Story: A man was fuming in his apartment one night. The neighbors below him were making a huge racket. Thumping, clumping, bumping . . . and he was grumping. Why couldn’t he have some peace and quiet? Why couldn’t he get some rest? Why didn’t people show a little respect anymore? He thought about calling the police, but hesitated because the kids downstairs had actually tried to be nice to him a couple of times. Waving to him in the hallway; saying hi in the elevator. But now all this racket—it was too much. He dialed 911.
Twenty minutes later the police knocked on his door. Yes, they had investigated. Would he be willing to come downstairs as they went over the situation? Ouch! That would be awkward, and he protested, but the cops were persuasive, so he followed them downstairs. When the police knocked, and the door swung open, he found that all the hubbub and the moving of furniture had been because the downstairs neighbors and friends had been planning a surprise birthday party . . . for him. There was cake and ice cream and streamers and presents. And he had just called the cops to break up his own birthday party.
This is an oops moment, a “pregnant pause.” In Luke 9, at the worst possible moment, the 12 disciples of Jesus argue among themselves about who the best disciple is. On their playground, each wanted to be the teacher’s pet. “He likes me most!” “No, me!”
“How far the disciples were from the spirit of Jesus comes out in their argument as to which of them was the greatest. Jesus had just spoken of his sacrificial death for men. They were speaking of their pride of place. This may be part of the reason for their inability to understand. They were thinking of themselves, he of others.” Tyndale NT Commentary by Dr. Leon Morris.
Conundrum: In Luke 9:22-25, Jesus describes how he’s going to have to suffer, be rejected, and die. He will lay aside his glory, his power, his claims to fame. He will surrender to a cross, the ultimate instrument of shame. He’s going to make himself nothing; this is going to be THE defining expression of humbling that the universe has ever seen: God Himself on a cross.
So Jesus has just said: “Men, the plan is one of humiliation. Of being in the dust. Of relinquishing all titles.” But just 24 verses later—incredibly, we’re still in Luke 9—what are the disciples doing? They’re climbing all over each other to get to the head of the class. It’s like one of those three-legged races in kindergarten where you push your opponent over so you can win. It’s as childish as that, and all the more obviously so considering that Jesus has just gone over the entire blueprint with them.
Application: We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. We have less excuse than Peter, James, and John because we live on the “done deal” side of Calvary. Yet we spend a lot of time on the playground of life pushing others off the monkey bars so that we can get to the top first.
Confrontation: In Mark, Jesus actually confronts the men over this “who will be greatest” tug of war. It’s like the villain in the opening story, where you realize with shame that you’ve been shallow around the very person whose love for you runs so deep. Jesus asks: “What were you men arguing about on the road to Capernaum?” They’re ashamed to tell Him: “We were just discussing who would be your vice president when we win the election next November, Jesus.”
Contrast: “When Christ and the disciples were alone in the house, while Peter was gone to the sea, Jesus called the others to Him, and asked, ‘What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?’ The presence of Jesus, and His question, put the matter in an entirely different light from that in which it had appeared to them while they were contending by the way. Shame and self-condemnation kept them silent. Jesus had told them that He was to die for their sake, and their selfish ambition was in painful contrast to His unselfish love.” Desire of Ages.
Scenario: Think how much it would hurt to have Jesus suddenly be in the room while you and a friend are talking about something stupid, selfish, shallow, lascivious, or low. He gently asks: “What are you two discussing?” With Jesus right there, with the light of heaven making a cross-shaped shadow on your cubicle wall, He asks you: “What have you been talking about? Where has your mind been dwelling of late?” You realize with a start how completely wrong that conversation—and really, so many conversations—are.
Some Things Never Change: In Luke 22 they’re in the Upper Room for the Passover feast. Jesus knows that in less than 24 hours he’s going to be crucified, so he’s down to the last day of His earthly time with the disciples. Even here at the finish line, what are his closest followers doing? Still jockeying for position. Verse 24: “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” On the last night they’re together, they’re still at it.
Only John includes the well-known detail about how Jesus himself put on the garb of a servant and washed the dusty feet of these 12 proud, egomaniacal men. John regretfully reminisces in 13:3 that in the full knowledge he was divine, that he was God, Jesus quietly dons a towel, gets a basin of water, and does the humble thing. While all 12 of his best friends are speeding down the superhighway of self-exaltation, careening headlong toward the wrong kingdom, the kingdom that is never going to be, Jesus washes their feet.
Confession: It kills me to read this, and it kills me to see myself in the limo with those poor, deluded disciples, trying to get the best seats at a non-existent presidential ball.
Still a Forgiver: But how wonderful to find that Jesus still loves His wayward friends. “When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ He asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:12-15)
Now he gently sets them straight. Who will be greatest? Who will be #1? Well, it’s certainly not going to be any of the 12 of them. It’s going to be the man with the towel and the wash basin. “‘I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the One who sent him.’” (v. 16)
Invitation: Come to the Upper Room and stay there. We need to feel the cool water splashing around our feet and sense that Jesus, the humble servant of all, is right now, today and every day, reminding us that the kingdom is here. Serving. Humbling. Going last. Lifting up the kingdom instead of our own foolish ambitions. The Upper Room and the Cross—we need to hang around those two places all the time.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.