We are going to go on a culinary tour today because Luke likes his food.
After today, for the rest of this term, Rachel will be preaching in both services and her theme will be prayer, using Luke’s gospel. Last week and this, both of us are giving an introduction to Luke’s gospel.
One scholar has said that in Luke’s gospel “Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal”. Is that significant, or was Luke just fond of his food.
On ten occasions Jesus is pictured eating with people. Who did He eat with? And Why?
- Banquet at Levi’s house (5:27-32).
Why did Levi hold the banquet? We are not told but, presumably, he was excited. He had just been called by Jesus. He had turned from being a tax-collector – a greedy, cheating collaborator with the occupying Romans and a traitor to his own people – to following Jesus. He possibly had loved the money and hated his job. He was kind-of a prostitute. Now he had repented and been accepted by God. He was celebrating with his friends – with his friends who are still tax-collectors! Undoubtedly, he wanted them to also meet Jesus and escape that lifestyle. He was an evangelist from Day One.
We know exactly why Jesus attended. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
This was a deliberate evangelism strategy. He ate with sinners because He had come to call sinners to repentance. Meals were used for mission.
Think about the emphases we identified last week. Luke is very concerned about the poor and the rejected and the central message of the whole book is salvation. Here’s a story about both – and food.
- Dinner at the house of Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50)
This time Jesus was in the house of one of the most respected people in society, so there’s a contrast. But maybe it is not a contrast because there was also a prostitute present; a saved sinner who was condemned by the righteous Pharisees but who was forgiven by Jesus while the Pharisees are not. It is again about salvation for the poor and the humble and the despised – while the Pharisees criticise.
Did Jesus attend because He knew that the woman would be there or because He wanted the Pharisee to repent? We don’t know. Either way, He was again intentionally on mission. Maybe the fact that He said, “Simon, I have something to tell you” indicates Jesus’ hope that even Pharisees would repent.
They didn’t but at least He had tried. And the woman was set free.
- The feeding of the 5000 (9:10-17)
This is the only miracle (other than the resurrection) recorded in all four gospels? This meal is not so much about fellowship and relationships. Jesus had been speaking about the Kingdom of God, and had been healing the sick so the context again is mission and ministry. You could say this story is about compassion – meeting people’s needs. Jesus provided a meal for hungry people. It echoes the feeding of Israel in the desert when God miraculously provided. But the emphasis in the story is not on Jesus’ compassion. It is on the magnitude of the miracle. This miracle is in all of the gospels because it is a demonstration of who Jesus is. Because of those echoes from Exodus, it is saying, “This is God.”
It was immediately after that miracle that Peter suddenly realised that Jesus was God’s Messiah.
Luke wrote this book because He wanted Theophilus to be utterly convinced about Jesus.
This is also a story about Jesus preparing the disciples for ministry. Yes, it revealed Him as the Son of God but He got them involved. The food multiplied in their hands, not His. He ministered but, in that context, he also trained them for ministry.
- Jesus’ stay with Mary and Martha (10:38-42)
This is a meal with close friends. There is another contrast: a vast, noisy outdoor crowd, then a quiet evening with friends at home. But He was still teaching. These meals always facilitate ministry.
Mary, you will remember, sat at Jesus’ feet. Martha got angry that Mary wasn’t helping prepare the meal but Jesus commended Mary. For Jesus, the meal was not so much about the meal. It was about fellowship. Mary had chosen fellowship with Jesus. She had chosen to sit and listen and learn. People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
All of these meals (except perhaps the feeding of the 5000) are about fellowship – Jesus’ investment in relationships. They were all about reaching people and ministering to people.
Is there a lesson here for us, as followers of Jesus? Jesus chose to eat with people in order to have time with them – and always because He wanted them to come into a relationship with God or to deepen that relationship. Eating with people was part of His strategy. Should we be equally intentional about sharing meals, as a strategy for getting to know people and ministering? Is there real potential for the gospel when we build relationships by sharing meals?
Notice also the diversity of people with whom Jesus ate: a vast crowd and two women, tax collectors, prostitutes and Pharisees, the saved and the unsaved.
- Dinner at a Pharisee’s house (11:37-52)
This is an interesting one because Jesus ripped shreds off him with a whole series of “woes”. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you carefully observe all sorts of religious niceties but you neglect justice and the love of God. You foolish people! Woe to you; you love the important seats in the synagogues and you love being honoured in the marketplace. Etc.”
One of the teachers of the law said, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.”
Jesus replied, “Yes, well, now that you mention it: Teachers of the law, woe to you too. You burden people with the requirements of the law but do not lift one finger to help them. Etc.”
Clearly, the lesson here is that if people invite you to be their guest, it is OK to insult them!
Well, maybe that is not the lesson. Again, Jesus accepted an invitation to a meal at the home of a Pharisee. Again, He was willing to have fellowship with anyone. So, why do you think Jesus insulted him like this? Was Jesus just having a bad day? Remember what He said? “I have come to call sinners to repent.” Jesus’ motive was to see this Pharisee repent. Sometimes people have to be challenged. Sometimes people have to be insulted but the motive was love. “I want you to be saved.”
- Another meal in a Pharisee’s house (14:1-24). They keep inviting Him. He keeps accepting.
On this occasion there was a confrontation about healing on the Sabbath. So, in front of them, Jesus healed a man – and it was a Sabbath! Jesus then told three parables about food. One was about a wedding banquet and who should have the places of honour. One was about hosting a dinner and not inviting your friends and family – those who will invite you back – but inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – those who cannot invite you back. Don’t be motivated by what you might get out of it. Care about the poor and about their salvation.
The third one was about the man who held a great banquet but his guests had excuses, so he sent his servant out to the streets and alleys to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.
- Lunch with Zacchaeus (19:1-10)
Again, Jesus ate with a tax-collector hoping that he would repent. Again, there is a meal at the centre of the story.
The last three meals are all around the last days of Jesus’ life: the Last Supper with the disciples on the night before He was crucified (22:14-38); the meal with the two dejected disciples at Emmaus (24:28-32) – the meal during which they recognised Him when He broke the bread; and a meal that He ate with His startled and amazed disciples in the evening of the resurrection day.
All of the gospels give disproportionate attention to the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus lived for 33 years but, in Luke, for example, about 5½ chapters (almost a quarter of the book) are dedicated to that one week. In this whole story, the focus – the climax – is the crucifixion and the resurrection. Everything focusses on the cross and the empty tomb. This was where the salvation of the world was accomplished. When Theophilus read about this man who ate meals with people and then died an innocent man but died for a sinful world; and when he read that God raised Him from the dead; that God vindicated Him and death was defeated, would he be persuaded that what he had heard about Jesus was true?
9:51 As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
That is a turning point. Jesus began His journey to Jerusalem. That was the beginning of the end. He faced what He had to do and He could not be deflected. From chapter 9 the focus shifts to the Cross. Luke is unique in that the whole middle section of the gospel – roughly 9 chapters – describes that journey to Jerusalem. Paul, in Philippians, talks about Jesus walking the path of obedience all the way to the Cross. He knew what was ahead of Him but He was resolute. At the end He share a meal with His disciples to prepare them for this death. And He shared two more with them proving that He was alive again.
In Luke’s gospel there is a movement towards Jerusalem. The story started in the context of the Roman census of the whole world. Jesus’ ministry focused on Galilee – called Galilee of the Gentiles because of the number of Gentiles who lived there. Then Jesus’ ministry moved to Samaria and Judea and culminated in Jerusalem.
Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts, starts in Jerusalem and then spreads out into Judea and Samaria and finishes in Rome. The movement of Acts is the opposite of the movement in the gospel. The whole story pivots on those events in Jerusalem. That is the focal point but then it spreads out again progressively into the whole world.
And so Luke say, “There are the facts, Theophilus. I have carefully research this and I have carefully chronicled it. What is your conclusion? I say that Jesus is the Saviour of the world – the means by which God will restore His Kingdom. Jesus walked that road to Jerusalem. He walked towards His own death. He died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Then God raised Him up victorious. The price had been paid; death was defeated; salvation was possible. Do you believe in Him? Will you trust Him?”
People experienced that salvation. Their lives were transformed and Acts shows us that they were on a mission to tell the whole world. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and Luke wants the lost to know that. His story is about a Man and a mission – a mission to tell the world about that Man – and food plays a crucial part. Meals, fellowship, ministry were part of the strategy.