I continue to believe that the hardest doctrine to come to grips with is not so much something like predestination or the doctrines pertaining to God’s wrath or hell. I truly believe that the hardest doctrine to wrap our minds around is the doctrine of God’s love.
That might strike you as something odd to say.
But as you look at our passage today, I believe we see something of the truth of this claim. The parables that are before us were told so as to help those who were present understand the depth and the reach of the love of the Lord.
On the one hand, you have people who are like the Pharisees and the religious elite. These are people who put some pretty hard restraints on God’s love. They were people who were looking at Jesus and saying, “What is the deal here? He eats with sinners!” They were appalled at what they were witnessing. They simply could not believe that such a thing was right. But what really was it that prompted their offense? It was that Jesus was showing love to these people. (I mean, don’t you know that they are Democrats?)
Then, on the other hand, you have people who are the sinners. They have basically the same question, “Can Jesus really love and accept me?”
The passage starts out by saying that sinners were drawing near to Jesus. They see how Jesus accepts them, and they love it. But you can imagine what’s going on in their minds. Once the Pharisees let their troubles be known, and voice how scandalous this seems, they immediately ice over. They get unsettled because what the Pharisees say is true! They have to think, “Yeah, why would Jesus love me? Being that I am who I am and have done what I have done, would Jesus really want anything to do with me?”
And just as there were such people before Jesus, there may very well be such people here today. And all of us need to learn the same lesson and understand that Jesus loves lost people.
That’s exactly what Jesus wants to affirm. And he does so by these parables. In both parables there is a search that is made and a joy that is expressed. And both the search and the joy illustrate the depths of Christ’s compassion.
I. The search that he makes
Each of these parables has a figure who pursues that which is lost. In the first parable it is the shepherd. In the second it is this woman who has lost her coin. Both of these illustrate the immense love that Christ has for lost people. And both of them do that in their own unique way.
When it comes to the shepherd, you have to understand that going after a sheep was not like you were just walking through the park on a Sunday afternoon. It was extremely risky. For one, you had a terrain that very well was not easy to navigate. Sheep don’t take the precaution to stay on the paths and use the buddy system. They are rather stupid little animals. They see a patch of green, and they walk over to it, and they start munching away. Then they see another patch and they walk over to it and chomp away. They are not thinking though where they are going. So they could easily get into areas where there was a nasty cliff or down by a river.
Of course, there is always the danger of wild animals too. You remember what David said to Saul regarding his days as a shepherd. “I fended off the lion and the bear.” So if you leave the safety of the other shepherds who are with your flock, you are risking your life. You very well might have rough terrain and wild beasts with which to contend.
There are reports that whole towns or villages could be set on edge waiting for a shepherd to come home. If the others came back, the family would be no doubt on edge for fear of having lost not just a sheep, but their loved one too.
So the shepherd’s going after that sheep was more than just an act of duty. It was an act of self sacrifice. It was love that would drive him out there in the wild.
Certainly that illustrates something of Christ’s love. Because that is exactly what happened to him. He left the safety of heaven and ventured out into the wild of this world. And when he did he faced all the terrors that are associated it. He was torn by men and put upon terrain that was not in the least bit hospitable. In his coming to earth he demonstrated a selfless love and he gave the ultimate sacrifice in his dying on behalf of a sinner.
This love though is not just illustrated by the shepherd. It is also seen in the woman. In this parable you see something of the intensity of the search. This woman loses a coin, which some scholars suggest was her dowry. Now you ladies may be able to understand this. The only way you are going to get a man back in those days is if you have a dowry. If you don’t have all ten of these coins, then no man—no marriage. And one of these coins amounts to a pretty hefty sum of money. So it’s quite likely you’ve worked and worked to earn these coins.
Now, if you dropped $100, you’d probably be a little frantic. You’d probably turn your house upside-down in order to find it. You’d be tearing seat cushions out and rummaging through the trashcan. Imagine now that if that money made the difference as to whether or not you got to marry your husband! Now how important is that coin to you?
So have in mind how frantic this woman probably was. She was a highly motivated looker. And the text brings out how meticulous she is. She lights a lamp and sweeps the house. She looks in every nook and cranny until she finds that coin. This woman was on a mission and nothing was going to stop her.
Some of you guys probably know what this is like. There are some women who, when they get in a cleaning mode, you gotta watch out. I mean, children need to be carefully watched for fear that they may end up in a washing machine or on the curb with the rest of the stuff that’s being thrown out.
But this woman’s search illustrates something of the intensity of God’s love. He is a pursuing God. The one who is his child is incredibly valuable to Him and He will not stop pursuing him or her until they are at last found.
One wonders if these two parables were in the mind of Francis Thompson when he wrote his famous poem “The Hound of Heaven.” The poem is not particularly easy to navigate. It is rather difficult. But it is still a classic. It presents a man who is running from God.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears, I hid from Him
But as he pursues his own pleasures and seeks to make distance between him and God, the Lord is recognized to be the hound who continues a steady and unrelenting pursuit. Thompson says of this Hound:
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
Francis Thompson no doubt wrote that him from his own experience. He was something of a tortured man. He had set out to gain an education to enter the ministry, but he ended up leaving it. He then sought schooling to be a physician, but that too was left off. He contracted a serious medical condition which led him to become addicted to opium. You can imagine his groggy pursuit of drugs. But he could not shake the Lord’s deliberate pursuit of him.
What causes one to keep the trail? Especially of someone who is intent on running away? What causes one to relentlessly pursue that which was lost? It can only be the inflamed passion of a loving God.
There is no doubt that this would have been the word that the sinners who were gathering around Jesus needed to hear. The question was voiced, “This Jesus guy receives sinners?” And the tax collectors and sinners would no doubt be thinking, “Yeah. Why would Jesus receive me?”
Well, one of the reasons that he tells this parable is to say, “Yes, I do receive sinners! I am more than happy to receive a sinner. As a matter of fact, that is the whole reason I’ve come! I’m searching for them so that I might save them!
This parable was told to assure those sinners that they should come to Christ and help them understand that they will be received. And that is the same consolation you should have if you have an interest in gaining eternal life and having a new relationship with the Lord.
The Lord knows that some people can be afraid. They are so ashamed of what they’ve done or they fear that the Lord would not accept them. Perhaps you’ve witnessed this with your children. Perhaps they’ve done something wrong and they’ve gone and hid in their room because they feel they you would just prefer they’d go away.
If you were a good parent, you went to them. You sought them out and you showed them that you loved them, and that there was nothing more that you wanted than to have them come and express that they were sorry for what they had done.
That’s the kind of thing we see going on in this text. Jesus is affirming his love. He’s showing that he wants sinners to come to him. He wants you to understand that if you come to him in repentance, he will not turn you away. Even now he is pursuing you and assuring you that once you look to him he will forgive all your sins.
But the love Christ has for sinners is not just illustrated in the search that is made. You also see it in the joy that is exuded.
II. The joy that Christ exudes
Both of these parables have that in common too. Both of them talk about the immense joy that comes as a result of finding the object that was lost. In verse 6 it says that the shepherd called his friends together. And he says, “Rejoice with me!” It sounds like he’s so happy that he throws a party. Then it goes on to say that he has more joy over that one that was found than the 99 that was safely at home.
The same is said in verse 9 about the woman who finds this coin. But you’ll also note that Jesus adds a little commentary on his parable. In verse 7 he says that there is more join in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 righteous persons. Then in verse 10 he says that “There is joy before the angels over one sinner who repents.”
Now, who is it who has the joy here? Is it the angels? No. The angels are the ones witnessing the joy. They are standing there beholding the one who has the joy. It is the Lord who has the joy, isn’t it? If I can take some liberties with the text, God does his happy dance right there in front of all the angels.
In a couple of weeks my family is going on a trip and my mother has been making plans for it. She’s been talking with the travel agent and getting all the details worked out with our flight. But two weeks ago we got a notice that the airport had changed the time of our flight. We had signed up for a morning flight. But they told us that we wouldn’t be leaving until 5 or 6 in the evening. Which meant that we wouldn’t get to our destination until 11 pm! Now, being in a closed in plane with a 2 year old at 10:00 at night might not be a problem for some people. But it was not something we were looking forward to. You can imagine that this was a little more than disconcerting to us.
So my mother and my wife talked and talked about this. Finally they said, “Let’s just call them and see if they can change it back.” Well, that afternoon my mother came barging in our front door screaming with delight. I’ve never heard her yell like that before. She was just running through my house squealing with all her might.
My wife and children just stood there watching her. They kind of thought Grandma had lost it. She was just erratic with joy.
Now, think of the Lord expressing that kind of jubilation. Think of him dancing around in front of the angels and imagine the angels’ watching him, trying to take it all in.
I understand that some of you might not think that such words should be applied to God. You’re used to thinking “Joy is an inward disposition of the heart.” And you’ll say things like, “We can have joy in the midst of sorrow.” Or “Even at the graveside we can have joy while the tears roll down our eyes.”
For some people, that’s how they think of joy. It is like those old soda pop bottles. You can have fiz on the inside, but the outside of the bottle is very dark. That’s how joy should be. It should be something that’s inward.
And I’ll say, okay to that. But let’s get real here. How can you have “joy before the angels” if your joy is so morose looking on the outside?
You have to understand what is being said here. The joy that is spoken of here is a joy that is used in connection with festivals. It was a joy that involved merriment and dancing and song and great outward displays of elation. This is fiz that could not be corked. It is like the Champaign bottle that blows the cork right off and it all comes spraying out all over the place. That’s the kind of joy being spoken of here.
You hopefully understand what I’m trying to communicate here. I’m trying to help you see how exuberant the Lord is. And in seeing how boisterous his joy is, you will understand something of how lively his love for lost people is.
And as you begin to understand the temperament of God, you will understand the point Jesus is making. You have to understand that this parable wasn’t just told to comfort sinners and get them to realize that Jesus will receive them. It was also designed to be a rebuke to the Pharisees. What Jesus says here is a real a smack in the face to them.
This is a real stinger! He says, “This is how much rejoicing there is in heaven. God rejoices with exuberant joy!” And the implicit question is, “So, what’s with you? Why are you such a stick in the mud? If this is the way the Lord reacts when sinners repent, what does it mean if you don’t?”
Their inability to have compassion on these people and their inability to rejoice in that which God himself rejoices in says something about their own spiritual state.
We often talk about the exclusivity of the gospel. We believe that Christ is the only way of salvation. That’s a real scandal in our modern society. In a day where there is said to be many roads to heaven, people can get a little exercised about such a narrow-minded claim.
But we often fail to realize that the inclusivity of the gospel can be just as scandalous, if not more. The love of God is often greater than our own. It can extend to people we don’t necessarily think should have it.
We like to say that the love of God can go this far, but it certainly cannot go that far! I mean, he’s been a homosexual! She’s been a wild advocate of progressive causes and has been on the forefront every left-winged campaign that has ever come along.
This is the gauge that we need to use to measure just how self-righteous we are. We got to ask ourselves if we are delighting in the same things that God himself delights in. If we want to give a stiff arm to someone who is bowing in repentance, then we’ve become more righteous than Christ.
The point of this parable is that that kind of attitude is just as wicked as the sin we are offended at. And if that is our attitude, we need to repent of it.
The good news is that there is forgiveness for even that sin.
Everyone here knows that we are looking for a new place to meet. We’ve been growing quite steadily over the last two years, and we are starting to get rather cozy here. However, I think that it has been good that the Lord has not opened that door yet.
There is no one who is more eager to find a new place to meet than I, but I think I understand why the Lord has not provided a new space for us yet.
You notice from the first verse that there were great crowds gathering around Jesus. They were swarming like bees. And you will notice how Jesus reacts to this. What was his response? He seeks to trim the herd.
In this passage Jesus seeks to lays forth the terms of discipleship. He says, “If you really want to be my disciple, then you better understand what you are getting into.”
When you are downloading something on your computer one of the things that you always have to do is click the button that says that you agree to the terms and conditions. That’s essentially what Jesus is doing here. He’s laying out the terms and conditions, and he says, “If you want to be one of my disciples this is what is required of you.”
As Jesus speaks he tells two parables to illustrate the forethought that is necessary. The first parable is about a guy who builds a tower. Now, is he just going to jump into the project and start building? Of course not. He’s got to plan it out first and see if he has enough money to get the job done. Otherwise he’s going to look like a fool.
The second parable is essentially the same. A king doesn’t just jump into a war. He’s got to consider whether or not he can win and then take the necessary actions.
All of that is to say, “Hey, you need to think about what you are getting yourself into here.” You can’t just start following me without understanding what you are getting into.
And all of you should know that we are not interested in just filling the pews. While we are glad you are hear, you need to understand that our main concern is not how many seats are taken each Sunday or how much money is being dropped in the offering box each week.
Our focus is on getting people to fear God and keep his commandments. We want people to follow Christ and be lifelong disciples. And like Jesus, we want you to know what you are getting into. Before you get too far into this, we want you to understand how determined you must be if you choose to follow Christ. What’s more, we want you to know just how detrimental it can be if you choose to turn away from Christ.
In other words, you have to count the cost. You have to count what it might cost you if you choose to follow after Christ and you have to count what it might cost you if you end up falling away from Christ.
You will notice that Jesus begins by talking about how determined you must be if you want to follow Christ and be one of his disciples.
I. How determined you must be if you choose to follow Christ [25-33]
He expresses the zeal and fortitude you must possess it in 3 different ways. The first way he gets at it is by means of an exaggerated statement. In verse 26 Jesus says, “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.”
These words were intended to have some shock value. It was intended to give people a jolt and get them really thinking about what they were opting to do here.
Some people look at this and say, “Did Jesus really want us to hate our parents? That seems to contradict all of the rest of Scripture.”
Of course it does! It wasn’t meant to be taken literally. He was exaggerating. He was trying to get people to recognize that their love for Christ has to supersede the love one might have for his family. If they loved their family so much that it would hinder them from following Christ, then they were not fit to be his disciple.
I like what Matthew Henry says here. He says, “[A disciple] must be willing to quit that which is very dear, and therefore must come to Christ thoroughly weaned from all their creature-comforts, and dead to them, so as to cheerfully part with them rather than quit his interest in Christ.”
In other words, you cannot just float along and enjoy being a disciple so long as everyone else goes along with it. You must be willing to turn your backs on them if they would not approve of your new religious affiliation.
That’s pretty extreme, wouldn’t you say? But that’s not all.
In the next verse he gets at the level of your zeal by means of an allusion. He says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” The reference to “bearing a cross” is a reference to crucifixion. It was the most hideous means of death that existed at that time. And what he is saying is that, if you chose to follow him, you might be deemed an enemy of the state. You might be liable to death; and not just any death! It could mean being tortured and subjected to some of the most terrible pains you could ever imagine.
So again, you see here some of the shock value of Christ’s words. You can’t just be a tepid follower or a fair weather friend of Jesus. You can’t just commit to him so long as you experience wealth and prosperity and good times. You must be in to the point where you are willing to give up your life.
So he’s used an exaggerated statement, an allusion to capital punishment, and we already talked about the two parables. But just in case you missed it, he states it in plain English in verse 34, “If you do not renounce all that you have, you cannot be my disciple.”
Here of course, he’s referring to your possessions. He’s not saying that you have to give them up and take a vow of poverty. He’s using some exaggeration again. What he means to say is that nothing can come between you and your service to Christ. If you can’t live without your make-up kit or your friends’ approval, then you can’t be a disciple of Christ.
My friends, If you are going to be a disciple of Christ then your devotion to him has to surpass every other attachment in your life. You cannot be half-hearted in your devotion and still be considered a follower Christ.
And I want you young people to understand this. A lot of the older folks here have already signed on. They’ve already made the commitment to Christ. And I know there are a lot of you young people who have yet to make a personal profession of faith and commitment to serving Christ.
It is my sincere hope that you do so. I pray for it every day. I want all of you to take Jesus to be your personal Savior and make him the Lord of your life. I want nothing more than to see all of you stand before the congregation and make a formal affirmation of faith. And I want to encourage you, that if you are ready to do that, you talk to your parents.
But one thing you need to do before you have that conversation is think about what Jesus says right here. Are you able to make this kind of sacrifice? Are you ready to put him above everything else?
In the Old Testament before they went to war, the officers were to have the men assemble in their ranks. And the officers were to say to the warriors who were lined up there that if any of them were afraid, they were to go home.
Now there is something very practical about that. You don’t want a bunch of cowards going into battle. Fear can be contagious and you don’t that spreading through the ranks. But there was something more to it. Those who were going out to battle were saying something much more important. As they marched forth were making a profession of faith. They were saying, “I believe in the God of Israel and I am willing to give my life for him.”
That is what Jesus demands of you.
Before you make a commitment to Christ you need to understand how determined you must be.
But not only should you understand how determined you must be, you need to understand how detrimental it can be if you end up turning away from Christ.
Now, Jesus knows that there are people like me. I’m the kind of guy who just likes to jump in and get going. I don’t like spending a lot of time planning out a project and fiddling with all the details.
in order to re-enforce the necessity of counting the cost of becoming a disciple, Jesus adds these last few lines about salt losing its saltiness.
II. How detrimental it will be if you turn away from Christ [34-35]
In verse 34 Jesus says, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how will it be made salty again?”
Now experience tells us that there are many people who make a profession of faith and they follow Christ for a time. They align themselves with the church and they make a pledge to be one of Christ’s disciples. And for a time they are very zealous. They fervently pursue personal piety and are very much salt, as Jesus describes them here in verse 34.
But after a while, they end up turning away from the faith. In all reality, they were a false convert. Grace never really filled their heart and their profession was simply one of the lips and not of the soul. The salt loses its saltiness.
Now Jesus addresses that person here. And he says that that kind of person needs to be aware he puts his eternal destiny in jeopardy. At the very least, he runs the risk of ever being able to come to a true state of salvation.
Look at what Jesus says in verse 34. Think about what this means. He says, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”
What is that saying? It is saying that once salt loses its saltiness, it is extremely hard, if not altogether impossible, to have that flavor brought back. And what then is the comparison? This is a metaphor that Jesus is using to describe a backslider. Jesus is saying that once a person turns away from Christ, it is very difficult, if not altogether impossible, for him to be saved.
Listen to what JC Ryle says, “The general teaching of the New Testament appears to be that nothing is so displeasing to God as the misuse of knowledge, and the wilful turning away from the truth once seen and acknowledged, to the service of sin and the world. The Bible teaches, in fact, that no sinner is so unlikely to be saved as the man who after making a high spiritual profession, falls away and returns to the world.”
Ryle goes on then and gives personal testimony to this from his own experience. He says that during the years of his own ministry he had witnessed the hardness of men who had fallen away.
Now, you all can probably think of exceptions. You might be able to name someone who had once been an ardent believer, then dropped it, only to come back to it later in life. I do not doubt that can occur and that the Lord can display grace in that way.
The exception to the rule does not nullify the rule. The truth of the matter is that those who cozy up to Christ and pursue him for a time only to end up denying him later, do a serious injustice to themselves. They can build up something of an immunity to the gospel. The fire that you once had can calcify and you can become hardened to the gospel that it has no affect upon you.
And you must understand that if you make void your profession of faith you are putting yourself in a precarious position.
But not only do you run the risk of never being able to recover and be saved, you must face the greater reality that you will be eternally lost.
In verse 35 Jesus says that salt that has lost its saltiness is no good. It’s not even good for the manure pile! So what do you do with it? You throw it out on the street and let people trample on it.
You know when it is snowing out and ice forms on the steps, we throw salt out on it too. But everyone comes and tramples it down. Jesus uses that as a way of describing one’s eternal condemnation and experience of hell.
You need to understand that if you turn away from Christ, there will be eternal consequences. On that day when you die and come before the Lord you cannot say to him, “Well, there was a time when I followed you. As a matter of fact, I was quite zealous for the faith. You know Jesus, just how meticulous I was in my personal piety and how ardently I sought to be. I was so fervent in my devotion made the Puritans seem like riotous drunkards.”
That will mean nothing to Christ at all. It doesn’t matter how hot a fire once was. If it peters out before dinner is done cooking, it is of no use.
You must understand that turning from Christ can be a most detrimental thing.
When you visit the Grand Canyon there are certain precautions that you must take, especially if you want to go hiking in the Canyon. One of the things that they warn against is trying to hike from the rim to the river. They do not recommend that you attempt to go down to the bottom and back in one day. They say that there are over 250 people who are rescued each year in the canyon because they have acted foolishly and not heeded the warnings. That, of course, is not counting the dozen or so people who die each year from their lack of caution.
But it is a dangerous thing to try and hike from the rim to the river. Think about it, going down is not that big of a deal. It’s a pretty good hike, for sure. It is over a mile all the way down to the base. And it can be somewhat perilous. After all it is a canyon and you are going down a steep trail. There’s always the danger of slipping and plunging to your death.
But where most people get caught is the trip back up! It is a lot harder going up than going down. Not only do you have to exert the extra effort, but you have the sun with which to contend! It can really get blazing hot. And a lot of people are not prepared for that kind of thing. They might get there in the morning (while it is still cool) and think that it would be a jolly fun thing to walk it. They’ll be thinking, “Hey, this will be no problem.”
But by the afternoon, as they are trudging up, that sun really starts bearing down on them. And in the canyon it can really bake you like an oven; there is not much of a breeze and the sun’s heat is intensified as it bounces off the canyon walls. And many people don’t think to bring enough water.
What their problem is is that they don’t give it enough thought prior to setting out. They just jump in and start down the canyon without taking into consideration all the necessary facts or hazards.
When I was in seminary Elizabeth and I had friends who went to the Grand Canyon for their honeymoon. And they decided to hike the Canyon—rim to river! They were smart though. They started out at 3am, long before the sun came up. And they were in very good condition, so they were hearty enough that they could do it. And they did. It wasn’t without its rigors. It was tough. They said they didn’t do much of anything else the rest of their honeymoon. But they did make it down and back in a day.
My point is, becoming a disciple of Christ is a lot like hiking the canyon. You need to realize what you are getting yourself into. Being a disciple is a demanding thing. It might not be all that it was initially cracked up to be. The Christian life is not all kicks and giggles. Christ has to mean more to you than anything else.
What’s more, you have to understand how detrimental it can be if you are not completely devoted. If you end up turning away from Christ, you run the risk of being eternally lost.
As we look at this passage there is no question that Jesus is something of the life of the party. He sort of takes the role of the host (or, at the very least, he becomes the MC of this whole shindig).
He most definitely provides some food for thought. Despite being the guest, He takes the opportunity to serve up some truths for us to mentally digest.
Our passage today starts off by telling us that Jesus was also watching them. When dinner was about to be served he stood there looking at how they each scurried over to the table in order to take their places.
What he saw was what prompted him to speak. But you’ll notice that what he says here is designed to get us to look at ourselves. We’ve had an opportunity to survey the grounds here. Now Jesus wants us to turn our attention to where it really needs to be; we need to look inwardly and really begin to analyze ourselves.
I want you to keep this in mind. Because, if we don’t have a little introspection here, then we will miss the significance of what is said here—we will miss the lessons that Jesus is trying to teach. What is he trying to teach us? Well, it is the lesson of humility.
In verses 7-11 Jesus addresses the entire diner party. We are told that he observed how they were taking their seats. And back in those days where you sat at the table expressed something of your rank and social position. You might remember that the disciples once questioned Jesus who would sit at his right and left hand. That’s imagry drawn from this kind of dinner party. Those were the most important positions at a feast.
And as people were looking to sit down he noticed that it was like the music stopped in Musical Chairs. Everyone was rushing for certain seats; places of honor.
Jesus sees this for what it is. It is nothing more than extreme vanity. Their actions here was a prideful, self-aggrandizement. So he takes this opportunity to teach a lesson about humility. He says, “When you are invited, don’t take the higher seat, because you might be demoted. As a result, you’d be completely put to shame. What’s better, is to take the lower spot. Have some humility. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Then, you might get promoted to a higher seat.
The thing about pride is that it is a form of flattery. You are picturing yourself in a way that is far better than what you really are. It is flattering yourself. But it is not just a flattering of yourself, you want other people to go along with it. You want other people recognize us and glory in how great you are (or at least see us as greater than we actually are).
We certainly don’t want people to see our faults. That’s the thing about someone who is humble; he’s a person who recognizes his shortcomings, and he doesn’t mind that other people know them too. He’s one who understands how much he doesn’t understand or he is ready to admit that he’s not good enough for something.
Think about how we like to try and outdo one another, even here. For us guys Providence church is a place of intellectuals, right? We like talking about the books we just got done reading and we like that cordial air where we can debate. But isn’t that debate a great place to establish just how intelligent we are? But in reality, we might not be the one who should be commenting and arguing. The subject matter is not an area where we’ve done a lot of study and we’re just spouting our empty thoughts.
Or how about those pot luck lunches. You ladies know you just can’t bring any old thing, can you? You have to bring something stellar because that dish represents your entire home life. You know that you have to have something that says that you are the model home maker and all your children adore and obey you. If you bring the wrong thing that it’s going to say you don’t feed your family anything healthy and you probably leave your bed unmade all day. It is kind of like reading the entrails of a chicken--Somehow you can discern just how good of a homeschooling mother you are by looking at this casserole!
Those are the kinds of things that we do. We have to make ourselves look good and get that higher status ranking.
But you know, that pride and self assertion is symptomatic of a greater problem. You know, Jesus isn’t really concerned with the seating chart here. You’ll notice that verse 7 says that this is all a parable. It is a story to illustrate a deeper spiritual truth. Then at the end he says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
What he is really talking about here is not dinner party etiquette. He’s talking about one’s standing before God.
What it all boils down to is that these people were jockeying for position before God. That was the Pharisaical spirit. In their pride and self delusion, they actually thought that they had some great glory to boast of before God. They were so puffed up in their self righteousness and thinking that they were so good that they couldn’t see what they really needed.
Jesus is saying that kind of person, when you come into God’s great banquet, is going to be cast down. The one who’s going to be exalted is not the one who thinks himself good or great, but it’s the lowly one. The one who is going to get to sit at the banqueting table of heaven is the the one who is humble. It’s the one who recognizes himself to be a sinner and understands that he doesn’t deserve to have a place near the Lord.
That’s what these Pharisees and religious leaders were lacking. They were lacking the humility to confess that they had nothing before the Lord. They had no glory, no righteousness to speak of. They couldn’t bring themselves to admit that they needed his grace.
You’ll notice that that’s the point of the next part of the passage.
In verses 12-14 he turns to the host of the party and begins to talk about the charity that he ought to display when throwing a banquet.
He says that when you throw a party you shouldn’t invite those who are your equals and those who can repay you. Instead, you should invite people who don’t have that kind of power. You should express charity and invite the poor, the crippled, and the lame.
But again, I think that is not a commentary on party etiquette. I believe that Jesus is still talking in parables here. He’s making the larger and deeper point of God’s grace. Who is it that is invited to the banqueting table of God? Is it those who have great standing and nobility? Does he invite those who are notable for the things they’ve done and accomplished?
Absolutely not. The Lord invites those who are poor, crippled, and lame. It’s those people who admit that they have nothing to offer the Lord and who are spiritually paralyzed by sin.
Jesus is trying to tell these people that the Lord doesn’t open the doors of heaven to those who are full of themselves and think that they have it all together. The doors of heaven are open to those who recognize that they don’t have it together. Grace is for those whose lives are broken. It’s for those who are in need of mercy and compassion.
I’m truly afraid that many people are going to fail to get into heaven because they are overqualified. Because they don’t understand the nature of God’s grace and who he receives into his kingdom.
The evangelism program that we are starting is a good illustration of this. One of the first steps in engaging in evangelism is to ask the person you are speaking with, “do you consider yourself a good person?” And the answer almost 100% of the time is “yes.”
At that point what you are supposed to do is start going through some of the 10 commandments with that person. That’s because this person is currently overqualified for grace. He doesn’t see himself as needing a savior. He thinks he can flash his “I’m so good badge” and walk right into heaven.
But if you are going to receive eternal life, you have to recognize that you can’t walk into heaven. You have to be carried. The only people who are invited are those who are spiritual invalids. Those who are going to be saved are the dads who bow before the Lord and confess that they are not loving their kids the way he should. It’s the mother who confesses that she is not the homemaker that she ought to be.
God’s grace isn’t for those who have a great resume decked out with all kinds of great accomplishments. God’s grace is those who are contrite before him and acknowledge that they really don’t have a spiritual resume to speak of.
That really brings us to the tragedy of this banquet. We’ve seen so far something of the humility God requires and the charity God displays. But the last portion of our passage we see the tragedy God expects.
In verse 15 someone in the crowd cries out “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” And Jesus responds with a parable. It’s about a man who invites many people to a banquet.
And in one sense the parable is really good. That’s because it reiterates the extent of God’s grace. After those who had initially been invited fail to come, the man invites many who had not initially been invited. In verse 21 the Master says, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame.” After that was accomplished there was still room. So he said, “Go out to the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in.”
You can recognize what this is talking about. Those who are in the streets are those who are the flunkies. They’re the ones who recognize themselves to be sinners. The ones who are at the highways and the hedges are the Gentiles. Jesus is saying that the grace of God will extend beyond the borders of Israel to the heathen in the most remote places.
So, again, there is a sense in which this parable tells us something good. It reminds us that each of us is invited to the banquet.
But you understand, of course, that isn’t the main point Jesus was trying to communicate. The main point regards those who were initially invited but did not come.
You can tell by the way he ends it. He says, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
Now you might be thinking, “Well, they had something else going on! How could they drop everything and come at a moment’s notice.” The truth is that invitations would have been sent out long before the big day. What is spoken of here would have been the second invitation. That the people had something else going on showed that they didn’t put a priority on the event. If they were inclined to be there they would have scheduled their day accordingly. They’re not doing so showed that they had not wanted to come in the first place.
That’s why this is a tragedy. It reminds us that many very religious people are going to partake of the eternal kingdom. They failed to respond appropriately to the invitation and in their hearts they really do not love the Banquet Host.
The Lord is that master of ceremonies. He is the Host of the Great Banquet. And he is extending his invitation now for you to come into his banquet. He’s saying, I want you to be a part of this great feast. And he is offering you the grace you need to get in. He will pardon all your sins and make a space for you.
But the only way you can get in is if you recognize your need for saving. You don’t need to be perfectly humble—that’s certainly not the case. You’re humility is going to be lacking. But its that disposition where you acknowledge that there is only one way. It is through the saving power of Jesus Christ.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.