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HOW TO BE TRULY GREAT

Luke 22:23-22:28
Key Verse: 22:26

We thank and praise Jesus who poured out his blood for us. It was to forgive us our sins and to give us eternal life. His grace through his outpoured blood is sufficient. May we bear this grace by living as his new covenant people in repentance and obedience. Today’s passage, unique to Luke’s gospel, is the continuation of Jesus’ talk with his disciples at the Last Supper. Even at this sombre occasion, the disciples showed their worldly desire and shortcomings. Yet, Jesus’ hope for them was unchanging. He helped them with the truth of God concerning. Let’s study this passage with the title, “how to be truly great” and learn how to live as his covenant people.

First, the truly great are those who consider themselves the least and serve (23-30). Look at verse 23. “They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.” To most of them, betraying their Master was unthinkable. In Matthew and Mark, at Jesus’ announcement of his betrayal by one disciple, each said, “Surely not I,” (Mt 26:22; Mk 14:19) indicating the possibility: “Maybe I.” Then in their shock they began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. In that situation, another matter arose among them. Verse 24 says, “Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest.” Their questions or disputes seemed to go from one extreme to another: which of them might betray their Master and which of them would be the greatest. Especially, about their dispute concerning which of them would be the greatest it was not the first time this had happened. When Jesus first foretold his betrayal in chapter 9, his disciples had also responded by arguing with one another about who was the greatest (9:44,48). They did not know about themselves and they were living among people. Most seriously they did not have any concept of new covenant or becoming new covenant people by Jesus’ blood.

How did Jesus respond to them? Look at verses 25 and 26. “Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves.’” Jesus did not reprimand them. Rather, he recognized their desire to be great and taught them how to be truly great. Jesus let them know that the world is operated by the power and authority of those who are in high positions. They are proud of their family background, military power, achievements, scholarship, human relationships, wealth, etc. And then they call themselves Benefactors to be somehow honoured among the people. King Herod murdered many rebellious Jews by having them dragged by horses in order to keep his position loyal to Rome. Then he wanted to be recognized as a philanthropist for his great building projects, including the Jerusalem Temple. He called himself a benefactor. But Jesus did not want his disciples to be like that. When Jesus called the Twelve, he wanted to raise them as different type of leaders. He continued to say here, “Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves,” In the ordinary society, younger people are supposed to humbly serve older people. Here, the youngest are the least who are humble enough to serve all others. As mentioned above, when in Luke 9 an argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be greatest while Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem after Galilean ministry, Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest” (Lk 9:48).

Let’s think about how one can consider himself to be the least. Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:9, 10. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” And he said in Ephesians 3:8, “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Apostle Paul regarded himself as the least or less than the least, for he knew what kind of sinner he was and what God’s grace upon him was. He said of himself in 1 Timothy that he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” (1:13-15). And he said that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom he was the first. He confessed that the grace of Jesus Christ poured out on him abundantly, and he was full of thanks to God. When he remembered the grace of Jesus, then he could become a truly humble person, who regarded himself as the least. All the fallen are proud in nature. They cannot humble themselves. Only when they know the grace of Jesus can they become humble. Among believers there are those who do not want to remember what kind of sinners they were and try to appear as just pretty good guys to others as if they have become what they are all by themselves. They are too sensitive to what others think of them. They are those who do not know the grace of Jesus. God wants all of us to know his grace and grow in it. I was a legalistic and fatalistic and cowardly sinner. I always thought that my life was a cursed one and could not get out of the thought of cursed life and the curse of the law. My heart was so deadened that I did not know joy or sorrow in life. Even at the funeral ceremony of my friend my heart was numb. I was so burdened with my life that I envied pigs that do not need to think of their lives. Most seriously, as a coward, I was on the list of the first class among those who are to be thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. But God in his great mercy led me to Bible study. When Genesis 12:2 came to me, I realized that my life was a blessed one in Jesus Christ who bore all the curse of men and eternal punishment upon himself. Jesus came into this world to save also a sinner like me. I could believe that the Son of God loved me and gave his life for me. I know that I am one of his new covenant people in Jesus’ blood. I am on my way to the heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ my Lord. He established my mission family and raised me as a servant of God’s word, although I were the last person to be so. The grace of Jesus is sufficient to me. I should remember the grace of Jesus and grow in humbleness.

One can be also truly humble through God’s training. Numbers 12:3 says, “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone on the face of the earth.)” Moses became a very humble man through 40 years of God’s wilderness training. David became a humble man through God’s training that he was close to death many times. He was once fleeing for life because of his son Absalom’s rebellion. A man named Shimei from Saul’s family cursed David, saying, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel!...the LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!” He poured out courses on David, although all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.” But the king David said, “What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’…Leave him along; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to” (2 Sa 16:5-11). David in his humbleness tried to hear what the LORD was saying to him, even in the cursing words of his enemy, though he had all power to destroy the enemy in a moment. As we studied in Hebrews 12, the Lord disciplines those he loves so that they may become truly humble. According to Jesus the least, the truly humble one, is the greatest.

And Jesus said, “…the one who rules should be like the one who serves.” According to Jesus a ruler is to be a servant. A true servant serves knowing the need of the one whom he serves. Thank God that Abraham Lee made a video for M. Timothy Park’s home-coming ceremony held inside and outside, even though he was without gloves in the extreme cold, and produced six DVDs with the help of M. David, spending many hours. He did it because of some people’s need. May God grow him continually in the life of serving. A young boy was brought up in an extremely poor family. He saw that even street beggars were eating better than he. But his widowed mother thoroughly helped him not to have a beggar mentality. On one occasion his mother sent him to a feast in a rich family to serve the people. At first the young boy thought that his mother wanted him, who was always hungry, to eat some food freely while serving there. But his mother’s instruction was, “When you serve others, serve them wholeheartedly and don’t drink even a cup of water as a reward.” He was surprised, but obeyed his mother’s instruction. Later, he realized that his mother wanted him to completely eradicate his remaining beggar’s mentality and serve others purely without human reward and people’s notice. He also learned that when one serves others, the one who serves should serve in the position of those who receive serving, but that of those who offer service. That spirit of pure serving contributed for him to become a president of a nation later. Particularly, the one who serves others with a long term vision and even with eternal perspective is truly great. Jesus elaborates this part, “the one who rules should be like the one who serves”: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Jesus is the greatest because of his serving life. Jesus’ life of serving is matchless. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God so that the seed of the kingdom of God might planted in the hearts of the hearers. He healed the sick with incurable diseases and drove out demons from people. He did this work personally so that each one who encountered him might know the love of God. He sought each lost soul to be found in God and be saved. Finally he gave his body and blood by dying on the cross so that those who eat his flesh and blood be saved and have life that is eternal. He stated his life of serving in Mark 10:45, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give life as a ransom for many.” The life as a shepherd and 1:1 Bible teacher is a wonderful way to learn the life of Jesus’ serving. Thank God that Ian and Nicole began this kind of life of serving as a shepherd and 1:1 Bible teacher. May we all grow in this life of serving until we can give our life to the service of God’s flock of sheep. Then our life will be truly great in God’s sight.

Look at verse 28. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” “In my trials” can refer to Jesus’ entire earthly ministry during, which he battled with Satan. Jesus recognized his disciples standing by him. What an encouragement! Although the disciples were young and immature, arguing which of them would be considered to be the greatest even at the Last Supper, they suffered a lot to follow Jesus. Although no human security was guaranteed, they followed Jesus, who had no place to lay his head. Some followed him even if they had no sure hope of marriage. When the authorities of the nation hated and persecuted Jesus and made every effort to get rid of him, to disciples it was like the whole world standing against Jesus. Still they followed Jesus until that now. Jesus was happy to say, “You are those who have stood by me in my trails.” If Jesus says to you very personally, “You are the one who has stood by me in my trials”, what a great encouragement it will be. It may be true to each of us.

Then Jesus continued to say in verses 29 and 30, “And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The reason why people want to be the greatest is so that they may possess a kingdom even a small kingdom of their own and have kingship in that kingdom. The Canadian government brought 10,000 Syrian refuges to Canada in 2015. When the refuges came to Canada, no doubt they must have thought that Canada is a wonderful country and a great kingdom. However, sometime later on their arrival, the refugees received a bill from the government for the airfare, and many were shocked. Still, Canada is a comparatively nice country in this world. However, the kingdom Jesus conferred on his disciples (Lk 12:32) would be a perfect kingdom with perfect righteousness and perfect peace. Jesus compared this kingdom to the kingdom God the Father conferred on him. This would be the same kingdom, the kingdom of love and truth with no evil, having Jesus as the eternal king. Those who have stood by Jesus in his trails will eat and drink with Jesus and sit on thrones and rule together with him. May each of us have this amazing hope and pursue true greatness in this world, becoming the least and the one who serves.

Second, the truly great are those who admit their weaknesses (31-34). Look at verses 31 and 32. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” When someone says to us, “I prayed for you,” our usual response is, “Thank you for your prayer for me.” However, Peter’s response was different. He replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Why did he respond in that way? Most certainly, the words, “your faith may not fail,” hurt Peter’s pride. He seemed to be saying like this in his heart, “O Jesus, you don’t know me. I am not such a person who fails in faith in you. No way. That’s unthinkable. I can bear any suffering to keep my faith in you.” So he said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” At this point Peter was too confident of his loyalty to Jesus. However, in fact he did not know his true self. He was too proud to admit his weaknesses and possible failures. Yet, Jesus helped him to the end, answering, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Surely, Jesus knew Peter much better than Peter knew himself.

The truly great are those who admit their weaknesses and shortcoming and failures and sins. King David was great because he admitted his sin of adultery and repented when he was rebuked by a prophet Nathan. As a king he could have killed the prophet and hidden his sin. But when he was rebuked by the prophet, he was conscience-stricken and sincerely repented before God. To most people it is not easy to admit one’s weakness, mistakes or sins. So they hardly say, “I am sorry” or “I repent.” They make many excuses. Shamefully I was one of them. As for me it took long years to learn to say, “I am sorry,” and still I am learning it. When my mistake and heartlessness was obvious, I could not say to my wife, “I am sorry.” For example, a few days after M. Sarah delivered our second baby Paulina, there was a wedding in Chicago to establish the first house church in Canada. I had to go with most of our coworkers, leaving M. Sarah alone. She had to take care of a new born baby Paulina and a two-and-a-half year old Sara all by herself. When I came back, she expressed her pain and suffering. Then, terribly, I insisted my righteousness, that I served God and God’s work first. She already knew this. I did not need to say that. But I said it. It made her much more pained. I could have said, “I am sorry, honey. How much you suffered to take care of two babies, while you had to be taken care of in your situation! I am really sorry for my heartlessness and lack of concern.” Then she could have been encouraged and everything would have been okay. Many times I was too proud and immature to say, “I am sorry”, that means too proud to repent before God. One missionary poured out all the complaints and criticism on her shepherdess for a whole night. After hearing all the hard words, the shepherdess responded, “I am a sinner before God. I am weak like you.” At this the missionary’s heart was deeply moved and since then her attitude was totally changed and she began to have a deep respect for her shepherdess. Of course, if what I have done or am doing is truly right and my conscience is very clear before God, we should not say, “I am sorry” or yield to others. However, in many cased, we need “I am sorry.” I see that there are various kinds of “I am sorry”: habitual insincere “I am sorry”, cold “I am sorry,” rebellious “I am sorry,” and even threatening “I am sorry.” But I believe that with true “I am sorry”, “I repent” along with the words “Thank you”, our lives can become much easier and smoother in this hard world. Again, the truly great are those who can admit their weaknesses and mistakes and sins, especially at the crucial time. May we all pursue this greatness.

Third, the truly great are those who prepare for the future (35-38). Look at verse 35. “Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered.” It was true. When Jesus sent them out for field work training, he told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic” (Lk 9:3). As they followed Jesus’ instruction, they indeed lacked nothing. Jesus taught them to have faith in God and they experienced God’s provision. At the same time when Jesus was with them, people were willing to support Jesus and his company out of their goodwill. Then here in verse 30 he said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and by one.” Why did Jesus say this now? It was because their situation would be different. Now as Jesus was leaving them, he wanted them to prepare themselves for the upcoming future without him. Jesus knew that after getting rid of him, the enemies would also attempt to exterminate his disciples. Jesus wanted his disciples to arm themselves for the spiritual battle and thus prepare for such a time. So he said continually, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” No one wants to be numbered with criminals and terribly bad people. We all want to be numbered with honourable people. But Jesus would be numbered with transgressors, which means to be crucified with other criminals according God’s prophecy in Isaiah 53:12. Jesus saw that this prophecy was reaching its fulfillment and the next target would be his disciples. Jesus really wanted them to prepare for such a terrible time. But the disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” The disciples understood that what Jesus said was their physical preparation for the physical fighting, although Jesus certainly meant their spiritual preparation for the upcoming persecution. For Jesus said in Matthew 26:52, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus knew there was a communication problem between him and his disciples. So he said, “That’s enough” and finished the conversation.

The truly great prepare for the future. Preparation is an important teaching in Luke’s gospel. John the Baptist would make ready a people prepared for the Lord (1:17). After making a decision of faith to be the Lord’s servant by changing her own plan of marriage and accepting God’s plan to be the mother of Jesus, Mary got ready and hurried to visit Elizabeth for a spiritual counseling before Satan’s assailment (1:38). Jesus said to his disciples in 12:40 that they must be ready for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man. In Luke 16 Jesus told his disciples even a parable of the shrewd manager, who prepared shrewdly for his future jobless situation (16:1-8). Most importantly Jesus prepared for the future gospel work generation after generation by raising 12 disciples and thus laying a firm foundation for it. Our students’ study by faith and obtaining good grades can be a good preparation for their own future and for the future work of God as well. More importantly, forming a clear and strong gospel faith in their youth will be a great preparation for the future gospel work in this generation. In our church we keep praying that God may establish 12 gospel-centred house churches by 2020 so that this church may be used by God for his powerful gospel work for this nation and for the world.

In today’s passage we learned how to be truly great. May we pursue true greatness by learning the spirit of humbleness and serving and repentance and preparation. Amen.

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