Who do you say that I am?
Theme Verse: "Who do you say that I am?" Matthew 16:15
Readings: Matthew 12:8 & 18-21; Philippians 2:7; Luke 4:16-21; John 13:3-17; Matthew 20:20-28
Optional: Matthew 25:14-30 & 31-40; Servant Songs of Isaiah-see Note
Memory Verse: "I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you." John 13:15
Background note on "Servant"
Servants in Biblical times were often slaves (owned by another person). Even though slavery was everywhere, the Israelites were under a number of laws from God to make treatment of slaves more humane-- like slaves getting the Sabbath off along with their masters and for Israelites to remember that they had once been slaves in Egypt. Paul also told slaves to get their freedom if they could. He also said that in Christ, "there are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 )
High government officials were called servants of the King. A slave could eventually hold a position of trust and responsibility, like Joseph did in Egypt. The worshipers of any god were often called "servants" of that god. A servant of the God of Israel, "Yahweh" (the only God) was a prominent leader of God's people like Moses (Exodus 14:31), Abraham (Genesis 26:24), or David (2 Samuel 3:18 ). The nation of Israel as a whole was also called "servants of Yahweh"(Psalm 136:22)
The only places Jesus is referred to as a servant in the New Testament are the references to the Servant Songs of Isaiah (which describe the coming Messiah as God's Servant) and in Philippians 2: 7 which is talking about the incarnation. (See NOTE for more)
One of these places where Jesus is referred to as Servant of God is Matthew 12:18-21 (from Isaiah 42:1-7) where he taught and healed many but told his disciples NOT to make it publically know that he was the Messiah and Servant prophesied in Isaiah 42. "Behold my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul delights. I will put my Spirit upon him and he will bring justice to the nations...".In the same chapter Jesus teaches that he is Lord of the Sabbath (12:8 ). He is BOTH.
Christians are also called "servants of God" or "servants of Christ" (see Acts 2:18 and 16:17). Another word for servant was "diakonos" which referred to free servants (not slaves). This word became a title in the church for certain officials--"Deacon", one who was originally called to "serve tables" in the early church (Acts 6:2) but rapidly did all sorts of missionary out-reach also. The same word in the same passage was used by the apostles to describe their work as "diakonos" of God's Word.(6:4)--serving God's word! (Often this is translated as "ministry" but it is the same word.)
Paul considered himself a servant/slave of Christ (Romans 1:1) as well as an apostle. High officials of kings were called Servants also. We have used it in our society-"public servants"- (although it seems to have lost some of its meaning!). It was not always a lowly title but emphasized the duty to serve and obey the one who was your master or ruler.
Slavery to sin
Paul and Jesus both speak of slavery to sin. When Jesus said "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32) the people who heard him said, we've never been slaves to anyone and Jesus replied that "everyone that practices sin is a slave of sin"(John8:34) but Jesus, the Son came to set them free if they believed on him. Have you ever thought of a sinful habit as slavery?
Jesus is LORD
The whole idea of calling Jesus LORD as well as Savior, carried with it the idea that we considered him our Master, the one we had committed ourselves to follow and obey. It could be a life or death issue when the Roman Emperors began to consider themselves gods and demanded people call them Lord. Many became martyrs in order not to deny Jesus. Where have you confronted Jesus being LORD, that is, you being his servant who needs to obey---in the work place, community, family???
Jesus is our example
Again and again Jesus teaches his disciples that they are to serve others rather then putting themselves in first place. He is calling them (and us) to obey him as their Lord and teacher and follow his example of servant leadership. Read the story of James and John's mother asking Jesus for first place for her sons. (Matthew 20:20-28 ). Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your servant. just as the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many." THIS IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF LEADERSHIP than the world has. This wasn't the only time the disciple argued about who was going to be the most important person in Jesus' future kingdom. Sometimes our political leaders see their chief purpose as serving themselves--but not all of them.
The most famous example of Jesus demonstrating what kind of people and leaders he wanted his followers to be is in John 13 when he washed his disciples' feet--like the lowest slave would do. Jesus served us most of all by becoming a man for us (Philippians 2) and giving his life to ransom us from our sins. This is love, agape love, which is the kind that God has, not a feeling but an action done for our benefit.
"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God," (John 13:3) A word received: I want you to know my Father's will for you. I want you to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 1. Jesus sense of identity came from his relationship with his Father in Heaven and knowing he was their teacher and Lord. So he was free to serve his followers in the most humble way. 2. Jesus wants to guide us into the Father's will.
"rose from supper and laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself." (John 13:4) A word received: I want you to gird yourselves for service. ("gird" means to prepare yourself) A good servant knows what his master wants and does it.
"After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. Then he came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to him, 'Lord, are you washing my feet?'" (John 13:5-6) A word received: I want you to experience my service to you. I want you to be willing to be served by others and to serve others. Sometimes this is hard.
"Jesus answered and said to him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.'" (John 13:7) A word received: Trust me to lead you into the knowledge of my purposes.
"Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet!' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.'" (John 13:8 ) A word received: Part of having me as your Lord is submitting to receiving my service. How do you understand Jesus washing your feet--and Peter's?
"So when he had washed their feet, taken his garments, and sat down again, he said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.'" (John 13:12-13) A word received: I AM your teacher and your Lord. Ask for my Holy Spirit to come into your head and your heart so that you can learn my ways. (Stop and ask.)
"'If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.'" (John 13:14) A word received: I want each of you to choose to serve one another and to receive one another's service. It is a two-way street.
Mary and Martha
The story of Mary and Martha is an interesting contrast in types of service. Martha's service is good, but it comes from her desires. Mary's is better because it comes from Jesus' desires.
What being Jesus' servant does not mean
Being a servant of Jesus does not mean being a door mat for other people, and doing whatever they want, but it does mean doing what needs to be done, doing what our Lord and Master wants done--HIS agenda, not ours. Mother Teresa of Calcutta served the poorest and sickest outcasts there. When asked why she said, "I see Jesus in them." Remember how Jesus said in the story of the Last Judgment, when he comes in glory. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:31-43) Jesus was talking about caring for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the stranger and those in prison--or not. Mother Teresa was quite capable of speaking unwelcome truth to those in power. She was serving her King-Jesus--by serving the most needy people. If something concerns our Lord, it needs to concern us too.
Jesus told his disciples "whoever serves me must follow me and where I am my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me (John 12:26. Peter, in his letter, talks about Jesus' followers caring for other and being examples to others with humility--trusting God to reward them. "Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:5b-6).
Sometimes this theme of serving our master appears in some of Jesus' parables. In Matthew 25 in the parable of the talents, the owner "entrusted" the care of his property, his money, to his servants, "according to their abilities", giving different amounts to each. That is, using modern language, the servants had a "fiduciary" responsibility to the owner to see the owner's best interests, according to the owner's definition--not the servant's ideas. We have seen a lot of failure in this area among "public servants" and big corporations like Enron and others. People entrusted their money to others who accepted this responsibility. One of the three servants in the parable did nothing. "Waiting on the Lord" means not only waiting sometimes, but waiting as a restaurant waiter waits/serves the customers. We are to "wait" on Jesus, serve him, and be about his business and interests that he has entrusted to us. We are to serve the Lord's interests according to what he wants, to benefit him. A servant is in a trust relationship.
The Servant Songs of Isaiah talk about different aspects of what God's Servant, the Messiah, will do and sometimes also what God's people (Israel) are to do. (Sometimes the Songs talk about one person and sometimes the whole people of God. See NOTE.
Servants and friends of the King.
Another unusual aspect of Jesus calling his disciples to be servants according to his example is where Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command... I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me but I chose you to go and bear fruit...."(John 15:13-16).
If you are friends with the King, that does not make you an equal. You still need to serve and obey him but the relationship is different.
Note on the Servant Songs of Isaiah
1st. Isaiah 42:1-4 tells of the call of his Servant.
2nd. Isaiah 49:1-6, more about the Servant's mission.
3rd. Isaiah 50:4-10, about the method of the Servant. Although he suffers as an obedient servant, his confidence remains in the Lord.
4th. Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The Servant's method is expanded and there is a report on his career --viewed from Yahweh's perspective (52:13-15 & 53:12) and that of a shocked audience.(53:1). The Servant suffers for the sins of all and as with a scapegoat, his suffering removed the sins of others. His reward hints at resurrection (vs.10-11). This is the same idea as "Lamb of God".
Isaiah 61L1-2 is similar to the Servant Songs and Jesus quotes it in his first sermon in his hometown.
(Reference is p.928 in The Eerdman's Bible Dictionary c 1987)