I gave the first math test of the academic year to my students this past Friday.  I’ve graded the exams, some students did okay, for others it wasn’t pretty, but none of them have any legitimate excuse.  Some might say the dog ate my notes, but that doesn’t hold up because I offered them a copy of my exact notes if they had lost theirs for whatever reason.  Others would suggest that they didn’t know what would be on the test, but that fades away in light of the fact that I’ve been giving sample questions for several days.  Still, some might complain that they didn’t know when the test would be given, but truth be told I gave them a full week’s notice that the day of reckoning was upon them.   There may even be some students with the temerity to suggest that their teacher didn’t do good enough of a job, but even if that were true it seems to pale in comparison to the fact that when I asked who had studied at least 15 minutes for the test less than 10% of my pupils raised their hands.  (At least I can give them a thumbs up for being honest!)  Now before we judge my students too harshly or begin saying things like, “those kids these days”, let’s remember that excuse making is not unique to sixth graders, it is a detrimental factor common to the depraved DNA of all humanity, regardless of age.  Were we to come clean, we could all confess many times in our lives when we have been put on the spot, palms sweating and minds racing to come up with some kind of excuse, no matter how lame or implausible it may be, just to make it through to the next minute.  Jesus offered a tremendous teaching on excuses in Luke 14:16-21.  We looked at this passage in a recent Sunday morning service.

The Basic Story Line…The parable in Luke speaks of a man who was giving a big dinner.  He must have been a man of great means considering how many people he was willing to invite.  Jesus doesn’t tell us about all of the men who were originally asked to attend but does describe three who seemed to be representative of the whole lot.  On the day of the dinner, the man sent his servant out to tell the guests that the meal was ready and it was time to come.  The first asked to be excused because he had just bought a piece of land and needed time to survey it.  The next requested a pass due to the fact that he just purchased five yoke of oxen and had to have time to test them.  The final guest, in like fashion, wanted a reprieve from the dinner because he had just been married and would be spending the evening with his bride.  When the servant reported the responses back to his master, the man became very angry that those invited were not coming and instructed his servant to go out into the highways and the hedges and invite the poor, the blind, the lame, and all who would come so that his house would be full and his dinner not wasted.  The basic point of the man holding the dinner representing God and the three guests representing those who reject the Lord is quite obvious, however knowing some history of the Bible days heightens the severity of their excuse making from foolish to fatal, from dismissive to damning.

Going Deeper…When a person was going to have a big dinner 2,000 years ago (and mostly nowadays as well), they did not wait until the last minute to send out invitations.  They would let guests know when the date for the dinner was well in advance and then those invited would RSVP in some fashion so that the man giving the meal would know how many to prepare for.  Cooking a meal of such large proportions is no small task in our present day and was even more of an ordeal back then.  It was impossible to know the exact hour the dinner would be fully ready to serve.  So on the day of the meal, when the time came that everything was coming close to completion, the master of the house would send out a servant to tell those who had accepted the invitation that now was the time to come.  This means that all of the original guests the servant went to on the day of the dinner had accepted the invitation from the master days or weeks before.  They said they were coming and yet they did not!  They had excuses…very lame excuses…

As already stated, the first offered the excuse that he had just bought a piece of land and needed to survey it.  So let’s get this straight, he knew the day of the dinner in advance, he accepted the invitation, but something came up—he purchased a piece of property—sight unseen—and had to check it out at the exact time that he was summoned by the master.  Buying a piece of property was an involved and expensive process back then as it is today.  How many of us would buy a house without inspecting it?  If you recall, the second guest also had an excuse.  He too knew the day of the dinner well in advance, had accepted the invitation, but amazingly something came up—he bought five yolk of oxen and had to test them out.  Having recently been car shopping myself, I know there are many factors to look at in such an endeavor.  They’re not giving them away.  You need to consider interest rates, look at your budget, how much for insurance, who can you trust, what car is reliable, and the list goes on and on of factors to keep in mind.  What are the odds that you would put out the kind of money they want for a vehicle these days and not even give it a test drive until after you signed on the dotted line of the contract?  About the same as the odds of this man buying five yoke of oxen prior to assessing their strength and reliability.  The final excuse is perhaps the most unbelievable.  The third man told the summoning servant that he could not attend, even though he, like the first two, had plenty of notice about the date of the dinner and had accepted the invitation, because, well, you may have guessed it, something came up.  He just got married and needed to spend time with his wife.  Now I’ve known of some men who forgot their anniversary, but I don’t know of anyone who has ever failed to remember the day they were getting married!  I don’t know about you but if someone had accepted my dinner invitation but then gave me excuses like this, I’d be more likely to think that they came up with something rather than believe that something came up!

All three of these men who accepted the invitation yet failed to come probably thought that the master would understand.  They likely assumed that their absence would go unnoticed, thought the fact that others had come up with lamer excuses than they made their offense less offensive, and looked forward to future dinner opportunities that would better conform to the “more important” events of their lives.  They were oblivious to the reality that the master was very angry at their rejection and definitively stated that they would receive no further invites.  We don’t often focus on the wrath of God nowadays, but that is part of His character.  He would not be righteous if He did not have indignation and anger at injustice.  If a man would be rightly upset that his dinner invitations had been accepted and then so flippantly rebuffed, how much more  furious should God be when we have broken His holy law, He gives His only Son as a sacrifice to wash our sins away, and we respond by uncaringly turning away from His gracious offer of salvation?  The master was upset that his invited guests had not come, but he would not allow his house to be empty nor his provisions to go to waste.  He told his servant to go out and extend an invitation to all who would come, especially mentioning the blind, the poor, and the lame.  Perhaps they would not have such other “pressing and important” events to attend to that they could not come to his feast; perhaps they would know what is truly “pressing and important.”

Life Application…I read three well documented polls recently that said anywhere from 70 to 83 percent of Americans claim to be Christians.  Now I realize that many of those people may not even know what it really means to be a Christian, and sadly they may never have heard of what it really means even from a house of worship with a cross or a fish in their logo.  But for the sake of argument, let’s take the low number and consider a few questions.  Do seven out of every ten of your neighbors find themselves in church on Sunday?  One might say, well a person doesn’t have to attend services every week to be a Christian.  True enough.  But let me ask another question, have seven out of every ten people you know even made 5 services out of the last fifty?!  Have seven out of every ten even cracked their Bibles open for five minutes out of the last fifty days, have they given fifty dollars out of the last five thousand they’ve made to help spread the gospel message that is the source of the salvation they claim to be their only hope and the only hope of a lost and dying humanity, have they even bowed their head in prayer or lifted their voice in praise for five minutes out of the last 24 hours, and the list of questions could go on and on.  I’m not saying that a person doing all of the above mentioned things would for sure be a Christian, for there will be those seemingly doing good things, perhaps even what would be classified as great things, that will hear “depart from me, for I never knew you” for they were goats at heart and not true sheep (Matt. 7:21-23).  I’m also not saying that salvation is based upon the works that I’ve spoken of here or upon any work except that of faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-10).  But what I am saying is that those who have truly received Jesus and His offer of salvation will have lives that are changing.  Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always changing.  And if there is no progression, no devotion to the things of God, then there’s reason for grave concern.  If there’s no fruit, then there’s probably no root!  If something always comes up, then it’s more likely that we’re just always coming up with something.  If we are fruitless, excuse riddled people who profess Christ, then we may need to question if we’re like those who accepted the invitation in word, but in deed rejected the dinner and the host choosing instead to worship the idol of self!  Need I remind us of the Lord’s anger at such folks and their not so fortunate outcome?  Some of us may need to repent.  Some of us may need to pray more seriously for people we know and love.

If you made it through that last paragraph, let me now give a more celebrative word.  The excuse mongers roused God’s ire, but His response was not to call the whole thing off.  He instead sent His servant out to the highways and hedges to invite the poor, the lame, the blind, those with nothing, those often overlooked by the world, to His holy house to partake of His plenteous provisions.  The door was swung open, wide open, for all those who would simply come.  The Lord knew that many throughout history would outright deny and even mock Jesus and His gospel.  It did not catch Him by surprise that of those who did claim allegiance to Him that many would be false converts, spiritual opportunists, goats instead of sheep, and tares instead of wheat.  Yet, still Christ died for the sins of all who would believe that our relationship with God could be reconciled, our penalty paid, our record whiter than snow, our place at heaven’s table secured.  We contribute nothing, other than repentance from sin and faith in Christ (which in themselves are gifts from God), and it can be well with our soul!  All who call, truly call, upon the Name of the Lord will be saved, and those who come unto Him, He will in no way cast aside! (John 6:37; Rom. 10:13)  All who know this promise and believe this truth should rejoice, the doors are open, wide open, to all who will come!