The Fact That Jesus ‘Reclined’ Means We’re Safe

You guys ever been in that situation when you’re with someone and you’re just completely uncomfortable?

I think of the scenarios where icebreakers were used to get to know people. First of all, I HATE icebreakers. I was an RA for a year in college and I acted like I liked them, but I couldn’t stand them. Second, I’m SUPER uncomfortable around new people. Today at work, I had to go up to random people on the street and ask them a question for tomorrow’s paper. So awkward for me.

In those situations, I don’t feel like letting my guard down with people. I have a hard time being myself. I wouldn’t sit on a sofa and prop my feet up, even if I was at my own home. The comfort level’s not there.

Jesus was never that way, and He still isn’t. Just look at the dinner table.

Carried to the Table

A good example of what “being at the table” with someone is seen in 2 Samuel 9. It’s the inspiration for the worship band Leeland’s fantastic song “Carried to the Table.”

David was king. He desired to “show…kindness” to anyone left from the “house of Saul” for “Jonathan’s sake” (v. 1). The only person left was Mephibosheth, one of Jonathan’s sons. David called for him, and Mephibosheth came before him and fell to the ground in homage. We’ll pick up the story in v. 7-10 and 13:

And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And (Mephibosheth) paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table…

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both feet.

David showed incredible mercy to the grandson of his enemy Saul, the man who had sworn to kill him, because of Mephibosheth’s relationship to Jonathan. Instead of clearing house for fear of being overthrown, David sought to be good to people, to “show the kindness of God” to them (v. 3).

And in came Mephibosheth, a crippled man, unable to move on his own. David not only welcomed him in, but allowed him to eat from his table and be part of the “family,” as it were.

Reclining by the Table

Matthew 9 shows off one of my favorite stories in Scripture. Jesus has just called Matthew, a tax collector, the worst of the worst for Jews, to be one of his disciples. Immediately after this, Jesus “reclined at table in the house” with “many tax collectors and sinners.” They “came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (v. 10).

Much has been written about the position of tax collectors in Israel. They were often Israelites who were working for the Roman government, collecting taxes, sometimes grossly unfairly. You need only look at the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19 to see how these tax collectors would often take advantage of the conquered Israelites.

Not only that, but there were “sinners” in the house as well. To be with tax collectors and sinners was a no-no, and the Pharisees let him know it. They asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (v. 11). Jesus heard what they said and responded. Verses 12-13:

But when (Jesus) heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

First of all, mic drop.

Secondly, we see Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth. He didn’t come down, God in the form of man, to hang out with all the “righteous” people, those who thought they had it all together. He came down to be with those who needed Him most. The Great Physician went to be with the sickest patients.

Safe at the Table

Both of these stories have two things in common: being at a table and mercy being shown to those in need.

Eating at a table with friends and family is one of the most intimate things we can do — as long as cell phones are put away. We’re sharing food, stories, memories, laughs and more. We’re being together.

What Jesus did with the tax collectors and sinners, both of them stated as “reclining” at the table, was unheard of. It was a prophet, a man claiming to be God, not only eating with sinners but letting His guard down with them. Relaxing. The same thing with David and Mephibosheth. The new king of Israel, letting a lame man eat at his table and blessing him with a house and land and servants. For no reason other than mercy.

And that’s the second point. Neither Mephibosheth nor the sinners and tax collectors earned their way to reclining at the table, fellowshipping with kings. If anything, they were the opposite of worthy of that privilege. It was given to them because of mercy and grace.

In the same way, we are safe at the table. Jesus sees us and says, no matter our weaknesses, injuries and illnesses, whether literal or physical or mental or emotional or figurative or spiritual, “I will recline with you. You are safe here. I came for you.”

We’re safe there. Just as Mephibosheth was safe from being destitute and poor because of his illness and his relationship to David’s former enemy, just as the tax collectors and sinners were safe from judgement as Jesus’ hand for their unrighteousness, we are just as safe despite our sinfulness because of Jesus’ grace and mercy.

Lastly, some lyrics from “Carried to the Table” by Leeland:

Wounded and forsaken, I was shattered by the fall.
Broken and forgotten, feeling lost and all alone.
Summoned by the King, into the Master’s courts.
Lifted by the Savior and cradled in His arms.

I was carried to the table, seated where I don’t belong.
Carried to the table, swept away by His love.
And I don’t see my brokenness anymore
When I’m seated at the table of the Lord.

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The Church Culture of Compassion

If judgement looms under every steeple, if lofty glances from lofty people, can’t see past her scarlet letter, and we never even met her.

I love the Casting Crowns video above because it shows what the church can be and far too often is, but also what it’s supposed to be. Initially, the people at the church throw lofty glances at the woman or try to scoot away from her. But at the end, one girl approaches the main character with a sympathetic hand and sympathetic word.

I wrote a post a few days ago called “The Church Culture of Shame” describing my thoughts on how much the church seems to lack any sense of grace with some people, particularly those within the body of Christ. I’m flattered by the amount of people that read it and have complimented me on it. Thank you, to all of you. It means more than you know.

But as I was driving to get lunch today, I thought of a different phrase – “the church culture of compassion.” It may come across to some who read that last post that I don’t think such a thing exists. But as I thought about that phrase, some examples came to mind. Let me share them with you here. I hope you are encouraged.

Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is really the act of going out of your way to help physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another. (Wikipedia)

XXXChurch – Jesus Loves Porn Stars

I first heard about the outreach ministry of XXX Church on the Bad Christian podcast a couple months ago when they interviewed founder Craig Gross. XXX Church has many different facets, but the one I want to focus on is their ministry to the pornography industry.

In 2002, X3 (for short) sent a team to a popular pornography convention “to love on both the consumer and the workers there. This approach was very different from other ‘religious’ organizations present outside of the convention with their posters and megaphones preaching a message of law and hate.” Ever since, X3 booths have been a mainstay at popular adult film gatherings, where teams hand out Bibles that say “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” on the cover while seeking to love and minister to those in attendance.

Why? To point porn stars to Jesus.

We believe that Jesus meets people where they are. We don’t subscribe to the belief system that God only loves those who live the way we or religion think they should live. We believe that it is when Jesus meets, loves and accepts us where we are, no matter that place that we are transformed by that crazy kind of love. – XXXchurch.com

porndebatejpg-869830e20b0f17bb

Ron Jeremy (left) and Craig Gross.

In addition, Gross has a close relationship with Ron Jeremy, described as “the world’s most famous porn star” in this story on ABC News. The two go around the country doing speaking engagements and debates on the topic of pornography.

“There are certain things I don’t like (about the porn industry), and having Craig around, putting things in check, or when girls want to get out of the business they might go to him, and a few have, who are actually friends of mine,” Jeremy told ABC. “And he ministers to them, brings them into the path of righteousness, and I think that’s great.”

Reppin’ the Misfits

And people call themselves Christians, with “God hates fags” written all over their pickets. They play the Holy Spirit and judge people because of the way they sin different. Social Club will always be the difference. I have gay friends and I’m not ashamed to say it, and I love ’em like Christ did and people are gonna hate it. They know what I believe and they might not agree, but I stand as living proof, look what God did to me. Social Club, “Grace Song”

The attitude that Christian rap group Social Club takes in their songs is not one of judgement or of condemnation, but of love. Their call is for the “misfits,” the ones who may not be accepted by the masses. In the “About Us” section of their Tumblr page, they define a misfit: “A misfit by definition is someone who is ‘different than their surroundings.’ Simply put, we believe in being who Jesus has called us to be and not who the world wants us to be.”

In a church culture that seems to care a lot more than we should about appearances, they don’t care.

“One thing we wanted to do is create an environment of openness and accountability…for the gospel,” group member Marty said in an interview with Rapzilla. “We do life music. We don’t do music that is centered around anything other than our lives…We focus on the misfits and the kids that feel like they didn’t fit in.”

The Christian rap genre as a whole does a great job of showing compassion to all, generally not taking a stance of “we’re better than you,” but seeking to be real and honest and showing compassion in that way. They’re also willing to go to the places others might not be willing to. A group of rappers from the label Reach Records visited Riker’s Island Prison in New York to do a concert and minister to the inmates.

From @reachrecords Twitter.

From @reachrecords Twitter.

“We were reminding people of their value and their worth, and it’s not defined by what society says about us but the intrinsic worth that we have in God, being made in His image,” Andy Mineo said in an interview with Wade-O Radio.

How many other Christian artists would take a trip to one of the most notably worst prisons in America? I don’t think many would.

A Guy Named Zacch

I’m going to share one more story of compassion that you can find in the church. It’s the story of a guy named Zacch.

See, Zacch lived in the city of Jericho working for the government. Something like the IRS. Except he was super corrupt. He stole money from people. Legally. He had everything he thought he needed. He was hated by the religious leaders of the day. Not unlike how some Christians these days view the government of the United States of America.

Then one day a teacher came along. He was pretty popular, almost like a rockstar. Zacch stood on a crowded street, trying to see this teacher. But he was short, so he couldn’t see him. Solution: climb up in a tree. Zacch sat in the tree like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Angels in the Outfield, peering out trying to see this guy he had heard about.

The teacher walked by and saw Zacch sitting in the tree. Now, this teacher was a Jewish one who talked about Yahweh, the God of the Torah. A religious guy. I don’t know for sure, but Zacch may have assumed that this teacher thought the worst about him. But, looking at Zacch, the teacher said, “Zacch, come on down, man. Let’s grab some food at your place.”

Joyfully, Zacch leapt down from the tree and practically dragged the teacher to his home. He was filled with joy. After talking with the teacher, Zacch made up his mind. He said: “Half of my goods, I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

And the teacher responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

I’ll end with a quote from Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love:

Jesus is not being cavalier about wrongdoing or suggesting that greed, and its fallout, is not a big deal. He shed tears over our sin; he came to suffer and die for it. No, this is Jesus identifying with the sinner and loving those who least deserve it. He knows that the only way to break the cycle of retribution and oppression and heartbreak is to demolish the ladder of deserving altogether…God lavishes His grace on the foolish, the weak, the despised, and the nothings so He alone will get the glory. (p. 131-132)

Grace Is Something So Incredibly Radical

I’ve been reading Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World the last week or so, and it is truly excellent. He discusses the need for a greater understanding for grace in a world that lives by and believes in what he calls “performancism,” being judged and evaluated based solely on your performance.

The Bible doesn’t purport that, he argues several times. He gives one example that I thought was especially powerful (p. 64):

…take an example from the Bible, that of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Once the woman’s accusers left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11). Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional; it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an if. The only if the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

For me, it was a new way to look at that story that shows Jesus’ unconditional love and His gracious giving of second chances. But it hit on a very important truth to remember about the grace and love of God.

God does not primarily view our works as our defining characteristic. He views our hearts and our position with Him as most important. See it in the structure of what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 – “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The first thing He tells her is that she is not condemned. This is true for all of us who are believers: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So we believers can rest in the fact that we are forgiven and loved and headed for eternity with God and Jesus no matter how much we screw up on earth.

But there is also then a following instruction: to sin no more. While it is an instruction we cannot completely fulfill because all men and women sin, it is not the primary way that Jesus relates to us. He relates to us based on the position of our hearts. Are our hearts submitted to following Christ? While wicked in and of themselves, the hearts of those who are believers are being renewed and remade by the Holy Spirit. It is the renewing of those hearts that allows us to pursue holiness and killing sin.

I’m reading through 1 Kings right now and saw a really cool theme throughout Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8. The guy was super wise. He’s praying a prayer of dedication of the temple he helped build for God and includes this passage (v. 46-50):

If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin – and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet it they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart…then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you…

Solomon, the wisest guy on earth ever, had the right attitude. God desired repentant hearts more than repentant behavior. Repentant hearts lead to repentant behavior.

And when our hearts are truly repentant, and we recognize our sinfulness, and we come to God asking for mercy, He will surely give it to us. That’s why grace is something so incredibly radical. The world doesn’t look primarily at our motives, it looks at our actions. God works the completely opposite way.