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Getting Evangelism Right

Erwin W. Lutzer | August 7, 2011

Selected highlights from this sermon

Why don’t we see more people coming to Christ today? Just as in the parable of the great feast, people make excuses because they’re content with the way things are—they’re content with themselves.

But we’re called to witness to a hurting world. We need to move out of our comfort zones and show the world the love, grace and mercy of God.

Getting Evangelism Right

You know Jesus was such a controversial teacher. The more familiar we are with the Gospels the more we sometimes don’t realize it, but really he stirred up people with his teaching, the Bible says. And sometimes his confrontations were very direct, almost unexpectedly so. I’m sure they were always loving but they were very plain, and sometimes very hurtful to the people who heard them.

For example, Luke 14 opens by saying that Jesus was invited to the home of a ruler of the Pharisees, and they watched him. They were watching him carefully because they wanted to trap him. They wanted to catch him. They wanted to discredit him and they were trying to find reasons why they could do so. In the next verses the Bible says that there was a man there who had dropsy. He had an illness and Jesus said, “Shall I heal him on the Sabbath day?” And they were quiet, and so Jesus healed him. And then Jesus said, “Don’t you think that on the Sabbath we ought to do good?”

You see they criticized him in other texts like that for doing work on the Sabbath. To heal somebody was to work on the Sabbath. And Jesus was pointing out that if you work on the Sabbath to earn a living that’s one thing, but if you help somebody on the Sabbath, that’s what the Sabbath was for. It wasn’t simply a holy day. It was a holy day, but one way to exercise your holiness was to help people.

And then if that wasn’t enough here he is at the feast, and the Scripture says that he was observing people. He was observing how they chose places of honor. This is Luke 14:7. We can almost visualize it. The doors open and everybody rushes to be at the best seats. Everyone wants to be next to the host, to be at his right or at his left, and so they are kind of pushing over one another, elbowing each other to get to the best place. We’ve seen that happen, haven’t we, when you have a banquet and you open the doors? And all of us have been in a position where we want to rush to the front to get the best seats. And Jesus is seeing this, and so right there, in their face he rebukes them, and he says to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast do not sit down in a place of honor lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him. And he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person.’ Then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you, for every one who exalts himself will be humbled. He who humbles himself will be exalted.” He’s talking to the very people who were frantically scrambling to get the best place, and what an amazing statement that those who are humbled are going to be exalted.

I remember sitting in a meeting years ago where someone quoted Jeremiah 45:5, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? See them not,” and right there I prayed to the Lord that I would never elbow my way up in the kingdom of heaven. If God desires to give someone a place of prominence, let God do it, and don’t be there manipulating and initiating it on your own.

Now Jesus isn’t finished. He continues and he’s speaking now directly to the man who invited him. He says, “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. But when you give a feast invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot pay you back and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” And Jesus is not saying we should never have those kinds of friends over who might repay us, but don’t make that your emphasis. Invite those who can never pay you back. In other words, go out of your comfort zone and find the lame and the blind and the crippled.

I wish I could say that we have done this more often, but I remember many, many years ago a Thanksgiving dinner that Rebecca and I had in our home, and basically it was all people who could never possibly repay us, and what a sense of delight and freedom and joy to be able to give to people even though you know there’s no way they could ever give it back. Jesus said, “Use those people and give them an opportunity to be with you, and by the way, you’ll be rewarded at the resurrection of the just.”

Years ago I preached a sermon on what Jesus will be looking for at the judgment seat of Christ. There are at least ten different items that are mentioned in the Bible and this is one of them. Have you shown hospitality to people who can never pay you back, people who are marginalized, who need your love and your grace and your mercy who least expect to receive it?

Now I have to visualize the scene. Jesus has spoken to all the people. He has spoken to the person who invited him to the feast, and you can imagine after this there was total silence. Alistair Beggs says it is something like after you’ve been at a feast and you have gorged yourself and you have three different desserts, and then someone says, “Well, you know that if we had cut back on what we were eating today – if we had eaten only half of this – we would have been able to provide food for a family starving in Ethiopia for a week.” So after that just silence! Somebody has to break the silence. Somebody needs to say something, and I can visualize at this feast somebody sitting off in a corner. My imagination tells me that it’s an old man who is speaking, a pious old man who has kept all the rules and gone to synagogue regularly. And so somebody needs to say something so he does. It says in verse 15, “When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things he said to him after clearing his throat, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.’” You can almost imagine the way in which he said it. Everybody sighs because at last somebody said something to break the silence.

Jesus picks up on this and now we get to the parable. This is a series on parables, and here goes. Jesus says, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many, and at the time of the banquet he sent his servants to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything now is ready.’” Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a banquet. By the way, when you come across kingdom of heaven what it means in Scripture is the fact that in the Old Testament God predicted a kingdom. He predicted a time of peace. It was to be a golden age that we believe is still going to happen, that Jesus is going to still rule from Jerusalem over this earth, and the knowledge of the Lord will be over the earth as waters cover the sea. It’s going to be a time of joy, a time of refreshment, a time of eating and feasting. It is going to be a very, very blessed time. So the old man was right. Blessed is he who eats bread in the kingdom, but Jesus said that a certain man had a feast and this feast was prepared and he invited people to it.

Now we have to look at the text of Scripture very carefully. The Bible does not have one loose word. You’ll notice that he sends servants and it says they went to those who had been invited, and they said, “Come. Now all things are ready.” See, in those days you didn’t have cell phones and e-mail, so the way in which you invited people is you sent out servants and these servants mentioned that there would be a feast on a certain day but no time was given because there were so many different contingencies that could change the time. And so the time of the feast was uncertain but it was kind of like a “save the date” relationship, and apparently everyone who was invited said, “Yes, I’ll come.” Of course, in context it’s a reference to the Old Testament prophets. They came and they were the first ones who told Israel, “There’s a great feast coming. Messiah is coming,” and everybody said, “We are happy for that day, and when Messiah comes we’ll accept him.”

But now what can we say about this feast? First of all, it was very lavish. The Bible says that it was a great feast. Visualize a large room and you cannot even to see to the end of it, and along the way there are these beautiful tables with white linen cloths, and candelabra. And this is a feast that God throws. And so it’s a very lavish feast. It’s also a free feast. You don’t have to bring anything. You know, sometimes we have potluck dinners and somebody says, “I’ll bring this dish, and you bring that one, and we’ll put them all together.” Not this one! You don’t have to bring anything because the table has been spread. It’s been laid. Everything that you need is here. Just come!

But it’s also an urgent invitation because the text says, “Come, for all things are now ready.” If you’re going to come, do it soon because the opportunity will not be endless. It will come to an end, and so the text says, “Come now, because all things are ready for the feast.” Now because this is a banquet thrown by God, as Jesus was illustrating, what would you and I expect? We’d expect everybody to rush to it and say, “Absolutely, we’re going to be there.” If there was ever a time when you’d expect people to be elbowing their way into the banquet room it would be this time. Surprisingly that’s not what happens.

You’ll notice that the Scripture goes on and Jesus tells the story (verse 16), “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field and I must go and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master, and the master of the house became angry.” Look at their excuses, and they were excuses. They were not reasons. I mean, are you kidding me that somebody is going to buy a field before he even sees it? It’s unthinkable. Jesus is talking to shrewd people. Who would do that? Are you telling me that somebody would buy a yoke of oxen (five yoke of oxen in fact) and not even see them? And so he said, “I bought them and now I have to go and look them.” That reminds me of one of our politicians who says we have to pass the legislation to see what’s in it. I mean, are you really telling me that you are going to lay down good money and then after that find out what you bought? I don’t think so.

When I was looking at this I was reminded that my father many, many years ago bought a horse from a very close friend, and the friend vouched for this horse, that it was a good horse. My dad bought it and the horse was absolutely worthless. He would not take a harness. He would not pull anything, and eventually we got rid of the horse, and by the way, the man who did that died not too long ago. Isn’t that interesting that came back to my mind? He was a good man, but we often wondered. He was our friend. Why did he sell us a horse that he knew was no good?

Clearly this person is not going to do that. Of course he knew what these oxen were like. And then another man said, “I’m just newly married,” and in the Old Testament if you were newly married you were supposed to stay home a year and minister to your wife and get to know each other. That’s a great idea, by the way. You weren’t to go to war, that is, an actual physical war. (laughter) I think it was General MacArthur who used to say to his troops, “Gentlemen, don’t even think about marriage until you have mastered the art of warfare.” But you were not supposed to go to war, but he could have brought his own wife. There would have been room for her at the banquet.

What’s going on here in the text? The fact is they don’t want to go. They think to themselves that they are not as hungry as they may have perceived themselves to be. They are eating junk food. They are going through the rituals. They are praying the right prayers. They are attending the synagogue. They have long robes and they can sit there and they can pontificate and they are very content with themselves, thank you very much! They had no idea what it was that they were missing.

Why is it that people don’t come to saving faith in Jesus Christ today? It’s excuses. You know, they could have said, “We don’t want to come to your party,” but they didn’t say that so they made excuses, excuses, excuses. Like a girl I read about. A boy phoned her and said, “I’d like to take you out on Friday night,” and she said, “No, I’m going to have a conflict on Friday night, and as soon as I hang up the phone I’m going to arrange it.” So I hope he got the message. Excuses!

One reason is because of fear. People fear their friends and they think if they come to saving faith in Christ, what are their friends going to say? Or maybe it’s fear even of God, or fear that they have to give up some sins. I mean they come and they have all these rationalizations, and God says, “Here is a feast that you can participate in.”

Now what happens is the master becomes angry. We don’t usually think of God as being angry but when you read the Old Testament you discover that God was frequently angry with unbelief. And the great insult was that people would not accept the invitation to his banquet. And so the master of the house said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame,” and the servant said, “Sir, what you have commanded has been done,” and still there is room,” 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, for I tell you that none of those men who were invited shall taste of my banquet.” What powerful, sobering words.

So the master says, “If these people, the religious intelligentsia, don’t come, go out to the highways and the byways. Get the poor and the crippled and the blind.” And who are these? Earlier in the text we read that Jesus said that these are exactly the kind of people that you should welcome when you have a feast – the people who cannot repay you.

So the first characteristic of these people is that they can’t repay what it is that God is going to do for them. And you and I can never repay what God is going to do. Salvation had better be free or you and I simply can’t afford it because there’s nothing that we can possibly do to somehow earn it.

So here you have, first of all, the fact that they can’t repay, and secondly, the reason the master loves to do that is because these are people who least expect an invitation. They don’t expect it, and so the master says, “Not only the blind and the halt and the lame, but also go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in.” Now we’re talking about Gentiles, people that the Jews never dreamed would be part of the kingdom. And so what Jesus was saying is, “You go get them too.”

Now you can imagine how this parable was being received by the elite of the religious community in Jerusalem. And you and I may say to ourselves, “We can expect the man who sits there and says, ‘Blessed are all those who eat bread in the kingdom of heaven,’ to get an invitation, but we can’t expect an invitation to the kid who is high on drugs every weekend.” When an invitation comes to him he says to himself, “It must be in the wrong box. There’s got to be some kind of a mix-up. Surely I’m not invited to this feast.” And we don’t expect that the woman who perhaps feels very defiled because of some man that she trusted who used her and then threw her away, like one might the peelings of an orange, to be invited. But she IS invited.

And then we might not expect people, for example, some who are listening today. Maybe there’s some man who otherwise looks very honorable and very kind and very interested, but the truth is that he has a long rap sheet, and therefore he can’t get a job because of his background. We wouldn’t expect him to get an invitation but he gets an invitation. You know when Jesus said, “Compel them to come in,” that phrase has bee misused throughout church history. I’m very sad to have to report that Augustine, that great theologian, used that to justify persecution. “We will compel them, and we will persecute heretics. We are compelling them to come into the kingdom.” Clearly that’s so contrary to the New Testament and contrary to the belief in conscience, and contrary to the way in which Jesus even handled himself. Nonetheless it has been used that way, but the word compel doesn’t mean that we coerce them. It means that we have to go out into the highways and the hedges and find them and convince them that the invitation applies to them too. And that’s why we should be so glad for the set-free ministry here at the Moody Church, which works with abused women. That’s why we should be so glad that our women’s ministry, under the leadership of Mary Whelchel, is spending a great deal of time in terms of finding out how we can help, and rescue people from what is called sex trafficking, because these people are in the highways and in the hedges, and in the back alleys, and they have an invitation from the king of kings as well. And we need to tell them that.

And that’s the message of Moody Church around the world. And you notice the blind and the crippled and so forth, they need to be taken by the hand, and if you have never heard of “By the Hand” ministries – the “By the Hand” club, I hope that you go to the website and find out about it. It’s ministry that was birthed right here that is very dear to our hearts, taking children in Chicago by the hand, helping them, teaching them to read, teaching them the Gospel, because the world is broken and the invitation is for those who have experienced the most pain, rejection and marginalization. What Jesus is saying here is, “Look, if winners are not willing to accept my invitation into the kingdom, those who perceive themselves as winners, then find some losers and I will make them winners in the kingdom, and I will accept them, and I will clothe them, and I will bless them. Invite them to the feast.”

Now let us look very briefly at this passage of Scripture as we apply it. First of all the banquet is ready. God says, “Now that Jesus Christ has come and died on the cross and has been raised again, he who spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things. All things are found in Jesus. What is it that you need today? You say, “Well, I need forgiveness.” Jesus died to bring it to you. You say, “I need cleansing. My conscience is troubling me.” The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin. You say, “I need companionship.” Jesus said that the blessed Holy Spirit of God, who is with you, shall be in you, and the Father and I shall make our abode in your life.” Imagine that! Whatever it is! You say, “I need to be loved.” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ. Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, nakedness, peril or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” God cares. The table has been laid. The banquet is finished.

Second, let us keep in mind that the invitation is to everyone, and so we go and we give that invitation. To those of you who are listening by radio or by way of Internet, the invitation is for you too, no matter where you find yourself today. Now Christianity is very exclusive in the sense that we know that there is no way that you can come to God and be accepted by him except through Jesus Christ, but here’s the good news. The invitation to come to Jesus is to everybody, and so we emphasize that.

During the time of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, a huge error was made in terms of invitations being sent out, one for which Buckingham Palace has not yet apologized, and I refer to the fact that I did not receive an invitation to go to the wedding. (laughter) I’m still waiting for an apology. So what I did was I went Online which is the closest I could come and see what the invitation looked like had I received one. Perhaps it’s still lost in the mail. It says this – opening line, “The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by the Queen to invite,” and then it goes on from there. I thought, Wow! I wonder how many people received that invitation and blew it off, and said, “Oh, I’ve got some oxen I need to check on,” or “I have some land that I bought that I need to examine.” Imagine that! The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by the Queen to invite.

Now think of it! God of the universe says, “Ho, everyone that is thirsty, come to the waters. Come without money. Come without price. Come as you are, and I’ll even clothe you so that you can get in on the feast. I am willing to grant to you all of these things if only you come.” One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible is, “You come,” and those of you who are rationalizing today, giving all kinds of excuses as to why you don’t want to come to Jesus, look at those excuses in light of the one who is giving the invitation, in light of the one who has laid the banquet and says, “Come with me and sup with me. Dine with me and let’s connect together.” Imagine that.

And so I invite you to come to Christ today. And what might your excuse be not to. And this feast that Jesus is talking about begins in this light, but it extends all the way into eternity. One day Jesus was with the disciples and he said these words, “This cup is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. Drink this,” and then he said, “I will no longer drink with you the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew with you in the coming kingdom.” And we read in Revelation 19 that when the bride of Jesus Christ is in heaven (at what we call the marriage supper of the lamb) it is there that we actually sit down. And the Bible says that as we are seated, it says in the Gospel of Luke, that Jesus himself will gird himself and will serve us. Jesus is going to say, “Now you folks sit down. I am going to serve you.” And we may feel uncomfortable with that but that’s just like Jesus, King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods, but teaching us to be a servant. He says, “I will serve you and you will be mine forever.”

Maybe I can put it this way. When you come to Jesus in this life you first experience the hors d’ouevres. You begin to get somewhat of a taste of what it is like and then later on, after death, when in the coming kingdom we sup with Jesus, it is then that we enter into the full feast. And Jesus said, “As for those who reject my invitation, they will not taste. They will not even get so much as a piece of lettuce. They will not get a single crouton.”

Listen to what Jesus said in another context. “I tell you that many will come from the east and from the west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The people who piously think that because of my religiosity I most assuredly will be invited, and there’s no way that Jesus could reject me, they might find themselves outside of the kingdom. The person who is listening to this message today and you feel lonely and despised. Within you your conscience troubles you. You know that you are a sinner that needs to be saved. For you, there is hope. There is an invitation that has your name on it and you can come and you can be received by Jesus, and welcomed into the grand banquet into the feast.

There was a woman by the name of Charlotte Elliot. Charlotte was an invalid living many years ago – a century or more ago, and she decided to write a poem that later on was put to music, and her brother who was a Presbyterian minister said, “My sister did more good in spreading the Gospel through that poem than all of my sermons. And I think that when I mention the poem to you, you will immediately recognize it and you’ll also recognize the music that was put to it. The poem goes like this.

Just as I am without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am though tossed about
With many a conflicts, many a doubt,
Fightings within and fears without,
Oh Lamb of God, I come.

And we come to Jesus because he says, “Come. Come as you are and I will receive you and I’ll give you the gift of righteousness.”

In a moment we are going to pray, and in a moment we are also going to sing a couple of stanzas of that song, but the prayer that I want you to pray today if you have never trusted Christ as Savior will become clear if you listen carefully. I hope that it expresses the desire of your heart.

Let’s bow together in prayer.

Father, I ask that as the invitation has gone out to the broken, to the weary, to the confused, that you by your Holy Spirit would bring them in, and help them to see the beauty of Jesus and the wonder of this invitation.

For those of you now who are listening who have never received Christ, you can pray a prayer like this after me.

Oh God, I now realize that I am a greater sinner than I realized. I know that I need a savior. I thank you that Jesus died for people just like me in my great need, and I thank you that in some ways I am loved more than I ever realized or hoped and therefore I receive this love, this forgiveness as I come to Jesus. I take him as mine, as a yes to your invitation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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