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Making excuses, missing Heaven

iStock/mohd izzuan
iStock/mohd izzuan

“So, what would it take for you to become a Christian?”

That’s how I now start any discussion with someone who says they don’t believe in God or is embarking on a conversational critique of Christianity with me. Before wising up to throw out that opener, I used to previously rope-a-dope with skeptics who would do their best to pepper me with all sorts of zingers and various obtuse questions, which they wrongly thought put a bullet in the Christian faith.  

Today, I bypass all that and get to the heart of their unbelief. Just asking them what it would take either unmasks a cynic who has no interest in a real dialog or forces a contemplative person to roll up their opposition into a summary that we can begin to address.   

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Occasionally, I’ll encounter someone open to hearing a different point of view like the first person I was put in touch with when I started helping out at years ago who told me, “If you can give me something … a reason to believe, I’ll take it.”

Reasons to believe are good. Being a data engineering/science guy for decades, I’ve always found one of the most compelling arguments to be the one from design, and so does Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas. About a decade ago, he wrote one of the all-time most-read Wall Street Journal articles on the subject, and wrapped up his case with his own what-is-it-going-take question: “At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces?”

Again, reasons to believe are good. Unfortunately, many times, they aren’t enough, especially today with belief in God’s truths falling to all-time lows due to all sorts of superficial pretexts. A year-old Gallup poll found that belief in God, Heaven, and Hell is at its lowest point ever, with acceptance of God and Heaven being down the most since 2001.

While the excuses given for unbelief can be very diverse, many times they boil down to the same things given by people who stiff-armed Christ in the flesh 2,000 years ago. They bring to mind what the existentialist philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, “It is our taste that decides against Christianity now, no longer our reasons.”

Jesus helps us get a decent look at those kinds of tastes and excuses for missing Heaven in one of His most famous parables.

Don’t miss the feast

Luke 14 records Jesus’ encounter with some Pharisees during a meal at one of their homes. After healing a man and teaching them the importance of humility and generosity via the parable of the dinner guests (vv. 7-15), Christ says how such a life will be repaid at “the resurrection of the righteous”. This prompted one guest to excitedly say, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Of course, everyone there thought that would be them. After all, they were God’s chosen nation. The Jewish people pictured their future kingdom as a great feast with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets as the honored guests (Luke 13:28; see Isa. 25:6). Jesus responded by telling them all a parable that gave them a gut check on that.

“A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses” (vv. 16-18).

Unlike today, acquiring enough food to eat back could be difficult. Hence, getting invited to a lavish dinner where everything was provided was a big deal. Those seated around Jesus knew that and must have thought that anyone who didn’t show up to such a feast was mentally challenged.

In Jesus’ day when you invited guests to a dinner, they were told the day but not the exact hour of the meal. A host had to know how many guests were coming so he could appropriately prepare and then, just before the feast was to begin, the host sent his servants to each of the guests to tell them the banquet was ready. In the parable, all the guests had already agreed to attend the dinner so they were expected.

Jesus’ listeners likely had no idea He was referring to Israel who had long ago agreed to God’s summons: “So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD” (Ex. 19:7–8).

But since that encounter on Mount Sinai, Israel wouldn’t respond to God’s prophets including His ultimate spokesman, Jesus Himself, and made all kinds of excuses for their refusal:

“The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come’” (vv. 18-21).

The famous preacher Billy Sunday once defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” You’re going to miss a lavish dinner to go out and look at some dirt you doubtless saw before you bought it? Or to test drive some oxen? Or because you now have a wife?

Billy Sunday was right — they’re all superficial lies. The lies of lifestyle, things, and relationships are not why those in the parable turned down the feast or why people today do the same with God’s offer of grace and eternal life. They believe they don’t need the host’s generosity and what he was providing. And few today think they need forgiveness and a Savior.

So, what happens next in Jesus’ parable?

“And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner’” (Luke 14:16–24).

The biblical context reinforces Christ’s previous statements that He would abandon Jerusalem (13:34–35). The people who originally had been offered a share of the Kingdom had rejected it, so now the message was going out to those outside Israel.

While the original guests weren’t hungry enough to attend the dinner, those invited next are and won't miss the host’s offer. Just like the ones God calls to Himself today — people who know and admit their bankruptcy. They make no excuses and thus don’t miss Heaven.

If you’re like me, the more you read over the parable the more awful and frightening it becomes.

Scripture tells us constantly, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6). And it tells us what happens to those who refuse God’s call: “Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention … when your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me” (Prov.1:24–28).

Jesus’ parable was the text of the last sermon D. L. Moody preached — one that he entitled, “Excuses.” It was given on November 23, 1899, in the Civic Auditorium in Kansas City. Although very ill, Moody preached his message and some 50 people responded to trust Christ. The next day, Moody left for home, and a month later he died.

Echoing what Nietzsche said, Blaise Pascal once remarked, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” If you’re not a Christian today, tell me, what attractive excuses are holding you back from spending eternity with God? 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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