This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Heart". See series.
If you've picked up nothing else from our study over these past weeks, I hope you've absorbed this simple truth: the heart of God throbs for human hearts. There is nothing about you that matters so much to God as the condition of your heart. There is nothing to which God is more committed than the healing of your heart from all that hurts and hinders it. But there's a second very important truth I hope you've also absorbed over the course of our studies these past weeks and it is this: God can only save hearts willing to be found.
If the Gerasene man had not been willing to throw himself at the feet of Jesus; if the Samaritan woman had not been willing to stay with Jesus at the well; if the younger son had not been willing to turn his heart toward home; if the elder brother remained unwilling to accept his father's invitation to come into the house, the restoration of their hearts could not happen. In the same way, unless you and I are willing to get close enough to God to let him transfuse our hearts with the life-blood of his heart, then healing for us cannot happen.
God invites your heart to a banquet.
This is why I want to look with you today at one further teaching of Jesus on this subject. In Luke chapter 14, Jesus tells the story of a "certain man [who] was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests." Now, it helps to understand that throughout the New Testament, the image of a "great banquet" is used as a metaphor for the place where God addresses our deepest needs. Whether it is at the last supper described in the gospels or at the marriage supper of the Lamb described in the Book of Revelation, these images of great banquets symbolize God's heart-throbbing desire to accomplish three vital transformations in our hearts.
First, the great banquet symbolizes God's desire to bring us into intimate relationship with him. God is not content with being someone we've simply heard about, talked about, or considered from a distance. He wants to be the intimate presence who sits with us at the table of life—sharing the infinitely good gift of himself with us. The great banquet is the place where the heart of God is found—and found to be our true home.
Secondly, the great banquet symbolizes God's desire to fill us with his life-renewing power. God longs to be the living water, the very bread of life, from which we derive a supernatural strength for living. He wants to be the eternal vine from which we draw the power needed to branch out and bear all the fruit of his Spirit, his heart. The heart of God throbs to have you sit and sup so deeply and daily of his truth and grace that you become invincible before any of the temptations and trials that assault you. He wants to give you the very power of his heart so that you are able to rise above the gravity of all that tries to drag you down.
Finally, the great banquet symbolizes God's desire to re-orient our hearts to the life of his kingdom. My friends, you and I were made for an infinitely more beautiful life than this world sells us. We were made to be wise stewards of this world's resources because they belong to the King. We were made to shape a planet where hard work is balanced with rest, where justice is tempered with mercy, where personal freedom is balanced with communal responsibility, because this is how the King lives. We were made to build families and businesses, communities and societies that show compassion and forgiveness to one another, and which call forth the best in each other, because this is what the King does. Too often today, human beings content themselves with building chicken coops on foundations made for skyscrapers. We must never forget that we were created to build the city of God, a kingdom that reflects in every aspect the heart of the King himself.
In summary, the great banquet is a metaphor for that engagement with God that enables our hearts and all that flows from them to find full potential. The great banquet is the life that disciples of Jesus enter into now and will experience in eternal abundance when Christ returns to make everything new. It is a sign of the ultimate relationship, power, and kingdom for which our hearts were made. Do you understand that your heart has been invited to come to this banquet?
If so, listen as Jesus continues the parable: "At the time of the banquet [the man] sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'" Now just hit pause for a moment and let's take in what's going on in this story so far. God the Father is the man in this story. He prepares a great banquet at which the ultimate relationship, power, and kingdom will be given to any heart that comes to him. He doesn't just invite the "'A' List." He invites many guests, the Bible says. He wants this banquet to be huge—a blessing to everyone. He sends Jesus, who is the servant in this story, to go tell all the invitees that the banquet is ready. All you have to do is come.
What to do with the invitation?
You know what happens, right? Everybody lays down what they're doing. They text and Twitter and telephone their neighbors, saying, "C U @ the banquet!" I mean, who would want to miss the chance to heal the heart from which flow the wellsprings of life? But that's not what happens. On the contrary, everyone's response to the invitation is quite different. Jesus reissues the call to the banquet of grace that had long before been given by God to his people, Israel. "But," the Bible says, "they all alike began to make excuses." How do you explain this? Why would anybody ever turn down an invitation like this? Well, for several reasons.
"The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'" In other words, "I am building my own kingdom, so I cannot come to the King's banquet." "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'" In simplest terms, "I've got another power to push and pull my life, so I think I'll try that a bit longer. Please excuse me." "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'" In other words, I've got a more immediately gratifying relationship than the Master offers. Sorry, I can't make it today."
What I want you to note is that no one is rude about this. In each case, the response is politely tendered. The invitees say "please" and "excuse me." You get the sense that there's a part of them that is sorry they can't go. You get the feeling that under different circumstances, each of them that would like to take the Lord up on his offer. They can see something of the value of going, but it's not enough to fully move them. They're just not ready to go all in—not when they have other kingdoms, other power sources, other relationships to supply their hearts.
"The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'" In other words, "If these people are too self-sufficient to accept my invitation, then let's find people broken-hearted enough to the gifts I have to give."
"'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'" The message is that the Master has more grace to give than people who want it. "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.'" The master concludes by saying in a tone that I hear as not so much one of anger but of heart-rending sadness: "'I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"
Respond to God with all your heart.
If ever there were a parable that speaks to the condition of many in America today, I believe it is this one. Study after study confirms that, at least in terms of faith professions, we Americans like the idea of God. We like the idea that there is a spiritual relationship possible with him, a spiritual power available to us, a spiritual kingdom that informs in some way the government of human affairs. We genuinely like the idea that God has invited us to come sup with him at his big table. I hear this all the time from people out in the community or visiting our church, and often from people who've been around here for a long time. "Oh, it's wonderful all that your church offers. There's something for everyone it seems. What an incredible menu of opportunities," or, "You guys really put on quite a banquet I see, or so I've heard." And then I speak those fatal five words: "Would you like to come?"
"Would you like to sit at the table in one of our small groups? We really dig into the meat of the banquet there. Would you like to take home some of the spiritual training resources we have so God can nourish you throughout the week? Would you like to come for prayer? Want to attend our Family Life Conference or be part of a marriage enrichment class? Want to come on one of our short-term mission trips or spend a Saturday morning working with the poor? Would you like to volunteer some time with our children or youth ministries? There's a seat for you there—a place where God can meet you and transfuse you and really renew your heart." This is the sort of invitation we extend and that I hope you're extending to others all the time.
In my experience, the answer that comes back is almost always very polite: "Wow, let me think about that," or, "You know, I'd like to do that one of these days," or, "Gosh, I'd for sure come if I didn't already have this other relationship prioritized, if I didn't have a source of fulfillment and power I'm tapping into already, if I didn't have this other kingdom I'm cultivating now."
The problem is not that we don't have a heart to enter into the banquet of God. The chief problem is that we are only halfhearted about it. Author Wilbur Rees puts it this way:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of him to make me love a [person of a different color] or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of a womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy just $3 worth of God, please.
But no matter how politely our reasoning is stated, this is the truth: we're missing the great banquet. Some of us run the risk of getting to the end of life's day believing that we've tried the Christian life, when we've actually only gotten a whiff of the relationship, power, and kingdom for which we were born. The heart of God throbs to have you "taste and see" how good he is to those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34:8). His heart is what your heart needs and what everyone affected by your heart needs. That is why I am issuing once again the greatest invitation you will ever receive: "Come, for everything is now ready." Don't let the excuses that have kept you from coming up to now stop you anymore. Take a further step toward the seat at his table that he has been saving for you. For this is the good news: "If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him, if you look for him with all your heart" (Deuteronomy 4:29).
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.