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The King Who Serves His People

April 7, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Good Friday Sermon

Topic: Holy Week Passage: Luke 22:24–27, John 13:1–17


A Message for Good Friday

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: April 7, 2023

Series: Good Friday Sermon

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction: Jesus came to serve

I have titled this Good Friday message, “The King Who Serves His People.” The attempt to reverse this direction of service is fraught with danger. The seemingly sensible impulse by the people to render service to their King is, in fact, a risky one. It must be done, of course: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11) But be careful! How can we serve the King who said, “[The] Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Why would we rush to serve the One who “came not to be served”? We are almost hardwired to think that the lesser should serve the greater, but the Bible rips out that faulty wiring and reconfigures it to work a different way. If we say, ‘We love, because He first loved us’, we must also say, ‘We serve, because He first served us.’

Indeed, the first order of business for human beings is to learn what it means to be served by the King, for He came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We must first sit at the feet of the King who serves His people, and only after drinking deeply from His service to us are we able to learn how to serve Him in the right kind of way.

Remembering Martha

Do you remember Martha in Luke 10:38-42? She welcomed Jesus into her house – so far, so good (Luke 10:38). But she allowed herself to be “distracted with much serving” to the point that she frustratingly asked the Lord if He cared that “my sister [Mary] has left me to serve alone” (Luke 10:40). What had Mary chosen to do? “Mary… sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” (Luke 10:39) Mary was focused on the one thing, and so she chose to be served by the Lord who taught her. But Martha’s heart was divided. Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) This much is clear: if the attempt to serve the Lord is characterized by distraction, anxiety, and frustration, then something is amiss. Learn to choose the good portion. Let the Lord minister to you.

The Lord doesn’t need your service

The Lord may invite you to serve Him in any number of ways, but when He does, it is not because He needs your service:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)

Since the Lord is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything,” make sure that you never serve the Lord as though he did need something. He doesn’t. He doesn’t need you to serve Him, but you most certainly need Him to serve you.

From the opening scenes of creation, the Creator God serves His people. A God who can create the entire universe out of nothing obviously doesn’t need anything that the universe offers. God created a beautiful inhabitable world in which His image-bearers could flourish. God supplied all that was necessary to sustain and multiply life. God provided the man with a wife. After they fell into sin, God clothed them with garments to cover their shame and promised to send a Son who would make everything right again.

Idols must be carried, but God carries us

One of the characteristics of lifeless idols is that they have to be propped up by men. Idols are pathetic: they have to be made, they have to be set up in a temple or on an altar, they have to be carried from place to place. Idols need idolaters in order for the ruse to work. Apparently sinful human beings have a preference for gods that need us. Apparently sinful human beings have a preference for little gods that are harmless, safe, and under our control. Apparently sinful human beings would rather have a lifeless idol that needs them than the living God who doesn’t need them. But it’s a bad deal: lifeless idols never loved anyone. But the living God loves and serves His people.

This contrast between lifeless idols that people carry, and the living God who carries His people, is set forth in the opening verses of Isaiah 46:

“Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:1-4)

The Lord “bears us up” (Psalm 68:19), carries us (Isaiah 46:4), delivers us (Psalm 50:15), helps us (Isaiah 41:14), satisfies and renews us (Psalm 103:5), answers and looks after us (Hosea 14:8), and gives us rest (Matthew 11:28). He holds us up, we don’t hold Him up. The way of the flesh is to depend on yourself and on the things that you can carry: this way is exhausting, and eventually you wither and die. The way of the Lord is to depend on the Lord and trust Him to carry you: this way is refreshing and fruitful. Have you lost your way? Have you fallen back into exhausting self-reliance? Do you need to be reminded that the most fundamental way of fellowship with the Lord is that He serves you?

Jesus is the King who serves (Luke 22:24-27)

One of the most powerful passages with respect to the greater serving the lesser is found in Luke 22:24-27. In the previous passage (Luke 22:14-23), Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper: “This is my body, which is given for you…. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19, 20) After describing the meal, Luke shifts our attention to the immaturity of the disciples:

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (Luke 22:24)

The Greatest One is about to offer His body and blood on a cross for the salvation of His people, and yet they are jockeying for second greatest. Instead of drinking deeply from the grace of the Lord who is serving them, they are rushing to climb the ladder to see how many people they can look down upon. Jesus tells them that they are thinking like pagan rulers, and then He tells them that they have no business thinking like pagan rulers. Hear what Jesus says:

“And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

The world’s way of handling power is to exert power over others. The world’s way of handling authority is to put others in their subservient place. The world’s way of handling greatness is to ascribe titles, positions, chairmanships, gold and silver donor levels, and other forms of recognition. The world’s way of handling high rank and status is to recline at the table and let others serve you. When Jesus asks, “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?”, He is highlighting the world’s way of thinking: the men reclining at the table and enjoying their meal outrank the waiters and waitresses and busboys who are serving the men sitting around the table. The world’s way of thinking about rank and status is to climb the ladder, accumulate an entourage of servants, and require your servants to do all the work that is necessary in order to prop you up, make your life comfortable, and make you look like a VIP (very important person).

When Jesus counters the worldly way by saying, “But I am among you as the one who serves”, He is turning the world’s view upside down. In terms of authority, power, and status, Jesus outranks everyone. Before His birth, He was declared to be “the Son of the Most High” who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32, 33). He was hailed as “Christ the Lord” at his birth (Luke 2:11). Before His ministry, John the Baptist announced him as the One who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16) and who would bring a decisive judgment upon the people (Luke 3:17). He preached the good news, summoned a band of followers, healed the sick, cleansed the unclean, released demoniacs from their bondage, bestowed forgiveness on sinners, raised the dead, calmed the storm, and multiplied the loaves. Jesus’ disciples understood that Jesus outranked them by a massively wide margin. And yet the One who outranked them by a massively wide margin says: “I am among you as the one who serves”.

What we must see is that when Jesus calls upon His followers to serve others, He is not exempting Himself from the way of servanthood. Instead, He is presenting Himself to His disciples as Example Number One: “I [your Lord and Teacher and Savior] am among you as the one who serves.” Jesus is the King who serves His people. One of the implications of this is that we must slow down, pay attention, and understand that our Lord serves us.

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-10, 12-17)

A striking example of the Lord’s service to His people was driven home to the disciples around the same time that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)

Jesus loved His people “to the end” – to the finish line, even to that very moment four chapters later when He said “It is finished” (John 19:30). John 13 continues:

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:2-5).

The information given in verse 3 is very important. We are not simply told that Jesus “rose from supper” in order to assume the mantle of servanthood. He did rise from supper and assume the mantle of servanthood, but He did this with a certain understanding that is revealed to us in verse 3: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God”.

Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands. In Monday School we have been studying the Book of Daniel. We have learned about Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who knew that he had massive kingly authority over the Neo-Babylonian Empire. What did Nebuchadnezzar do with this information? Well, on one occasion he did this:

“[He] was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”” (Daniel 4:29-30)

There is nothing wrong with having a position of authority – there is nothing wrong with being assigned a leadership post – but sinners in their sin let it go to their heads and see it as an opportunity for self-adulation and self-promotion. Nebuchadnezzar did have massive kingly authority, and yet he was a mere man, and the Most High God knocked him from his throne in an instant. Far greater than Nebuchadnezzar, our Lord Jesus received “all things” from the Father – indeed, the Father gave Jesus “authority over all flesh” (John 17:2). Even though Jesus far outranked Nebuchadnezzar, contrast their responses to their self-awareness of having great authority: Nebuchadnezzar walked on the roof of the palace and praised himself; Jesus rose from supper, laid aside his outer garments, took a towel, poured water into a basin, and washed the dirty and dusty feet of His disciples. Gentile kings lord it over their subjects, but Jesus is the true King who is among us as the One who serves. The highest of kings became the lowliest of servants and washed dirty feet.

Contrary to any conception that lowly service is for fragile and insecure people who don’t know how to get ahead and make something of their lives, Jesus knew that He possessed all things; Jesus knew where He had come from; and Jesus knew where He was going. Jesus was the most secure and most powerful and most knowledgeable person on the planet – and yet He was clothed in the attitude of a servant. He had come to serve His people.

When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, it wasn’t just an instance of humble service illustrated by attending to the practical problem of dirty feet. It pointed to something deeper: our need to be spiritually cleansed and forgiven. Jesus

“began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean….”” (John 13:5-10)

Jesus came to be the Servant who washes us. Notice that letting Jesus serve you in this way is essential to having fellowship with Him. If you protest, “[Jesus] shall never wash my feet”, then you must understand Jesus’ warning: “If I do not wash you, you have no share in me.” To have a share in Jesus requires that you let Him serve you in any and every way that He intends to serve you. There is a simple reason why people go off the rails and make shipwreck: they don’t let Jesus serve them, clean them, bathe them, wash them. This is the very reason He came. Two chapters later Jesus said to His disciples, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) He serves us by speaking holy words that make us clean. Two chapters after that He prayed for His people, saying, “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:19) He consecrated Himself for our sake, so that we might partake of holy fellowship with Him. He so loved the church that He “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus is the King who serves His people by doing everything necessary for our cleansing, holiness, and glory.

In that stunning moment in John 13, He stooped low to wash the disciples’ feet. Even now, though He has returned to the Father, we have a great high priest who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15) and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18), and who sees to it that we “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Even now, His blood “cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

You cannot begin to truly love and serve and forgive others, until you have understood the Lord’s love, service, and forgiveness toward you:

“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

Our sacrificial service and warmhearted forgiveness to each other is the fruit of His sacrificial service and warmhearted forgiveness toward us.

Come, and let the humble King serve you

As we come to the Table, we must remember the good news of the gracious King who serves His people:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this is remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”” (Luke 22:19-20)

Don’t come to this Table because you think that you have something great to offer the Lord. Instead, only come to this Table if you have come to know and believe that the Lord has something great to offer you. If you don’t know the great salvation He offers you, then remain seated, and study what is happening, and consider what might happen if you exchanged your filthy rags for His wonderful grace.

But to those who believe: He gave His body “for you”; He poured out His blood “for you”. Therefore, come and receive what He prepared for you. Come thirsty, come hungry; come needy, come weary; come bankrupt, come broken; come weak and vulnerable to temptation; come with dirty feet and an open heart. Come, and let the humble King serve you.

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