Tim Chester has just started posting his talks from the Total Church conference – well worth a read…

Eating together as enacted grace (Luke 5) #1

How would you complete the sentence: ‘The Son of Man came …’? There are three ways that the New Testament completes that sentence.

1. ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:45 esv)

2. ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.’ (Luke 19:10)

3. ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking.’ (Luke 7:34)

The first two are statements of purpose. Why did Jesus come? He came to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost. Only the third is a statement of method. How did Jesus come? He came eating and drinking.

‘Son of Man’ is Daniel’s label for one who would come before God to receive authority over the nations (Daniel 7). And now the Son of Man has come in the person of Jesus. But how does he come? Does he come with an army of angels? Does he come on the clouds of heaven? Does he come with a blaze of glory? No, he comes ‘eating and drinking’!

Think of all the ways in which we might answer the question, ‘How did Jesus come?’ (And you might want to tuck away in your mind the question, ‘How should we go?’) Jesus came doing signs and wonders, preaching God’s word, planting churches, training leaders. And, yes, Jesus did do some of those things. But in Luke 7 Jesus describes himself as coming eating and drinking.

If I pull down books on mission and church planting from my shelves, I can read about ‘evangelism journeys’, ‘the full-matrix network’, ‘liminality’, ‘missional matrices’ and so on. I can look at diagrams that tell me how people can be converted or discover programmes that tell me how churches can be planted. Maybe you were hoping for a bit of that sort of thing from this conference. It all sounds very impressive; very cutting edge. But this is how Jesus describes his mission strategy. ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking.’

Nor is this just a bit of eating and drinking. This is not just subsistence. This is how Jesus goes on: ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’.” (Luke 7:34) Jesus is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. A glutton, of course, is someone who eats too much and a drunkard is someone who drinks too much. Jesus was seriously into eating and drinking – so much so that his enemies accused of doing it to excess. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel ‘they said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”‘ (Luke 5:33) Jesus spent his time eating and drinking – a lot of time. He was a party animal. His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, a bit of salad and a pitcher of wine.

So Luke’s Gospel is full of stories of Jesus eating with people (Luke 5, 7 , 9, 10, 11, 14, 19, 22). And finally in Luke 24 on the first Easter Day Jesus has a meal, or almost does, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and then later eats fish with the disciples in the locked room.

And then there are stories of people eating and feasting. In Luke 14 Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet. In Luke 15 Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son which ends with the older brother refusing to come to the party. When asked if many are saved, Jesus warns people to ensure they themselves enter the kingdom. For on the last day people will says: ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But ‘the owner of the house’ will say, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ Instead, ‘people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.’ (Luke 13:22-30) And in Luke 22 he tells his disciples: ‘I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ (Luke 22:29-30)

The Son of Man came eating and drinking.’ So much so that he is accused of being ‘a glutton and a drunkard.’ ‘A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’ Here is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners.

So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. What I want to show you is that in the ministry of Jesus eating together was enacted grace, enacted community and enacted mission. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But at same time they give that something substance. They are not just symbols; they are also application. In other words, I do not want to reduce church and mission to meals, but I do want to argue that meals should be an integral and significant part of our approach to church and mission.

Read Luke 5:27-32

The problem here is not the party. The Pharisees knew God’s kingdom was going to be a party. They knew the promise of Isaiah 25:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare

a feast of rich food for all peoples,

a banquet of aged wine –

he best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy

the shroud that enfolds all peoples,

the sheet that covers all nations;

he will swallow up death for ever.

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears

from all faces;

he will remove the disgrace of his people

from all the earth

The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

They have no problem with the idea of God’s kingdom as a feast. Their objection is with the guest list. The problem is who is included. What makes the Pharisees so angry is that tax-collectors are invited. (Cf. Luke 4.) Tax-collectors were social outcasts. They used their position to cheat people. They were selfish exploiters of the people. But there was more. They were collaborators. They were working for the enemy. But there is more to it even than that. They were not only social outcasts, they were theological outcasts. The Jews were looking for the day when God would defeat the Romans and re-establish his kingdom. So it was not just Jews verses Romans, it was God verses Romans. And the tax-collectors had opted for the Romans. They were traitors to the nations and they were traitors to God. They were God’s enemies.

And here they are partying with God’s Messiah. God is fraternizing with his enemies. He is welcoming his enemies. He is sitting down and eating with his enemies. He is telling jokes with his enemies.