Inviting Sinners to Your Table
Who would you invite into your home for dinner? Perhaps more significantly, who would you not invite over for dinner? If we're honest, most of us probably have some real restrictions on who makes it to our dinner table. It's one thing to have people come over for a large event, it's another thing to have a few people over for the game, but we tend to reserve our dinner table to a select few...and this is normal. Sharing a meal with someone is a more or less universal way of communicating a desire for friendship and intimacy with others. And this is ultimately because God has made it so.
Throughout the Bible, meals are seen as a primary context in which people can relate intimately with God and with others. Whether it's Abraham eating with the Lord Himself by the oaks of Mamre (see Gen. 18:1-8), the numerous feasts the Israelites were commanded to participate in because of their unique relationship with God and with each other (see Lev. 23), the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples (see Matt. 26:17-29), or the anticipation of the coming Marriage Supper of the Lamb when we will all celebrate Jesus' reign in sinless bliss (see Rev. 19:6-9), meals are profound relational moments to God, and should also be to us. And just as we restrict those whom we invite over for dinner, you'll notice how each of these occasions has a very restricted guest list as well. In other words, God cares who sits at His dinner table.
So who is God currently inviting to His table? We get a profound glimpse in the life of Jesus. With a much deeper understanding and acceptance of the restrictive intimacy of sharing meals than any of us, we read in Matthew 9:10 that "as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples." I love how Matthew says "behold". He's saying to us, "You really need to pay attention what's going on here." Here we see the perfect, holy One, the spotless Lamb, the Messiah, enjoying a meal at his table with the worst in his culture. You see, tax collectors were understandably seen as money-grubbing thieves (think of Bernie Madoff) and "sinners" were simply the worst of the worst in Jewish society (think of the regulars at your local jail).
But here we see the perfect Son of God inviting these people over to his table for a meal, saying to them, "I want to get to know you, and I want you to get to know me." Here we see Jesus extending a sincere hand of friendship to the scum of society so that, as Matthew tells us in verse 13, he could mercifully call them to faith and repentance. So should we. After we have intentionally and lovingly touched base with the lost, and then sincerely and winsomely talked with the lost (see the previous posts from this series), we need to follow our Lord in extending a hand of friendship to the lost by inviting them to share a meal with us at our table.
We often think of evangelism using terms like "outreach". And while this is right and good in many ways, having a clear precedent in Scripture, it is woefully incomplete. Through the life of Jesus we see a ministry of initially reaching out to the lost, but it is always with the express intent of bringing them in to an authentically intimate relationship with him. Like he says in Luke 14:23, we are to "Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that [God's] house may be filled (emphasis mine)." This is what he did with Levi, and this is what he has done with us. Like Levi we were reached out to by Jesus (through others!), and like Levi we were invited to his table of fellowship. And this is how Jesus wants to work through us.
So who is Jesus calling you to extend this invitation to? Maybe it's not a Bernie Madoff or a local pimp or prostitute, but someone that you simply don't like very much. Or maybe it's someone that you don't even give a second thought to? The point of Jesus' reaching out to, and inviting in of, the "worst" people of his culture is not that our extending friendship to the lost is supposed to be limited to them, but that it's inclusive of all kinds of people. So which family is it that you and your family need to invite over for dinner? Or who is it from work that you need to take out to lunch? Or which person is it that God calling you to have coffee with? Because while we were still his enemies Jesus invited us to his table, so we are to invite those whom God places in our path to ours.
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