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James Merritt - A Seat at the Table

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    James Merritt - A Seat at the Table

Well, I wanna say good morning to all of those who are here and our Sugarloaf Campus. There are those who are on our Mill Creek Campus. Those who are watching online and, there are many of you and growing and those were watching by television. Thanks for being a part of what we're talking about today. It was one of the great honors of my life. I didn't expect it. And, it left me with a picture that as I say, is worth a thousand words. This is a photograph, of, me standing next to my two oldest son, James and Jonathan.

We're standing next to the 41st president of the United States, George H. W. Bush. We had been invited to a luncheon downtown in Atlanta. He was campaigning for someone running for governor, and frankly this day, I don't know how in the world I got invited not only to the luncheon, but my sons and I actually got to sit at the next little round table right next to President Bush. Because as you can imagine, normally those seats are reserved for, donors and people with political influence and connections and people with a lot of money. In other words, not people like me.

Now, there was absolutely nothing that I could give to President Bush, or anyone else in return for the honor and the privilege of having a seat at that table. I didn't ask for the invitation. I hadn't done anything to earn it. I didn't deserve it. I was there simply because of grace. That's all. And, I received something in other words from someone that, I didn't deserve. Which brings us to perhaps the most beautiful illustration of grace in the Old Testament and frankly, one of those beautiful pictures of grace in all of the Bible. And if you wanna look on with me today and you brought a copy of God's word or, whatever is you might use. We're in a book called second Samuel, chapter nine. It's right after first Samuel. If you don't know where that is, go to Genesis and turn right. Go about six or eight books and you'll hit second Samuel chapter nine.

If you are here for the first time, we are in a series, on King David. We're calling it, "Life lessons from the king". It's been one of the most fascinating studies I've ever done. One of the most enjoyable studies that I've ever done. And we've been stepping back into a time-tunnel of about 3000 years, and today as we read the story, keep in mind that David is at the very height, of his power. His kingdom was not the biggest in the world, but it was the only one that was absolutely invincible. So here's David. He's still a relatively young man. He's at the very apex and zenith of his life. And through his leadership, Israel has grown to 10 times its original size. They had never known a military defeat. The economy is booming. There's meat on every plate. There's a chariot in every garage. There are grapes on every vine. And the twin rivers of peace and prosperity, are flowing right down the countryside.

David's approval rating was 100%. Israel is eating out of the palm of his hand. And he could do anything he wanted to do. But today his mind is not on politics. It's not on the economy. It's not on the budget. It's not on the kingdom. Is not what more buildings can I build? Or what more lands can I conquer? Today, his mind is fixed on one particular family. So he calls all of his officials and all of his servants together, and he asked this question. "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul"? Now, before David finished that question, everybody thought they knew where David was going. Because back in the day, whenever a new dynasty came into power, it was just kind of a customary thing that the family of the previous king, will either be exiled or more likely be executed. Because there was always the threat of revolution against the new king.

And so, they wanted any threat to the throne, to be eliminated. And besides that, everybody knew that, as we've learned in this series, Saul and David were not exactly the best of friends. As a matter of fact, Saul had made David public enemy, number one. And until the end of his life, Saul had tried to kill David. So David asked a question that most any king would have asked in his position. "Hey by the way, is there anybody left of the guy? Anybody left of the family of the guy that I just took over from. Anybody left of his"? But they were shocked when he finished the question. "Is there anyone still left at the house of Saul, to whom I can show kindness, for Jonathan's sake"? The Hebrew word there for kindness is the Hebrew word, chested. It's one of those frequently used in all of the Old Testament. And it maybe the most beautiful word in the Old Testament. It's often referred to, as the primary characteristics of God, in the Old Testament. And is basically, the counterpart part to the New Testament word, grace.

So, it's kind of an equivalent. "Is there anyone that I could show grace to in Saul's family"? So, here's David once again. We understand why, he's a man after God's own heart, because he is reflecting the heart of God. If you could do open heart surgery on God, if that were possible, you would find a heart full of grace. See, this is not your kind of run to the middle of human kindness David's talking about. As a matter of fact, he clarifies this in verse three. He says, "Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God's kindness"? I don't wanna be just kind in a human way. I want to show this family member or members, whoever they might be. I wanna show them the kindness of God. In other words, here's what David was really asking. "Is there someone in the family of Saul that I can give the same grace to that God has given to me"?

And notice, he didn't just simply say, like, well, wait a minute now. Lemme put it this way. Is there somebody qualified? Is there somebody deserving? Is there somebody that's earned it? Or is there somebody out there of Saul's family that if I do something for them, they can do something for me? He just said, Is there anybody? Is there anybody out there, that even though they've not earned it, they don't deserve it. I don't have to do it. They can't do anything for me. Is there anyone out there that I can show the kindness and the grace of God? And so the story revolves around a man with one of the weirdest names you'll ever hear. You probably never heard it before. His name was, Mephibosheth. And I'm not making that up. That was the kid's name, Mephibosheth. Now, let's be honest. You either have to be drunk or in a bad mood to name a kid, Mephibosheth. Because not only is it a bad name, Mephibosheth, I mean, who wants to be nicknamed Phibo, right?

So, when you look at any story in the Bible and we will look at this story, you always need to answer three questions. Number one, why is it in the Bible? This is a good question asked. So why is this story even in the Bible? Number two, where is God in this story? You always wanna ask that question. And then number three, where am I in this story? Now, here's what you're going to see. In David, you're going to see a picture, of the savior, Jesus. In Mephibosheth, you're going to see a picture of the sinner, you and me. And then in the entire story you're going to see the picture, of salvation. And what you're gonna see, is why God's grace is so amazing. Listen to what David does for Mephibosheth, and it's a perfect picture of the grace of God. Number one, because of grace, God approaches me. Because of grace God approaches me.

Now in answer to David's question, a servant steps forward and he volunteers this information. Now, there was a servant of Saul's household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba"? "At your service," he replied. The king asked, "Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul, to whom I can show God's kindness"? Ziba answered the king, "Well, there's still a son of Jonathan. He is lame in both feet". Now, keep in mind that the very name Mephibosheth means, a shameful thing. And there's a reason for that. Even his name is going to clue us in that this guy, this Mephibosheth, Saul's son. He's really in, actually his grandson. He's really in a bad way. He is in a shameful condition because remember, he was of the house of Saul. Saul, was a mortal enemy of David. And so from the time he was born, the culture and the society would have said, "Okay, you better hide because you are an enemy of David. You were born into the wrong family. You've been corrupted from the time that you were born".

Well, how's that like us? We were all born in one sense, into the wrong family. We were all corrupted by birth. We were all born on the wrong side of the tracks. You say, what do you mean? We were all born imperfect. We were all born unlike God. We were all born to go our own way, not God's way. We're not imperfect by choice, we're imperfect by nature. The reason why we choose to do wrong things sometimes, is because we were born with this natural propensity to do the wrong thing because there's one thing that comes naturally to everybody who's ever born and that's what the Bible calls, sin. In other words, we do what we do because we are what we are. We sin, because, we are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin. And go back again to answer and listen to how Ziba answers this question when he says, when David says, "Okay, who's in Saul's family that I can show kindness to"? Listen to what Ziba says. "There's still a son of Jonathan. He is lame in both feet".

Now, the reason why Mephibosheth is handicapped in this way, is because when word came back, when he was a little boy, that Saul and Jonathan had been killed, the servants that were in the house taking care of Mephibosheth, said, "Okay, we're in trouble. Now that Saul is dead and Jonathan is dead, we're the ones left in the family of Saul. David will come after us. He's going to kill us". And so, his servant picks Mephibosheth up. He's five years old. She picks him up, she begins to run away with him, but somehow she dropped him. He landed awkwardly. And because of that, he permanently injured both of his feet. Now, the important thing is this. Why does Ziba add that comment? Why would she even say that? Why she didn't just say, Mephibosheth? She said no. She called his name Mephibosheth, but then she said, "Oh, by the way, he's lame, in both feet". Because she wanted David to know what he was getting into.

So he couldn't come to David. David had to come to him. He couldn't approach David on his own, because you cannot come to the king without an invitation. So in other words, if there's ever going to be any relationship between Mephibosheth and David, David had to make the first move. David had to initiate the contact. David had to give the invitation. Now up front, we already know something. There's not one thing that David can do for, of that Mephibosheth can do for David. David will have to do everything for Mephibosheth. But, there's more. David asked another question. He said, "Well, where is he"? As Ziba answered, "He is at the house of Machir, son of Ammiel in Lo Debar".

Now, it's amazing how the Bible is so descriptive of certain stories. And there's a lot of description here. We're told that he is in Lo Debar. You know what the word Lo Debar means? It means a place of no pasture. In other words, what that really means is, Oh, he's living on the backside of a trailer park out in the country that you really can't get to from here. He's on the backside of the desert. He is all alone, all by himself. So here was the grandson, of a former king, living in the middle of nowhere. He was not who he could have been. He didn't have, what he should have had. He is a nobody, going nowhere, in a hurry. And not only did it not have any reason to ever think that of all people, the king would come knocking on his door. The truth of the matter is, he didn't want the king knocking on his door. Except to put him out of his misery. That would be the only reason, the king would show up. He was a lot more concerned about a spear, through his neck, or a sword through his heart, that he was about David showing up. But the unthinkable did happen.

The king leaves the throne, and approaches Mephibosheth, just the way God approaches us. All because of grace. You remember this? You don't come to God first. God comes to us first and it's all because of grace. But lemme tell you, this story just gets better and better and better. See, because of grace, God approaches us. God approaches me. But because of grace, God accepts me. He doesn't approach me, he accepts me. That has been 20 years, since David became king. And it appears that Mephibosheth has been kinda living and hiding in fear for his life. He didn't just happen to move to this place called Lo Debar. He thought, "Well, the king will never come here. Nobody will ever find me here. I can at least be safe here". And then came that day he had been dreading all of his life. The day he had nightmares about. There was a knock, on his door. With trembling hands, on his hands and knees, he crawls toward the door and he opens it and sure enough, his worst nightmare, has come true.

There's no mistaking who this is. This is not an insurance salesman. These are the king's officials. And who knows if he was more scared or relieved but it didn't matter. He figured he was looking death right in the face. And there was no way that he could have ever anticipated what is about to happen because here's what's about to happen. He is about to get not what the culture of that day say he deserved. Not what the unwritten law of the land say that he deserved. Not what society would say that he deserved. He was about to get the one thing he did not deserve. Because the one thing that Mephibosheth needed was not justice, he didn't even need mercy. Mercy would have just left him alone in his miserable condition. He needed grace. So listen to what happens in these next words. So King David, had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Machir, son of Ammiel. He had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house, of Machir, son of Ammiel.

Now, once again, as a reminder, it wasn't Mephibosheth that came after David. It was David that came after Mephibosheth. See, the sheep never seeks the shepherd, the shepherd seeks the sheep. And if you ever come to a place where you say, you found God I got news for you. It was because God first found you. When you start looking for God, it's because you all of a sudden realize God, has been looking for me. And so now he finally hears these words. He had been dreading for two decades. "Mephibosheth, the king wants to see you". And Mephibosheth probably thought, "I know. I knew this day was coming". But notice again, he had him brought from Lo Debar. From the house of Machir, son of Ammiel. I'm sure he thought that they would make him crawl every single step of the way to the palace. He probably couldn't believe his eyes when he saw this beautiful gleaming chariot decked out with, cushion seats and umbrella, water, warm bread.

He's thinking, What in the world is going on? Is this the way I'm going to my execution? Is this the way I'm going to be hung? Is this the way I'm going to be beheaded? Because think about it now. Mephibosheth hadn't been treated like this since he was a kid. And he's thinking, surely the king knows I'm crippled. Surely the king knows I'm broken. Surely the king knows I've got nothing to offer him except lame legs. But the king is accepting him just the way he is. What a beautiful picture, of the way God comes to us because I don't know how you think you came to God, lemme tell you how we all came to God. When we came to God, we were not worthy of coming to God. Which is why God comes to us first. And God came to us when, we were dirty. And God didn't demand that we clean up first. God brings us to his home and he cleans us up. God comes to us when we're messed up. And he doesn't wait until we get our act together. He says, "Listen, I'm gonna bring you to my house and I'm gonna get your act together".

Now remember, this was before handicap ramps and designated parking places, motorized wheelchairs. I mean, when David found out this kid was crippled, this man was crippled, this kid was lame, David could've easily said, Does he have any brothers and sisters? Is there anybody else I can show kindness to? I mean, what does Mephibosheth have? He has no wealth. He has no education. He has no training. I mean, simply put, he has nothing to offer to the king, to the queen. He doesn't even have anything to offer to the lowliest servant in the palace. But David accepts him just the way he is. And I want you to literally hear anything else. I don't know what your past has been. I don't know what your present looks like. I don't know what you did last night. I don't care what you did a week ago, I don't care. I don't care if you've got a police record six miles long. God, accepts us, and God loves us just as we are.

But the story gets still better. Because of grace, God approaches me. God comes to me. God makes the first move. Because of grace, God accepts me. Knowing all of my faults, all of my foibles, all of my flaws and all of my failures. All the darkness and all the blackness and all the skeletons in my closet, God, accepts me just the way I am. Now that would be good enough, right? You say, "Man, let's go home". You can't. Because it gets still better. Because of grace, God not only approaches me. And because of grace, God not only accepts me, watch this. Because of grace, God adopts me. God adopts me. Now, the moment comes. Mephibosheth is brought before the one man, who's gonna decide whether he lives, or whether he dies. I mean, what you've left to bid at that moment? He's shaking like a leaf. He's looking for the bathroom. He is absolutely, I mean his stomach is in a knot. His blood pressure is off the chart. He's about to hyperventilate. His heart is racing. He thinks surely this must be the end. And then comes this tear jerking scene.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, i.e. The mortal enemy of David. The one who could have been in line for the throne. A threat to the kingdom. The son of Saul came to David. He bowed down to pay him honor. David said, "Mephibosheth"! "At your service," he replied. What else is he gonna say? At your service. Now listen to this. "Don't be afraid". Do you think those are the first words he thought David would say to him? Don't be afraid. No, he was expecting David to say, Is your will made out? Are you ready to die? How do you want it? He says, "don't be afraid". David said to him, "For I will surely, show you kindness for the sake of your father, Jonathan". I'll imagine that Mephibosheth had already kinda gotten on his knees, kinda bowed his head. He's kinda waiting for the execution or sword to fall. He's just knowing that he's just about to breathe his last.

And then he hears David say, "Don't be afraid". His head jerks up. His eyes are wide as saucers. He has ears on high alert. He can't believe what he just heard. He certainly never expected the first thing he would hear out of the mouth of the king was, "Don't be afraid". You know what though? That's just like Jesus. That's just like Jesus. That's why Jesus is a descendant of David and David is an ancestor of Jesus because are you aware, I bet you may not be. Did you know that the most repeated command from the lips of Jesus was fear not? The number one command that Jesus asked us to obey is, "fear not". As a matter of fact, did you know that the command of God to not be afraid, listen to this. It is the only command, that appears in every book of the Bible, the only one. In all 66 books somewhere, you will find, either the phrase, "fear not," or, "do not be afraid," in every book of the Bible. But you're Mephibosheth.

So you're wondering, wait a minute. Is David bluffing? Is he playing some kind of a sadistic game? Is he kind of just setting him up for the kill? I mean, does he really mean, "Hey, don't worry, it won't hurt, very long". No, his hand extended to Mephibosheth, does not hold a sword that kills. It holds a grace, that heals. Now why? Why is he choosing to be so gracious, to Mephibosheth? Because let me remind you one more time. Had Mephibosheth earned this kindness? No. Did Mephibosheth deserve this kindness? No. Did Mephibosheth buy this kindness? No. Was there anything Mephibosheth could do to work for this kindness? No. Then why in the world was David, so kind, so gracious, so loving, so accepting, of a cripple, who could do nothing for him and who he owed nothing to. Listen carefully. "For I will surely, show you kindness for the sake of your father, Jonathan".

Now this is so important, listen carefully. This is the real crux of this story. David, did not do this, for Mephibosheth. David, did not do this for Saul. David, didn't even do this for David. He did it, for Jonathan. I am showing you kindness for the sake of your father, Jonathan. Now would ask you a question. Pop quiz. Ready? Why does God, show us grace? Why does God, forgive us of our sins? Why does God give us, mercy, instead of judgment? It's not. Not, not, not. It is not because of what we do for him. It's because of what Jesus, his son, has done for us. Not because of what we do for him, but because of what Jesus has done for us. Now, even here, we still can't stop the story and say, and Mephibosheth lived happily ever after. Because there's still one other thing David says. Now listen to this. He says, "I will restore to you, all the land that belonged to your grandfather, Saul, and you, will always eat at my table".

You see that phrase, "eat at my table"? That is a big deal in this story. And you say, "Well, how do you know it's a big deal in the story"? Anytime something is repeated in scripture, it's always a big deal. When it's repeated more than once, when it's repeated more than twice, but when it's repeated more than three or four times, it is a big deal. And in this story, in this chapter, that phrase is repeated four times. The king tells Ziba, who's now assigned to be Mephibosheth full time servant. He says, "And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table". Now, Ziba had 15 sons and 20 servants. Then we read down in verse 13. "And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king's table". But the most telling way that it's used is in verse 11. "So Mephibosheth ate at David's table".

How did he eat at David's table? Why did he have to eat at David's table? "Like one of the king's sons". Did you understand, what's just happened here? David has not just approached Mephibosheth. David has not just accepted Mephibosheth. David, has adopted the Mephibosheth. He said, "Son, my home is now your home. My family, is now, your family. You don't just visit here, you live here". Why? All because, of Jonathan. Not because of you, not even because of me, but all because of Jonathan. And because of Jonathan, Mephibosheth now has fellowship with the king. For Mephibosheth now has the fortune, of the king. And Mephibosheth is now a part, of the family, of the king. I wanna give you a newsflash. It's all because of Jesus, that we can have fellowship, with God. It is all because of Jesus, that we, have the fortune of God. It's all because of Jesus, that we're now a part or can be a part of the family of God.

See, we've got a seat at the table. And just like lame disabled Mephibosheth, who couldn't believe it? Can you imagine the first time you went to eat? The first time the dinner bell rang. He walks in and he can't believe it. There's David's beautiful daughter, Tamar. There's his handsome son, Absalom. And then comes walking in the brilliant heir to the throne. The PhD, the scholar, Solomon. He can't believe it. He's sitting next to the king. To Absalom, to Solomon, to Tamar. He's got a seat, at the table. And just like Mephibosheth, one of these days, we can have a seat at the table. And we can sit right next to Abraham. And Noah. And Moses. And Joseph. And Daniel. And David. And Paul. And Peter. And James. And John. And the list goes on and on and on and on and on. Why? All because of Jesus. All because of grace.

So I wanna close with something. Somebody sent this to me over 20 years ago. And I've never used it until now. And the reason why? When somebody sent this to me, they emailed it to me. When I read it, I remember I said to myself, there's only one story in the Bible that needs to have that illustration. And I'm not gonna use that illustration until I preach on this story. Well this is the story, and here is what I want you to listen to. Don't you listen, draw up close and listen. The story is called, "Come to the table". And it goes like this, and as I began to read it to you, imagine in your mind right now, you're walking into a restaurant. That's all I want you to do. You are walking into a restaurant. Listen to these words. I shook my head in disbelief. This couldn't be the right place. After all, I couldn't possibly be welcomed here. I glanced down at the invitation and there it was. It said, "Come as you are". No jacket required.

I went to the address and there was this beautiful, beautiful restaurant. And I looked through the window and I saw a room of people whose faces were alight with joy. They were neatly dressed, they were adored in the finest clothes. They appeared to be as clean as the driven snow. And I looked down at my own tattered and torn clothing, covered in stains, and I was dirtier than my clothes were. I even smelled bad. I said to myself, "I don't belong here. This place is not for me". But, the words of the invitation just jumped out at me. "Come as you are".

So I decided to give it a shot. Mustering up every bit of courage I could, I opened door to this beautiful restaurant. And I walked to it until man standing behind a podium. He said, "your name"? I said, "James Merritt". I couldn't even look him in the eye. I was so ashamed of my appearance. He didn't seem to notice the filth I was covered in. He said, "Oh yes. There's a table for you and a seat with your name on it". "For me"? "Yes, for you". He led me to a table. And sure enough, there was this beautiful place card with my name written on it in deep, dark red. I looked over the menu and I couldn't believe what they were serving. Things like peace and joy. Love, mercy, blessings.

I quickly realized, this was the ordinary restaurant. I flipped the menu to the back. Back to the front of the order to see what the name of the restaurant was. And it was called, God's grace. Well, the waiter returned and he said, "May I recommend the special of the day? And, you can accept it and everything that you read on the menu is yours and you can have as much as you want". And I said, "Well, of course. What is the special of the day"? He said, "Salvation". I practically screamed out, "I'll take it". Then I'll snap back to reality tears filled my eyes I said, "Mister, I'm sorry. I mean, you can see I'm dirty. I'm nasty. I'm unclean. I'm unworthy. I'm completely broke and completely broken. I would love to have all of this but, sir, I can't afford it". And the man smiled again and he said, "Sir, your check has already been taken care of by that gentleman, over there".

As he pointed to a man in the front of the room. I said, "Who is that"? He said, "His name, is Jesus". I immediately ran over to this man and I fell on his feet. And I said, "Sir, I'll wash the dishes. I'll sweep the floor. I'll take out the trash. You just name it and whatever I can do to repay you, for all of this, I'll do it". He brought me to my feet. He said, "Son, all of this is yours just for coming to me. You don't need to clean up. I'm going to clean you up. You don't need to pay for the food. It is already been bought. You don't need to buy any clothes. I've already picked out your outfit. All you've got to do is accept what I will, to give you".

And then he said something to me, I will never forget. He said, "James, you need to understand you're not just a customer at my restaurant. You are now a part of my family. What I have, is yours. Come and go, as you like. Just remember, you will always, have a seat, at my table". And so it is with Jesus. So it is, whether you're a nine-year-old boy like I was in a movie theater. Or you're a 25-year-old man, sitting in prison on a drug charge. Or you an 18-year-old high school senior young lady. And you're totally lost and confused and you don't even know why you're on this earth.

There is a God, in heaven. He created you. He conceives you. He wants to convert you, and He is calling you. And He simply is saying today, I've got a restaurant, that's open. You're invited to come. When you come into this restaurant, you're gonna eat like you've never eaten before. And you can have all you want. Peace, joy, forgiveness, happiness, eternal life. It all comes included in the main course which is, salvation. It's all been bought. It's all been paid for. And if you'll accept it, I, will accept you. I, will adopt you. And you will always, have a seat, at my table.
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