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May 9/10, 2015

Feasting With the Poor

Tim Cain | Luke 14:12-14

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”—Luke 14:12–14

In January of 2008, my wife Abbey and I moved across the country from San Diego to Minneapolis so that I could be the TCT church planting resident here at Bethlehem for one year. Other than the weather, my wife and I loved that year, and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all that we learned and all of the relationships that we made during that time.

At the end of that year, I presented our church planting proposal to the Bethlehem elders, and I did a devotional on Luke 14:12–14. Our vision was to go through the streets and the lanes and the highways and the hedges of the city of El Cajon, bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame, and compel them to come to Jesus and experience in him the joy and the rest that they so desperately needed.

Looking back on that devotional, I believe that I understood in my head what this text was about, but now, six years later, I can tell you that this text gripped my heart and changed my life in ways that I could never have imagined back then. So when I got the opportunity to come back, I wanted to preach this text and to share with you how God has used it in my life and in our church plant.

So, as a report back to you about what God is doing in El Cajon, I hope that this sermon will encourage you. As a call to apply this text to your own life, I hope that this sermon will challenge you. And as a reminder of all that our Savior has already done for us, I pray this text will overwhelm you and draw you even closer to Jesus.

The text for today is Luke 14:12–14. It was the Sabbath day, and Jesus was eating at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.

Jesus said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

The first thing we notice in this text is that Jesus divides people into two different groups. First we have our friends and our family and our rich neighbors. Our relationships with these people are mutually beneficial. They are reciprocal relationships. Being around these people comes naturally. We enjoy it—it’s comfortable. Even when things are more difficult and we have to sacrifice to do something for them, we know that one day when we need help, they will be there to return the favor. All of us know people like this. These are the people you invite to your birthday party, the ones you enjoy spending your free time with, the people that you would call if you wanted to have a get-together.

Then there is a second group that Jesus speaks about in these verses. They are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Basically, these are the people who couldn’t return the favor even if they wanted to. They aren’t like you—they don’t think like you or talk like you or have much in common with you. They are broken in areas where you feel like you have it together. These are the people that we often avoid because we know that any relationship with them will include far more giving than receiving.

Now those of us who are familiar with the Bible know that God often calls us to expand our horizons beyond this first group of people to include those who are different from us. But how should Christians treat this second group of people? How should Christians treat the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind?

If you asked most people what Christians’ attitude towards the poor should be, I think they would tell you, “Christians are supposed to serve the poor.”

Christians should be a people who use their gifts and talents to serve those who have less than they do. Often we think of things like giving money to a charity or volunteering at a soup kitchen or building houses for people on a missions trip. When we think about how Christians are supposed to relate to the poor, we typically think about serving them.

Now please hear what I am about to say: Serving the poor is an amazing and absolutely necessary thing to do, but here in Luke 14 Jesus makes it radically clear that serving the poor is not enough.

Let me tell you why serving the poor isn’t enough. You see, when you serve the poor, there are certain distinctions that remain. Think about a soup kitchen, for example. One group of people eats before they get there, stands on one side of the table with plastic gloves on their hands, and passes out food to another group of people on the other side of the table who come with nothing but dirty clothes and an empty plate. Anyone watching this situation can see the distinctions. There is no question about who the haves and the have-nots are.

The reality is that as long as we are content to merely serve the poor, all of these distinctions will remain. We are sacrificing, and they are gaining. We feel good about ourselves for serving, and the poor often feel inferior or even ashamed because they have to stand in line to receive a handout. I recently read a book where a 50-year-old successful businessman acknowledged that he can’t stand in line at buffets anymore—even five-star buffets—because they bring back memories of his childhood and the shame that he felt standing in line with his mother waiting for food.

What I love about Luke 14 is that Jesus comes to destroy these kinds of distinctions. In this text, Jesus doesn’t say that we need to find some people who have less than we have and serve them. He doesn’t say that next time, instead of having thanksgiving dinner with our families, that we should go down and volunteer at a local soup kitchen. That’s not what Jesus says here.

In Luke 14 Jesus is saying, “When you would normally have dinner, and you’re thinking about inviting some friends or family over, don’t stop there. Don’t stop there—instead invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite the people you would normally ignore, invite people who don’t have anything to pay you back with, invite people who are hurting. Invite them into your home and around your table."

When you do this, Jesus doesn’t want you to call it a service project. Look at verse 12. In verse 12 when Jesus talks about hosting a “dinner or a banquet,” he uses the normal words for a meal. He is talking about supper or dinner or lunch. But in verse 13, when the poor are invited, Jesus actually changes the word that uses. The only difference between the meal that Jesus talks about in verse 12 and the meal he talks about in verse 13 is that in verse 13 the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind are there. That is the only difference between these two meals. But Jesus thinks it’s a pretty big difference. In fact, this difference is so big to Jesus that he changes the word he uses for the meal. Now it’s not just a dinner anymore. Instead, Jesus calls it a feast.

In these verses, Jesus tells us that what would have been a dinner with friends becomes a feast when we invite those who are radically different than us, those who will never be able to pay us back. You see, the difference between a dinner and a feast isn’t the food—it’s not even the occasion. In these verses, Jesus shows us that the difference between a dinner and a feast is the company.

In this passage, Jesus is calling us to break down the distinctions. He is calling us to invite the poor into the parts of our lives that we typically reserve for those who are like us and to realize that when we do this, it doesn’t turn our dinners into service projects—it actually elevates them into feasts.

This passage is about far more than food—it’s really about relationship. This passage is about treating the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind with the same sense of love and honor and respect and appreciation that we have for our friends and relatives and rich neighbors. One woman who found herself stuck in poverty told the man who interviewed her, “I know people do a lot for me. But what I want is for someone to be my friend.” What this woman longed for was a friend. She wanted to sit at a table and eat with someone instead of standing in line to receive food from someone. That is what Jesus is calling us to in these verses. He is calling us to open our eyes and invite people who may not be anything like us into a relationship.

At Kaleo Church, we call this feasting with the poor, and over the past six years, I have seen more walls broken down by applying this verse than by anything else we have done as a church.

For the last six years, Abbey and I have had the privilege of hosting these feasts in our home every Friday night.

It all started back in 2009 when Abbey was working at Starbucks and we had just moved to El Cajon from Minneapolis. One morning I came to see Abbey, and I noticed a man begging outside so I brought him in and got him a coffee, and we sat down and started talking. I found out that he was a Vietnam veteran and that his name was Dell. He was living in a shelter down the street, and as we talked I found out that his birthday was that Friday, February 6. All the sudden I had an idea, and I just blurted it out. I said, “Dell, what are you doing for your birthday?” He just looked at me, so I asked, “Do you have some friends, people you hang out with at the shelter?” He nodded his head. I said, “Why don’t you invite all your friends and come to my house this Friday night for a birthday party? My wife will make spaghetti, and we will have a cake, and it will be sweet.” He loved the idea.

When Abbey got off work, she asked me whom I had been talking to. I told her what I had done, and she just laughed at me. She thought I was kidding. I was smart enough to know that when my wife thinks I am kidding, it usually means she isn’t quite ready for whatever it is that I have just done. So I gave her some time, and a few days later I reminded her that I really had invited Dell and all his friends to come over, so we should probably put together some sort of plan.

That Friday night, Dell and about six of his friends came over for dinner. We ate spaghetti, had a cake, and then we did a little Bible study, and I was hooked. I remember blurting out partway through the dinner that we ought to do this every Friday night. The guys all agreed, and that is how Friday nights started.

A few years later, Christmas Eve happened to come on a Friday. Abbey and I debated what to do. We both really love Christmas Eve, and all our friends were having a game night, and part of us wanted to cancel our Friday night meal to play games with our friends. I mean, no one could blame you for canceling something on Christmas Eve. But in the end we decided not to.

Instead, we decided that we would invite everyone we knew who was on the streets. Abbey decided to make her first turkey, and we had mashed potatoes and gravy and hot chocolate and eggnog. It was a windy and rainy night, and about eighteen people came. We played games and laughed, and when it was all over, we sat in my living room around the Christmas tree with the wind gusting against the windows and talked about what really happened that first Christmas. We talked about how the Son of God chose to be born in a stable and laid in a manger all because he wanted to invite dirty shepherds to celebrate his first birthday with him and he didn’t want them to feel like they had to clean themselves up first. He didn’t want them worried about how they smelled or what they looked like. The Son of God was born in stable so that he could be hospitable to dirty shepherds.

I want to tell you something. I have never in my life felt the Christmas story more than I felt it that night with that group of people. As I looked around the room, I thought about all the walls that had been broken down that night, and I knew that was what Jesus came to do. He came to break down walls; he came to rescue radically different people from their sins and to adopt them all into one family. I can honestly tell you that was the best Christmas Eve I have ever had. What had always been Christmas Eve dinner with friends became a feast that night—a feast I will never forget.

Over the years, many people in our church have begun to help us with Friday nights. About a year ago, a group of street kids started coming around. There was one girl who would never stay for the Bible study. Then after a few months of eating at our house, she decided to stay. She asked the most antagonistic questions, but she listened to the answers, and she started coming around more and more. Then she got pregnant and went to Planned Parenthood to get an abortion. But when her name was called, God stepped in and stopped her. Instead of following the nurse, she actually ran the other way and fled the building. A few days later, her whole world came crashing down, and she tried to kill herself, but it didn’t work. That night she came by our house and told me that she was done running and that she wanted to become a Christian. A few weeks later, she asked Abbey and me to adopt her baby. That was a year ago. Today my son Malachi turned 7 months old, and his birth mom has a full-time job. She is off the streets, and she is deeply involved in a church, and she considers herself a part of our family. Sometimes she tells people that when she asked us to adopt her baby, she didn’t know that we were going to adopt her as well. When I look at my son and consider how God used this verse to bring him into our lives, I am absolutely overwhelmed with his kindness.

So the call of this text is to expand our horizons and to break down the barriers that divide us from others by inviting those who are radically different from us into our homes and into our lives. And when we do this, Jesus calls it a feast.

Now I want to show you why this is such a big deal. You see, I don’t think that Luke 14:12–14 is just a strategy that uses food to break down barriers. I don’t think that it’s just a random command that we need to follow if we are going to obey God.

I think that Jesus has a reason for calling us to invite those who could never pay us back into our homes and into our lives. And I think that there is a reason that Jesus decided to call doing this a feast. Do you want to know the reason? It’s because that is exactly what Jesus has done for you and me.

You see, we are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and Jesus has come to invite us to a feast. You may not feel like it, but the Bible makes it clear that all of us are spiritually poor with nothing to offer God. We are spiritually crippled by our sin. We are lame and unable to get to God on our own. Not only that but we are so spiritually blind that we can’t even recognize our need for Jesus without his help. Jesus says it like this: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

That is who all of us once were. We were born dead in our sins with nothing to offer God and no way to repay him. There could be no greater difference than the difference between us and God. He is perfect, and we are riddled with imperfection. He is pure, and we are defiled. He is infinite, and we are finite. He is good, and our hearts are deceitful and wicked. Nevertheless the Bible tells us that Jesus looked on his people with compassion, and he left heaven and came to earth in order to invite us to a feast.

Make no mistake—that is what heaven will be. It will be a feast. Heaven is not a soup kitchen. In heaven Jesus won’t stand across a table from us with plastic gloves making sure everyone gets the same amount. That’s not what heaven is like. Heaven is a feast, a feast full of people who will never be able to pay God back.

I believe what Jesus is telling us in this passage is that what makes something on earth a feast is the way that it reflects heaven, where the ultimate feast will take place. The feast from which all feasts on earth derive their name. What Jesus is saying in this text is that when you invite the poor and crippled and lame and blind into your homes, when you invite people who are different from you, people who will never be able to pay you back, you get a little picture of what heaven will be like. You get a little foretaste of that feast. Not only do we get a foretaste of heaven, but we also get to display a picture of heaven to anyone who might be watching.

That is one of the reasons it is so important for us to invite the poor into our homes and into our lives. I want you to think about something. How are the poor—who already struggle with shame and feelings of inferiority—supposed to believe that a holy God will welcome them into his spotless home as his own beloved children when God’s people won’t even invite them into their own homes?

Hopefully it is becoming clear that what we have here in Luke is really a call to live out the gospel. It is a call to reflect the way that God has treated us in the way we treat others. It’s what Paul means when he says, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

Now I must warn you that there is a reason why so few people chose to walk this path. There is a reason we prefer to invite our friends and relatives into our lives and that we seek to keep the poor and broken at arm’s-length. There is a reason we would rather go somewhere else to serve the poor instead of inviting them into our homes for a feast. You see, the truth is that feasts cost. Feasting the way that Jesus has called us to comes at a steep price.

Most of the reasons you have given in the past for not inviting the poor into your homes and into your lives are real. Things will get broken, things may get stolen, people may take advantage of you, and people may ask you for far more than you are able to give.

But the truth is that these little inconveniences are nothing compared to the real cost. The real cost of feasting with the poor is that you will hear people’s stories and you will fall in love with them—only to watch circumstances, foolish decisions, corrupt policies, or enslaving addictions come destroy their lives, and you won’t be able to stop it.

The real cost is watching a prostitute get pregnant and decide to keep the baby, so she stops using drugs, gets off the street, joins your community, and accepts the Gospel, and you plan her baptism, and then one night you get a call, and you rush her to the hospital where she loses her baby and decides to give up on God and go back to the drugs.

The real cost isn’t being woken up at 6am every single morning by a depressed man named Andre who asks you to tell him something beautiful about Jesus so that he can get out of bed and start his day. The real cost is the morning you don’t get a call because he walked in front of trolley and died.

The cost of feasting with those who are different from us is that once we get to know them, we will love them, and loving them will often break your heart. C.S. Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.”

There is simply no way around it. Feasts cost. They always cost.

But that really shouldn’t surprise us should it? It shouldn’t surprise us that it costs to invite the poor and broken into our homes for a feast because we have an entire book that tells us just how costly feasts are. Don’t ever forget that the Bible is a book about the massive price that God paid in order to invite poor sinners like you and me to come to his home for a feast. Luke 24:45–46 says, “Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.’” 1 Peter 1 tells us that it wasn’t with perishable things like silver or gold that God bought us—it was with the precious blood of his only Son.

My friends, our God knows what it’s like to have his heart broken. He knows exactly how much feasts cost. He knew that the only way for poor sinner like us to ever enter into his presence would be through the torn body of his own Son. But he wants you to know that the cost didn’t stop him.

One of the reasons God left us with communion is so that we might remember just how much feasts cost and that we might celebrate the fact that Jesus has paid that cost in full. His body was broken for us, and his blood was shed for us, all so that you and I could feast with him for all eternity.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are the poor who Jesus shed his precious blood in order to rescue and invite into his home? Have you experienced the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor so that you, by his poverty, might become rich?

My friends, I don’t know how you came here today, but I want you to know that you don’t have to leave here poor. You don’t have to leave here lonely. You don’t have to leave here hopeless. The Son of God shed his precious blood on the cross so that he could invite you to feast with him for all eternity. It is finished, the price has been paid, the invitation extended, and you don’t have to leave here poor.

You and I have been invited to a feast, a feast that outweighs anything we deserve and exceeds anything that we could ever repay. When we understand that, when we begin to grasp all that our Savior has done to rescue us, all of our excuses begin to crumble, and we long to share his amazing love with those who have never experienced it. We want to go out into the highways and the hedges and compel the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame to come and experience the love of Jesus that has made us whole.

One of the ways that you as a church been doing this is by supporting church plants like Kaleo Church and many others, and for that I want to thank you. And I want to encourage you to continue to support church planting. Through church planting, we seek to saturate communities with churches so that the Gospel might be proclaimed down every lane and every street, and people will have a place to come and hear about Jesus.

I also want to encourage you to look around and find some people who are different from you and who will never be able to pay you back, and I want you to invite them into your life. I want you to see in them a reflection of what we must have looked like to Jesus, and yet he loved us, shed his blood to rescue us, and rose again to welcome us into his family.

Bethlehem, that is the Gospel, and I beg you to receive it. Receive the love of your Savior and then go out and reflect that good news in the way you live. It is a privilege to be able to feast now while we wait for the day when every wound will be healed, when every tear will be wiped away, and when we will feast with our Savior forever. Amen.