Ministering Like Jesus

Luke 12:35-48

September 25, 2005 | Brian Bill

According to one study, if you live to be 70, on average, you will have spent…

  • 20 years sleeping
  • 20 years working
  • 7 years playing
  • 6 years eating
  • 5 months tying shoes

Time is such a precious commodity.  In fact, we could say it’s the new currency in our culture as many people guard their time more closely than they shelter their shekels.  A Pennsylvania consulting firm recently released another study that showed some additional discouraging results.  Over the course of a lifetime, the average person spends…

  • 6 months sitting at stoplights
  • 1 year searching for misplaced items
  • 4 years doing housework
  • 5 years standing in line

How many of you struggle with waiting in line?  It’s tough to wait, isn’t it?   I can’t imagine what it was like for those caught in a 100-mile long traffic jam in Houston as people fled Hurricane Rita.  I’m told that it took some 12 hours just to go 10 miles!  Some of you have been waiting for something for a long time and when it doesn’t happen, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up, or just get distracted and move on to something else.  It’s difficult to stay devoted and on task.  Last week we discovered that if we’re serious about instruction, then we must read the Word, we must feed from the Word, we must heed the Word, and finally, we must need the Word.  As we come to the “M” in our IMPACT statement, we’re going to learn that we must wait, we must watch, and we must work. 

Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 12.  Let’s set the context.  Jesus begins this chapter by telling his followers to be careful around the Pharisees.  After urging them to be on guard against greed, Jesus teaches them to worship instead of worry and then challenges them to not be fearful about the future.  With that as background we come to verses 35-48.  Before we dig in, let me just say that the Bible is filled with references to the return of Christ.  According to Kent Hughes, in his commentary on Luke, “There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, and Christ’s return is mentioned no less than 318 times in those chapters.  Statistically, one verse in twenty-five mentions the Lord’s return” (“Preaching the Word,” 59).  We can’t ignore this doctrine or just not think about it because it’s confusing or controversial.  Titus 2:13 tells us that we “wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and  Savior, Jesus Christ.”  And the Apostle’s Creed does a great job summarizing this central teaching of Scripture that churches for centuries have confessed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

1. Wait for the Master. 

Look with me at verses 35-36: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.”  While it’s tough to wait, it’s imperative to do so.  The word “waiting” means “to look forward to” and has the connotation of “receiving favorably.”  Jesus is coming again and we are called to be prepared, to stay ready, and to be expectant because He could come back at any time.  The Master in this parable is at a banquet and is relatively close by but no one knows when He will return.  

The King James Version translates verse 35 literally: “Let your loins be girded about.”  The idea here is that men who wore robes would struggle to serve if they didn’t tuck their garment into a belt or sash.  We see this in 2 Kings 4:29 when Elisha said to Gehazi: “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run.”  In our culture, it’s equivalent to saying, “roll up your sleeves and get ready to work.”  Christianity is not a spectator sport; therefore we must keep our work clothes on.  Some of us have become lackadaisical about the Lord’s return and have therefore stopped waiting for Him.  Only a few were waiting for His first coming – Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna.  But Jesus wants all of us to be waiting with anticipation for His second coming, as servants standing at the door, ready to welcome Him when He returns.

Next, Jesus tells them to “keep their lamps burning.”  Since the master of the house was away at a wedding reception, which could last up to seven days, the servants had no idea when he would return.  Since they did not have street lamps or porch lights, they were to be like Motel 6: “We’ll keep the lights on.”  To be asleep in a darkened house when the master returned from a joyful wedding feast would diss the Master and be grounds for dismissal.  In order to honor him and be ready at all times for his arrival, they had to make sure the lamps were filled with olive oil and the wicks were trimmed so they wouldn’t go out.  This involved an expenditure of energy and an expense of money.  It cost them some sleep and it cost them some shekels.  Serving will always cost you something.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking servanthood is easy or convenient because it usually isn’t.  We are to be “on duty” at all times.  Servants don’t get to pick and choose when they serve.  We could say that service without sacrifice is not true service.

2. Watching for the Master. 

We must wait for the Master and we must also watch for Him.  Look at verses 37-38: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.  I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.  It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.”  The word “watching” means to “stay awake; to be in constant readiness; to be on the alert.”  One pastor puts it this way: “The Master’s coming is their most important priority; their own weariness and self-indulgence isn’t to take over.  They are servants.”  I like what Rick Warren writes: “Are you available to God anytime?  Can He mess up your plans without you becoming resentful?  Being a servant means giving up the right to control your schedule and allowing God to interrupt it whenever He needs to” (“Purpose Driven Life,” Page 259).

There are at least two benefits in watching for the return of the Master.

  • Believers will be blessed.  The word “good” in the NIV is the same word that is translated as “blessed” in the Beatitudes.  True happiness and wholeness come only through Jesus.  When we wait and watch for His return we will be blessed.  Verse 38 uses this word again to show that those who are watching in the middle of the night will be blessed.  
  • Servants will be served.  When the Master comes into the house and finds his servants waiting and watching, he will “dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.”  What a turnaround!  A Roman master would never do something like this.  When the German Bible was being translated, the publishers remarked that this verse is the most fulfilling verse in the entire Bible.  The servants are served by the Savior who according to Mark 10:45 “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Later, in Luke 22:27 Jesus described His activity: “But I am among you as one who serves.”  Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” 

Jesus dressed himself to serve 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.”  I don’t know about you but it doesn’t seem quite right for Jesus to be serving us, does it?  He’s the King and we should be serving Him.  I think that’s probably how Peter felt when he didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.  But then he realized that if he wanted what Jesus had to give, he had to humble himself enough to be served by the Savior.  Are you ready to say with Peter, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hand and my head as well” (John 13:9).

If we say we follow the Savior then we must serve like He did

Here’s the point.  If we want to minister like Jesus we must learn that serving leads to deep satisfaction; it is actually the best way to be like Jesus.  If we say we follow the Savior then we must serve like He did.  The Master elevated ministry to something that should be both our duty and our delight.  Just as there were some cynical saints in the first century, some today wonder if and when Jesus will return.  2 Peter 3 contains these words: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’….But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.   Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (3-4, 8-12).

Jesus switches metaphors in verses 39-40 to make the same point about not being caught unprepared: “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Houses back then were made out of sun-dried bricks that could easily be removed by a robber so he could sneak in and remove all the valuables.  The only way to guard against this was to be ready at all times.  If you knew someone was going to break into your house tonight at midnight you’d be ready wouldn’t you?  The key difference between the two metaphors is one of relationship.  The master/servant image is one of love and devotion while the homeowner/thief speaks of fear and dread.  If you know the Lord, His coming will be joyful.  If you don’t, His coming will bring judgment.

The point is that just as a thief does not announce the exact time he is coming, so too, Jesus is coming when we least expect him.  We are to be ready, which literally means, “to be prepared; in a constant state of readiness.” Here are some other passages that use this same figure of speech:

1 Thessalonians 5:2: “For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 

Revelation 3:3: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

Revelation 16:15: “Behold, I come like a thief!  Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”  

As the disciples are listening to Jesus teach about waiting and watching, it’s Peter who wants to know who these words are directed to in verse 41: “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” Jesus answers by letting him know that His words are for those who follow Him and claim Him as their Master.  Even among the disciples there would be some who were not watching and waiting and therefore would not be ready to welcome Him.  The real question is this: Am I a faithful servant or am I an unfaithful skeptic?

3. Work for the Master. 

In verses 42-44, Jesus describes the importance of not only watching and waiting; we must also be involved in working: “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”  I see three truths in this passage:

  • Managers must manage
  • Servants must serve
  • The responsible are rewarded

Friends, the Master has called us to be managers of all that He has given to us.  Since what we have is not really ours, and what we’re given we can handle, we must wait, watch and work so that when He returns we’ll be “doing” what we’re called to do.  Mathew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Simply put, we are to faithfully manage our time, our talents, and our treasures.  Or, we could say it this way: We must manage His minutes, His ministry, and His money in such a way that when the Master returns we will be rewarded.  

Notice that the wise manager doesn’t just coast; he or she makes a contribution to the Owner’s cause and as a result is given even more responsibility.  Are you being a wise manager of the resources God has entrusted to you?  In one sense, since God owns everything, you and I are “in charge” of all His possessions.  The question becomes, “Will we be found working when the Master returns?”  If so, we’ll receive a promotion.

Friends, it’s our duty to serve; it’s not an optional exercise just for some special Christians

Faithful followers work as if the Master is always present, because He is.  1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”  In explaining the job description of a servant, Jesus got to the heart of the matter when He said in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”  Friends, it’s our duty to serve; it’s not an optional exercise just for some special Christians.  

In contrast, the servant who is skeptical about the Master’s return will ultimately treat others harshly and will become selfish as he focuses on meeting his own needs.  Pleasure becomes primary but unfortunately, hedonism ultimately leads to a home in hell.  Listen to these rather startling words from Jesus in verses 45-46: “But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” 

He’s assigned to eternal agony because he is an unbeliever.  His actions reveal what was in his heart.  He beat others and he was selfish because he had no regard for the return of the Lord, and since he wasn’t redeemed and therefore not ready, his judgment was sealed.  In short, he used the Lord’s possessions for his own pleasure instead of using them in the ways that he was commanded.

Jesus doesn’t give us an option or an out when it comes to being available.  Some of us wonder what the Master’s will is as if it’s mysterious and difficult to figure out.  Actually, it’s quite simple.  He wants us to serve because we’re servants.  If we don’t, there will be trouble according to verses 47-48: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.” Since we know His will, we must wait, watch and work.

The last part of verse 48 provides a good summary for all of us since we’ve been given gifts and abilities and resources.  Because we’ve been entrusted with a lot, we must use what we’ve been given: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Bob Deffinbaugh suggests that privilege brings with it proportionate responsibility.  Those who know much are more responsible than those who know little.  That includes most of us here this morning.

Ephesians 2:10, which was our very first memory verse during the 40 Days of Purpose Journey, says this: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”   Our English word “poem” comes from the Greek word translated “workmanship.”  Rick Warren writes: “You are God’s handcrafted work of art.  You are not an assembly-line product, mass-produced without thought.  You are a custom-designed, one-of-a kind, original masterpiece” (“Purpose Driven Life,” Page 235).  God worked it out so we would work.  Not for our salvation but as servants thankful for salvation. 

Friend, you were created to make a contribution, not just to consume.  God designed you to make a difference.  And what matters is not how long you live or how much money you make, but how you live and whether your life matters.  Don’t focus on the duration of your life, but on the donation of your life.  You’ve been saved to serve, and blessed in order to be a blessing.   Someone put it this way: “While we’re pardoned from sin, we’re not excused from service.”

It’s helpful to keep the acrostic S-H-A-P-E in mind to figure out how best God wants to use you.  If you’re in a small group, you’ll study more about this in your lesson this week.

Spiritual Gifts (what you do)

Heart (where you do it)

Abilities (talents)

Personality (how you do it)

Experiences (your spiritual resume)

I’m shaped differently than you, and you’re put together differently than I am.  And that’s a good thing.  When we keep the Master’s return in mind, we’ll use our SHAPE to faithfully serve Him.  

In a sermon on this passage, Rodney Buchanan writes: “Back when the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator.  Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed.  When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office.  In the background a telegraph clacked away.  A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.  The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other waiting applicants. 

After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in.  Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on.  Why had this man been so bold?  They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet.  They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.  

Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, ‘Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.’  The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, ‘Wait a minute!  I don’t understand.  He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed.  Yet he got the job.  That’s not fair.’  The employer responded, ‘all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: “If you understand this message, then come right in.  The job is yours.”  None of you heard it or understood it.  This young man did.  So the job is his.’”

The young man got the job because he was not just waiting — all of the other men were waiting — but he was waiting expectantly.  We are all sitting in the waiting room.  But it is how we wait, and what we do with the waiting, that is important.  Can you hear the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God in the distance?  The young man in that office was listening.  And because he was, he was rewarded.  Waiting does not mean just sitting down and doing nothing.”  Waiting and watching must lead to working.

Action Steps

1. Start calling yourself a servant. 

Do you know how you can tell if you have a servant attitude?  By the way you react when you’re treated like one.  Is Jesus your Master?  If you confess Him as your Lord that means that you are His servant

2. Say this phrase everyday, “Jesus could come back today.” 

This will help keep His return in the forefront of your mind.  1 John 2:28: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.”

3. Use your wait time as worship time.

The next time you’re waiting for something or someone, remind yourself that you’re waiting for the coming of Christ.  

4. Identify your SHAPE and start serving immediately! 

5. Make sure you won’t be left behind. 

Do you remember watching the commercial for Ameritrade?  A lazy husband is sprawled on the couch and his wife tells him that he only has one job to do for the whole day – open an online investment account.  He tells her that he’ll take care of it and goes back to watching football and then falls asleep.  When he hears his wife pull in the driveway, he jumps up and rushes to the computer.  After just a few clicks he’s all set up and so he dives back to the couch just as she enters the room.  Her first question is, “Did you set up the account.”  To which he replies, “Of course I did.” Friend, you can’t afford to put off a decision to follow Christ and wait until the last minute.  Since you don’t know when Jesus is coming back you have to be ready…right now.  You may not have much time left.  Don’t put it off.  Let Jesus credit His work to your account today.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?