God's Invitation to eat together 

 

The arms of a Redeemer

During the Olympics in 2016 there were many televised pictures of the huge statue that stands over Rio de Janeiro on the top of Corcovado Mountain. It is the statue of Christ the Redeemer and construction began in the early 1920s using stone from Sweden. It would eventually stand ninety-eight feet tall and weigh 635 tonnes, with the official opening taking place on 12th October 1931.

In July 2007 the statute became one of the new Seven Wonders of the World with the outstretched arms symbolising God’s love for the world and willingness to embrace all who come to Him through the saving work of Jesus.
 

 “Jesus came to an orphaned planet to reveal the Father. That was something that neither the Law nor the Prophets could do. Everything changed in that one revelation of Jesus – Jesus revealed the Father. For the first time, people were able to see both an accurate and a complete picture of God’s heart toward them. What was seen in type and shadow under the Old Covenant is now seen clearly through Jesus Christ…Jesus started His ministry with a statement that would completely define our lives: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). In other words, change the way you think, for I brought My world with Me. And unless you change your perspective on life, you can live within reach of all that you long for, but never taste of its reality.”

                                   B. Johnson and R. Clark in, ‘The Essential Guide to Healing’ pages 124 &126.
 

All of us are made in the image of God

Many years ago I knew a homeless alcoholic whom I will call John. John was in his mid-fifties and, for whatever reason had become a very vitriolic and bitter man. John used to call into the church I pastored in London at least twice and week for a coffee and a chat and sometimes a sandwich. On one occasion a new member of staff came to me and said, “A man has just told me that he wished he was a Tank so that he could then run over my head.” I told him that this man was John and that he was just one of the many men and women whom we were trying to show the love of Christ to. 

One day John told me he was painting an oil painting for me and over the next few weeks often told me how he was getting on with it. I didn’t take too much notice of what John said, knowing how often he lied, but a few weeks later he turned up with the oil-painting and gave it to me.  I was more than a little impressed at his work and asked him to sign it which he subsequently did. A few days later a local priest came into the church and asked if anyone had come across one of his oil paintings which had been stolen. I returned his painting, now signed by John.  That is the sort of thing John did, but he kept coming back to the church, dishevelled, dirty, and sometimes quite rude and at other times mildly obnoxious. Then came the day that John met my daughter for the first time.

My daughter Rosie is now twenty-five years old, and when I first brought her home from hospital with her mother all those years ago I saw John sitting with some fellow alcoholics on a hot afternoon in late May. I stopped, got out of the car with my new-born daughter and placed her in John’s dirty hands. John froze and looked at my baby daughter and me in utter surprise that I would do such a thing. I looked into his eyes and saw a different John. Through the act of allowing John to hold my daughter it was as if all the rubbish and filth disappeared from his life for a few brief seconds. I saw John as he could be – I saw his humanity and a man trapped through wrong decisions. Despite all the rubbish he had accumulated in his heart and mind, John was still a man made in the image of God non-the-less, a man who was precious to God and now, in that brief moment of holding my baby daughter, peering out of the carnage of the existence that he found himself living.

In God we have a heavenly Father who looks through what we have made ourselves into; through the mould we have been forced into by others or poor choices we have made. All our failings and rebellious ways are like an open book to Him yet He knows who we were always meant to be and reaches through what we have become to challenges us in the very core of our being to trust in Him.

Through God’s incredible grace and generosity broken and distorted men and women can find and experience friendship and love on a scale never experienced before. Through a king who stoops low there is the offer of life through the call to return to a heavenly father and through the sacrificial death of His Son. No matter how badly things may have gone wrong, there is always hope in Him, the One who is depicted as a Father embracing a wayward son covered in the ‘riches’ of his failings (Luke 15:18-20).  The son returns and the Father held a party expressing the joy he felt at the return of his son; a fattened calf is killed and there is a feast. The fact that a calf was killed means that the whole village would be present at this celebration. God reaches out to the sinner and God rejoices when a sinner comes to Him in repentance and faith (Luke 15:21). The incredible picture of love, grace and mercy that is found in this parable is captured at a very personal level by Brother Lawrence in his book, “The Practice and Presence of God.”
 

“I think of myself as the most wretched of men, stinking and full of sores, who has committed all sorts of crimes against his king. Overcome with remorse, I confess to Him all my wickedness; asking His forgiveness, I let myself drop into His hands that he might do what he please with me. But this King filled with goodness and mercy, instead of punishing me, hugs me lovingly, tells me to sit down at his table, passes the food to me with his own hands, and gives me the keys to all His treasures. He talks with me and delights Himself in me constantly, in a thousand and one ways, treating me entirely as though I were His favourite. He forgives my sins, and He frees me from the bad habits that bother me the most; I beg Him to change me so that I will be more like His own heart. The weaker I am and the more unworthy I feel, the more God shows His love to me.”   

 
                                              Taken from, ‘The Practice and Presence of God’ by Brother Lawrence.
 
In Christ we see the Son of God stooping low and entering a fallen world and in this selfless act we see an incredible truth. Salvation is not the work of man; it is the work of God. Incredibly and almost incomprehensibly we find in the story of Jesus that the most wronged person in the history of this world reaches out in pure unadulterated love. The incredible news that Jesus brought in both word and deed is captured in Matthew 20:28 where we read, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He truly is the ‘I have come that they may have life and have life to the full’ One (John 10:10) who was deprived of justice (Acts 8:33) and wore our bruises (Is 53:5), whilst offering eternal life.
 

Man’s inhumanity to man

We live in a world where pain, loneliness, isolation and suffering are high on the agenda. One tragic example of this – one amongst millions in a world where we have over twenty-seven million slaves – is the story of Daya found in Daniel Walker’s book, ‘God in a Brothel.’

Daniel has worked as an undercover investigator for a number of non-profit organisations which seek to free women and children from sex trafficking in various countries across the world. On one occasion he was in the slums of Munpur in India and writes about a young girl called Daya. This is what he has to say: -
 

“In one such slum community on the northeast side of Munpur, a girl runs a brothel. She runs it because she is the only occupant. The brothel is a small concrete dwelling with a tin roof.  The building has a concrete floor and a sturdy wooden door but is otherwise no different from the many thousands of small dwellings that surround it. It has no address, no name, no amenities and no advertising. The furniture inside consists of one bed. It is a thriving business none-the-less and each day a man comes to collect the daily take and delivers food and water to the girl. The only other visitors the girl has are the stream of customers who pass in and out of her bed at all times of the day and night, paying her less than one U.S. dollar for the use of her small body. And small it is because the girl is only twelve years old.”

 

The raid: “As we stepped into the darkness from the bright sunshine, the slim form of a young girl slowly came into focus. Standing barefoot beside her bed she wore a dirty white cotton dress. Her straight black hair was pulled back in a ponytail from her face. She was beautiful with striking eyes and a clear complexion. She was alone. She was confused. She was scared. Leading her from the darkness of her tiny hovel into the bright sunlight, safety and freedom, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, joy and protectiveness. Gratitude that everything had so far gone according to plan and that the girl had been found. Joy that she would now be cared for and that I had the honour of participating in her rescue. As if she were my own little sister, I walked by her side affording her the protection of a bodyguard.”                                                                  

                                                                         D.Walker in, ‘God in a Brothel’ page 12.
 
Many living around the small hovel where Daya was forced to sell her body contributed to her suffering by doing nothing whatsoever to alleviate her abuse, pain and loneliness. Men and women - some of them undoubtedly fathers and mothers - would have walked past her doorway every day and ignored the situation, felt powerless to change it, or just assumed that it was the young girl’s lot in life in the so-called law of Karma. Yet through organisations such as the one Dale Walker worked with, a young, lonely and abused child was rescued.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-35) we read of a scribe and a priest contributing to the plight of an unknown man who had been beaten, robbed, stripped and left for dead. In the appearance of the Samaritan and the help that he gave we are confronted with the unexpected. On the one side there is a beaten, naked and left-for-dead man now unrecognisable in a world where clothing identified a person, as did one’s accent. On the other side we have a Samaritan – a ‘looked-down’ on person, a marginalised person in a religious community where some would even thank God they were not born a Samaritan.  Yet the unexpected happens as this man - who would have undoubtedly been the recipient of abuse many times in his own life - reaches down to help an unknown who might even be an enemy. The inconvenience of this and the  danger to the Samaritan is also seen in that friends and family of victims often held the last person known to be near or with the victim responsible for what happened. The Samaritan binds the wounds of the ‘unrecognisable one,’ carries him to a place of safety, provides finance for his support and promises to return later. In this incredible act of care and concern we have a picture of the gospel.

In Jesus we see a king robed in flesh – the most wronged-person in history - coming to stand in our place. He came to those who, by way of sin, are the unrecognisable ones, the crossed-the-line rebellious ones and yet stoops to raise us up – friend or foe – and offer us life.

I remember seeing a picture in a national newspaper of a young woman who had just died of a drug overdose. She was kneeling down and bent over double in an empty room and a syringe was sticking out of her leg where she had injected heroin and immediately overdosed. And there she now was, tarnished majesty, spent dreams, an isolated signature written on the parchment of time. And what of the parents who released the picture as a warning cry to others –a call from wounded hearts to turn away from the danger of drugs? It is hard to even begin to imagine the pain this lonely, drug-murdered girl’s parents must have gone through in seeing the faded glory of a lost daughter. They had seen her birthed, watched her take her first steps and heard her first word. They would have seen her grow and start school and laugh and play with friends. But, later, in her precious life something had crept in to her thinking, an intruder, a squatter that had no right to be there. Something had started to reshape her life and distance her from loved ones and dominated her every moment and now she was gone; the grass had faded and the flower had died. And parents were left with the agony and heartache of loss, the shattered dreams and now lifeless hopes that drained from their lives as death confronted them through a loved one. 

And what about us in all of this – are we not, in light of the kingdom way of living unrecognisable, the prince who has become the pauper and yet so much worse. By the standards of His kingdom and life that He has planned for us we truly are the unrecognisable ones, yet He is the ‘Where are you Adam – where is the man I have created?’ One who walks towards us with life in His hands, a life that is here and now but also extends far beyond these earthly realms.

One young man who received this life was Brent Foster, who between the ages of thirteen and fourteen was diagnosed with cancer. Within twenty-four hours Brent’s leg had been amputated and he began to get on with his life. However whist at University a few years later he found that the cancer had returned and spread through his body. It was inoperable and Brent moved from the shadow of earth to the power and life of heaven in spring 1995. In the last few months of his life Brent wrote the following words:


“Although my illness will appear a tragedy to the world around me, those who know God will understand the truth which he brought to us himself by entering human history in the person of Jesus Christ. As recorded in his Word, all good gifts are from above, and all the good I will miss in an extended earthly life are but shadows of the real thing. Real life begins with God. This is not the end for me but just the beginning.”

 
 

Who or what seeks to control my thinking?

In God’s world, now scarred with the stamp of our failings, there are many who seek to control our thinking and reshape our lives as did the ancient King Nebuchadnezzar in renaming captives as a sign of dominance and control (Dan 1:7). Throughout history there have always been those who seek to impose their ideas on others or ridicule, ostracise and remove others because they don’t fit in with current thinking.  The story of one man that clearly reveals this desire to conquer and dominate the minds of others is as follows; it is the story of Vladimir Bukovsky.

As a student Vladimir was prominent in the Soviet dissident movement in the 1960s and 1970s. He was eventually expelled from Russia having spent twelve years in prisons, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals and on one occasion, was sentenced without trial. In the 1960s and 70s psychiatric treatment was used as a form of punishment and a deterrent to free-thinking people who stood up against the system.  This treatment included placing them amongst mentally ill and often dangerous patients and forcing them to take psychotropic drugs as well as being placed in prisons under the control of the KGB.

In solitary confinement Bukovsky would spend his time drawing castles on scraps of newspaper or directly on the floor – constructing every detail as intricately as possible and, in his imagination filling it with people and travelling around his castle, climbing stairs, entering the library and walking around gardens. In his book, ‘To Build a Castle’ he writes about many of his experiences…

“I can’t say that prison hunger was particularly agonising – it wasn’t a biting hunger but, rather, a prolonged process of chronic undernourishment. You very quickly stopped feeling it badly and were left with a kind of gnawing pain, rather like a quietly throbbing toothache. You even lost awareness that it was hunger, and only after several months did you notice that it hurt to sit on a wooden bench, and at night. No matter which way you turned, something hard seemed to be pressing into you or against you – you would get up several times in the night and shake the mattress, toss and turn from side to side, and still it hurt. Only then did you realise that your bones were sticking out. But by then you didn’t care any longer.
The most unpleasant thing of all was the sensation of having lost your personality. It was as if your soul, with all its intricacies, convolutions, hidden nooks and crannies, had been pressed by a giant flat iron, so that it was now as smooth and flat as a starched shirt-front. Prison makes you anonymous. As a result, every man strives to stand out from the crowd, to stress his individuality, to appear superior and better than the rest.”

                       Vladimir Bukovsky in, ‘To Build a Castle – My Life as a Dissenter’ pages 17-18.
 
In Bukovsky’s story we see the inhumanity of a powerful godless regime and the loneliness, isolation and abuse of one man amidst countless thousands of political prisoners in the former USSR. In complete contrast to this we see Jesus, the All-Powerful One, coming not to destroy the rebel, but with an incredible offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. Fallen man often seeks to destroy all that opposes or threatens him, whilst God gives the rebel the opportunity to know Him personally rather than face Him as an adversary and will-be-judged corrupter of peace. In incredible grace and mercy God seeks to transform broken and rebellious lives through friendship and fellowship.

He is the “Why are you downcast?” One (Gen 4:6) who stands in our path, the “Come now let us reason together” One (Isaiah 1:18) who wants us to think through what is really going on. He is the “Where were you when I created the world” One (Job 38) who calls to us to look to Him; the “made you alive with Christ” One (Col 2:13) who delivers us from sin and brings us into the true peace of reconciliation.

In the Israel of Jesus’ day there was a religious peace manufactured by man and so it had to be protected by man and woe-betide anything or anyone who disturbed this sort of peace. But then along comes Jesus and upsets the whole system so to speak. He is the true Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) – the consumer of evil and restorer of relationships. He is the life-breather in the flesh, He sees all people as made in the image of God and crosses all social and cultural backgrounds with an outstanding offer of friendship. No wonder some of the religious people did not like Jesus. He talked to the outcast, gave people a second chance and ate meals with so many, this being a clear sign of acceptance and friendship; Jesus also told them to do likewise.
 

Feasts and Banquets

In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells his listeners to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind when they give a banquet (Luke 14:13-15) telling them they would be blessed in doing so.  Jesus also told them that the blessing they would receive from God was far greater than anything done this side of eternity.

In response to this one man said to Jesus, “blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God" and in reply Jesus told a parable about a banquet (Luke 14:15-23). Before commenting on the parable we answer the question, “What did the man mean when he said, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God”?
 

Words from Isaiah

As a nation Israel was aware of God’s offer of friendship and fellowship and in all likelihood this unnamed man was referring to Isaiah 25:6-8 in drawing attention to a feast in the kingdom.  Over seven-hundred years before the arrival of Christ the Messiah, Isaiah had spoken of a feast and said…
 

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the 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

 
The shroud and death

In these verses the shroud that enfolds all people refers to the harvest of outside-covenant-living and it speaks of rebellion, death and ignorance concerning spiritual truth along with suffering and separation.

In Hebrew thought death is the end of that which is dying, it being a process and not just cessation of life. For example Adam was told he would die if he transgressed God’s law (Gen 2:17-18), yet death did not immediately occur.

In breaking God’s law man began to reap the harvest of his sin. He also began to die biologically, yet death is not just the end of life in this sense. It is the weaker end of life and existence outside covenant. Note for example Luke 23 where we read the father’s words concerning the return of his younger son: where he says, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24). Through grace and mercy death (the wages of sin: Rom 6:23) will eventually be swallowed up forever.
 

“…our world is not one of chance and chaos. It is a world under the personal rule of a Redeemer who is so loving that he willingly gave his life for others, and so powerful that he is able to defeat even death…evil is in the process of being defeated. Death will eventually die. There is reason for hope even when your life has fallen down around your feet.”                                   

                                                                                P.D. Tripp in, “Broken-Down House’, p 105.
 

 
The feast

The feast on earth that Isaiah speaks of (Is 25: 6) pictures the old creation totally renewed and filled with the presence of God with strong fellowship between God and man as at a family meal. This renewal comes about totally through the grace and mercy of God who, in Christ, removes the veil of sin and death – the ‘party-wall’ that separates. There will be no more death and no more suffering because God says so. There will be no more sin and no isolated, depersonalised or abused people.
 

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

                                                                                                        2 Corinthians 3:18.
 

Banquets and a wedding feast

Following the words of an unnamed man concerning a feast in the kingdom of God, Jesus tells the parable of a banquet (Luke 14:15-24) and in doing so reveals the generosity of a host (ultimately pointing to God) who wants His house filled (v24) with guests. Yet in this parable we also see the shallow excuses of those who reject his offer.

The first invited guest makes the excuse that he had just bought a field and needed to go and see it, this being an excuse that would be utterly transparent in the Ancient Near East. In the ANE if you bought a field you would already know everything about the field before the purchase - even to the extent of knowing how many trees were in it, how stony the field was and what sort of crops it had produced over the previous years.

The second excuse (I need to try out my oxen) is as transparent as the first for at least two reasons. Firstly, anyone buying oxen would have already seen them in action so there would be no need to suddenly go and try them out. Secondly, anyone who purchases five pairs of oxen was undoubtedly wealthy enough to have servants working the fields for him. There would be no need to rush off.

The third excuse is slightly different and can appear valid at first glance because in Israel a newly married man would be exempt from such things as going to war during the first year of marriage. However this invitation certainly did not fit into this category and the man, knowing the host and how important the fellowship was should have made adequate arrangements beforehand. It is almost as if they just could not be bothered to make the effort.

In the transparency and weakness of the excuses we see the attitude of many who rejected God’s grace and mercy. They professed to know God yet did not accept His offer of life through having turned His word into their own version of rules and regulations. Because of this many were blind to the truth, even when it stood right before their very eyes.  They knew God’s word but did never really engage with the One who had ordained it to be written for our benefit.
 

“Many avoid showing any kind of emotion in response to God and are satisfied with studying God in a purely intellectual manner through Bible reading. We console ourselves with the idea that this is the “mature” approach and look down on those who are full of passion for a Jesus they claim to know. But a man who claimed to love a girl he had never met, but had only read letters she had written, would earn our pity. We were not promised a relationship with a book but with a person.  Paul was not immature, and he wasn’t foolish. He was passionate for his books (see 2 Timothy 4:13), but more so for his relationship with Jesus… what exactly did Jesus mean when he promised, “I am with you always to the end of the age? (Matthew 28:20) … We must learn to value Jesus and to love him. This should affect our emotions and give rise to at least some level of experience.  This might be very limited, however, and if we claim that everybody has received everything that is available at conversion, we will settle for a very meagre experience indeed.”

               A. Warnock in, ‘Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything” pages 196-197; 208.
 
One of the issues many religious people in Jesus’ day had concerned how He   revealed love, care and compassion to those whom they did not think deserved such care and attention. From their reactions to Jesus we see that they had lost sight of what God was really like. Contrary to the popular belief of many, God did associate with tax collectors, Samaritans and those many had conveniently judged and excluded from society because they did not fit in.
Apart from those who had reinterpreted God’s word there are also many who know about God yet do not see Him as relevant in their lives and so they too reject God’s offer of fellowship.

The danger of knowing that God is there yet not seeing Him as relevant is seen in the parable of the prodigal son which is more aptly titled, ‘The parable of a loving father.’  In this parable the youngest son took his share of the inheritance and eventually became separated from society and dominated by the real fruit of his labour. His circle of freedom and security got smaller and smaller and he ended up ‘imprisoned’ and working amongst pigs – something socially unacceptable according to his background.  This son wanted what his father had, but was not interested in really acknowledging his father. He knew his father but saw him as not being relevant and sadly the same can be said of many people today.
 

God’s wedding banquet

In Matthew 22:1-5 Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a king who invites guests to the wedding banquet of his son. The king is generous and caring, speaking of the heart of the kingdom, and he wants to celebrate his son’s marriage. Yet the invited guests refused the invitation sent through servants and continually ignored them. However the king still sent out more servants in a continuing act of incredible grace. The guests eventually killed some of the servants and then suffered the consequence of the king’s righteous judgement. But the king then sent out servants to invite people from the street corners, and anyone else who would come. Yet one man who arrived was not wearing wedding clothes and was thrown out with Jesus ending the parable with, “Many are invited but few are chosen.”
In this parable we have a picture of God’s grace and mercy on the one side and how Israel rejected many of God’s servants (the prophets of old) on the other. Ultimately Jesus comes as the Servant King and through Him they were again (having rejected others) invited to fellowship with God. Yet Jesus was rejected and put to death as a common criminal and political insurgent, He then rose victorious over death.

The grace of God is not quenched by man’s failure and rebellion and the offer of fellowship continues to go out to both the Jewish and Gentile world today. Many are invited in that they hear the good news and are given the opportunity to respond. Yet few are chosen, this referring to God only accepting those who come through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ – the One chosen from the foundation of the world to stand in our place (1 Pet 1:20).  A simple illustration that captures something of this could be along the lines of a football team called ‘Chosen Ones.’ A man accepts the terms of joining the team and in doing so is then a ‘Chosen one.’  When we recognise all that Christ has done and turn to Him in repentance and faith, we are clothed in His work (Gal 3:27). As already stated He is the Chosen One – the One chosen from the foundation of the world to bear our sin (1 Peter 1:20).

In Revelation nineteen we read of rejoicing because many have responded to the invitation to the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7) and have made themselves ready, speaking of an attitude of heart that has brought them through all manner of trial and tribulation.  Let’s now put this together in another way…
A Jewish marriage would come about after formal betrothal arrangements had been made between the bridegroom’s family and the bride’s family. Within the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit there was a decision made at the foundation of the world to enter our world with the offer of grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and love (Eph 1:4, Titus 1:2, 1 Pet 1:19-20, Rev 13:8). God chose to enter into a relationship with man, at great cost to Himself (Rom 5:8) with Christ becoming our representative (1 Cor 15:22, 45).

After the formal arrangements were made for a Jewish marriage the bridegroom would give gifts to the bride before returning to his parent’s house to prepare a room for them both to live in after their marriage. Jesus gave His life, rose from the dead and then left this world to prepare a place for His followers (John 14:1-2) yet He did not leave us as orphans. He sent the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15; Rom 8:15-16, Rom 14:17, Gal 5:22) to strengthen the church and to lead us into all truth, which includes an increasing knowledge of God’s love for us (Eph 3:14-21).

Finally, after the room had been prepared the bridegroom, along with the bridal party, would leave to collect his bride. On approaching her house he would blow a ram’s horn to alert her of his impending arrival. The marriage would be consummated and the next day there would be a wedding feast where family and friends celebrated their union.  At the return of Christ there will be the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God (1 Cor 15:52, 1 Thess 4:16).
 

Mealtimes

In the Ancient Near East inviting someone to a meal was a clear sign of accepting someone as a friend and honouring them. In light of this we can see why some of the Pharisees took issue with Jesus (Mat 9:11, Luke 15:2; 19:7); He was willing to sit and eat with all people.

Jesus saw all people as having great value, viewing them as sheep without a Shepherd (Mt 6:34).  Yes, some of them were distorted, corrupted and rebellious in many ways – but they were still human beings made in the image of God. They were not, first and foremost, a prostitute, a tax collector or a thief, for example, this speaking of what they had become or what had happened to them. Jesus saw beyond all of this – beyond the pain, the rebellion, the suffering and labelling – to who they really were – men and women made in the image of God. No wonder so many did not like Jesus – even to the extent of wanting to kill Him for raising someone from the dead (John 11:50). No wonder they did not like Him – because He went to a meal thrown by Matthew (Matt 9:9) for all his friends (tax collectors and “sinners”). Jesus also went to eat with the notorious chief tax collector Zaccheus (Luke 19:2).  And what we see in all of this is very important for us to note – because it speaks of the heart of the kingdom of God – the real outworking of the power of God in everyday life.
 

Conclusion: Kingdom living

In Jesus’ willingness to sit with people  - all manner of people from hugely diverse backgrounds – we have a prophetic sign and a foretaste of the world that is to come because what we are seeing are not just social events. They are a clear indication of the all-embracing power and blessing of the kingdom of God ( 1 Cor 4:20, 2 Cor 4:7, Eph 1:18-19) and reveal God’s compassion (Mat 9:36, 15:32, Mk 1:41), grace (John 1:16), mercy (Mat 20:30-34) and love (John 13:1) and deep desire to fellowship with us (John 10:10, Rev 3:20).

In light of this, we recognise that one of the greatest signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst is going to be witnessed in our willingness (in heart and mind) to reach out to others who, at times, will be nothing like us. If we seek to serve God in this way we will then find both the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit working through our lives in increasing measure and experience the ‘shining ever brighter until the full light of day’ that the writer to Proverbs speaks of (Prov 4:18).  This does not mean that it is always going to be easy, but if Jesus, who in many respects is nothing like us at all, has taken the time to reach out to us then how can we not do likewise?
 

 

Jem Trehern, 02/12/2016