The servant king - Luke 12:35-38

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 15th March 2009.

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Most of us will not be able to remember what we were doing at 2am on the 19th October 1992. But let me tell you what 55 members of a Korean based Christian group were doing in Sydney. They were members of a group called ‘Mission to the Coming Days’ and they were convinced that Jesus would return to earth at precisely 2am on the 19th October, 1992. On the morning of the 20th October, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the following.

'About 300 people gathered in Victoria Road on Wednesday night including local residents drinking beer, students in fancy dress, delegations from the Order of the Perpetual Indulgence and the Born Again Virgins, and even the Grim Reaper. A cheer went up as 2am arrived, the rain poured down, and nothing else happened. 55 sheepish devotees of the Mission to the Coming Days including about 15 children emerged from the church's office between 2.30 am and 5.00 am faced by crowds of hecklers. That evening a comedian was on TV, who had been part of the crowd the night before. And he said, 'The people were so upset, you know they were crying, and they had kids with them, they looked really sad. There was this one guy who came down from the office and he was just broken hearted, crying his eyes out. And I thought I've got to try and cheer him up a bit, so I went over and put my arm round him and said, 'Mate, cheer up, its not the end of the world'.

The New Testament is very clear that Jesus will return one day and when he does the world as we know it will stop. The same Jesus who was here before will one day return to wrap up this current universe. Jesus repeatedly says that we will never know exactly when he will come back and so we shouldn’t waste out time trying to find out the precise dates and times. However, because of its certainty Jesus says we should act now in the light of what will happen then. We shouldn’t be consumed by dates and times but we should avoid the opposite extreme of not acting at all. There is a proper way of responding to the certainty of this future day. And this is what we discover in Luke 12. We discover what Jesus expects a Christian to do as they wait for his personal visitation.

Let me show you this from the Bible. Have a look at what we’re told in verses 35 and 36. “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.”

The servants in this story would be wearing long robes. It’s very typical for men in the Middle East to wear this type of clothing. Not tight fitting and so it was ideal for hot climates. But unless the robe is tucked up or tied with a belt it is useless for doing all sorts of things we take for granted with our clothing – like running and working. So the way these servants are to be dressed for service is by making sure their robes are tied up and then they will be ready to respond when the master knocks on the door.

They are also to keep their lamps burning. This makes sense. If the lamps go out and the master comes back then it is not possible to serve him immediately. There would be lots of stumbling around in the dark.

This is the story Jesus tells. It’s very easy to understand but perhaps a little bit trickier to apply. The master is away and the servants are to be ready to serve him whenever he returns from the wedding banquet. They do this by being dressed for service and keeping their lamps burning.

What does this mean for us today? How do we dress for service? What does it mean to keep our lamps burning? The clue to understanding how we are to live now is to notice what we will do when our master, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns. The men in the story are to be dressed ready for service. They will serve their master when he returns. Think about how this then applies to us. Here we are waiting for Jesus to come back and what will we do when he does come back. We will serve his wishes.

The future for Christians after Jesus returns is a period of activity and not a period of passive waiting around on a cloud.

This all makes sense when you remember the big story of the bible. Adam and Eve were to be stewards of God’s creation. All humans have this task. What about in the New Creation? We will be the servants of Christ in this new physical place.

This got me very excited. I told Vicky when she came home after a long day at school. This was the last thing she wanted to hear. That’s because work now is tiring and stressful and hard. Not in the future. There will be fulfilling responsibilities and joys as we continue to serve the Lord Jesus.

This helps us to understand how we can get dressed and keep our lamps burning. The point is to be useful as a servant in the future we are to prepare to be useful now. What is the best way of preparing to serve Christ in the future? By serving his interests in the world right now. This is how Christians should get dressed and keep their lamps burning. We serve now and so we will be ready to keep on serving in the future.

This is how we are to wait on Jesus to return. Waiting in dentist room. Waiting for parents to arrive for Christmas dinner. It’s the second type of waiting.
We wait by working and as we work we prepare ourselves to be useful servants when Jesus returns.

What does this mean in practice? How do we serve Jesus in today’s world?

Do what he says. Not always activity. Listening to his words. Not just secular work. Working for his kingdom purposes. Sharing the gospel and serving God’s people. Read through Luke’s Gospel. Chapters 10 and 11. Evangelism, good deeds, listening to Jesus, saying our prayers. These are the tasks our master has told us to do now. There may be different ones in the future. Let’s practice obeying the master.

As a motivation to do this look at what Jesus says in verses 37 and 38. “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.”

Verse 37 is a surprise. We will serve the Lord Jesus in the future. There is no question of this. But verse 37 also says that in some way Jesus will be a servant of us. What a staggering image. The master comes back and waits on his servants. This is exactly the king we serve. A king who washed his disciples feet. A king who served us by dying on a cross. This is how we are ultimately prepared for the future. We are not tyring to win a place in heaven. A king who will serve us yet again.

I don’t know how all this will work. I am content to hear the words, “It will be good for those who are found ready.” We are found ready if we are found serving.

I love what Jesus adds in verses 39 and 40. “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

This is a motivation to be ready at all times. If you knew the thief was coming at 7pm then you wouldn’t have to do any preparations at all until 6.55. Then all you would do would stand beside the window with a large piece of wood and wait for the thief to climb through. But thieves never tell you when they will call round and so we make ourselves ready all the time by taking various precautions.

Jesus’ point is simple. We don’t know when we will see Jesus (either he comes to us or we go to him) and so we must be constantly serving so we can constantly be ready.

At this point Peter asks Jesus a question of clarification. He says, verse 41, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’

What does he mean? Does he mean to us disciples or to everybody? Or to us leaders or to all the disciples? I think we discover what was in Peter’s mind by listening carefully to how Jesus answers him in verse 42.

“The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?”

I think Peter is thinking of the distinction within the community of disciples. Between the leaders and between everybody else. Everything Jesus has previously taught is applicable to all the disciples but from this point onwards he says something particularly important for those in positions of leadership.

Jesus introduces a manager into this story. Someone the master gives responsibility over other people. I just love what he is charged to do and I think this helps us identity who Jesus is referring to. What is the of this manager? To give other servants their food at the proper time.

The NT frequently speaks of church leaders as those who have a responsibility to provide spiritual food for those they serve.

Jesus said the very same thing to Peter at the end of John’s Gospel – ‘Feed my sheep.’

In these verses Jesus has his sights on those with leadership positions. Let’s discover what he has to say. First the positive. Verse 43, “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”

But listen to the warning in verses 45 and 46. “But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk.  46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

Is this not a shot across the bow to those who are ruining whole churches by their denial of the return of Jesus, the judgement that will follow and who are not doing what Jesus says should be done in his churches? They will not simply be ticked off and allowed to go into heaven. They will be assigned a place with unbelievers. The good news is that they will not get away with their wickedness. Although they have the clothing of a minister their behaviour shows that they have no place in the future kingdom of Christ.

In verses 47 and 48 I think Jesus returns speaks again to all his professing disciples. He’s just spoken about the responsibility of church leadership and the consequences of not obeying Christ’s commands but in verses 47 and 48 he seems to speak to those who would profess to be Christians now but in the future will be show not to have been genuine followers of the Lord Jesus.

“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Different degrees of punishment in hell. Nothing is pleasant but there are different experiences of suffering. Based on deeds and knowledge.

This is not purgatory!

The servant who knows what Jesus wants and deliberately says ‘no way’ will experience many blows.

Those who do not know will still be punished because they are rebels but with fewer blows. A church goer in a liberal church. They will not be saved.

We need to ensure that faithful Bible teachers are placed in churches across the country. There are real consequences for others when a wicked manager is in charge.

I realise I may have said a few things this morning that are new to you so do let me encourage you to come and speak to me at the end.

Hold the Bible out. Rub your noses in the text. If it’s there then we act appropriate.

Let’s live our lives now in the light of that great day. Let’s pray.

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