No Excuses – Luke 14 This past week Monica and I and the kids decided to be adventurous and drove to Brooklyn. We booked a parking spot ahead of time online and cruised in to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, then we went through Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, took the kids to the park along the bridge where there was a great splash pad, and then of course walked along the Brooklyn Promenade to see that spectacular view of the skyline. It was a great day out and a ton of fun-but as Jacob and I were looking at the skyline one of our favorite buildings was that Jenga looking building. Have you seen this one? It’s a 57 story building on Leonard St in Tribeca and contains 145 condos ranging in price from $3.5 to $50 million. The Swiss architects who designed it described it as houses stacked in the sky. Clearly it would be amazing to live there-but you hope it just looks like Jenga-not acts like Jenga-because who remembers playing that game? (Jenga) Or let me ask a more important question-who got really nervous playing that game? Because on the one hand, the problem was that it was all too easy to pull one of these blocks out and then destroy the whole structure. You had to have the hands of a surgeon so that the Jenga tower wouldn’t topple over. But on the other hand, it’s all too tempting to knock it over-and Boom!
That’s what we’re going to be talking about this morning-knocking things over. Just think about how you acted as a kid at the beach. Were you someone who spent all sorts of time building a sand castle, pouring and scooping the sand and getting just right or were you the sort of kid who just liked to kick them over and knock them over? Or playing with Legos as a kid did you spend all day building an elaborate structure or did you crash and wreck the stuff that you or someone else had built? You have to admit there’s something fun about wrecking things. Monica and I remember the time William came home from preschool and they had talked about what they want to be when they grow up-and William said he wants to be a wrecker. We had never talked about the benefits of this particular career field at home before-he must have learned it at preschool but in his words-a wrecker gets to wreck old buildings-sort of like professional Jenga. What could possibly be better than that? Now I don’t know if he still wants to be a wrecker-but knocking stuff over and tearing it down is what we want to talk about this morning and of course it isn’t old buildings we want to wreck, but all the excuses we make for why we can’t follow Jesus. That’s what we want to wreck and tear down-and God’s Word has a lot to say about it.
So open your Bibles to Luke 14 and we’re going to read a story that is full of excuses. Now Jesus is the one who tells this story and He’s telling it at a dinner party. But this wasn’t a normal fun, relaxing dinner party with good friends. Jesus was invited to eat at the house of a Pharisee-and as we know the Pharisees were always trying to trap Jesus and trick Him. Their goal was to make Jesus look like a fraud-and yet Jesus always used those occasions to expose the Pharisees’ hearts and rebuke their thinking and that’s certainly the case here. Jesus’ story challenged the Pharisees-and it challenges us today too. Look at how it begins-v. 16. And I want you to think back to the last time you attended a great banquetMaybe it was a really fancy meal for work, or a giant wedding reception or Christmas dinner or when you were on vacation. I remember this huge Mexican feast at a resort Monica and I went to in Cabo on our 10-year anniversary. It was so delicious we quickly got stuffed-and yet I couldn’t stop eating tacos! The next day on the beach I was literally a beached whale. But that spread of food was amazing-a guy needed 2 stomachs for it! But when you think about a great banquet or a fancy dinner party, the custom back then-much like today-was to send out invitations and get an initial commitment from people to come. But back then people weren’t quite as confined by the clock, so on the day of the banquet once the food was all cooked and ready, whenever that was, a servant would go out and tell the guests-Come on over, it’s time to eat. The meat’s been cooking for hours, it’s nice and tender. The tables and chairs are all set up, everything is ready-let the party begin. And that’s what the next verse describes-v. 17. And of course everybody would come because the verse before said that the invitations had already been given, people had already rsvp, they’d given their yes, they were committed! The host would have butchered the right-sized animal for the number of guests-probably a huge chunk of beef or lamb-seasoned it up and grilled it over the fire for all the guests who were coming. And since they didn’t have freezers or refrigerators to keep the leftovers-it all had to be eaten that night. When the servant came around saying-it’s time-people came with excitement. They were hungry, mouths watering, just waiting for him to say Dinner time! Isn’t this one of our favorite things to hear? When you’re smelling the grill going or when you’ve smelled that turkey cook all day on Thanksgiving your mouth is watering so when someone says, Dinner time!-you’re there. Somebody would have to pry you away from the table. And that’s why the twist in this story is so shocking-v.17-21a. And rightly so! Everybody’s a no-show!
Put yourself in his shoes-what if all your guests for a big party you were throwing called at 3:00PM on a Saturday afternoon just as you had everything nearly ready. The chicken was marinating, the meat was getting smoked and the shrimp was on the bbq. And one by one your guests started to call-Sorry, can’t make it today, we’re too busy mowing the grass. Sorry, we can’t make it either-we bought a new puppy we’re playing with. Sorry, we can’t come because my wife and I decided to go eat at Applebee’s instead-won’t make it today. You’d be furious! I’ve got all this meat, I’ve been grilling it all day, I got started at 6am. Quit making silly excuses and get over here! Because if there’s one thing that’s truly angering, it’s insincere excuses! Which is exactly what these excuses are in Jesus’ story. Look back at them-people don’t generally buy land or a field without first examining it-and even if they did the field will be there to inspect tomorrow-enjoy the banquet today. Likewise, no one buys livestock without checking them over. You don’t want to get stuck with bad oxen-so that guy’s giving a weak excuse. And the last guy doesn’t even give a reason for his excuse. He just says I’m married clearly I can’t come, as if his excuse is assumed. You know how it is, wife doesn’t let me out of the house anymore. No parties for me. But in reality, the newlyweds would have been welcome at the banquet. This was a culture that placed a strong emphasis on family-bring your new bride along we all want to meet her! So these are ridiculous excuses-especially when the host has gone to such a big effort and expense to prepare everything. Remember how Jesus introduced this as a man giving a great banquet. This wasn’t a guy just throwing a few hot dogs on the grill or ordering up some pizzas, this was a banquet for the ages, one to be remembered; the very sort banquet you would make every effort not to miss. I remember reading a news article about a wedding in Moscow that cost over 1 billion dollars! It was the son of a Russian oil and media tycoon and it was incredibly elaborate. The decorations and flowers were amazing, famous singers performed, everything was over-the-top elegant. If you had an invitation to that wedding feast you would make sure that you wouldn’t miss it. You wouldn’t say to the bride Sorry I’m a little busy with work I’m not going to make it to your billion dollar wedding! You would be there no matter what!
And that’s the point in this story there is a great feast, a great banquet in store for everyone who trusts in Jesus. And His banquet far eclipses 1 billion dollars. You may not realize it-but Heaven is pictured as the marriage supper of the Lamb, a feast of incomparable proportions, a kingdom banquet of the ultimate satisfaction and joy Rev 19:6-9. The blessing of forever being in the Lord’s presence is something no one would want to miss. This is the greatest invitation ever-blessed are those who are invited. And ironically, that’s what one of the Pharisees said to Jesus before He started telling this parable-v. 15. Yes! That’s so true-yet we can miss it, all sorts of people can miss it because of the excuses we make. Just like in the parable, we come up with all these earthly reasons that we think are so important, so valid and so legitimate for why we can’t respond to Jesus’ invitation. So Pt1: Making excuses eliminates us from following Jesus.
It’s all too easy to think that our excuses are rather harmless, just a temporary inconvenience. We like to think that our excuses aren’t a big deal and so we try to rationalize them and explain them away. You understand, Lord, how busy my job’s been lately, you understand the long hours I’ve been doing and the extra work my boss has been giving me-so obviously I can’t follow you the way I should right now. Or you know how hard I’ve been working to get this promotion or how hard I’ve been working to get my college degree finished-so after that’s done then I’ll follow you, Lord. Or once things settle down, and the kids get older; once life gets easier and I’ve got more time, then I’ll be able to be follow you, Lord. But why do we think that we’ll somehow be able to follow Jesus in the future if we’re not following Him now? Why do we think it’s okay to make excuses to Him today-but assume that we won’t make excuses to Him tomorrow? The problem is that excuses become comfortable, excuses become easy, excuses multiply like fruit flies. If you make one excuse to God, it’s easy to make another and another and another until you’ve drifted so far away that He’s become a hazy spot on the horizon. And that’s when it’s too late-which is precisely the point that Jesus is telling us. He’s warning us about the danger of excuses. How did He say the master responded in the story? Did the master understand and accept the excuses? Did the master postpone the banquet and put everything on hold because of their excuses? Not at all-v. 21b-23. The banquet was still happening despite the excuses. And that’s such an important detail to catch. Their excuses don’t cause the party to be postponed, the guests don’t get to use their invitation another time or take a raincheck or come back later. Their excuses cause them to miss it-v. 24. That’s a very serious and sobering reality for making excuses to God. It’s a wake-up call to all of us who think that are excuses aren’t a big deal because they are back to Pt1.
I don’t know about you-but I wish that wasn’t the case! I wish that Jesus would accept my excuses. I wish that He would put His plans on hold so that I could accomplish my plans and do the things I want when I want-and then follow Him when it’s more convenient. But that’s not how He works. Listen to what Jesus goes on to say-v. 25-26. Jesus isn’t making things easier with those words. He isn’t telling us to come follow Him when our lives slow down or the timing is better on our end. He isn’t giving our excuses a place to thrive and say follow me when you get the chance, rather He’s saying that if the excuses remain we cannot be His disciple. So Pt2:Destroying our excuses is essential for following Jesus. We have to eliminate them, remove them, knock them over, wreck them and wipe them out. We can’t try to live with our excuses or mange them. And that’s what a lot of us do-manage our excuses. We try to follow Jesus with one part of our life-but then still make excuses why we can’t be fully committed to Him with the other part of our life. We’re trying to balance and manage a half-in, half-out lifestyle; sort of one foot in each camp. You can have this part of my life, Jesus, but not this part. I’ll honor you here, but I still live with my sin over there. I’m willing to surrender these things to you, but these other things are mine. It’s an incredibly complicated and frustrating way to live. Sort of like when you’re halfway trying to manage a diet. Anybody done that before? You’re trying to be committed to your diet-but as soon as someone offers you some pizza or a plate of nachos or a slice of birthday cake-you make excuses for why should eat it. It’s just a few calories and I’ve been eating healthy all day, all week, it’s their birthday of course I can have a little cake-it would be rude not to! Who hasn’t made those excuses before? But you can’t effectively manage a diet if you’re constantly making excuses for all the junk food you’re eating. It doesn’t work. If you’re going to follow a diet and actually lose some weight, you’ve got to lose the excuses. And it’s no different following Jesus. He’s calling us to lose the excuses.
What did He say? Hate our father, mother, wife or children; hate even our own life. And hate is a really strong word. Generally, we like what Jesus has to say-but this part’s tough. If we could get rid of these verses I think we’d all feel better. It’s like-ease up, Lord, why do I have to hate-and yet Jesus is intentionally speaking this way. Obviously, He’s not saying that to hate you should be mean or cruel to your family or despise them or act like a jerk to them. He doesn’t mean hate in that sense. What He does mean is that you should have such a love and devotion for following Him that all the other things in your life-even the things that are most dear to you are lesser by comparison. Jesus is saying that you need to hate anything that stands in the way of following Him; to hate any obstacles or hindrances or excuses in your life that keep you from Him. That if you’re putting too much of an emphasis on other things; too much of your identity or purpose or meaning in life on anything besides Jesus-even something as good as your family, then you need to refocus your priorities and not make your family something you worship or idolize. That if all your time and energy and effort is spent on your family-or your fields or your oxen-meaning your career or hobbies-and you keep making excuses about them to the Lord, then it’s time to repent. Time to surrender those things to Him. And ultimately, Jesus is saying you’re to take those things to the cross-v. 27. There Jesus has stated the requirement. He’s really clear about it. Our excuses have to be put to death and crucified. They can’t be managed, they can’t be accepted or left standing. Jesus doesn’t give our excuses any room to breathe, rather He wants them to be wiped out and destroyed; nailed to the cross and put to death. Back to Pt2. Just think about that. What would your life look like if your excuses for following Jesus were totally removed and crucified? What if you took all those reasons, all those obstacles and hindrances in your life-and you knocked them over like a Jenga game, what if you wrecked them once and for all? That instead of trying to maintain your excuses and live with them, what if you destroyed them?
Way back in the OT there’s a man named Gideon who did that. Maybe it’s been a long time since you thought of him, but Gideon was a leader, a judge, that God used to guide the Israelites and help them root out their idolatry. And back then a major part of their worship involved idolatrous poles that the people would set up and dedicate to their false gods. So they were really visible for all to see. But look at what God told Gideon Judges 6:25-26 NIV. Gideon wasn’t told to help the people make excuses for their idolatry. God didn’t tell him to just shorten the poles and keep their idolatry under control at a manageable level they could live with. He told him to tear down the altar and cut off the pole-take an axe to it. Then God told him to take that wood from the pole and burn it, to use it in the offering to God. He wanted Gideon to completely destroy those idols so that they were gone, never to return again. And His call to you and me is the same. God wants us to grab our ax and tear down the excuses; to remove the hindrances and burn them; to destroy the obstacles and wipe out the idolatry that keeps us from following Him.
Remember Heb 12:1-2a NIV. Ask yourself, what things hinder you from following Jesus? What sin easily entangles you? This is the stuff to throw off-as Hebrews says-not to try and manage it or make excuses about it. Whenever I read this verse I’m reminded of cords. We live in an age of lots of cords and cables and as Monica and I have been unpacking boxes we’ve come across lots of cords-from phone chargers to computer chargers to extension cords to power strips to HDMI cables to strands of Christmas lights. And even though we wound them up neatly to put in the box, they’re all entangled in a huge mess when we try to pull them out! Who hasn’t experienced this with cords? You open the drawer and you have like 5 phone chargers all tangled up-as if they moved around when you weren’t looking! But cords and cables get entangled-it’s like a law of nature-just like sin and idolatry gets us entangled. So instead of trying to deal with it or live with it we’ve got to throw it off. God’s Word says to-but why? Because here in Hebrews there’s a race marked out for us we’re called to run. Here in Luke, there’s an amazing banquet we’re invited to attend. In the midst of our entangling sin or easy excuses, there’s something incredible out there that Jesus has in store for us-and we don’t want to miss it.
So Pt3:Maintaining our excuses is always regrettable, but following Jesus is totally worth it! I don’t know about you-but I’ve never met anyone who was glad they made excuses for things. I’ve never heard anyone say, I am so glad I made all those excuses over the years. All those reasons I gave for why I couldn’t lift a finger or help out; all those excuses I made up for why I wasn’t around and couldn’t get involved were so good. No one says that. No one looks back with fond memories on their excuses. Instead everyone always looks back and regrets the excuses they made. Think about the husband who maintained excuses all his life for why he didn’t love his wife like he knew should; think about the parent who maintained the excuses all his life for why he was too busy to spend time with his kids, think about the employee who maintained the excuses all his life for why he couldn’t work hard and never advanced in his career. No one is glad when they look back on their excuses. Everyone always wishes that they would have abandoned their excuses and lived like they should have. And it’s no different spiritually. We’ve got to get rid of the excuses that keep us from following Jesus; to remove them and run the race before us-because it’s totally worth it. That’s what He’s saying in this parable-these guys excuses-no matter how sincere they sounded in the moment-were no where near as valuable as the banquet they ended up missing. Their excuses cost them something priceless in the end.
Now, no one said this was easy in the moment-Jesus called us to bear our cross-just as He endured the cross. We’re called to die to self, to surrender our desires and wishes before Him, to be crucified with Christ-but He’s saying it’s worth it-hands down. That despite the cost and the pain in the present of eliminating your excuses, you’ll be forever grateful you did it in the end. I can remember training for my first marathon-and when I started running those long distances to get ready it hurt. But I figured I would eventually get into better shape and then it would stop hurting. I was quite wrong! One day when I was training it dawned on me that running a marathon hurts the whole time-the physical pain doesn’t let up or get easier as the race goes on-it only gets worse-but it’s all worth it when you reach the end and cross the finish line. Achieving that goal and completing the race is what it’s all about. Receiving that medal brings such a sense of accomplishment that it quickly eclipses all the pain you had to endure to get there. You’re so glad you persevered-and so grateful you didn’t make the excuses to quit early. Jesus is calling us to something far, far greater than a marathon. The race He calls us to run is the one that leads to eternity. It’s the race that takes us to the great banquet, the giant feast of the ages, the marriage supper of the Lamb. There is no greater prize in all the universe than that. No medal here can ever compare or come close to that. And no excuse you might make is worth missing it! So I simply ask you this morning-what excuses are you making for not following Jesus? Is it like these guys-Lord, I bought a field, some cattle, taken a wife. Are you too focused on the temporal stuff of this world? What things do you need to remove in your life? What obstacles or hindrances or idols do you need to tear down and destroy? It might be hard-but you’ll be so glad you did! Don’t make the excuses and let v. 24 be your destiny. Remove whatever stands in the way and be someone who does taste and savor this great banquet that the Lord offers you! Back to v. 15. And this isn’t talking about sitting around in heaven with a slice of wheat bread. This is talking about the fullness and the richness and the joy of the eternal feast, the great banquet of God’s people. Let’s eliminate our excuses, lay down our life, and trust in Jesus to make sure we’re there!