The Great Banquet of God's Kingdom
Passage: Luke 14:15–24
The Great Banquet of God's Kingdom
Our passage this morning picks up in the middle of a conversation. You may remember that the setting for Luke 14 is a dinner party at the home of a Pharisee. This is the last time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus will share a meal with the religious leaders of Israel, and so far, it hasn’t been a pleasant experience. We saw it last week – another controversy over healing on the Sabbath, and then some strongly worded parables from Jesus.
Today’s text picks up in the middle of that conversation, and what becomes clear is that those in attendance don’t understand that Jesus is talking about them. From the very first verse – v15 – those in attendance seem content to make assumptions about their status in God’s kingdom. In their minds, they are in, which means they haven’t actually understood Jesus’ teaching. To put it a different way, those in attendance don’t see things for what they are. They don’t see the spiritual reality playing out in their own lives.
And so, at the conclusion of this final dinner party with the religious leaders, Jesus tells one of his most powerful and sobering parables – the parable of the great banquet. It is a parable uniquely crafted for this moment, and it works like a mirror. Jesus holds up this parable as a way of saying, “Look what you’re doing. Look what you’re missing. See what you are like.” That’s the effect of the parable. It’s like a mirror that makes visible what has, so far, been missed.
And that connection – making visible what has been missed – gives us our bearings for this morning. As we seek to understand the parable, it helps to think of Jesus as emphasizing the spiritual realities of his ministry – realities that are, at times, unseen. So, following Jesus’ lead, that is how we will proceed this morning. I’d like us to see how the mirror of this parable reveals the spiritual realities at work in Jesus’ ministry.
The Presence of the Kingdom
The first reality is one that we have considered time and time again in Luke’s Gospel, but it’s repeated here. From vv15-17, Jesus emphasizes the Presence of the Kingdom. The text begins with an interesting exclamation from one of the guests. Notice v15 – “When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” Now, the kingdom of God is nearly always the subject of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God in his preaching. Jesus displays the kingdom of God in his miracles. And Jesus will inaugurate the kingdom of God through his life, death, and resurrection. When it comes to Jesus in Luke, the kingdom of God is nearly always the subject.
But here in v15, the man is not really talking about Jesus. The man is talking about himself and his friends. It’s true that those who eat in the kingdom will be blessed, but that’s not the man’s point. His point is that he will be one of those blessed – that he and the religious leaders will sit in the kingdom, feasting at the king’s table. In other words, the man assumes that he is in. Rather than listen to Jesus’ teaching, the man rests secure in his inclusion.
Now, do you see how that is a problem? Every schoolteacher knows the problem of students assuming they are already know something. What happens? They don’t listen, right? If I already know the answer, then the one thing I’m not going to do is listen to this lesson. And that appears to be the problem here in v15. Because the man assumes he’s in, he’s not doing the one thing he ought to do – listen to Jesus.
So, Jesus, like the master teacher, responds with piercing insight. He tells a parable, but notice how this parable begins. The setting is quite significant. Notice v16 – “But [Jesus] said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.’” Now, the key here is the connection that Jesus establishes between kingdom and banquet. Do you see the connection? In v15, the man speaks about the kingdom of God, but now in v16, Jesus is talking about a great banquet. That connection is not coincidental. It actually comes from the OT.
In Isaiah 25, the prophet describes the day of God’s salvation, and on that day, God will spread a great feast – a great banquet, you could say – on the mountain of the Lord. And this feast will be rich. Isaiah says there is sumptuous food and aged wine and every good thing. It’s a feast, and what’s more, it’s a feast that celebrates the destruction of death. Isaiah 25.8 – God “will swallow up death forever,” and that’s why God throws this feast. Finally, the pain of sin’s curse is put away. Finally, the bounty and joy of paradise is restored, but in a much more magnificent way. Salvation has come, death is swallowed, and therefore, we feast, God says!
So, when the parable begins with a great banquet, it’s almost as though Jesus says, “You want to talk about the kingdom of God and your place in it? Let me show you what you’re missing.”
Now, with that connection established, notice where Jesus goes in v17 – “And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” In Jesus’ day, dinner invitations were a two-stage process. First, the host would send out something like an RSVP. That’s what happened in v16, and the guests would respond by saying, “Yes, I plan to come.” And then, on the day of the banquet, the host would send another message, saying, “Ok, everything is ready for the banquet. You RSVP’d and now it’s ready.” So, it’s a two-stage process, and if you responded to the first invitation, then it was expected that you would come when the second summons arrived.
And the key point in v17 is that the second summons has come. Please don’t miss that seemingly small point. “Come, for everything is now ready.” In other words, now is not the time to prepare to come. Now is the time to come. The banquet is no longer being prepared. The banquet is ready, and if you want to join the feast, then you need to come right now.
So, take in the whole picture for this parable, connecting v16 and v17. If the banquet pictures the kingdom of the God, and if the banquet is now ready, then what does that mean for Jesus’ ministry? It means that the kingdom of God is present in Jesus. The kingdom is not merely coming one day. No, the kingdom has broken in with Jesus Christ. To be sure, the kingdom has not come in all its fullness. There is still the final consummation to come, which is why we can say the kingdom is an already-but-not-yet reality. But even so, the kingdom is present in Jesus Christ.
And that is what the guests in v15 fail to see. They’re thinking of the kingdom as primarily future, and they’re assuming their place is already secure. But in making that assumption, what are they missing? The necessity of listening to Jesus! In fact, v17 can be taken almost as a summary for Jesus’ ministry. His teaching, his miracles, his parables – they’re all saying, “Come, for the kingdom is now at hand.”
Indeed, this is one of the takeaways for us, or at least it should be. When we think about God’s promises, the central hinge that makes those promises real is Jesus Christ. All of the Bible’s good news is good because of Jesus. All of Scripture’s comfort is true because of Jesus. Every hope we have for salvation and restoration is realized only because of Jesus. That’s the great tragedy of this dinner party in Luke 14. These religious leaders assume things about the kingdom, but unless they see Jesus for who he is, they will miss the very thing they assume they possess.
So, mark it down, brothers and sisters, one of the takeaways of this text. When we think about God’s promises, the central hinge that makes those promises real is Jesus Christ. Without him, there is no salvation, no future, no kingdom. But in him and through him, salvation is accomplished, and the kingdom – amazingly! – is present.
The Danger of Lesser Things
The second reality of Jesus’ ministry picks up with the host’s summons in v17. Despite the invitation, the guests don’t come, and so, in vv18-20 we see the Danger of Lesser Things. Again, in the flow of the parable, the banquet is ready. The second invitation has gone out, and the expectation is that the guests will come.
But v18 puts the situation in stark, surprising terms. Look again, v18 – “But they all alike began to make excuses.” They make excuses. Understand, this is no small thing. The banquet has been announced. The invitation is not unexpected. And yet, when the day comes, they all make excuses. This is no small thing. To reject the invitation is to reject the Host, to spurn his generosity.
And when you look at the excuses, none of them really add up. As one commentator put it, every excuse is, frankly, lame. The first guest says he has to check on a field he just bought, but no one buys a field sight unseen. He’s already checked it out; he just doesn’t want to come. The second guest says something similar – he’s got to check out some oxen he bought. But you don’t buy capital equipment without seeing it first. He too just doesn’t want to come. The third guest says he just got married, and we might think, “Ok, that makes sense.” But again, remember the context – he knew the feast was coming, and he said he would attend. What’s more, the groom could surely bring his wife with him! As with the other two, he simply doesn’t want to come. They all make excuses, and all of the excuses fail to hold up.
But we need to press in to this situation a bit more. It’s true the excuses don’t add up, but there’s something else here that should get our attention. Did you notice that none of these excuses are sinful or immoral in and of themselves? It’s not wrong to buy land or capital equipment. It’s not wrong to get married. Those are good things, even.
But that’s precisely why these lesser things are so dangerous. Here’s the principle. Most often, it is the concerns of everyday life that keep people from the kingdom of God. It’s not always sinful, immoral things that keep people away. It’s all the stuff of today, all the concerns of the present. It’s good things, in other words, that somehow become ultimate things that, in the end, keep us from the one thing – listening to Jesus.
And so, as we read vv18-20, the wrong response is to shake our head and say, “Look at these silly people. I can’t believe anyone would do something so foolish.” That’s the wrong response because, like the man in v15, it assumes we have nothing to learn. It’s also wrong to read vv18-20 and think, “Well, I’m sure glad I don’t have lots of sinful habits and hang-ups that are keeping me from deeper discipleship.” That’s the wrong response because that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He’s talking about people like you and me, and he’s urging us to see that, most often, it is the everyday concerns of life that keep us from following Christ as we ought.
Now, Jesus has a lot more to say about re-thinking our everyday lives in relationship to his kingdom. There’s a real cost to discipleship, and Lord willing, we’re going to think more about that in next week’s passage. But for this morning, I want to pause here and ask a different question. The question is – What do you think would have kept these guests from making these lame excuses? What insight or information would have held them back from thinking these everyday concerns were more important? What would have made the difference?
I’ll contend that the answer is the richness of the banquet. If they truly understood the splendor and extravagance of this invitation, then no everyday concern, no matter the size, would have kept them from the feast. The reason they make excuses is not that their view of these everyday concerns is too big. It’s that their view of the Master’s banquet is too small.
And that’s the takeaway I want to impress upon you this morning. There is no secret key to discipleship. There is no silver bullet to the Christian life. But this point is about as close at it comes, in my estimation. The depth of our discipleship often corresponds to the depth of our view of God. The more deeply I see and believe that nothing compares to communion with God, then the deeper my obedience and discipleship tends to go. Conversely, when I think small thoughts about God, then my discipleship and obedience tend to be weaker. The depth of our discipleship often corresponds to the depth of our view of God.
And so, the people in this parable don’t first of all need more willpower or more personal commitment to do the right thing. No, first and foremost, they need a deeper vision of what the Master means when he says, “Come, for everything is now ready.” The same is true for the Christian life. A life of obedience to God and faith in Christ is far better than anything this world can offer. That life is richer than any worldly pursuit. This is why our church’s mission statement begins with Treasure, even before Build and Proclaim. What’s the first step in all deep, lasting discipleship? To have our eyes open to see that the Master’s banquet is unthinkably rich, that the kingdom of God is present in Christ and is unspeakably satisfying.
It’s just like the Psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Taste it! Don’t just nibble on the edges of Christianity and then wonder why your discipleship leaves you hungry. Taste of who God is. Taste of his glory. Drink deep from his gospel! And when you do, those excuses of everyday life will pale in comparison.
C.S. Lewis, in his essay The Weight of Glory, put the point in this way. Outside of the Bible, this has been one of most transformative and challenging statements for me. Lewis said this:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
That’s what is missing for the people in the parable. It’s not that they thought too much about everyday life. It's that they thought too little about the Master and his banquet.
So, brothers and sisters, if you want your discipleship to go deeper, take this countercultural step. Get in the Scriptures, everyday, and before you read a single word, plead for God to help you see how rich and satisfying and wonderful and splendid and awesome and magnificent he is. Ask for eyes to see – not see yourself, but see God. That’s how we turn from the danger of lesser things – not merely by making better choices, but by cultivating better, more God-centered desires.
The Responsibility of Grace
And that brings us to the third spiritual reality of this parable. The Presence of the Kingdom and the Danger of Lesser Things combine in this final reality, from vv21-24 – it’s the Responsibility of Grace.
Despite the excuses, we see that the Master is undeterred. Beginning in v21, he instructs his servant to invite the outcasts of society. Notice v21 – “So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’” Now, that is a description of Jesus’ ministry so far, isn’t it? It has not been the elite members of society who have responded to Jesus. It’s been tax collectors and sinners – those whom the religious leaders looked down upon.
So, notice again the mirror-like effect of the parable. Jesus is showing his hearers what they are like. They are the ones in vv18-20 who make excuses and miss the banquet, and because of that, the gospel has now gone out to those you would not expect – the poor and the outcast. That’s surprising, but that’s how the kingdom of God works. It’s upside-down from the ways of this world.
But there is another surprise in the parable. The Host’s invitation expands again. Notice v22 – “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.’” So, it is not only the outcasts of society who are brought in. It is also those outside the city, those who would be strangers to the community. That’s why they have to be compelled by the servant. It’s not that the master forces them to come. It’s that they’ve never heard the master’s invitation. They don’t know where he lives, so the servant must strongly urge them to come.
In terms of interpretation, I take this as an anticipation of the gospel spreading to the Gentiles, particularly through the ministry of the church in Acts. You might say the original guests referred to the present nation of Israel. The second set of guests were the overlooked members of Israelite society. And now the third set likely refers to the Gentile mission of the church. Again, Jesus is using the parable like a mirror – he’s showing his audience the reality that cannot see.
But while that interpretation is interesting, the real key of v23 is the final phrase. Why is the Master so insistent on inviting other guests? So that the Master’s house may be full. That is a remarkable statement on the sovereignty of God’s grace in saving sinners. God, through the gospel, will not be deterred. His banquet is ready, his kingdom has come in Christ, and therefore, God will not be stopped. His table will overflow with guests. His kingdom will be full of redeemed sinners, saved by grace. Nothing can stop that, not even the hard-hearted, excuse-ridden response of Jesus’ audience. Take a moment to savor this reality. God will not be stopped. It’s a remarkable picture of the sovereignty of God’s grace.
But I want us to note where this sovereignty leads. This is perhaps a final surprise to the parable. The sovereignty of God’s grace should lead us to face the responsibility we have in hearing the gospel. Notice v24 – “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” The point here is clear – there are consequences to rejecting the Master. There are consequences to rejecting Jesus. And that consequence is you will be left out of the kingdom. When the feast begins, you will not be at the table.
So, notice how sovereignty and responsibility go together. God, by his grace, is sovereign in saving his people. There will be no empty seats at heaven’s feast. And therefore, you ought to respond, and you ought to respond today. This is perhaps something we don’t always do a good job of emphasizing, but the sovereignty of God’s grace makes the call of the gospel more urgent, not less. Because we know God will not be stopped, we implore sinners to repent and believe today. Because we know the kingdom is present and coming, we hold up the mirror of God’s Word to this world, and we urge them to see the necessity of trusting in Christ. Grace is sovereign, as v23 suggests, and that sovereign grace calls us to take seriously the responsibility to preach the gospel and call people to Christ.
And so, that is where we end this morning. You may be here this morning, and you may recognize that you are not trusting in Christ. You have not repented of your sin and turned to Christ alone to save you. You may even agree with Jesus that so far, you’ve just been making excuses to God. If so, friend, I want you to understand that recognizing those things comes only by the grace of God. Only God, by his grace, can open your eyes to see such realities. Only God can bring you to the end of yourself – the end of your efforts, the end of your excuses – only God can do that. So, as you hear the Scriptures today, and as you see yourself in the mirror of Jesus’ word, I pray that you would respond. I pray that today you would turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ. To use the image of this passage, the banquet is coming, whether you respond or not. In fact, the banquet is ready. And God, by his grace and through his Word, calls you today to repent and trust in Jesus Christ.
At the end of the day, this is what we all need. We need God, through his Word, to open our eyes to see what we cannot see. That process begins the day you become a Christian, and it continues each day as a Christian. That’s why we need the mirror of Scripture that shows us what we so often miss. The presence of the kingdom, the danger of lesser things, and the responsibility of grace. May the Lord give us the grace to respond to his Word, by the power of his Spirit, all to the praise of his grace. Amen.