Part VI of our series on Opening Your Home
Receiving Christ, as we learned from our last post, is a physical act (contrary to what the sinner’s prayer teaches us); it happens in the body first, and only then does it happen in the spirit. But don’t take my word for it.
Jesus makes this point by drawing on an understanding that would have been crucial for his hearers. As Truett Seminary professor Andrew Arterbury notes, a crucial function of hospitality is to neutralize a possible external threat by currying favor with what might be a potentially powerful ally. So if a town scorns Jesus’ messengers, they will eventually discover the power and wrath of this stranger. Here’s what Arterbury says:
In essence, the custom of hospitality in antiquity grew out of a desire to neutralize potential threats—both threats to strangers and threats to one’s community. Not only were generous hosts protecting strangers from thieves along the road and from townspeople inclined toward mob violence, they were seeking to protect their household and community from the wrath of the stranger. In the event that a traveler had either military resources or “magical” powers, it was thought that a host’s abundant generosity might neutralize the potential threat while cultivating the stranger’s favor (see, for example, the story of Joshua’s ‘spies’ being hosted by Rahab in Joshua 2:1-21 and 6:22-25). As a result, the leading citizens of a community often bore the primary responsibility for hosting strangers.
That means when we fail to receive those whom Christ has appointed as messengers (even those who do not realize they have been appointed by him in this way), we can expect to receive the wrath of Christ.
That’s the message of the parable of the sheep and the goats.
Notice the external focus in all of this. It’s all about self-denial, which is at the core of the Christian life. This is the exact opposite of the Sinner’s Prayer approach, where the focus is on the sinner and repairing what is wrong in his or her self-identity so that he or she can be assured of the self-fulfillment of going to heaven when he or she dies. If salvation is undertaken as this kind of therapeutic act of self-fulfillment rather than as the hospitality of self-emptying, it is an act completely at odds to how Christ directs one to live out the rest of the Christian life. If, however, salvation is self-emptying hospitality that begins with making room for God, it is the perfect prelude for a life of hospitality where one makes room for others in the name of Christ.
There’s a song with this message of hospitality at its core which I would recommend you learn: “Stay awake! Be ready! For the Lord is coming soon!”
Typically, it is sung in relation to the second coming of Christ. But if you are not ready for the ways Christ is coming to you daily, then you are certainly not ready for his return in glory!
You who work at McDonald’s: How do you greet each customer that comes through the drive-through? Are you expecting Christ in each car? (That’s different, by the way, than being “Christ-like” with your attitude.)
You who work in an office: How do you regard each person who calls on the phone or stops you to ask a question? If you see someone lost or confused or angry, do you see an inconvenience, or do you see Christ?
Are you ready with your tithe? Do you carry it with you at all times to spend on acts of hospitality?
Is your home ready with an extra bed set up? I mean, literally?
Is there an extra plate at your dinner table? I mean, literally? Having it there will be a reminder to you. Work it into your dinner prayer. Instead of praying, “Lord, thanks for feeding us,” pray, “Lord, please open our eyes tomorrow so that this place at the table will be filled, because you always give us enough of everything—time, money, food, compassion—to care for you.”
Do you pack extra food in your lunch? Do you have restaurant gift certificates in your car and in your wallet or purse?
These are simple, simple acts of ministry preparation to undertake daily. But they lead to profound encounters with Christ every day. It’s a foundational aspect of the Christian life that, sadly, few Christians ever experience (or experience only a few times in their lives as radical, special events).
John Chrysostom sharpens the question poignantly: How can you have a special room in your house for your car but no space for the wandering Christ?
In every believer and brother, though they be least of all, Christ comes to you. Open your house, take them in. “Whoever receives a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward.”…
These are the qualities that ought to be in those who welcome strangers: readiness, cheerfulness, liberality. For strangers feel abashed and ashamed, and unless their host shows real joy, they feel slighted and go away, and their being received in this way makes it worse than not to have received them. Therefore, set aside a room in your house, to which Christ may come; say, “This is Christ’s room; this is set apart for him.” Even if it is very simple, he will not disdain it. Christ goes about “naked and a stranger”; he needs shelter: do not hesitate to give it to him. Do not be uncompassionate, nor inhuman. You are earnest in worldly matters, do not be cold in spiritual matters…
You have a place set apart for your chariot, but none for Christ who is wandering by?
What can you do today to be ready for Christ’s daily coming to you?
 Andrew Arterbury, “Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts,” in Hospitality. ed. Rober B. Kruschwitz (Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2007), 21.
Sherry Weddell, “St. John Chrysostom on ‘Christ’s Room,'” Catherine of Siena Institute, July 12, 2010.