Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God
I was in a Bible study about a week ago and the subject of study was humility. One of the passages that was brought up was from Matthew chapter 20 where the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, asked Jesus that her sons would sit at Jesus’ left and right hands in His kingdom. Jesus gently rebukes this woman saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:25-28).”
Jesus used Himself as an example, said that He had come to serve, and called His disciples also to serve. At this point someone in the Bible study quoted something they had read from John Piper where Piper said, “beware of serving Jesus.” I was immediately struck by this statement. I knew right away that it wasn’t a statement that could be believed in isolation or one which could not be held in tension with the multitude of times we are called to be servants of Christ in the New Testament. And I knew that Piper was not suggesting that Christians should not be servants of the Lord. But it struck me because I realized that the warning, “beware of serving Jesus,” expressed an important truth which is today often forgotten in churches where the gospel has been obscured or lost and Christianity is presented only as a moralistic system of “serving God.”
I first thought of a prime example where Jesus had served His disciples and one of them had at first rejected his Lord’s service. I was thinking of John’s Gospel where Jesus washes His disciple’s feet. When the Lord came to Peter, Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me. (John 13:6-8).” Peter then allows Jesus to wash his feet. I was thinking to myself that I’m sure if Jesus had asked Peter to wash His feet, Peter would have gladly done it. But it wasn’t Peter washing Jesus’ feet that would have allowed Peter to “have a share with him,” it was only if Peter allowed the Lord to wash His feet.
I also thought of The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15. In what is one of my favorite parables told by our Lord, we see a younger son who demands his inheritance and then wastes it on worldly living and an older son who stays home with his father and serves him. When the younger son in the story comes to repentance he returns to his father hoping only to be treated as a hired servant. But when he arose and went to his father, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’” When the older brother hears of what his father has done for the Prodigal, “he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.”
The younger brother’s only hope was his father’s mercy. And when he returned home in repentance he allowed himself to be served by his father. There was nothing else he could do, he knew that he had nothing to offer. But the older son can only think about what he has offered to his father, his service. And in serving his father, apparently he has not allowed his father to “serve” him in giving him even a “young goat” to celebrate with his friends. Perhaps this older son saw it as an addition to his perfect obedience and service to his father not to ask for anything like a goat. But his father answered that all that he had also belonged to his son. Perhaps there was also a great deal of pride held by the older brother about his service to his father without asking for anything in return. But the younger brother has no pride, he has nothing to be proud of.
Until we cry out to Jesus, hoping only in His service to us, suffering an excruciating death on the cross, in our place, bearing our sin, bearing the Father’s wrath which we deserved, we have no share with him. If we seek only to “serve God” like the older brother sought to serve his father, thinking that we have something to offer to God, then we will only be puffed up in pride and we will believe that we deserve something from God. But as Paul taught the Athenians at the Areopagus, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).” We have nothing to offer God and as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6 - KJV).”
But if we embrace Christ’s service to us and hope only in Him and His death and resurrection He gives us a great gift, the gift of being His servant. Hebrews 9:14 reads, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” So there are two kinds of “service” to God, one which is dead works which avails no one anything, neither the sinner nor God, and also a kind of service which is done on the basis of the purification which we receive from the shed blood of Christ. But this is a service to our Lord out of love, without hope of repaying Him or earning some greater standing with Him.