Welcome back everyone to our big summer series studying The Parables of Jesus.  I’m hoping that you are enjoying this series as much as we are!  You know, as we walk through Scripture and these amazing teachings of Jesus, we hope that you are not only seeing how relevant the Bible is to our lives today, but it’s really our prayer that His Words and these teachings are changing your life, your perspectives, your choices, and by changing the way you live and love on people.  God’s word can absolutely be life changing to you and when it is part of your life it can also be life changing to those around you as well.  Today we are going to talk about another teaching of Jesus’ that can help us save some face from time to time on a practical level, but will also challenge us in areas of humility, generosity, and who we are choosing to spend our time with which is something that is really important for a Christian to be thinking through, you know, as a disciple of Christ who is to be serving the greater mission of Christ, and helping others experience Him!  So, some fun topics, and one of my favorite moments from Jesus…but before we jump into today’s study, I once again want us to slow down and prepare our hearts, so we are ready to receive Jesus’ teaching today.  Remember, Jesus told a lot of stories, and told us that He tells stories to create ready hearts, so that we can understand, receive, and live out the very life we should be living.

Matthew 13:12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. MSG

Before we dive into our parable of the day, let’s pray for ready hearts so we can be open to this teaching.

So, as we get started today, I want to ask you a couple questions.  Would you consider yourself a humble person?  Ha, maybe you are thinking, ‘Sam, I don’t want to brag about it, but I’m the humblest person on the planet’…lol sorry, had to throw that in there.  But seriously, do you consider yourself a humble person?  Do you like people to know how good you are, or important you are?  Do you compare and rank people, as you are around people?  Do you consider yourself a generous person?  Are you willing to do something for others with no strings attached with no need for payback?  If you were having a party, or if you were able to spend time with people…who would you invite?  Who would you choose to spend that time with?  As Christians this is a really important question, because culturally we are seeing more and more people who believe and think the same only hanging out with like-minded, like hearted people…so many Christians today are pulling away from people who need Christ, to hang out and only spend time with other Christians.  Which I understand, and by the way it is good and healthy to have Christian friends, we are the body of Christ, but I also worry about.  There is nothing wrong with spending time with Christians, but it leads to more questions.  If we all pull away from those far from God…how do those people who need God’s love find it?  Or maybe we just aren’t too worried about reaching the lost anymore.  I will tell you personally, I struggle with this, watching Christians cast their light to the lightest places, because to me it’s the fastest way to hide our light, when we are to be letting the light of Jesus in us shine, and helping people far from God experience God’s love…because they need Him as much as we do!  These are all questions that Jesus is going to press in on today, in yet another interesting moment with the Pharisees, and religious leaders of that time.  Today we study the Parable of the Invited Guests, which is found in Luke 14:7-14.  It’s an awesome story, with some really deep spiritual advice and also some great practical life lessons for us all…but, before we dive into the parable, remember, it is really important that we understand the context of the Parable we are studying.  We need to know who Jesus is talking to, and what is going on around Him that leads into the story and for this one, we find Jesus in a very intense and somewhat hostile situation, if it isn’t hostile it would have at least been incredibly uncomfortable…Jesus, has been invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee, on the Sabbath.  Check out how Luke 14 starts here…

Luke 14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.  NIV

So, this wouldn’t be uncomfortable at all would it?  Jesus has been invited to a meal on the Sabbath day of a prominent or important religious leader…and everyone is watching Jesus closely.  So, the very people who are constantly confronting Jesus, questioning Jesus, wanting to catch Jesus doing something wrong, just doing their best to wear him down have invited Him to a meal…and everyone is staring, watching his every move.  Can you picture this?  I will be very honest with you. I don’t think I would have accepted this invitation.  Imagine how awkward, intense, and just heavy this all felt.  Have you ever felt like people are staring at you?  Maybe your boss is looking over your shoulder at work, or a coach, parent, or teacher…it’s not easy to perform and relax while everyone is staring, is it?  It says so much about Jesus, first that He accepts this invitation, and second that He is so peaceful and calm and patient under this level of scrutiny.  I don’t know about you, but I think this would have been a tough environment to engage into.  The second detail  that we need to really see here is that they invited Jesus to this meal, on the Sabbath day.  So, this is most certainly a trap.  Remember as we talked about The Good Samaritan a few weeks back I told you how furious the religious leaders were because Jesus would break religious rules to do what He says is most important?  Jesus taught, that the most important commands were to love God and love others…that was top priority and these religious leaders couldn’t see it, they were so caught up in the laws, so when Jesus would heal a hurting person on The Sabbath they were outraged, because to them it was against the law…they were missing the importance of love, and focused on rules and regulations over loving God and loving others…this was a major point of their contention…during the Good Samaritan talk I gave you an example or two of those occasions when he healed on the Sabbath, well today we get another one, because surprise, surprise there just happens to be a guy in need of healing here at the Pharisee’s home on The Sabbath day.  Wink, Wink…such a clever trap set here for Jesus!  But Jesus doesn’t blink, or hesitate and heals the man…upsetting the religious leaders, and once again proving His point that loving God and loving others is the priority, and exposing their hearts and inability to practice what they preach!

Luke 14:1 One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move. 2 Right before him there was a man hugely swollen in his joints. 3 So Jesus asked the religion scholars and Pharisees present, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath? Yes or no?” 4 They were silent. So he took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. 5 Then he said, “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” 6 They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to that. MSG

It’s incredible to think about the tension between the religious leaders who would have known, memorized, and taught God’s law and Jesus.  It was so frustrating and frankly infuriating to them to think that Jesus would act the way He acts, which when you truly stop and think it through, Jesus was simply living out the very words that these religious leaders knew, studied, and were teaching others…and they couldn’t see it!  So, this is the backdrop to the Parable of the Invited Guest, Jesus at an awkward, and intense dinner with the very people who opposed Him in every way, while everyone watched him closely, and after they lay a very obvious trap against Him…Jesus responds with this parable, that is a teaching on humility.

Luke 14:7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! 10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  NLT

This story starts from something Jesus had just stood and watched at this party.  In those days, everything was about ranking, and titles, and status…and banquets and dinners were a great chance to show off your status.  The guests would all have seats in accordance with how important they were.  The seat of honor was at the right hand of the host, and Jesus watched all these people show up on this day and fight for that seat.  I like the way it reads in the Message version.

Luke 14:7 He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor. MSG

I can just picture Jesus peacefully watching this scene unfold.  Everyone is looking out for themselves, doing their best to position themselves, fighting for the best seat, doing their best to look important.  They were doing whatever they could to sit in the prominent seat and Jesus sees this as a great opportunity to not only show us what is valued in the Kingdom of God, but also to give us some very practical advice, while teaching us the importance of humility in the process…all in just 7 verses!  What’s interesting to me, is that Jesus is addressing the religious scholars…and after watching them all fighting for the best seat, takes a moment to remind them of Scripture that they all would have known in their minds but quite clearly weren’t living out in their lives.  He is basically reminding them of something Solomon said in Proverbs…

Proverbs 25:6 Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; 7 it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman. NIV

This is so wise, let’s read it again in the Message version…

Proverbs 25:6 Don’t work yourself into the spotlight; don’t push your way into the place of prominence. 7 It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor than face humiliation by being demoted. MSG

I love this, Jesus does two things here…first, He is once again exposing these religious scholars.  They know what the Scripture says, but they just don’t apply it practically to their lives.  It’s in their brains, but not part of who they are!  As people, one of the most important things about being a Christian is actually living a Christian life.  It’s not just reading the Bible, but applying it to our everyday lives, and Jesus just sat and watched them doing the opposite of what Scripture taught them.  So let’s personalize this for a moment.  How are you doing with this?  Do you apply God’s word to your life, or is it something you read, but it’s just information, and you read it not to learn how to live but because you know you are supposed to do it?  Remember, Jesus challenged the religious often to go and live out the things they know in their brains…and this is another great example of that.  The second thing I see here is a great, practical lesson for us all that seems to play out so often in life.

Have you ever talked yourself up on something, or been around someone who does talk themselves up on something in their lives, and then they fall tremendously short of the expectation they created for themselves?  I will tell you; this happens a lot.  Don’t push your way to the top, let your life and your actions earn that respect and status from others.  One of my favorite things to do in my time handling manpower at Lobar was hire people.  It was exciting to find the right people and fit them into the right spots on the team, where they could be most successful.  But the interview process was always so interesting, because of a pattern that started to develop.  The guys that came into an interview really telling me they should run work, and have the big jobs, and handle the most for me, really talking up all they could do for me, they typically didn’t work out for the company…but you know who did?  The person who came into the interview, with a strong resume, who when I asked if they wanted to lead and run work for me would say, “Sam, how about I just come and just work for a while, and if you think I’m fitting in and earned it, we can talk about me running work for you.”  Never failed, that person always found success in the team…the one pushing their name, 99 times out of 100 it didn’t end well.  Ha, I used to be a volunteer youth soccer coach, and it was always so funny to me, coaching a team from the little town of Dillsburg…I was undefeated as a coach, against the opposing coach who would walk up to me before the game, and tell me to stay positive because they were really good, and would probably beat us handily in the game.  Fascinating!  And frankly a great lesson in humility.  Did you ever notice that a great leader really doesn’t have to tell people they are a great leader?  People know.  Did you ever notice that a Godly person doesn’t need to push how profoundly spiritual they are to people?  People know.  If you are full of humility and centered on God there is no need to elbow your way to the top, all that does is set you up for a fall.  It’s interesting, because we just studied Philippians where Paul echoes this teaching and explains how Jesus lived His life…so three times just today we have found this concept in our Bibles, and you know what I say about things on repeat in our Bibles.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. NIV

Jesus let everyone else push for status, while He, God in skin, humbled Himself, and His Heavenly Father then moved Him to the seat of honor.  Raising Christ above all…do you see it?  A very practical lesson that can help you and I in our time here on Earth, a challenge to live out the Scriptures that these people would have known, but also a perfect image of status and positions in God’s Kingdom and how opposite that all is to how we humans view things today.  So before we move on in this story, let’s read it in the Message version, and then look at our own lives today.

Luke 14:7 He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, 8 “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. 9 Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left. 10 “When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! 11 What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” MSG

So, before we move on I want you to think this through.  Do you feel the need to push your name, or status to people?  Are you comfortable allowing someone else to look or be more important than you?  Are you ok taking a backseat or do you want the seat of honor?  What would this principle look like in your home?  How about at work?  Are you comfortable enough in who you are to just be you, work hard, do the right thing each day or are you constantly competing for recognition, titles, and positions?  Are you content to simply be yourself?  How about at church?  I have to tell you church is one place where this pushing for status and the best seats and positions can really go sideways.  Are you able to serve others at church, content to just be you or do you want the spot, if you have the spot do you work to protect that spot at any cost? Are you struggling to be content unless you are being recognized, and seen?  This is really important, and causes so much hurt and drama inside churches…are you centered on Christ, and living out this principle?  Are you comfortable enough with who you are to allow others to sit in a better seat or are you pushing, and self-promoting your way to where you want to go?  I may do something around the church, or work, or at home…but if I do something it needs to be seen, and I need to be recognized in some way by people!  Again, a truly centered, humble, Godly person doesn’t need to tell people of their greatness, or their spiritual depth, it is who they are…and people know.

So how are you doing with this?  Can you think of a time or two where it would have been better to earn it, than push for the spot?  Can you think of practical ways you can apply this lesson to your life?  Frankly, I think we all can, whether at work, or home, or even at church, where we often see the heart exposed as people serve and engage in God’s Kingdom work.  Then Jesus moves from this great illustration on humility to a moment or two about generosity, and who we are spending our time with…

Luke 14:12 Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. 13 Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. 14 You’ll be — and experience — a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned — oh, how it will be returned! — at the resurrection of God’s people.” MSG

I love this, Jesus finishes this clear illustration, and then turns to the host of the party and says…by the way, you invited the wrong people to this party.  Everyone you invited is like you, and can help you build your name, reputation, and status, and will probably invite you to their parties in return.  So, this is a lesson on humility and generosity, and self-promotion and status, but it also made me think of so many people who love God, and claim to want others to know God, who simply aren’t willing to invite, spend time with, or engage people who are far from God.  We are seeing more and more Christians pulling inward and wanting to spend time with other Christians…again, don’t hear me incorrectly it is not a bad thing, there is absolutely a time and place for that and it’s a good thing to have Christian brothers and sisters to relate to…but if we only spend time with other Christians, the question has to be asked.  How do people far from God come to know Him?  I touched on this earlier, but remember Jesus told us that is our job!  He said that we are light bearers.  We have the light of Christ in us and Jesus wants us to share that light, and light up the darkness with it.

Matthew 5:14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand — shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. MSG

Do you see that?  We are to bring God out into the open to the world.  We aren’t to hide our light under a bucket or bushel basket…and I will tell you the quickest way to hide your light is to shine it in the lightest places.  Nothing wrong with spending time with other Christians, but we are to live open and generous lives helping others experience God’s love as we all need it in our lives…and that is hard to do when we aren’t willing to take our light to where the light is needed.   I know we live in divisive times.  I know it’s getting harder and harder to love others and share Christ with what feels like a spiritually deteriorating society and culture.  I know we are afraid that us and our children and loved ones will be pulled into the darkness of culture.  But if it isn’t us taking our light to people then who is it?  I believe it’s time to recognize that we are the solution to the godless culture around us.  You and I as Christians are light bearers to the dark world we live in.  We need to see ourselves as the solution to the problem.  We see God pulled out of our schools and our instincts can be to pull the Christian children from them…then who is the light bearer in the school?  We see people in need of God all around us, and we turn away from them to go hang out with other Christians, and we feel safer, more comfortable…but then who is the light bearer to those people in need?  Do you see it?

Jesus is standing at a religious leader’s home, and everything looks great.  Everyone feels great.  Jesus as He views this from Kingdom eyes, is looking at a bunch of lights being cast to the lightest places.  Might as well be under a bushel basket if you ask me.  Now it looks great, and they would all feel better about themselves and their spirituality, they could all reciprocate parties for each other, and validate their status and how Spiritual they all are…while people all around them were in deep, and urgent need of God’s love.  Frankly, this is still happening today.  This is why we challenge you to engage your community.  This is why we want you to engage people in need, serving or coaching youth sports teams, or just getting involved in different areas of this world, that need Jesus as desperately as we all who sit in churches on Sunday need Jesus.  We must understand that we are the answer to a very important question.  The question is: How do people around me who are far from God find Him?

So, as we close out another awesome teaching from Jesus, I want you to really think this all through.

Would you say that you live out your faith?  Do you practice what you preach in your own life or like the religious people that Jesus continued to butt heads with, do you know what should be done, but it is not part of your life?

Would you consider yourself a humble person?  Are you worried about your level, status, or position in life, church, work, social circles?  Do you walk into a room and evaluate, and rank, or love?

Are you content to simply be yourself and allow your actions and life to earn you status or do you push for the best spots possible? 

Do you feel the need to make sure people know how important, spiritual, or good you are? Do they need to see your character and humility?  Remember, you really don’t have to push who you are…people know.

Where and with whom are you spending your time?  Are you inviting the right people to the party? Or is it only people who you can network, leverage, and get things out of yourself?  

Who do you spend your time with?  Do you find yourself hanging out exclusively with people who think like you, believe what you believe, and know God?  Do you see God pulled out of our culture, so you pull out of those darkest places too or do you see yourself as a light bearer who can bring God light to those places and those people who need His loves as much as you do?  You may think, I would never hide my light under a bushel basket, but if you are honest, you don’t reach out or engage anyone who is far from God…you hang out solely with people like you, who believe what you believe, it just feels good, and it’s definitely safer and sadly, we are seeing more and more of this with each passing day in our culture.  If so, you are casting your light to the lightest places…well if that is you, I leave you with an important question.

Who do you know that you can invite to the party, who you can be open and generous with God’s love today?  We must understand, as Christians, the body of Christ, we are the solution to the God problem around us, we are the light bearers.