Pastor James Preus
June 30, 2019
The master of the house in Jesus’ parable is God. God has prepared a great banquet and invited many. And God prepared this banquet by sending his only begotten Son into the world to take on human flesh, be born of the Virgin Mary, live under the law, obeying his parents and all human authorities instituted by God, to fulfill the law in our place, and then to suffer and die for the punishment of our sins in our place, and finally to be raised from the dead, conquering death forever and leaving all our sins, guilt, and shame nailed to the cross. Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, is the banquet prepared by God. He is our meat and drink, our bread from heaven, which gives eternal life to all who eat it.
You accept the invitation to this banquet by believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the banquet is ready now. The invitations are currently being announced by God’s servants. God even offers a foretaste of this meal in the blessed Sacrament, to strengthen us on our journey from the highways and hedges to enter into the heavenly banquet. We are invited through the preaching of the Gospel. This is God’s invitation.
Yet, as in the parable, most do not accept this invitation. Most reject the faith. Yet, when we listen to Jesus’ story, we notice something interesting about the excuses of those who rejected the invitation. They don’t say, “Please, have me excused, I need to go rob a bank.” or “Please, have me excused, I am going to go and murder someone.” or Please, have me excused, I need to carry on an affair.” No. One buys a field, another five yoke of oxen, and the third gets married. Well, is there anything wrong with buying a field or oxen, or getting married? Of course not! Farming is good. We need people to buy and work fields, so that we can eat! Oxen were a very versatile animal. You could use oxen to plow, harvest, and mill grain, build, etc. They were farm, construction, and transportation equipment. It certainly isn’t bad to pursue any of those industries. It’s good to do such work.
And marriage! God loves marriage! He instituted marriage in the garden before the fall into sin. God compares marriage to Christ’s relationship with his church. God desires for husbands to love their wives, wives to respect their husbands, and for them to teach their children the love of Jesus. If only people today would honor marriage and value it as highly as Scripture teaches, we would live in a much more pleasant and God-fearing world!
Yet, there is a command that is greater than all other commands. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” We are to have no other gods before the Lord God. Whatever you fear, love, and trust in most is your god. The master of the house was angry when those invited gave excuses and rejected the invitation. God is wrathful when his invitation is rejected. No, God does not hate good honest work or marriage. But nothing, no matter how noble, should replace God in your heart. Immediately after Jesus spoke this parable he said, “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.” (Luke 14:26) Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. He doesn’t literally want us to hate our family. He commands just the opposite. But nothing, not your parents or children, not even your husband or wife shall replace your fear, love, and trust of God. All these are gifts from God. And we are forbidden to take any of God’s gifts and turn them into idols.
The first commandment is the most commonly broken commandment, yet it is so easy to be unaware of this. God gives us the commandments to teach us how to love him and our neighbor. The third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” teaches us to fear and love God by not despising his word and preaching, but holding it sacred, and gladly hearing and learning it. We love God by gladly hearing his word, by going to church, by accepting the invitation to his banquet. Yet, we make false gods out of all of God’s gifts, so that we find no time to gladly hear and learn God’s holy word. Work, sports, vacations, travel, family time, et cetera, none of which are bad in and of themselves, are all exalted as idols over and against God and his word. And this parable of Jesus teaches us that God is very displeased with this.
And so, the master sends out his servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and lame into his banquet. This isn’t very flattering to us, is it? We’re poor, crippled, blind, and lame. That’s what Jesus calls us, who accept the invitation to his banquet. Yet, this is very comforting, because this means that we are accepted into God’s banquet by grace. It is not by our merits or works or worthiness that we are brought in to sit at the feast of salvation, but rather God brings us in as a free gift, apart from any merit or worthiness in us.
Jesus uses a peculiar word, which seems almost inappropriate, when he tells how God directs his servants to bring people into his banquet. He says, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” “Compel.” God doesn’t force us to be Christians, does he? We can’t turn people into Christians with the use of weapons or physical force! And that is true. Yet, the compelling our Lord speaks of here does not refer to physical force, but the working of the Holy Spirit on your heart. This is done through the preaching of God’s word. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) It is this word of God, which is the compelling force that draws people from all corners of the world into God’s heavenly banquet.
The word of God is rightly divided into two main subjects: the Law and the Gospel, or perhaps better understood as God’s commands and God’s promises. The law commands. The law commands us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The law commands us to gladly hear and learn God’s preaching and word. The law commands that we honor our parents and other authorities, that we not only refrain from hurting our neighbor in his body, but do what we can to help and support him in every physical need. The law commands that we stay faithful to our spouse in mind, word, and deed. The law commands that we be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.
And despite all its commands, the law never makes us perfect. Instead, the law shows us how very imperfect we are. The law demonstrates that we are poor, crippled, blind, and lame. The law cannot bring us into God’s heavenly banquet. Rather, the law shows us how incapable we are of entering it ourselves.
And this is why the law must be preached. Because God does not invite those, who deserve to come to his banquet. He does not invite those who are able to pay him back for his hospitality. He invites those, who can do nothing but receive his grace. And the law makes you that way. The law crushes you, so that you feel your need for God’s mercy. It is only after the law has done its work that you can receive the promises of God in faith.
The promises of God are the invitation to the banquet. God promises to accept you for the sake of Jesus Christ, who has been prepared to be your Savior and your heavenly meat and drink. This is a very important distinction to make. People often feel bad, because they skip church. They know they should go more, put God first. It’s the right thing to do. And that’s true. It is the command of God to obediently hear his word and learn it. It is God’s command that you worship him and him only. Yet, it is not the command which compels guilty consciences into the heavenly banquet. It is the Gospel, the promise of God to forgive and restore by grace.
A guilty conscience may get you to go to church to give God your “due time.” But that will not give you the full benefits of going to church and it certainly won’t usher you into his banquet. God’s invitation is accepted when after the law has proven you to be poor, crippled, blind, and lame and utterly incapable of earning your seat at the table and when you believe God’s promise to forgive you for the sake of Jesus Christ and to bring you into his banquet on the merits of Christ.
The preaching of the law brings you low. It humbles you. The preaching of the gospel lifts you up. It exalts you to sit at God’s table. This is how God compels people into his house. When you see your dire need for what God is offering in his banquet, when you see that you need Jesus and that God offers him freely with life and salvation with him, there is no force in this world greater than that. That force will bring you to church, not to fulfill some obligation to quiet a nagging conscience, but because there is nowhere else you’d rather be than feasting on Christ in faith. God compels you to come to his banquet, not with physical force, but by the Holy Spirit creating faith in your heart, faith that is confident in God’s love for Christ’s sake.
God’s promise to accept you on account of Christ assures you of God’s love for you. It is God’s love for you that leads you to trust in him and to love him from the heart. It is God’s love revealed to you that makes you willing to enter his banquet. This willingness is faith. And there is no greater compelling force than that.
The banquet is ready. Christ Jesus is our meal. God offers him to you freely. You are invited. Amen.