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The Servant of the people

Sermon passage: (Luke 22:24-30) Spoken on: March 19, 2017
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Luke

Tags: LUKE 路加福音

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。

Title: The Servant of the People
Date: 19th Mar 2017
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Luke 22: 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.

This is the famous painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. Look at the angry and shocked faces. It was intended to show the reactions of the disciples after Jesus revealed someone was going to betray him. According to Luke, 23 they began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. Contrast this reaction to Mark 14 and Matthew 26: 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” In John 13: 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. This means that only specifically in Luke, they began to actively discuss amongst themselves who it might be. Who could the betrayer be? Let the speculation and the accusations begin! Then, also unique to Luke’s Gospel, 24 a dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Therefore, I wonder if these two arguments were interrelated. Maybe as they tried to identify the betrayer, they then started to state their relative contributions and importance. If I were Judas, I know this is how I would have deflected the accusations. “Hey, it’s not me, ok? I’ve been diligently taking care of our finances. You think I enjoy counting coins for fun? If anything, don’t you think I deserve a compliment for staying up every night to do the accounts? In terms of contributions, I’m the greatest. How could I possibly be the betrayer?”

To me, that is the essence of these two disputes: it’s about how you are perceived by others. And to some people, that is the most important thing[1]. Why did the disciples care about being the greatest? Here, we defined greatness in terms of social status. So, why does it matter if you have a higher social status than another person? Jesus explained the issue well. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.” Essentially, when you have a higher social status, you have authority over others. And people depend on you for benefits, such as giving positions of honor, or assigning privileges of work or properties. Whether others like you or not, they have to respect that you control their fate, and you have the ability to make their lives for the better or for worse. Jesus was expected to successfully overthrow the Romans, just like the Maccabees 200 years before him, an event celebrated by the Jews as Hanukkah. In the event that this happened, then the relative social status of these apostles would become very important. They would become generals, chief priests or hold other political appointments. Just look at former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. During the election, he said Trump was "a phony, a fraud”. But after Trump was elected, he went groveling back, to meet with the then President-elect to discuss the position of Secretary of State[2]. People yearn after positions of power, because they command respect and admiration.

Now Jesus could have quelled this nonsense easily by dashing all their hopes. All of you stop it. None of you are going to become nobilities. Judah, you are going to die first, you will even die before me. James, you will be next, soon after me. Peter, you will die upside down. And John, you will die alone. That might have instantly solved the argument about greatness. But here is the element of surprise for later readers like us. Jesus did not do that. Instead, Jesus affirmed their dreams of status of nobility. 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. Jesus affirmed that he would be given a kingdom. Not only that, his apostles would be co-rulers of this kingdom. I want to give you a moment to let that sink in. Jesus knew his road to sacrifice, and his apostles’ road to martyrdom. Earlier in Luke 7: 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Jesus knew about his death and his disciples’ suffering. But at this point, in this dispute about greatness, he affirmed them as kingdom rulers. Why? Why not crush their ambitions and dreams? Why did he affirm them? He did it, because that’s precisely who they were. And I’m going to do the same, because that’s precisely who you are.

Brothers and sisters, for the second half of my sermon, I’m going to talk about kingship. But first and foremost, I need you to acknowledge this kingship so that you know that this message is for you. Brothers and sisters, you are kings and queens of this kingdom. Paul said this in 2 Timothy 2: 11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. In our passage today, Jesus told his disciples: 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And this was why they were inheriting the kingdom with Jesus. Paul said the same thing about us. 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. None of us can ignore this promise from Jesus. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, then this is your status, a co-ruler of this kingdom. Maybe this kingship is exercised as a church leader, or as a ministry member, or as a parent, or maybe a spiritual mentor to someone, each of us may do this differently. But as long as the kingdom of God extends into your life and your world, then you are a ruler. At this point, do you believe it? Psalm 8: 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them? 5 You crowned them with glory and honor. 6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet. You are a King! You are responsible for what goes on in this kingdom. You are not a customer. You are not a visitor. You are, we are, to govern this kingdom. If you do not acknowledge this, either you are a non-believer, or you are saying to Jesus, I believe you, but I’m not following you. But if you call Jesus your lord and savior, then you are inheriting this kingdom with him. Only when you know that you are a ruler, then it would serve you well to know how to be a king.

Should we be a king to lord over others? Should we enjoy the respect that comes from assigning privileges and benefits? Jesus said, 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. The best way to interpret this is to contrast it with the kingship of the Gentiles. So I believe it is about your attitude and not about the nature of the work. I’m not saying we should not be doing servant work, for Jesus also washed his disciples’ feet. But Jesus also sat at the table giving the bread and the wine. Jesus also asked his disciples to prepare the Passover place and meal. So it is not literally becoming a servant, but having the willingness to serve. Jesus also spelt out such a mindset clearly in Luke 17: 9 Will the master thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 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.’” So as kings of whatever domain we hold responsibility in, whether in church, in our workplace or at home, to the people around us, we now have a duty to serve. When Rev. Tiong Ann preached this passage, he said that our role as servants is to willingly fulfill the will of our master Jesus. We are Kings! But we have the heart of a servant.

I have a few thoughts about being a king who is a servant of the people. I hope these reflections will be helpful in guiding you on the path of servant kingship.
The first is a message to church leaders including myself, whether you are a cell leader or a Session member. Our Prime Minister Lee wrote this after the last general election in 2015. He wrote: “It is a tradition for the Prime Minister to send a letter on “Rules of Prudence” to all the PAP MPs after an election. Now we must fulfil what we have promised to do in our manifesto. We must never break faith with the people, but must always carry out our duties to them responsibly, address their worries and advance their interests. As MPs, always remember we are servants of the people, not masters.[3]”

PM Lee set a high bar for his PAP MPs, we know that not all politicians can live up to this aspiration. But I hope that what is a high bar for politicians, should at least be the minimum bar for us Christians. If the secular government holds themselves accountable in this way, surely we who are accountable to God should be even more dutiful servants. When PM Lee said, “we must never break faith with the people”, I’m reminded of the words from the Lent devotional materials in Isaiah: in a faith community, we have a covenant with one another. Our covenant with one another should be even more sacred and strong because we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We must never break faith with one another. And in a church, it would be absurd to have opposition parties. I am ruling this kingdom with you. You are ruling together with me. All of us owe it to one another to make lives better for others. Don’t just speak out, get involved. Serving means that we think about the good of others and do something about it.

Secondly, the mindset of a servant also means that there shouldn’t be expectations of recognition or praise. You’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing. In a church, it is important to support and encourage one another. But the danger lies in the expectation of receiving support and encouragement. I’ve seen many who serve with resentment when they feel unsupported or unrecognized. And I’ve felt the temptation myself, when I do something well, and nobody show me any appreciation. That leads me to be angry and disappointed in people, and it becomes a hindrance to continue my service. But is it not my own foolishness? The good of people and the delight of God should be my reward. These two things should not be mutually exclusive. Praise people for their love and grace, just like how you give praise to God for his goodness. But just as God sacrifices without conditions, we also serve without complaints.

Thirdly, serving the people doesn’t mean that you become a people-pleaser, or do whatever the people want. The late LKY said, "I have never been over concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind ... you will go where the wind is blowing. And that's not what I am in this for.[4]" We may disagree with the methods of LKY, but even his harshest critics cannot deny that his heart was always to serve, to always think about what is best for the people, even if it made him unpopular. Ask yourself: what are you in this for? When you serve, make sure what is best for the people is your only consideration.

Lastly, I want to return to the original point about the dispute and discussion at the Last Supper. Who will betray Jesus? Who is the greatest? In a sense, both are one and the same question. I believe if you are only concerned about the adoration and approval of others, then you are also unlikely to follow Jesus to the very end. Serving people, like in Jesus’ case, may often mean pain and sacrifice. But, when you are willing to be a suffering king for the Kingdom of Christ, you are a true follower of Jesus. Your faith and your ministry are your public acknowledgement that you are one with Jesus. Jesus promised in Luke 12: 8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. Brothers and sisters, how you serve others, is the way you acknowledge to the world that Jesus is your Lord. Because his word is the only thing you care about. So serve well, and be a blessing to all around you, that we may live an abundant life in the Kingdom of God.

[1]Recently, I’m reading a memoir of tennis legend Arthur Ashe. He began with these words: “If one’s reputation is a possession, then of all my possessions, my reputation means most to me. Nothing comes even close to it in importance. What others think of me is important, and what I think of others is important. What else do I have to go by? It is crucial to me that people think of me as honest and principled. In turn, to ensure that they do, I must always act in an honest and principled fashion, no matter the cost.”(Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace, pp 1-3) Arthur Ashe belonged to an era where respect had to be earned, and so respect was cherished. Your reputation is everything. It was a time where your word is your bond, and trust could be established simply based on your reputation. For much of human civilization, this is true as a societal norm. But I do wonder how much of it is still true today. Allow me to go slightly off-track to address this concern for a while. Do people still care about reputation and respect? Lately, I fear that we are slowly sliding towards a value system of self-indulgence. In the name of being authentic and real, we do whatever we want, and broadcast ourselves whichever way we like. Maybe we don’t care what others think about us anymore. This is who I am, deal with it. This is not an age thing either. This could be true for a young chap like Amos Yee or someone as old as Donald Trump. And I acknowledge that some people like people that way. “He tells it like it is”. I hate to become an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy here, but I want to stress on the importance of being responsible for others. I believe that “being truly oneself involves accepting responsibility for the well-being of others. Because being true to oneself has often been equated with the egoistic doing of one’s own thing, authenticity has often been perversely interpreted as justification for irresponsibility. But these (irresponsible or self-centered) behaviors are not authentic; they are not instances of being one’s true self. They are responses to (parenting or a society) that is cold and controlling or chaotic and permissive. In such environments, people fail to become authentic, and they will fail to become responsible.” (Edward Deci, Why we do what we do, pp 103-104) In short, you may not care about others, but it doesn’t mean you are being truly yourself. You’re just acting out. (See Ironically, you’re actually attention seeking. I repeat: “being truly oneself involves accepting responsibility for the well-being of others”. As our society slowly deviate from respect as a value to authenticity, we need to anchor authenticity on mutual responsibility.