I miss being with you yesterday. I trust that, wherever you worshipped, you heard the word of the LORD and were able to respond in joyful trust. In these difficult days, I think it would be appropriate that we turn to one another and say, the peace of Christ be with you.
Let us pray.
Living God, we believe that You enabled Luke, the physician, to accurately record the words of the LORD Jesus we just read. We pray now, in your mercy and grace, that You would cause these words to come alive in our lives as never before. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
I remember the first time I actually heard the startling thing Jesus says in the middle of the parable we read. My immediate reaction was, this must be a typo. I read the text again and again, thinking, the publisher of this version of the Bible accidentally made a typographical error here. “He, the master, will gird himself and wait on the slaves”? This has to be a printing mistake. So I took out other versions of the text, expecting that at least one of them would correct what I thought was an error. But all other versions recorded that Jesus says the same startling things.
Luke 12:37, “Truly I say to you. . .” Literally, it means “Amen, I say to you. . .” It is Jesus’ way of introducing a solemn declaration. “Truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve.” “He” is the master. He will gird himself and recline at table. The master will have the slaves recline at table. And he will come and he will wait on them. He, the master, will come up and wait on them, the slaves.” Wow.
As we have done the past morning’s of the Conference, let’s take some time to review the larger context in which Jesus speaks this parable. He is on His way to Jerusalem. He has set His face to Jerusalem. He is on a journey toward the Holy City. He knows what awaits Him there. He has told His disciples what will happen, although they do not understand. Jesus says, in Luke 9:22, “The Son of Man (that’s Jesus favorite way of referring to Himself) must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed, and raised up on the third day.” He will say it again and again. Let His words sink into your mind into your ears, “for the Son of Man is going to be delivered over into the hands of men.” But Luke says, the disciples did not understand. I would not either. Jesus was on His way to His destiny, to fulfill the reason He was conceived in a virgin womb. Now Luke chronicles this journey in the central section of his gospel. From Luke 9:51 to 19:28, we have the so-called travel narrative. Luke records the deeds and teachings of Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem. Most of the parables we are studying Jesus spoke on the way to Jerusalem. So the context is, Jesus is walking. He is not standing on the mountain side teaching. He is not at a dinner party. He is walking. And He is inviting His first disciples and us to walk with Him. And along the way, He will tell us what it means to follow Him in this world. For example, in Luke ch.12, Luke recorded many of the sayings of Jesus what we can call warnings. Jesus warned His disciples and us about some of the key issues disciples will face along the way. For example, in Luke 12:1, Jesus warns the disciples and us of what He calls the leaven of the Pharisees, which Jesus says is hypocrisy – living one way in public, but another in private, pretending to be in public more than we really are. He also warns them and us about our fears. He says that fear is a very strong force in our lives. We make many decisions in our life based on fear. So Jesus warns us to fear the right things and to fear the right people. Luke 12:4, He says, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more they can do. I will warn you whom you should fear. Fear the One who after He has killed the body, has authority to cast you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.” As unsettling as that is, we are to live aware of and accountable to the one who holds our destiny in his hands. A leader of a tribe in Papua New Guinea came to faith in Jesus. And He said, “We fear God, and the fear of God kills our fear of everything else.”
As we continue the journey with Jesus, He warns us that we might have to give witness to Him in a very tense situation. But He encourages us not to worry ahead of time about what we need to say. In Luke 12:12, Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will teach you what to say in that moment.” Isn’t that great insurance for us? The Holy Spirit will in that very hour teach you what to say.
Further along the way, Jesus tells His parable of the rich fool, warning us about the seductive power of possessions. That can cause us to put our hope for the future, and what ultimately happen does not matter. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:34, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is not the order we would expect. Our hearts follow our treasure. We would like to see the other way around, that our treasure follows our hearts. No, our hearts will automatically follow our treasure. So, treasure the right thing.
And then, a number of times along the way, He warns us of the biggest obstacle to discipleship – anxiety. In Luke 12:22, “I say to you, do not be anxious for your life as to what you shall eat, nor for your body as to what you shall put on.” And then He goes on to speak of the birds and flowers who live in freedom from anxiety, because they somehow know the love and care of Jesus’ Father. “Do not afraid about what you eat, what you drink, what you wear,” says Jesus. Instead, in Luke 12:34, use all that emotional energy to seek the kingdom of God, adding the promise that, if seeking the kingdom of God is our first priority, all the other things that we are afraid of will be taken care of. And then He has the great promise of Luke 12:32, “Do not fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom of God.”
And then He speaks the parable before us this morning. He speaks the parable in the context of His call for us to be ready. Ready for what? Ready for His coming again. He is saying He will complete this journey. He will go to Jerusalem. He will be rejected by those who should receive Him. He will be crucified, and on the third day raised, in 40 days He will ascend to the throne of the universe, and one day will return. Be ready, for He says in 12:40, the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. As Rev. Siu will show us in the next hour, this is not the only time Jesus calls us to be ready.
1. Readiness as Lamps
He teaches many other parables about living in readiness, especially those He spoke on the Mount of Olives, over-looking over Jerusalem, in view of the huge Temple and Temple Mount that Herod the Great built. As He speaks of his coming again, He teaches for parables on readiness. In Matthew 24:25, the parable of the faithful servant, the parable of ten bridesmaid, the parables of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and goats. In Luke 12:35, “be ready”. How? Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. Jesus uses two metaphors to illustrate readiness. “Keep the lamps alight” is the theme throughout the Gospel of Luke. In the midst of the darkness, keep the lamps burning, which can happen only if we stay close to Him who is the light. We live in a state of readiness by staying in the light of Him who is the light. We live for the coming of the one who is the light by living in His life right now, letting Him expose any darkness in and around us, and letting Him drive the darkness away. Keep your lights burning. It is not an easy thing to do in the 1st-Century home. It takes much effort and attention to detail to keep the lamps alight.
2. Readiness as Girded Loin
And then the metaphor on which Jesus focuses is “be dressed in readiness”. Literally it is, let your loins be girded. What is He referring to? In the 1st-Century, both men and women wear long robes that flowed to just above the feet. Much of the time, they could move around without any problem. But if they want to engage in some strenuous physical activity, they pull up the robe, and wrap a belt or rope around the waist. They girded their loins. This language is taken from the story of Exodus. When in preparation to be lead out of slavery in Egypt, people were told to gird up their loins. Household servants, domestic helpers of the 1st-Century understood this metaphor very well. They had to live all day with their loins girded. They lifted up their robes early in the day, held them close together with a belt all day long, ready to serve any order the master gave. And it is to this state of being, to this daily posture, that Jesus, the Son of Man, is calling us. Be ready by being dressed for service. Especially be ready to wait on the master when he comes. We do not know the day or the hour, so we have to live every day with our lamps burning and with our loins girded.
A household servant lives his or her whole life oriented toward the master. A household servant has one priority – please the master, be available to the master for the master’s will, be at disposal of the master for the master’s purposes. Jesus calls us to be ready for his coming again by living as household servants. Ready, as He says in the parable, to wait on the master when he returns from the wedding feast.
3. Master-Servant Relation
Linger here for a little while. In the 1st-Century, life revolves around master-servant dynamic. And in this parable, Jesus is working with these dynamics. This master is clearly a wealthy man. In a wealthy household, there were the master, of course, his mistress, their children, the designated steward, the foremen, permanent-hired staffs, day-labors, and servants and slaves. There is a clear order of ranking as above. Servants and slaves were the lowest of the ladder, and household servants were the lowest among the servants and slaves. Be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Keep the lights burning, gird up your loins, and live as a household slave, answering the calls of the master’s slightest wish.
How does all of this make you feel right now? How are you feeling being called to live in such a state of being? With such a posture, with such an identity, adopt a position of the lowest of the low, live as a household slave. How are you feeling about this? Beneath my dignity! We don’t say it out loud, but in our hearts we say, this is beneath my dignity! We may say, let’s not take this too seriously. I’m a beloved child of God. I’m a beloved child of our LORD Jesus Christ. Household slaves? I understand I have to serve. But adopt the position of the lowest of the low?
4. A Master Being a Servant
Now we come to the startling thing Jesus says in the middle of His parable. Startling is an understatement. We are to be ready, girded, ready to wait on the master. Jesus says, blessed be those slaves whom the master shall find alert when he comes. Girded and ready, and then the surprise. Most people just read right past it and don’t see it. Luke 12:37, a little verse that has huge theological, sociological, relational and identity implications. “Truly I say to you, that he who girds himself and have them recline at table and he will come up and wait on them.” What? That has to be a typo. Who ever heard of such a thing? Somebody recorded the wrong story? This is not the correct story?
No, Luke got it right. “Truly . . .” As I said earlier, it is literally “Amen”. Whenever Jesus says “Amen, I say to you”, He is making a surprise announcement. We had better listen or we will miss out. “Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself.” Who is the “he”? The master! Jesus is the Son of Man, and He will gird Himself! He will take up the posture of the lowest of the low. He will have them recline at table. Who is “them”? Servants, the slaves! At the table where the master usually reclines. The master will invite the slaves to sit on the table where he usually sits. He will come and he will wait on them. He, the one who was on the top of the ladder, will wait on to the bottom of the ladder. The Son of Man, according to the prophet Daniel, in Daniel ch.7, who alone deserves to be on the top of the ladder, comes and takes His place on the bottom of the ladder. He who was on the top serves those who are on the bottom.
More is on the point. He who is on the top becomes one of those on the bottom. He becomes the servant of the servants! It is a huge surprise. An Arab scholar commented on this line in Jesus parable. It reminds us that it is the middle eastern custom for the master of the house to serve the guests, like Abraham did when he received the three strangers. But even then he served the guests with other servants. But the Arab scholar says, it is never the custom anywhere in the middle east for the master to serve as slaves.
Keep your lamps burning. Gird up your loins. Be ready. Be ready to wait on the Son of Man when He comes. It is a big surprise. When the Son of Man comes, He will wait on you. He will gird himself and He will wait on you. Now, how do you feel?
1. How the Master Thinks of the Servants
Listen to the parable even more carefully. Look at Luke 12:36. “Be like those who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast.” Note the verbs “waiting” and “returns”. The servants are waiting for the master return. (1) The word “waiting” is better translated as “expecting” – all the servants are expecting the master to come. Waiting can be done in a passive mode. Expecting can only be done in an active mode. (2) The word “returns” is better rendered “withdraws”. Master does not simply return from the wedding feast. He intentionally leaves the feast before it is over. I am told that the ancient Syriac and Arabic versions of the text have for centuries rendered Luke 12:37 as “Be like people who are expecting their master when he withdraws from the wedding banquet.” Why does the master withdraw himself from the wedding feast? Why did he leave early? Because he cares about his household servants. He sat in the wedding feast, enjoying himself, eating and drinking with his fellow colleagues. All of them have servants at home. While enjoying himself, he thinks of his servants and slaves. Because he cares for them, he slips out, and goes home. And to everyone’s surprise, he takes off the festive clothes, gird his robe around his waist with a belt, call his servants to the table, and with great joy begins to wait on them.
This is why we are to live in a state of readiness. When Jesus Christ, the Son of Man comes, He is going to pull off a great surprise. We are girded and ready to serve him. But before we can never make a move, He enters the room and begins to serve us. This is unheard of.
2. The True Meaning of “Lord”
But is this not what we see Him doing the whole time He was on earth with us? Did He not live his whole earthly career as a servant adopting the posture of the lowest of the low? Why did He do it? It is a critical question for discipleship. It is a critical question for the rest of the journey. Why did Jesus take up the lowest of the low? Just before taking His final steps into Jerusalem, He articulates the great reversal of His kingdom. In Mark ch.10, the disciples were arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus called them to Himself, and He says, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. But not so among you. Whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44) It is an upside-down kingdom. Whereas the great ones in the old humanity lorded over others, the great ones in the new humanity serve others. Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. Jesus does not tell us not want to be first.
He knows we all want the first. He knows we all want to be first. So Jesus says, “Do you know how to be first? Be the servant of all.” And Mark 10:45, “For EVEN the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.” No one ever connected the title “Son of Man” with the verb “serve”. This connection is inconceivable. According to the prophet Daniel, the Son of Man is the one to whom all the kingdoms of the world are given. The Son of Man is the one to whom every knee will bow. He is to be served by all. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, the Son of Man came to serve, to give His life.
A few days after entering Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the king”, Jesus was at dinner party with his disciples. They are all reclining around the table, expecting to be served by the household helpers. Jesus repeats what He said the day before. Luke 22:25-27, “The kings of the gentiles lorded over them, but not so with you.” Among you, in the kingdom of the true king, in the new humanity of the new human, the leader will be the servant. Another startling word, “For who is greater, the one who is reclining at the table, or the one who serves?” Is it not the one who reclines? But I am among you who serves. And then you know what happened. In John ch.13, Jesus raises from the supper. He laid aside his outer garment, He took up a towel, He girded himself – not with a belt or a rope, but a towel – He got down on His knees, and washed His disciples’ feet.
For years, I will read this story and I would want to say to Jesus, what are you doing? This is so incongruous. This is so beneath Your dignity. Are You forgetting who You are? You are the LORD. You are the LORD of lords and ladies. You are the Son of Man. Have You forgotten who You are? And Jesus looks at me – actually He looks up at me, because He is taking a posture lower than me – and says, I am not forgotten who I am. I am not confused about who I am. I am the LORD. It is you that have the wrong idea about what it means to be lord. This is what it means to be lord. Lord means being a servant.
3. The True Meaning of “Lord” regarding Jesus Christ
This great surprise gripped the mind and heart of Apostle Paul. This is why he could sing that great hymn that records in Philippians 2:5-11. “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus. Think like Jesus, who BECAUSE He was in the form of God.” For years, that was translated “who ALTHOUGH He was in the form of God.” Now it is rendered as “who BECAUSE He was in the form of God.” So Paul sings, “who BECAUSE He was in the form of God did not consider equality with god, something to take advantage of, but He considered equality with God to mean emptying Himself and taking the form of a slave.” Jesus considers being in the form of god. Jesus considered as being equal with God. Jesus consider being God, to mean emptying Himself, and live in the house the life of a household servant. Have you ever heard of such a god? None of the myths throughout the ages ever portrayed such a god. Who ever dreamed of such a god? Paul says, because Jesus lives the servant life, He is exalted to the highest place and is given the name “lord”. In the Greek and Roman world, lord means sovereign. In the Jewish world, lord stands for YHWH. Jesus is given that name above every name. Now note, Jesus is not given the name “lord” because He is exalted to the throne. He is given the name “lord” because he left the throne and lived as a servant. He is given the name “lord” because, living as a servant, He clearly revealed that He understands what it means to be “lord”.
4. The True Meaning of “Lord” Regarding Us
Girded and ready, and then surprise. Truly I say to you, He, the master, will gird Himself, and He will wait on His servants. Do you see what this means for us? As we continue on in the journey with Him, when Jesus calls us to be ready for his coming by living as servants, He is not calling us to something beneath our dignity. We were created in the image of God. That means we were created to reflect the nature and character of God, which means we are most fully who we were created to be when we most fully reflect the nature and character of God. In Jesus, we see what being God is all about – servant. There is no other God, but the servant-God. There is no other LORD, but the servant-LORD. There is no other king, but the servant-king. There is no other emperor, but the servant-emperor. We are most who we were created to be when we live like Him. The call to be a servant is not beneath your dignity. It is our dignity! To live as a servant is not incongruous with being human. It is what being human is finally all about. We are most like God, and therefore most we were made to be when like God, we gird ourselves with a towel and serve one another the grace of God. We live ready for the glorious Son of Man simply by gloriously living like the Son of Man – waiting on tables and washing feet.
As I was praying this morning, I had this picture – thousands of people spread throughout the city. In homes, in all offices, in hospitals, schools, wrapped towels around the waist. Thousands of people with towels around the waist.
In light of all we have heard and seen today, you can now understand why Jesus made the LORD’s table the central act of worship. The LORD’s table at which He is the host, the table which He serves us, the table which gives us the greatest of all gifts – a gift of Himself. “Take, eat. This is my body given for You.” He gives us His very life so that we might live.
Truly I say to you, the master will gird himself. It is not a typo. It is the truth that sets us free. No matter how high you may go, Jesus Christ will be higher still. No matter how low you may go, Jesus Christ will be lower still.
E. Ending Prayer
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, there simply is no one like you. No one says what You say. No one lives like You live. No one loves like You love. Will You, in Your mercy and grace, work in our hearts and minds, that we live and love like You. No one like You.