Do you know someone rallies around this cry? Or maybe the more modern YOLO – You Only Live Once? Or going way back to classic Latin carpe diem? Seize the day! Whichever one it is, it’s a call to live life to the fullest, to get the most out of it, and never shrink from an opportunity that you might regret missing out on later.
Maybe you know that person, maybe you try to do it yourself. Today, as we continue our series on The Kingdom of God is Like, we’re going to look at some people who lived that way.
First, a little bit of recap and context. Maybe you’re aware, maybe you’re not, but this is our third week in what we call the End Times season of the church year. It’s a time when we focus on what the end of this world will be like, what we’re looking forward to, and where our ultimate confidence is.
Last week was the Sunday of Final Judgment, and appropriately enough we looked at the parable of the net. We saw how the angels would gather up all the people at the end of the age and separate them, good from bad – judging them, as it were. And we heard pretty clearly what would happen to those bad fish.
Today, we look more at the outcome for those good fish in the Sunday we call Saints Triumphant. This day celebrates the end that awaits the holy people of God, the triumphant celebration in the kingdom of heaven after this is all over. And our parable today, again appropriately, revolves around a great banquet being held. So, let’s take a look at the start of that story Jesus tells:
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “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.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ ”
Let’s pause there. What do we have so far? A man, with apparently significant resources, prepares a grand banquet. Out of the blue, no apparent reason, just to celebrate. And he sends invitations out to all his friends, to all the movers and shakers and well-to-do people of the area. To anyone worth inviting. To this grand feast. Let’s think about that part first. Now, maybe you’re like me and you just love food and good times with friends. The idea of this could appeal to you a lot. But let’s try to put it more into our context. A dinner party today is, hey that’s great, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of our lifestyles. It was perhaps a bigger deal at that time. So maybe translate that into something that really speaks to you. A Caribbean cruise? A wilderness retreat? A Disney vacation package? A massive party in an airplane hangar?
Think about it, whatever comes to mind as the best kind of time you can think of having. Think about that grand time and then think about getting a card in the mail inviting you to it. It’s from someone you trust, it’s not a prank or a scam, it’s real. Imagine the excitement of holding that invite in your hand. Someone else is going to the trouble of getting this all set up, taking care of all the arrangements, the travel, the catering, the cost, the guest list, whatever it is. All you have to do is show up.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there at the appointed time?
Okay, maybe there’s a few things. A sudden death in the family or severe illness. Natural disaster getting in your way. Some stuff that’s not really in your control. But that’s not what happens here. The call goes out, the banquet is ready. Just show up and enjoy it! And the servant sent to gather the guests gets… excuses.
And I mean, it’s not like they’re terrible excuses. They all have something to do that is more important to them than enjoying a nice banquet. One wants to check out a new purchase of land. Another needs to field-test his new oxen. Still another has a wife he needs to take care of. Seems reasonable. But on the other hand, would an evening out of their lives to attend the banquet really have ruined these other things? You could kind of see it going either way, right?
See, here’s the problem with the “No Regrets” lifestyle. You can’t do everything. Every day you’re faced with choices of doing one thing over another. And we all value activities differently. Maybe for you living life to its fullest means going out and being social every evening. Maybe for me it means eating a whole bag of Oreos and reading comic books all night. But at every juncture, at every decision point – how do you know which one you won’t regret?
You can’t. You just can’t for any earthly activity. But we’re not really talking about earthly activities, are we? Remember a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the Kingdom of God. So this banquet is not a banquet, it’s God inviting us to best celebration there ever is and ever will be. The triumph of heaven.
Last week we talked about the uncomfortable reality that hell is real. But just as real is heaven. It’s better than you or I could imagine. It’s better than the best cruise where you don’t get seasick, better than the best camping trip with no mosquitoes, better than a Disney vacation without any lost luggage or crying children and better than the biggest celebration without the awkward relative who drinks too much. Better than any and all of that put together. It’s utterly peaceful, utterly joyful, completely exciting, and without any pain, ache, or fatigue. It’s a grand celebration that never gets boring or tiresome. It is, quite plainly, the best.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there?
So why do we make excuses all the time? Because we think we don’t want to regret missing things that come up here and now. Some of them are utterly mundane and trivial. “I’ll get to God later, for now I need to try out this new Xbox game.” Those should be easy to spot. Some…like the excuses in our parable, well they seem more reasonable. “I’ll get to God later, but right now I have to sort out our finances.” “I’ll get to God soon, but right now I have to get the shopping for Christmas done.” “I’ll get to God, but this new relationship needs attention first.” “I’d like to have time for God, but my family needs me to do so much for them.”
We think we’ll regret it if we don’t do these things we “should” or “have to” do. Switch your perspective on regrets. We said before there’s no way to know which earthly activity you might regret missing. Sure. But I can tell you this for a fact: When your end comes, when the banquet is ready, you will regret it if you’re not there. I can also promise you this: when you’re there, you will not regret a single thing you missed here.
Think that over a second time. Let it sink in. You will not be in heaven saying to yourself, “You know this sure is a great time, but I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the Grand Canyon before I got here.” How absurd! Replace that with whatever you want. There is nothing you can miss here that will somehow regret in heaven. But whenever we put something ahead of time with God, whenever we cut him out of our lives because we’re afraid of missing out on something else, that’s exactly what we’re doing! Day by day, inch by inch, God gets squeezed out of our lives because we fear missing out on something else here.
Now, perhaps I’ve got you thinking, just like I’ve got me thinking, about all the times I’ve turned down God’s invitation in order to do something utterly trivial in comparison. That’s not a great feeling. Might have you feeling a little worthless overall from that behavior. If that’s how I treat his invitation, why should God even bother to invite me?
If so, take a look at what happens next.
21 “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.’
22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
The choice guests don’t come. They all think they have better things to do. But the meal’s prepared, the celebration is ready, it can’t just go to waste! So, the master sends his servant back out. Go and get anyone you can find. Get those that have nothing better in their lives, those that would never turn down such an invitation. I don’t care that they can’t pay me back, if I get no favors or a return invitation someday. Gather everyone who’s worth nothing to anyone.
They do. But there’s still room. So, he sends his servant back out. Go even further out. In fact, there’s an interesting connotation in the original language here. The places the servant is sent the second time are places that robbers and highwaymen were known to lurk. In other words, you’ve got all the worthless people in here? Go and gather the criminals as well! I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done – I don’t want a single space to be wasted.
My brothers, my sisters, it doesn’t matter that you have nothing good to offer God for a place at the banquet. It doesn’t matter if you’re not worth inviting. None of us are. But Jesus himself has prepared this feast. He is the one who ensured there were more than enough places to go around. And God the Father wants none to be wasted.
Here’s the plain facts: Jesus died and rose for all. Because he is God, his death on the cross is valuable enough to pay the price for every person who has ever and will ever live. Heaven can never run out of room. Everyone is invited. You are invited. The only people who will not be there are those that turned away because they had something “better” to do. Anyone who looks to Jesus, who actually shows up is welcome to come in.
And it doesn’t matter what you’re worth to God. He’s God. He doesn’t need anything, there was never a chance that you could bring him something he didn’t already have. More than that, even if you’re a criminal, if you’ve fought against him in the past, he still wants you there. He wants everyone to enjoy the banquet prepared by his Son.
Being there in the end is all that matters. That banquet celebration in heaven is the only thing you’ll regret missing out on. It is the only important thing in your life. A hundred, a thousand other things will scream for your attention demanding that they be dealt with before the most important one, but don’t mistake urgent for important.
Your relationship with God will almost never seem urgent. So, you have to make it the priority. You have to make sure God gets time on your calendar and the best of your gifts first, every time. Make that happen first, because it is the most important, it is the one thing you will regret if you don’t. Then, after you’ve given God your first and best, then you can continue dealing with the other urgent matters in your life.
The kingdom of heaven is like the grandest banquet you can think of, it is the best party, the best vacation, the best experience you can imagine multiplied by more than you can imagine. And you’re invited. Jesus bought you a place. Don’t meander towards that end, run towards it. Don’t ever think for a moment you’ll regret spending time with him, in his word, doing his work over something else in this life. Nothing here even comes close.
Live with that banquet feast in mind. Live for God. No regrets.