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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Costly Banquet

Luke 14

Lesson audio

With Christ we find that often the homeliest of examples carries the deepest of truth.

Banquet Rules

Luk 14:1-14 NIV

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. (2) There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. (3) Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" (4) But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. (5) Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son[1] or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" (6) And they had nothing to say. (7) When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: (8) "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. (9) If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. (10) But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. (11) For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (12) Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. (13) But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, (14) and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Background

To understand this passage we need to know something about the culture of the time:

  • The most important guests were seated at the table nearest the kitchen. As the food was served, they got first choice. (Ever picked the cashews out of the nut mix?)
  • Banquets were more common in those days, as it was a good way of using up the whole cow (no refrigeration).
  • Whenever the cook had things prepared, the servants would be sent out to summon the guests. We’d give a time instead.
  • If you think social structure is unimportant today, give a wedding reception.

It is against this background that Christ delivers his lesson on humility. We must first investigate just what humility means, however.

Humility

Humility is, at root, honesty with yourself. If you happen to be a rocket scientist, saying that you’re really dumb is not humility – it’s dishonesty. The baseline trick seems to be this:

·         Use the same yardstick to measure you and others. If you’re lenient with yourself about some particular behavior, don’t be strict with others. Hypocrisy is not humility.

·         If the facts are, for example, that you are smarter than the average human, treat that as a fact – not as pride. After all, where did you get your native intelligence? Are not your achievements a reflection of what God has led you and permitted you to do?

Of course, this is not particularly popular today. We teach our athletes (and other role models) to “trash talk.” Arrogance is now seen as an important virtue. It may be fashionable; it is not right. The truth in ethics is not found in fashion magazines.[1]

There are two things, though, that we can attribute to successful humility.

·         Humility leads to the pure heart – which enables us to see God.[2]

·         Humility leads to a gentle spirit. How so? Think of it this way: are most of your arguments started by your pride? A gentle spirit needs no such; and humility displaces pride.

Inviting the poor

One of the curious results of humility is the change in those with whom you associate. For those climbing the corporate ladder it is important to associate with the right people, in the right way. It’s OK to know the mail room staff, in a condescending way. But you don’t want to play basketball with them; you want to go golfing with the executives instead.

This applies to banquets and dinners as well. The climber will carefully construct his guest list; the humble man will do the same. It’s just that they have different criteria. The climber invites those who can help him succeed; the humble invite those they can help. This can cause interesting results, for some of those people are genuinely those who don’t fit in.

Yorba Linda, a city near us, has the highest per capita income of any city in America. The city’s motto is, “Land of Gracious Living.” The important thing is to live in a particular style, it seems.

If I might bore you with a repeated story (front page of the web site www.becomingcloser.org):

We had a friend whose life was not “gracious living.” One night my wife was on the phone with her, and our friend mentioned that she would not be eating tonight, as her Social Security check would not arrive for another two or three days. My wife offered to bring something over to her (the lady does not drive), an offer refuses as being too much trouble. My wife replied that this was no problem, as she would simply bring over some “leftovers from ours.”

We remember this night because of that. The kids and I heard it differently: not “leftovers from ours” but (cue the science fiction music) “Leftovers From Mars.” The kids and I had a lot of fun with that; but wherever you get your leftovers, share them.

God’s Banquet

It should be noted that humility is a part of the Imitation of Christ. Consider how God handles his banquets:

Luk 14:15-24 NIV When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." (16) Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. (17) At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' (18) "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' (19) "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' (20) "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' (21) "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' (22) " 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' (23) "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. (24) I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "

Excuses

It is instructive to look at the excuses given here – for they are the same ones we have in our modern lives. You don’t think so? Consider them this way:

·         The first is the press of ordinary business. We are often warned that this should not be in the way, but the cares of this world do tend to drive out the things of God. After all, I have the rent to pay. God wouldn’t bother with that. Right?

·         Even less valid is the press of new toys. I just bought an ATV; I need to take it out into the desert and try it out. It is a common tactic of Satan; let the new step in the way of the eternal.

·         Finally, there is a phrase for the most powerful of roadblocks: the good is the enemy of the best. Your marriage is very important, and a good thing – but neither so important nor so good as the kingdom of God. Marriage is a part of the commandment of God; do not let the part replace the whole.

Evangelism – or, who should be invited?

One of the great problems of the church over the centuries is the strong tendency to fracture along the fault lines of wealth and respectability. James knew about it in the time of the Apostles[3]; it has not departed from us yet. So then, just who should we be inviting to our King’s banquet?

·         May I suggest the usual suspects? All those folks who DO fit in with your church should be invited.

·         But consider the unlikely as well. Not just the physically crippled; the spiritually crippled as well. Whom? What about those suffering from divorce or death? Those just out of prison? Those whose biker/Goth/whatever lifestyle offends you?

·         Indeed, invite even the enemies of God – the highwayman and the hedge robber.

It says, “Whosoever will.” Just about covers it, too.

Why?

This, of course, becomes rather uncomfortable. So we look around to find reasons to avoid it. Consider, however, the reasons to do it:

·         First, it is obedience to God’s command. Make disciples of all people, He said.

·         Second, in so doing we honor the humility of Christ – by imitating it.

·         Finally, it turns us into carriers of God’s love. We are made a channel, where His grace is poured. As such, we bring glory to his name and his love to any and all.

Count the Cost

Luk 14:25-35 NIV Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: (26) "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. (27) And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (28) "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (29) For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, (30) saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' (31) "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? (32) If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. (33) In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (34) "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (35) It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

We noted earlier that the good is often the enemy of the best, the part the enemy of the whole. For some this appears to be a contradiction. If I am doing good works, how can God condemn me for that? He doesn’t; but He may condemn you for doing them when you should have done something else.

Permit me a silly example. Let us suppose you come upon the scene of a horrific automobile accident. There are many things you could do; for example, you might talk to one of the survivors to assure them that they will be all right. But shouldn’t you open your cell phone first and call 911?

It’s an old example, but a useful one. If you are building a wagon, you build the wheels from the hub out – not the rim in. If the axle is in the right place, everything else will fall into place, or be so obvious that you know to fix it. You must seek to place all things in their proper order.

Even authority has its proper order – and Christ is at the “hub”. Placing him first puts all else in order, or shows where the problem is.

Count the cost – in suffering as well as dollars

Christ has a grand sense of honesty. You’re going to suffer and spend no matter what you do in life. But, as he makes clear, this certainly includes the Christian life as well as any others. Indeed, the Christian life carries a high price tag. It would be dishonest (common, but dishonest) to give the idea that Christianity is a lark in the park. You are going to pay for it.

But – to some extent – it’s true with any life style. So why not get something for the suffering? How much better it is to suffer for the cause of Christ that it is to suffer because your latest “gimme” is denied you?

This is why Christ tells you to count the cost – and then take up the Cross. I can think of no better way to explain this than a quote from Thomas à Kempis:

TO MANY the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24.) seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. 25:41.) Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear of eternal damnation on the day of judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who during life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw near with great trust to Christ, the judge.

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross, and upon it He died for you, that you, too, might take up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him, and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory.


[1] To take it to absurdity, “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. But I’m doing the best that I can.” (Ray Stevens)

[2] Matthew 5:8

[3] James 2:1-9

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