The Hidden Power of Serving (Luke 22:24-30)
The Hidden Power of Serving
At the end of the Revolutionary War, General George Washington basked in the warm praise and loving embrace of a thankful group of colonies. Since I love reading presidential biographies, I am asked from time to time who my favorite president is. I have learned, having read a biography on every president up through George W. Bush, that every president has qualities that can be praised and every president has qualities that can be criticized.
I cannot make a list of “favorite presidents.” But, if I were to do that, President Washington would have to be at the top of the list for the quality that I am about to illustrate. After the war was over, before General Washington returned to his private life as a farmer, he had to go through endless parades and parties given in his honor. There were receptions after receptions, after receptions. He once left a concert just before the chorus sang a hymn in his honor, set to music by Handel. One man at that particular concert wrote that “It was amusing to see how, in a place so crowded with the fair sex [we’ll say “beautiful ladies”], everybody had eyes only for this Hero. Indeed, we only now and then stole a glance at our girls. His Excellency [which is what a lot of people called George Washington during the war] drew everyone’s attention.” (Incidentally, the picture of Washington praying is a fabricated scene. According to his biographer, Ron Chernow, Washington was very private about his religious practices so it is not likely that a painter would have caught Washington doing this.)
You have to understand how very popular General Washington was at the end of the war to understand this point… King George III (of Great Britain) one day asked his painter (who did his portrait) whether Washington would be head of the army or head of state when the war ended. When the man replied that Washington’s sole ambition was to return to his estate, the thunderstruck king declared, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” (Chernow, 453-454).
We see from this anecdote the theme for our study this morning, “The Hidden Power of Serving.” While we rightly criticize General Washington for his support of slavery - and we should recognize that he was torn about the ownership of other human beings - he was a man who did his best to serve his country, in ways that hurt himself physically and financially. But, as the general of the Continental Army, Washington loved his troops and he loved his people. He would not allow his soldiers to ransack and loot the towns where they marched, whether the towns were Patriots or Loyalists to Great Britain. In many ways, he tried to treat everyone fairly and equally.
The “hidden power of serving” explains why George Washington is the only president in American history to win the electoral college vote (twice) unanimously. In President James Monroe’s second term, he almost won a unanimous vote in the electoral college but one elector decided to vote against Monroe to preserve the historical value of George Washington’s achievement.
Let’s take a look at an event from the life of Jesus that illustrates to us the “hidden power of serving.” You and I are faced with people each day of our lives who need to be served, whether they deserve it or not. If we want to have good, positive relationships with the people around us - our spouse, our children, our friends, our coworkers, even our enemies - we will absorb from the spirit of Jesus, the “hidden power of serving.”
THE LORD’S SUPPER IS AN EMBLEM OF SERVING - 22:14-23:
The text reads: “When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. “For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.”
Observe that the whole context of the Lord’s Supper is shared in the context of Jesus’ coming suffering - suffering other people, even for those who will soon be crucifying Him, as we’ll point out shortly. The bread symbolizes Christ’s body “given” for us. That’s serving. We observe with the cup that it symbolizes the blood of Christ that is poured out - for us, for sinners. That’s service. We also notice that Judas was in the audience so Jesus was willing to serve even Judas. If Judas had not hung himself, taken the vengeance of God into his own hands, he could have been forgiven and saved.
You see, the Lord’s Supper, every Sunday, reminds us of the sacrificial service that Jesus offered for you and me. Now He calls us to “do this in remembrance of” Him. Every Sunday, the Lord’s Supper ought to remind us that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. We ought to be less concerned about our rights and more concerned about serving other people, especially those in our church family.
THE DISCIPLES ARGUE OVER PRESTIGE - 22:24-30:
Jesus is preparing Himself and His apostles for His coming crucifixion and death and they have decided to argue over their rights! Their prestige! They want to be recognized for what they do!
The text reads: “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
These men had not yet learned the hidden power of serving. They were afraid that they would be overlooked. They would be ignored. They would not be respected. So they had to argue over who was the greatest in the kingdom of Christ. Jesus tells them to stop acting like pagans, like unbelievers, like atheists! If you want to be great, Jesus says, then serve. Jesus bluntly says, “I am among you as one who serves.” Remember, it’s in this same context that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Then Jesus tells His apostles: “You all are going to have equal authority in My Kingdom. You all will sit on the thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The ground at the foot of the cross is level. No Christian is more important in the eyes of God than any other Christian. Service in the kingdom of heaven is not about power. It’s not about prestige. It’s not about recognition. It’s all about service.
If you want to be the Christian Jesus wants you to be, stop thinking about your rights and spend more time thinking about serving others, especially those in your church family.
SERVICE MEANS ENCOURAGING OTHERS - 22:31-34:
We can’t encourage others if we are so concerned about ourselves. “Who’s meeting my needs!?” Jesus says, “Be concerned about meeting other peoples’ needs.”
The text reads: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
We are concerned about rights because our faith is weak. We are concerned about our recognition because our faith is weak. We are concerned about being taken advantage of because our faith is weak. We are concerned about ourselves because our faith is weak. Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith. I suppose that Jesus is praying for your faith and my faith. That prayer will not be answered miraculously. It will be answered when we spend more time walking with Jesus Christ in His word and in prayer and in meditation on what Jesus does for us.
Then Jesus told Peter that when his faith was strengthened, Peter needed to turn and strengthen his brothers. You see how “other focused” service is? Strengthen your brothers. Don’t discourage your brothers. Strengthen your brothers. Pray for your brothers. Serve your brothers so that you can encourage them and strengthen them. Peter spoke up and boldly claimed that he would die with Jesus, or at least go to jail for Jesus - and of course, he did not. When the time came, Peter turned inward. He focused on himself and his own strength. That’s why he denied Jesus. He was not leaning on the everlasting arms of the Father; he was relying on his own strength and that scared him and it caused him to deny the Lord he loved.
Service means encouraging others.
SERVICE INVOLVES PRAYER - 22:39-46:
The text reads: “And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
We do not know what decisions we need to make in life. This last 14 months have illustrated just how ignorant we are. We must lean on prayer. Jesus prayed for Himself. He prayed that His faith would be strong enough to sustain Him through the dark hours of the trial and the crucifixion. He said, you recall, that He could call 12 legions of angels if He desired. Jesus might have been tempted to do that very thing, to call His host of angels to punish those who were condemning Him unfairly. But, Jesus prayed that His faith would be strengthened.
Jesus prayed that in the middle of that awful pain that He would not curse God like so many other crucified criminals had done before throughout His lifetime. So He prayed. And those words of pain came out in a much more non-confrontational way: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Jesus prayed for His faith, that it would not fail.
Jesus also prayed for His disciples. He knew the OT prophecies would say that one would betray Him. Judas did. But it was not yet too late for Judas. Judas had left Jesus in the upper room and had gone out to get the soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden. It was not yet too late for Judas. Jesus prayed for him. Jesus prayed for Peter. Jesus knew - and He still knows - that the flesh is weak. So He prayed.
Do you pray for those you disagree with? Do you pray for your spouse to be strong and healthy and blessed? Do you pray for your children? That they’ll receive from God what they need? Service involves prayer.
SERVICE INVOLVES ‘TOUCHING THE EAR’ OF YOUR ENEMY - 22:47-51; 23:27-31:
Now let’s get to the point where the rubber meets the road. Service involves serving. It’s more than praying in the privacy of your closet. It’s more than giving lip service to blessing your enemy. It is doing something constructive for your enemy!
“While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.”
I want to jump forward and read another section of the text before we elaborate more on this point: 23:27-31:
“And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ “Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Jesus never stopped being concerned about those who were persecuting Him. This man who came out to help arrest Jesus, unfairly — Jesus healed his ear and he rebuked Peter for striking out at his enemy. In the second passage, Jesus showed the concern of His heart for the very people of Jerusalem who were wanting to kill Him. Jesus foresees the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, due in part to their sinful treatment of Jesus Christ. But it didn’t stop Jesus from being willing to serve.
We should “put our money where our mouth is” or, maybe I should say we need to “put our hands of service where our faith is,” and serve other people, including people who disagree with us. We get our feelings hurt by someone and because our pride is wounded, we go sulk in the corner and start sining “woe is me,” when Jesus put His faith into action and served others, including His enemies. That’s the hidden power of serving.
SERVICE INVOLVES FORGIVENESS - 23:33-34, 40-43, 54:
Finally, the hidden power of serving includes treating people as if they had never said anything wrong to us, as if they never did anything wrong to us.
The text reads: “When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” That’s forgiveness for the people who crucified Him.
Again, the text reads: “But the other [criminal] answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus was meek. Jesus was humble. Jesus wasn’t concerned about His rights and He wasn’t concerned about His feelings. He was all about serving others and trying to help them honor God and get to heaven. That quiet, humble, hidden power of forgiveness had an impact on an unlikely observer to this whole procedure; verse 54: “Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
“A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). The “hidden power of serving” is that power of humility that can turn an enemy into a friend. We see that here in the example of Jesus with the thief on the cross (23:39-43). We see a similar reaction in one of the centurions (23:47) and the crowds (23:48).
If we want to have good, wholesome, positive relationships with other people, including those who get on our nerves, those who disrespect us, those who are our enemies, then we must embrace this example of Jesus and live out in our lives the “hidden power of serving.”
Take home message: Let’s commit our lives to serving others. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the hidden power of service. We shouldn’t be concerned about credit, fame, or prestige. We need to encourage, pray, serve, and forgive. There will be great reward, in this life and in the life to come, in our service to others.