ENEMIES AT THE TABLE-PSALM 23:5 In college, I was part of an organization called Young Life. Our freshman year was dedicated to training and then we went to serve on local high school campuses thereafter. As part of our training, our area director would meet with us every week and lead us through discipleship process. After one evening, he mentioned, informally, hey, why don’t you guys come over to our house for dinner next week? Here’s the thing: I didn’t have a planner in college. I couldn’t have told you when most of my tests were coming or even generally, my schedule most of the time, BUT if you invited me over for dinner, you better believe I was going to be there! So he did invite us over for dinner. My roommate and I pulled up to the house and we were the only car there. My initial thought was, “More for me. Thank you very much for forgetting about this glorious invitation.” We went up and knocked on the door. When our area director opened up the door from the initial look you could tell he was not expecting us. We reminded him of the invitation and he said, “Oh yeah. Let me go remind my wife.” Which was code for I need to tell my wife you’re here. There was an exchange that happens between husband and wife where, in one look, it’s the I’m sorry…please forgive me….I’m in the doghouse look and do we have enough food for these ravenous freshman guys? Most normal people at that point would say, “You know what? You weren’t expecting us. Let’s reschedule for next week.” You know this by now….I am not most normal people!!! We awkwardly, gingerly walked in their house where she exclaimed, “I’m sure we have enough food to go around!” They pulled us up a seat at their dinner table. We ate dinner. The food started to dwindle and it was clear they didn’t have enough food to go around. But that didn’t matter to us, because we were going to get ours! The whole time we were eating I’m looking around the table going, “We are not suppose to be here! They did not expect us to come!” It was a little bit awkward. Most normal people would have said I’m out. But we bore it and we made it through the dinner.
As I was thinking about that this week, I think there’s a lot of followers of Jesus who feel the same way about the invitation God’s given them. The Kingdom of God, in the Scriptures, is described In Matthew 22:2 as a feast, as a banquet. As a feast that a father throws for his son. Jesus says this is what the Kingdom of God is like…it’s sorta like a party. It’s a feast with great food and good drinks and celebration and this is Jesus’ picture of the kingdom. A lot of followers of Jesus that I interact and talk with sit around that kingdom table with this sneaking suspicion, “I really wasn’t invited to this. I really don’t deserve the place at the table that I’m sitting in. If Jesus really found me out, I’d be gone.” In this epic poem, this 3000 year old, beautiful depiction of the heart of God, David’s going to put his finger on why you and I often feel that way. One of the reasons we love this poem, we love this psalm is because we can relate to it. It has really high highs and really low lows and in this section, David’s going to say, “I know how you feel when you’re sitting at the banquet table. And I know why you feel that way. I know why you look around and go I don’t deserve to be here and this shouldn’t be my seat.” He’s going to put his finger on something that runs true for most of humanity….you may be able to relate to it. Listen to what he says. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {As if to say, God satisfies every need, every desire that I have.} He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. {He brings me back when I run away is literally what the Hebrew reads. He brings me home.} He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. {At that point we’re all going yes, yes and amen. And David also continues and invites us into the struggle that all of humanity has where there’s really high highs…..we’re satisfied in the abundance of his love and goodness and then we seems to walk through the valley some times. You can probably relate.} Even through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, {Why? Because the Good Shepherd’s with me. Because God’s with me. He says, in addition to that, it’s not only that God’s with me, but that he’s active in the valley.} for you are with me; your rod and your staff, {Your protection and your correction…even in the valley, they comfort me, they strengthen me. God, you haven’t let me go. God, you are with me even now.} they comfort me.
He continues with: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking back at God and going, “Really? They have to be there, too? Couldn’t you just wipe them out?” Here’s the reality that we’re going to look at in Scripture is that God has defeated all of your enemies, but he hasn’t destroyed them. They still show up to dinner sometimes. You know this….and I know this. Let’s do a quick little survey: Who in the room is free from struggle? Free from pain? Anybody free from doubts? Free from wrestling with God? Free from looking at life some times and going, “I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing here, God?” No one! And here’s why: Because God doesn’t destroy all of our enemies, he defeats them. In fact, he says, “I am making a table before you.”
Kenneth Bailey, the great scholar who has so much information about the Palestinian region, says this about this passage: This is a picture of the way that God’s character is unconfinable to solely masculinity or solely femininity. But this picture of preparing a table is a picture of one of God’s feminine attributes. He says that NO male would have ever prepared a table or a meal in the presence of anyone in the time that David’s writing this! Nor would you have wanted them to! This is a picture of some of God’s feminine attributes or qualities. He’s a great host. Makes a great meal. Has a banquet feast! You know who’s present at that meal! All throughout the Scriptures, this idea of a table or idea of a meal is a picture of joy. It’s a picture of celebration! In the story of the prodigal son, it’s a picture of the father’s victory and the son’s welcome home with a celebration thrown, the fatted calf killed and dancing and partying that ensues. This is the picture we should think of as we read David saying “You prepare a table. You prepare a festival. You prepare joy and goodness and victory before me.” And you invite my enemies?? Is this really the way that God works? Here’s what I often think: God, I’m a child of yours. I’m deeply loved and if you could just, not only defeat, like you did on the cross, but also destroy, wipeout, eliminate from my life completely and totally, my enemies….THEN…we can have a feast. Then we can celebrate. Then we can party. Many followers of Jesus are waiting for exactly that!
The only problem is….God prepares a table before you not in the absence of your enemies, but in the presence of your enemies. So as followers of Jesus, I think we need to get a little bit better at feasting on the gospel of grace in the presence of pushback. In the presence of enemies. In the presence of failure and defeat and things not going the way that we want. We have to get a lot better at eating with our enemies. Jesus was really good at this. It’s one of the things that got him killed. He ate with people that most folks, especially religious people, would say there’s no way we’re eating with them. In fact, there were whole New Testament communities that formed out in the desert for the express purpose of saying, “We don’t want to be tainted by people that might make us unclean.” One of the things that frustrated religious people the most about Jesus was that he was very comfortable dining with people who others thought were his enemies. In fact, listen to the way he talks about this in Luke 15:1-2. Luke’s recording for us this story about Jesus. Listen to what the people say about Jesus: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Right after that incident, Jesus tells three parables. One is about a woman who loses a coin and searches the whole night and the whole house to find that coin and celebrates when she finds it. The second parable is about a shepherd who has 100 sheep….loses one…goes and finds the one, brings him back and celebrates…throws a party because he’s so excited that this sheep is found. The third story is about a father who loses a son and when the son comes homes, the father prepares a FEAST, a meal. So Jesus starts off with getting accused of eating with sinners and ends his tri-fold parable didactic teaching by declaring, “I just don’t eat with sinners, I welcome them home! They’re part of my family and I rejoice at the fact that they dwell at my table!”
So, Jesus didn’t have a problem eating with his enemies. Do you??? What David says in Psalm 23 is that the feast that Jesus is preparing is a feast that’s not just for you…..a feast of grace…a feast of mercy…a feast of his goodness and presence and provision and protection and sustenance…but it’s a feast that takes place as your enemies look on. They’re defeated but they’re not destroyed. You know this. I know this. We just need to get better at eating in their presence. So it’s a metaphor….David’s psalm. The meal is joy, gladness, celebration and lavishness. The enemies are the people, the things, the thought processes, the circumstances, life not going the way Jesus intended it to go, the influence of sin in your life. These are all our enemies and you could think of 100 more. The meal is joy and gladness. The enemies are life not going the way that we would long for it to go. Here’s what David says: God prepares a table before you. A table of abundance. A table of grace. A table of mercy. A table of goodness. Even as people oppose you and circumstances don’t go your way and sin creeps in and so easily entangles as the author of Hebrew says….and even then….so God prepares this table before you while your enemies push back against you. This is the art of following Jesus. This is part of becoming a disciple…..is to sit down at the table with your enemies and learn how to feast on the goodness of the gospel in their presence.
Here’s the big idea we’re going to circle our hearts and minds around this morning. Here’s God invitation to us through Psalm 23:5: Confront your “enemies” with gospel authority and enjoy Christ’s sufficiency! I have two approaches oftentimes to my enemies. One is that I try to avoid them. I try to ignore them….if there’s a sin in my life, typically, I’ll either ignore it and avoid it. If I’m wrestling with anger or bitterness, I’m really good at keeping things in their sorta compartment over there…..I’ll avoid it. Let’s just not think about it. Let’s not talk about it, maybe it’ll go away. Or I can work really, really hard in order to be victorious against those things. So, I’ll either avoid or I’ll engage and work at it with my own effort. But what would it look like to not avoid our enemies or the things that sorta push back against our following Jesus wholeheartedly? What would it look like not to avoid them and not to work at it with our own effort and engaging them and trying to be victorious against them? What would it look like to say, “Welcome to dinner?” As your enemies stare back at you, whatever they are, my guess is you start to hear things in the back of your mind like, “They’re the reason I shouldn’t be here. I’m unworthy. I’m sure this is an awkward dinner for you, God. I’m sure you weren’t expecting me, because of all the junk in my life. There is no way I could actually feast with my enemies looking right back at me!” The truth of the matter is, in Scripture, Paul writes to the church at Colossae and says this: And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13-15) He made a spectacle out of your enemies! That doesn’t mean they’re not at your table, it just means that they’re defeated already. He made a spectacle out of them by triumphing over them in him, in Jesus. Here’s my invitation today: To believe THAT fully and to sit down at the table of grace and mercy in the presence of your enemies and to enjoy the feast that the gospel provides for you. Here’s the thing….Jesus is buying! He’s taking care of the meal. Don’t reach for your wallet to try to leave a tip. He’s got that, too. He’s got it covered, followers of Jesus. He says, “This is my feast. This is my grace. This is my meal. You pull up to the table, not in the absence of your enemies, but in the presence of your enemies and feast on me even then!” You may be going what are some of the enemies that he invites us to feast in front of? Glad you asked that. I got a few. These are just mine, you have your own, I’m sure. Fear. Fear is one of the greatest crippling agents in the life of the believer. Fear and faith cannot coexist….one trumps the other. We either live in faith or we live in fear, but we cannot live in both. One of the reasons the Bible speaks so directly against fear…..and in 1 John 4:18, John says: ….perfect love casts out fear. Literally it means “pushes” fear, as you embrace his love, pushes fear out of your life. Why is he so passionate about writing about fear? He knows that fear has the ability to cripple you. The problem with fear is that it has a number of different faces. See if any of these relate to you. One of the faces of fear is WORRY. Fear expresses itself in worry in that we live in the reality, we embrace this reality of future failure before we even get there. A fear of what’s going to happen in the future robs us of being present in the NOW and robs us of the life that Jesus intends for us to live. So maybe, you pull a seat up at your table for fear. And you say back to fear: Wow, you’re looking pretty intimidating there, Fear. (Ryan takes bite of cinnamon roll.) Grace and mercy of God is really delicious! Sure, who knows what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.
Maybe it doesn’t look like anxiety and worry in your life, maybe it looks like anger. Anger is fear….we’re trying to preemptively strike against whatever we’re fearful of before we get to it. So if we can be angry, we don’t have to be fearful. As guys we’re really good at this. Here’s our typical thought in Christianity: Let me give four steps to conquering fear! Four steps to conquering anger. Or four steps to getting beyond worry. Let me give you ONE STEP—–FEAST on the goodness of the gospel in the presence of your enemies! Allow the grace of God to weed out the power of your enemies as you live and walk and abide in his glorious love. We’re really good at running away! We’re really good at working on it on our own, but are we good at going God’s grace and mercy is sufficient and enough for me in every season and Fear, I’m not giving you the foothold in my life because Jesus has already defeated you!! (Ryan takes a bite!) But welcome to the table! Worry. Anxiety. Anger. Loneliness. Fear of being known, so you build all these walls. What does it look like to feast on the goodness of the gospel in the presence of our enemies? Enemy one – fear. Enemy two – Failure. You and I both have these thoughts when we sit down at the banquet of grace, at the feast of the Kingdom of God. We have a million different reasons why we don’t deserve to be sitting in this seat and they seem to come up right when we start to rest and abide in Jesus, don’t they? I don’t know about you, but I have a million thoughts in my mind when I start to read about abiding and I try to abide in his presence and the enemy just seems to go straight for my heart and go well, you can’t abide because of the things in your past! Because you walked through that….because you went there…because you did that…there’s no way you could actually be embraced by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And you and I, oftentimes, start to believe that lie. We go well, you’re right! Really, the invitation for the seat at the table is there, it has like a “reserved” sign on it. It’s reserved for me. It’s mine, but I only get to sit in it when I clean up my life. I only get to actually sit down at the buffet of presence and grace and mercy when I clean myself up; well, then I can come and receive grace. Does that make sense to anyone? We can come and feast on grace after we don’t necessarily “need it” anymore? As if you ever get there!
The table’s prepared before you in the presence of your enemies and here’s what the Scriptures say about you. Let it wash over you this morning. Not only is dinner guest #1 fear, guest #2 is failure. Here’s what the Scriptures say about you with Paul writing to the Roman church. He says: There is {When? Now! So I’m with Paul here. It’s not some day. It’s not “when you get it all together.” The seat’s reserved, but you can sit in it when you get it all together.} There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You’ve got to look at your past and your failures and the things you messed up and go that is terrible. I don’t want to diminish it at all! A lot of what we walked through has been…..which makes the grace of God all the more beautiful! We’re great at justifying our past. We’re great at running from our past. We’re great at holding it at arm’s length. What would it look like, as a body of Christ, to be great at feasting on the gospel as our past looks on? Pasts we’re comfortable with. What about present? What about sins we’re struggling with right now? Theologically, are we okay with that? Or do we need to clean up before we get to the seat? It’s all determined by how you, in your mind, trust that you are made right to sit at that table, not looking around going I shouldn’t be here, I didn’t earn this, I don’t deserve this. Is it you or is it Jesus??! It’s not both, it’s one or the other. It’s either you or Jesus, so even in the presence of your failure right NOW, TODAY….(Ryan takes bite of roll)…if not for the grace of God, I would be the most wretched sinner, but because of his grace, I am the most…you are the most holy of saints! You know what the Scriptures say? That you are…..the sin loses its grip, its power, its dominion…Romans 6:14…over your life as you recognize that you are no longer under law but under grace. As you learn to eat at the gospel of his goodness and mercy…mmmmm (another bite)….even in the presence of your enemies….it loses its hold. The Scriptures say that where sin abounds, grace doesn’t just meet it and go alright I’m enough for you, grace trumps it!! Super abundance is sorta the Greek word. It’s this picture of a waterfall of mercy and grace that flows over you. Listen to the way Walt Marshall puts it in his great book The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: “You cannot love God if you are under the continual secret suspicion that he is really your enemy! … You simply cannot love God unless you know and understand how much he loves you. … In the gospel, you can come to know that God truly loves you through Christ. When you have this assurance, you can even love your enemies, because you know that you are reconciled to God. You know that God’s love will make people’s hatred of you work together for your good.” He says you can pull up a table even in the presence of your enemies. Dinner Guest #3: Lies. Scriptures say that Satan is the Father of All Lies, he is the enemy of your soul. He would love to steal, kill and destroy you. From the very beginning, you and I—humanity—have been buying his lies hook, line and sinker. Believing that there’s more life outside of God than there is inside of following Him. That’s really the original sin. There going we’re buying the lie that there’s life that’s out there that God doesn’t want for us. Here’s the invitation and this is a harder one. These two (Fear & Failure), I think in a way, are easy for us to identify with. The harder enemy to pull up to the table is LIES. Here’s two lies that Scripture seems to continually address over and over and over. One is the lie of RELIGION. It’s the lie that in the back of your mind that says if you perform God will love you a little bit more. If you accomplished….he would have his check list out there and go “Check. Check. Check. Let’s invite Paulson to the table.” It’s a lie that Jesus continually pushes against. The New Testament writers of Scripture continually push against saying, “No, it’s not based on your merit, it’s not based on your performance, it’s nothing that you do. The only thing you bring to the party is the sin necessary for God’s beautiful redemption. You bring that….you do that well.” The only thing necessary is God’s grace. This is the difference between religion and Gospel. I love the way that, once again, Walt Marshall puts it when talking about this lie specifically. His book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, was written in 1692 and it’s brilliant! He says this: “The real insult to Christ is when you condemn the fullness of his grace and merit by trying to make yourself righteous and holy before you receive him! You condemn the justice and holiness of God when you try to improve yourself before you receive the righteousness and holiness that can only come through faith in Christ.”
Second lie is my sin won’t affect me and my sin won’t find me; I can keep it segregated, I can keep it compartmentalized and it won’t really affect my life. It’s the opposite side of the coin. You need to bring that lie to your table. What we need to do with it is remind ourselves of the nature and character of God. It disarms the lie that says there’s more life outside of Jesus. Here’s what we do….as we…(takes a bite of roll)…look at his cross and as we look at his mercy, the lie that says there’s more life outside of the way of Jesus is disarmed. The lie that says hold on to your bitterness (because) it’ll actually make you more powerful is disarmed. The lie that says hold on to your anger (because) it’s really doing you good is disarmed. The lie that says my lust won’t affect anybody else is disarmed. And we bring those lies to the table and we start to rest under the grace and mercy of the words of Jesus who says, “I long for your obedience for two reasons. One is that you might abide in, make your dwelling place in my love. Not to earn my love, but as you walk with me you’re going to recognize that’s where you live. You’re going to wake up in the morning with a clear conscience, under his grace and under his mercy, and say God, you are good and I’m a child of yours. Thank you!” Second thing he says is that you might abide in my love and that you might know my joy. Don’t settle for less, friend. Bring that lie to the table and dwell on the goodness of the gospel in the presence of your enemies. Fourth and final dinner guest I’d like to introduce you to: Pride. In a masterful way, a way that’s unique amongst the world’s religions, the power of the gospel has the ability to elevate somebody. You are seated with Christ. You are the recipient, right now, of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, not one is withheld from you. You are holy, pure, spotless, blameless. You are elevated! Also, the gospel has this unique ability to hold, in tension, this humility that declares we couldn’t get there on our own; we needed the work of Jesus to bring us there. It both exalts and humbles, all in the same truth. The gospel confronts our pride. And so, as we feast on the goodness of grace we’re reminded…(another bite and talking with mouth full)…I needed Jesus. I need Jesus. We’re humbled, but we’re also reminded….I have him. I have Jesus. Pride has this unique ability to destroy the human life. Charles Spurgeon said it like this: “The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.” But when you bring up a chair for Pride at the feast of your enemies, you have to come to terms with this idea that we have: I can chart my own way….is absolute garbage. I can decide my own morality—-absolute garbage. I know what’s best, God, you can sorta take your cue from me is pride at it’s core. God, I’m smarter than you…has to die as we feast with that enemy.
So, friends, are you better at avoiding your enemies or feasting with them? Are you better at trying to work your way out of these things, or have you received the gospel of grace, the feast of the kingdom where Jesus says it’s already done…finished…conquered….I’ve been victorious….I am victorious….your enemies are in front of you, but they’ve been defeated and as you feast on the goodness of the gospel you actually start to step into that and live in it more and more. Not by avoiding them…not by working at it. But by going (Ryan takes bite) oh, yeah, your grace is amazing. Three things I want to give you as we close. Secrets to dining with your enemies. One, focus on the feast not on your enemies. What’s so easy to see is the faces of fear and failure and lies and pride looking back at me. I start to think of all the work I have to do, instead of remembering that Jesus has already done a glorious work. Is he still working in your life? Absolutely! Yes, he is….as you feast at the goodness of his banquet table. Look up at me for a second, friends. Don’t run FROM your enemies, run TO Jesus. He’s the author and perfecter of your faith. The author of Hebrews says don’t be snared by sin, don’t allow sins to easily entangle you, but, in contrast, fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.
As my oldest son picks on my daughter….and he just annoys the living daylights out of her!…my line to her is Avery, ignore him and he’ll go away. It’s the exact same thing my mom use to say to my brother as I was annoying him! Ignore him and he’ll go away. As in snuff him out, snuff Fear out. How? With washing yourself in the goodness of the gospel….in the presence of your enemies. Two, don’t wait for final victory to enjoy the festive feast. A lot of followers of Jesus are. They go I’ll feel okay at this table once these enemies are gone. This is really awkward. I can’t come to church with all my sin and all my failure. News flash: Everybody else does! I can’t enjoy your grace when I’m wrestling and struggling with all of this sin. Ironically, (Ryan biting into roll) the Scriptures say enjoying his grace is one of the ways he frees you from your sin. Don’t wait for final victory to enjoy the festive feast. Finally, remember, Jesus has purchased your seat at the table. You look at all your enemies who are gathered around the table and you look at them and you sit down in that seat and you look down that aisle and you look at yourself and go I’m not worthy and I didn’t deserve it and I didn’t earn it and this is really awkward, I shouldn’t even be here. Amen!! You shouldn’t! The gospel of Jesus is simply this: You shouldn’t! You can’t! But He will and He did! On Calvary’s hill he purchased and paid for every single one of your sins…..past…present…future. Cancelled the debt that was held against you. So when you start to look down the table and go well I shouldn’t be here and I don’t deserve it, you can remind yourself absolutely, no, I don’t! No, I don’t deserve to be here! But He purchased my seat, He purchased my way. His blood’s redeemed me! I am His own! I am His child and so, I will feast on the goodness of the gospel even in the presence of my enemies! And as I do that, Jesus will cause my enemies to lose their hold…for His glory and my joy! Friends, I pray we invite your enemies to your table and feast on the goodness of the gospel right in front of them!! Let’s pray. Jesus, our ask of you would be that you’d teach us how to do this. We admit we don’t do it very well. Lord, remind us of the place we stand with you…holy, spotless, blameless, pure. And even, Lord, as we wrestle with and struggle with and encounter the enemies that are present in our life right now, Lord, may the goodness of the gospel wash over us in a way that might free us. Might free us to receive your love and to live in it and to display it for the world around us. Help us run to you, Jesus. Remind us of all that you’ve done to purchase and make a way for us. Thank you that the seat at the table that is ours is purchased by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. May we enjoy the banquet of your grace all of our days. In your name we pray. Amen.