Invitations
Various Passages
By Paul Robison

 Not long ago, you may have gotten some nice stationary in the mail and enclosed was an invitation to attend someone's high school or college graduation or maybe it was a wedding invitation.  We have all kinds of invitations in our life.  The local Chamber of Commerce invites us to participate in its annual banquet.  Civic groups invite us to join their members.  Sports groups invite you to help support their programs.  Church groups invite people to attend various activities.  Most of these invitations don't require a long-term commitment, but this is not true for Jesus' invitation.  Jesus' invitation is a lifelong challenge: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).  My first visit to Italy occurred as a student in college.  Participating in a worship service with brethren of another culture was a very unique experience.  Of course, the entire service was conducted in Italian, so there was much that I did not understand at that time.  Here are some other impressions that I recall: most members sang out very well, prayers were longer and sometimes said with more tears, the Lord's Supper had homemade unleavened bread and real wine, a bag, and not a plate, was used for the collection, and the preaching was biblical and strong, but no invitation was offered.  The visitors were encouraged to talk with the preacher if they had further questions.  Later in the week, I asked a missionary why there was no invitation offered.  He explained that previous missionaries had found it to be counterproductive, creating more harm than good.  He explained that when invitations had been offered in the past, many visitors would come forward for the wrong reasons.  They were thinking the preacher was going to give them something, or the church was going to help them out financially, or they could dramatically confess all their sins, taking 15-20 minutes to do so.  Since many of the visitors didn't understand the real purpose of the invitation, most Italian preachers and missionaries thought it best to invite people to study with them further in private.  In that setting, they could explain to them that the invitation involved Jesus' call to be His disciple and a lifelong commitment to serve the church as well.  They could also explain that when one had determined to obey the Gospel, the baptism could take place during or outside of the worship service.  By approaching it this way, the Italians got a better understanding of what Jesus' invitation was all about, and they could make a more valid decision.
 
John, Jesus' cousin, invited people to change their lives: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).  Their changed lives were to show the following: the people were to share their goods, the tax-collectors were not to cheat each other economically, the Roman soldiers were no to intimidate or to accuse others falsely, and they were to be content with their pay.  To obey John's invitation, one had to confess his sins and submit to baptism, just as a Gentile who wanted to become a Jew had to do.  How did the Jews respond to John's invitation?  Let's look at our reading once again in Matthew 21:28-32, which was addressed to the chief priests and elders: “But what do you think?  A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said: 'Son, go work today in my vineyard.'  He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went.  Then he came to the second and said likewise.  And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?  They said to Him, 'The first.'  Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.'”  One son represents the religious Jewish leaders, and the other son represents the sinful Jews.  The father asked each of them to work in his vineyard, which was a reasonable request.  Both sons had been nurtured by God in their infancy, and both had been supported by Him in their growth.  Both should have shown their love for the Father by obeying His request.  The sinful Jews regretted saying that they would not go, so they changed their lives at John's invitation, and obey God by being obedient to what John taught.  The religious leaders, who gave God lip service, had no intention of changing their lives, and they believed neither John nor Jesus, and did nothing to be obedient to what John was asking them.  One commentator noted hat that the religious leaders of God's people failed to recognize and welcome God's saving action in the ministry of John, to which the outcasts had responded eagerly (France).  One group responded to John's invitation with new actions, and the other responded with nice words.  Who won Jesus' approval?  Doesn't this parable perfectly illustrate Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
 
Now let's notice Jesus' invitations and how others responded.  In Matthew 9:9, we read: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  He said to him, 'Follow Me.'  So he arose and followed Him.”  Being a tax collector didn't make you popular, but it did make you rich and secure.  After all, you had the Roman army to back you up if anybody wanted to make trouble.  Now walking away from the job of collecting taxes was not a job that you could return to later if you changed your mind.  Matthew is a great example of the words written by the poet: “In simple trust like those who heard beside the Syrian sea; let us like them without a word, rise up and follow Thee” (Whittier).  Now let's turn to Luke 9:57-62: “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, 'Lord, I will follow you wherever You go.'  And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.'  Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.'  But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.'  Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.'   And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.'  But Jesus said to him, 'No one having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”  The first man sounds like he was looking for adventure, was ready to go anywhere, and was ready to reap a fairly secure life by attaching himself to Jesus' group.  But Jesus is a realist.  His invitation doesn't offer adventure an security, but it often offers duty and ridicule.  In fact, the only place that Jesus had to lay His head was a Roman cross (Ash).  It looks like this would-be disciple didn't even make it on the ship.  In a similar manner, Jesus invites another to follow, but he is concerned about burying his father.  In Jewish law, this act took precedent over studying the law, going to the temple, killing the Passover sacrifice, or observing circumcision (France).  You see, Jesus says that His kingdom work is more important than even burying one's kin.  Of course, Jesus probably knew that an estate settlement would follow the burial and that would take up valuable time from getting involved with His ministry.  What did Jesus tell this man to do?  “But you go preach the kingdom of God!”  Did you hear that, brethren?  Jesus gives preaching His kingdom the number one priority.  And notice also that He did not say: “You pay someone else to preach the kingdom of God twice a week for you.”  I'm not saying by this that I don't appreciate your paycheck, but Jesus underscores that it is up to each individual disciple to be sharing the good news about His kingdom.  The last man throws in that little word that changes everything—BUT.  “I'll follow, BUT first let me tell all my kin farewell.”  Jesus probably knew that this man's family would put pressure on him not to accept His invitation.  His reference to the plow means that a disciple should not let His love for family distract Him from His love for God and doing His will (Coffman).  Jesus' invitation was shunned by these three men because they each seemed to have their own conditions that they felt were more important than giving their all to Jesus.  Now turn to Luke 16:22-24: “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to Him, 'You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.'  But when he [the rich, young ruler] heard this, he become very sorrowful, for he was very rich.  And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.'”  A spiritual kingdom and a material mind don't mix very well do they?  Wealth can often choke out the Word.  Jesus' invitation means learning to travel light by sharing our goods.  The rich ruler rejected Jesus' invitation.
 
Now let's notice some of the apostles' invitations and how others responded.  In Acts 2, Peter preaches the first Gospel sermon and gives this invitation: “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Then verse 41 reports: “Then those that gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about 3000 souls were added to them [disciples].”  What a great example we see here.  The Jews who had crucified Jesus realize their sinfulness and their guilt because Peter's preaching causes them to realize that they had killed the person that God had sent to be both the Lord and Messiah.  How could they show God that they were sorrow for such a crime?  Like the sinful Jews noted earlier, they repent or determine to change their lives and no longer live in sin.  They will be immersed in Jesus' name to have their sins forgiven and to live their lives according to Jesus' teachings!  In Acts 8, an Ethiopian official responds positively to Philip's invitation, in Acts 9, Saul responds positively to Ananias' invitation, in Acts 10, Cornelius and his household respond positively to Peter's invitation.  In Acts 13, there is a mixed response: the Jews resist Paul's invitation, but the Gentiles are receptive to it (42-52).  Now let's read Acts 16:31ff: “So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.'  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house [Faith comes by hearing doesn't it?].  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes [That sounds like an act of repentance doesn't it?].  And immediately, he and all his family were baptized [That sounds like immersion is a part of the plan of salvation doesn't it?].  Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”  What god did this man worship before he became a Christian?  It may have been the Roman emperor since it was very strong in Philippi.  But whoever he worshiped, notice how he rejoiced with his whole family when they discovered the God over all the gods and the true Lord of lords.  Now look at Acts 17:30-34: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained.  He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.'  And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, 'We will hear you again on this matter.'  So Paul departed from among them.  However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”   The invitation was to repent before it was too late and one would stand in judgment before Jesus.  A few accepted Paul's invitation, but many in Athens rejected it.  The invitation was given by Paul to some of John's disciples in Acts 19, and they believed in Jesus and were baptized into His name.  Acts 24:25 tells us how a Roman ruler named Felix responded to the invitation: “Now as he [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, 'Go away for now; when I have a convenient time, I will call for you.'”  Notice that righteousness and self-control are parts of the invitation.  To obey the invitation means that one determines to live by Jesus' teaching daily which includes pursuing righteousness and self-control.  So far as we know, Felix never found that convenient time to hear Paul again.  Now look at Acts 27:27-28 where Paul offers the invitation to a Jewish official: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know that you do believe.'  Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuade me to become a Christian.'”  Isn't that an interesting statement?  The invitation involves reasoning, argumentation, and making a case.  It is trying to get another to accept an to adopt something that you firmly believe.  “Almost” means that King Agrippa did not become a Christian.  Paul's invitation was rejected.  Now look at another invitation.  It is the last invitation in the New Testament, and it was written by the apostle John in Revelation 22:17: “And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'  And let him who hears say, 'Come!'  And let him who thirst come.  Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”  The Holy Spirit and the church offer the Gospel so that all people may come to Jesus.  Only Jesus offers the water of eternal life to satisfy our soul's spiritual thirst.  The word “Come!” is an action, and each person has the opportunity before the Day of Judgment to respond to this invitation.
 
Today Jesus' invitation to deny self, take up your cross daily, and follow Him will be offered again.  Will you repent and show by your actions that you want to do God's will?  Will you follow immediately like Matthew or will you hesitate and offer to follow Jesus on your own conditions.  Will the thought of persecution, or wealth, or some other seemingly important obligation hold you back?  Who will you be like that is in the book of Acts?  Will you repent and be baptized like the Jews on Pentecost, the official, Saul, Cornelius, the jailer, the few in Athens, and John's followers?  Or will you resist like the Jews in Acts 13, most of the listeners in Athens, and King Agrippa?  Or will you try to stall like Governor Felix to another time?  Do you now understand that obeying the Gospel involves action in coming and further actions every day of your life?  You are taking on a whole new lifestyle here.  You are giving up sinful ways and will follow Jesus' teachings—denying yourself, practicing God's will, experiencing true joy, pursuing righteousness, exercising self-control, and enduring persecution.  Jesus' invitation is a radical call for submission, transformation, and celebration!  Obeying this invitation and living as a disciple of Jesus takes courage, conviction, dedication, and endurance.  It is not a call for the faint-hearted, the lazy, or the thrill seeker.  Remember, Jesus wants actions, not just nice words.
 
You should obey the Lord's invitation today because this may be the most opportune time in your life.  How far you have come in your spiritual journey, I do not know.  But I do know that some of you have heard sermon after sermon, and you know enough about Jesus to obey Him.  Maybe you've even been thinking about this decision recently.  Why not let today be the day of your salvation and start living that new life that Jesus can give you?  You should obey the Lord's invitation today because you will be blessed if you do.  Yes, the Christian life has its hardships, persecutions, and difficulties, just as Jesus told us that it would.  But it also has its joys, its blessings, and its rewards.  There is a great joy in one's heart when you know that you have obeyed God and Jesus becomes the Lord of your life.  You can build your life on that solid foundation, and Jesus help you to weather all the storms and all the trials that Satan may throw at you.  Why do you want to keep going on in life trying to live by your own strength alone?  What a blessedness and what a peace is ours when we live our lives leaning on those everlasting arms of Jesus!  You should obey the Lord's invitation today because this may be the last chance that you have to respond.  Just this past week, a woman in town discovered that she has an advanced stage of cancer, and now she is in a hospital in Texas.  We never know what life has in store for us.  Not too many weeks ago, someone was killed near here in a car accident.  Life is uncertain.  Don't put off any longer!  If this should be your last invitation, take advantage of this opportunity!  You should obey the Lord's invitation today because it will be the best decision that you will ever make in your lifetime.  Come take of the water of life.  This life is so brief when compared to eternity.  There are only two eternal destinies, and in this life is where you make the choice as to where you will live for eternity.  Jesus says in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”  Jesus is talking about our earthly life.  He wants you to live abundantly right here, and following His teachings can help you to do that.  He offers you the best life here and eternal life in the hereafter.  Who can give you more than that?  Don't leave this auditorium today thinking, “Well, I almost obeyed Jesus.”  Almost still leaves you unsaved, lost, and under God's wrath!  Won't you now take action and respond positively to Jesus' call to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him?