Midweek 2 LSB #’s 848, 780, 668, 937
Text – Luke 22:24
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
The Upper Room: A Place of Service
The artist Rembrandt tried to paint the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac – twice. Two different times he tried to help others see what faith looks like in that moment. The 1st time, Rembrandt made a grand painting. This was early in his life. He was famous & had recently moved to Amsterdam. His halls were filled with students & his studio was filled with clients.
His painting was over six feet tall & four feet wide. His vision was grand. As you look at the painting, you’re struck by the faith of Abraham. Isaac is stretched out on the ground, his chest bared toward heaven, his back arched as his father’s hand covers his face, pushing his head back to bare his throat.
Rembrandt had painted a hero of faith, larger than life. Abraham’s faith & Rembrandt’s glory are blended into one.
Twenty years later, however, Rembrandt returned to this story a different man. He came as an artist who was broke & as a man who was broken. His wife had died, along with three of his four children. His family life was in ruins &, in less than a year, he would declare bankruptcy. Broke & broken, his picture of faith was much different.
This time, the picture was small. An etching, about six inches by five inches. As you look at it, Abraham’s boldness in following God is hidden. All you see is his love for the child. Isaac is kneeling alongside Abraham, his head on his father’s knee. And Abraham covers Isaac’s eyes, hiding him from his death, as if this were his father’s last & greatest blessing.
Rembrandt no longer paints a hero of faith, larger than life. Instead, he draws a small picture: a servant of Yahweh whose service is humble & hidden in love for his son. This reveals for us two ways of seeing faith: (1) faith mixed with glory, bold & larger than life, or (2) faith, small & weak, humble & hidden in love for the least. I open with this contrast because, in some way, it captures what is going on in the sermon text this evening.
Tonight, we’re in the Upper Room. Jesus celebrates the Passover with His disciples & then bids them farewell. In this one small moment between Jesus & His disciples, we see two visions of faith: (1) faith mixed with glory, bold & larger than life, & (2) faith, small & humble, hidden in love for the least.
The disciples reveal faith mixed with glory, bold & larger than life. Luke tells us that “a dispute arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (v. 24) While Jesus is predicting His death, they’re arguing about greatness.
Having spent three years with Jesus, listening to His teaching, seeing Him cast out demons & rule over creation, the disciples now turn their eyes toward one another to see whose life is filled with glory. “Who is the greatest?” they ask.
As Jesus moves toward death, His disciples grasp for life. As Jesus welcomes dishonor, they fight over honor. As Jesus speaks about suffering, His disciples argue about glory. They try to rise above the world & rule.
Luke doesn’t give the specifics of their argument. We don’t know what they said... but then again, do we really need the words? We know what it sounds like, don’t we? Arguments over greatness tend to be common among God’s people, then & now.
Whether you look at the Church at large, or at an individual congregation such as our own, it’s not hard to come across division & strife. God’s people are frequently broken up in arguments about gifts & greatness. It happened in Corinth. There you had a church blessed with a multitude of gifts: faith & healing & miraculous powers that could make you stand up on your feet & sing. In such a place, was there peace? No. God’s people were too busy arguing about all the gifts, trying to see which was the greatest. God’s church became divided, as people fought over His blessings. Some followed Paul, others Apollos, others Peter. The very pastors God had given them became tools that Satan used to divide them.
Lucifer wants to turn us against one another, & he uses God’s gifts to do it. He tempts us to turn our gifts into things we fight about. Our confession of faith, our offerings to God, our service in the Church, our witness to the world, all become ways in which we divide ourselves into groups – into those who are really committed & those who are not.
Yahweh gives us faith, mixed with glory, bold & larger than life. Slowly, our attitude toward those gifts begins to separate us as Satan twists & turns our heart using deception. And the tragedy of all this is not the wasted time, not the wasted gifts, not the hurt feelings, not even the words said in anger.
The real tragedy of all of this is that we end up missing the very thing God wants us to see: His presence in this place, His work of loving service. We find ourselves busy with all the trappings of disagreement, when right in our midst God is doing the one thing that brings us together, the one thing that can make all of us stand on our feet & sing, the one work that is greater than any which anyone here has ever known: the humble work of His saving service.
In Jesus, we have the true picture of greatness. Notice how Jesus responds to the argument of His disciples. Once before, His disciples had argued about greatness. When that happened, Jesus took a child & placed that child in their midst. (Luke 9:46–48)
Children had little to no social status at that time. Yet Jesus interrupted His disciples’ grand & glorious visions by asking them to look at a child. That child, easily overlooked & easily forgotten, was, to Jesus, a picture of faith. Like Rembrandt’s Abraham, holding his son, Jesus held a child & revealed the hidden nature of God’s glory. That glory is a life of embracing, receiving & serving the one who is least in the Kingdom. However, Jesus does more. Rather than simply placing a child in their midst, Jesus claims His disciples as children.
When His disciples argue over greatness, Jesus reveals faith in humble service by asking a question: “Who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?” (22:27) The disciples would have agreed that Jesus was greatest among them, that He was the one who should recline at table, but Jesus calls their attention to His action.
He is the one who serves. Not only has He served them at table, but He is going to serve them as He suffers betrayal, a brutal whipping & then death on the cross. The Creator comes to die for His creatures. Here, hidden in this service, is the greatness of God.
Jesus radically identifies with that which is least in this world, becoming the Crucified One, rejected by the world, by religious leaders, by His disciples, even by His heavenly Father. Yet in that rejection, He fiercely & faithfully holds on to every last sinner, every last fallen child of God. In His dying, Jesus silences all arguments by revealing the radical mercy of God.
Through His death, the least are brought into the kingdom of God. As we struggle for glory & seek to make a name for ourselves, Jesus freely gives us the only name that truly matters. You are a child of God, forgiven of sin, & hidden in the embrace of our Father. Yahweh extends His hand over you & gives you His greatest blessing.
He hides you from eternal death by the death of Jesus, His Son. God now calls you His son, His daughter. As children of God, we don’t know the future. We don’t know the struggles it will bring, but Jesus wants you to know the comfort of His service for you for all time.
Although one will betray Him, another deny Him, Satan divide them, & the world fight against them; although we, too, have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God; although all of this is true, there is still one who comes among us & brings us the true glory of God. Jesus reveals the Holy Trinity’s glory in His suffering service. He comes to fulfill all that God has planned. He goes to the cross, offering His life, that He might come this evening & offer forgiveness to you.
You are children of God. In Jesus, God has brought you into a Kingdom that death, the devil, & all of our petty arguments can never destroy. This world of arguments about greatness has become a place of great service in Christ. Amen.
Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet