The Heavenly Banquet

Text: Luke 14:15-24

The psalmist speaks prophetically by the Holy Spirit in Psalm 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-23, English Standard Version) That verse is familiar to us because it comes up all over the New Testament. It is brought up by Sts. Peter and Paul in their epistles; it comes out of our Lord’s mouth on more than one occasion. The sense of the text on each hearing is that a stone cast away by some becomes the foundation of a house for others. Christ is that cornerstone.

We see this play out in our Lord’s parable this week, the one about the heavenly banquet. We’ll hear this parable again toward the end of the year from St. Matthew’s Gospel, where the focus will be on faith as the key to entrance into heaven. Today, the emphasis is how some of those who were previously invited to the feast were, in the end, excluded, while those who were not initially included are, in the end, the ones who celebrate. Our gracious Lord invites to His heavenly banquet those who were once far off, even us. St. Paul said, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13)

I.

The Gospel today is a portion of our Lord’s teaching which He gave at meal in a pharisee’s house. This happens a few times in the Gospel. Pharisees would invite Jesus to supper, and He’d go. He always used the opportunity to teach and preach both Law and Gospel. At this particular meal, our Lord healed a man, He gives the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Rich Man and Lazarus, our text in a few weeks (the Dishonest Manager), and also ours today. If you get the feeling that this meal is kind of a big deal, you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, that’s how the text starts. “One of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.’” (Lk. 14:15) This is where the parable starts.

Our Lord tells of a man who gave a great banquet, “[who] invited many.” (Lk. 14:16) This man is, perhaps, a king and the word here used for “banquet” or “feast,” is elsewhere used in Scripture for a wedding feast. Now, it was the custom at the time to send out invitations, as we would. Then, when the time for the party came, you would send a servant to summon the guests. To decline an invitation was quite rude, especially so at the summons – when the servant came to collect you. But, that’s exactly what happened. “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Lk. 14:17-18) One had bought a field and was going to see it. Another was quite wealthy and had bought five yoke of oxen (a typical farm only had one yoke). He needed to go examine them. Another had recently married. He couldn’t come. 

The master of the house grew angry. It’s not that fields, oxen, and marriage are bad. It’s that they all knew about this feast, but were choosing to honor other things above it. So, the master sent out his servant again. This time, “to the streets and lanes of the city, [to] bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” (Lk. 14:21) These were the outcast types, the sort you wouldn’t invite to a party – but they did come. Yet the hall wasn’t filled. One final time, the master sent out his servant, saying, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” (Lk. 14:23-24) That wedding hall was filled, but not with those initially invited. It was the outcasts and outsiders who received the master’s summons.

II.

Remember Psalm 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This helps us to understand what our Lord is teaching here. In some ways, He’s teaching what was going on in His ministry. Who was it that was receiving His Gospel? It was the tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts, right? They received the promise of the forgiveness of sins, while many others – the high society types – rejected it. The wedding feast, properly understood, is the heavenly banquet; but that heavenly banquet was already begun in the ministry of Jesus. That’s why we say in the Proper Preface, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” In the Lord’s Supper, we are participating now in that feast we will fully enjoy in the life to come. But, let’s go back to the text.

Those who rejected the summons to the feast are those members of the house of Israel who had formerly received the invitation through the prophets. This began all the way back with Adam. But then, when Christ was sent to summon all to the banquet (he’s the servant in the parable), they all rejected it. Therefore, others were brought in. These were those who knew and lamented their sins, looking to Christ for forgiveness. They were brought in to the feast. But, so were others, those on the highways and hedges outside the city. Here, Jesus speaks of the Gentiles. If Jerusalem is the city and those in it are those descended from Abraham, those outside the city are everyone else – even us.

We’re outsiders on two accounts. First, we’re outsiders because we were not among those to whom the promise was first given. I am not, at least as far as I’m aware, descended from Abraham according to the flesh. Second, we’re outsiders because of our sin. St. Paul spoke nicely in the Epistle by saying that we were once “far off.” Earlier in chapter 2, he said it like it is – that we are, by nature, “children of wrath.” (v. 3) Everything that we are, everything that we do, everything we want to do is either fully sinful or corrupted by sin. In us there is no good thing. Those excuses that the people made in the parable, we’ve made, too. We have put our possessions above Christ in our hearts; we’ve done it with money and family. Whenever we put anything above Christ, we are guilty of the First Commandment and fully deserve the punishment due.

St. Paul did say in the Epistle, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace…through the cross.” (Eph. 2:13-14, 16) Though we were once far off, being by nature children of wrath and without the right to eat bread in – or even see – the kingdom of God, this has all been done away with by the blood of Christ. By His coming, He brought us the invitation to the heavenly feast and by His death and resurrection has secured for us entrance into the same – which we receive by faith. He is the cornerstone, the door, and the key, as the Scriptures say in other places.

Our Lord teaches us a lot of things with this parable. It teaches why some enter His eternal gates and others don’t. It teaches us about the danger valuing the gift over the Giver – as in those who were invited but then excluded from the feast. But, it also teaches us about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t cancel the feast when some rejected His invitation, but He opened it up to even more – even to us. Today, He continues to cause His Word to preached throughout the world, so that His heavenly hall will be filled. And that invitation has come to us, we who by nature are sinful and unclean. In Christ we have the free and full forgiveness of our sins. We have been brought near and into His heavenly banquet. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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