Luke 14:1-24 “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’ And they had nothing to say” [and on to verse 24]*

One of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament is that he cannot be bought by his friends or his enemies. No sweet words, no giving him compliments, no invitations to an expensive meal will buy his silence or win him over to your side. Of course he shows his grace and patience with the most depraved people, his mercy is breath-taking, but it is his righteousness that is the guarantee of all that. He’s not sweet-talking anyone by his promises and invitations. He is not a flattering, unctuous, vote-catching fawner of a man. He is straight and fearless with kings, centurions, synagogue rulers and chief priests

We are introduced to him here attending a dinner party; it was a tricky occasion for the Lord to navigate. The atmosphere was tense from the very beginning, and it got worse. There had to be crackling tensions from the way the evening had been set up. At the end of a Sabbath Jesus had been invited to a meal by one of the top Pharisees in the country and our Lord had accepted, but he wasn’t intimidated by the company and the occasion. He dealt plainly with them all. He never accepted a role as ‘easy-going guest,’ who might even do a miracle for them to boot if they pleased him. He was no spoon bender. He knew that the feast had been organised with ungodly motives. The host intended to confront him over the Sabbath issue and see if he could catch him out. The Pharisees had recently made one attempt to shut him up by telling him that Herod was out to kill him and that he must flee for his life. Our Lord was disdainful of such threats. He had also been grieved at the lack of repentance in Jerusalem. It was at that time of threat and rejection that he was invited to a home by this leading Pharisee, a time when he needed every friend and supporter he could gather. But we are told that at this feast “he was being carefully watched” (v.1). Spies were everywhere. He was under scrutiny; he was not amongst friends. This was Daniel in the lions’ den. It was not the context for a relaxed, easy evening with the conversation flowing and laughter over a good meal.

More than that, it was a Sabbath day with the Pharisees’ zeal to detect any prohibited activities, and even more distressing was the fact that a very sick man had been seized brought there, a man who was ill with dropsy. Dropsy was a general term for bodily swelling and malfunction, for congestive heart failure or kidney disease. The body of this man was retaining too much fluid. The host had plonked the dropsical man down in the most prominent place in the room, right in front of Christ. It was a set-up. We can even see that in the almost peremptory way in which Jesus instantly healed him and sent him away. It was all over in a moment. Our Lord said not a single word to him. He was not prepared to ‘do a turn,’ tantalize and then heal in order to entertain them. Before you could blink the man was given his health again and had left. One moment he was there and the next moment he was away. It was not a performance at all. Jesus sent him away. You could never do that with a dearly-loved, sick, family member, but you could show a stooge to the door. The issue in inviting Jesus to the prominent Pharisee’s home on the Sabbath in the midst of many other Pharisees was to check up on our Lord to see whether he would heal the sick man or not. That was the trap they’d baited. They were not at all concerned for this man’s welfare. They’d found a seriously ill man and brought him there to be a stumbling stone to bring down our Lord. They lacked any compassion for his dreadful condition. It was simply an opportunity to rubbish Jesus as a law-breaker. If he failed to help him they were winners; if he healed him they were winners because it was the Sabbath. So Christ healed him and then he took control of the evening. Only one man spoke lamely, and things then went from bad to worse. What we see in the feast in the Pharisees’ home was a downward spiral, four steps taking them down and down. Thus our Lord showed these men what they were really like,


Jesus assessed the situation before him immediately, the hostility, the hard eyes fixed on him from all round the room, the ill man before him. He knew their desire was to condemn him. So he immediately took the initiative and posed this question to them. “Is it lawful to heal on a Sabbath or not?” (v.3). It was a question that exposed the helplessness of these experts. These men could not heal on a Sabbath day, or any other day of the week. And so you see that there was a silence. They couldn’t do a thing to heal him but they feared that Jesus was able to deliver this man from dropsy, and of course that is why they’d brought him to Jesus. What they were totally unable to do he could do, and they knew it. So his question underlined their utter impotence. One with extraordinary power was sitting down eating food with them and the sign of this was the awkward silence.

Then our Lord put another question to them that resulted in exposing their hypocrisy. He first had asked them a question which had highlighted what they were unable to do, and then he asked them a question which highlighted things they were perfectly able to do. “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” (v.5). Not one of them could heal anyone of dropsy but they were able to rescue their son from drowning in a well. They had ropes, and a ladder, and muscles, and servants. “What are you going to do with the lad shouting out ‘Help’? Do you call down to him, ‘Wait until tomorrow morning and we will help’?” Jesus knew and they knew that they would do everything in their power there and then to save their beloved child, on the Sabbath or on whatever other day. Their hypocrisy was evident in criticizing Jesus for doing on the Sabbath what they couldn’t do, while they’d roll their sleeves up on the Sabbath and do precisely the same activity as Christ was doing, saving life, if their son was drowning in the well! So Jesus exposed their inability, and then he exposed their hypocrisy, and Luke gives us a progress report on how the party is going; “they had nothing to say” (v.6). It was becoming a nightmare party for the host. Everyone was concentrating on their plates and the food; a chilly silence reigned. There was an embarrassed, awkward, cut-the-atmosphere-with-a-knife feel to this banquet.


The sick man has been healed and had gone. Those who wanted their ammunition to report to the other Pharisees that Jesus did indeed heal men on the Sabbath had got it. Now perhaps there might be a warming up; the fine food and the wine might do its work; little conversations might break out around the room and the rest of the evening might be retrieved, but the Lord Jesus didn’t allow that to happen. They came there thinking that they were putting Jesus in the dock and they were going to get him and pass judgment on him, but he’d turned things around and they found that they were the ones in the dock and they were being interrogated by him. Christ had not finished with them yet. He had noticed their social climbing, the pecking order of the places they had grabbed at the table, their jockeying for position, how near their place could be to this most prominent Pharisee who was the host. Jesus “noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table” (v.7). The Son of God notices things. Then Christ spoke up again, telling them a parable. Here again was the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. We have observed people who are keen on the best positions, and we might have felt there were times when we too had been passed over. What we’ve not done is to have made a public commentary about things, but Jesus does. He tells them that he has been watching them, and he concludes that they are a bunch of self-conscious, social climbers, pushing others out of the way to grab the places of honour for themselves.

This is what he said to them, “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (vv.8-11). They heard those words, and didn’t think, “What a fascinating observation about etiquette and behaviour in feasts.” They knew that Jesus was talking about each one of them. He’d observed their aggressive determination to get the best seats, and he was dismantling their behaviour with his words. More chilly silence resulted.


Christ now turned to the one person not implicated in the criticism of those rushing to grab the best places, the host, the prominent Pharisee. He’s been completely unscathed by the parable. So Jesus addressed him and told him that he’s been inviting all the wrong people to his house because the invitation policy our Lord criticizes in verse twelve is exactly the invitation policy of his host – apart from Jesus the carpenter’s son and the man with the dropsy. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (vv. 12-14). Who is there at this man’s feast? “The Pharisees and experts in the law” (v.3) – all his mates, his “friends . . . brothers . . . relatives . . . rich neighbours” (v.12). The people who were the leaders of the synagogue were there. The men from that strata of society were around the table. The people he rubbed shoulders with all the time were there. He’d invited his clique along. That is the way the world operates. So Jesus, having spoken to all the guests and told them not to race for the best seats now turns to the host and rebukes him. “You have invited all the wrong people to this feast. You have invited to impress. You have invited to be repaid. They now owe you one. Your guests have rushed and looked for the best places in a selfish and self-centred manner because you invited such vain people to this meal.” The host heard what Jesus said and had nothing to say in return and presumably there followed another difficult silence. This is the Jesus we worship, who meets when two or three gather in his name, not a Jesus who’s always anxious to please everyone, who strokes everyone’s affections, but one whose word reproves, corrects and instructs in righteousness. That is why his word is God-breathed, and that is why we seek such a ministry where he is present each week. If that isn’t happening; if our prejudices are simply being rearranged week by week, then he is not there. When Jesus is there he won’t ignore anyone. He deals with everybody in the place. He is the Christ who notices everything.


At that moment somebody, perhaps a well-meaning person, tried to help. He spoke up and interjected a few words to break the ice and get the party rolling again. Jesus had just said the words, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (v.14). So a guest at the dinner gratefully took that point up and tried to help the host save some remnants of a ruined evening. The ghastly, embarrassed silence was too much for him and so this one man blurted out a few words, because somebody had to say something. somebody had to help, and this man seized on Jesus’ remarks and thought he had just the right words to say. He cleared his throat and interjected, “Blest is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (v.15). What was the man trying to do? Three or four things;

i] He was thinking ‘Let’s say something positive . . . Happy . . . happy . . . blessed . . . blest . . . after all those negative vibes let me or somebody say something warm and ego-reinforcing. Let’s think about something nice, about heaven, about the future . . .’

ii] He was thinking, ‘Let’s say something spiritual because we are after all Pharisees and it is the Sabbath. “Blest is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

iii] He was thinking, ‘Let’s say something about the future. Then there’ll be no risk of saying something unpleasant about persons here present. Let’s talk about a distant vision, something far away over the horizon, a reality, yes but such a long way away that it’s just a hypothesis.

iv] He was thinking, ‘Let us say something uncontroversial with which no one – no one at all – can take offence. No one will clear his throat and say, “Well, I disagree.”’ You can’t deny what I am now saying to you; “Blest is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” and everyone sagely nods their heads. We’re going to be blessed in heaven. He saw himself as a via media man, standing in the middle, holding out both arms and holding together the Pharisees and the Lord Jesus.

However, Jesus doesn’t seize this comment and use it as an escape route from the tension of the meal. He doesn’t inwardly breathe a sigh of relief and proceed to talk of ‘nice’ things. He doesn’t take that route, to ease the group with light and stress-free words. Rather Christ runs with the words the man spoke, sentiments that were supposed to change the tone and save the banquet. He seizes on them to tell the guests about the future heavenly banquet. In doing this he exposes the saddest and worst aspects of the men sitting at this dinner party. Jesus tells them the parable of the Great Banquet. “Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.” Still another said, “I have just got married, so I can’t come.” 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.” “Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.” 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. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet”’” (vv.16-24).

You must understand this parable in the light of the social customs of Jesus’ day. They generally worked by a double invitation system in organizing banquets and major social events. That was partly practical. The instant communication we have today was not at their disposal. Diaries and calendars as accurately and internationally recognized as are ours weren’t available to them. So what they did was to invite people to a banquet in a short time and then when it got closer to the appointed time, maybe that morning, they sent their servants around to those who have already accepted the first invitation. They said, “Just to remind you that the feast is ready tonight. Come along. The banquet is being cooked as I speak, and the festive hall is decorated and the tables are groaning under the weight of the delicious food. The lambs and piglets are being turned on a spit over the fire outside even as we speak. Everything is ready. Please come! Be there, tonight at the first watch.” Jesus was using the concept of the double invitation and the excuses that the servants got from many people to expose the Pharisees and lawyers’ ignorance of the truth.

What does he say? “‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses” (vv.16-18). They had all accepted the first invitation, but now they all proceeded to make excuses, excuses which were so weak as to be deliberately rude. Their feebleness added insult to the injury caused of the broken promises. Food had been prepared for them, but now they show they had no intention of coming and eating it. It is unusual for us having written to the parents of the bride, telling them that we have every intention of coming to the banquet, then not to turn up at all. When we were asked what was going on we had some feeble reason. That insubordination deliberately insulted our host. If we had a good reason then of course that was acceptable, but if not we were putting a knife to the throat of our host. “We really didn’t want to come, and that is the bottom line.” It is like that here. One wretched excuse after another, but the Master was a strong man who refused to take no for an answer. He sent his servants out again telling them curtly, “Make them come” (v.23). Make absolutely sure that the invited people know the facts; the banquet is on now; the doors are open now; the tables are laid now and you are personally invited to come. Make sure they all know this. Put pressure on them to come.

Then if they still refused to come, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (v.21) and constrain the great unwashed, sick, poverty-stricken people to come to the banquet. The rogues, those sleeping rough, those who have wasted their lives and didn’t have two pennies to rub together – they are now to be invited to the Royal Wedding banquet because the stars, and the media people, and the nobility, and the millionaires, and the politicians have made excuse after excuse for not turning up. The people who had nothing and had made a mess of their lives were sincerely being constrained to come. But Jesus made it very clear that those who were the first to be invited were no longer welcome to the feast. They will not cross the threshold, “not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet” (v.24). So Jesus finished, and what was the response of his hearers? We’re not told. The meal didn’t last much longer and people went home. They must have known that the parable was against them. They went there considering themselves top dogs, the men who ran the country, the movers and the shakers, who decided what was right and wrong and religious hip. At the end of the evening they were told that they would never be with God. They began thinking that they were putting Jesus on trial; they ended up standing in the dock themselves, and found guilty.

These people at the feast were of course the ones originally invited, the invitees! These Pharisees were all the sons of Abraham and they had received many of God’s invitations. “Come let us reason together . . . look unto me and be ye saved . . . turn ye, turn ye why will ye die?” One day there would be a great Messianic banquet, and originally the Jews had said yes to that; “You can count on us being there.” They said yes to the covenant that God had made with them on Mount Sinai. “We will do everything you ask us to do.” Seventy of them had had a meal with God at Sinai, the first course of the banquet, the hors d’ouvre of the feast yet to come. They had glimpsed something of the Messianic celebration, and had received occasional prophecies of a wonder banquet in the future. They were the specially invited guests and they’d promised exceitedly, “We’ll be certainly there.” They had all the privileges, the law, the covenants, the sacrificial system – they had everything during the years that the rest of the world was in darkness. Wales knew nothing of this redeeming Jehovah at that time. They knew from the heavens the glory of God. They knew from conscience what was right and what was wrong, but the word that brings people to the banquet of grace was unknown outside Israel. The world lay in darkness to God’s redeeming love. The Jews had it all; they had the invitations.

The parable of Jesus was saying that now banquet time had come; things were ready; the servant was coming around with invitation number two. He was saying that the doors were open and the tables were set, and that everything was ready. The Servant is Jesus, but they were saying No to him. They wouldn’t come, and Jesus in this parable was saying to them, “I am here to invite you to the banquet and when you say no you are rejecting me, rejecting my Father, and you’re making such vain excuses.” That was exactly what they were doing. They were madly obsessed with his practice of healing and delivering people on the Sabbath day. “What do you think of Jesus of Nazareth doing that on the Sabbath? Shameful! And his disciples don’t wash their hands as we do before eating. He’s a mere son of a carpenter.” The effect of all their words was to say, “His banquet isn’t worth going to. We don’t want to have anything to do with him and anything he represents. We won’t go. Thanks but no thanks.”

Jesus was telling them, “Your places at the marriage feast are going to be occupied by the Gentiles. They are going to sit there instead of you. Gentile dogs, the scum of the earth, the chief of sinners, a man justly convicted and crucified for his wickedness, men like him are going to sit at the feast while you are going to be locked outside. God’s banquet is going to be the party of the century. No, it will be the banquet of eternity, and he will have it so. Your saying no won’t stop that happening, because he is God. He is great in his grace and that grace will appear in places and people you never imagined. It will take your breath away when you see the people sitting down at the Messiah’s table and you refused entry.”

It was highly offensive stuff. The Lord Jesus could be highly offensive at times, but let me say that when the question at stake is eternal salvation then sometimes offence is inevitable and necessary. We hope that you who are refusing Jesus Christ today are being offended at what I am saying and that you will do something about it. We hope that some of those sitting around the table and listening were amongst the many converted at Pentecost or when many priests soon came to confess Jesus as Lord.


i] God’s word is like an invitation to a banquet. Both in Old and New Testaments the gospel is an invitation to a feast. In the Old Testament it was principally to the Jews while in the New it is to the Gentiles also. This parable is what challenges us about our understanding of the Christian message. The gospel invitation is not to a funeral. It is about grace and forgiveness; it is an invitation to the poor, the decrepit, those who have no argument and no defence, to the dirty and contagious and utterly unworthy. “Come to the party of Eternity” it says. “Sit down with the King of the Universe with all the people of the universe who have attempted great things for God and received great things from God. Rejoice with them! That is the good news. I am serving this message. Don’t miss out on this!”

There is a future joy and we are being told all about it and being invited to it. When we get an invitation to a wedding we put the card on top of the sideboard because we are looking forward to this happy day. All our lives know periods of pain, but the gospel gives us great expectations about the future. This world is a passing world and these troubles will end. We are apostles of hope. It is going to work out well for all the redeemed. We need to put the gospel invitation in a prominent place in our lives and think, “I shall soon be enjoying these delights, sitting there with all my dear ones who loved the Lord Jesus. What a reunion it will be in the Saviour’s loving presence.” Things have not worked out for us just as we planned, but things are going to work out for us just as God planned.

ii] Those who know the invitation may often be rejecting it. The Jewish people knew all about the Messiah, where he would be born, that his mother would be a virgin, that he would go down to Egypt, that he would be despised and rejected of men, that he would be lifted up and die an accursed death, but God would not allow his body to see corruption. The Scripture were very explicit about these things and many more. They had had this invitation for quite a long time . . . for a thousand years, or even twice that amount . . . they studied the invitation, and were experts on it, writing it out and explaining it to others. They knew all about the invitation, but when the second invitation came to them they said, “No, we will not go.” There are people who know the gospel invitation today in our congregation and in wider evangelical circles. They know the gospel and that it is true and yet they go on from day to day saying “No!” Knowing it in their heads but not living according to it – so familiar with the gospel but never personally appropriating it. People from non-Christian backgrounds get converted while these people are still in unbelief.

Make sure that you’re not like that. When you hear God’s gospel you are under an obligation to receive it. You must say to yourself even today that you won’t let the invitation of Jesus fall on deaf ears once again. You will take it seriously. What a tragedy to slip into eternity lost having the invitation in your hand and head all these years. Do not do it! Do not miss the banquet.

iii] Those who’ve received the invitation often need to be persuaded to accept it. So you notice the Master saying to his servants, “Make them come in! Constrain to come!” The crowds heard the invitation and they said, “For me? This is for me? But I am not a religious type. If you knew what I was like you would never be inviting me to such a royal banquet. I have been involved in immorality and crime and cheating and lying and stealing and perversion and drug dealing and corrupting other people. If only you knew, then you wouldn’t be asking me to come to the feast with you. If you knew my hypocrisy . . . if you knew my lies . . . my pride, the bitterness that I have for some people, the hatred I have for my brother, if you knew the kind of relationship I have with my wife, if you knew . . . then you wouldn’t be inviting me.” I don’t know what goes on in your heart, but I know what is in my heart, and I know that the God who gave us this book does know, every single thing about you, and he is saying utterly sincerely, “I am inviting you today to the great feast which I have got ready for the honour and praise of my Son.” He is saying, “Come to it.” He knows exactly where you’re at. He has watched your worst imaginations, he has seen every moment of your life even the vilest actions done when no human eye was on you. He has heard the foulest words, and yet he is saying, “Yes you . . . you are the one I am inviting to this banquet, not your brother nor your sister but you, not your husband or your wife but you. This is really for you. It is your name on the invitation card. The spelling is correct. The address and postal code is yours. The password is yours. There can be no mistake about it at all. The Lord is inviting you to come to the gospel banquet and celebrate that Christ Jesus receives sinful men. Don’t make your inappropriateness for coming the excuse for not coming. Let him be the judge as to who may come to this gospel feast. His grace says, “You are appropriate because you fulfil the one condition of coming to this banquet. You have to be a sinner; you have to know you are a sinner. All the appropriateness he requires for you to come to this feast is to see that you need him and want to be with him at the feast, and this is what he gives you. Don’t keep saying no. You come, whatever the past, however sinful, full pardon is here in the Lord Jesus Christ. You pick up the pardon and you accept the invitation at the very same time.

iv] The banquet is ready because Jesus has come. Jesus is the servant who comes to us and says, “Everything is ready for you to come to the feast. You said you’d come. Now come!” He comes not only to preach it is ready. He has come to make it ready. He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He has put on his apron and his white hat. He has observed all the health and safety requirements. He has been busy cooking hour after hour with the saucepans and frying pans and the woks. He has been doing all the hard work, and then he prepares the banqueting room, the decorations, the flowers, the place settings. He has got it all in order and then he serves it in the most wonderfully attractive presentation with silver tureens and hot plates. Now it is all prepared and he says, “Food is ready. Come to the table!” Jesus is God with his apron on, coming into the kitchen and preparing the meal and serving it. But we can go beyond that. Jesus is not merely the servant who prepares, not even the God who stoops to being the cook, he is also the Lamb to be slain to put meat on the table. He is the Grape to be pressed to put wine in the glasses. The banquet is nearly ready because shortly he will be upon the cross. He will soon die for sinners, and that is the basis of his invitation. How can it be that the scum of the earth can dwell for ever in the presence of a holy God? Answer. The crucifixion of Jesus. The grace of God in the cross of Christ. The invitation has this basis, forgiveness of sins, complete cleansing of all our stains and sins through the work of Christ. That is the basis of the banquet. That is the banquet. The banquet of redemption accomplished and applied. He is the Lamb. He is the living bread from heaven and we can feed on him now and evermore. The Lord Jesus Christ has come and died and so the banquet is ready. He announces it. He has purchased its full price. He has set it before us and he brings us the invitation to come and take it ourselves. He is our banquet.

v] Those who know Jesus and have a place in the banquet show this in the way they treat others. That is the point of Jesus’ earlier teaching at the Pharisee’s house. He talks of this (v. 7) in his ‘parable’ (that is how Luke describes it), where Jesus is not merely telling a story but seems to be giving advice on Christian etiquette about taking the humble second place at feasts. But he has something else in mind, about the character of those who will stand before him in the last day, and this will be the kind of people they are. They will have served his people who were sick and in prison and lacked warm clothes and were hungry. They will be the people who were not bombastic and always wanted the best seats. They were meek and they have inherited the earth. In other words Jesus is telling us that our behaviour far from church on Sundays, when we are out having a meal, how we behave in a wedding reception, how we show our concern for others, that they have priority before us, that that is a dead give-away as to what grace has really done in our lives. We love our neighbours as ourselves. Our neighbours are that important to us. That is what we have learned from Jesus.

17th April 2011 GEOFF THOMAS
* Having heard this from my friend Andrew King I am overjoyed to share it with others, but acknowledge that this is almost entirely his insights for which I give God the thanks and also my gifted brother for his work