Jesus the Servant

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					                        “Images of Jesus”                          his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although
                       “Jesus the Servant”                         he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
             First Presbyterian Church, Monticello
                         March 10, 2013                              Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When
                     Fourth Sunday of Lent                         you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring,
                     C. Drew Smith, Ph.D.                          and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord
                                                                   shall prosper. 11Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall
Isaiah 53                                                          find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my
                                                                   servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the           iniquities. 12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him          and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured
like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no   out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;
form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his         yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the
appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and         transgressors.
rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with
infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was     Mark 10:35-45
despised, and we held him of no account.
                                                                     James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him
 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;     and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and             we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me
afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed     to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at
for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us       your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus
whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6All we like sheep        said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you
have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the       able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the
Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed,    baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are
and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb   able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will
that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its     drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will
shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8By a            be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not
perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have            mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been
imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the       prepared.”
living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9They made

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
  When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James         was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are
and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know         clean.” 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe,
that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their           and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know
rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over      what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—
them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to            and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and
become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever           Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one
wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son     another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also
of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a    should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you,
ransom for many.”                                                    servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers
                                                                     greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things,
John 13:1-17                                                         you are blessed if you do them.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his                  Perhaps one of the most ironic things we learn about
hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to         Jesus from the Gospels is that he saw himself as a servant. To
the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son   be sure he was a servant of God; but more surprising to his
of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus,
knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and     earliest followers was the fact that he saw himself as a servant
that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up              of humanity.
from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around
himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash                 Just think about it for a moment. Earliest Christians
the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied    held to the idea that Jesus was the Son of God, the Lord, their
around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord,
are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not         teacher and master, who descended from God. And, yet, they
know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”            also preserved the sayings and actions of the Jesus that present
  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus
answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”            him not only as a servant, but perhaps more shockingly, as a
  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my       slave.
hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed
does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.            Indeed, perhaps it is still a little challenging for us to
And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who         see Jesus as a servant. We can believe him to be a teacher who

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
gives us the laws of God, and we can believe him to be a healer     to grasp its power. And, this is certainly true for John’s
who exhibits the power of God. But, it seems a bit ironic to see    portrayal of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
him as a servant.                                                          As Jesus and his disciples are gathered in that room to
       And, yet, this is exactly what we see and hear from          celebrate the Passover Meal, Jesus, John tells us in verse 3,
Jesus as the Gospel writers present him. And, perhaps there are     knew that God had given all things into his hands, and that he
no passages from the Gospels that present Jesus as a servant        had come from God and was going to God. But, in what must
more than the two we read earlier from Mark and John.               have been a jaw dropping experience for the disciples, Jesus
       In the Mark passage we find Jesus declaring that he has      got up from the table, put a towel around him, and began to
not come to be served, but to serve, even to the point of giving    wash the disciples’ feet.
his life for all. He says this in contrast to what James and John          We would all agree, I think, that Jesus is here pictured
have just asked him. They wanted power, but Jesus declares          as one who does an act of service for his disciples; the washing
that he himself does not seek power, but he has become a            of their feet. But that is not the key to the story. The key to
servant.                                                            this whole episode is found in Jesus’ taking off of his outer
       But, I have always been intrigued by the other passage       robe and putting on the towel.
we read; the one from John. This is a very familiar passage to             While the passage is initially silent regarding the
most of us, but it only appears in John, who, unlike the other      disciples reaction to Jesus putting on the towel, I think that if
Gospels, expands the story of the Last Supper. Only John tells      we would have been in the room that night, we may have heard
us that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and like I have     some deep gasps and mumbling. Why? Because, when Jesus
mentioned about reading the Gospels before, you have to pay         took up the towel he was not just performing one more act of
attention to the cultural images and the subtleties in a passage    service for his disciples. No, in putting on the towel, Jesus was
                                                                    identifying himself as a servant and slave.

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
         Culturally, during the time of Jesus, the servant or slave          But what kind of servant was Jesus? Of course, the
of the house was known by the uniform he wore—the towel.              image that we see from his act of washing the feet of the
His job was to stand at the door of the house and wash the            disciples tells us that Jesus saw his role as servant as that which
filthy feet of those who entered. This was such a menial task,        called him to lower himself in humility to the point of even
that Jews were forbidden to do this. If you wore a towel              performing the most menial of tasks.
around yourself, you were a slave and you were always a slave.               But Jesus also clarified his role as servant as that which
         We often consider what we do for a living, our               takes him to the cross. Jesus defines this role very clearly in
occupation, to be who we are. And to some extent that is true.        Mark 10:45 where he states, “The Son of Man did not come to
I am a collage teacher and administrator. But I can pull away         be served, but to serve.” Jesus was not simply a man who went
from that during my life and see myself as something more,            about doing acts of service; he was indeed a servant.
like a father, a coach, a friend. But, if you wore the towel in              Paul helps us understand this even more through his use
the first century, you were a slave, period. Your whole identity      of an early Christian hymn that would have been chanted in
was as a slave who washed the dirty feet of those coming into a       many churches of the first century. The hymn is found in
house.                                                                Philippians 2, and it clearly illustrates what we have been
         When Jesus put on the towel that night, he was not           saying. Listen to this hymn, with which I am sure you may be
simply doing one more act of service. Instead, he was                 familiar:
demonstrating that he was the servant sent by God. In other
                                                                                  If then there is any encouragement in
words, the vocation of servant was Jesus’ identity. Even though                   Christ, any consolation from love, any
we affirm Jesus to be teacher, healer, Son of God, Messiah,                       sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and
                                                                                  sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of
Lord, and other honorific titles, Jesus defined his existence as                  the same mind, having the same love, being
that of being a servant.                                                          in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
          nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,                   his lifestyle was that of a servant, and he could not be known
          but in humility regard others as better than
                                                                      any other way. And, in following Jesus, we are not to be people
          yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to
          your own interests, but to the interests of                 who simply do random acts of service, but are to be people
          others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that
                                                                      whose lives are consumed by service; we are to be servants.
          was in Christ Jesus,
                                                                             There is, however, a very serious challenge for us to
And here is the part scholars believe to be the hymn:                 consider if we are going to be servants as Christ himself was a
          6 who, though he was in the form of God,                    servant. I say this is a very serious challenge because it will
          did not regard equality with God as
                                                                      quite possibly scare us away from being servants, and push us
          something to be exploited, 7 but emptied
          himself, taking the form of a slave, being                  back in to a lifestyle where we only do random acts of service.
          born in human likeness. And being found in
                                                                      The challenge is this: If we are to be servants, we must
          human form, 8 he humbled himself and
          became obedient to the point of death--                     become like those we seek to serve.
          even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God
                                                                             To see this, we need to look more closely at what the
          also highly exalted him and gave him the
          name that is above every name, 10 so that                   hymn of Philippians 2 actually tells us. First, notice that Paul’s
          at the name of Jesus every knee should
                                                                      whole reason for using this hymn is to challenge the believers
          bend, in heaven and on earth and under the
          earth, 11 and every tongue should confess                   at Philippi to become humble servants of one another. He tells
          that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of
                                                                      them, “Have this mindset in you that was also in Christ Jesus,
          God the Father.
                                                                      who” and then he gives them this hymn as proof.
       The key statement is “taking the form of a slave.” Paul               The importance of this hymn is found in Jesus
does not tell us of the acts of service that Jesus does, except the   becoming like those among whom he came to be a servant.
supreme act of dying of the cross. Rather, he tells us that Jesus     The hymn begins with Jesus being in the very form of God,
became a servant. His very identity was that of being a servant,      with all the divine nature and power at his grasp. But instead

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
of exploiting his position and power for his own purposes,                 Well, that is all well and good, and we cannot deny that
Jesus saw the plight of humanity, and he chose to become one       these things are said by or about Jesus in the New Testament.
of us. Instead of remaining in the grandeur of heavenly            But, what does that mean for us? Does it mean anything for us?
existence, Jesus chose to come to the streets of earth as a man,           Notice the contexts of both passages from Mark 10 and
to live as a servant.                                              John 13. In Mark 10 Jesus is defining his role as servant
        Let’s pause and think about this for a moment. Picture     against the desires of James and John to seek power. And, in
with me Jesus living on earth. Do you have it? Is he a             doing so, Jesus tells his disciples that they too are to be
powerful, stately, handsome person who rises above all others?     servants.
Now erase it. Now picture someone born into a poor family,                 In John 13, Peter tries to prevent Jesus from washing
who will be poor all his life. Picture a man who is dirty, who     his feet because he is concerned about what this means for him.
most likely is not very attractive in his looks. Picture a man     But, after Jesus washes their feet he tells his disciples that if he,
who has no worldly or political power. Picture a man who is        being their master, is not above washing the feet of others, then
homeless, wearing rags. That is the true picture of Jesus.         they too should wash one another’s feet.
        Jesus’ action in putting on the towel in John 13, his              What does this all mean for us, if we claim to follow
statement about being a servant and a ransom from all in Mark      Jesus? It means that we are to become servants. We are not
10, and the hymn of Philippians 2 all tell us that he did not      simply called to do acts of service, but the identity of being
remain in the place and position of royalty and divinity, but he   servants ought to be the badges that we wear day in and day
emptied himself of the rights and privileges of that position,     out.
and he became a servant. He became a slave.                                But some well meaning Christians would challenge me
                                                                   on this. They would say, “Christ came to set us free from the
                                                                   law, and therefore Christ came to give us freedom to live our

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
Christian lives the way we see fit.” My answer to this is, “I      But our freedom only makes it possible for us to become true
agree.” Christ has come to set us free, and we do have freedom     servants, authentic slaves, in imitation of Christ who did not
before God to live the way we believe God leads us.                come to do acts of service, but to become a servant among us.
       But Jesus’ death on the cross cannot be seen as only               There are many examples of this kind of service that we
that which sets us free from the law and sin. For Jesus’ death     could mention this morning, but there is one person that always
actually points beyond that to something even greater. Jesus’      sticks out in my mind—Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa, as
death actually makes it possible for us to become authentic        many of you know, began the group known as the Sisters of
servants and slaves the way he himself has become a servant        Charity which worked with the poor and dying in the streets of
and a slave.                                                       Calcutta India. Mother Teresa, instead of choosing only to do
       This is Paul’s understanding in Galatians 5:12-13. In       random acts of service, chose to become a servant and to live
the book of Galatians, Paul is dealing with Christians who have    among the people she served. She owned no property, had no
gone back to the practice of circumcision as being necessary       political or worldly power. While countless people benefited
for true salvation. They have been duped by false teachers, who    by her work, countless others died in her arms. What drew her
have convinced them that they need Jesus’ death and religious      to such a life? What would cause anyone to give up a potential
practices for true salvation. Paul wants to assure them that the   life of comfort for a life of poverty? For Mother Teresa, it was
true gospel is a gospel of freedom, setting people free from the   her relationship to Christ. She believed so seriously in Jesus,
constraints of the law. Yet Paul must also answer his critics,     that she became as he became.
who would say that this freedom will lead only to sin.                    I will never forget when she died. I was leading a small
       And thus, in Gal. 5:12-13 Paul gives the answer.            group of seminary students through discussions of spirituality,
Freedom in Christ is not for self-indulgence, but leads to         and her death prompted a very reflective discussion. Most of
slavery. Jesus’ death, Paul would say, is for setting us free.     us mourned the passing of such a servant. But one student’s

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013
comments I will never forget. This, I think well meaning
student said, “Well I just hope she knew Jesus as her savior.”
After recovering from shock at this comment, I replied, “If
Mother Teresa did not know Jesus as her savior, than none of
us know Jesus as our savior. For Mother Teresa was more like
Jesus than you or I will ever be.”
       Authentic Christians are not recognized in the world
only by a certain theology. Authentic Christians are recognized
in the world be their lifestyles. If we are to show Jesus to the
world, we must be Jesus to the world. We can preach and
witness with loud voices. But lifestyles of true service will
speak louder than anything we could say with words.
       Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve all
humanity. Not only did he take up the symbol of the servant in
his own culture by wrapping himself in a towel, but he also
took up the symbol of suffering and sacrifice by going to the
cross as a ransom for all. If he, being our teacher and Lord has
done this, how much more are we called to be servants to all?

©C. Drew Smith, Ph.D., 2013

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