“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: the table is set, the food is prepared, the feast is ready. The King has left no detail to chance; He has carefully set all things in place. The preparations took time; in fact, Saint Paul tells us that the King has been preparing this feast since before the foundations of the world. With each generation, the time drew nearer, as the King protected His plan from every attack, making ready the way of salvation. And when the time had fully come, the King sent His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, into this world of sin and death; born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law. Jesus walked this earth in perfect obedience under His Father, the King. He preached the Word, He healed many, but His task, in accordance with all of the King’s preparations, was to die, and die He did. The perfect Son of the King hung upon the cross in the place of the King’s subjects; His sinless blood shed for the sin of the entire world. The King provided life for those in the bonds of death, He gave forgiveness and freedom to those in the shackles of sin by giving His Son into death and raising Him up on the third day.
Before He died, this Son of the King established the feast that had been an eternity in preparation. He took bread and said, “This is my Body, which is given for you,” and then He said as He gave the wine, “This cup is the new testament in my Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” He established the King’s feast with the words, “This do in remembrance of me.” This supper, the Lord’s Supper, the feast of the King, would be the very means by which everything that the Son had won through His death and resurrection would be given to sinful man. Not the only means, to be sure, but this was the King’s great and culminating gift: the feast of salvation, the medicine of immortality, the price of salvation given to sinners to eat and to drink. And now that the King has raised His Son from the grave, this feast is ready to be given to the world. The preparations, so long in coming, are now complete; the feast is prepared—nothing is left to be done! The table is set, the food is ready, and the gifts to be given in the eating and drinking have been won; all that is needed is guests, and so the messengers are sent forth.
Their message is one of joy: “Come, for everything is now ready!” The invitation should be no surprise; this coming feast had been proclaimed to the world through Moses and the prophets for centuries. None who heard these first invitations knew when the feast would be; they were simply told to be ready as the King made His preparations. Now, the table is set; all that the King promised for thousands of years, from the first man and woman on, has come to pass, and the feast of salvation is open to the world. And so the Church is sent into the world, to bring the invitation to one and all, to invite the vast multitudes that inhabit this earth to come to the King’s feast. ‘Come, for everything is now ready! Come, repent and be baptized into the crucified and risen Christ, be catechized in His Holy Word, be admitted to the Lord’s Table in faith. Eat your Savior’s Body, drink your Savior’s Blood, as the King graciously invites you to do. This is the food that gives eternal life, the only meal that forgives sin and defeats death. Those who eat and drink in faith will never die!’
It is with great joy and enthusiasm that the messengers of the King take this invitation into the world, and why not? They bring the answer to sin and death; the benefits of Christ’s own death and resurrection, given to eat and drink by those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. But there must not be much hunger and thirst, for the messengers who go forth with such joy are quickly discouraged. They bring the greatest invitation the world has ever known, but they are persecuted, they are even put to death, and they meet with those who would rather follow false gods or no god at all. But what is most frustrating to the messengers is the apathy and excuses that they find among so many, including those who will freely tell you they are Christians.
What they hear are the words of people who have many, many other things to do rather than come to the King’s feast. “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” “I have too much work to do at home to spend time at church.” “My money is my money, and all the church wants to talk about is getting my money.” “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” “I work all week, and it’s just hard for me to get up early on my only morning to sleep in.” “Right now, life is too busy to be involved with the church, and I can be just as spiritual here at home.” “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” “My kids are on all of these sports teams, so I’m busy most Sundays.” “My husband won’t go, so it’s easier to stay home than to take the kids by myself.” Excuses are all they hear, one after another. Now, are work, or family, or property evil, sinful things in a person’s life? Certainly not, and each person has God-given responsibilities in those spheres. But what the messengers of the king find all too often is that these good gifts, these vocational responsibilities, keep people from coming to the feast, they become the basis for refusing the invitation. Those who are invited refuse the cost of coming to the feast; they would rather not give up the things of this life for the gifts of eternity.
The Word of God is a passing rain shower; those who make excuses expect that they can go to the King’s feast whenever it is convenient to them. But the King in His anger sends His messengers elsewhere. “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Those who were invited have arrogantly refused to come; they have much better things to do than partake of the feast of salvation, and so the messengers are sent to others. No longer do they invite the healthy, the strong, the rich, those who think much of themselves, but instead the invitation goes to those who are poor, meek, and downtrodden. The invitation goes to those whom good upstanding citizens don’t want to associate with: alcoholics, prostitutes, addicts of every kind. The invitation isn’t for them to remain in the bondage of their sin, but to receive at the feast the freedom of Christ’s victory over sin and death.
But the banquet hall is still not filled, and so the King sends forth His messengers to gather still more. “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” The messengers invite the outcasts to the feast, those outside the city walls, those whom the world has rejected, who are looked down upon by those who make excuses and refuse to come to the feast themselves. The King knows that they will come reluctantly; He tells His messengers to ‘compel’ them. They, like those first invited, are hesitant to come to the feast, but for a much different reason. Those who make excuses refuse to come to the feast because they have other things to do; they arrogantly find many priorities more important than the King’s banquet. The poor and the downtrodden, on the other hand, are reluctant to come because they believe they are unworthy of such a gift; they know who they are, and they know who the king is, and they cannot believe themselves worthy to stand in His presence.
But it is precisely to the humble that the King wishes to show mercy and grace. They come to the feast as beggars, as outcasts, with hands open and empty, having nothing to give to the King but their sin. They come knowing their desperate need for what He gives at the feast of His Son’s Body and Blood. They are unworthy, they know it, and they are hesitant to come to the feast. ‘Will the King really accept me?’ they ask. ‘Doesn’t He know what I’ve done, who I am?’ But the messengers compel them; the feast is only for those who know they are nothing, for the King desires to show grace, love, and mercy to beggars. That is the kind of King that He is; whether you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, healthy or infirm in the eyes of the world, all who come to His feast come in humility, with nothing to give but everything to receive. And it is precisely at the feast that He gives them everything.
This feast was long prepared for sinners, not for the righteous, who have no need of repentance. As the Introit declares, “You save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” This is why the messengers must first proclaim the Law, to teach sinners, to teach you and me, that we are nothing before the King, that we deserve none of His grace and mercy. But He gives it anyway, for that was His plan from the beginning. For sinners He sent His Son to suffer and die; for sinners He raised Him up again. For sinners He gives His Son’s Body and Blood in the Supper, bestowing forgiveness, life, and salvation in a miraculous meal. In humility, repent and understand that your greatest need is not more money, or a bigger house, or a trophy for your child, but rescue from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Give up the arrogance of thinking that anything in this life is more important than dining at the Lord’s Table by His gracious invitation.
For at this humble table, standing here in the midst of our sinful world, you partake of the eternal feast. This is the same banquet that we will celebrate in the new heavens and the new earth; when the King invites you to the earthly feast, He is inviting you to the heavenly one, too. At this table, we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Blessed indeed, for what we could not do the King has done in sending His Son, and He has compelled us through the call of the Gospel to partake of the feast, here in time and there in eternity. This is the Feast of victory for our God, our King, and the party will never end. In the Name of Jesus, the Son of the King, who is both host and meal, Amen.