The 19th Sunday after Pentecost October 4, 2015
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
296, 278, 388, 53
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now when one of those who sat at the table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat breadin the kingdom of God!”Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
“Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” [v.15] Do you agree? Of course we agree with the Pharisee in our text. Everyone who believes that there is such a place as Heaven, wants to be there sooner or later. But most people think that Heaven is a place they can reach when they are good and ready by the means they have chosen. Very few pay attention to the means God has chosen for sinners to reach Heaven.
Suppose you received a written invitation to dinner at the mansion of your state governor. The only stipulation was that every invited guest from all over the state must be brought to the mansion in chauffeur-driven limousines provided by the governor. But many who lived far from the mansion did not trust the wheel to a stranger. Some tried to drive their own cars and were turned away at the governor’s gate. Others simply did not accept the free invitation they received. The parable of the Great Supper teaches us that OUR GOD WANTS SINNERS TO ACCEPT HIS INVITATION AS IT IS WRITTEN!
The general invitation had already been sent out by the Host. God sent the Jews a written invitation to the banquet of salvation in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Pharisees and Jewish leaders were well aware of the many invitations of the Old Testament prophets. What they didn’t know was the exact time that the preparations for the banquet would be finished. In this parable Jesus shows that all things were prepared with His coming into the flesh. God, the Host, “Sent his servant (Jesus) at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Be coming, for all things are now ready.’” [v.17]
This is the call of the Gospel which declares that the Son of God has completed the work of redeeming mankind from sin. This “Good News” invitation is the Means of Grace required to reach the kingdom of glory. The sinner, whether Jew or non-Jew, must accept the invitation of grace and be coming to the cross of Christ by repentance and faith in His Savior in order to finally receive the eternal glory of Heaven.
When I lived in St. Louis I visited the famous 630-foot Arch, called “The Gateway to the West.” Have you gone up the Arch? If so, you know that there is only one way to get to the top. You can’t get to the top unless you accept the invitation to ride on the tram which is already prepared for you. However, many won’t take the tram because one has to ride in a little closed-in claustrophobia-inducing tram car!
Similarly, the proclamation of the Gospel announces that all has been prepared by God’s grace for the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ. But people don’t want to come through Christ. They think it would “cramp” their style! Instead, people offer excuses. Three kinds of human excuses are given by our Lord.
The first person in the parable actually considers it a matter of necessity that he not come: “I have bought a piece of new ground, and I must go and see it.” [v.18] He cannot come at all to the supper! How often we hear this excuse, even from those who are members of an organized church. “I can’t be there Sunday. I can’t put off this job or that job any longer. Please excuse me.” This is the excuse of the self-sufficient person who thinks that the heavenly food God offers at His banquet is really not necessary at all. He’s thinks “I’ve heard it already!”
The second person says that he cannot come easily. “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and have made plans to test them.” [v.19] Can’t you see how difficult it would be for me to change my plans at this point?” This is a typical excuse of thousands. They cannot make arrangements to secure the salvation of their souls right now. It will have to wait until a more convenient time.
I’m reminded of the delicious sack lunch given to me by my host on the last day of our southeastern pastoral conference in Springfield, Illinois some years ago. I was told to put the prepared lunch in their refrigerator when I arrived at their home on Thursday night, so that I could eat it the next day on the plane from St. Louis. But I neglected my lunch, leaving it in the rental car overnight, and it spoiled.
I should have taken care to preserve my lunch when I had the opportunity. How many thousands of souls have been eternally lost because they continually put off God’s spiritual feast and the receiving of grace until it was convenient for them? So the apostle Paul warned the Christians in Corinth: “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians. 6:2).
Now notice that the third person offering excuse isn’t even polite, but very blunt: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” [v.20] This excuse represents all those who will not come and make no apology for seeking worldly pleasure instead of Christ.
Here we have the three categories of excuses: I cannot come, I cannot come easily, and I will not come. Jesus condemns all these excuses. There’s nothing sinful about any of the three activities involved with the excuses in-and-of themselves, but when anything is used for the purpose of putting off the means God has prescribed for salvation, the sinner commits the greatest sin of all—rejecting God’s invitation to His Great Supper and despising God’s grace in unbelief!
But God’s invitation is still compelling. When the master of the house heard of the empty excuses from those who rejected his invitation, he became angry and said to his slave: “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.” [v.21] This represents the tax collectors and the harlots and other sinners who were despised by the self-righteous rulers of the Jewish nation.
When the slave then said, “Master, it is done as you commanded, and there is still room,” he is told: “Go into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” [vv.22-23] Jesus describes the calling of the Gentile nations of the world—the non-Jews. These are the wanderers and the homeless outside the nation of Israel. Paul calls them “aliens…strangers fro the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12,19).
The new order is: “Compel them to come in!” Jesus is not saying, “Use brute force, drag them in by their hair!” He is speaking of the compulsion of divine grace. This is the drawing and moving power of the Gospel’s good news that our sins are freely forgiven through the blood of God’s Son! The word for, “compel” is only found in this parable. It emphasizes the special need of the Gentile nations of the New Testament world.
The Gentiles who yet sit in the darkness of their various superstitious religions need to be reached in their own back yards, so to speak! We need to seek them out and convince them that the gracious invitation to salvation through Jesus Christ is also for them! This is why our little church body, the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), numbering fewer than 9,000 members in the United States, is bringing the Gospel to more than 50,000 people overseas, and continues to “go into the highways and hedges” in India, Africa, Nepal, and elsewhere.
The compelling nature of God’s invitation to His Great Supper is what makes our ministry of His Gospel so urgent here and everywhere! There are also tens of thousands of people in our own land who think that the Gospel of Christ is not for them. They have been duped into believing that they are not good enough. These too must be compelled to come in. Truly there is no greater joy or greater work on this earth than to “compel” a poor sinner to accept the invitation of God’s grace and cling to the cross of Jesus. How sad it is when God’s invitation, plainly written in His Word, is rejected.
The story is told of a very poor man who had lost everything he had by wasteful and foolish living. He had no family to help him. He was homeless and alone. For many months he had been living on the river bank under a bridge in a small shelter made of cardboard boxes. He had to beg for food and clothing on the streets of the city. On the other side of the river on a high hill lived a wealthy landowner, who was well aware of the poor man living on the other side down below.
One day the landowner died and left all his riches and all his land to the poor man beneath him. So the rich man’s executor went out to search for the river bank beggar, and when he found him he handed him the rich man’s last will and testament. As the beggar read through the will which plainly said that he was the heir of great riches, he doubted what he read. At last he threw the pages of the will over his shoulder and walked away saying, "Ha! Those words are too good to be true!"
Have you, a helpless sinner, been compelled by the Spirit of God to receive the gracious words of your Savior as true that you might receive the riches of Heaven? Are you communicant members ready to accept His invitation to sit down at the Supper of our Lord’s grace whenever you have opportunity? It was, after all, the last will and testament of your Savior God that you—a poor sinful beggar—should partake of His heavenly riches already prepared in His Supper, and written for all ages in His Word.
Our God wants sinners to accept His gracious invitation as it is written. May He use it to compel both ourselves and others to always be coming with a beggar’s repentant heart. He will surely fill us with His forgiving grace in time that we may share His glory in eternity! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.