A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester. Published in October 2011 by Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, UK. ISBN 9781844745555 (paperback); 160 pages. Also published in April 2011 by Crossway Wheaton, IL, USA. ISBN: 978-1-4335-2136-2 (paperback); 144 pages. Electronic versions also available from both publishers.
In the world of the Bible, sharing a meal is far more than filling stomachs to stay alive. It’s a time of fellowship. Scott Bartchy writes: “It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of table fellowship for the cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the first century of our era. Mealtimes were far more than occasions for individuals to consume nourishment. Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity. Thus betrayal or unfaithfulness toward anyone with whom one had shared the table was viewed as particularly reprehensible. On the other hand, when persons were estranged, a meal invitation opened the way to reconciliation.”
That’s why the Jewish religious leaders were so angry with Jesus for eating with “sinners” (Matthew 9.11, Luke 15.2). By eating with them, He was receiving them as His friends and companions. In fact, the very word ‘companion’ is derived from the Latin cum (meaning ‘with’) and panis (meaning ‘bread’) – i.e. someone you ate bread with.
Even in Western society today, sharing a meal together still has significance beyond the physical act. Alexander Shmemann comments: “Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite – the last ‘natural sacrament’ of family and friendship, . . . .”
Right through the Bible we find God Himself inviting people to feast at His table. He invites them to enjoy fellowship with Him, to enter His ‘family circle’.
It’s no coincidence that there’s a meal at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. God offered Adam and Eve the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 2.9,16-17). But they ate from another tree; they refused fellowship with God. From that moment, God wanted to bring mankind back to His table – back into fellowship with Him.
So we find God inviting people to His table. In the Old Testament, there’s the annual Passover meal. When God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, chosen representatives of Israel banqueted with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24.9-11). And among the various sacrifices there was the fellowship offering – the sacrifice that the offerer and his companions ate together in God’s presence.
Before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a meal with His disciples – the Last Supper. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters at the central act of our life together as God’s people.
And when God’s Kingdom arrives in its final glory, God’s people will enjoy “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19.9). They will feast with Jesus for eternity – they’ll enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in the new heaven and Earth.
Tim Chester picks up this theme of the meal and takes us through Luke’s Gospel. He opens up the meaning of the meal for Jesus and for us, and places this theme in the context of the whole Bible story. And, as one reviewer on Amazon.com, Arthur Sido, comments: “Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church”.
Crossway, the US publisher, summarises: “The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. Tim Chester brings to light God’s purposes in the seemingly ordinary act of sharing a meal—how this everyday experience is really an opportunity for grace, community, and mission. Chester challenges contemporary understandings of hospitality as he urges us to evaluate why and who we invite to our table. Learn how you can foster grace and bless others through the rich fare being served in A Meal with Jesus.”
In his introduction, Tim writes, “If I pull down books on mission and church planting from my shelves, I can read about contextualization, evangelism matrices, postmodern apologetics, and cultural hermeneutics. I can look at diagrams that tell me how people can be converted or discover the steps required to plant a church. It all sounds impressive, cutting edge, and sophisticated. But this is how Luke describes Jesus’s mission strategy: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” We can make community and mission sound like specialized activities that belong to experts. Some people have a vested interest in doing this, because it makes them feel “extraordinary.” Or we focus on dynamic personalities who can hold an audience and lead a movement. Some push mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” Christians. But the Son of Man came eating and drinking. It’s not complicated. True, it’s not always easy—it involves people invading your space or going to places where you don’t feel comfortable. But it’s not complicated. If you share a meal three or four times a week and you have a passion for Jesus, then you will be building up the Christian community and reaching out in mission.”
The chapter headings are:
- Introduction: The Son of Man Came Eating and Drinking
- Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
- Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
- Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
- Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
- Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
- Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24
Read the introduction HERE.
Tim Challies reviews it HERE.
Tim Chester is involved in The Crowded House, a church-planting initiative in Sheffield. He was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has spoken at Word Alive, Keswick, and on Christian training courses. Tim’s books include The Message of Prayer“, Good News to the Poor, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Total Church and The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God. He is married with two daughters.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.