************ Sermon on Luke 22:27b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 19, 2000
"Jesus Came to Serve"
So far in this season of Lent the Gospel writer Luke has identified two different sins the church constantly struggles against. First, he dealt with the problem of betrayal. He tells us about Judas who agreed to betray the Lord because of his greed for money (Lk 22:1-6; cf 21-23). Second, in today's passage, he tells us about strife among the other disciples because of their desire for position and authority. To use a modern expression, it was a case of too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. Both sins are very serious; neither sin should ever be found in the church of Jesus Christ.
As our Lord faces the suffering and death of the cross He has something to say to us about power and authority and position and glory in the church.
I The Reason for Christ's Teaching
A One of the worst things that can happen in a business is staff members competing against each other, undercutting each other, criticizing each other, and fighting with each other instead of unifying for a team effort. Depressing as such behavior is, imagine how Jesus felt when, during His last hours before the agony of the cross and the grave, the disciples began to argue among themselves over who was the greatest. Luke tells us that "a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest" (Lk 22:24).
The disciples were arguing among themselves who of the twelve was considered by the public to be the greatest, the most important. They all wanted the acclaim, praise, and adoration of the crowds. But, as the Greek makes clear, they were also arguing about who ought to be greatest. They all wanted to be number one; they all wanted to be Jesus' right-hand man. When Jesus was King they all wanted to be His chief of staff or prime minister.
B It is highly significant that the disciples argued about this right after Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper. Jesus had just predicted His betrayal, suffering, and death. He was preparing Himself as well as His disciples for the events of the next couple of days. In the Lord's Supper He had shown them what was important, what they should be concerned about, what they should be paying attention to. He had told them to remember His atoning death and His coming again. That should be their focus – not power and position and authority and glory.
The disciples are to be condemned for their misplaced priorities. Imagine that there is a fire in your home in the middle of the night. Your kids are in bed. Do you rush around like mad straightening out the pictures on the wall or do you grab your kids and run to safety? Jesus is about to suffer and die, He has told His disciples to remember His death and His return; instead, they are running around straightening out pictures; they are arguing about who is most important.
II Jesus Rebukes His Disciples
A In response, Jesus gives His disciples a three-fold rebuke. In His first rebuke Jesus points to the Gentiles:
(Lk 22:25-26) The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. (26) But you are not to be like that.
Earthly rulers, like presidents, prime ministers, and tycoons, normally lord it over their subjects. By this I mean there is no doubt they are in control. They issue commands, give orders, and tell people what to do and where to go. They are the boss. The pyramid of power peaks in them. Everyone else comes under them. The earthly rulers naturally are concerned about position, authority, power, and glory.
Many times, but not always, these earthly rulers strive to enhance their reputation and public standing. Among the Greeks and Romans it was common practice for the rulers to make gestures of goodwill among the people. So, for instance, they might open the Colosseum and invite the public in for free entertainment; or, they might distribute bread among the orphans and widows of the city; or, they might employ their soldiers in a public work project for the common good. These rulers would then call themselves "Benefactors," as if the sole aim of their rule was the good of the people and not their own gain.
"But you are not to be like that," said Jesus. Followers of Jesus are not to be like the Gentiles, the unbelievers; they are not to be concerned about position and acclaim, about authority and the praise of men.
To the elders of the church, for instance, the Apostle Peter can say, "Be shepherds of God's flock ... not lording it over those entrusted to you" (1 Pt 5:2a,3a). Within the church there is no room for those who think they can give orders, make demands, and issue decrees (cf 2 Cor 1:24).
B In His second rebuke Jesus points to Himself. He says in our text, "But I am among you as one who serves" (vs 28b).
Luke makes no mention of it, but Jesus has in mind here a scene to be found in John's record of The Last Supper. Remember what happened?
(John 13:4-5) ... [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (5) After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.Imagine the whole scene for a moment. The disciples are arguing among themselves about who is the greatest and who ought to be greatest. Jesus hears their dispute. Silently He gets up, He puts on the garb of a servant, He pours water into a bowl, and then He – their Lord and Teacher, their host at the meal – proceeds to wash and dry their feet as if He were but a lowly servant.
"But I am among you as one who serves." It is unfortunate that in our English language the word "service" is associated with business. Go to a vacation area like Cancun, Mexico, and you will notice that everything revolves around the service of the tourist – for an enormous price, of course. In this country, a service station used to be a place where service paid off in sales – now most service stations are self-serve. Many businesses realize that "good service is good business." And, when you go to a doctor, lawyer, or dentist you will find that the price for "professional services rendered" is usually quite high.
Our habit of connecting service and business makes it hard to understand Biblical language. In the Bible the word "service" means the kind of work a slave did for his master. Often it was demeaning and humiliating. And, he didn't get paid for it. That's what Jesus has in mind when He says, "But I am among you as one who serves."
Jesus' life was service. And, even in death He served. He gave His life as a ransom for many (cf Mt 20:28). He performed the supreme service when He died upon the cross in our place and for our sin.
Topic: Cross of ChristAt Calvary – to continue this image – Jesus took a bullet for each of us. What He underwent on the cross was demeaning and humiliating – because crucifixion was reserved only for the worst of criminals. And, it was also one of the most cruel ways of dying.
In the 1993 hit film In the Line of Fire, Clint Eastwood played Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan. Horrigan had protected the life of the President for more than three decades, but he was haunted by the memory of what had happened thirty years before. Horrigan was a young agent assigned to President Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963. When the assassin fired, Horrigan froze in shock.
For thirty years afterward, he wrestled with the ultimate question for a Secret Service agent: Can I take a bullet for the President? In the climax of the movie, Horrigan does what he had been unable to do earlier: he throws himself into the path of an assassin's bullet to save the chief executive.
--DOUGLAS G. Pratt Allison Park, Pennsylvania
"But I am among you as one who serves." It is Jesus Who says this. The Jesus Who admits He is "Lord and Teacher" (Jn 13:14). The Jesus Whom Paul describes as the firstborn over all creation, the head of the body, with all the fullness of God (Col 1:15-19). This Jesus deserves position and acclaim, power and praise. Yet, what does Jesus say? "But I am among you as one who serves."
If Jesus – the King and President of the universe, the Lord, the Teacher, the firstborn over all creation, the head, the beginning, the Alpha and the Omega – can serve even to the point of death who are the disciples to argue over position and authority? If Jesus can serve how dare the disciples argue as to which of them was considered to be greatest?
C In His third rebuke Jesus points His disciples to the future Kingdom and their place in that Kingdom.
(Lk 22:29-30) And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, (30) so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.Jesus says two things here. First, He tells His followers that it is foolish to argue over greatness. It is foolish to argue about greatness because the Kingdom belongs to Christ – not to the disciples. The glory is His, the power is His, the authority is His, and the greatness is His. He has earned it because of His life and death of service. How, then, can the disciples be so foolish as to argue over what belongs to Jesus?
Second, Jesus also tells His followers that it is unnecessary to argue about greatness. It is unnecessary because His followers will share in the glory, power, authority, and greatness that belongs to the crucified Christ. There is no need to compete because, as a gift of grace, God confers Kingdom, power, and glory on followers of Christ. Why compete and strive and fight and argue for what God gives you anyway?! Furthermore, because His glory, power, authority, and greatness are infinite there is more than enough to go around for everyone.
Do you remember what David did after he became king? He wanted to know if there was anyone left of the family of his friend Jonathan. Messengers searched the land and finally found a son of Jonathan, a cripple named Mephibosheth. David brought Mephibosheth to the palace and had him eat from the king's table from then on (2 Sam 9). Did David do this because Mephibosheth was such a wonderful person? No, David did this only because of his love for Jonathan.
Like Mephibosheth we sinners are cripples in God's sight. And, like Mephibosheth, God, because of Jesus' love for us, lets us eat at the King's table. It has nothing to do with how great or how wonderful we are. Rather, it is a gracious gift of God.
III Imitate Christ
A After the foot-washing Jesus said to His disciples, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (Jn 13:15). In other words, we are to be like Jesus. Instead of pursuing a life of position and acclaim, a life of authority and the praise of men, we ought to pursue a life of service.
Don't forget, service is the work rendered by a slave or servant. It is work that can be demeaning and humiliating – what we think is below our dignity. It is work that one does for free. It is work that one does obediently. It is work that one does to the best of her or his ability. It is work expected of each and everyone of us. And, if anyone here feels her or himself above this life of service, she or he is outside of the realm of Christ.
Listen to what our Lord says in our text: "the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." In that time and age, it was the youngest who performed the lowliest service. Thus, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, it is the young men who carry out and bury the dead (Acts 5:6). Jesus is teaching His followers, especially those who are leaders, the need for lowly service.
B What is all involved in this life of service? A life of service means you need to have the mindset of Christ. You need to tell yourself that you are here to serve. Don't forget, service means a slave-like, humble demeanor. Service means there is no room for the executive or presidential style of decision-making within the church. Ministers, Councils, Classes, and Synods cannot simply announce decisions that are imposed as if there was a pyramid of power. Those within the church who think they can give orders, make demands, and issue decrees had best think again. Those within the church who always insist on their way or no way are falling short – way short. Rather than longing for recognition or power, we who are believers are to serve one another. In so doing, we are following the example of Christ.
An interesting tradition at William and Mary College helps illustrate the high value of lowly service. At the annual homecoming, many of the returning alumni wear white jackets. This is true even of graduates who have gained high positions -- including a college president, a state governor, and many business and professional leaders.
Why the white jackets? To show that they were among the many students who helped earn their way through college by waiting on tables. Their job and their white jackets symbolized a willingness to serve in a not-so- glamorous job.
C In one of our recent Elders' meetings we have talked about this matter of service. The Elders have shared with me their concern that many members of Trinity have lost their first love. When we as a congregation got started 10 years ago we had 100% involvement. Everyone was involved in service. Everyone worked together. But now we have members who do nothing but warm the bench on Sunday morning – members who never offer their service, members who never get involved, members who never make a contribution. My brothers and sisters, this should not be the case.
"Servant" magazine of January/February 1989 relays a conversation between a minister and a former parishioner that speaks to this. The author writes:
Topic: ChurchI am sure that those of you who are older remember what President John F. Kennedy said: "Ask not what can my country do for me but what can I do for my country." In the same way we can say, "Ask not what can my church do for me, but what can I do for my church."
I was in the supermarket one day, and a lady came down the aisle whom I could barely see over the top of her groceries. I got somewhat frightened because she seemed to be heading straight for me. She screeched to a halt within a few feet of me, peered over her load, wagged her finger, and said, "I left your church. I left your church".
So I said, "Well, if it's my church, I think that was a very wise decision. If it's my church, I think I'm going to leave too."
She said, "Don't you want to know why I left?"
I said, "No, not particularly, but I think I'm going to find out". And I was right.
She said, "You weren't meeting my needs".
I answered, "I don't ever recollect seeing you before, let alone talking to you, let alone knowing your needs. Did you ever tell anyone specifically what your needs were?"
She couldn't recall that she had, so I raised another question. "Can you tell me, if we have 5,000 people sitting in that church, all with your attitude, how are anyone's needs going to be met? If you reserve the right to have that attitude, then you must give everybody the freedom to have that attitude. And if everybody has that attitude, who on earth is going to do all the need-meeting?"
Standing her ground, she demanded, "Then you tell me who will."
Relieved, I said, "I thought you'd never ask. This is what will work: when people stop sitting in the pew saying, 'They're not meeting my needs' and start saying, 'Whose needs can I meet?' Then needs will be met. When the servant spirit flourishes in a congregation, then they minister to each other as unto the Lord."
"But I am among you as one who serves." In life and in death Jesus served. Now, He calls us to be like Him and to do as Him.
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