Years ago, when I was in Grade 10, I served along with the other Grade 10 students at our school’s High School graduation banquet. I and another student were assigned to serve the head table where the graduates sat. After the meal, one of the grads asked me if I wanted to tip. I eagerly said, “Yes!” Then he moved his plate to the side to reveal the “tip” that he had written on the paper table cloth, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”
Serving is hard because it humbles us and it therefore goes against our natural human drives of deriving our sense of identity, self-worth and motivation from self-glorification, not humiliation. But Jesus gave us a new inner heart and He did it by becoming a servant. First of all, Jesus humbled Himself by setting aside the use of His divine power and glory to become an ordinary human being Who lived in an insignificant village in an unimportant part of the ancient world. Second, Jesus served us by giving His life as a ransom for many (and the word “many” here actually means “all”). Jesus willingly went to the cross and gave His precious God-human life in exchange for your human life to buy you and me back from sin, death and the power of evil. And on the third day that followed His death, Jesus rose from the dead to give you a new life with Him that will last forever.
Jesus continues to serve us by giving us a new inner heart. When we have faith in Jesus, He gives us an entirely new inner core to our being. And with this new inner core, this new inner heart, Jesus also gives us some other new thing that are very important.
First, Jesus gives us a new identity. With our trust in Jesus instead of ourselves, how others treat us does not impact our identity, because our identity does not depend on what other people say about us. Our new identity only depends on what Jesus says about us and what Jesus says about us is that we are beloved, forgiven children of God.
Second, Jesus gives us a new sense of self-worth. With our trust in Jesus, doing demeaning tasks does not impact our sense of self-worth, because our sense of self-worth is not based on what we think we are worth in comparison to others. It is based on what Jesus thinks we are worth. You are so precious to Jesus that you are the treasure that He found in a field and then He went and sold all that He had so that He could buy the field that you were in. To Jesus, you are a pearl of such great value that He went and sold everything that He had to buy it.
Jesus considers you to be so precious and so valuable that He has given you the pure, right relationship that He has with His heavenly Father. Before time began, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit lived in a community of perfect, self-giving love where each person of the Trinity loved the other two with an unconditional, infinite love. Because you are with Jesus, you are now part of that divine community of love. Because you are with Jesus and Jesus is with you, you now have an all-access pass to the infinite love of God.
Third, Jesus gives us a new motivation. We do not need to seek fulfillment for ourselves because true fulfillment is ours when we live the life that Jesus has given us. We already have a new identity as children of God. We already have a new sense of self-worth because we are loved by God. Jesus gives us extra significance by inviting us to participate in God’s work of providing for the world through our vocations, and by joining Jesus in His mission of seeking and saving what it lost.
So instead of self-fulfillment, our new motivation for life in this world is love. We serve, even in demeaning ways, because we know that God loves us and we want other people to know that God loves them too. So a licensed practical nurse changes a patient’s bed pan and cleans them up because they are an agent of God’s love. A high-powered executive teaches Sunday School to Grade One students because he is an agent of God’s love. A wealthy business woman wipes down tables after a church fellowship time because they are an agent of God’s love.
We come into the church with worldly eyes and we think that in the church there is a hierarchy of power, just like there is in the world where the important and powerful people are at the top and they do the most important jobs. But Jesus turns that pyramid upside down.
When there was a squabble among his followers over who was most important, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25-28 NLT).
The picture of the church that Jesus paints for us is a picture of radical egalitarianism where the greatest among us—Jesus, who is our Lord and the head of the Christian Church—served us by giving up His life to give us life with Him. With Jesus, you are now set free to serve. Your life is already safe in Jesus’ hands. You don’t need any earthly power because you already have Jesus. You have a new life with Jesus and you have a new heart from Jesus.
There is a hunger for community in our world. People are looking for a place where they can belong and be accepted and loved. Ideally, the Christian Church is supposed to be the community for the people of the world. But the problem is that the Church is made up of sinners so we cannot be a community of love and acceptance for the world on our own. We need Jesus and we need each other. We need each other to keep pointing us back to Jesus for it is only in Him that we find the love and acceptance that we need. And then, as we rest in Jesus and let Him live his life through us together, He will be the life that will create among us the community that the world needs. Amen.
(This message was based on Mt. 20:25-28 and was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley, BC on February 11, 2018.)