Today is the second week of our lent/re-lent series. Lent is part of the traditional Church calendar: forty days before Easter, Christians start fasting or refraining from eating.
A coworker of mine last year said that he’d thought of doing it, because it’d be a good test of his self-discipline. That’s not why we’re doing it this year. We’re calling it relent - which means yield - because we want to yield something in our lives, refrain from something - but only so that we can return to God, feast on God. So we’re calling it a feast, not a fast. It’s not about self-denial, it’s about satisfying our soul.
This is not mandatory, but please do ask God if His Holy Spirit is impressing on you that this would be a good idea for you to have some extra time with God. And look at Pastor Dan’s sermon last week to see the “rules” for the feast, which are essentially, this is not about duty but about delight. So, myself - I decided to stop watching two TV shows that I pretty much watch daily so that I could spend some more time in reading, reflection, and prayer. My confession - limited success this week, I discovered another TV show to watch, though I did read and pray more, and the reflection on the ideas I’ll be talking about today and some others were like food to my soul, I hope they are to you as well.
Why don’t we do this all the time? Why don’t we feast on God? My sermon today and I think Dan’s next week will address some of the barriers to feasting on God. But before we talk about that, I’ll ask God for His guidance as we look at His Word. [pray]
God loves feasts. The concept of a feast, a celebration, a time of rejoicing and fellowship and delight, is one that appears frequently in the Bible. Perhaps one of my favourite instances of this feast idea is in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In Luke 15, Jesus tells a story of a father whose younger son completely rejects and insults him. The son asks to be given his share of his inheritance, and goes off to be prodigal, wasteful. The son lives a life of affluence, a sort of first century Jersey Shore or Paris Hilton, and then ends up having spent everything. He finally realizes he would be better to return to his father. Let’s read:
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
What an amazing offer. An offer of forgiveness, restoration, an a relationship. What a feast!
Today I want to ask the question “Where’s the feast?” largely because I imagine many Christians ask this on a daily basis. So, if you are asking this, please know - you’re not alone. Many Christians memorize John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly”. We just sang “many times I wonder at your gift of life”. But often, we aren’t full of wonder. The wonder we experience is wondering. Wondering where the abundant life is. Where is it? And why am I not experiencing it? Do I need to pray a certain prayer? Do I need to follow 9 steps? Do I need to read the right book, believe the right eschatology, share Jesus with ten of my friends? Then will God give me the abundant life?
Then will He help me feel joy and love and peace even when loneliness is killing me? Or when the pressure of meeting bills makes me feel like my life is a prison? Or will He take away the pain of failure: not meeting my parents expectations, giving into temptations, not measuring up to my brother or sister? Or will He finally give me joy when, after having it all, I still do not feel satisfied? Where’s the feast?
Let’s read Ephesians 1
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Short answer: the feast is in Jesus. It’s the old, reliable Sunday School answer: Jesus. With a very vague and ambiguous preposition: “IN”. In Jesus. What does that possibly mean?
Three points. Not three steps. Not three days of doing. Not three prayers. Three points:
Point 1 - The Feast is by Jesus
Point 2 - The Feast is for Jesus
Point 3 - The Feast is through Jesus
Point 1 - The Feast is By Jesus
This is a letter to Christians, telling them about the great plan of God to bring everything together in Jesus, and we express this through the Church, through local groups of Christians where they live as the family of God, united in Jesus.
In chapter 2, Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that before they had faith in Jesus, they were spiritually dead. They were enslaved to their own way, they could not follow God, and they could not find freedom from their rebellious ways or the judgment that would come with their sin.
If that is true, what happened? Why does Paul NOW say that they are blessed with every spiritual blessing? Why are they pure before God? - God sees them as having been cleaned from their sins. Why are they blameless before God? God sees them as having met all of His standard? Why are they adopted by God? God sees them as being His children? Why are they His heirs? God puts the Ephesian Christians in His Will of sorts. Christians are co-heirs with Jesus. How could this be? How could dead people become the recipients of every spiritual blessing?
In Jesus means it’s by Jesus. By meaning two things:
a. By means Jesus prepared the feast
b. By means Jesus paid for the feast
Which is interesting, because the blessings are clearly given by God the Father. It is the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who blesses us with every spiritual blessing. Yet the text then proceeds to lift up Jesus. In Him, through Christ, in Christ, on and on. Here’s what happened - before time began, the Only God - the Triune God - committed together to a plan.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They all had a goal: to have a special people for themselves. These people would know God as Creator. As Holy God. As Lord. They would know the Father as Father. And they would know God as Friend.
But that’s not all. More than Father, Friend, Lord, Holy God, Creator, the chosen people would know God as Saviour. Kind and Merciful, the one who forgives their trespasses.
That’s the plan.
What was the price?
The price was Jesus. Jesus committed Himself to give up everything. To be made nothing. To leave His throne and live as part of creation, though His was Creator and was never created. He would be made low, though He was Most High. He would be made sin though He would know no sin. He would need to die, though He was the Life. He would need to bear the wrath of His Father, though He was the Beloved. And though His Father would raise Him from the dead, He would always bear the scars of His sacrifice. He would always be a man.
And He agreed to it. This was the price. Some have compared the Gospel to a father being mad at his son, so he kicks his dog. Jesus is no dog. Jesus lays down his own life for His sheep. None take it from Him. He lays it down.
The feast is by Jesus. So we know the plan and the price, but we still don’t know where it is. Where’s the feast?
Point 2 - The Feast is for Jesus
Jesus paid the price. But the shocking thing is that in Jesus also means for Jesus. The feast is for Jesus. That means that it is Jesus’s possession.
Jesus gives us His resurrection life. Jesus shares with us His place in the heavenly places. Jesus shares with us His fellowship with His Father. Jesus shares with us His Father! Jesus shares with us His inheritance!
Growing up, I was not that good at sharing. Now even, I’m not good at sharing. Yet I have been blessed to witness Christians who have been very generous with their lives. They share their cars, their houses, their books, their food, they just give give and give.
In the story of the prodigal son, when the younger brother returns, the older brother is peeved off. He’s really mad. He’s the one who fulfilled his filial responsibilities. He’s the one who did what he thought his father wanted him to do. And he’s the one who still had an inheritance.
When his father began to shower his love on the younger brother, the prodigal had no right to anything. And in the older brother’s eyes, all those things belonged to him. His father was wasting his inheritance. The older brother had earned it!
Jesus is the antithesis to this older brother. The gifts which the Father has given Him, and the things which Jesus, in fact, deserves and possesses, He gives with great joy to those who would come to Him. When Jesus said “To give is better than to receive”, He knew from personal experience. From the beginning of the Universe, He gave. And when we do feast on God, that privilege belongs to Jesus.
The feast belongs to Jesus.
Point 3 - The Feast is through Jesus
We still haven’t answered: “Where is the Feast?”.
Here’s the answer - we must go through Jesus. And this brings me to my big idea for today: Union with Christ. This theological theme has been the most important theological idea for me in the last few years. Here’s what it does not mean:
It does not mean that we are Jesus, or that we are like Jesus in any of the ways that are unique to His deity. We are not all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.
Union with Christ also does not only mean we are friends with Jesus, though this is surely true. Jesus called his students not just servants, but friends.
What union with Christ means is that when we have faith in Jesus, we are linked to Him inseperably. We are linked to his death, because our old selves die, we are linked to His life, because all the spiritual blessings that He enjoys through His resurrection life, we receive. And we receive a relationship with God.
In English, there’s a very popular book to teach people about Jesus. It asks on the front cover: “Do you want to know God personally?”. It states that if you have faith in Jesus, you can have a relationship with God. Absolutely true.
But here’s my personal suggestion: please, if you use this book, explain what kind of relationship you’re talking about. The relationship is not just like a best friend. Not just like a father. Not just like a benevolent deity.
When you are united to Jesus, you share His relationship with His Father. That is the feast. What you receive is the love and commitment and fellowship and father-son dynamic of The Father and The Son.
This is where the feast is. The feast is in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and if you have faith in The Son, God the Father sees you as united in Him. Sends you the same Holy Spirit that He sent His Son. Forever. You have access to Him in a way that God sees you as being in Jesus. Forever. And God is one-hundred percent for you. Forever.
And this relationship can never be earned. Never ever. You could come to Church, pray prayers, be a missionary in Africa, be kind and give up drinking, smoking, cussing, God will not see you as a child. Because there’s only one way to being a child of God, and that is through His Son. Because only once you are in Jesus, united with Jesus, can you share what is rightfully His. The fellowship, the love, the favour, the life that belongs to those who are seated with Christ and co-heirs with Christ.
This is the Feast. This is what we invite you to partake. And this is what we ask you to indulge yourself in a little more this lent/re-lent season.
Three thoughts for application/implications for a Christian:
God has prepared you a Feast
Who has the better plan for your life: you or God? God has proved Himself a Good Father. He Proved it at the Cross, where He gave up everything for us.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
So don’t doubt Him now. He has prepared for you a great feast. Yet to come, but also right now, because God is for you. You are living at it now. God is entirely for you. He’s not indifferent. Who has a better plan for your joy, your peace, your faith? God. Our plans seem better. Our plans have nicer cars and smaller loan payments. Our plans have less pain, less loneliness, less work. But God’s plan has maximum joy, maximum love, and maximum hope. Trust that God’s feast is the best feast.
So, if you join us in re-lenting this year, do so not out of duty, but out of wanting to experience this feast more in your life.
God desires that you attend the Feast
Who wants you to enjoy God more: you or God? I was just reading a book where the author admitted that he thought he had such a “high” view of God, that God didn’t really desire us. God doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need anything. He’s all-sufficient. He doesn’t need anything. He wasn’t lonely when He made us. Funny that Jesus’s story of the prodigal son has a father who cannot control his excitement when his lost son is found. Do you believe that’s what our Heavenly Father is like
God wants you to join His Feast. I believe He gets excited at the prospect of His children enjoying Him. Knowing Him. So don’t come out of obligation, but out of invitation from the Most High.
God is seeking you to join the Feast
God’s not done with you. He pursues us:
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
A pastor and writer, John Stott, says that the word follow is more like pursue or chase. God chases us with His goodness and mercy.
Think about your current situation. Do you think of God like this? Treating you as if you are in His Beloved Son? Or do you think of God as just having forgiven you with a promise of eternal life after you die? Those are amazing things, but God’s love is more than that. God has not just left you to endure hell on earth. God is for you. His emotions and thoughts are for you. He is wanting you to experience Him as the Fountain of every blessing.
God does not see you as a simple sinner. He sees you as being linked inseparably to His Son. Whatever you do, whether you yield something in your life this lent season or not, hold on to this truth.
Let’s close with a final look at the story of the prodigal son again. The son comes back and begs for forgiveness, thinking that perhaps his father will forgive him of his rebelliousness and let be merciful by letting him live as a slave:
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
It’s funny to me, because this son has nothing to give. His resume includes being the shame of his hometown and being the indulgent son of a rich noble. His employment history consists of being a pig feeder. Not the most marketable skill in a Jewish community.
22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.
Let’s join the feast.