“If you were to die today, where would you go, heaven or hell?”     A while back, I met with a couple that asked me to do their wedding who do not go to church.     The first question I asked is this: “If you were to die today, where would you go; heaven or hell?”      I asked each of them individually.    The man answered first: “I believe I would go to heaven.”     So I asked “Why?”   He said, “Because I believe in God; I am a good person; I treat people well.”    Now, before I go on, let me give you just a little more information.   They had both been divorced; the man once, the woman twice.      They were both in their early 40s.   This will be important for what I say next.
In response to his answer, I reminded him that such sins as anger, bickering, quarreling, lying, lust and even drunkenness, exclude one from the Kingdom of God.    Immediately, he began to defend himself and offer excuses.   “Well,” he said, “I don’t really get angry with people.   I am pretty mellow.   I get along with people.”    After a bit of this excuse making, I pointed out that both of them had been divorced.    I told them God hates divorce.    I also pointed out what must have taken place to arrive at divorce: anger, bickering, quarreling, lying and selfishness.
It was at this point that the man became visibly angry.   His face turned red; his voice became very defensive and hostile.    I then told him that if he wishes to stand before God in his own goodness on Judgment Day, he will be in hell.  I quoted from Isaiah, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”    That did not make him any happier.     Why?    With the questions I asked, and the passages I had quoted, his so-called “goodness” was exposed for the sham that it was.    I had destroyed his belief system and with it his prideful boasting in his own goodness.   And he knew it.
I share this with you to help us understand the kind of people Jesus was dealing with as He told the story of the Great Banquet, but what we also are by nature.    You see, this lesson was directed against the Pharisees who, like the man who came to me Friday, wanted to be recognized by God for their own goodness.   Thus, the hearing of the Gospel was a waste of time.   The various excuses in the analogy of the lesson bare this out.
What makes this all so desperately sad on the one hand, is that the meal of Luke 14 is pure Gospel.   The Pharisees were rejecting the meal of the Gospel because they didn’t like Jesus and what He had to say.     For our instruction and comfort we consider:
  1. God rejects excuses.
  2. God wants His house to be full.
  1. God rejects excuses.                                                                                                                                              The banquet in the parable is nothing other than the full and free salvation God has prepared for all men.  The rich foods served at the banquet are all the blessing of Christ’s salvation.    Every time Jesus taught and preached, he invited the Jews: “Come, the salvation through the Messiah your God promised for so long has been prepared.   I am the promised Messiah.   The blessings of God are yours simply for the taking.”   The parable reveals how the Jews treated the gospel invitation.    They rejected it because they thought it was a waste of time.   First of all then we learn that God hates excuses.
Our lesson makes the observation, “Then they all alike began to excuse themselves.”
  • The first said, “I have bought a field, and I must go and see it.”
  • The second guest offered a slightly different excuse: “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them out.   Please excuse me.
  • The third guest simply said, “I just got married, so I cannot come.”
All the excuses had one element in common: they were dishonest.   The real reason they spurned the invitation was that in their hearts they had a low opinion of the inviting host: The One giving the invitation was not worth their time.
In effect, the Jews had offered these excuses time and again.    What an insult to God!   God’s meal, namely His salvation, was not worthy of their consideration, time and honor.   Jesus here pictured the Jews in their spurning of the gospel invitation He had issued many times among them.      They were poor sinners who needed the rich, nourishing foods on God’s table: forgiveness, blessedness as God’s children, and eternal joy and bliss in heaven.   But their wickedness led them to insist that they were standing well with God just as they were.
As we consider this parable, I have to ask you, “What excuses do you offer?”
  • How often has “necessity” kept you from attending to the needs of your soul? Jesus tells us, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
  • How often has “inconvenience” held you back from daily devotion, Bible reading and prayer?
  • How often has “pleasure” or concern for self taken a higher priority than God’s wishes and God’s Holy Commandments?
  • Did you dress yourself in tenderheartedness, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience?
  • Do you not see that we need to repent as Jesus says because we still sin day-after-day? That sinfulness deserves the wrath of an angry God who hates sin and even hates the sinner.
We need a Savior just as the Jews.   We need to recognize that we do not stand well with God just as we are by nature.   If we feel we can enter eternity just as we are by nature, indeed, we will enter eternity, an eternity of hell.    We need to repent.   We need to remember that God’s fiercest anger is reserved for those who disobey Him in unbelief.   When people reject Christ crucified and the salvation He won; when they stay away from the table because of other things to do, they mock God in a most blasphemous way.     In effect they tell God: “You could have spared yourself the trouble of having your Son die under your curse; who needs a Savior?”     All of this sounds reminiscent of the young man who came to me wanting to be married.    God is serious when He reveals His hatred of excuses that dishonor His grace and mercy.
  1. God wants His house to be full.                                                                                                                         Earlier I said that the thing that makes this Gospel lesson so astonishing is that it is pure Gospel.  Given what I have said so far, you might began to wonder.       So I bid you to consider this: in spite of the many times we have offered excuses God invites sinners like you and me to repent.   Secondly this morning, we learn that God wants His house to be full of sinners.
Jesus tells sinners, “Come everything is now ready.”    That invitation is the invitation to repent.  Repentance is not renewed commitment or reformation of life, but simple and humble faith that Jesus lived a perfect life for you and died a tortured death for you, to win your eternal place with the saints in heaven.    Please take comfort in the midst of your sinfulness that your salvation is complete.   The banquet is nothing less than the full and free salvation in Christ and Him crucified.   The rich foods are all the blessings of Christ’s salvation.   Here is the menu.
  • Through Holy Baptism, you have forgiveness. In baptism you have been adopted as a child of God.
  • In His Word of absolution, our Savior has commissioned pastors to stand in His stead and announce and confer the forgiveness of sins slamming shut the gates of hell and opening wide the gates of heaven to sinners.
  • Through the Holy Supper God feeds you with the body and blood of Jesus which confers on you, the sinner, all of God’s grace and forgiveness.
In our lesson, the master of the house tells his slaves, “Go out quickly.”    Those words tell us that God is deeply concerned about your immediate forgiveness.   Do your sins concern you?  This parable reflects God’s determination to seek you, the sinner.   God sent His Son Jesus to die for you, not for angels.   God established the office and work of the ministry, not to preach to good people, but to bring the message of forgiveness to sinners.
The master in the lesson tells His slaves, “Bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”   These words represent spiritual beggars.   This is what we are by nature.   A note was found by the bed of Luther on the day of his death: “We are all beggars.”
Yet, God tells his servants, His preachers and teachers, to go out and bring in sinners like you and me.   Is that not astonishing!
In the lesson we learn, “And the slave said, ‘Master is it done as you ordered, and there still is room.   Then the master told the slave, “go out to the roads and stone fences, and make them come in!   I want my house to be full.”   Dear wretched sinner, if you realize the depth of your sins; if you feel the hot breath of Satan singeing your sin-sick soul, take comfort that in God’s banquet hall, His love for all sinners does not have a “No vacancy” sign.   There is room for all sinners.    The depth of your sins cannot begin to match the agony Jesus suffered for them.     As we say in our table prayer, “for His mercy endureth forever.”    God yearns for all sinners to come to his table, indeed to enjoy His grace and blessings of forgiveness.    This is God’s greatest pleasure.
If on the other hand, you feel no inclination to come to the table, Luther had this to say, “To such a person no better advice can be given than that, in the first place he put his hand into his bosom and feel whether he still have flesh and blood.”  Put your hand to your chest and push down hard.   If it slams against the back of the pew you are already in heaven.    If not, you are still here on this earth and bound up in a body of sin.   It is to that person that Jesus invites to His table.
Through this parable, Jesus wants us to be clear about the one thing that affects our most intimate and eternal problem: sin.  As incongruous as it may sound, Jesus wants you to know that while He hates sin and those who commit sin, while excuses grieve and weary Him, His love for sinners caused Him to provide for your salvation.     Let this sink in:
  • Jesus went to the cross, not because we were good, but because we were bad.
  • Please go in peace knowing that God wants his house full with sinners like you and me. Pick up the glorious and royal robe of your Holy Baptism once again this day.   Jesus invites you to put it on and sit at the table of His Holy Gospel of rich forgiveness.  Your sins cannot be held against you because you wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness conferred on you in Holy Baptism.     Go in peace.   A-men.