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Three Discipleship Lessons Learned in Luke 14 Parables

 

Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Luke 14:1-35 (text)

November 23, 2014 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Introduction

Beloved people of God: An invitation to a wedding feast or a big birthday party is usually a great honor that no one usually refuses to attend. In fact, we are honored to have our picture taken with the newlyweds, or the birthday celebrant. And when it’s our own party, we usually invite our friends, especially those who have prestige among them. How often do we invite the poor to our celebrations? Not very often.

Also, planning a wedding is a great task. That’s why most brides appoint a wedding planner. The bride and the wedding planner estimate the number of guests, and based on this number, they can estimate the cost of the wedding feast. Even in smaller occasions like a birthday party, we usually estimate how much it would cost us.

"Parable of the Wedding Feast" by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712 (click image to enlarge)

“Parable of the Wedding Feast” by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712 (click image to enlarge)

In Luke Chapter 14, we have four parables that use feasts and planning that are also related to Christian discipleship. In these parables, we will focus on three lessons on being disciples of Jesus: (1) Places of Honor at a Wedding Feast: Humility; (2) A Great Banquet: Compassion; and (3) The Tower-Builder and the Warrior-King: Counting the Cost.

Places of Honor at a Wedding Feast: Humility

Jesus told the first parable when he was invited by a ruler of the Pharisees after the morning worship at the synagogue on a Sabbath day. Other lawyers and Pharisees were there, and they chose to sit at the places of honor.

During a wedding feast, the tables were usually arranged in the shape of an elongated horseshoe. The seats at the head of the horseshoe arrangement were for the most honored guests. The seats to the left and right were the next most honored guests, and so forth. So if the guests were given the privilege of choosing their places, the proud and arrogant seated themselves at the head tables. Luke writes about the scribes and Pharisees who did this:

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (Luke 20:46-47).

Also in Luke 11:43, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for their pride and arrogance, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” They loved to be greeted with honor, respect and praise in the prominent public places. Much like many of us today, when we love to be seen or somehow associated with famous people, even just on social networks. Who doesn’t want his posts to be “liked” or “commented” on by well-known people?

Jesus gives the guests in the Pharisee’s home a lesson in humility. He tells them it is better to first seat in the lowest places, and then be invited by the host to sit in the highest tables. Then they will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. The reverse is humiliation: if they first chose to sit in the highest places, then when an honored guest comes and has no place to sit, they will be asked to vacate their place and move to a lower place. Wouldn’t this be such a terrible humiliation in front of all the other guests? It would be a much better situation to be humbled at first then exalted, rather than the reverse!

Jesus was obviously alluding to a proverb by Solomon, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great. for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov 25:6, 7). So he concludes this part of the parable in verse 11 by saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He says the same thing about the arrogant Pharisee and the repentant tax collector in Luke 18:14. Peter also compares the humble and the proud, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Pet 5:5-6; cf Jas 4:6, 10).

Jesus then turns his attention to the host. He tells him that when he invites others to eat at his home, invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” sometimes, not the rich all the time. What if your money fails? The rich will avoid you, but the poor will still be your friends. Also, the rich will in turn invite him. But the poor cannot; the reward for his compassion and care for the poor will be from God at the resurrection.

Jesus says that we are to do deeds that cannot be repaid by the recipients of the good deed or favor. This reminds us of another lesson in Matthew 5:46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

The kingdom of God is offered to all kinds of people: to the rich, and to the economically and spiritually poor. The response required by God is humility and the recognition of one’s spiritual poverty and need for salvation. The consequence is following Jesus’ ministry to the poor, because the true disciple will recognize that he cannot worship God and money (Luke 16:10-13).

This brings us to the second parable.

A Great Banquet: Compassion

This is another kingdom parable, when Jesus heard the comment by one of the guests in verse 15, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Perhaps this remark was made because the Pharisees thought that only those who are like them in following the Law would be invited to the great endtime feast.

The parable begins with a rich man who was throwing a great banquet and invited many people. And they said they would come. When the banquet was ready, the man again sent his servants to those who said they would come. But these people politely refused to come and gave different alibis. The field and the oxen they bought would still be there the next day for inspection. The newlyweds can be separated for an important occasion for just a day or two. They were flimsy excuses, and so they were an insult to the host.

So what did the host do? He sent his servants to the city to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” These were the same people that Jesus told the host Pharisee to invite also, and not only the rich. When they have brought these outcasts into the banquet, there were still empty seats in the house. So the master sent his servant again, this time to the “highways and hedges” and “compel” them to come in. They were to be forcibly “invited.”

The first group, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” represented the poor and outcast in the Jewish society. They were those whom no one wants to associate with, since nothing can be gained from them. They were even looked upon as sinners who brought their deplorable condition upon themselves. The second group represented those “outsiders” who are outside the city. These are those Samaritans and Gentiles that the Jews looked down upon and hated. They were unclean, uncircumcised, and outside of God’s covenant.

The rich generally rejected Jesus with excuses about their possessions. The poor generally accepted Jesus. Excuses are the thorns and thistles preventing them from following Jesus. Today, our excuses are our business, family, house, car and friends. The poor don’t have much to lose, but a lot to gain. The reverse is true for the rich.

Many of us Christians are earnest in our desire to honor our promises to God. But when the cares and concerns of life come, we make God our second priority. Then we ask God to understand our situation and give us a second chance. We offer flimsy excuses for not coming to the worship service, Sunday school, and Bible studies. We have many excuses for not being involved in the various activities for building up the members and reaching out to unbelievers.

The master’s invitation is for now, not for the future, “Come, for everything is now ready.” Though most of those first invited would not come, the banquet would not lack guests. It will be full, because God will invite others. It is usually difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25), but the common people usually are more willing to come. The ones who favorably responded to Jesus were the humblest, lowest riffraff of society: social and moral outcasts, the uneducated, Samaritans and Gentiles. James makes this point, “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom”? (Jas 2:5). Therefore, Christ is “not ashamed to call them brothers… in the midst of the congregation” (Heb 2:11, 12). The church is not only for the rich and well-educated, but for the poor, the not so well-educated, and those who cannot discuss the little nuances and differences of theological views.

This is also why we find at the beginning of Chapter 14 the story of Jesus explaining to the law-experts that it is better to heal the sick and rescue those who have fallen into a well on the Sabbath, than honoring the Sabbath. Loving compassion beats observing the strict provisions of the Law.

The apostles were rejected by the Jews, so they turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). There-fore, the Jews who rejected Jesus will be rejected by him, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (verse 24). In spite of this rejection by the Jews, the kingdom will be full, and those who rejected the invitation will not have a second chance.

The Tower-Builder and the Warrior-King: Counting the Cost

The last discipleship lesson is found in two very short parables. The first is of a farmer who builds a tower to store his produce and farm equipment. But he did not do his home-work of estimating the cost of materials and labor. He finishes only the foundation before running out of money. His unfinished building becomes an embarrassment to the community and an unsightly structure in his farm. Not a very smart farmer.

The second is of a king who is different from the farmer. He is at war against another king, but before he goes out to war, he does his homework. He calculates his risks. He weighs his strength and the enemy’s strength—his army is half the size of his enemy’s army. Because he recognizes that he couldn’t win this war, he then negotiates for peace. Smart king.

The danger here is that of a person undertaking a task or project even though he knows it is too costly or beyond his means, just to make a name for himself, for prestige and for show. And this is the same lesson in following Jesus. Know and accept the cost of discipleship: persecution, ridicule, suffering, or even poverty.

When he was speaking of his death, Jesus told his disciples, “You can’t go where I’m going.” And when James and John asked Jesus if they could sit in the places of honor in his kingdom, Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38), referring to his sufferings and death. Three times in these parables, Jesus says, they “cannot be my disciple”: the one who cannot put him above his family and life (v 26); the one who cannot bear his own cross of suffering and death (v 27); and the one cannot “renounce all that he has” (v 33).

Only those who have counted the cost, and are willing to renounce all for the sake of Christ are truly committed disciples. True discipleship means no turning back or regrets (Luke 9:62), and even turning away from possessions and riches (Luke 12:33). It often means “counting the cost” of obeying the call of Christ. There are no half-hearted followers.

The disciple must think things out carefully. He must be willing to give things up for Jesus. He even readily renounces relationships and possessions in the interest of taking up his cross and following Jesus.

Beloved friends in Christ, in these four parables, Jesus Christ our LORD calls us to three difficult discipleship lessons: humility, compassion, counting the cost. He humbled himself in coming down from his glorious heavenly throne to be a lowly human being, but in the end he was exalted to the highest place in heaven. He had compassion on the poor and outcast, those who repented of their humble, sinful state. And before he even came down from heaven, he already knew what it would cost him and his Father to save his people from their lowly, sinful state.

Why are these three characteristics often lacking in Christian disciples? Because they are some of the most difficult things to have in this life. They go against our sinful nature. We are proud, unloving, and materialistic people. If we lose these qualities in following Jesus, then we would be like salt that has lost its flavor and thrown away.

So when we’re presented with these three things that seem impossible for us to accomplish, look up! Look unto Jesus, the beginner and perfecter of our faith. Like Jesus, after counting the cost of suffering in obedience to his Father, look forward to your glorious exaltation after all the humiliation and sufferings in your life as his faithful disciple.

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