A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 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. 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 22:24-27 TNIV)
Don't you imagine that the Lord's Supper those first few years was tough on Jesus' closest followers, the apostles? Once they had made it through the ordeal of the Cross, the surprising joy of the resurrection, and the grand farewell at Jesus' ascension, this regular reminder as they shared the Lord's Supper had to be bittersweet.
Surely the Lord's Supper was sweet to them because they celebrated it on the first day of the week, Sunday, the day of Jesus' resurrection (Acts 20:7). This changed Sunday from a normal day into the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10). So all the memories of Jesus' death were viewed through the lens of his amazing victory over Satan, sin, and death. They could re-live all those memories when they first realized he was raised from the dead and alive. They could feel again the joy they had when they realized all their hopes weren't dashed when he was nailed to a cross before a mocking mob.
However, the Lord's Supper had to be bitter in many ways, too. They had to be reminded of their stupid quarrels after the Lord has shared the Last Supper with them — quarreling about who would betray him and who was going to be greatest in his kingdom. They had to feel the embarrassment they felt when he washed their feet because each of them was too important to wash their Lord's feet, much less the feet of their friends. They would be haunted with their repeated sleepiness when the Lord needed a companion to stay awake with him in prayer. They would have been reminded of their repeated failures to stand by him on this fateful night when ten of them forsook him and fled, one betrayed him into the hands of persecutors, and their leader three times denied any association with him.
In my own head, I can construct imaginary conversations that must have gone on between these apostles and their children, and in later years, their grandchildren. "Surely you weren't like those other guys, were you Papa Pete? Surely you stood by Jesus, didn't you? You didn't run out on him, did you? After all you said with him, I know you must have defended him even though everybody else was chicken and ran away?"
"No, I'm ashamed to say, I was no different than the rest," Peter would have had to respond.
Yet on the other side of the Cross, these who were closest to the Lord could also remember some things Jesus had said and take them to heart. They could remember them from the vantage point of later years and understand them in their heads and be stirred by them in their hearts as the secret of it all.
- They could remember their Lord's sense of mission: "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).
- They could recall the Lord's definition of greatness: "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matthew 10:11).
- They could be reminded of the Lord's clear statement of his role: "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).
- They could still see in their memory of that night the basin and the towel as he washed their feet and told them, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:15-17).
For those caught up in the Jesus vibe like these closest early followers of the Christ, the words "service" and "servant" had to ring in their ears. These words would shape their lives for the years to come as they offered themselves to the work of the Kingdom. Many of them would give their lives in this service.
Yet for Jesus to call them — and us — to this kind of lifestyle shouldn't be surprising. Those who love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind would surely have to love others! They knew that the second great command could not be divorced from the first one! They were the balance of the Christ-follower's life, each side necessary to keep them moving to the rhythms of God's grace.
This concept, this call to be servants, was so important that it became one of the most undeniable marks of one who followed Jesus. The seven men who led in "serving" widows in Jerusalem were called to be servants (Acts 6:1-7). The household of Stephanus was held up to the fractured Corinthian church as an example to follow, honor, and obey (1 Corinthians 16:15-16). A sister from Cenchrea, Phoebe, was called a "servant" and the Christians in Rome were told to help her and receive her with honor (Romans 16:1-2). Key leaders in both Philippi (Philippians 1:1) and Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:8-13) were called servants — sometimes translated by the word deacon.
So today, though separated by centuries from the Last Supper and the awful and grueling ordeal of the Cross, we too should hear the call to be servants when we share in the Lord's Supper in our day. I can't love my brother as myself, I can't treat my sister in Christ as I want to be treated, without becoming a servant like Jesus. I won't surrender my cultural "rights" and become all things to all folks to win as many as possible unless I'm willing to become a servant like Jesus. The heart of Christian fellowship and the heart of Christian witness is rooted in the concept of service to others!
So for those of us trying to move to the beat of "the Jesus vibe," we know that this daily dance of grace is going to require a basin, a towel, and the willingness to follow the Lord's example ... and live as a servant.
In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature1 God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Why does Jesus describe being a servant as being the greatest in the Kingdom?
Why is having a servant heart so important to our basic life as a Christ-follower?
What is something you need to do to more fully love your neighbor as yourself by being a servant?
I'd love to hear your responses on my blog: