Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 22:24-38 – Greatness of the One Among Us

Grace For The Journey


Description automatically generated with low confidence  As we prepare to study Luke 22, recall that we are in a section of material called “The Upper Room Discourse.”  It is called that because Jesus and the 12 are in an upper room of a house where they are partaking of the Last Supper and listening to Jesus as He teaches them about some things to take place in the future.  Jesus has just talked to them about His coming death, shedding His blood, the blood of the New Covenant, and He has told them He will be betrayed by one of them.  At this point, the Bible says the 12 then questioned among themselves who the betrayer might be and then, remarkably, the 12 begin to have an argument among themselves, and what they are arguing about is surprising given what Jesus has just said about His own selfless, giving of His life, in the coming hours. 

Funny how certain memories stick in our minds with unique clarity.  I can remember back to 1975 a popular song was written and played a lot on the radio.  It was a song about the heavyweight boxing champion Muhammed Ali.  The chorus of that song included these words . . .  


Muhammad Ali:

Floats like a butterfly

Stings like a bee

Those lyrics were taken from Ali’s own words.  That is how he described his unorthodox boxing stye: “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

Ali was a gifted boxer.  He fought 61 times and won all but 5 of those fights, 37 of them by knockout.  The three of those matches were against Joe Frazier and one was against George Foreman.  Those fights are still popular discussion topics in boxing circles today.  But another thing known and remembered about Ali was nearly everything he said about himself.  He always engaged in a lot of pre-match hype where he would “trash talk” his opponents, often in self-written rhymes.

Before fighting George Foreman, Ali said, “[I] float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.”  He also said, “I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing, and the shadow won!”  Nearly everybody knew Ali’s most popular nickname: “The Greatest.”  It was a self-designated nickname.  He spoke often of his own greatness.   He was quoted once as saying, “I said [I am the greatest] even before I knew I was.”  Another time he said, “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest.  Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round.”  And he said, “It’s hard to be humble, when you’re as great as I am.”

The way he spoke of himself is legend and his continual self-designation as “the greatest” was part of his entertaining routine.  At the same time, however, his calling himself “the greatest” resonated with many people because people naturally aspire to greatness.  Greatness, in and of itself, is not a sin.  It really depends on what we are valuing as great or calling great.  For example, it was Missionary William Carey who said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” 

Greatness is only wrong when it is located in ourselves. 

And greatness is always right when it is located in God.

This teaching however, goes totally against the natural current of contemporary culture, not just today, but 2,000 years ago, as well.  Jesus asks His disciples in verse 27, “Who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet, I am among you as the One who serves.” 

Today we are going to study the actions of Jesus Christ in these verses and learn how we share in these actions.  Three things to know about Jesus . . .

I. Know that Christ Serves – Verses 24-30.

This character quality of Jesus, as one who serves, surfaces from this dispute among the disciples in verse 24, “as to which of them should be considered the greatest.”  I always have to smile when I read this passage because Jesus has just been talking about going to the cross to die, arguably the greatest example of the humble giving of one’s self, and it is like the disciples are not even listening.

Remember they are sitting around a table.  I do not know if they are arguing over the seating arrangement here.  That was probably part of the problem, but remember these guys had been arguing about this sort of thing before (See Luke 9:46-48).  They were continually jockeying for a position of advantage, asserting themselves before one another.  So Jesus says in verse 25, “Look, the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them,” okay?  That’s how the unbelievers live, guys.”  And then Jesus says, “And those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors,’” which was a term used to describe heroes and gods.  Jesus says in verse 26, “But not so among you.”  That is, “You’re not to be that way, to live that way.  Not so among you.”  He adds in verse 26, “On the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.”  The youngest in Jesus’ day would be the person who had the least claim for “ruling over” someone else.  Jesus is saying, “I want you to live totally opposite of how the world lives, exchange places in your thinking.”  The truly great person humbles himself and is willing to put others first.  Live as one who “serves.”

The Greek word for “serves” is diakonwvn, the word from which we “deacon.”  A deacon is one who serves.  In the New Testament the words serve, servant, and service occur over ninety times.  This is an important teaching.  Jesus asks in verse 27, “For who is greater [and He means from the standpoint of the world, popular culture, who is greater], he who sits at the table, or he who serves?”  According to popular culture in both the disciples’ day 2,000 years ago and our day today, the one who is greater is the one sitting at the table, of course!  Some people even act this way today in restaurants, treating waiters and waitresses like they are hired servants. 

Jesus says it was the same way back in His day, too.  He says in verse 27 that it is the one who “sits at the table” who is considered greater.  Yet, note this now, Jesus says, “I am among you as the One who serves.”  Note the irony.  Jesus says popular culture identifies the greater one with the guy sitting at the table, but Jesus says, “I am One who serves.”  But Jesus, is greater than anyone else!  True greatness is found not in sitting at a table demanding everybody look at you and fawn over you; true greatness is found in selflessness, humility, and service.

True greatness is totally reverse of what the world thinks.  In God’s kingdom greatness is diametrically opposed to the kingdom of this world.  Jesus stresses the difference in the next three verses (verses 28 through 30), when He says, “But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  Jesus is contrasting His kingdom with the kingdom of this world.  He is calling for us to swim against the popular tide and flow of this world.  As Christ-followers we are to live for Christ’s kingdom, a kingdom that identifies true greatness with the action of service.  We are not to fall in love with this kingdom, the kingdom of this world, eating and drinking at the table of popular American culture.  Rather, we are to live for the kingdom of God, Christ’s kingdom, eating and drinking at His table, doing His things, living for Him.  After all, we will one day share in the benefits of His rule.

This is the meaning behind the last phrase of verse 30, “sitting on thrones and judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  The idea is not that believers will sit on thrones and pass sentences of judgment, but rather that believers will one day share in the benefits of Christ’s rule and reign.  In the consummated kingdom, Jesus will share with His followers the blessings of the kingdom.

If you want to be truly great

You will not seek greatness

So much as you will seek

Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

That is the idea here.  True greatness is found only by falling in love with Jesus Christ, surrendering to Him, living for Him, and following Him daily.  If one loves Jesus and follows Jesus he or she will be living for His kingdom, living as Jesus lives, loving as Jesus loves, and serving as Jesus serves.

Know that Jesus serves and those who follow Jesus serve, also.  Husbands and wives, serve one another.  Children are to be taught to serve others.  We are to be known in the workplace as one who serves.  We should treat others with respect and dignity.    Rather than demanding things from your waiter or waitress, bless them as one who is familiar with service.

In the church, we are to serve one another.  Paul echoes our Lord’s teachings in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” 

Know that Christ Serves.  Secondly . . .

II. Know That Christ Strengthens: Verses 31-34.

Verse 31 says, “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.’”  That phrase, “that he may sift you as wheat,” means, “that he may really shake you, or unsettle you.”  Who is Simon?  What is the name Jesus gave Simon that He has been using since He gave it to him?  It is “Peter,” which means “Rock.”  Jesus addresses Peter here as Simon, using his “pre-Christian” name.  Why?  For one, I am sure it got his attention, just as a parent uses a son’s middle name to get the attention when speaking a warning or rebuke.  Jesus is saying to Simon Peter that his name means unshakable like a rock, but he will for a time revert to his pre-Christian ways.”  Ever do that?  We all have at one time or another.

In fact, the pronoun “you” there in verse 31 is plural.  It actually reads, “you all.” Jesus is telling Simon that Satan has asked for you all that he may sift you all like as wheat, shaking you up the way a farmer shakes up grain to sift it.  Satan wants to unsettle the disciples in order to turn them away from following Christ.  That is what he does.  Peter would write later in 1 Peter 5:8 under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, “ Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

Do note here that Satan can do nothing without the permission of God.  It is much like what we read in the book of Job.  A puritan wrote, “Satan always works in chains.”  He is always bound to God’s perfect will.  God may allow Satan to unsettle us, but it is for good reason, to strengthen us in our faith.  Listen to how Jesus strengthens Peter in verse 32, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail[I’m praying for your strength to be faithful]; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”  The pronoun here, the “you” here, is singular.  Jesus goes from addressing the believers in general to addressing Peter in particular.  And Jesus says, “Look Peter, I am praying for you.  I am praying that you will remain faithful to me.  You will stumble, you will fall.”  Jesus is talking about when Peter will deny three times that he knew Christ.  “You will stumble Peter, but I have prayed for you so when you have returned,” note that: when, not if.  “When you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Peter will deny Christ, but Peter will repent and return to Christ.  Why?  Because Jesus’ prayer trumps Satan’s plans.  The prayer works.  Yes, Peter will stumble, but he will not ultimately turn his back upon Christ and abandon Him.  True believers never abandon Christ, they persevere in their faith.  Someone said, “Peter’s true faith and perseverance would be revealed in his repentance, not in his sinfulness.”  Jesus prayed for Peter.  Remember that Jesus prays for every Christian.  The Bible says that Jesus always lives to intercede for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).  Because Christ lives true Christians will remain faithful.

Now what is Peter to do when he returns to Christ?  Jesus strengthens Peter so that Peter may strengthen whom?  Last part of verse 32 tells us, “Strengthen your brethren.”  Peter will be used by God to help others grow in Christian faith (See Acts 18:23; Romans 1:11; 16:15, 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:17; 2 Peter1:12).  One of God’s purposes in allowing temporary failure is not only that we should be strengthened in our faith, but that we should then use our experience to strengthen others.

J. C. Ryle addressed this when he said, “Have we ever fallen, and by Christ’s mercy been raised to newness of life?  Then surely we are just the men who ought to deal gently with our brethren.  We should tell them from our own experience what an evil and bitter thing is sin.  We should caution them against trifling with temptation.  We should warn them against pride, and presumption, and neglect of prayer.  We should tell them of Christ’s grace and compassion, if they have fallen.  Above all, we should deal with them humbly and meekly, remembering what we ourselves have gone through.”

Be a blessing to another Christian this week by speaking wisdom into his or her life.   Share from your experience how you were strengthened by turning back to Christ and how they, too, should turn back to Christ.

Notice Peter’s response in verse 33 says, “But he said to Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.’”  Peter does not understand how he is going to deny Christ.  He is like, “But I’m a Rock, Man!  I’m not going to deny You.”  Our tendency here is to laugh at Peter, but remember that Satan had asked Jesus for the permission to sift Peter as wheat. I have a question . . .

“Has your Christian commitment ever posed

Such a threat to Satan that your name came up

In a conversation between Satan and Christ?”

How many of us are no threat to Satan?  How many of us live not for the kingdom of God, but for the kingdom of self, or the kingdom of the world, the kingdom over which Satan is Prince?  Has your Christian commitment unsettled Satan, so that he seeks to unsettle you?  If so, why, or why not?

Verse 34 tells us how Jesus responds, “Then He said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.’”  Like Old Testament prophets, Jesus foretold exactly what would take place in the future.  But how is Jesus unlike an Old Testament prophet? 

An Old Testament prophet speaks for God. 

A prophet gets his message about the future

From God and then speaks for God. 

Jesus Christ is God. 

He speaks about the future without having

To wait on a message from above, because

He is from above, He is God.

We will be reading of Peter’s denial later in chapter 22.  For now, just know that although Peter would stumble in his faith, he would turn back to Christ because he was a true follower of Christ and true followers of Christ always turn back because they serve a living Savior who ever lives to intercede for them, to pray for them, to strengthen them. 

Know that Christ Serves, Know that Christ Strengthens.  Thirdly . . .

III.  Know That Christ Suffers: Verses 35-38.

Verses 35 to 36 say, “And He said to them, When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’  Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.’”  Jesus is speaking figuratively and He is contrasting an earlier mission of the disciples in Luke 9:1-6, a time when they were to depend on the hospitality of others, with a different time that is about to take place.  In the past, they could hang out in the homes of people and enjoy one another’s company.  Now, Jesus says, “I am talking a bit a different kind of time you are getting ready to face.  This is a time where you must be prepared to suffer.”  Rather than hospitality, you will face hostility.  Rather than being on the receiving end of pleasantries, you will be on the receiving end of persecution.

Jesus continues in verse 37 by saying, “For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.’”  Jesus is quoting here from Isaiah 53.  He is talking about the suffering He will soon face on the cross at Calvary.  Note how the disciples totally miss the figurative way in which Jesus is speaking about preparing for spiritual battle by speaking metaphorically about taking up swords in verse 38, “So they said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’”  This is actually kind of funny.  Jesus is not talking about taking up literal weapons as though they were going to battle the opposition in a sword fight.  The disciples, however, thought that is what they were going to have to do.  They are like, “Lord, check it out: we’ve got not just one sword, but two!”

Obviously Jesus did not mean for the disciples to take Him literally here as though He were calling for a literal battle against the Romans.  Do you think that two measly swords really be “enough” to battle the mighty legions of the Roman Empire?  Hardly!  We will read later about Peter’s cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest later on in this chapter.  After Peter cuts off the guy’s ear, Jesus is like, “No, I’m not talking about that kind of sword fighting,” and He heals the guy’s ear.  Jesus is saying, “Look, the time is coming when you will suffer for your faith.  It is a spiritual battle I am talking about.”  The sword is understood metaphorically as being spiritually armed and prepared to do spiritual battle.  It is so important to be spiritually prepared that one should be willing to sell costly things in order to prepare himself.

That is why I think this is kind of funny.  In verse 38, the disciples said, “Lord, look, check out these swords!  What is Jesus’ reply?  “It is enough.”  I think it is like He goes (hands to the air), “Enough.  I’m not talking about that, you guys!”  It is kind of like in John 4:32-33 where Jesus is talking with the Samaritan woman and the disciples go into town to get some food and they come back and find Him talking with the woman.  The disciples are like, “Jesus, we have sandwiches from Kohen’s Bakery!”  And He says, “I have got food to eat you guys know nothing about.”  And they are like, “Where did He get food?  We didn’t see Him in town!”  But Jesus was speaking figuratively of food, spiritually of food, the blessing of doing the Father’s will.  It is like that here, “Look, Jesus.  Here are two swords.”  He shakes His head and says, “Enough of this foolish sword talk.”

His point is that suffering is coming.  Be prepared to suffer persecution for your faith in Christ.  Jesus has taught the He Serves, He Strengthens, and He Suffers.  In verse 37 Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53.  This is the only place in the Gospels were Isaiah 53 is actually quoted.  His words in verse 37 are from Isaiah 53:12, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”  We will be reading about that fulfillment in chapter 23 when Jesus is crucified between two transgressors, two criminals.  Isaiah goes on to say in verse 12, “And He bore the sin of many.” 

When Jesus suffered on the cross, He “bore the sin of many.”  He died for the sins of those who would believe in Him by grace through faith in His name.  He died in my place to take my punishment.  At Calvary’s cross Jesus died in your place to take your punishment.  He suffered and died so that you might live.  Can you say with the hymn-writer,

 Years I spent in vanity and pride,

Caring not my Lord was crucified,

Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;

Pardon there was multiplied to me;

There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.

Know that in the life of Christ, the greatness One was among us.  He serves . . . He strengthens . . . He suffers.

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

 This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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