Jesus’ Unique Requirements—Part II

June 12, 2014

A recurring theme in the gospels, particularly in Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, is the attitude required to pursue God’s purposes. Here are a few samples:

When the ten heard [about the power squabble between the sons of Zebedee], they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28; parallels in all four gospels)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24; parallels in Mark and Luke)

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:24-26)

After [Jesus] had washed [the disciples’] feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. (John 13:12-16)

What are the words that jump out in Jesus’ teaching? Servant, slave, take up cross, die, wash feet. Jesus exhorts his disciples to follow in his footsteps to serve others, deny themselves, adopt humility, and act sacrificially. In other words, dear readers, Jesus is asking us to step out of the way and defer to his will and Way, for the sake of the Kingdom.

This servanthood we are called to adopt is a serious commitment to the Lord’s agenda at the expense of ours. Availability to the Lord 24/7 is a way of life, rendering service that is as natural as breathing. By adopting this mindset (as well as choosing this active service) we opt out of competition, because our aim is simply to place ourselves at the bottom rung of the ladder in order to support and lift up everyone else. While it may seem so self-defeating as to be impractical if not impossible, the Lord says that if we do this we will not be defeated but ultimately honored (by the Audience of One).

But it does require “dying.” Dying to self, dying to ego, really letting go of my way in deference to the Lord’s way and possibly yours, too. This is about as easy as the mental and emotional transaction required to give up sugar permanently or to decide never again to celebrate one’s birthday. There is no question about its difficulty in the flesh, but in the Spirit we are able to die to self in order to live for God.

So what would it look like if we put ourselves into the Lord’s service? This is possible, by the way, while maintaining whatever vocation the Lord has given you. Being on call for the Lord means, in simple terms, that we are open to the ministry opportunities as they arise in a day’s time, as we go about normal business. Serving Christ means being alert to the needs of people around us, particularly those who are overlooked or intentionally bypassed by most people. A cursory look at church history demonstrates that Christians have been the ones willing to die to self, decline a fat salary in some lucrative business, and adopt a need as God’s calling upon their lives. The missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries provide many examples in Asia and Africa.

I have mentioned in previous posts about my college roommate Alene and her husband Steve who minister in Bomet, Kenya. Well, another of my Stanford roommates Maci Berkeley now lives among and ministers to a tribe of northern Mexicans in the Sierra Madre Mountains who previous had no medical care whatsoever. About twenty years ago, she and her orthopedic surgeon husband Mike left a successful practice in Aspen, CO (let that sink in for a minute) to start a new clinic in this remote location sandwiched between the realms of two drug lords. Over the years, the Berkeleys have managed to arrange for the donation of medical equipment, pharmacy items, and even staff to run the place and now have a thriving practice among the poorest of the poor. Their ministry is amazing and at times dangerous, but they are making a difference and giving testimony to the health and justice of the Kingdom of God.

Sacrificial servanthood is a hallmark of Jesus followers. Unless a seed dies and is buried in the ground, it cannot sprout and bear fruit. May we all realize the impact of our baptism and our conversion, to see ourselves buried with Christ and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, risen to make visible the Kingdom for the glory of God!

Next post: The third characteristic of Christ’s missionary style, loyal love.

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