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.