Invitations to unexpected people - Luke 14:1 - 15:10
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Well I'm guessing that most of you have very little idea about what Australian rules football is all about. Now considering that there's only 20 million people in the world who even care about this game, and considering that most of these people live on an Island on the other side of the world, your ignorance is to be expected, so don't feel bad, but listen up because I'm about to open your minds to a whole new football experience.
The game's pretty simple really, all you have to do is get a hold of the ball which is a bit like a rugby ball and boot it as hard as you can and as high as you can preferably a distance of around fifty meters into the waiting arms of one of your team mates, who will have hopefully leapt spectacularly into the air, preferably onto the shoulders of an opposing player to take what is known as a mark. Now after this your team mate will hopefully do the same thing that you've just done until eventually the ball goes through two big sticks that are stuck into the ground at one end of the field which scores you a goal. And you just keep doing this until time runs out and the person with the most goals wins.
Now in Australia, this game is like a religion. People give their lives to it and play it at all kinds of levels. So it's not surprising that when the lunch bell goes at school, all of the lads empty out onto the oval to get a game of footy going.
But before the game can begin teams have to be chosen and so begins the choosing of players something that can be a very harrowing experience for some kids. Now you probably do this in the school ground over here with that strange game the rest of the world plays. What you do is nominate two blokes to be Captains and then they take it in turns to choose team mates from the rest of the kids standing around.
Now hopefully from the description of the game I've just given you, you can tell straight away the sort of kid that's going to get chosen first. A good Aussie Rules player is going to be tall and strong and fast and have big strong legs for kicking and jumping. So these kids always get chosen first because they have the qualities needed to be a good footballer. They will always be first on the team because those sort of kids are everything a good footballer should be, they're the type of person you want, it's obvious you can tell just by looking at them. They qualify for team membership.
But if your a thin fragile, gangly sort of kid, who's short and probably a bit out of proportion, then you're guaranteed to be one of the last chosen and I always felt sorry for those kids, they weren't the right people for the team. There sort was no good when it came to Aussie Rules. You would never choose them you would never accept them because they were obviously bad choices. They didn't qualify for team membership.
So if you were to ask a team captain what type of person will you accept for your team, the answer would be quick and predictable, " Oh you know, I want big blokes that can run fast, jump high and kick hard." It's obvious who belongs on an Aussie Rules team. It's obvious who will be accepted.
Now the interesting thing about the end of Luke chapter 13 is that it leaves us asking the question "What sort of person will Jesus accept?"
In Luke 13: 18 - 30 Jesus has been speaking about his Kingdom. This kingdom which will start small but will grow into a mighty impressive kingdom. And when we get down to verse 29 we see the kingdom described as this wonderful feast, a great party.
I don't know where people get the idea of harps and fluffy white clouds and halos and things because it's not there in the Bible, no it's described as a wonderful party, but, the door to the kingdom is narrow and many won't go through.
So by the end of chapter 13 we are left asking well who will go in then? Who will Jesus accept? Who has the qualifications, the attributes to make it into the kingdom? Who will pass through the narrow door?
And this question is answered for us in chapters 14 and 15 and the answer is most unexpected. So... who will enter the kingdom of God? Well the first thing we need to notice is that ...
1. THOSE WHO LOOK LIKE THEY WILL, WON'T.
Now if you were to ask the question "who will enter the Kingdom of God?" in 1st century Palestine the answer would seem obvious. "Why the Pharisees of course!" These people's lives are totally taken up with religion! They eat breath and sleep it. They are the most holy people around.
You can see them praying all over the place, they give away their possessions, a tenth of everything they have they seem to obey every rule in the book. They're moral upright people! You can't get more godly people than the Pharisees. If we were to revert back to the football illustration, these are the kids who are tall, strong, fast and if we were to take the Pharisee equivalent of a footballer they would even have blond hair, great tans and sparkling smiles. Who's going to enter the kingdom of God, well the answer is obvious, the Pharisees of course, they have what it takes they're perfectly qualified, it's obvious isn't it? And the first few words of Luke 14 seem to confirm it...
1One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee...
There you go he's in the right place. Prominent Pharisees, the obvious choice for the kingdom of God. But what we quickly see in verses 1 - 6 is that although the Pharisees look like the logical choice they're not.
Now the first thing we need to notice is that verses 1 - 4 suggest that the Pharisees have in fact set a trap for Jesus. Let me explain how we get that from the passage.
Well firstly this is not the sort of gathering where people could just randomly show up. You would have to be invited. So this bloke with dropsy couldn't have just randomly wandered in and it's interesting that verse 2 tells us that he's right in front of Jesus. Secondly at the end of verse 1 we see that Jesus is being watched. Thirdly it is interesting that in the original text verse 3 reads Jesus answered the Pharisees. Now what is he answering , no one's asked him a question, rather he answering the situation they have put him in. And finally back at the end of chapter 11 we see that the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus out to show him up.
They have put him in this situation because they know he will try and heal this bloke and in doing so will break one of their laws, which will show him up to be a law breaker and an ungodly man. You see the Pharisees had all sorts of little rules about everything which they tacked onto the Bible to make sure they kept properly and if you kept their rules then you were godly and if you didn't you were ungodly simple. And one of their rules was that you mustn't heal on the Sabbath unless the patient was in danger of dying that day. Now this bloke with dropsy would probably have survived the Sabbath so if Jesus heals him then he's a law breaker!
But in verses 3 - 5 Jesus exposes them for the hypocrites that they are.
You see their teaching did not forbid the helping of animals on the Sabbath, if I had an ox for example and he fell down a well on the Sabbath, well I'd go and get him out! Likewise if my son fell down a well I wouldn't leave him down there until the next day I'd get him out too and no one would have problem with that. Can you see the hypocrisy, if it's alright to get an animal out of an uncomfortable situation on the Sabbath, why have a rule that forbids helping people? It's absurd, it's contradictory, it's not consistent. So why are they so upset about it?
Well the answer is simple. You see the Pharisees' primary concern is not about sincerely and consistently following God. They are happy to have inconsistent rules because obedience to God is not their primary concern. What we are seeing in the first part of chapter 14 is the working out of something that Jesus has been speaking about already in 11: 39ff. He says this
"Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
You see a love for God and therefore concern for the poor is not what the Pharisee is concerned with, no inside they are wicked and greedy (11: 39), they neglect justice and the love of God (11: 42). Really they are concerned with the external, they are concerned with appearing Godly and important, they clean the outside of the cup and dish, they give away their herbs and appear wonderful, but it's a show because they neglect the love of God.
This is being worked out in chapter 14, they don't care about the very sick man in their midst a man with dropsy, a man who's body retains so much fluid in it's tissue that he swells up, no, to them he's just a pawn someone there to trap Jesus and show him up as the filthy law breaker that he is, so that everyone would look on the good, holy wonderful Pharisees again.
Can you see what's going on?
Their rules are their to make them look good and Jesus shows them up to be the hypocrites they are, they're not really about the Bible, about the laws of Moses, about obeying God they're moulding their religion to suit themselves, observing little rules to suit themselves. Making those rules the major thing, because they can obey them well and appear godly and if their rules contradict other things that they claim to believe, well so what? so long as they look good.
Really they are not about carefully considering the Sabbath day and dealing with it in a consistent , godly light. Rather they have set the rules so that it doesn't sting too much if it's close to home (ie. your ox or son), but so there is a rule to obey, which I can stick to and appear godly because of.
Their self centred attitude is displayed even more in verses 7 - 11. Once again chapter 14 is showing us the working out of something Jesus has said already in chapter 11. In 11: 43 he says this...
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
And this is being worked out. V. 7 they go and pick the places of honour, that's what they love. They think very highly of themselves, worthy of honour. Aren't I wonderful, I deserve the place of honour. Everyone ought to look at me and acknowledge what a wonderful holy person I am. Everyone including God should acknowledge my holiness and goodness. So Jesus teaches them a sobering lesson (v. 11) they will be humbled. They might be able to convince the Palestinian population that they are good holy people worthy of honour, but they won't fool God. They are sinners and have no right to exalt themselves, they don't deserve to be honoured, they are hypocrites they do not belong in God's kingdom.
Perhaps most condemning of all however is the parable told in verses 16 - 23. Once again the imagery is crystal clear, once again the imagery of the host and the feast is used. It is the picture of a host inviting people to come, but each time the invitations are rejected. All through Israel's history, God has called to his people to become part of his kingdom, but again and again they refuse him and just look at the ridiculous excuses that are given. Oh I can't come because I've bought a field and have to look at it, or I've bought a couple of cows and I have to look at them. Rubbish, if you were going to buy a field or cows you would look at them first wouldn't you? It's a pathetic excuse. Or I can't come because I've gotten married.
Once again that's rubbish since when did marriage stop you from going to a feast.
The attitude is one of placing God's invitation at the bottom of your priority list, below even the things that aren't important to you. God called them again and again all through the pages of the Old Testament, but what did they do, well chapter 11 and chapter 13: 34 answers that question for us, the Jewish people killed God's prophets! They stoned those he sent!
But look, forget the past let's look at the present, because here's Jesus bringing the ultimate invitation, Look at verses 25 - 35 here's the narrow door, the ultimate invitation of God into his kingdom. Here he explains what it is to walk through the door but it will cost, it will be expensive, if you want to go through that narrow door then you will have to put Christ above all, he has to come before your family, he has to come before everything else in your life, that's what following Jesus will mean, it will mean taking up your cross and following Jesus, following him to sacrifice everything for the spiritual good of others, putting everything second to obedience to God. It means stopping looking for earthly rewards and looking towards heaven, that's the point of the story in verses 12 - 14. It may even mean your life, getting Jesus might even get you killed.
Forget your piddly little rules about healing on the Sabbath, if you want follow God, to enter into his kingdom, to pass through the narrow door, then it will mean total submission to Christ, he who has an ear let him hear verse 35!! But do they hear? Do they listen to the invitation? Look at 15: 2, do they hear? No. They ignore God's invitation again.
Those who look like they will enter the kingdom, won't.
So who will then? Will anyone pass through the narrow door? Well chapter 15 tells us that yes there are some people who will make it through, but it's interesting because...
2. THOSE WHO LOOK LIKE THEY WON'T, WILL
If we return to the parable in 14: 15 - 23, it is interesting to note who ends up coming to the feast. It is certainly not the rich and important and impressive people, in fact it's not even the people that the host knows. Rather it is the hopeless people, the poor and blind and lame. But it is also interesting to note that people from outside the town are invited as well, the host welcomes those who are total strangers!
Now with this in mind look down at verse 1 of chapter 15. We have seen that the Pharisees don't hear the invitation, but notice some people do hear. The sinners and the tax collectors are listening, they gather round to hear! Now it's important to grasp what is going on here, these people are the scum of the earth and yet they are invited to the feast!! If we return to the football illustration again it is as though Jesus has rejected all of the tall, strong, fast players, and chosen the short, thin, weak, uncoordinated kids instead! It's totally bizarre. It's turned all expectations upside down.
In the movie "The Piano" we are taken inside some of the Jewish ghettos set up in WW2. Now in order to police these over crowded slums, the Nazis hired Jewish people to form a special police force to keep their fellow Jews in line. Now the Jews on this police force were given special privileges they would received special treatment from the Nazis, but in return they had to police their fellow Jews. This often meant betraying them and sending them to their deaths and sometimes even beating them as they served their Nazi masters. You can imagine what the other Jews thought of these people can't you. Imagine slowly starving to death and watching your friends and family shipped off to death camps, while some of your fellow Jews grow fat serving the people who have invaded your country and are killing off your race.
How would you feel about those people? Well these people were obviously viewed as traitors and were hated by their fellow Jews.
Well this is what the tax collectors were like. They would collect money for the Romans the occupying force and in order to make a nice profit for themselves, they would charge extra on top and rip off their fellow Jews, they were despised for their treachery and their dishonesty, but it is these filthy, ungodly, sinful people that are listening to the invitation and who appear to be responding to it! And the following three parables show us that it is in fact these types of people that will be in Jesus' kingdom, it's staggering!
Verses 3 - 7, Despite the fact that these people have strayed away from God and become hopelessly lost God searches and searches until he finds them! Or look at verses 8 - 10, despite the fact that they are spiritually inanimate and unresponsive like a coin, unable to find their way back, without the will or the ability to call for help, they are valued and searched for! And there is great rejoicing over just one filthy sinful person who realises their spiritual bankruptcy before God and repents!
Verses 11 - 24 tell one of the most famous and loved parables Jesus ever spoke and it's a very moving story. You see this son treated his father as though he was dead. When do you normally get your inheritance? Well you get it when your father dies. But this son asks for it while his father is still alive. And he takes the money and runs off and completely destroys his life. But then he realises what he's done, he sees that he is lost and that he has gone the wrong way and he goes back, that's what repentance is. And his father welcomes him with open arms. And this is what God does. 15: 7 "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
You see no one deserves to enter the kingdom of heaven. No one deserves to pass through the narrow door. Only the man who humbles himself will get through. Only the man who realises how filthy and corrupted and sinful he is, only the man who realises he is completely spiritually bankrupt, only the man who recognises his utter dependency on God for salvation will be in the kingdom. What sort of person will enter through the narrow door? Only the person who realises that their only hope is total dependence on Christ and casts everything aside to follow him will be at that feast.
You see those who look like they won't will because only the person who acknowledges their sin and repents can! There is no room for self righteous, arrogant people who think they deserve to be there.
Well I want to finish briefly by asking you a question. You see Luke has shown us who won't make it through the narrow door and he has shown us who will make it through. The question I want to ask you all tonight is this. Will you?
3. WILL YOU?
Will you pass through the narrow door, will you be at that feast?
What are you really about? Is it God? Are you about loyally and faithfully and consistently following him, living in line with his word? Or are you like the Pharisee who moulds their religion to suit themselves? Don't worry, ignore the inconsistencies provided you look good and feel good about yourself. Sure you may not add rules to make yourself look good, but do you take away instead? Do you brush over and ignore those bits of the Bible that challenge you to much, or ask you to do things that you don't want to do or give up the things you don't want to give up...is that you?
Is Christianity just something you use to make yourself look good and important? Something to give you a nice feeling inside every now and again? Does it give you power, does it make others look up to you? is that why your here every week? Do you think that by coming here and singing songs and saying prayers gets you earn yourself a place of honour at the feast of God? Because if you do, then you're wrong.
Will you count the cost and heed the call of Jesus? It will cost and it may hurt, it is a narrow door after all. It means that everything has to come second to him. You'll have to sacrifice your energy and time and money to be a true disciple, your career and passions and desires and even your family will have to come second. But will you do it anyway?
Most importantly, however, have you acknowledged your total spiritual bankruptcy before God and repented? Have you realised that you don't deserve to be in his kingdom and that the only way to get there is by turning to him in total repentance, acknowledging that you have nothing to offer? Because if you do, if you turn to him and repent, he'll accept you I tell you that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
We have seen the type of people who will be accepted into the kingdom of God, the question is, will you be one of them.
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