Sunday, September 23, 2012

The First. And the Last.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2012
It is the preoccupation of man to think first of himself and not of His God and Lord. It is an eternal fact that the Lord is the First and the Last. He truly is greater than all, above all.

It is the mystery and paradox that the One who is First has become the last, the greatest has become the least. When Jesus taught His disciples He didn’t just teach them stuff that if they were to take a test they’d be able to get a decent grade on it. Jesus taught them by being among them. He who is the First became the Last and that is how He was teaching His disciples who more often than not were too dense to get the point.

Perhaps that was because Jesus’ teaching seemed so impractical; predicting all this stuff about how He would be suffering and dying and rising. Perhaps it was because they were at times preoccupied with themselves, as with this time here where they each made their case to each other—but notice not to Jesus—of why they were the greatest among themselves.

If it weren’t so deadly of a thing it would be comical. I can imagine Jesus laughing upon hearing their pathetic attempts to outdo one another with their supposed greatness among each other. Did they really forget that God Himself was among them and that He was their teacher, their Rabbi? Yeah, Jesus is the greatest, of course, but it’s obvious that I’m second in importance.

So when Jesus teaches them it’s not just that He’s with them, among them, God in the flesh, it’s that He’s being clear with them why exactly this is. It’s that I’m going to be delivered over. Betrayed. Handed over. It’s that I will be suffering, and being killed on a cross. It’s that when that has been accomplished I will be raised from the grave.

It’s a sad commentary that we often, and it’s probably more like all the time, hear this and react in the same way those pathetic disciples did. As if it doesn’t matter. As if we hadn’t heard it in the first place. As if we really don’t understand what He’s saying; what He’s really getting at.

Don’t you see? We do the same thing they did. We act and talk as if we’re so much greater than those disciples were because we really get it, unlike them. We know exactly what it means that Jesus suffered and died and rose. But we really aren’t any better than they were. We really don’t understand it any better than they did. Just because you don’t hear conversations in the fellowship hall as we’re chomping on donuts about who is the greatest among us doesn’t mean we haven’t done exactly the same thing they did. When you hear the Gospel, who Jesus is and what He has done for you—suffering, dying, rising—and then you begin thinking how some of your fellow congregational members just aren’t up to snuff as you are, Jesus’ question to you is, what are you thinking about on the way?

Jesus had taught them. It is hard to get clearer than what He had told them: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” It is the glory of the Lord, who is the First, to become as the one who is last. Jesus came, the one who is the greatest, the Lord of all, in order to become the least among us.

But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. That’s what Mark says as he’s recounting this event. Jesus makes this amazing prediction, prophecy, teaching. But they didn’t have a clue. Oh, and they were afraid to ask Him. And I suppose if my Lord and master were telling me He was going to be betrayed and killed I’d be a little hesitant to ask Him for clarification. Instead, I’ll go back into my comfort zone and build up myself. When those other guys try to convince me that they are better than me I’ll show them exactly how they’re wrong, because it’s clear that I’m the greatest among them.

It is the preoccupation of ourselves to dwell on ourselves. But Jesus has come among us as one who serves. It is the astonishing fact of history that the true God has revealed Himself not primarily as the Almighty, Powerful, Glorious God of all, but the humble servant of all. The First who chose to be the last. The greatest who humbled Himself as the least.

So that’s what all that being delivered over and suffering and being killed is all about. They didn’t get it. But in time they would. We often don’t get it. But upon hearing it again and again; upon receiving His gracious word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of our sins, lifting us up from our lowly state; we slowly begin to get it.

It’s not about us. It’s about Him. It’s not about ourselves in relation to our brother and sister Christians insofar as we are greater than them but rather about ourselves in relation to them in regard to how we may serve them. It is the preoccupation of Christians to consider what they need, when Jesus comes in considering what we need—blessing us and lifting us up so that we may be preoccupied with others’ needs; serving and loving them.

Things aren’t all that different from what Jesus did with His disciples to what He does with us. He was teaching them, He teaches us. He was the First, but became the last among them. He was unquestionably the greatest among them but became the least. He taught them, yes, but He wasn’t just imparting information. He was really teaching them. He was serving them. He was being among them, He was giving them what they needed.

He cut them down to size, and notice how He did it, with simple question: Oh yeah, hey guys, what were talking about on the way? Silence. Embarrassment. Conviction. Heads drooping a little in shame. It’s at this point that Master Jesus, the greatest of all, the Lord of all, once again teaches, humbly being among them instead of once and for all giving up on these self-absorbed nobodies. He brings a child among them.

Imagine this scene. The God of the universe taking a child and putting him before the disciples. Taking this child in His arms. Jesus doesn’t teach in a manner in which He’s got information to get across, and oh good, now they’ve gotten that information. He really teaches. He serves. He comes among us. This child before them must have sliced through their consciences as their attempts at proving who among them was the greatest came to the forefront of their minds.

A little child. One who is in need of being received. One who is in need of being received in the name of Jesus. Who are you to think anything of yourself when there are those among you who are in need? Who are you to ignore the servant work of Jesus by considering yourself over your brother or sister in Christ who is more in need than you are? When you receive such a one in the name of Jesus, you receive Jesus. And whoever receives Him, receives not Him but Him who sent Him.

It is the eternal joy and delight of God the Father to send His Son. It is His delight because it is His eternal joy to love us, to bring us what we need. And that is why we prayed in the Collect of the Day “O God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, grant us humility and childlike faith that we may please You in both will and deed.” It was the prayer of our Lord to suffer and die and rise on the third day. It continues to be His prayer that His serving us brings about more joy as we serve others.

Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” It is the eternal gratitude we have for Him that He didn’t lay this upon us without first having done it Himself. He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. He who is so is the First, and the last. He, the First, having become the last, and He the greatest having become the least and the servant of all. Amen.


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