Here is a talk I gave on how we can Eat Like Jesus.
Okay. I want to start off with a question you’ve probably never been asked and it’s a little strange and here it is. Did you know that you can eat your way through the Bible? That sounds kind of funny, right? You can eat your way through the Bible. Here’s what I mean. If you trace meals through the Scriptures, you’ll discover that they’re actually part of the Story of God. Meals are literally woven into God’s story of redemption. So if you go to the front end of the redemption story, the very beginning, you’ll find that there was a picnic and it was in the Garden and it was a picnic gone wrong. Adam and Eve, they eat of the forbidden fruit and they’re banished from the Garden. Think about this: the first sinful act of humanity was actually an act of eating. And we know as the story continues the Israelites ultimately end up in Egypt, right?
And God calls Moses and he says, Moses, we want you to lead our people out of this land. The interesting thing is the night before the Exodus, the Israelites do something. They have a Passover meal and God leads into the desert. They go to Mount Sinai and God gives Moses the law. He commands them to obey certain meals and certain feasts that celebrate and demonstrate who he is and what he’s done in His people. As you fast forward to Jesus, he’s eating and drinking so much with people that folks actually look at him and say, Oh, look at that guy! He’s a drunkard and a glutton. That’s how much he’s eating and drinking with folks. The first miracle he does is actually turning water into wine at a wedding feast. And one of the miracles that’s recorded in every single one of the gospel accounts is the feeding of the multitudes where Jesus takes a little kids sack lunch of fish and bread and multiplies it so that thousands of people get to eat until they’re absolutely satisfied. And at the end of the meal, there’s more leftovers men at the beginning of the meal.
And we also know that Jesus has the last supper with his disciples. In the upper room where he talks about the new covenant in his blood. Now fast forward with me to the end of the redemption story. At the close of all things where restoration is complete, the whole story is celebrated with a meal. It’s called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. And I love what J.R. Woodward says about meals in the Bible. He says, “the Bible begins with a picnic and ends with a feast.” Meals help to tell God’s story. They help to tell the story of Jesus. They help to tell the story of the life of the church.
Jesus broke social barriers around the meal.
And so we’re going to get into the Gospels and we’re going to see how Jesus lived this sent life that we’re talking about through the sharing of meals. If you have your Bibles, you can go ahead and turn to the gospel of Luke. And I wanted to just start off by sharing the big idea, the simple takeaway for today. And it’s this, that relationships happen naturally around the table. I’m sure that’s been true in your life. And we’re going to see that it’s true of Jesus’s life as well. And so we’re going to look at the way that Jesus leveraged meals as he went through his ministry.
One of the first things we see is this, that Jesus broke social barriers around the meal. If you’re following along, and we’re going to be in Luke 5. Early on in Jesus’s ministry, he’s calling his first disciples to himself and he comes across a tax collector named Levi. And he says to him, follow me. He gets up and follows Jesus. And one of the first things they do together is have a meal at Levi’s house. And he invites other tax collectors and other sinners to join in and they’re just having a great time. But when the Pharisees see it, this is what the Scriptures say. “They grumbled at Jesus’s disciples saying, why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners? And for many of us, I think we hear tax collector, you know, as American we’re like, that’s not that bad. You know, doing lunch is doing lunch, eating is eating. No big deal. Before a first-century Jew, eating lunch was actually doing theology. It was how they practiced their faith and get this- who you ate with told everyone everything they needed to know about you, who you ate with, told everyone everything they needed to know about you.
It kinda sounds like a high school cafeteria. Right? You’ve got the popular people, you’ve got the athletes, you’ve got the weirdos, you got the nerds, you got the people that don’t have any friends and you don’t dare across the table. Who you eat with tells everyone everything they need to know about you. You see tax collectors in the first century, they were hated by pretty much everybody. To a Jew, they were basically siding with the Roman government and their brothers and sisters thought it was treasonous. You know, they had given up on their heritage. They had kind of forsaken their faith. They were inherently corrupt. After they paid the Roman government, whatever surplus they could make, they just kind of put it in their pockets. So these guys are filthy, filthy rich. And because of these things, they are lumped into a category called “tax collectors and sinners.” And Jesus is actually eating with them. But listen to why this is. He says, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
On another occasion in Luke 19, Jesus goes into a, a town called Jericho. And there’s a guy that’s waiting for him as he comes in and Jesus looks up in a tree and there’s Zacchaeus. And he says, come on down. I’m gonna have dinner at your house tonight. And we know from the scriptures that Zacchaeus was labeled the chief tax collector. So this guy was probably over other tax collectors, you know, oversaw the whole tax operation in town. He was popular, influential. He could eat with anybody he would want to and Jesus is eating dinner with him. Again, listen to what the Pharisees say and when they saw it, “they all grumbled the same word. He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” There were just certain people you don’t eat with in the first-century and tax collectors happened to be one of them. But listen again to to why Jesus says he eats with them. He says “today, salvation has come to this house since he Zacchaeus, also is a son of Abraham for the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” You know, just as Jesus leveraged these meals to cross these social boundaries, we can use meals to build relationships with people who are different than us.
I remember one time Lindsay and I, when we lived in Lynchburg, we worked for the university and there was a department there at the time called the Center for Ministry Training. And one of the things we would do is lead student trips over spring break and fall break to other cities. And we would partner with a local church and we would see what ministry looked like in a different context. And I remember we partnered with this one church and they said, “we are going to challenge you today. We’re going to give you a couple of dollars. We want you to go to this market and have lunch with somebody you don’t know.”
And so we found somebody, and I’m not going to pretend that it was easy and fun. It was actually really awkward and really difficult. When we sat down with this guy, everything was different between him and us. We dress differently. We spoke differently. We smelled differently. I mean the whole, the whole thing. But in hindsight, this is what it taught me. It taught me that when I actually intentionally sit down with someone who’s different, and as my mentor used to say, “get eyeball to eyeball with them,” you start to see them as someone who is also made in the image of God. You may have even shared similar experiences, similar pains a lot of times, and even similar joys. And I think the reality is this is going to be a discipline for a lot of us, myself included. But I think with practice, our discipline can actually turn into a desire.
Jesus broke cultural traditions around the meal.
Jesus broke cultural traditions around the meal. So he saw him break some social barriers. Now he’s going to break these cultural traditions. And in Luke seven, Jesus isn’t invited over for dinner by a Pharisee named Simon. And in this story, this woman comes in and she’s crying and her hair is down and she comes over to Jesus and I mean, her tears are falling on his feet and she starts wiping his feet with her hair. That sounds really, really weird, doesn’t it?
I think it was even more weird for them. And I want to pause here and give you a little bit of background info on this story. So, prior to this, they way they would do this is they would have a big dinner and a big discussion, kind of like a symposium and they would hold these things in semi-public spaces. So the dinner would be around a table, it would transition into a discussion and people could come and go as they want. Some folks would just listen, other folks would contribute to the conversation. Poor people would come in and just see if there were any leftovers after the whole thing is over. And so for this woman to come in is not that odd. They are reclining at table in the way that a first century Jews used to do and their tables were very low. No chairs. So they’d be on the ground and they’d have one arm resting on it and they’re reaching into the center of the table to eat food and their legs are kicked out this way. So they’re all the way on the ground.
And so this woman comes in. And she’s crying, she’s weeping, her hair’s down, she’s wiping Jesus’s feet. And the Pharisees have some serious, serious problems with this. And it’s who she was, what she was doing, and the fact that Jesus, they thought was a prophet and he’s actually allowing this thing to take place. You see, women didn’t touch men in the first century at all, let alone with their hair, right? They used to keep their hair up, hidden, and to let it down was very, very intimate. It was very scandalous to do this in public. Furthermore, she was known to be a sinner in town. And Jesus was known to be a prophet. And so listen to what Simon that Pharisee is thinking when Jesus allows this whole thing to play out says this. And this is in his head. “If this man were a prophet talking about Jesus, if Jesus were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him for. She’s a sinner.”
But as the story goes on, we see that Jesus allows her display of love. And if you read the story and there in Luke seven, he forgives her sins. And in Luke 11, Oh, there’s another occasion where a Pharisee invites Jesus over to his house and uh, he’s going to have dinner. And the shocking thing is Jesus doesn’t wash his hands. He sits down and just begins to eat. The Pharisee is astonished. That’s what the Scriptures say. He’s astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. The Pharisees were obsessed with being what was called ceremonially clean. And they would set up these elaborate washing stations in their house to make sure they were covering their tracks. And it was well-intended at first. It was more of like a guideline but their guideline eventually grew into this cultural tradition, which eventually festered into legalism. And so when Jesus doesn’t wash before this meal, they are floored, absolutely floored. Jesus crossed these cultural boundaries. Broke these cultural traditions. And the door was literally flung wide open to have some spiritual conversations. Meals are perfect opportunities to engage in spiritual conversations.
How many of you have ever noticed that the car is like the incubator of conversation. You get in a vehicle and you just start talking. Have you ever had somebody ask you, “Hey, let’s just take a drive.” That usually means, “Hey, I need to talk to you in the car.” If you’ve ever taken a road trip with someone you’re not friends with, you are usually frioends at the end of the road trip, right? You’re like best buds. And I think the same thing can happen at the dinner table. People are relaxed. The environment is basically non-threatening. The food is good. People start to share stories. So here’s the question. Do you see your table in your home as an evangelistic tool. What about a discipleship tool?
Jesus broke first-century customs around the meal.
I’m convinced. I really am. I’m convinced that the table is the most available and underused tool in the church. I think if we want to start living like Jesus and eating like Jesus, we have to start using the table like Jesus as well. And this is number three. Jesus broke first century customs around the meal. Luke 22, Jesus and his disciples are sharing the last supper in the upper room. Discussion breaks out among the disciples and they start arguing about their position in the coming kingdom. Who’s going to be the greatest? What kind of job am I going to have? Am I going to be the secretary of defense? Am I going to be the prime minister? I don’t know what they were thinking, but Jesus over hears this.
And he says, hold on, hold on. You can’t, you can’t look at the world’s definition of power and greatness and authority, and think that there’s a direct parallel to those things in the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is upside down in a lot of ways, right? He asked him this question, Jesus says, “for who is greater, the one who reclines at table or the one who serves, he says, is it not the one who reclines at table?” Then he says this, “but I’m among you as the one who serves.” And we know that from what happens in John’s gospel, Jesus gets up and he starts to wash his disciples feet. You know, those who reclined at table did not wash people’s feet, especially honored guests, right? You don’t ask your honor guest to wash people’s feet. I mean, if we have people over for dinner, we don’t say, “Hey guys, you know, thanks for coming over for dinner, but you’ve got to wash the dishes.” Before they leave or are on their way out, you don’t say, “Oh, you guys need to take the trash out too.”No. We say, “Hey, you’re our guests. You come in, you, you sit down, we’re going to take care of everything for you.” And for us, meals are the perfect opportunity to serve others.
Lindsay and I, uh, when we lived in Gainesville and undergrad and we were dating, we had a buddy who was a, an exchange student. He was from a Muslim country and Lindsay had a job that basically taught people how to speak English as a second language. He invited us over to his apartment for dinner and he just went all out. I mean, we walked through the door and it was just us three, you know, me, Lindsey and this guy, and he had a plate of fruit right there for us. It must have cost them 30, 40 bucks just in fruit. And then he overcooked. He had basically a traditional dish and had like chicken and rice and some other stuff in it and those big tin trays, he made two of those. We sat on the floor becasue that’s how he ate. He showed us how to eat using our hands. But he totally went above and beyond. And as I was thinking about “service,” I was ashamed to admit it but I think this guy totally out served me in our friendship and he wasn’t even “of the faith.” But Jesus calls us to do that, right? He calls us to be servants. My mentor used to say, you know, most everybody wants to be called a servant but not everybody wants to be treated like one. And I think the reality is Jesus calls us to both, right? He says, you need to act and be servants and then if necessary, you need to be willing to be treated as one.
So I’m convinced that if we want to start living like Jesus, we have to start eating like Jesus. So how do we do that? Three things. Number one, you have to be present. You have to be present. Remember in school, the teacher would take roll call? You can physically be somewhere and yet, not be present. I remember a buddy of mine in Lynchburg, he said this idea of presence totally changed how he ate meals. He said prior to it, he just kind of went through the routine. He and his family had a dinner each night and he said he was there. He was kind and nice. But once they were done, they were done. He said we just kind of go through the motions. But he said after he realized the presence of Jesus with people, especially at a meal, he said, man, this whole thing just took on a life of its own. He started to engage his wife, his son, and guests that he had over. And the mealtime became special for him. One of the things that can actually kill presence is technology. If those things are off, I guarantee you everybody will be more present at the meal. Matt shared this quote last week and I wanted to share it again becasue it’s so good by Jim Elliott. He said, “wherever you are, be all there.” That is presence.
Number two- be intentional. Be intentional, spiritual conversations, evangelism, discipleship, all of those things take intentionality. None of those things happen by accident. Here’s an experiment, a spiritual experiment that I want every single person to try. I’ve been trying it a little bit. I’m not very good at it, but I’m gonna try this week with you guys at your next meal and I think you have one coming up, right? Here it is. Try having one conversation, no side conversations, no smart phone conversations under the table, one conversation and I guarantee you it will change things. I got this idea from a guy who had dinner with his friend. He and his wife went over to a friends house and right before they had shared the meal together, the host said, “I only have one rule and it’s that we have one and only one conversation,” she said, “we can talk about anything you like. I really don’t care. But just one conversation.”
And the last one is this- be hospitable. Be hospitable. In the Bible, meals and hospitality go hand-in-hand. They’re almost inseparable. And I think in order for us start eating like Jesus, we have to discover and almost rediscover what biblical hospitality looks like in our neighborhoods. I was on Facebook and there was a video. I saw Phil Robertson putting in five cups of rice into a pot. And I’m like,
Oh, this guy has no idea how much that’s going to yield! this is gonna be good.”So I clicked on it and he says something like, “you asked me Phil, is anybody coming over for dinner tonight? And I would say, I don’t know.” And I was like, okay, this guy’s really crazy. And then he said, “You know what the problem with America is? We don’t make enough rice.” And I was like, okay, this guy’s really, really crazy. And I almost turned it off. But then he said this, he said, “How can you say you love your neighbor if you never get around to feeding them?” This was an “ouch moment” for me. “How can you say you love your neighbor if you never get around to feeding them?” So let’s love our neighbors by showing them hospitality. You have to open the door, right? You have to invite them in and share a meal around the table. So if you want to start living like Jesus, we have to start eating like Jesus.
For more on this topic, check out Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus.