The greatest serves
What is the most responsibility that you have ever had to carry?
The Passover meal had been arranged and Jesus redefined this grand traditional meal as a remembrance of his death. Judas had consented to betraying Jesus and Jesus announced that his betrayer was seated at the table with them all. The disciples all questioned among themselves which of them was going to betray Jesus.
Read Luke 22:24-38
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “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. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 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. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 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.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
What did you see?
- Exercising authority in this world (24-25)
- Exercising authority in the Kingdom of God (26-30)
- The promise of trials ahead (31-38)
Exercising authority in this world (24-25)
“A dispute also arose among them…” Luke places this account in a different location to Mark and Matthew (Mark 10:42-45 and Matthew 20:25-28). It is difficult to know for sure why that is and the conclusion can often come down to what the interpreter would like to conclude! Two things can be said for sure: 1) that Jesus really seems to have said words about the nature of authority in this world compared to the kingdom of God and 2) that the gospel writers inserted this lesson from Jesus where they saw them fitting in the narrative. Perhaps Jesus said the same thing twice. But neither is it a new thing for accounts in the bible to care more about the message than they do about the exact chronology of the events. It seems reasonable to argue that there were two events in the account of Jesus’ ministry which suited the lesson from Jesus to be included at that point. Mark and Matthew quoted Jesus at one point but Luke placed those words in response to a different event.
Whatever the case, this dispute gives Jesus an occasion to explain how they are not behaving like children of the Kingdom of God.
“…as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” It doesn’t sound like an adult conversation. As Luke has placed this apparently at the table of the last supper, it just sounds so strikingly wrong! If this conversation flows directly out of Verse 23, however, it may have gone from a denial of betraying Jesus into something like, “I would never do that because I am most loyal to Jesus!” etc. What sounds like an immature and ridiculous conversation could well have flowed out of something smaller.
“…kings of the Gentiles…” Gentiles being non-Jews, ie, kings of the world.
“…call themselves Benefactors.” The simple stated nature of rulers in the world is that they hold authority and yet call themselves a giver of money to others. Even tyrant kings may wear a badge of honour as though they are benefiting the people. There may be a contrast beginning here between rulers who give themselves a good name and the leaders in the kingdom who will have the kingdom confered on them (Verse 29).
Exercising authority in the Kingdom of God (26-30)
“…greatest… like the youngest…” Jesus turns all hierarchies upside down. What seems to be the order of things in this world must not be the model for how we behave in the kingdom of God. See Mark 9:35
“…who is greater, the one who is at the table…? But I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus’ point is about humility, not reorganising who is in charge. His point is also directed at the kingdom of God and how that operates. That said, humility in the workforce and the home is a powerful and godly virtue. Jesus has placed his disciples at the table and is serving them. A greater illustration is found in John’s gospel Chapter 13 Verses 12-17 when he washed the disciples feet. That event took place on this same night.
“You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” Given that he has not been arrested yet, Jesus must be referring to the many confrontations that he has had with the teachers of the law. This sentence links to the last in that he has not been a king who lords it over people but one who undergoes trials inflicted on him by those who should be serving him. And although many chose not to follow him and many walked away, these men have stood by him. They have trusted him and persevered. Jesus is about to describe their place in the kingdom of God and it has come after his commendation that they have done well. They have been faithful with little and now they will be promised much.
“And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me…” The Father assigned the kingdom to Jesus and he is now assigning them a kingdom. The next verses will expand on what that means but here let us just acknowledge the doctrine of election. The apostles have not got lucky or paid their way to rule. Jesus has placed them in this place of authority in the kingdom. This promise must first and foremost be to the apostles specifically. Note also that this is a present tense declaration.
“…so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” This is Jesus’ kingdom that he is describing – my table – my kingdom. But the disciples have been chosen and elected to sit and eat and drink at the king’s table. A place of honour. Jesus has reminded us that it is those who are great who sit at tables (Verse 27).
“…and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” See also Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 3:21. Whilst the apostles are given a special place in the kingdom of God – certainly to bear witness of the One sent from heaven whom they saw with their own eyes and walked with him – whilst they do have a special place in the kingdom, it seems that this promise of judging the twelve tribes is not confined to them alone. The promise to eat with Christ and to reign with him is passed on to all who respond to Christ’s calling. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:9-10. The twelve tribes of Israel is to be understood eschatologically (in context of the way things end up). All who put their hope in the Son of God are the true Israel. Romans 9-11 cover this concept that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of promise, not of descent or special treatment of a particular nation. James 1:1 describes the scattered church of Christ as the twelve tribes in the dispersion.
The promise of trials ahead (31-38)
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” Verses 31 and 32 are amongst my favourites in all the bible. Not merely that it begins with my name repeated for emphasis and so seems quite directed to me! But more than that, this verse and the next describe two amazing truths of the scriptures (and more). Here we see the subordination of Satan to God. Satan is free but on a leash. We see in the book of Job how Satan needs to report back to God and is only allowed to do to Job what God permits. A day will come when Satan will be sent to eternal punishment. But in God’s wisdom he is permitted to tempt and sift people like wheat. The faith of the elect will be tested. Simon and the others, with God’s permission, will be put to the test. Those who stand firm to the end will be victorious. This is called the perseverance of the saints and this is the first truth that helps to put temptation and trials into perspective. James 1:2-4. God is not permitting Satan this job for his own sadistic joy. It is a means to maturity. Satan has asked permission and God has presumably permitted it. Christianity is not a life choice for the faint-hearted. But…
“…I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Such a beautiful word from Jesus to Simon. The Son of God, the King of kings has prayed for this fisherman. Note that Jesus prays to God. Remember the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that although Jesus is God, he also prays to the Father who is God. The content of the prayer is that Simon’s faith may not fail. It is not that Simon will be excused from temptation or even that Simon will remain faultless but that his faith will not fail. Jesus knows that there will be a need for Simon to turn back. And that a repentant Simon is still equipped to strengthen others. Take heart at the comfort of these words. Those who have been elected for salvation (Verse 28), will have their faith tested which ultimately produces perseverance and maturity, and we have the Son of God praying for us (see also John 17) to ensure the preservation of the saints. It is the perseverance of the saints and the preservation of the saints which come out of these verses which I love.
“…I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today…” I have often pondered why Jesus calls this man Simon at one point and Peter at the next. I can’t be sure but I have an inkling that Jesus talks to this man like he has two sides. Simon is the fisherman who is mortal and represents the person vulnerable to temptation. While Peter is the rock who is brave for the kingdom. Jesus tells this brave rock that he will fail before sunrise.
As Jesus knew the plans of Judas, He also sees how the night will unfold for Simon Peter.
“When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything? “Nothing” they answered.” He refers to the time they were all sent out on mission to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-6; 10:4). Back then they were sent with nothing and lacked nothing. It was not a miracle but they were provided for when people from Jewish towns welcomed them in to hear about the kingdom of God. They received some rejection but they returned from the mission praising God for all that they were able to do in Jesus’ name. The season has changed now and working for the kingdom is going to get harder.
“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” People will be turning on the Son of Man and the nature of the mission is about to change. This is a warning passage. Satan has asked to shake them down and the people of their own villages can no longer be relied on for hospitality.
“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’, …this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Isaiah 53 was written about Jesus and Jesus knew that. The disciples wanted to know who was the greatest. Jesus teaches them that in the kingdom of God, there will be eating and judging but not in the next chapter. What will come next is persecution on the disciples and the King of the kingdom will be treated like a sinner. This must be fulfilled. Because it has been predetermined by God and He does not lie or change.
“See, Lord, here are two swords”…. “That’s enough!” he replied.” Later, the disciples will ask to use the sword and even strike the servant of the high priest but Jesus will rebuke them and heal the man. There are no accounts of sword wielding in the book of Acts. The disciples have heard Jesus’ words and missed his point. They were being told a) that they will need to make provisions for themselves from now on and b) that he is about to be numbered with the transgressors! That is a big statement. In fulfilling scripture, Jesus will become the lowest. And their reply is “we have two swords boss!” Jesus reply to them seems to be a dismissal of the whole conversation or even a frustrated termination.
What did we learn?
Greatness in the kingdom of God is not fought for but bestowed on by election from the Son of God. As the King of the kingdom, he will demonstrate completely what the nature of the kingdom is: he will fulfill scripture and take on the position of a sinner. Being part of God’s kingdom is a road of trials and tests, as Jesus has demonstrated to his disciples and now they must walk the road of trials and tests. But Jesus preserves his people through prayer. Discipleship is a road hard to walk along, but we have every spiritual gift given to us and the hope of glory promised.
Topic A: Humility as a mark of discipleship. Galatians 5:22-23 and James 3:17 list some of the fruit of the spirit which may well be summarised with the word ‘humility’. Philippians 2:3-11 describe the humility of Christ as the prime example of the humility that we ought to possess and cultivate. The nature of the kingdom of God is to put one another before ourselves. This is a true mark of godliness. How can you monitor your progress in this?
Topic B: Perseverance of the saints. All Christians are saints. When you have truly understood the grace of God in Christ and turned to Him in faith we can rest on the promises of God that a) he has called you into his kingdom and b) he promises to finish the work that he began in you (Ephesians 2:1-10). The journey is rough though. The world, the flesh and the devil will each do their darndest to knock you off the boat. James 1:5 says that if you lack wisdom on how to live in humility (James 3:13) then ask God for this wisdom that only he can give since it does not come from this world.
Topic C: Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 tells us that the Scriptures are all we need to find salvation in Christ and grow up mature in him. Jesus taught some disciples in Luke 24:25-27 that the Old Testament scriptures are filled with words concerning Jesus that had to be fulfilled. He is the missing piece that solves the great mystery of God. Ephesians 1:9-10 describe Jesus as the mystery of God finally revealed. We will never grow weary of learning more about him, to get to know him more, to understand him and even to participate in his sufferings so that somehow we shall be welcomed at his table in his kingdom to reign with him (Philippians 3:10-11). What grace that we do not deserve.