Jesus as Servant

washing_feetI have been to a few councils for ministry ordination. One frequent passage that is brought to the candidate is Philippians 2: 7 which says that Jesus “emptied himself.”  What exactly did he do in that passage?

Did he empty himself of his deity?  That is contrary to the teaching of the church through the ages, and contrary to the scriptures itself.

There is a passage in John’s Gospel that sheds some light in this question. It is when Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples in John 13.

I could go so far as to say that Philippians 2 is a commentary on Jesus as a Servant. If not a commentary, a song: many hold that it is actually a hymn of the early church.

Here is John 13:1-5:

 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his 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 the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John speaks of what Jesus knows, that he is from the Father and returning to the Father.  That he has god-like power in that “the Father had given all thins into his hands.”  As the LORD, Jesus removed his regular clothing and took on the clothing of a house servant and set out to do a very humbling work – he washed their feet.

Philippians says:

…he made himself nothing  taking on the very nature of a servant… (2:7)

The link is made stronger in that Philippians begins with an challenge to believers to serve each other, to be humble and considers others first.  (Phil 2:1-4). This is to be done in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:5).

In John 13 Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….”

So there is an ethical link – Jesus act of foot washing (John) and his submission to death on a cross (Philippians) are motives and models of Christian service.  I do not believe that foot washing is now a sacrament, but a picture of the way of life of all who follow Jesus.  If he, the Lord, the Master lowers himself to serve, what should we do?



Thoughts on Narratives


There are lots of ways to preach a passage of scripture.  One is to put the narrative into a formula such as this: Give it a title; identify a thesis, make three points, preferably alliterated, and find other stories to illustrate.

For Example:  David and Goliath:

  • Title:Taking on Giants
  • Thesis: You can overcome the impossible.
  • Three Stones:
    • Stand Tall
    • Say a Prayer
    • Shoot!
  • Illustration:  maybe an Olympic Athlete who overcome a hard life to win a gold medal.  If you are up to speed, play a video.  If you are a big church, invite the athlete to speak before the message.

Nothing really wrong with that.   You have heard a sermon like that if you attend a church with a preacher.  Maybe you can see a certain preacher delivering this message. You could probably preach it yourself.  But, do you think that is really what the story is about?

I’ve come to think of preaching narratives differently.  The Biblical stories are already crafted.  They need to be presented freshly. some obscurities need to be explained and the larger context of the story needs to be pulled in.  But mostly the preacher needs to stand to the side and let the story speak as intended.

Here are my thoughts in bullet points:

  • Narratives have a built in structure. Do not squeeze them into your formula – such as three points and a punch line.
  • Narratives are illustrations. They don’t need you to illustrate them so much as explain what is not clear.
  • Stories have power.
  • Use a little freedom in telling it, but make clear what is in the story and what is your own take on it.
  • Don’t over-principalize.  One author has built a book on a sentence of scripture. That seems to be using the text as a scaffold for adding your own thoughts.  It is not hearing the text.
  • Let them remember the story, not the preacher.  People will be telling the story of David and Goliath a lot longer than they will talk about Pastor Bob.  That is a good thing.
  • I prefer the word “Story” to “Narrative.”  Yes, narrative is a literary category, but it has also become an over used bit of semi-scholarly name dropping.  “Story” is  short and clear.

If I get my listeners to hear the familiar in a fresh way, and they have the Biblical story in their minds, I can trust that the Original Author can apply the story to His listeners.



Arguing over the Bread and Cup

cup-and-bread24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. . 

             Some people have really bad timing.  We are reading the account of Jesus last time with the disciples before he was taken away and crucified.

John’s gospel shows that before this meal, Jesus had washed their feet.  He gave this service as an example to them to serve each other and to forgive each other.

In Luke we read that they took the Lord’s Supper together.  In this he took the bread and the cup from the Seder Meal and reinterpreted them as being about himself.  He is the bread and he is the wine.  They gain life by believing in him.  All this is symbolized by the Lord’s Supper.

The Disciples chose this moment to have an argument over who was the greatest. It is natural whenever we get together with others to look around and compare.  We notice if we are older or younger than the others.  We notice if we have more or less hair.  We wonder who might have the most money or the most advanced degree.  It is human nature to create a sort of pecking order.

The Disciples of Jesus were not above this.  They started to Argue over who was the greatest.  We are not given their actual words.  But I imagine that it went like this:

I am sitting closer to Jesus than you are!

            Yes, but I started following him before you did.

            You always say the wrong things.

            You never say anything, but wait for me to go first.

Jesus rebuked them.  He said that they were acting like unbelievers.  The kings of the gentile nations were all about being the Lord.  The emperor of Rome claimed worship as a God.  They fought wars, raised taxes and enslaved the defeated.  The Rich dominated the poor.  It was all about power.

This is not what it means to follow Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters here.   We serve each other.  Jesus said, “If you want to follow me you need to do what I do.  You cannot fight to get to the top.  The way to follow me is to go to the bottom.”

If you want to be served, you will not be great in my kingdom.   Do you want to be great? Then serve.

we have come together today to remember and honor the sacrifice of Jesus.  On that day he gave himself for all of his followers – from those who had this meal with him, down to all who shared this meal in faith down through time.

So shall we get into it over who is greater?  Is Grace or Bethany a better church?  Is Dave or Jeremy a better preacher?  Is it better to follow Tim Keller or John Piper?  Oh we could get into a good argument.  Is a hymn better than a chorus?  Is the King James better than the NIV.  Do you follow Wesley, Luther or Calvin?

Jesus told us what He wants us to do.

26 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. 27 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.

We need to put all that fight for greatness aside.  We need to quit trying to climb the mountain of importance.  We need to follow Jesus into the valley of service.

Whom has the Lord given to you to serve?  Will you get credit?  Will you get points or fame?  Will they be loyal to you?

None of that matters.  Jesus went into the valley of the shadow of death, to make for us a way into the Light of life.

We received that life by Faith in him.  There is not credit there.

We walk in that life by following Jesus commands..

And what does he command?  Beloved, let us love one another.