“Compel them to come in” “A Place of Refuge: there’s plenty of room, a banquet fit for a king, and it’s for you”
– Luke 14:22-23
I read recently that the city of San Francisco is planning to pass an ordinance forbidding the use of cars as overnight sleeping facilities, with the “homeless people” using them and then “freshening up” in public washrooms in the morning. That article reminded me of a TV documentary on the homeless called “Street People,” that I saw a few years ago. With no place to call home these vagrants for the most part used grocery carts to haul all their earthly possessions. People on the crowded sidewalks did their best to avoid any kind of contact with these “social lepers.” One man in particular was singled out for closer scrutiny. A pathetic figure, disheveled, wearing a long threadbare overcoat almost dragging on the sidewalk was his only visible protection from the bitter cold. Beyond all that, he was an ill-tempered man, surly and mean spirited, who literally “growled” and even lunged as if to attack anyone who stared at him too intently for any length of time. Hardly someone you would invite to a swanky dinner party.
Despite the man’s appearance and ugly demeanor the woman at the hospice, run by a Catholic charity, was quite cheerful and pleasant as she invited him in for a hot meal and a cot for the night. Evidently she knew him and even seemed to like him. It wasn’t a “swanky dinner party” but it would be a warm place of refuge with plenty of food on a dangerously cold night. He refused the invitation. Her repeated attempts to convince him that the predicted below zero temperature and the much lower wind-chill factor would be life-threatening were met with stubborn refusal. He would make it on his own, thank you. He would sleep on “his sidewalk bed” over the grate covered by a cardboard box where he always slept. I guess you could say he loved his freedom and
independence more than life itself.
The documentary ended with the sad footnote that the man was found the next morning on his side- walk grate frozen to death. He died alone, lost, alienated. No family; at least none that cared. The people in the shelter were saddened when they were informed of his death, but as far as I was concerned the man got what he deserved. Didn’t he? I know that sounds heartless, but prior to that tragic end, the documentary described this man as living a recklessly degenerate life of drugs, alcohol and the rest I’ll leave to your imagination; and no amount of warning by family and friends could change him one whit. It would have taken a miracle to bring a man like that to his senses. In fact he was so mired in that degenerate lifestyle it would have required a miracle to effect even the slightest change. He used every excuse he could think of in stubbornly resisting their pleas. Earlier in his life he had even joked about these “insufferable do-gooders.” At the end his only hope was to die and be born again a new person. Actually, it was only by grace that his death didn’t happen a lot sooner.
The invitation in the text is to people like that, “street people,” from the “highways and hedges,” miscreants. Not “good people,” “nice people,” but selfish, self-serving, self-indulgent people. People like us. This is not an empty invitation, the kind we sometimes make like: “Why don’t you come visit us sometime?” but don’t really mean it. But rather it is like the lady at the shelter, she really wanted that wretched man to come in.
The invitation in the text is intended for everyone. The heavenly father earnestly desires the salvation of every human being. The Holy Spirit pleads with anyone who hears the invitation to believe it. Everything is ready and waiting, finished. If a person dies eternally it is not a failure on God’s part to have prepared anything, but the person’s stiff necked stubbornness, his hardness of heart, his refusal to hear and come in.
Why would the Holy Spirit fight for people like that to save them? Why would he beg, even plead with them to come to a banquet? Why would the heavenly father spend all of his resources, every last farthing, to prepare a place of refuge and a feast for people like that? Why would he pour out his awful wrath not on those stubborn, mean spirited derelicts like the man in the documentary who deserve it, but on his only Son, pure and innocent, kind and tenderhearted, so that those stubborn people could be free and live? And beyond that why would the Son willingly take on the final effects of their lives of dissipation, licentiousness and profligacy so that such people could live freely and abundantly forever? Why would he want such people to live with him at his place, and even die, so they could do just that? The answer rests alone in the incomprehensible, unfathomable love of God for his world; a God who is merciful and good and who does not want anyone to perish but that all would repent and come in for refuge and real life. So today if you will only hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Everything is ready in this house of refuge, and it’s for you. Listen to his voice, come in out of those deadly, earthly elements, and really live.
The Bible Institute exists to proclaim the goodness of a God who would pay any price for his people; a God who has in fact in our Baptism affected a miracle of rebirth for people like us; a God who has made Himself our Refuge. Please come join us to learn more about a God who would even die so you can live forever with Him.