“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Luke 22:24-27
The dispute among the disciples respecting preeminence must have grieved and wounded Jesus, more especially because of the time when this jealous strife arose. Scarcely had they finished the first solemn supper, the newly-instituted memorial of the body and blood of the Lord; scarcely had the Master ceased warning them of the traitor, and the treachery that was among them; and scarcely had their own searching inquiry ended (“Is it I?”) when there arose a strife among them as to which of them should be accounted the greatest. How strange and sad, how almost incredible the scene! Rising from the table of love to contend for the mastery, the one over the other; to wound the ear and heart of the Master with their angry words and selfish arguments; to turn the holy quiet of that upper chamber into a stir of strife and ambition and jealous wrangling in the very presence of the Lord. How unbecoming, how unkind, how inconceivably selfish and hateful!
To calm this tumult, to allay this strife, to stop the mouths of the disputants, the Lord interposes. And he does so in a way so pointed, yet so mild and loving, as must have overwhelmed the contenders and covered their faces with shame.
The burden of his rebuke is just this: “Look at me. Am I striving for pre-eminence? Am I coveting honour, or power, or greatness? Am I even exercising superiority over you? Am I not foregoing even my rightful claim of service and acting as your servant? Instead of demanding service at your hands, I am among you as he that serves.” He admits that this is not man’s principle of acting or estimate of service. He shows that this is not the scale on which earthly distinctions are ranked. Among the nations of the earth each one strives to be uppermost and covets the titles which rank confers. But with his disciples this order was to be wholly reversed. Man’s idea of greatness was that of pre-eminence over his fellow man, in virtue of which all should be his servants. God’s idea of greatness was that of lowly love, in virtue of which a man should be willing to be the servant of all.
It is not with His birth in Bethlehem that Christ’s service begins. His visit to our first father in Paradise was its true commencement. After that we find him, age after age, visiting the children of men, and always in the character of one ministering to their wants. His intercourse with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob was that of his offering, not asking, service. In his dealings with Israel we find the same unwearied, ever watchful ministry; for the pillar-cloud that led them, that sheltered them, that guarded them by night and day was the dwelling of the Son of God, the visible exhibition of his presence and service. It was he who ministered to them in the desert. He fought their battles. He selected their encampments. He shaded them from the scorching sun. He drew water for them out of the rock and brought food out of the storehouses of heaven. In Canaan, too, he ministered to them, generation after generation; and the long record of Israel is the history of his manifold service.
At his birth, his life of service visibly began. It was to serve that he descended to Bethlehem. And his life at Nazareth for thirty years was a life of service. In the three years and a half of his public ministry, he shewed how skilful he was in serving, how willing to undertake it in all its parts. At the well of Jacob, we find him serving a needy sinner. In the house of Simon, the Pharisee we find him doing the same. In the house of Lazarus, we find him ministering to saints. Wherever he goes, we find him still exercising the same lowly vocation — ministering alike to soul and body, to Pharisee and publican, to child or to man, to Jew or to Samaritan or to Gentile. The upper chamber, Gethsemane, Pilate’s hall, the cross, the grave — these were all places of service. After his resurrection, on the way to Emmaus and on the shore of the lake, we find him still the same. At his ascension He only entered on a new department of service; and as the Advocate with the Father, the Intercessor, the Forerunner, we see him still serving. As the priests under the law were (in all things relating to the tabernacle) the people’s servants, ever standing ready to do the required work to any Israelite, so is our Intercessor. He stands ready to take up any case that may be put into his hands. He wearies not, is not provoked, turns not away, and is as willing and prompt to serve even the most unworthy as in the days of his flesh. For the glory that surrounds him above has not altered his love or his meekness of spirit, nor made him ashamed of the lowly office which he exercised here as the servant of the needy and the evil.
And when he comes again in strength and majesty as King of kings and Lord of lords, he does not lose sight of his character as the ministering one. Thus, in that passage in which he refers to this day of glory (Luke 12:37), he makes reference to this same gracious office as not even then laid aside: “Blessed are those servants,” says He, “whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching. Verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” As if, even in that day of triumph and happy festival, there would be something omitted, something incomplete, something incongruous, something not like himself if he did not then find scope for his old office of condescending love, and appear even at his own marriage supper as the servant of his ransomed ones. – Horatius Bonar