June 21, 2020
A man puts on a banquet and invites many, but those invited declined the invitation. They chose not to come. That was their choice, was it not? These men were free, right? No. They were not free. And when we examine their words closer, we see that indeed they were slaves of the most miserable kind. The first man said he bought a field that he needed to go and see instead. In Greek he said, “I have need.” That word for need, αναγκην means necessity or compulsion. It’s used to say that someone has a “natural need,” like hunger or thirst. And it is even used to mean “compulsion exerted by a superior.” Well, obviously the man did not have a true natural need to go see a field, although he felt like he did. He was compelled by his own flesh to go and see the field instead of accepting the invitation to the banquet. His flesh had become his master, his superior, who forced him to do what it wanted him to do. And we see the progression of control this master exerts over its subordinates as the third man claimed, “I cannot come” literally, “I am not able to come.” So strongly has the flesh exerted its control over these men that they literally cannot act against it. They are bound, enslaved. They cannot come to the banquet.
And this becomes all the more tragic when we realize who it is who invites them to this banquet and what the banquet is. God himself invites these men to the banquet. And the meal is not roast beef or chicken, but Christ Jesus himself! “Everything is now ready.” God declares. Everything was made ready when Jesus Christ, true God, took on our human nature, lived under the law in our place, died for the sins we deserved to be punished for, and rose from the dead. Christ Jesus was prepared for us not on a spit or in an oven, but on the cross where he endured God’s righteous judgment for our sins. Hotter than any oven burned the fierce wrath of God against his own Son, and Jesus made atonement for the sins of the whole world. And God rejoiced in his Son. When Jesus had done all this for us, he cried, “It is finished.” before he gave up his Spirit to God the Father and permitted his lifeless body to be laid in a tomb, confident that God would raise him up victorious on the third day.
This is the Gospel! God is reconciled to us sinners, because Christ Jesus took God’s wrath away. The invitation to the banquet is the proclamation of the Gospel. Feasting at the banquet is the feasting of faith as Jesus says in John 6, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (vs. 35) And this feast of faith is not just a casual meal; eat if you want, leave it if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. No! This meal is a matter of eternal salvation or damnation! Everyone needs this meal if they will have eternal life! Jesus again says, “Truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)
So, you see that this banquet is of the utmost importance. He who feasts at this banquet lives forever! He who sits down at this feast inherits the kingdom of heaven! So, you see the tragedy of these “free men” bound to the compulsion of their flesh! They reject eternal life! They feel under compulsion to ignore God’s call to freedom and to go and take care of mundane things that can wait!
This is madness! Insanity! This is like a starving man, who has not eaten in a week, who’s dying of thirst, being offered cool water to drink and a healthy meal to eat and him saying, “No thank you. I have to go buy some shoes.” What lunacy! Who can stand such a thing! Yet, they cannot help it! They’re bound to the impulses of their flesh, which only fights against the Spirit of God, as Scripture says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
The sinful flesh resists hearing and believing the Gospel. And this is something all Christians should be aware of. St. Paul warns Christians, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17) Christians must continue to battle their own sinful flesh, which wars against their new self, made alive by the Holy Spirit. And what does the sinful flesh constantly do? Resist hearing and believing the Gospel of Christ.
Just compare the similarities between the excuses made by these men declining to go to the banquet and the excuses made to skip church, where the Gospel is proclaimed and where Christians feast on Christ in faith. “I have to go look at my field. I have to go test my oxen. I’m married; I don’t have time.” None of these activities are sins in and of themselves. But to do these things instead of feasting at God’s banquet of salvation is madness that only one enslaved to his sinful flesh could rationalize. And we’re not speaking of real reasons to miss church like physical sickness or disability, but the purposeful refusal to go to church in order to do anything else. Such behavior does not come from the Spirit, but the compulsion of the sinful flesh.
Many Christians are upset about the recent Supreme Court decision on Bostock vs. Clayton County, which determined that the word “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes sexual orientation and gender identity. And they should be upset. This ruling will be used to target Christians with expensive litigation for attempting to live according to their Christian values. This has already been happening. Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado is being sued for the third time for refusing to make messages that conflict with his Christian faith. And he is just one of many examples. When Jesus said that the world that hated him would hate us also, he meant it. Christians, who will share with us the mansion Christ is preparing for us in heaven will suffer here on earth because of rulings like Bostock vs. Clayton County.
Yet, even if America were to completely ban Christianity and the proclamation of the Gospel, that would still be better than to live in a body that compulsively refuses to hear the Gospel. To live under the compulsion of the flesh is the worst slavery you can be under. At least under the tyranny of the state you can still seek out the Gospel and hear it in secret. If the Gospel were banned, we’d still hear it and confess it. We’d meet in basements, cemeteries, barns out in the country. Because we need the Gospel! We can’t live without it. Banning the Gospel would be like banning water. We’re going to find water. We won’t rest until we do!
We need the Gospel. We are compelled by our renewed self to hear it and consume its lifegiving medicine. But to lose the sense that the Gospel is a necessity is the worst condition you can be in. It’s like a death sentence. Because even if the saving Gospel is readily available, if you are enslaved to your flesh, you won’t drink. You’ll instead feel compelled to go play with a ball or sit on your couch and fiddle with your phone.
In an urgency to have his banquet hall filled, the master said to the servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in.” People get uncomfortable with the word, “compel.” In fact, this word is very much related to the word used previously by the man rejecting the invitation, when he said he had need (αναγκην) to see his field. The master says, αναγκησον, compel them to come. Does this mean God forces us to believe in him? No. However, when we consider the compulsion we suffer under our sinful flesh, the word “compel” is of great comfort.
The servant compels the people to come to the banquet not with physical force or threats, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5) The Gospel is powerful. The Holy Spirit, who is God, works through the Gospel. This means that through the Gospel he changes hearts, causes new birth, and leads you in a new life. It is like that hymn states, “He rescues me from sin/ And breaks the chains that bind me. I leave death’s fear behind me; His peace I have within.” (LSB 713:2)
The proclamation of the Gospel not only satisfies the hungry soul, but it causes the soul to hunger! Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) O how blessed we are to have been given such hunger and thirst. Without it, we would pass up the feast of salvation to fiddle with sticks! Psalm 42 states, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” These are words of the faithful. And such thirst God will never leave unsatisfied. When the master tells the servant to compel the people to come, he commands him to change their minds so that they recognize their greatest need and then to satisfy them thoroughly with the banquet he has prepared.
God’s earnest desire is for the banquet hall of the feast of salvation to be filled. So, he in great mercy continues to send forth his servants to proclaim the Gospel empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s house will be filled. Jesus’ blood was not shed in vain. We are invited to come and eat. May we by God’s grace answer the call and feast with him for eternity. Amen.