May 14, 2017
My wife and I are coming up on our 5th anniversary at ABF. But in many ways, it feels like we’ve been here for four years. Allow me to explain. We moved to Boone in August of 2012. I started work on a Tuesday and students moved into town that Friday. CC began that Sunday. Needless to say, we were a little lost our first year here. We went into full survival mode, and to be honest, it was a lonely year. We were part of this incredible church – I was even working here – but we hadn’t become part of the church.
I only share this because I feel like so many people that move to Boone share a similar experience. You move to this beautiful and rugged mountain town but feel completely lost for several months – if not years. It wasn’t until August of 2013 that Laura and I began to feel more connected to our church family. Now, I do not believe that time simply made everything better. Certainly time helped to enrich our relationships with our church family (and the longer we’re here, the richer the relationships become), but time didn’t create the relationships. As we look back on our experience of moving to and settling into this church, we credit our transition to one thing: summer. If you’re new to Boone, you’re going to quickly discover that this community values summertime. I mean – it’s almost an obsession. Winter drains the life out of us (except for the weird people that like winter), so we have to work hard to recharge. We hike, we rest, we fish, we camp, but most importantly – and this is the key – we eat.
As I mentioned, Laura and I were in survival mode from August to May during our first year here. But when summer came around, we finally started getting into houses and gathering around dinner tables. We invited people to our home – which was actually a parsonage at another church. We had a spare table that we moved outside onto the lawn. We were proud of this, so we invited as many people over as we could to eat with us. When I think about that summer, I remember that we spent a lot of money on food. We spent a lot of time preparing food. We did a lot of dishes that summer. And yet, we also became part of this church family that summer.
Here’s my question: was our experience just a coincidence? Did we just choose one of the many different avenues into the life of this church? Or is there something unique about the dinner table that forms us into a family?
If you have your Bible, turn to Acts 2. We’re going to explore the same passage we read last week, but today I’d like to focus on their meals together. When the church was born in Acts chapter 2, one of the first things the believers did was eat together. Their meals were a key part of their mission. So much, in fact that Luke mentioned in twice in a single paragraph. Follow along as I read, starting in verse 40.
 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”  So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
We saw last week that this is Luke’s first snapshot of the church’s life together. The Spirit had descended, Peter preached a powerful message, and the church was born. This paragraph shows us what the church looked like in those early days. This is how they attempted to save themselves from the crooked generation. Verse 42 shows us how they devoted themselves to four simple actions. They gathered around the apostles teaching; they fellowshipped; they broke bread; and they prayed.
Luke outlined 4 elements of their life together. I have only have two weeks to preach this text. If I had chosen the two most important features on the list, I would have certainly picked their devotion to the Apostle’s teaching and prayer. It seems like if you eliminate these two features – preaching and prayer – you’re not a church. Their fellowship and their eating habits seem expendable. If you stop fellowshipping or stopped eating together, but continued to preach and pray, you’re still a church, right? I suppose you could make the case, but I don’t think it’s a church that I’d want to attend. It seems like a church that fails to fellowship and break bread together is a dead church. Which makes me wonder: is a dead church a church? Maybe these aren’t expendable. Maybe they simply challenge our modern context.
I decided to focus on their devotion to fellowship and breaking of bread because Luke focused on these features. Of the four features he explored in v. 42, these are the two that he unpacked later in the paragraph. In verses 44-45 he took a deeper look at their fellowship together. We studied that last week. In verses 46-47, he examined their mealtime rituals. They ate together… a lot.
 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.
This is not a random detail in the text. Luke wants us to know that they were devoted to eating together. It was a fundamental part of their life together. When they gathered around the broken bread, they reenacted and proclaimed the gospel. Now, most commentators want to answer the question: was Luke referring to communion or their normal meals together? The answer is probably both. He used a few different terms to describe these meals. It doesn’t seem like the early church separated communion from dinnertime. Either way, eating together was a central part of their life together. I believe this is something we need to recover.
But this will be difficult to do in our modern context. We have a lot of forces working against us. In our high-paced world, food only gets in the way. It’s terribly inefficient and expensive to stop three times each day to eat. Fortunately, we have adapted so we never have to stop anymore. Grab breakfast on the go. Eat lunch at your desk. Grab some take out on the way home. We’re act like machines. As long as we “fuel up” we’ll be fine.
This doesn’t work for the church. We are not gathered here this morning as a machine. We don’t simply input the right elements and discipleship resources. We are a body. Bodies need to be fed. This morning I simply want to suggest four reasons why we should slow down and gather in our homes for meals. I want to be very clear: I have no interest in giving you another commandment this morning. I don’t want you to guilt you into dining with your spiritual family. My interest this morning is the gospel. I want to leave with a deeper love for Jesus. Meals do not save you, but I do believe that meals are a powerful tool to point our hearts toward Christ. So, let’s jump in. The first is by far the longest point so don’t panic when I finally transition. It’s like the main course. Once I get to the 2nd point, we’re close to the dessert.
First, our meals reenact the gospel. Every time we gather around the table with our spiritual family, we’re telling the story of what God has done for us. You can think of it like this: The gospel is God’s glorious effort to bring us back to the table to feast with Him. The Bible starts with food and it ends with food. In fact, the primary image of heaven is a feast. I’d like to take you on a brief journey through the Scriptures. If we can grasp this incredible picture of the gospel, I believe we’ll have the motivation to actually gather around our tables and eat with one another.
Let’s start in Genesis. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. Have you ever thought about how crazy it is that God’s vision of paradise is a garden? When I think of paradise, I think of some exotic island in the Caribbean. The Bible envisions a plot of land with an endless supply of incredible food. This is paradise. Listen to Genesis 1:29
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
God designed humanity to eat and enjoy food in his company. What a gift! You should understand how revolutionary the creation account in Genesis is. In most of the surrounding pagan religions, the gods created humans as an afterthought, simply to serve them food. The human’s duty was to cook ambrosia and nectar for them. In Genesis we get to enjoy the food with God. This is stunning.
But you know how the story goes. Adam and Eve found a table away from God’s presence and decided to eat alone. In a moment, the world was broken. This is our story. Sin forces us to eat alone, away from God’s presence, but it ends in our destruction. From that moment on, God has been on a quest to bring us back to the table.
I find it interesting that almost every story of redemption is accompanied with a meal. Think about the Exodus. This is the prototypical symbol of deliverance and salvation in the OT. In a very inefficient move, God had the Israelites eat a meal before they left Egypt. It would have been much quicker for the Israelites to get up and go, but before they left, he had them feast. (We say we’re too busy to eat). Every year God’s people were to remember his faithfulness by reenacting the feast. He was bringing them back to the table.
When God brought Israel through the dessert, he showed his faithfulness by providing bread from heaven every morning. He was bringing them back to the table. Of course, they got tired of the manna and craved the food from Egypt. As they approached the Promised Land, God wanted to show them how good the land was by giving them a picture of the food. It was the land flowing with milk and honey. On one occasion, Moses sent 12 spies to search the land. Listen to what they found: Numbers 13:23-24
And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there.
Did you catch that? The spies couldn’t carry a single cluster of grapes. They were the size of your head. They had to strap a cluster on a pole and carry it home together. Imagine the spies carrying the fruit back to the Israelites. It’s an obnoxious picture of God’s goodness. Come back to the table! But, you remember how the story went. There were big scary people there, so they refused to go. Once again, his people chose to dine alone.
In Proverbs 9:5-6, Lady Wisdom begged God’s people to return to the table.
 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
They never came. God spread the table, but they refused to come because we’d rather eat alone. So when the prophets began to pronounce judgment on the people, listen to the metaphors they used: Isaiah 28:7-8
These also reel with wine and stagger with strong drink;
The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed by wine,
They stagger with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment.
For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, with no space left.
This is a disgusting image, but it’s a graphic reminder of our stubborn refusal to come to God’s feast. We’d rather wallow in our own vomit than simply turn and come back to the feast with God. The truth is: sin has enslaved us. We’re not simply swallowing the wine; we’re swallowed by the wine. This is our story. We’re wallowing in our own vomit.
But it’s not the end of the story. Though we filled our own tables with vomit, God refused to leave us in our misery. He promised to clean the table and spread a feast for us that is too good to be true. Even in Isaiah, he began to show us a picture of his plan to bring us back to the table. Listen to this gripping passage from Isaiah 25:6-8
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
This picture is a gift to the church. If God gave the Israelites a picture of the massive grapes in the wilderness to sustain them, I believe this picture in Isaiah 25 is for the church. We’re not there yet, but God is spreading a feast for us. He is setting the table right now and aging the wine. He is selecting the marrow. I don’t even know what the marrow is, but I know it will taste good. Did you notice what was missing in this heavenly feast? Death is off the menu because God swallowed it himself. Our tears and sadness are missing because God wiped them away. Our reproach and shame are gone because God removed them. He took our sin upon himself to redeem us to bring us back to the table.
The world began to taste Isaiah’s vision when Jesus arrived. From the beginning, Jesus’ mission was clear: he had the power to bring us back to the table. So many of his miracles included food. Have you ever wondered why Jesus would begin his ministry by changing water to wine? He wanted to show his disciples that the master of the feast had come! Think about Jesus’ most public miracle: the feeding of the 5,000. He wanted to show the world that the bread of heaven had come!
On the night before he died, Jesus gathered his disciples to celebrate Passover, but he completely reinterpreted the meal. He broke the bread and poured the wine as a symbol of his broken body and shed blood. Jesus was the answer! He had the power to bring us back to the table. The command was simple. Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me! This is the gospel.
Lets come back to Acts 2. We shouldn’t be too surprised that the church was devoted to the simple act of breaking bread. God had brought them back to the table. It made perfect sense for them to gather around their own tables to reenact the gospel.
I want to say it one more time: eating together is not the gospel. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the gospel. But our meals point to his death and resurrection in such a powerful way. Jesus died so we could eat with God. If we never eat together as a church family, we’re missing a powerful opportunity.
Let’s move to the second point. Our meals transform the church. As we have just seen, Jesus unlocked our theology of feasting. But don’t miss this: he also ate. He didn’t simply bring us an idea like other famous teachers; he came to eat with us. And this transformed people. He often dined with tax collectors and sinners. He feasted with Zacchaeus. He welcomed the prostitute. Throughout the gospels, we see lives changed at the table. One commentator said that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus was either going to, at, or coming from a meal. Listen to what Jesus said about himself in Luke 7: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” His critics held it against him saying that he was a glutton and drunkard. “You show too much grace. You love people too much. Stop eating with everyone.”
So, when the church gathers for a meal, we’re not simply remembering a theological point. We’re actually allowing the Spirit to transform us. It seems like this occurred the early church. Luke said they received their food with glad and generous hearts. Their meals began to shape and form the community.
Nothing brings us together like a meal. We were designed to eat together. You never ate alone the first year of your life. I wonder what would happen to our church over the next year if nobody in this room shared a meal with anyone else. Would we survive? I imagine, but again, I doubt we’d be nearly as close. I doubt we’d be as effective in sharing the gospel. I doubt we would be as spiritually mature. The dinner table is a gift to the church. If you are feeling disconnected with your church family, I want to encourage you to simply pull up a chair and eat. Invite yourself to someone’s house. If that doesn’t work, cook some food at your own house.
Third, our meals open the door for discipleship. Something physically happens to us after a meal. We’re less hangry. We’re more receptive to truth and love and forgiveness. I believe every meal is an opportunity for God’s word to work in our lives. In fact, if we’re simply enjoying food at our meals, we’re merely scratching the surface. I believe that the four things that the Early Church was devoted to – the apostles teaching, the fellowship, and the prayers – probably happened around the dinner table.
This has been a very good year for our college ministry. I have literally seen a major spiritual growth spurt in our students. I would attribute much of the growth to an event they started call Matthew 4:4 Monday. They did this on their own. On Monday nights they gather at Josh Blavatt’s apartment where they feast for an hour. Then they read the Bible for an hour. Then they talk and process – often with tears – what they read for another hour. This weekly gathering to feast on food and the word of God has changed them. Every time you’re together with your spiritual family, pull out the Bible. It’s a perfect time to receive his word. This might seem awkward, but it won’t be if we’re all doing it.
Finally, our feasts open the door for evangelism. Luke tells us that they gathered day by day to receive their food with glad and generous hearts. He also tells us that people were added to their number day by day. This does not surprise me. I imagine many of them were converted over dessert, not at the altar.
Evangelism is very difficult in our fast-paced world. When we’re always on the go, you have to wait for the perfect opportunity to talk to someone. These “small talk” conversations in the hallway or when you’re running errands rarely turn into spiritual issues. It can happen, but it is very difficult.
The dinner table is the perfect setting for a discussion about spiritual matters. If our church is devoted to breaking bread in one another’s homes, evangelism takes on a new feel. All we have to do is pull up a chair. Come to the table and share a meal with us. We would love to tell you about a better feast.
These are just a few reasons to gather and eat. Our meals reenact the gospel. They transform our community. They open the door for discipleship and evangelism. I hope we can begin a conversation and start eating together!
Let me close with just a final comment that I’ve failed to mention until this point. I’d like to talk to the people that for some reason cannot come to the table. We live in a world of sickness that often prevents us from coming to the table. About 8 years ago I was diagnosed with a disease that forced me to restrict about 80% of my diet for a few years. This was one of the darkest periods of my life. I think food related diseases are so difficult because we were created to enjoy food. Our feasts bring us together (Mother’s Day, Graduation… you’re planning a meal). When some form of sickness prevents you from coming you can feel like an outsider.
If you’re in this boat, let me encourage you. (First, if you have a list of 700 food allergies, just give me a list, and I’ll try to cook you a meal. I don’t want a few dietary restrictions to prevent us from enjoying food together. We’re a church. It’s about the love and not the food. But that’s not what I want to say here.)
I’ve mostly considered feasting this morning because this is what the early church did. But they also fasted. We need to take a break every once in a while to remember that our goal is much greater than our meals together. Our meals are simply a tool. We don’t work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life. We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. If some sickness has limited your temporary participation at this table, but it has created a deep and everlasting hunger for God, consider yourself blessed. The church needs your wisdom. Let’s pray.