November 12, 2017
Only One IsThe Greatest
Luke 22:24-38 by Warwick Lyne
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Series: Luke's Gospel

Only One is the Greatest

Luke 22:24-38

Immediately before our passage, Jesus has spoken about how he, and his death, will be the final Passover.  And that somebody present at that meal was going to betray him.

If it is shocking to think of the betrayer as someone emerging from the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, it is only slightly less dramatic to think of the disciples engaging in this conversation which Luke describes for us here. Especially since they are doing so, so quickly after everything Jesus has said.  He has, in the breaking of bread, spoken of his self-giving, his body broken for them, his blood being shed for them. You would think, for a moment or two, that in light of that, if we had been present, we might have been thinking far higher thoughts than these individuals.

What we are  told is (and incidentally the phrase is the same phrase in v23) and they began to question one another, and the phrase which of them it could be who was going to do this, namely betray.

Then in v24,maybe because of what they had been talking about inv23A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

How quickly we go from talking about something terrible to talking about how good we are.  “Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that hasn’t worked out for you.  Let me tell you about the time I managed to do it.”  “Awh, that’s terrible news.  Anyway, did I show you me new phone?” Not here however.  Not now.  Surely not!  This cannot possibly be can it? The sad thing is we know that it can.  Arguing about who is the greatest is never far from the surface.

As one commentator said, it sounds like a pastors’ conference.  “How big is your church?  How many services do you have?  What do you do here?  What do you do there?”  If you’re not a pastor you have probably never attended these events, but if you do attend some of your greatest insecurities come out. So this scenario is quite encouraging.  I am encouraged that these disciples did what they did.  I know they should not have, but it makes me feel a lot better, because also have done this.

I know none of you have.  I am  sure it has never crossed your mind this past week to think of yourself more highly than you ought, to think of yourself more significant than you really are, to give yourself an edge by thinking about putting somebody else down, of considering where you have been and what you have done and what you have  earned and the status you have secured as somehow or other being the really significant thing that makes the world turn.

The interesting thing is that Jesus would choose such a group.  I’m encouraged by that too. If he had chosen 12 of the best, 12 secret service agents, how could we have identified with this group?  Except those of us who have the same potential, which limits the number here significantly.

What does he take?  He takes this ragbag of humanity.  He takes Philip who is an insecure kind of fellow.  He takes Peter who has always got his foot in his mouth – takes it out momentarily to put the other one in.  He takes Thomas who was always saying, “I couldn’t possibly believe that.  Where’s the evidence, where’s the proof?”  He takes Matthew who was a tax-collector working for the government, and so on. Just a strange group of individuals.

Have you looked around this morning? I do not think anybody could come in here and say, “Apparently Jesus came for just the brightest and the best.”

What a strange group of people Jesus puts together.  Look at them.  A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. You would think they would have learnt because this is not the first time this has happened.

If you turn back to chapter 9, for just a moment, you realise that Jesus has been tackling this issue for some time now.

Luke 9:46, An argument arose among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest.  But Jesus knowing their thoughts took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.  For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

This is such an upside-down view of the world. He who is the least among you is actually the greatest.

Their timing, in ch22, is horrible.  So soon before the crucifixion.  So quickly after this celebratory Passover meal.  They have obviously missed the whole point. What are they, concerned about seating arrangements? “You shouldn’t be sitting in that seat, that’s my seat.  I always sit there.”  “Hey, I don’t care if you were on the mount of transfiguration, sit down.  I like it here.” Just like children.  Just like us.  Jockeying for position. See, pride is an ugly monster.  Pride is actually the ugliest of monsters.  Pride is no respecter of ethnicity, intellect, social status.  Pride affects everyone

“Pride loves to climb up, not as Zacchaeus to see Christ, but to be seen.”  Zacchaeus climbs up the tree so he can get a better view of Jesus.  We climb up the tree so that everyone can get a better look at us. Even when everything around us is screaming at us to stop thinking about ourself and think about other people, we still have that wonderful ability to insert ourselves back into it. When something good happens to someone else, we might be happy for them, but it is mixed with “that’s not fair, what about me?”

When something bad happens to someone else, we might feel sorry for them, but it is mixed with “I feel a bit better about myself now,” and “well, they probably deserved it anyway.”

God does not tolerate this. He exalts the humble and he resists the proud. Pride, in our contemporary culture, has actually been elevated to a position of desirability.  So the car bumper sticker reads, ‘pride is honour’, but the Bible says ‘humility is honour’, ‘pride is ugly’. To think in that way now is to find yourself immediately at odds with the surrounding view, which is exactly what Jesus was saying to his disciples.

Jesus says in v25, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  Then notice.  But not so with you.

“You’re acting”, he says, “the way everybody does.  You’re acting in the manner of earthly kings and rulers.”

And what he is not doing is saying “this is a system that when perverted is wrong”.  He’s saying “this whole notion is wrong.”

Earthly kings and rulers, in Jesus’ day, use their authority as a means of establishing status and honour. The Roman world, and indeed to some extent the Jewish world, operated on the basis of benefaction. The benefactors were individuals who were prosperous enough not to have to pay taxes.  They were, if you like, able to make quarterly returns.  They did not have the money taken out of their pay cheque.  It was not  gone before they saw it. They were in a position where they could decide how they were going to be dispersing all of this material and they could find ways to do it that would be most advantageous to them, and what they did was, since they did not have to pay taxes into the community, they used their wealth to do things for the cities and towns and villages in such a way as to legitimate their public office and to establish a position of privilege in the community.

In order to provide leadership you had to be wealthy.  Therefore, only the wealthy could provide leadership.

And Jesus says in v26, but not so with you.  You are not supposed to be like that.

Jesus takes the system on head first. Instead of exploiting their positions, the followers of Jesus should exercise leadership by serving rather than seeking to be served, and I wonder if what commonly happens in our churches owes more to the culture than it does to the words of Jesus. It is not about me and my status, or my honour, or my rights, what I deserve.  But about the good of others.

That is why, in chapter 9, he had taken the little child and put him beside him. In Jesus’ day, as it used to be in Australia, children, due to their age, were the lowest on the ladder. They were supposed to be seen and not heard.  They were supposed to speak when they were spoken to.

Sounds very archaic?  Sound like your great-grandmother does it not?  As opposed to the contemporary environment where the youngest dominates the restaurant, where the unruly little child becomes the devotion of humanity, where the adults say ‘well who am I to interfere, after all she has a mind of her own you know.’

So when Jesus says, “let the greatest among you become as the youngest,”  the point is almost missed today because we have forgotten that actually the commandment is for children to honour their parents, not for parents to honour their children by giving them the centre of attention.

“The leader is the one who serves.”

“In other words,” says Jesus, “I’m going to turn everything on its head, and when you find yourself moving around, acting as if everyone owes it to you, acting as if you have honour and prestige as a result of things that are only the evidence of the grace of God in your life, then you need to stop and check yourself.”

“For who is greater,” he asks in v27, “the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves?”

The answer to this rhetorical question is the one who is waited on is the greater, he is paying the bill.  The waiter is the servant.

Jesus says, “I am among you as the waiter.” Who is the greatest?  The one who gets to play golf, or the one who caddies? Of course, it is the one who plays.  He gets to choose his own clothes.  The caddy has someone else’s name on their back.  The player gets to hit the shots.  The caddy racks the sand and carries the bag. Jesus says, “I am among you as the one who carries.  I am among you as the one who racks.  I am among you as the one who serves.”

His point is this: If you want to be great then welcome the marginalised, welcome the insignificant, honour those at the bottom of the pile, in a way which brings no honour to you.  If you are just interested in the high and mighty, and being the high and mighty, then you have not understood the nature of honour and status in my kingdom.

And vv28-30, Jesus is saying I am welcoming you into my kingdom, where you will have position, but do not forget, from now on, it has got to be different.

There is only one who is the greatest in God’s kingdom, and that’s the greatest servant, and that is me.  Get over yourselves!

Do not forget: there is  only one who is  the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom, and it is not you.

James Boice: “Nothing is so needed in our churches, humanly speaking, as a new generation of people who are really willing to be nothing in order that Jesus Christ might be everything.”

But then it gets worse.

V31, “Simon.  Simon!”

Now that must have reverberated in Peter’s mind because after all, when he had been called as a disciple Jesus had given him a new name. His original name ‘Simon’ meant shaky, Mr. Shaky, but when Jesus called him he said, “Hey Shaky, I want you to follow me and from now on I have a new name for you.  You will be known as the Rock.”

You can imagine Peter saying, “That’s nice.  I like that.  The Rock ”, and here, in the way in which a mother sometimes uses the middle name of a child to arrest his attention, “Jonathan Bartholomew!”  “Yes mother.”

“Simon, Simon.”

What is Jesus doing? He is simply pointing out to him that he is once again very shaky.  In fact, underneath his new name is still a very shaky individual, and for good reason he reminds Peter of his frailty.  He tells him straight up what’s going on. “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” Not Peter only, but the disciples as a group because the “you” in v31 is plural, “yous” (colloquial plural ‘you’).

“Hey, Simon, Satan has asked if he can sift you and your colleagues as wheat.”

“But I have prayed for you, and my prayer has been this, that your faith may not fail.  And I want to say to you, when you have turned back, I want you to strengthen your brothers.”

What a wonderful statement.  I have prayed for you. Think about what it means when somebody says “I have prayed for you” or “I am praying for.” It means a great deal, and so it should.

Jesus looks Peter in the eye and says, “The evil one has plans to disrupt you as a group, but I want you to know Peter that I have prayed expressly for you.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.  When you’re back on an even keel, I want to use you to help others who are still shaky.  They are  going to need you Peter.”

Imagine what that would have meant.  What an encouragement, and you would expect Peter to say, “Oh thank you Jesus, thank you so much.  I’m disappointed to hear I’ll need to turn back, but thank you for the promise that you’re going to bring me through”, but no, look what he does.  Peter says, “Well thanks Jesus, but no need for all this.  I would  just like to remind you that I’m ready to go with you both to prison and to death.

Now we should not be too hard on him.   Presumably he felt that he was.“I know these other fellows, I cannot speak for them Jesus, but me?  It’s Rocky.  Eye of the tiger.  I’m your man.  I know you called me shaky, I know you were just trying to get me attention, but I’m not shaky anymore I am Rocky.

“We can do this Jesus.  Don’t waste a moment’s thought on this Jesus.”

Again, it is pride, and again, this is an encouragement.  I am glad he did this because if he got it right at this point, then I would not  have anybody to go to every time I made these great resolutions, these great declarations of faith, only to fail them.

Lord I am ready to go with you all the way to prison if I have to.  I am ready to go with you to death, and I do not  even make it all the way home after church before my mind is full of sinful thoughts, and I lose my temper at the kids, or I am complaining about some relatively small inconvenience, or whinging about how I did not get recognition for something I did, and pride is right there again raising its ugly head.

What does Jesus say into this situation?

He says, massively paraphrase v37,

He says that is exactly why I have come to be numbered among the transgressors, that is why I have died for you, that is exactly why you need to trust me, and that is exactly why you need to remember that you are a sinner on two legs, you are a wanderer, impulsive and at times repulsive, and that there is only one person here who is never shaky, who never wobbles, who is always dependable, who is in complete control of all things that are going on here, and he loves you and died for you. This is grace.

The problem here with Peter was not a lack of self-esteem. He would have found it very funny to read most of the contemporary literature on the reason you are messed up is because you do not think highly enough of yourself. He was unwilling to recognise that he could become so unfaithful.  He had developed a sense of self-reliance that was dangerous.

It is always dangerous.  If you want to honour Jesus, then there is no room for self-reliance.  Just like there is no room for one-upmanship in Jesus’ kingdom. Self-reliance does not count as a plus, it counts as a negative.

How different is this from the world around us?  Then and now?

What Peter needed to do was admit what he was really like, but his pride stopped him from seeing himself. “Hey Shaky.”  “I’m not Shaky.  I’m Rocky.”

“Oh Peter.  I tell you, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.

At this point we would expect Jesus to say something like, “Well, you know what?  I don’t need you guys.  I can make stones sing.  I can get children for Abraham out of anywhere.  I’m frankly sick to death of the whole lot of you.  One in particular, the other 11 not far behind.  I’ve done my best with you.  I’ve poured my life out for you.  I’m about to die for you.  You think I’m going to put up with… get out of here.”

That would have been understandable, would it not?

“We’re going to have to get a new team.  This group’s no good.  Faltering, stumbling, bumbling bunch of no-hopers”, but he says in v28, “Guys, come here.  You’re the ones who have stayed with me in my trials.

“What?  No we’re not.  We’re the ones who were arguing.”

“Don’t worry about the arguing just now.  You’re the ones who stood with me in the trials.”

“No, no, we’re the ones who were arguing.”

“Don’t argue, you’re the ones who stayed with me.”

You see, this is grace.  In all our wobbling and self-centred rubbish, he does not give up on us, or let go of us.

“The kings of the Gentiles operate on a different basis.  You must not be like that.”

I am among you as the one who racks the sand, carries the bags, serves at the table.  Go out and do the same thing.” It is a revolutionary message.  And absolutely impossible apart from knowing his grace.



Thank you for the clarity with which Jesus speaks.  And even though the ugliness of pride is as plain as day here, we still struggle with it every day.

May the grace of Jesus draw us again to him.  May the grace of Jesus fill our hearts and minds and banish everything else that fights for control, including our pride, that we might become nothing, that Jesus Christ might be everything.

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