to go to heaven when we die. We all want to believe that somehow we are going to be included in the kingdom of heaven. But when the invitation goes out to come now, to come today, we aren’t willing to forsake our priorities for the kingdom. We say we are going to be there, but in reality we are committed to our own agenda, our own priorities, and as such we reject what it takes to enter the kingdom of God. See the invitation of God to enter the kingdom of heaven requires that we forsake the world for the sake of the kingdom. But like these people in the parable, though we say we are believers, though we say we are in the kingdom, yet our lives reveal that we are not. We are still committed to our own agenda.
Now as we examine the excuses these men gave in the parable they sound pretty flimsy, don’t they? But what I think Jesus was doing here was giving us three general categories of excuses that we put before the Lord. The first guy said I bought a piece of land and I must go look at it. This man owns property. It represents our possessions. The funny thing about possessions is that a lot of times they end up owning us, don’t they? We find ourselves enslaved to paying our mortgages, paying our car payments, paying our credit card bills. We buy and we buy, hoping to buy satisfaction, hoping to find happiness, but we end up being enslaved to the bank so we can keep those possessions. But those things never satisfy and they distract us from complete devotion to the Lord.
You know, if you go to Acts and look at the first church, those people were selling their property and giving it to the church. That was the characteristic of the first revival. The converts realized that Christianity required undivided loyalty to Christ and so they sold and gave away their possessions. And the result was a great revival. People in the community were in awe of what was going on in the first church. Souls were being saved. What a contrast there is from that attitude to the attitude of the church today that teaches that Christianity is the means by which we get more possessions. The prosperity doctrine tells people that God wants you to have your dream house, He wants you to have a new car. I’m sorry, but that is not the Christianity of the first century church and it wasn’t the message of Jesus.
Jesus said in Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions and give to charity.” He said ““For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” See, this man’s heart was for his possessions. And God will not settle for second best. The greatest commandment says we must love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength. We can’t love anything more than God and be accepted by God. Listen, do you have a lot of possessions? If you do then Jesus later in this very passage says something that should shake you to your core. Luke 14:33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Do you believe that? Do you think Jesus was just kidding? Maybe He was exaggerating. Certainly we don’t really have to give up all of our possessions to be Jesus disciple. I’m sure He was just kidding. Let’s move on.
The next guy made the excuse that he had just bought five yoke of oxen and he had to go try them out. This man had a job to do. He had to go to work. I think this category represents our careers, our employment, our jobs. This man put his work ahead of attending the banquet. He thought the job that he wanted to do was more important than attending the banquet. I see this so much in the church today. I believe that the devil has a field day with work more so than almost any other temptation. Because on the one hand we are told that work is honorable, and it can be. We are told that work is necessary, and it can be. But I will also tell you that work can be egocentric. It can be a means of self sufficiency, of selfishness, it can be a means of pride. Many a man abandons his wife and children under the guise that he has to provide for his family when in fact he is just building his ego. But Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Psalm 127:2 says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” Jesus said something similar in Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!” And He went on to say in vs. 31, “But seek first His kingdom, and then these things will be added to you.” This man in the parable exemplifies the person that forfeited the kingdom of heaven because of his work.
And the last category is that of the man whose excuse was that he had just married a wife. Now I know a lot of men like that. Their wife runs the house and keeps them on a short leash. And maybe some men bring that sort of thing upon themselves. Let me remind you of what Ephesians 5 teaches; the husband is to be the head of the wife. That means he is supposed to be the spiritual head of the house. He is supposed to be the spiritual leader. Paul said in 1 Timothy that headship was God’s design in creation and mankind fell because Adam abrogated his spiritual responsibility to his wife.
But I think this category extends further than just husband and wife. I think Jesus is talking about anyone that puts relatives, or loved ones or friends before the kingdom of God. He makes that clear in just a couple of verses later in this very passage, Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Jesus is saying that God will not play second fiddle to someone else that you love more than Him, including yourself.
Listen, I can say without a doubt that there are millions of men who have fallen away from God because they loved a woman more than God. I can assure you that there are millions of women who have fallen away from the kingdom of God because they wanted a man more than they loved God. I personally know of many men and women right here in this community that have fallen for that trap of Satan. And I’m not necessarily talking about adultery; though there are great numbers who fall that way as well. But I’m talking about a young woman who said she loved God and went to church regularly, and professed to be a godly woman, and she met a man who wasn’t a believer and married him and today she no longer is living for the Lord. Oh, she may still be a member of a church somewhere, but it isn’t a church that teaches the truth, or teaches true discipleship. And I’ve seen the same thing with men that married a woman who wasn’t a believer and their lives were destroyed. One of my best friends in California is a mental and financial and spiritual wreck today because his wife left him and took his children and everything he owned and left his life in a shambles.
I know of young men and women that deserted the faith because of unbelieving parents that twisted their arm financially to stay in an apostate church. Folks, this may be a parable Jesus is teaching, but the applications are very real and have tragic consequences. God will not take second place to your possessions, to your career, or to your relationships. God demands first place.
So the Pharisees were excluded from the kingdom of heaven because their hearts were not humbled before God. They thought that they were good people. They thought they worshipped the true God and they belonged to the right church and everyone could see that they were model law abiding citizens. But Jesus says the man who gave the banquet was angry with them and said none of those men that were invited shall taste of my dinner.
So if the most religious people around weren’t going to be allowed to taste the dinner, that prompts the question - what characterizes the people that were going to enter into the banquet? Well, Jesus says they were poor and crippled and blind and lame. First of all, these poor people represented those that knew they were outcasts from society. The poor knew they were poor. The crippled and lame and blind knew their condition. These are people that realize their need. These are people that realize that they are lost.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” See, these poor and lame and blind are the kind of people that will be blessed.
Listen, when the Bible uses the word blessed what that means was that you would see God. It doesn’t mean happy like some modern translations render it. It means that blessed state that comes when you see the glory of God. And Jesus is saying here that those that will be blessed in the kingdom of God will be the ones who are poor in spirit; they realize that they are spiritually bankrupt. They know they are sinners, they know their righteousness doesn’t add up to more than the Pharisees. They know they are lost. They are poor, beggars seeking mercy from God.
And blessed are those that mourn because of their sin. Listen, that is what repentance is; it’s being sick of your sin. It’s mourning over your sinful condition and being willing to do whatever it takes to be delivered from it. Please understand, salvation isn’t adding a little church to your life, it’s not adding a little Jesus to your life. If you have a pot of bad stew you can put all the ingredients in there you want and it will still be bad stew. You need to start all over again. You need to be born again. That is what Jesus is saying. The heart is desperately wicked the Bible says. So the remedy is not religion. It’s not going to an Easter service. No the remedy is to get a new heart. And the only way to do that is to come to God sick of your sin in repentance and beg Him to make you a new creature. Like David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O Lord and renew a right spirit within me.” And David went on to say in response to that prayer that “a broken and contrite heart you will not despise O Lord.”
That’s what it means to be blessed, to be humble and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s the characteristic of these social outcasts Jesus was talking about. All of us are outcasts from the kingdom of heaven. None of us have a right to enter. Rom. 3:23 says we all have sinned and fallen short of the kingdom of God. But thank God for Rom. 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Listen, there is a banquet table that has been made ready in the kingdom of God. God has been preparing it since the beginning of time for those that love Him. He has prepared it for those that are willing to forsake all that the world has in exchange for eternal life with Him. He has sent out His invitations. Jesus said in Mat 11:28 “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”
I’m just the messenger that God has sent to tell you to come, everything is ready. I hope you don’t refuse Him who is inviting you. What shall it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your own soul? What shall a man give in exchange for His soul? The answer is everything. God wants everything. All of you. All of your heart. Let’s pray.