I’m still giving my answers to the question Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”
What I say:
He is One who serves.
What I mean:
He told his disciples that he came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45 NRSV). This wasn’t just a random fact about him; it was his very essence. The Apostle Paul invites us to become like Christ:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself,
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
The New Revised Standard Version tends to translate the Greek word doulos as “slave” rather than “servant.” I’ve had people in my adult Sunday School classes chafe at that, and they insist we should substitute the word “servant” for “slave.” But that just illustrates how hard it is for us to accept Jesus in this role. We’re much more comfortable thinking of him as a service-oriented kind of guy than as a slave. In fact, it can be trendy to call him a “Servant Leader.” A lot of highly paid businessmen and entrepreneurs pay big money to go to “Servant Leader” training. We like to think of Jesus as a “Servant Leader,” with emphasis on the word “Leader.” We’re not at all comfortable thinking of him as a slave.
But that was a fundamental fact about Jesus: that he had come to serve. And although it’s service to God that motivated him, he became the servant of all humanity, dying in order to save us. While he was still on earth, he was available at all times of the day and night, whenever anyone wanted their sick healed or their children blessed. The Gospel of Matthew says he took their infirmities upon himself (Matthew 8:17, referring to Isaiah 53:4). But he also set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51, KJV), because that was the thing his Father wanted him to do – for people in all ages.
There are three seemingly-unrelated passages in Luke that, when read in conjunction with each other, are jaw-dropping. The fact that the first two come in reverse order, with the set-up in a later chapter than the payoff, insures that most of us will miss their relationship. And yet they are related.
In Luke 17:7-8 (NRSV), Jesus says, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table?’ Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?” In the next two verses, he says that we should not expect thanks but rather consider ourselves worthless servants because we have only done what we (as his servants) ought to have done.
But if we look very carefully at the part I quoted above, then turn back to Luke 12:37, the result is astounding: “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”
The very thing he just finished saying that a master will never do! But that’s because he’s no ordinary master; he’s the One who serves. He drives home the point in a third passage, also in Luke: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
When we Christians sing, “There is none like him,” I wonder if we’re thinking of passages like this? He never tries to prove how great he is. Instead, he serves. And by so doing, he shows us what true greatness really means.
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