Recently, I saw some incredible statistics in the Wall Street Journal about the social importance of family mealtimes for children. One Harvard Medical study showed that kids who ate regularly with their parents were considerably healthier and 72 percent less likely to experience depression, struggle with self-esteem, have suicidal thoughts, develop eating disorders, and use illegal drugs than those who did not.[1]

Receiving an invitation to a meal is an honor because eating with someone is one of the most intimate connections you can make with other people. A meal together is fellowship. It’s engagement. It’s acceptance.

Luke 14 recounts a series of parables about the kingdom of God that Jesus tells at a party. In one of them, a master extends invitations to a banquet that are rejected with a series of excuses:

The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.” … And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”

–Luke 14:18–20 ESV

The excuses given in this story are not evil in themselves. None of them said, “Sorry, I can’t come because I’ve got a drug deal going down” or “I’m running a dog-fighting ring.”

No, they are rather anemic excuses, but they become evil because they are used to justify ignoring something of extreme importance. You see, this is not just a story about any old master. Jesus is talking about the invitation God extends to join his kingdom.

Even if the excuses sound legitimate to you (“Hey, J.D., give the newlywed a break. He just got married—give him some time at home”), they’re not legitimate when you weigh them against the importance of the invitation they have received.

Sometimes when I’m at my office, I’ll get a phone call while I’m meeting with one of our other pastors, so my assistant will say, “I’m sorry, he’s meeting with someone right now.” That’s a legitimate excuse. Now, if it’s my wife on the other end of the line and she says, “The house is on fire” or “Your daughter stole the car and is headed for Mexico,” then my previously legitimate excuse suddenly becomes lame.

Jesus Christ has extended to you an invitation to his banquet. Let that hit you: The God of the universe wants to share a meal with you. Wouldn’t that invitation overrule everything else going on in your life—everything on the earth?

Even if you’re not sure yet whether this is from God, do you realize how important the question is?

I know an atheist professor who asks his freshman class every year, “How many of you believe the Bible is the Word of God?” At least half the class raise their hands. Then he asks, “How many of you have read it through?” Only a few of the hands stay up. Then he says, by way of comparison, “How many of you have read all the Harry Potter books?” After more than half of the hands go up, he says, “I’m not so sure you really do believe the Bible is from God. Because, if it were, wouldn’t you have read it?”

I tend to agree with him.

If you’re not sure if the Bible is the Word of God, then you need to figure it out. You need to ask yourself, “What if the things the Bible talks about are true?” If they aren’t, then ditch the book. But if they are, it changes everything.

The Bible teaches that all people will spend eternity in one of two places: heaven—a place of unimaginable pleasure and bliss, the party of all parties, where everything you have yearned for comes true—and hell, which Jesus describes as a real place of anguish and torment.

By the way, Jesus, the most loving, tender being to ever walk the earth told us that. He wasn’t a hateful preacher. He told us that because he loved us, to warn us. What if what he said is true?

What if Jesus’ death really had the meaning he said it did? What if his crucifixion really was for your sin? What if he really was dying in your place? What if he really meant it when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father except through me,” and you just treat it lightly or neglect it?

The best invitation you’ll ever receive is to come to Jesus’ table.

It’s an invitation for lost people to be found, broken people to be put back together, and addicts to be set free.

It’s an invitation for lonely people to find community, for shame and regret to be lifted, for sins to be forgiven, and for hostility to be destroyed.

I have the privilege to say to you today, on Jesus’ behalf, “Come to the table!”

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[1] “Much Depends on Dinner,” Cameron Stracher, Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2005.