My favorite job in college was as a carpenter’s helper. My boss was a great guy, highly skilled, and willing to teach me everything he knew. But there was one problem; I didn’t want to be a carpenter. I enjoyed the work, and I learned a lot, but I didn’t pay as close attention as I should have because I knew it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was a hard worker, but I wasn’t fully committed to being a carpenter. It was a job, not a way of life.
I remember one particular day we were remodeling a home, turning the upstairs into a separate apartment. The apartment was going to have its own entrance which meant putting in a door where a window used to be, building a small deck and stairs leading to the ground. It was going to take 15 steps to reach the ground. My boss excitedly tried to teach me how to determine the number of steps and the angle of the staircase. It was complicated math and I was not interested. I just wanted to help. I did not want to know how it was done.
After my sophomore year in college I did a summer internship at a church outside of Miami, Florida. Like a sponge I absorbed everything I could from the host pastor. I wanted to know how and why he did everything. I asked lots of questions. My pastor/mentor patiently answered each and every one.
A few years later, before my first pastorate, I met with a number of influential pastors, trying to gain all the wisdom I possibly could. I asked these pastors, “If I were your son and you could give me only piece of advice before I begin my ministry, what would that advice be?” I desperately desired to learn from their experience. I was fully committed to being a minister. It wasn’t a job, but a way of life.
I share these two stories in order to draw a contrast. In the first story I was nothing more than a helper. I was thankful for my job and I loved every minute of it. Well, almost every minute. There was one occasion where my boss accidentally dropped a two-by-twelve on my head. I didn’t love that minute! I used that job to get what I wanted to get out of it; namely a paycheck.
In the second story I was more than a helper. I was an apprentice! I wanted to know and understand all the ends and outs of ministry, and I sought out mentors to help me. Twenty-seven years later I am still trying to learn all I can.
If we are not careful, we follow Jesus like we are His helpers, instead of following Him like He is our mentor. We say we are His disciples. What we fail to understand is that to be a disciple means to be an apprentice, learning and training and doing all we can so we can continue the work He started.
Jesus’ Mission Statement
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus made it very clear why He left heaven and came to earth. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus came to reach people far from God. He came to save you and me. That was His mission. As His followers, His apprentices, that is to be our mission as well. We are His disciples, not His helpers!
How did Jesus go about fulfilling His mission? What was His plan, His strategy, to “seek and to save?” In Mark’s gospel, Jesus explained, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ purpose was to “seek and to save what was lost.” His plan was to give His life in service and sacrifice. If we are truly His followers, His purpose and plan becomes our purpose and plan.
Called to Serve
As a follower of Jesus, our Master Mentor, we are all called to serve. Jesus emphasizes His desire for us to be servants through the events on the night of His arrest, mainly, through the Last Supper.
After informing us of Judas’ plan to betray Jesus (Luke 22:1-6), Luke writes, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover” (Luke 22:7-8). Peter and John were the two main leaders for the group. Sending them ahead was unusual, since preparing meals was usually “women’s work,” and Jesus did have women in His group of followers (see Luke 8:1). Jesus was teaching Peter and John an important lesson of serving by asking them to go and prepare the meal. It was a menial task, but it was not a task that was beneath them. The major food at the Passover meal was a lamb that would be sacrificed, roased, and eaten. Preparing the Passover meal would be an all day affair. However, cooking was servants work, not the work of “important men,” like Peter and John.
Without complaint, and without hesitation, Peter and John asked, “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” (Luke 22:9). Jesus replied, “As you enter the city (Jerusalem), a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks; Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there” (Luke 22:10-12).
While some scholars believe it was divine foreknowledge that enabled Jesus to tell Peter and John to look for a guy carrying water, other scholars believe the signal had been prearranged by Jesus. I tend to believe the latter. Mainly because, once again, carrying water (more than likely on your head) was “women’s work.” A man carrying water would be odd, and easy to spot. I think the idea was for Peter and John to spot the man and then, from a distance, follow him to the prearranged house. Jesus’ time had not yet come. He knew the religious leaders were looking for Him, to arrest Him, so He moved cautiously until the appointed time. It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated “guest room” (v. 11, katalyma) is the same word used for the crowded inn where Joseph and Mary could find no room. For His birth, there was no room, but for His sacrifice there was ample room.
Peter and John found things just as Jesus had said. “When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God’” (Luke 22:15-16). Jesus is moving and speaking very deliberately now. Originally, the Passover Feast was to be eaten while standing in readiness to flee Egypt (see Exodus 12:11). By Jesus day, however, the custom had changed because “standing was the position of a slave, an inappropriate posture for celebrating freedom from slavery in Egypt.” Through His words, Jesus was saying that what they were eating, as an illustration of the past and symbol of the future, was about to be fulfilled through His sacrifical death. At the time He said this, the disciples did not understand. After His resurrection, they understood perfectly.
Luke continues, “And he (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 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’” (Luke 22:19-22). I always find it interesting, and encouraging, that even though Jesus knew Judas would betray Him, He still invited Judas to partake the the Lord’s Supper. All are welcomed to the table of grace because all are unworthy of that same grace.
Confused by His words, Jesus’ disciples wonder who He was talking about. Then, as if to defend themselves, saying, “It’s not me,” an argument breaks out among them about which of them is the greatest. Unbelievable! Let that sink in! While Jesus is talking about suffering and death, His disciples are talking about fame and fortune. They still have a lot to learn, and so Jesus gives them an object lesson.
While Luke doesn’t not record it, scholars believe that in response to their argument, Jesus takes a towel, stoops down, and washes the disciples feet as recorded in John 13:1-17. After washing their feet, “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’” (Luke 22:25-26). Another radical reversal! “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” (Luke 22:27). That last phrase is incredibly powerful if Jesus had just finished washing their feet, the job of a slave. Jesus had served them, even though He had authority over them.
Jesus then encourages His disciples by saying, “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the Twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30). In these encouraging words, Jesus shows both the now and not yet of the kingdom of God.
In the Lord’s Supper we see both service and sacrifice, exemplified and amplified. It is for this reason that we partake in the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Service and sacrifice is the embodiment of what it means to follow Christ. It is deep theology to remind ourselves every week that we come to the table to receive so we can leave the table to serve. Each and every week, through communion, we are reminded that we are to continue the ministry of Jesus. Each week, through the bread and the cup, we are reminded that we have been called to serve. The path to greatness is not to become great. The path to greatness is to become a servant. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”
By way of application, let me leave you with four reminders about being a servant. To help us remember, these reminders spell the word S.E.R.V.E.
S – Serving others is the most Christ-like thing you can do.
It’s really quite simple. Jesus said He came to serve. We are His followers. Therefore we are to serve. Part of the DNA of our church is the conviction that the way we serve a God we cannot see is by serving those we can see. Our prayer for 2017 is, As we leave this place of worship and fellowship; let us commit ourselves to love and serve God, by loving and serving our neighbors.
E – Expect resistance.
If you don’t believe this, it’s because you have not served. It is the irony of all ironies. The more you serve, the more you will be criticized. The more you love, the more you will be disliked. Dr. King wasn’t entirely right about “anybody can serve.” Serving ain’t easy. It if were, everyone would do it. But few people serve because no good deed goes unpunished. If serving was easy, Paul would have never written, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
R – Recognize the image of God in everyone.
This truth is what we keep you going when you “become weary in doing good.” Everyone deserves to be served because everyone was created in the image of God. It is precisely because no one deserves grace that everyone deserves grace.
V – Victory is won through serving, not through boasting.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Do to others as you would have them do to you (the Golden Rule)…Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (the Silver Rule)” (Luke 6:27-28, 31, & 36). The best way to get rid of an enemy is to make them your friend.
E – Exalt Christ, not self, in your service.
The goal of sacrificial service is not to make a name for your self, but to make a name for Jesus. Remember, Jesus’ purpose was to “seek and to save what was lost,” and His plan to do so was by serving and giving “his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Simply put: If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, but have not humbled yourself to be a servant, there is something desperately wrong with your claim. In the Lord’s Supper we see both service and sacrifice, exemplified and amplified. ________________________
 Parenthesis for explanation.
 This is the customary way of eating a formal dinner. The table was low to the floor and the people would rest on their left elbows with feet extended behind them in a reclining position.
 A prophecy of His crucifixion.
 Clinton E. Arnold, General Editor. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, “Volume 1, Matthew, Mark, Luke. 2002. Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. p. 483.
 Parenthesis for explanation.
 This is one reason why we practice “Open Communion” at FCC. All are welcome at the table of grace.