The Big – Hearted Host

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 14:23

It was at a banquet. Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a high-ranking Pharisee. He had been talking about the future, about the resurrection of the just. Suddenly, one of the men listening at the table broke out: “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” In response, Jesus told a story. Listen. I’m reading from Luke 14, beginning at verse 16:

But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, `Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, `I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, `I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, `I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, `Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, `Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, `Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled . . . .'”

A GRACIOUS CALL

This man had planned a great feast and invited a crowd. It was the custom in those days to send invitations in two stages. First, a servant went to all those on the guest list, telling them about the banquet, extending the invitation, bringing his master’s greetings. The date was specified, but the exact time was not given at that point. When the big day arrived, someone appeared at every home with the final call, “Come, for all is now ready.”

We gather from this story that at the time of the first invitation these guests had all accepted. They had said, “Yes, we’ll be happy to come!” The second call then was not an inquiry as to whether they would like to attend. That issue had presumably been settled. They had promised. They were committed. They had said an unqualified yes. On the basis of this response, the host had planned and prepared his banquet. Now at last, everything was in readiness. The second visit of the servant was like a dinner bell: “time to eat! Come to the feast!”

The servant expected that the partygoers by this time would be appropriately dressed, awaiting news that the banquet was about to begin. It had never entered his mind, nor that of his master, that any of these invited guests would decline at the last minute. The occasion was to be free, the food superb. It would be a time of rare celebration.

A RUDE REFUSAL

That’s what made the response of these decliners so jarring. It was more than a social snub. It was a despising of hospitality, a slighting of covenant, a brazen affront to any host.

Jesus notes that they “all alike began to make excuses,” and rather flimsy ones at that. One had bought a field and said that he had to go and see it. A strange transaction, wouldn’t you say? Those who buy property, sight unseen, are usually asking for trouble. You’ve heard the horror stories of those who purchase prime lots in what turns out to be a swamp or a ravine. It’s hard to take seriously a man who buys land on that kind of whim and then claims he must look it over at the very time he had promised to visit a friend.

A second man claims to have just bought five yoke of oxen – quite a hefty outlay of money! For a present-day parallel, think of a farmer purchasing a fleet of pickup trucks! Now, the man says, he has to go and examine them. We wonder, what is the urgency involved here? Before this giant purchase, he must have learned all he could about the animals. He must have had quite a bit of confidence in them before he would spend a small fortune to get them. And did he have to test all ten of them right away? And at this particular meal time? It doesn’t sound altogether convincing, does it?

The third man said simply that in the meanwhile he had gotten married, and therefore, couldn’t come. I heard Billy Graham say once that this man was the only one who had an excuse! But on examination, his doesn’t stand up very well either. There was a provision in the Old Testament that a man who had just taken a wife could be excused from military service for a year. We can see wise and humane reasons for that. But our third guest had been summoned to a banquet, not a battle field. This is not danger but delight, not a long, arduous campaign but a chance to relax with friends. It would seem a perfect occasion at which to show off a new bride.

This man didn’t even have the courtesy to appeal for an excused absence. He showed no consideration whatever for the feelings of his host. “I just got married; I can’t come; that’s it.”

For me, these all have the feel of contrived excuses. They betray an obvious desire not to attend, all cloaked by clumsy pretense. These men seem almost determined to insult the host, to reject his invitation. He has treated them with kindness and graciousness. Their response is what you would expect from enemies – contempt. This is reflected, isn’t it, in the host’s anger about it? He sees this as more than a social faux pas. It strikes him as an affront, as a hostile response.

THE REVISED PLAN

In the third act, the master unveils a new plan. “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.” These are definitely not the people on the town banquet circuit. The servants are not visiting now lovely homes in the suburbs. They’re on the grimiest streets of the city. They’re instructed to gather in the wretched of the earth. And do you know what the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame all have in common? In that part of the world, they’re all beggars. So these are marginalized people, those little esteemed. They have never before probably received an invitation to anything. But the master wants them at his table. He sends his servants out looking for them. He’s determined to see that nothing keeps them away.

Now the narrative is telescoped. The servant has returned after all this recruiting and brings his report. “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there’s room.” They’ve scoured the streets of the city; they’ve brought in all the cripples, waifs and beggars they can find. Still, there are plenty of seats. “Now what, master?”

“Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” There’s no specific group in view now. It’s a general canvass. Servants are to move outside the city limits, look for people on the highways, behind the hedges. “Go and get them, wherever they are. And then, don’t simply give them an invitation. Take them by the hand and get them here. Don’t take no for an answer. Lovingly constrain them, one and all, and keep it up until every seat is taken. I want my house filled with guests. I want to receive them all.”

The closest thing to this I can remember happened in the city of New Orleans some years ago. It was at Mardi Gras. About 125 of us were there to do evangelistic work on the streets of the city during the festival. We had a number of talented musicians in our group who went out on the street corners to play their guitars and sing. They always drew a crowd. Our strategy was that then the musicians would start to move toward the coffee house which was our headquarters. As the guitarists and singers edged in that direction, the whole crowd flowed along. Even those who didn’t know where they were going and didn’t particularly want to get there were swept along until we had them all inside the coffee house. There we could offer them something to eat and the good news of Christ. Partly by invitation, partly by leading the way, partly by the pressure of the crowd, we got them in. And some of them found more than they were looking for. They had come to “the city that care forgot,” wanting to be “king for a day.” Instead, they tasted new life.

That’s what this story of Jesus is really about. God is the gracious host, inviting those who claim to be His people to come near to Him and feast on His love. Strangely, tragically, they don’t want to come. They go back on their word, with insulting excuses. They reject what He is offering them in Jesus Christ.

But God isn’t stopped by that in His purpose of mercy. He sends out His servants to bring others in who have never had a chance to hear of His love. Let them taste and see that the Lord is good. Next He sends out another wave of recruiters, to take hold of all kinds of people out there, and see that they come too. Because, you see, He has it in His heart to feed and bless them. He cannot bear to see those places empty. He can’t rest until His house is full.

WHAT WE LEARN

What is God saying to us, to you and me in this story? First, some sobering words. We learn that it’s possible to say that you are one of God’s friends, and then reject His offer of kindness when it comes to you. You can promise God everything and give Him nothing. You can treat His overtures of grace with heartless contempt.

Why would anyone do that? we wonder. We don’t know all the answers to that, but the story gives us hints. There’s a danger that our newly acquired possessions or our dearest domestic ties can steal our hearts away from God. We can give to things and family members the supreme place that belongs only to Christ. In the midst of our preoccupation with these, we can miss the chance of a lifetime. We can say no to the God who wants only to do us good. And as we see in the sad sequel to the story, Jesus says, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Refusing the gospel, spurning the invitation to trust in Christ, leaves us with no alternatives. If we won’t come to God in this way, we won’t come to Him at all. That’s the bad news. You can miss your big opportunity. You can shut yourself out from God’s feast.

But that’s not the main emphasis here. This is a story most of all about a big-hearted host, about the God of astonishing grace. He can have His messengers ignored, His invitations rejected, His heart broken, but He doesn’t stop seeking for people. He puts down the net on the other side, as it were. He goes after the little people, those the apostle Paul spoke of when he said, “Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble are called” (see 1 Cor. 1:26). The sovereign Lord seeks the most despised ones of the earth, yearning to do them good. And when He has gathered all of them, He’s still not satisfied.

That reminds me of something the great English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once prayed. Spurgeon was a rock-ribbed Calvinist in theology, a preacher of God’s sovereign electing grace. But he was also a man with a passion to evangelize, longing to win more and more people to Christ. Someone reports having heard this bearded preacher pray, “Lord, gather in all Thine elect, and then elect some more!”

I like the spirit of that. It reflects what’s in the heart of this Host who shows such amazing hospitality. It points to the One who went to such great lengths to save His people, praying for His murderers, dying in their place, stretching out wounded hands to gather in those other sheep.

I’m glad to tell you today about this large-hearted God. You can’t be in such a wretched condition as to be outside the circle of His concern. You can’t be so far away that His love won’t go seeking you. And even though you may protest, even though, like C. S. Lewis, you may feel yourself dragged in kicking and screaming, the most reluctant convert around, His love goes on pursuing you.

You can say no, it’s true. You can slam heaven’s door in your own face. You can insist on your excuses. You can reject the love of the Host. You can break His heart. And if you insist on it, you can be lost.

But remember, friends, it won’t be because He didn’t care about you. It won’t be because Christ didn’t bear your sins and sorrows. Still today, right now, He wants His house filled – and it’s a big one. He wants you. Oh, believe that. Surrender to the strong, compelling invitation of His love. Commit your life to Him. Trust in the One who comes to you in Christ as a gracious Savior. And when you’re there, join His servants in gathering others, won’t you? Let’s keep bringing them in until His great house is full, and His great heart satisfied!