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Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 14:12–24. There should be some in the pews as well. We’re continuing the story that Jason taught last week. The setting last week was a dinner party that had some dodgy moments, and, as we’ll see, they are not finished.

As we turn to the read the passage, I want you to think about it like this: Imagine you’re driving down the highway with a car full of friends having a pleasant discussion. Then a washing machine falls out of the pickup truck in front of you. You swerve into the median; the whole car bounces along for a hundred yards. Then you pop back on the highway. In the car there is an uneasy silence. Everyone is happy they’re okay but nervous about what could be next.

And this is what comes next . . .

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read the passage. Luke 14:12–24,

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 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.’ 18 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. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 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.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 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. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Prayer

This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”

Introduction

I love my family, and I love my children, but I have noticed that often when it’s time to clean up after dinner, there seems to be a strangely urgent need to

• do homework that is not yet complete
• practice instruments for an upcoming recitals
• bring something to a neighbor’s house
• go to the bathroom
• pick out clothes for tomorrow
• read books,
• or do something else—anything else—

that makes each of my children unable to pick the dishes up off the table and put them on the kitchen counter. I wonder, parents, if you’ve ever noticed similar excuses in your home. I’m confident my mother and father heard similar excuses in their house as I grew up.

This passage is about the excuses we make and why we make them. And more importantly, it’s about the rich reward we miss when we make these excuses.

1. Rewards, vv. 12–14

Look again at how the passage begins. Let me re-read vv. 12–14.

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

In college one summer I worked for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is an organization that holds Bible studies with student-athletes. On one slow afternoon late in the summer, I got a call from an incoming freshman to college. The conversation started fine, I guess. This young man had questions about the school and his Christian faith and how he might thrive at college as a Christian. Then he began to ask me about the fraternity system and what I thought about it and if I was friends with any presidents of any fraternities. And then he started to ask about student government and if I knew anyone in that like, say, the school president. “And what about student-athletes—do you know any of them and would you be willing to connect me to them so I could call them and talk about coming to school there in the fall?” I told him I did know a few student-athletes, but I didn’t know the student body president because the school had 26,000 students, and even if I did I wouldn’t be connecting him to that person or any other person.

I suppose I could have been misreading the situation, or perhaps we could simply caulk it up to the fact that he was an eager freshman. Still, that call has always stood out to me as one of the most overt attempts I’ve experienced of being leaped over to get to someone else, someone presumably more important.

If you’ve experienced this, you know how wrong it feels. But the point Jesus is after in in this passage has less to do with how we should feel when we experience being used, and rather how Jesus feels when we do it to him.

Note that the passage begins, “He said also to the man who had invited him . . .” (v. 12). Think how awkward this would have been. Jesus didn’t pull his disciples aside for a “teachable moment” and speak in hushed tones with them.

And let’s talk about what he says to this man. I don’t think the statement to not invite certain kinds of people—like your friends or rich neighbors—means you can’t ever have anyone over to your house that is your friend. I don’t think it even means you can’t buy a meal for someone that you’re hoping will become a helpful connection for you in the future, whether a socially, professionally, or relationally helpful. I don’t think it means you can never do that. I say that because what if you have a rich neighbor (who you’re not supposed to invite), but this rich neighbor is also blind (which is someone that you are to invite), then what do you do? You can’t obey and not obey this at the same time.

I’m being silly, of course, but only so we hear what Jesus is really doing. Jesus is not saying you can never invite someone better off than you over for a meal. But on the authority of this passage I would ask you if you ever invite for dinner those who are unable to in any earthly way repay you? Do you ever do what Jesus is commanding?

Let me make this more specific: In the last year—considering all the meals and parties and holidays—have gone out of your way to invite someone who can’t repay you to those meals and parties and holidays? It’s my guess that by this standard—the standard of Jesus, which is the only standard that matters—our church is far more like the world than we perceive ourselves to be. Too often we live lives nearly indistinguishably from the world. The world has all their meals with their friends; we have all our meals with our friends.

Jesus is after something different, however. Jesus is calling his disciples to live in a way that actually requires their Christianity to be real. We are to live a life that actually depends upon God to supply our needs. We are to live in a way that actually requires faith. It doesn’t take faith in God to invite those to your house who can invite you back. But it does take faith when you invite social outcasts.

And the issue of faith is important to see. There is more in these few verses than simply a rebuke. There is also a promise. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” For those who throw the kinds of parties that God likes to throw, the kind where the people who attend are needy, there is a reward—a party, if you will—at the end of time that will make every sacrifice in this life worth it. That’s the promise we are to place their faith in.

2. Excuses, vv. 15–20

And happens next at this dinner party? A man at the table speaks up. Let’s look what he says and how Jesus responds.

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 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.’ 18 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. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’

Verse 15 in this passage that reminds me of a sermon I once heard by one of my favorite preachers. I’ve only seen the video, but the sermon was to a youth gathering of some 5,000 students and leaders at a Christian conference. At one point in the sermon, this preacher began to get animated. He says something like, “Those who are truly converted by God will begin to live lives that honor God. And true Christians don’t want to look like the latest pop star but instead want to be conformed into the image of Christ.” And the audience started to get into it too. They applaud and clap and shout, “Amen.”

Do you know what the preacher says next? He calmly takes a step forward, points his finger and says, “I don’t know why you’re clapping; I’m talking about you. I didn’t come here to get ‘Amens.’ I didn’t come here to be applauded. I’m talking about you.” 1

In this passage, Jesus has just looked at the host of a party who had invited all his rich friends, and he told him that’s not the way you party. Jesus told him that, because there will be a great part at the end of time, our parties in this life should be used to party with those who can’t throw their own party, so that our parties serve to remind everyone—including ourselves—that salvation is always undeserved and always all of grace and always something joyful.

Let me say that again. Jesus told him that, because there will be a great part at the end of time, our parties in this life should be used to party with those who can’t throw their own party, so that our parties serve to remind everyone—including ourselves—that salvation is always undeserved and always all of grace and always something joyful. In short, we are to throw parties now for societal outcasts as a reminder that the great party at the end of time is for spiritual outcasts.

And just as Jesus is getting worked up, a man blurts out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” (v. 15). In other words, “Amen, Jesus! Blessed is everyone who will party in the great party at the end of time.” To this, Jesus responds with a parable even more pointed than the one before, essentially responding, “I don’t know why you’re clapping I’m talking about you.”

In the parable there are three excuses as to why the individuals can’t come to the banquet. What shall we make of them? I bought a field and need to check it out. I bought some oxen and I need to try them out. I’m married and can’t come. On the one hand, these are very ordinary situations, and there is nothing wrong with them. This is the stuff of life: houses, businesses, and families. Nothing wrong with these. But there is something wrong if these “good things” become “god-like things,” which is idolatry. 2

There’s something else we need to keep in mind. We need to keep in mind that all these excuses come after each of them would have already said they would attend. In their day, there were two invites to banquets: one invite that came far in advance and another that came at the time of the event. The first invite was far in advance because there were no watches and preparations took a long time, which is why there was a need for the second invite when it was actually time to arrive. We have something like this with our “save the date” postcards. All the people who received the second invite would have already responded to the host’s “save the date” that they were indeed coming. But now they are busy. Or are they?

Had the person not really looked at the field he was buying? What aspect of marriage was keeping this other person away? And had the oxen not been tested before they were bought? We would all test drive a car before we bought it. I think this comment about “testing oxen” is more like this saying, “I just bought a car, and it’s a nice day this Sunday morning, and I’d like to put the top down and drive country roads rather than go to church.” A drive through the countryside in a convertible does sound delightful. But when it takes the place of following God, you’re saying you don’t really think following God is all that important.

And this gets at the heart of the issue. In the first few verses Jesus is rebuking a system where people are seen as commodities to be consumed if, and only if they can help you achieve your purpose. If it helps you to invite them, go for it. And now in this parable each of these people look at the host’s party and they think, “Why should I go to that party? I’m already married; I already have property; and my business is thriving.” They just superficially responded because they wanted to have God’s party as a backup, you know, just in case. But now, they’re not concerned about what God has to offer them because they think they have all that they need. They think they are rich, but they are poor. They have friends and daily bread and property and business and children and sports and nature and hiking and on and on, yet they are poor, crippled, and blind, but they don’t know it.

In American, middle-class Christianity how common is it to make family an idol that we sacrifice God for? How common is it to make work an idol that we sacrifice for God? How common is it to makes our homes into an idol? If I’m correctly interpreting this passage this morning, Jesus is talking to us. And he’s concerned.

3. Invitations, vv. 21–24

Well, what happens next? The parable continues in vv. 21–24.

21 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.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 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. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

And as we’ve been preaching through these passages for the last few months, I mentioned to Jason last week that the one thing I feel more acutely than ever is this: it’s not surprising to me that the religious leaders killed Jesus. He pokes them relentlessly. And so you’re probably not surprised to learn that this story in our passage is the last occasion in the gospel of Luke that Jesus dines with religious leaders.

The point of this parable was not lost on the leaders. He is telling them that, through the law and the prophets, they were invited to feast with the messiah—they were told to “save the date,” which they said they would do. But now that he has arrived, and it’s time to feast, they are not so interested or impressed. “Meh.”

So the command goes out to bring in everyone that can be gathered. And when it seems like there is enough, the host says, “Go get more; there’s still more room.” So he goes to the crannies of cities and then even out to what many interpreters believe is a reference to Gentile territory to get more people at the party. The master wants a big party, and he’s sending his invitation throughout the world, which is good for us.

Conclusion

Let’s bring this to a close. There is an interview that you can watch online with a pastor named Eugene Peterson. Peterson is a pastor and author who is most well-known for his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. Perhaps many of you have read it and found it helpful.

In the interview, Eugene Peterson is asked that if he was flattered that Bono—the lead singer for U2—had begun quoting The Message at his concerts and had begun to publicly appreciate Peterson’s work. 3 Peterson confessed that, at first, he didn’t know who Bono was. But when he learned that Bono was an international rock star, Peterson was quite pleased that this international rock star had taken a liking to his work. In the interview we learn that Bono apparently later asked if Peterson would come to see him and hang out while U2 was on tour in a nearby city. Peterson asked to be excused because, at the time, he was mired in his work and had a firm deadline.

The interviewer is not so impressed with Peterson’s excuse. He jabs, “You may be the only person alive who turned down an opportunity [to hang with U2] just to make a deadline. I mean, come on, it’s Bono for crying out loud.” And the crowd laughs about how silly Peterson was to make his excuse.

But that deadline was for his work on translating the richness of the Old Testament for The Message. With the crowd still laughing at him for how silly he is, Peterson responds, “[But] it was Isaiah.” Not Bono, but Isaiah. Not oxen, but God. Not fields, but gospel riches.

It was the riches of the gospel embedded in the promises of the book of Isaiah that compelled Peterson to miss out on a very cool earthy reward so that he could gaze upon the beauty of the gospel found in God’s Word and better help people know God’s forever-reward. It was just a little quip, but perhaps Peterson even had in mind the verses we read from Isaiah earlier in the worship service, which I’d like to read again now.

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

As the rest of Bible unfolds, we come to learn that Jesus is the greater David spoken of here in Isaiah. He is the one who invites you to his table, that is, if you would only see yourself as spiritually needy, as spiritually poor. If you’ve made an idol out of possessions, business, and family, you need to know that Jesus is talking to you in the best sense of the phrase. He’s saying that if you would surrender to him, he will delight to feed you with rich, gospel food.

Prayer

Pray with me as David and the music team come back up. Let’s pray . . .


1 To watch clips of this sermon by Paul Washer and get some of the helpful background information, check out this video by Tim Challies.
2 For more on this, see Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods, 2011.
3 Around 11:45 to 14 minutes in this interview.

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