Transformative time around a meal plays a prominent role throughout the Bible. Surely this was in mind when the Lord God told the people of Israel, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). Sitting together at home most assuredly hinted toward eating together.
Some of the most well-known meals in the Bible were true disasters, and not because the cooks were not capable. Genesis 25:29 and following present to us the fateful supper during which Esau, allowing his physical appetite to get the best of him, forfeits his treasured birthright for the simple bowl of stew that his brother Jacob had prepared. This sets up a disastrous scenario for Esau, one that is talked about for millenia (see, for instance, Hebrews 12:16-17).
Then there is the infamous feast of King Herod, as recorded in Matthew 14:1 and following, during which in a drunken stupor Herod and his partygoers consented to the brutal murder of John the Baptist, one of the greatest prophets of the Bible. And of course the most notorious meal of all would be the simple one shared between Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:1 and following—a meal that defined rebellion and plunged them and all of us into damnation.
But then many of the meal-moments in the Bible are positively instructive to us, calling us to emulate their spirit and impact. Consider, for instance, the refreshing pair of meals prepared for the weary prophet Elijah as recorded in 1 Kings 19:1-8. When God saw his servant was afraid and tired and on the run, he sent an angel to care for him and encourage him with food and rest.
Consider, too, the meal given in honor of Jesus and Lazarus after Lazarus was raised by Jesus from the dead, as recorded in John 12:1 and following. Families and friends gathered together to celebrate life and the precious gift of friendship. It was a very special evening, made even more so by the woman Mary’s unique acknowledgment that Jesus was to die so sinners could have life.
Fellowship around the table sometimes amplifies honor. Just ask Mephibosheth, a crippled man who was seen by most as King David’s archenemy, but who by David’s mercy was invited to dine forever at David’s table and live in David’s home (see 2 Samuel 9:13).
Then there is the meal Jesus had with his close friends just before his arrest. Commonly known as the Last Supper, this celebration of the Passover Feast was far more than food and drink. During the meal Jesus shared extensively about the nature of true love, God’s mission to redeem sinful humanity, the role the Holy Spirit will play for those who follow Christ, and so much more. If ever a mealtime embodied servantheartedness, instruction, prayer, celebration, and transparency, this meal was it (see John 13-17).
One of the most touching meals in the whole Bible is also found in the Gospel of John. In the last chapter Jesus prepares a simple breakfast on the sandy shores of the Sea of Galilee for his friends Peter and James and John and a few others. These men were emotionally raw and physically tired, not only because they had been fishing all night, but primarily because the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection had taken a toll on their souls; particularly Peter who was now infamous for having publically denied knowing Jesus. Yet Jesus served them a meal, encouraged their hearts, and spoke words of healing to them all, including Peter (see John 21:9 and following).
We could cite many more meals from the Scriptures, speaking of their unique value and the lessons learned. The general importance of these things can be boiled down to a small handful of benefits. Consider the following:
First, mealtime is an excellent way to celebrate God’s abundance in our lives. That we even eat anything is indicative of grace.
Secondly, mealtime is a tremendous place to highlight the inherent value of every individual participating.
Thirdly, mealtime is a perfect time to unpack life-transforming wisdom through rich conversation, laughter, tears, and the mere presence of those we love.
Fourthly, mealtime is time to refresh and encourage, a time to pause and rest—a time to recharge.
Statistics show that families, whatever their make-up might be, that enjoy meals together, are more tightly knit in positive ways, see fewer family members caught up in at-risk behavior, enjoy better nutrition, have meaningful and natural “check-in” times with one another, and better affirm timeless and enduring values. It seems that meals together are one of those sweet and natural opportunities, certainly celebrated by God himself, for us to come together, grow together and aim together for things transcendent.
These things said, let me encourage you to be highly intentional in creating mealtime moments with those you love. Even a couple a week is significant, and makes an tremendous difference in the lives of everyone involved.
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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “Meals at Home,” a sermon highlighting Bethel Church’s @Home ministry, a ministry geared toward empowering families to thrive, presented on the weekend of September 16, 2012, at Bethel Church.