What does Jesus’ hospitality tell us about God’s character?

Hospitality is a huge topic in the Bible so I’ve broken it up into two parts. Today I’m going to focus on God’s hospitality, particularly in Jesus, and next week I’m going to focus on imitating that hospitality. Before we can figure out the significance of His hospitality, we need to look at what hospitality is.

Broadly speaking hospitality can be defined as:

Google's definition of hospitality

It’s a nice concept. I think we all like friendly and generous receptions, and to be entertained by hospitable hosts.

It’s also worth looking at the word in the New Testament’s original language (Greek) that gets translated as “hospitality” in English:

philoxenos
philo (love) + xenos (stranger)
love of strangers

It is similar to:

philanthropy, which is the love of humanity

It is the opposite of:

xenophobia
xeno (stranger) + phobia (fear)
fear of strangers

Throughout the Bible there are countless passages that describe and command us to love others, even strangers—frequently this is done by showing hospitality, and hospitality usually involves meals. As Mike Breen says:

If you take the mountains and meals out of the Bible, it’s a very short book. In a world of competing church models and strategies … Jesus employed one practice over all others: sharing a meal with people. … grace, mission and community are never enacted best through programmes and propaganda, but rather through the equality and acceptance experienced at the common table. May our lives never be too busy to live this out.

Mike Breen, 3DM leader and author

This quote is part of Mike’s review of Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering grace, community & mission around the table (AMWJ). I’ve drawn extensively from this book for this post, in some ways this is an appetiser for the book, as I highly recommend reading it.

Chester starts his book by pointing out an interesting connection between the three, “The Son of Man has come to” passages:

The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 19:10, HCSB

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45, HCSB

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking

Luke 7:34a, HCSB

Part of the way Jesus seeked and served was by eating and drinking—that is by either showing hospitality or participating in it as a guest. And we know Jesus did frequently eat and drink, as He was criticised for doing it.

Then they said to Him, “John’s disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but Yours eat and drink.”

Luke 5:33, HCSB

“Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Luke 7:34b, HCSB

And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”

Luke 15:2, HCSB

So the first observation I want to make about Jesus’ hospitality is that it shows us that He is down-to-earth. That God values all creation, even common things, like food and drink, indeed hospitality plays an important part in His rescue mission.

Most of the Jews wanted and expected the Son of Man to come with a mighty army to seek and destroy their enemies, not to seek and save them! They were only expecting hospitality for themselves, not sinners and certainly not their enemies.

Jesus’ evangelism and discipleship often involved meals (Chester gives a list from Luke’s Gospel, AMWJ, p14). Jesus:

  • eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi.
  • is at a meal when He is anointed by the weeping woman.
  • feeds the five thousand in the wilderness.
  • eats at the home of Martha and Mary.
  • is at a meal when He condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
  • is at a meal when He urges people to invite the poor to their meals.
  • invites Himself to dinner with Zacchaeus.
  • eats the Last Supper.
  • has a meal with two disciples in Emmaus after the Resurrection.
  • appears to the disciples in Jerusalem and eats fish with them.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.

Robert Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p14

But hospitality is more than just a meal. It is welcoming someone into your home or space, listening and sharing—a sign of friendship. It was one of the reasons the religious elite complained that Jesus was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the table fellowship for cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the first century … 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 … [So much so that] when persons were estranged, a meal invitation opened the way to reconciliation.

Tim Chester’s quote of Scott Bartchy, A Meal with Jesus, p19

It’s also worth remembering that a significant part of the Jewish Law revolved around food, what you could and couldn’t eat.

[In] all cultures meals represent ‘boundary markers’ between different levels of intimacy and acceptance. [An] analysis of the laws in Leviticus about food … [showed that] … they concerned boundary maintenance. … Policing the human body was a way of policing the social body by maintaining a common identity. Jewish food laws not only symbolized cultural boundaries; they also created them. It wasn’t easy for Jews to eat with Gentiles … You couldn’t be sure you were being offered kosher food prepared in a kosher way. … Scholars believe that Jews rarely ate with Gentiles in Jesus’ day.

Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p20

So you can see why the Pharisees were so angry at Jesus for breaking their rules and becoming unclean, from their perspective.

It’s not surprising that Jesus’ teaching also often included meals.

  • The parable of the narrow door warns that God may withhold hospitality to those who are apathetic.
  • The parable of the great banquet.
  • The parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin both end with the finder calling their friends and neighbours into their home to celebrate, presumably with a feast.
  • Similarly, the parable of the prodigal (lost) son ends with a feast to celebrate. Significantly, the turning point for the son was when he realised his father’s hospitality, even to the servants, was far better than the pig food that he was coveting.
  • The failure to show hospitality is condemned in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

But there’s more…

In the Old Testament, God revealed that:

In [the New] Jerusalem [when Jesus returns], the Lord Almighty will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.

Isaiah 25:6-8a, NLT/NIV

It’s a wonderful promise and would’ve come to mind when Jesus described His Kingdom as participating in a feast:

People will come from east and west and north and south [i.e. everywhere], and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:28, NIV

And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom

Luke 22:29-30a, NLT

Peter Leithart explains the significance of this.

For Jesus ‘feast’ was not just a ‘metaphor’ for the kingdom. As Jesus announced the feast of the kingdom, He also brought it into reality through His own feasting. Unlike many theologians, He did not come [simply] preaching an ideology, promoting ideas, or teaching moral maxims. He came teaching about the feast of the kingdom, and He came feasting in the kingdom.

Tim Chester’s quote of Peter Leithart, A Meal with Jesus, p15

As does Chester:

The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’ meals are not just symbols; they’re also applications. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories. It’s, well, it’s food, and you put it in your mouth, taste it and eat it. And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community and welcome.

Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p15

One of the crucial points I want to convey is that God’s hospitality gives us an insight into His character and shows us what He values. It is both practical and profound. It helps people now and points them to God and His future feast.

God’s hospitality also shows us how amazing and inclusive His grace is. As Isaiah said, this is “a wonderful feast for all the people of the world” and Jesus alludes to this when He says people will come to the feast from everywhere. Furthermore, He taught and demonstrated in His hospitality that our earthly categories didn’t matter—the invitation extended to everyone, even people the Jews elite rejected, like Roman centurions, Samaritan women, tax collectors, the poor, the sick, the blind, the crippled, and the Gentiles—which is most of us!

Finally we will look at how Jesus’ hospitality fulfilled the Old Testament and confirmed Jesus’ identity as God.

Luke 9:7-9: Herod asked if Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, Elijah, or another ancient prophet returning (e.g. Moses).

Luke 9:18-19: Jesus asks who do people say I am? Again the options are: John the Baptist, Elijah, or another prophet.

The feeding of the 5000, which is placed between the repeated question, sheds light on why the answer given in the next verse is none of the above but actually “God’s Messiah!”—God come down to rescue. The feeding of the 5000 wasn’t just Jesus providing some fast-food to get the disciples out of an awkward situation! No, it’s far more than that!

In verse 11 Jesus welcomed them, and had them sit down, the Greek word there is literally recline, as they would’ve done at a feast. The location is significant too, they were out in the wilderness, just like the Israelites in the OT had been. And again, they complained about the lack of food! Last time God answered Moses with manna from heaven, this time Jesus looked up to heaven and was miraculously answered with an abundant feast—everyone was satisfied and there was plenty leftover. So we see Jesus was a bit like Moses but even better. And Jesus will lead a new exodus, saving people not just from the Egyptians but all earthly and spiritual oppressors—even sin and death itself! (this is reinforced at the Transfiguration, v31, where Jesus discusses His exodus)

That’s very exciting but the feeding of the 5000 would’ve also reminded the people of the feeding of the 100 in the Old Testament. Guess who did that? It was it was Elisha, the prophet who Elijah handed the batten too—he literally gave him his cloak—to show that Elisha was the new Elijah. Elisha told his servant to feed 100 men with 20 loaves. Jesus told the disciples to feed 5000 men (plus their families!) with 5 loaves and 2 fish. God miraculously provided for Elisha’s 100 men, and there were leftovers. God miraculously provided for Jesus’ 5000 men, and surprise-surprise, there were leftovers. So we see Jesus was a bit like a new Elijah but again, Jesus is even better.

Not only would the feeding of the 5000 remind them of Moses and Elijah, it would’ve reminded them about Isaiah’s prophecy of the great feast, which I mentioned earlier. Isaiah goes on to say:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

Isaiah 55:1-2, NLT

And this scene is alluded to again, right at the end of the Bible, where God and Christians are united in extending hospitality to everyone who is thirsty.

The Spirit and the bride [Christians] say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this should say, “Come!” If you are thirsty, come! If you want life-giving water, come and drink it. It’s free!

Rev 22:17, CEV/NLT

Jesus provided for the 5000 without charge but we anticipate an even greater feast, one that will satisfy every physical and spiritual hunger and thirst. The feast in the New Creation is one we are unable to pay for but thankfully Jesus has paid for it so it’s free for everyone!

So to summarise:

What does Jesus’ hospitality tell us about God’s character?

  1. Hospitality is loving and welcoming people, particularly strangers or outsiders, into your home or space and usually involves eating and drinking.
  2. Tim Chester wrote a great book about hospitality called, A Meal with Jesus.
  3. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking to seek and save, to serve and give.
  4. Jesus spent most of time showing, receiving, and teaching hospitality.
  5. His hospitality displayed His:
    1. Friendship and grace
    2. Inclusivity/welcoming of everyone
    3. Invitation to reconciliation
    4. Valuing of creation, even common things, like food and drink
  6. Hospitality practically helped people, pointed people to God’s kingdom and feast, and indeed started God’s kingdom and feast.
  7. Jesus is a bit like Moses and Elijah but His provision of food/salvation is far greater and open to everyone because He has completely paid for it!

Summary of Walls’ Response to Burk’s ECT

I spent 11 posts carefully engaging Denny Burk’s entire case for Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. I’ve also summarised Stackhouse’s and Parry’s responses. The remaining co-contributor is Jerry Walls, who wrote a case for Purgatory.

Walls and Burk
Walls and Burk

Walls views hell as “eternal, conscious misery” and acknowledges that he broadly agrees with Burk’s exegesis. Although, unlike Burk, he notes that:

the biblical case for eternal hell [isn’t] decisive by itself, and in fact, I think both advocates of conditional immortality and universalism can make impressive exegetical cases for their views. But it is clear where the overwhelming consensus lies in the history of theology, and that is why I think the burden of proof remains on those who reject the traditional doctrine of hell as conscious, eternal misery.

Jerry Walls, page 55

I think Walls makes some helpful suggestions:

the debate must focus more on larger theological, philosophical, moral, and aesthetic issues and assess the various competing positions in light of these criteria. These issues should not be set in contrast to exegetical considerations, of course, nor is giving them their due an alternative to sound exegesis. To the contrary, these issues inevitably arise out of exegetical claims and conclusions, and they must be central to the conversation as we argue our case for whose exegesis is finally most convincing.

Jerry Walls, page 55

In light of this, Walls focuses on the larger issues that Burk mentioned:

[Many people] can hardly comprehend how [ECT] can be reconciled with the ways of a just and loving God.

Denny Burk, page 17

Like Stackhouse, Parry, and myself, Walls is concerned with the Burk’s view of justice and love in relation to ECT. First he looks at whether Burk’s parable proves ECT is just. He acknowledges that the parable shows that there is some relationship between the worth of a victim and the guilt of a perpetrator, but like Parry and myself, he sees problems:

there is profound disanalogy in the parable that undermines the central point he wants to establish … [as] we do not have the power to do anything to God that is remotely analogous to the harm the character in the parable inflicts on helpless creatures

Jerry Walls, page 56

Walls points out that Burk’s “sin against an infinitely glorious being is an infinitely heinous offense that is worthy of an infinitely heinous punishment” has well known defenders. However, Walls is very skeptical that it actually holds up because:

the notion of infinity is a difficult one, to put it mildly, and it is far from clear how infinity in one thing entails infinity in another that bears some sort of relation to it.

Jerry Walls, page 56

Walls gives a good example to illustrate that, before explaining the significance:

I am dubious that Burk has made the case that eternal hell as he conceives it is just.

Jerry Walls, page 56

Walls continues considering justice. He says it’s unclear where Burk stands on human freedom, responsibility, and guilt, and whether God gives each and every person equal grace, opportunity, and mercy. He notes that Burk doesn’t believe in postmortem salvation, and that this makes things harder as:

it certainly appears that many people have far more and better opportunities to hear the gospel and accept it in this life than many others who are less fortunate. The person who is raised in a loving family that regularly attends a healthy Bible-believing church, let’s say, has far more opportunity than a person raised in a slum whose mother is a prostitute and whose father is a violent drug dealer. Suppose the latter is exposed only to a garbled view of the gospel, which he rejects, and he is later killed as a teenager by a street gang. If the opportunity to receive Christ ends with death, it appears this person had little, if any, meaningful chance to receive grace and be saved. …

The notion that the opportunity to repent is over at death is hard enough to defend as a matter of justice … But it is impossible to square with the claim that God truly loves all persons and sincerely prefers the salvation of all. I do not think the Bible teaches that the opportunity to repent ends at death, and the reasons that have traditionally been given to support this claim are dubious. … If God, whose mercy endures forever, is not willing that any should perish, but that all will come to repentance, wishes to extend his grace after death, he is certainly capable of enabling sinners to repent …

Jerry Walls, page 57-58

I love Walls’ next point about Justice:

Is hell somehow necessary to demonstrate God’s justice? Does God need eternal hell fully to glorify himself? Assuming Burk affirms substitutionary atonement, was God’s justice not sufficiently demonstrated in the death of Christ?

Jerry Walls, page 57-58

Walls now moves on to questions about Burk view of God’s love. He wonders whether Burk thinks God really loves each and every sinner, and does everything within His power to save them. Walls thinks we get mixed messages from Burk―that sometimes he makes statements like this:

If his mercy was big enough and wide enough to include you, is it not sufficient for your neighbor as well?

Denny Burk, page 43

This sounds like he means to say there is grace sufficient to save all persons so that those who end up in hell do so because they have persistently rejected grace that was available to save them.

Jerry Walls, page 59

Another example is Burk’s quote of Spurgeon, which Walls’ discusses:

Does he believe God loves all fallen sinners with a heart of true compassion as suggested in the lines from Spurgeon? Or does he believe only that we should exert this sort of effort to win them to Christ, but that God may not love them in the same way? If so, this puts us in the ironic situation of loving these sinners more than God does.

But again, ironically, on Spurgeon’s own theology, God could give all such sinners his irresistible grace that would determine them gladly, joyfully, and most freely to come to Christ. And if they persist in going to hell, it is because he did not favor them with such grace. … For theological determinists, human freedom is no barrier to salvation for anyone God is willing to save.

Jerry Walls, page 59

But that at other times Walls notes that Burk sounds like a determinist, a position Walls is very critical of, for example:

the doctrine of hell is morally indefensible, given theological determinism. … Does [Burk] believe God is glorified in giving irresistible grace to some, while damning others who are not given such grace, and who consequently cannot do other than sin and disobey God? Is this what he means when he says

“the existence of hell serves to demonstrate eternally the glory of God’s justice in his judgment on sin”?

… But how can it be said with a straight face that God loves persons from whom he withholds the saving grace

Jerry Walls, page 57

Walls admits that ECT is a difficult doctrine for everyone but thinks it’s slightly easier if people are only in hell because they really, really don’t want to ever have anything to do with God―even despite God giving them postmortem opportunities because of His neverending, genuine love for them.

Love or Glory? What Motivates God?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―10

Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. In this post I’ll start engaging with his conclusion.

The Bible teaches that God has created the world for the purpose of exalting the glory of his own name (Isa. 42:8; 43:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory 1, whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:7, ESV

I think the Bible’s teaching is more nuanced. I think that the Father created everything through and out of love for Jesus:

For by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:16, ESV (cf John 1:3, Romans 11:36)
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 3:35, ESV (cf Hebrews 1:2)

And that out of love for the Father, Jesus brings back everything to Him:

but I [Jesus] do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

John 14:31a, ESV

Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

1Corinthians 15:24, ESV (cf Philippians 2:6-7)

I think Jesus loves the gift (creation) that the Father has given Him and that the Father loves the gift (creation) that Jesus gives Him. So much so that God gives Himself to ransom/restore/reconcile/save creation:

and through Him [Jesus] to reconcile everything to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross—whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Colossians 1:20, HCSB

Heaven must receive him [Jesus] until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Acts 3:21, NIV

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time.

1Timothy 2:3-6, NABRE

So I think it makes sense that this other focused love is also the telos of creation―our purpose given by God.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us [which includes loving]. They will reign over [care for] the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

Genesis 1:26, NLT

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Matthew 22:37, NIV

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1John 3:11, NIV

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children [a reflection] of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45a, NIV

Anyway, I agree with Burk that God deserves all glory and will receive it. Although I think it will be freely given. The Father freely gives Jesus glory, Jesus freely gives the Father glory, and one day all humanity will freely give God glory. To me, this makes more sense of how Jesus spoke about glory:

Jesus answered, “… But I do not seek my glory; there is the one seeking and judging. … If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my father glorifying me, whom you say that ‘He is your God.'”

John 8:49a-50,54b, Apostolic Bible Polyglot

I realise that’s a lot of commentary about one sentence by Burk but our beliefs about our purpose―what God intended―significantly affects the rest of our theology 2. However, moving on to Burk’s next sentence:

He means to manifest both his justice and his mercy in his disposition of sinful humanity (Ex. 34:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

He continues to show his love to thousands of generations, forgiving wrongdoing, disobedience, and sin. He never lets the guilty go unpunished, punishing children and grandchildren for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:7, GWT

I agree, although encouragingly the punishment in Exodus 34:7 is significantly less than the love and forgiveness―thousands of generations vs four generations, which is actually reduced to one in Ezekiel 18:20!

The person who sins will die. A son will not be punished for his father’s sins, and a father will not be punished for his son’s sins. The righteousness of the righteous person will be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be his own.

Ezekiel 18:20, GWT

Back to Burk:

Those who follow Christ are “vessels of mercy” who show forth “the riches of His glory” (Rom. 9:23). Those who do not follow Christ and go to judgment are like Pharaoh, whom God raised up “to demonstrate My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Rom. 9:17). In short, God is glorified in both mercy and justice, and the existence of hell serves to demonstrate eternally the glory of God’s justice in his judgment on sin.

Denny Burk, page 42

I agree that God is glorified in mercy and justice, although I don’t see those two in opposition. God’s mercy isn’t unjust, nor is His justice unmerciful. Both work together towards his purpose of realizing love between everyone.

I agree God is just in His judgment on sin. However, sin is an impediment to the harmonious relationships that God made us for. Therefore, now that Jesus, on the cross, has overthrown the power of sin, I think God is working towards eradicating all sin, through conversion and sanctification. Once all sin is gone, I can see no need for any ongoing judgment.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.

1 Peter 3:18, HCSB

I cannot imagine anything more glorious that seeing God justly bringing everything that has ever been created, to freely, wholeheartedly, and eternally love and worship Him as He deserves and intended.

Creation


1. Most English translations seem to skip the Greek word ‘en‘ (usually translated ‘in’), which seems to change the meaning. e.g. Apostolic Bible Polyglot translation is ‘For in my glory I carefully prepared’
2. See also Why Did God Create Man?