Around 20 years ago, Sarah’s Dad received a letter in the post. It was an invitation. It was from the Queen, inviting him to preach at Crathie Kirk in Ballater, and to spend the weekend at Balmoral with the royal family. That’s quite an invitation to receive. The invitation was genuine, and needed a swift response. Iver agreed to go and had a wonderful weekend there, enjoying royal hospitality. I don’t know what he wrote in his reply, but I’m guessing it was something like: ‘Yes, it would be an honour to come’. Imagine he said, ‘Sorry, I can’t come because I’m in the middle of buying a flat, and am just too busy. Or, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve just got too many other appointments already around that time.’ Or, ‘My first grandchild is about to be born and I don’t want to be away.” What would the Queen’s secretary think? He would think, this guy is treating our royal invitation with total indifference. Clearly, he has other things to do with his time which appeal to him more. The bottom line is this: he doesn’t really want to come.
You might think, I’d never get a royal invitation like this! But you’d be wrong. This parable informs us that each one of as has been invited by God to a royal banquet. It is a feast in the Kingdom of God. How we respond to God’s invitation will tell him what is truly important to us. Will we accept or reject this gracious invitation?
Jesus is still at the home of a prominent Pharisee. The atmosphere at the table must have been strained, as Jesus has just been teaching against the hypocrisy and pride which were often all too evident in the lives of the Pharisees. He then challenges the host that we should not be those who give in order to get, but we should invite all kinds of people to our home, expecting nothing in return. This kind of altruism will be noticed by God. Far from being the losers, God will repay us in heaven, at the resurrection of the righteous.
It’s at this point that one of the lunch guests says: ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ (Verse 15) Perhaps this man expected Jesus to say, ‘Yes, indeed, you are right.’ Perhaps he even said this to diffuse some of the tension. In effect, the man is assuming that he and the other guests will all be in Heaven one day, enjoying the great feast of God. Jesus cannot ignore such a dangerous assumption. Out of love for the guests, he challenges such thinking by telling them a parable. It’s a shocking parable, as it points to those who assume they will be in Heaven, but the reality is they won’t be, because they’ve never taken God’s invitation seriously by responding with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. If you despise or are indifferent to Jesus now, then don’t expect to be in Heaven when you leave this earth. This passage is so relevant to Scotland today, as so many assume they will be in Heaven when they die, even though they have rejected God’s invitation. It’s a tragic and false hope. Time and time again, I hear people saying about loved ones: ‘Well, they are at peace now’ or ‘They are in a better place now’, even though the deceased never seemed to show any interest in God’s invitation. Jesus does not want us to have false hope. Rather, he wants us to come to him in repentance and faith, so that we don’t miss out on this eternal feast.
Before looking at the parable itself, it’s helpful to have some background. In those days, large social events such as weddings would require a ‘double invitation’. The first invitation would give the details of the event and ask for a response. Once these responses had been gathered in, the host would know how much food and wine to provide and could plan accordingly. If you accepted the initial invitation, you were obligated to come along once the event was ready. The second invitation was basically to say, ‘Come now, as all the preparations have been made’. Not to come along at this point would be highly offensive to the host. You just didn’t do that. You would be treating the host with contempt. This parable comes to us with a serious warning: only those who accept God’s invitation will be able to share in the eternal blessings God offers.
1. Heaven is compared to a great feast
Why a feast? Think of the best wedding you have ever attended. The company, the food, the rejoicing, and the conversations were so good that you just didn’t want the day to end. It was thrilling to be there. This reminds us that the new heaven and earth will not be a boring place, but a place of joy and of deepest satisfaction. This joy and satisfaction go well beyond that which the best food and wine could bring, though it might well include that! Christ himself will satisfy us as no one and nothing else can. This image of a feast speaks of God’s lavish provision for all of our needs for all eternity.
‘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)
‘Then the angel said to me, Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ (Revelation 19:9)
‘I say to you that 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. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 8:11-12)
Satan wants us to think that following Jesus will lead to us missing out on what is best. This is a lie. The things of this world never truly satisfy us, because we have been made by God and designed to have a relationship with God. However much we look to money, experiences, travel, work and other people to fulfil us, ultimately this feeling will not last. ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jeremiah 2:13)
Don’t miss out on the feast of Heaven! In Jesus, God supplies us with all that we need and more. In him is forgiveness and love and peace. In him there will be eternal life in the new earth, where we shall enjoy unspeakable fulfilment and satisfaction. Are you hungry for forgiveness? Are you thirsty for a purpose in your life? Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’. ‘I am the living water’. Turn away from things which cannot give lasting fulfilment and turn to Christ. In him your cup will be full and running over.
2. Salvation is widely offered – everyone is invited
When people get married, they need to go through the tough job of narrowing down the guest list. Some friends and even family might have to miss out. Weddings are expensive, you know! But there’s something marvellous about the Christian faith – when it comes to God, his offer of eternal life and blessing goes out to everybody. No one is excluded. It is astonishingly gracious, as not a single one of us deserves such an invite. We don’t have to pay. In fact, we cannot pay or contribute in any way. It’s all been done for us. ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ (Verse 17) What an opportunity!
You are invited by God to his eternal home. Even though because of your sin you are so poor and wretched and thirsty. ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.’ (Isaiah 55:1-2)
What an invitation! But we need to respond to the invitation by turning from our life of rebellion, and crying out to God for mercy and salvation. ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.’ (Isaiah 55:6-7)
What is God like? Does he refuse to forgive? Is he cold and indifferent to the world he has created? ‘On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ (John 7:37-38)
‘On hearing this, Jesus said to them, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (Mark 2:17)
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28)
Let’s be clear. Have you received an invitation from God? Yes, you have. The question is, how will you respond to it? The good news we have to share is that God says to us all “Come.’ Why would you not come? Come to Jesus then, before it is too late.
3. Salvation is widely rejected
This parable is famous for the lame excuses given by those invited. At first, they say they will come, but when it comes down to it, they have no real desire to attend, and don’t really see the point. They have better things to do. They greatly insult the host as they offer such weak excuses. Who buys a field without first going to see it? You just don’t do that! Who purchases such expensive farm animals without making sure they will pull well together? None of this makes sense. Your wife can have supper on her own for just one night, can’t she? These men just don’t want any part in the banquet. In their rejection, they show that they have no regard for the host.
Sadly, what was true back in Jesus’ day is also true today. Many people hear God’s invitation in John 3 v16 to believe in Jesus, and so be saved from perishing and come into eternal life. But the truth is, they have no regard for God, and no idea how much they need his grace and forgiveness. They make the biggest mistake any person can make and ignore the invitation. Sometimes they have their own lame excuses. For example, ‘I’m too busy’. Right, so you are too busy for God? God has given his one and only Son to die on a cross to give you an opportunity for eternal life and you are going to treat that offer with contempt?
When we get an invitation, it forces us to sift through our priorities. Each week you are invited to come to church. But perhaps your priority isn’t worship, but doing more work, or going to the beach, or shopping or sport, or something else. What we choose to do underlines our own priorities. Let me urge each one of you, accept this invitation from the King. Otherwise, you will regret it, forever.
4. God’s house will be full
It is true that many will reject God’s invitation, even those who grow up with Christian parents. They will become too attached to the pleasures and cares of this world, with money and work and travel and entertainment and holidays and clothes. They will focus on what’s temporary and reject what lasts forever. However, God grace and love overflows so much that he will fill his house. The proud and the self-sufficient will miss out. But many of the downtrodden and marginalised will respond in repentance and faith, and will take their forever-seats at the feast. At one level, this speaks of the way the Jews would reject Jesus, resulting in the invitation spilling out to the Gentiles- a universal invite.
What a picture we have of God here! He is more willing to save people than people are to be saved! He says to his servants: ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and ‘compel’ them to come in, so that my house will be full.’ (Verse 23) Of course, people cannot be forced to believe in Jesus. But they must be urged and compelled, as so many feel too unworthy and unprepared to attend such a royal feast. The good news is that everything is now ready. (Verse 17)
Jesus has died an atoning death and risen again and all those in the highways and byways need are the empty hands of faith. They just need to accept the invitation with thanks. You might reject God’s grace, but he is determined to have a people. Don’t assume you will go to Heaven. Don’t refuse the invitation, but urgently accept it.