Being Served or Serving?

 

Week of March 24, 2013

 

Bible Verses:  Luke 22:19-30.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you achieve true greatness by living a life of humble service.

 

Follow Jesus’ Example:  Luke 22:19-23.

 

[19]  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."  [20]  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  [21]  But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.  [22]  For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"  [23]  And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.  [ESV]

 

[19-23]  The first thing to understand about this supper is how eagerly Jesus wanted to share it with His disciples. We see in Luke 22:7-13 how careful He was to make sure that the supper took place before He was betrayed. But as He sat down to the meal, Jesus opened His heart to His disciples: I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God [15-16]. In God’s perfect timing, the hour had come for Jesus to sit with His beloved disciples, waiting on them at the meal that signified their salvation. With a heart of love, their host told them how much He had been looking forward to being alone with them around the table that night. The words He used for earnestly desired express intense longing. Why did Jesus have this deep desire? It may have been because Passover was such a blessed occasion for the people of God. Passover was a sacramental celebration of God’s deliverance – a commemoration of Israel’s exodus. There is more, however. Jesus was not just longing for Passover, but also anticipating His death on the cross, and it is in this context that He earnestly desired to eat and drink with His disciples. For many months Jesus had been telling His disciples that He would suffer many things and be rejected and be killed. Now the conspiracy was under way that would culminate in His crucifixion. But there was something Jesus wanted to do first: before He suffered. He wanted to host the farewell feast for His disciples that would help them understand what He was about to do for their salvation. Jesus also desired to have this of all Passovers with His disciples because the feast was about to find its fulfillment. Passover was a time to look back and remember how God had saved His people in the past. In the plan of God, however, Passover also looked forward to the full and final salvation that God would provide in the person and work of the Messiah. The transition from Passover to the Lord’s Supper helps explain why Luke tells us about two cups in this passage, and not just one. In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus offers His disciples both a cup of thanksgiving [17] and the cup of the new covenant [20]. The use of both cups help us to understand what Jesus was teaching His disciples. The first cup that Luke mentions was for thanksgiving. When Jesus raised it for His disciples, He first gave thanks to God. We do not know exactly what Jesus said when He prayed. Presumably, he praised the Father for His might works of saving power. But it is enough for us to know that He celebrated this feast with a glad and thankful heart, and that when He gave this thankful cup to His disciples, they drank it together. They were sharing a communal celebration of God’s saving power. With the use of two cups Jesus connected the Lord’s Supper to the Passover. Jesus is interpreting His death in a Passover context and making it clear that it has saving significance. The Last Supper is both the last Passover and the first communion.

 

This brings us to the two elements Jesus used to celebrate the Supper: the bread of remembrance and the cup of the new covenant. The people of God always ate bread when they celebrated Passover. But here, by the words that instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus invested the breaking of the bread with new and surprising significance. It is not simply what Jesus did that is important here, but also what He said. The words do this indicate that Jesus intended the act of breaking the bread to be repeated in the worship of the church. But in order for us to know what it means to do this in remembrance of Jesus, the physical sign of breaking the bread must be interpreted by the words of our Savior. They are words it takes only a moment to understand but a lifetime to comprehend, for although they are simple in themselves, they reveal many deep mysteries of the gospel. What are some of the things we learn from what Jesus said about the bread? We learn that the bread of this sacrament is to be received with thanksgiving, for Jesus gave thanks before He broke it. That is why some Christians call communion “the Eucharist,” which is simply the Greek word for giving thanks. The Lord’s Supper is a gift of God’s grace, and therefore it is to be received with a grateful heart. We learn further that the sacramental bread is the body of Jesus Christ. This immediately raises further questions, because our interpretation of what Jesus meant by saying this depends on what our definition of is is. Some Christians believe that Jesus is speaking literally here, and therefore that in some way the physical essence of the bread must be changed or transubstantiated into the very body of Christ. There are many reasons to think that this interpretation is incorrect, including some that are obvious from the immediate context. What sense does it make to say that the bread is identical with the body of Christ when Jesus is right there with His disciples already, in His physical body, breaking bread with them? The disciples themselves would have been astonished that anyone would even think of taking Jesus literally here. By this time they were well used to their Lord speaking to them in figures of speech. Similarly, when Jesus said This is my body, He was drawing a simple comparison that would help them understand the meaning of His death. He was not describing a physical change, but making a sacramental identification. The union or association between Jesus and the bread is not physical, but spiritual. To say that the bread is His body is to say that it “represents” or “signifies” or “symbolizes” His body. Undoubtedly one of the reasons Jesus chose bread to serve as this sacramental symbol is that bread is so basic to life itself. We cannot live without our daily bread. So when Jesus tells us to take and eat the bread that signifies His body, He is giving us something we cannot live without – something we need to nourish our souls. Jesus gives us this life-giving nourishment in the bread of the Lord’s Supper. In breaking the bread, Jesus is offering us Himself in His bodily sacrifice for our sins. There may be a reminder of this bodily sacrifice in the very fact that the sacramental bread is broken. The atoning death of Jesus is even more obviously signified in the words for you. The New Testament uses this language to indicate that Jesus died on our behalf, that His sacrifice was substitutionary. When Jesus said to His disciples, This is my body, which is given for you, He was already looking ahead to what He would do for them and for all His disciples on the cross. Jesus was speaking of Himself as a saving sacrifice. He would give Himself for us, dying in our place to pay the death penalty that we deserve for our sins. To say that Jesus died for you is to say something more than that He died for your benefit; it is to say that He died in your place, suffering the death that you deserved to die. Whenever we break bread at His table, we say, “He died for me.” Jesus said, Do this in remembrance of me. So we break the bread in remembrance of Jesus, calling to mind the body that He sacrificed for our sins. We do not sacrifice Jesus all over again, of course. But we do remember His once-and-for-all death for our sins. We are called to remembrance because our Savior knows that we have worldly hearts and treacherous memories, and that we stand in need of all these memorials to keep up the lively remembrance of His love. By faith and by the living presence of the Holy Spirit, we also do something more than remember: we have real spiritual participation in the life of Christ. The apostle Paul taught this by asking, The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? [1 Cor. 10:16]. Yes, the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual participation in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The sacrament is more than a remembrance, but it is not less. As often as we do this sacrament, we remember what Jesus did for us in His death and gave to us when He offered His body for our sins. It was not just His body that Jesus offered for us, but also His blood, which is signified in the cup of the new covenant. This is the second cup that Luke has mentioned in his account of the Last Supper. The first cup – the cup of thanksgiving – was probably part of Passover. The second cup – the cup of the new covenant in Christ’s blood – is certainly part of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Like the bread, the cup is a symbol that signifies Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Just as the bread signifies Christ’s body, so also the cup signifies His blood. These two words – the body and the blood – appear together several places in Scripture. When they do, it is always in the context of sacrifice. The body and the blood is sacrificial terminology, which makes sense, because it is of the very nature of a sacrifice to separate the blood from the body. When a sacrifice is offered, blood is poured out, which Jesus signified by pouring out the cup for His disciples. Jesus said that in pouring out His blood He was establishing a new covenant, the new covenant that was brought into being by His death as a sacrifice. To understand what this means, we need to begin with the old covenant, and the sacrificial blood on which it was based. It is characteristic of the covenants that God has made with His people for salvation that they are made by sacrifice. A covenant is a bond in blood, a solemn commitment that God will keep His saving promise to the very death. This is always indicated by a blood sacrifice. Jesus is the answer to all the old promises of the covenant. This is what Jesus was telling His disciples the night of the Last Supper. What is new about the new covenant is that it is established by the blood of God. The old sacrifices were getting God’s people ready to understand this amazing reality. These old covenant sacrifices were offered again and again because they were only animal sacrifices, and therefore in themselves they could not atone for human sin. Then Jesus came to offer once-and-for-all atonement for sin through the sacrifice of His blood. On the eve of that sacrifice, He announced that He would establish the new covenant with His very own blood – the blood He would shed on the cross for our sins.

 

Avoid Worldly Perspectives:  Luke 22:24-27.

 

[24]  A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  [25]  And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  [26]  But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  [27]  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.  [ESV]

 

[24-27]  This was not the first time that the disciples had this argument about who was the greatest. Luke recorded a similar incident back in chapter 9 when Jesus ended their dispute by taking the nearest child and telling them that the greatest person is the one who is the least [Luke 9:46-48]. Then there was the time that the mother of James and John asked Jesus to let her sons sit next to Him in the kingdom of God [Matt. 20:20-24]. Or what about the time Jesus asked them what they had been talking about? The disciples kept silent because they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest [Mark 9:34]. We get the definite impression that this was a common topic of conversation. The whole argument was shockingly inappropriate, especially this time. It was inappropriate because the disciples were not all that great to begin with. It was also inappropriate because within a matter of hours all of them would abandon Jesus. Furthermore, this was the last night that Jesus would spend with His disciples before going to the cross. This must have filled them with shame every time they remembered it afterwards. The most important events in the history of the world were about to take place, yet instead of focusing on Jesus they wasted their time having a senseless argument. It was inappropriate, too, because the disciples had just shared holy communion, the sacrament that signified their connection to Christ and for one another. This made it a totally inappropriate time to have a divisive debate. This was a shocking display of self-centered pride, but it was not surprising. The problem with the disciples (and with us) is that they had the wrong definition of greatness. We think the great person is the one who gets ahead of everyone else in life – not a servant, but a master. In verses 25-26, Jesus sought to redefine the disciples’ understanding of what it means to be great. Here Jesus distinguishes between two completely different definitions of greatness. The Gentiles were people who at that time were outside the people of God. Their definition of greatness represented the way that human beings usually think: the greatest person is the one who has the most power and prestige, which in those days was always the king. As the ruler of his people, the king had all the money and authority that his kingdom had to offer. Everyone else was under him, so he could live for himself. This is basically how people still define greatness today: money, power, and prestige. Jesus has a totally different definition for true greatness: But not so with you. The way the world looks at things is not the way that God looks at things. According to Him, the greatest person is not the person at the top, but the one who takes a position at the bottom, what Jesus called the youngest. In those days people gave a great deal of deference to their elders. Younger people stood up when an older person entered a room. They regarded their elders as better than themselves. Here Jesus tells us to take the younger person’s place in our daily relationships. Putting other people first is especially important for anyone in a position of spiritual leadership. Jesus then proved His point by giving the most perfect example: Himself [27]. To know true greatness, look at Jesus Christ. He is great because of who He is: the Second Person of the Trinity, the only begotten Son of God. Jesus always is, always has been, and always will be very God of very God. He is not merely a man, but has every attribute of deity. Jesus Christ is the Lord God, which means that no one is greater than He is. Jesus is also great because of what He has done. He has created this great universe. He lived a great life. Through all the trials and temptations He suffered on earth, He never committed even one little sin. He is the only morally perfect man who ever lived. He also died a great death to gain for us a great salvation. Jesus Christ is the Greatest One of all. Because He is so great, He is the one who deserves to be served. He is the infinitely superior person. He is the one who ought to be reclining at the table, with His disciples all serving Him. This is the proper order of things, and thus the premise of His example. But, Jesus said, I am among you as the one who serves. This turns everything upside down, and opens up for us the true greatness in the heart of God. Jesus is saying, “Although I am the Greatest One, I am the one who serves.” Jesus had proved this earlier that evening by washing the feet of His disciples. Now Jesus calls us to be like Him, to find our true greatness in living for others rather than living for ourselves, forgetting ourselves for the sake of others.

 

Participate in God’s Kingdom:  Luke 22:28-30.

 

[28]  "You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,  [29]  and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,  [30]  that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  [ESV]

 

[28-30]  Here Jesus gave a promise to His disciples: You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom. This was an extraordinary thing for Jesus to say, because later that very night, at the time of His greatest trial, all of the disciples would run away from Him. Nevertheless, in His mercy Jesus remembered everything the disciples ever did in His name. they suffered the hardships of the open road, traveling homeless. They left behind any regular source of income. They suffered some of the hostility that Jesus endured from all the people who hated His ministry. The disciples stayed with Jesus in these trials, and none of their faithful service would ever be forgotten. Every service they offered would be remembered and rewarded in the kingdom of God. One day the disciples who were with Him that night would sit down with Him again at the great banquet, which the Bible uses as a symbol for all the blessings God has for us in His everlasting kingdom. The disciples would also sit down with Jesus on His thrones, ruling the twelve tribes of Israel. This too is symbolic. The twelve tribes of Israel is an ancient way of talking about all the people of God, who are now gathered in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not give very many details here, but to judge (or to rule) is to have a place of authoritative leadership. The first disciples were promised to receive a place of privilege in the kingdom of God. Obviously these promises were mainly for the disciples. Only the twelve apostles were given the authority to rule the people of God. But the blessings of the kingdom – the blessings of eating and drinking at God’s table – are for all the covenant children of God.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What is the connection between Passover and the Lord’s Supper? What is the meaning of the bread and the wine?

 

2.         Whenever we participate in the Lord’s Supper or communion, what should we be thinking?

 

3.         Verse 22:24 shows that the disciples did not have any understanding of what Jesus was saying or doing. Certainly, after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, the disciples would have deeply regretted such worldly thoughts of greatness. How does Jesus’ words and actions in the context of the Last Supper show us the true meaning of greatness?

 

References:

Luke, Darrell Bock, ECNT, Baker.

Luke, Walter Liefeld, EBC, Zondervan.

Luke, Philip Ryken, REC, P&R Publishing.