Becoming Great in God’s Eyes

Luke 22:24-28

March 11, 2012 | Brian Bill

When I woke up on Wednesday I smelled what I thought was the scent of teriyaki coming from the kitchen.  Since it was my birthday I figured Beth was doing some early preparation for a special supper.  But as I reached for my first cup of Folger’s, I realized that the chicken was in the oven and the dining room table was set.  Beth told me that since none of the girls would be home that evening we were going to have our dinner menu for breakfast!  

It was fantastic – baked teriyaki chicken, a bed of brown rice, roasted garlic asparagus tips, and broccoli salad with dried cranberries.  When we finished with the breakfast banquet, she then brought out my favorite birthday dessert – confetti angel food cake (It has to be confetti; one year that didn’t happen and I pouted all day) and Cool Whip frosting with Heath Bar pieces sprinkled on top!

Because the day was all turned around, for supper that night Beth and I each had a steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat.

We learned last week that Jesus turned the predictable Passover supper upside down.  This became a meal to remember when He declared that the bread symbolized His body and the cup represented the new covenant in His blood.  The celebration of communion helps us remember what we tend to forget.

The Slippery Slope of Selfishness

I’m sure this shook up the disciples and then Jesus said something after supper that really unsettled them.  Immediately after taking the cup, Jesus declared in Luke 22:21-22: “But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.  The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.”  In the East, there is nothing much worse than eating someone’s bread while secretly planning to betray him.

According to Mark 14:19, the disciples were really saddened by this “…and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely not I?’”  I think they were just being honest about their own hearts when they asked, “Is it me?”  Each disciple probably wondered if he was capable of betraying the Lord.  After all, they were weak and had doubts…just like we do.

But then they went from “Is it me?” to “It must be you!”  Look at Luke 22:23: “They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.”  I think it’s probably Thaddeus who always looks so withdrawn or maybe Andrew who just seems so anxious.  Come to think of it, Simon looks pretty slippery and Matthew is always so mouthy.  It certainly couldn’t be Judas because he does such a good job keeping track of our money.

We tend to think our preferences are morally right while everyone else is just plain wrong

Their discussion deteriorates even more.  Luke 22:24 reveals what happened when they moved from an honest assessment of themselves to attacking one other.  The slope is slippery because now in this next step they are filled with pride:  “Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”  Are you kidding me?  Each of them think that they’re “all that.”  Their individual opinions matter more than anything else.  Some of us end up here more often than we care to admit when we think our views are more important than anyone else’s.  We tend to think our preferences are morally right while everyone else is just plain wrong.  

We could put the progression like this…

  • Contrition.  Is it me? 
  • Comparison. It must be you. 
  • Competition.  I’m better than you!

The word for “dispute” means “to be fond of strife” or to have “an eagerness to contend.”  It literally means “lovers of strife” as an explosion of ambition and pride filled the room.  They were quick to quarrel, much like Proverbs 26:21: “As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”  Do you know people who love to argue and disagree, who live to light others up, just for the sake of doing so?  

This is really sad when we remember the context.  Jesus had just talked to them about the giving of His body and the pouring out of His blood for them and here they are arguing about who’s the greatest.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the first time the disciples disputed among themselves about who was the greatest.  This was a common competition among them.

In Matthew 20:20-28, we read what happened when a mom came to Jesus and asked for preferential treatment for her two sons.  When the other ten disciples heard about this, “they were indignant with the two brothers [because they wanted the top spots].  Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

And Mark 9:33-35 records another episode of selfishness: “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” 

In Luke 9:46-48, Jesus disarms them when they’re in the middle of a dispute because the disciples forget that He could read their minds: “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.  Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.  Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  For he who is least among you all — he is the greatest.’”  

Serving Like the Savior

True greatness does not come from what you get but from what you give

And now on the night before Jesus is going to be crucified, He teaches on this same topic one last time.  Here’s the main point: True greatness does not come from what you get but from what you give.  

Let’s look at Luke 22:25-28: “Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  You are those who have stood by me in my trials.”

I see four lessons from these verses that Jesus wants us to learn as well.

1. Stop selfishness. 

Jesus brings them from comparison and competition back to community by giving them a lesson in how differently things are to run in His kingdom.  There is a sharp contrast between the servanthood philosophy of the Savior and the world system in which they lived.  The world’s way teaches that we should spend all our energy to get to the top and then when we get there we can boss others around.  

I’m told that if you put ten chickens into a pen and spread around a little chicken feed, the chickens will form a hierarchy based on dominance, commonly called a Pecking Order.  Through a series of skirmishes, they will instinctively determine who the Number One chicken will be, then Number Two, then Number Three, all the way down to unlucky Number Ten.  When a chicken draws blood from a fellow feathered friend, it will go crazy and peck even more because now they’ve spotted a weakness.  Each chicken pecks away at the one beneath him in a dance of domination, except for chicken Number Ten who is pecked…but has no one to peck (by the way, he tastes good marinated in Teriyaki sauce).

This is so contrary to how a Christian should live that the Apostle John calls out a guy named Diotrephes in 3 John 9 by describing him like this: “who loves to be first.”  

The first step is to cease pecking and picking by stopping all selfishness.

2. Start serving. 

Verse 26 begins with a rebuke as Jesus reframes their understanding: “But you are not to be like that….”  A Christ-follower is not to operate this way.  The meaning here is: “It shall not be,” or “It must not be.”  In the family of God there is only one category of people: servants.  Notice the rest of this verse: “…Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”  This was a counter-cultural and radical teaching for Jesus to define greatness in terms of being the youngest because the oldest was usually at the top of the pecking order.  The reference to serving is striking because servants were considered to be socially inferior.  

If the disciples wanted to be leaders in His kingdom, they first had to become servants.  What is a servant?  It’s someone whose heart is intent upon, and whose will is bound to, the will and wishes of another.  If I am your servant, then what you say goes.  You have the last word.  

One of the clearest biblical images of this single-minded resolve to put others first is found in Psalm 123:2: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God.”  When the master moves his finger in command, the servant simply obeys.  A true servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self and to subject the will to the wishes of another.  What God says goes.  When God says, “Jump,” we should say, “How high?”

In Luke 22:27 Jesus asks: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?”   Here’s the principle: If we want to become truly great then we must give up personal rights and start serving others.  We need to be repeatedly reminded that our central ambition should be to serve others, not to be served by them.  In the kingdom of God, true greatness is measured by how many you serve, not by how many serve you.

Stop being selfish and start serving.

3. See the Savior. 

I love how Jesus offers a contrast to their competitive hearts in the last part of verse 27: “But I am among you as one who serves.”  Since their selfishness and competiveness had come up a lot during the three years Jesus was with them, and this was no doubt the last lesson He would teach them before giving His life, Jesus did something they would never forget.  In order to fully understand this, we have to pull together a section of Scripture found in the Gospel of John.  During the time in the Upper Room, both before, during and after the Last Supper, Jesus did a lot of teaching that is recorded in John 13-17.  

John 13:2 says that Jesus did something to show them “the full extent of His love.”  The supper is now over, and Jesus has just heard the disciples go from “Is it me?” to “It must be you” to “I’m better than you!”  We read these words in John 13:4-5: “So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  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.”

It’s noteworthy that in that culture you either washed your own feet or a servant did it for you but the Master never took on that task…until now.  The disciples wouldn’t do it because they thought they “were all that.”  Each one thought he was better than everyone else.  Washing dirty feet was servant work.  It was supposed to be done as soon as they got to the house but no one had done it (believe me, you would want your friend’s feet clean during supper while he reclined next to you!).  Peter pushes back when Jesus tries to clean his feet but finally asks for the deluxe wash as Jesus models how followers are to treat others.

So let’s stop all selfishness, and let’s start serving by seeing how the Savior served.  There’s one more lesson.

4. Stay standing. 

I love how gracious Jesus is with his frail and fallible followers.  Instead of slamming them for their shallow self-centeredness, or quickly assembling another team, Jesus builds up his buddies in verse 28: “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.”

I can think of many times that they let the Lord down and we know that they will flee when Jesus is arrested, but they also hung in there when it wasn’t easy to do so.  Even when others left the Lord because His demands were too costly, they continued to follow Him.  Turn over to John 6:66-69: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’  Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”

Jesus affirms us for our efforts.  He loves His followers, even when they mess up (we’ll learn about this next Sunday).  But He wants us to move from a climate of competiveness, from focusing on “serve-us” to “service.”  That’s why during His final moments with them, he served up servanthood for supper.

Paul Robbins has put together a comparison between self-focused service and Christ-centered service (Paul Robbins, Leadership, 1988, p. 146).  I found it both helpful…and convicting.

  • Self-focused service is concerned with impressive gains. It enjoys serving when the service is titanic or growing in that direction.  Christ-focused service doesn’t distinguish between small and large.  It indiscriminately welcomes all opportunities to serve.
  • Self-focused service requires external reward, appreciation, and applause.  Christ-focused service rests content in hiddenness.  The divine nod of approval is sufficient.
  • Self-focused service is highly concerned about results. It becomes disillusioned when results fall below expectations. Christ-focused service is free of the need to calculate results; it delights only in service.
  • Self-focused service is affected by feelings. Christ-focused service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.  The service disciplines the feelings. 
  • Self-focused service insists on meeting the need; it demands the opportunity to help. Christ-focused service listens with tenderness and patience.  It can serve by waiting in silence.

Let’s move from…

Is it me?

It must be you.

I’m better than you!

And let’s…

Stop all selfishness

Start serving

See the Savior

Stay standing

There’s a church in Santa Fe, New Mexico that has a hand-lettered sign over the only door into their sanctuary.  This is what it says: SERVANT’S ENTRANCE.  The only way in or out is through the servant’s door.  True greatness does not come from what you get but from what you give.

We can overcome our selfishness because Jesus has overcome our sinful self-centeredness through His death and Resurrection.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?