Jesus, Our Servant?
The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / February 6, 2005
In this brief parable, tucked in the middle of Luke 12, Jesus gives us an exhortation along with a corresponding principle. The exhortation is “be ready”, and the corresponding principle is that the faithful servant will be served.
We deal, first, with the exhortation: “be ready”. This is familiar instruction to me. As the youngest child, in a fairly strict home, I heard that exhortation a lot. ‘Bryn, get ready for school. Bryn, you had better be ready for your exam. Bryn, get ready for hockey. Bryn, wakeup and get ready for church.’
Eventually, the message begins to wear on you. Attempting to always ‘be ready’ becomes tiresome. And yet, this is the message of our Lord, “be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect” (Lk. 12:40).
The “coming” of “the Son of Man”, referenced here, is a reference to the return of Jesus Christ. And this is no obscure reference. There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, and Christ’s return is mentioned no less than 318 times in those chapters (Hughes, Preaching The Word: Luke, vol.2, 59).
The exhortation to “be ready” is framed for us in anticipation of Christ’s coming. And even if we do not live to see Christ’s visible return to earth, we will witness another kind of ‘coming’ when we die. Earlier in this chapter there is a parable about a man who stored up possessions for himself only to have God say to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (Lk. 12:19, 20).
When Christ returns, or when we die, we will witness His coming; which begs the question: Are you ready? If Christ came today, would He find you engaged in service for Him? Or, would He find you entangled in temporal affairs?
There is an old fable in which three apprentice devils were talking to Satan. The first one said, ‘I will tell people there is no God.’ Satan replied, ‘That will not fool many, because the people know there is a God.’
The second devil said, ‘I will tell them there is no hell.’ Satan said, ‘You will not fool many that way, because the people know there is a hell.’
The third said, ‘I will tell people there is no hurry.’ Satan replied, ‘Go, spread your message and you will ruin millions.’
Just recently, I attended a gathering of Presbyterian ministers. We met to discuss, and diagnose, the challenges facing our denomination. Near the top of our list was the diagnosis of spiritual lethargy. We have believed the devil’s lie that there is no hurry. We have believed the falsehood that there is nothing to be ready for. The result has been that many congregations have been lulled into a deep sleep . . . and some have yet to wake up.
How are we doing? If Christ returned today, would he be pleased with your level of readiness?
What does it mean to “be ready”? The parable begins with the instruction, “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight” (Lk. 12:35). The English Standard Version reads, “Stay dressed for action”.
In other words, keep your work clothes on. Christianity is not a spectator sport. The parable positions individual Christians as working servants actively waiting for our Master’s return.
In the parable, we are told that the master is attending a wedding banquet. My understanding is that, in Jesus’ day, a Hebrew wedding celebration would often last several days. As a result, the time of the master’s return was uncertain. In the midst of this uncertainty, the servants remained dressed in their work clothes. Their pajamas would remain folded in the drawer. They were ready to serve at a moment’s notice.
It was also important for the master to return to a brightly lit house. To ensure this, the servants would need to be diligent in replenishing the oil in their lamps; they would need to keep the wicks trimmed for maximum light.
Moreover, while the servants waited, they would need to keep their moods in check. Lack of sleep is no excuse for irritability. Nothing less than a joyous reception would be suitable for their master’s return.
As we translate this parable into our context, we soon see that ours is no easy task. The analogy of wearing the same clothes, and forsaking sleep, translates for us into service that threatens our physical and emotional comfort.
Nominal service will not suffice. Service without sacrifice is not good enough. The service Jesus calls for is of the highest caliber. And the devotion Jesus requires of us is singular.
What is going to motivate us to pursue this level of service? What is going to compel you and I do be faithful servants of Christ?
Two things: Duty and delight.
In the parable we are positioned as servants before Jesus, our Master. As servants, we are not at liberty to create our own job description. We take orders; we follow instructions; we obey commands. Compliance is our duty. Duty is concerned with doing the right thing.
This should hardly need to be noted, and yet, looking at some Christians, you might think that Jesus gave a parable about dining at a restaurant with a buffet table. Looking to some Christians, you might think we are free to do that which is palatable, and free to leave behind that which is displeasing to our tastes.
By contrast, a good, and faithful, servant omits nothing. A faithful servant pays attention to every detail. Nothing is left undone. Nothing is left behind.
Thankfully, we have more than just duty to motivate us. If duty alone were our motivation, our service to Christ would eventually become cold and reluctant. We need something more to motivate our service; we need delight to inspire our efforts. Service that is fueled by delight means doing that which will maximize our happiness.
Jesus says, “Blessed is the servant whom the master finds alert when he comes” (Lk. 12:37). The Greek word, translated "Blessed", literally means "happy". "Happy is the servant whom the master finds alert when he comes". Delighted is the one who is found to be faithfully serving Christ.
But, notice that the slave gains more than happiness here. The servant gets far more than a pat on the back from an appreciative master. In this parable, the faithful servant is rewarded; the faithful servant gets served by the master.
Jesus declares, “Blessed are those servants whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that (the master) will gird himself to serve, and will have (the servants) recline at the table, and (the master) will come up and wait on them” (Lk. 12:37).
I could find no precedent for this kind of treatment. At best, servants would be rewarded by being invited to sit and eat with their master. But to have the master actually stoop to serve the servant? This is truly exceptional. Yet, this is precisely what Jesus promises the Christian who is “dressed for action.”
Motivated by duty and delight, we begin to serve Christ only to have Him turn the tables on us. In the end, it is not our efforts, but Christ’s efforts that prevail. Christ calls us to “be ready”, He commands us to participate in kingdom work, He commands us to be dressed and to have our lamps lit, but, in the end, Christ sees the work through by serving us.
Perhaps there are times when you wonder whether you have the time, strength, or ability to serve Christ. If that describes how you sometimes feel, remember this: You should not be serving Christ by your own strength. Kingdom work must be done with the strength Christ provides (1Pet. 4:11). Because the radical truth of Scripture is that "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve"(Mk.10:45).
What a marvelous arrangement this is! The Creator serves those whom He created. What is the Divine purpose of this? Why does God, through Christ, want to do all the serving? This is answered in 1Peter 4:11, "whoever serves let him do so with the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ."
The glory of God is at stake here. According to Peter, the one who helps, the one who works, gets the glory. If God’s will could only be secured with our help, if we were helping God to do what He could not do on His own, we would get the credit—we would get the glory.
But that’s not what we are here for. We exist to glorify God and we do this when we call upon Him to serve us. Does that mean that Jesus becomes our servant? Not exactly. This is no role reversal. If Jesus were our servant He would merely be doing His duty by helping us. No—Jesus remains our Master, and that is what is so marvelous about Him serving us.
Bear in mind, however, that the principle of Jesus serving us corresponds to a preceding exhortation. According to the parable, it is no automatic thing for the Master to serve the servant. But rather, the Master serves in response to the readiness of his servants.
We are like the servants in the parable, we do not know when Christ, our Master, will return. Nonetheless, we are commanded to “be ready”.
Friends, in light of His coming, we need to examine our current condition. Have you been dutiful in your service to Christ? Are you delighting in your service to Christ? Or, have you, after serving Christ for many years, put away your work clothes? Even worse, are you in a spiritual slumber? Has the light that once burned bright within you, grown dim?
Admittedly, the parable of the ‘ready servant’ sets a high standard for the individual Christian. The parable compels duty and delight, but the parable also promises reward. The parable reminds us that "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve"(Mk.10:45).
I long for that. I long for the yoke of Christ to bind me to Him. I can’t do it on my own. At every turn, in every context, let Christ serve you—for the glory of His name. Amen.