Friday, March 12, 2010

The Gospel Is An Invitation to Community - Come to the Table

I'm working through Matthew for the second time this year.  It's kind of an accidental thing.  I spent the majority of last year in the Old Testament, along with much of my church family as our pastors led us through the book thematically, covering Creation, Sacrifice, Temple, and the Messiah.  Having spent the past two months hitting the primary points of Psalms and Proverbs, they are now going to give the New Testament the same treatment.  Consequently, there is a reading plan to take us through.  I was already feeling a serious deficiency of Vitamin NT so I picked up in Matthew on Jan. 1 and began reading at my leisure.  I'm a big fan of our Sojourn Devotional, though, especially Deacon Michael Morgan's thoughtful, Gospel-centered musings on the texts; so, I figured, "Why not?" Re-reading has a way of bringing out nuances.  I was struck and strengthened by such an aspect in Matthew 8-9.

Jesus enters Capernaum, where a centurion meets him with an appeal.  One of his dear servants is paralyzed and suffering.  Jesus takes the initiative and offers to go to his home and extend what would presumably be a healing touch.  The centurion refuses, though, and states his unworthiness.  However, as a soldier, he understands what authority means.  As a centurion, he is commander over a 100 men, all of whom must obey whatever he tells them.  As a centurion, though, he is subject to the tribunes over him.  If Jesus will but give the word, he too can exercise his authority from a distance, and the servant will be healed.

Jesus marvels at the faith exhibited by this Gentile.  After he had preached the sermon on the mount, the Jewish crowds had been shocked at his authoritative words (7:28-29).  Now, this centurion embraces the authority that only the Messianic Son of David could have.  Jesus exclaims "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.  I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (8:10b-12).  Jesus gives the word and the centurion receives what he had believed possible.

Shortly thereafter, Jesus is passing on through another town and comes upon Matthew, who is collecting taxes for Rome.  Such collaboration was reprehensible to the Jews, but Jesus reaches out to this man on the fringe of society.  "Follow me," he says.  Matthew gets up and leaves his job (and life) behind, following Jesus.  He throws a banquet for his new rabbi and he invites his friends - fellow tax collectors and assorted "sinners."  (A broad category, use your imagination.)  With these folks, who had previously been so far from God,  Jesus sits and eats.  He reclines at table with them.  Reclining at table was the cultural form of banqueting around the table - lying on a couch, torso towards the table.

What a picture of salvation and heaven!  Eating a meal with someone is a tender act of community.  Jesus does not just come to complete a transaction - picking up the tab for our sins, if you will.  He comes so that many might join him at the table in fellowship, intimacy, and community.  It's not just for the righteous forbearers like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (who were not actually all that righteous - see Rom. 4:1-8, Jos. 24:2-3), it's for me, it's for you, it's for anyone who has no claim on salvation in Christ.

"There remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called 'the uncircumcision' by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope  and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. ... For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no loner strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints members of the household of God." (Eph. 2:11-13, 18-19)

What a joy this is!  We're not just made right -  we are loved and we are family.  At the end of all things, we shall rest at the table with all of God's people, rejoicing and communing, for our God is good and has reconciled us to himself.  Let us proclaim this message to our friends and neighbors who do not know Christ.  The Gospel is about their eternal joy and eternal fellowship.


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