The Second Sunday After Epiphany January 18, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
512, 762 [TLH alt. 363], 132, 400
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Listen, O coastlands, to Me, and take heed, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called Me from the womb; from the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name. And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver He has hidden Me. And He said to me, “You are My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Then I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” And now the Lord says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and My God shall be My strength), indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”
In Christ Jesus, our Servant-Savior, dear fellow Christians:
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s exciting to ponder that when you are young. There are so many possibilities: a doctor, teacher, the next Tiger Woods, an entrepreneur, President. But “low man on a canning company field crew” was definitely not high on my list of desirable jobs. In fact, it wasn’t even on the list. Yet that is where I found myself for many summers.
It was physically exhausting, dirty work. When a pea combine needed cleaning, I was the one who crawled inside the machine to scoop out the mass of twisted, rotting vines. When the rain poured down, I was the one on the tractor without a cab pushing trucks through the mud. After a 12-hour shift, I was so tired and bleary-eyed that it was a struggle to stay awake for the drive home. Once there I headed straight to the basement to clean up before I could go anywhere else in the house. It wasn’t my dream job, but I took it because it was one of the few available.
But what if someone could do anything he wanted and have his pick of jobs. What if he could be the boss and yet would say, “I want to do the hardest, lowest, dirtiest work there is”? People might call him foolish or naive. Guidance counselors might suggest that he lacks ambition or suffers from low self-esteem. Some might call him a loser.
But we call Him “Savior.” Jesus did not have to come here to earth. When He did come, He could have done anything He wanted. What He wanted was to serve. He was glad to be a servant and that fills us today with indescribable joy.
The position of a servant or slave is the lowest there is. You are completely under the control and direction of the master. You are expected to do whatever he says whenever he gives the order. A compensation package is not mutually agreed upon. You receive whatever the master decides to give you. There is no personal prestige. Any credit or glory goes to the master.
Who would willingly do that work? Jesus did. He said, “The Lord has called me from the womb…He said to me, ‘You are my servant in whom I will be glorified.’” [vv.1,3] There is no hint of resentment in Jesus’ words. He was glad to become man and serve because of His close relationship with the Father who sent Him.
The Father, Son, and Spirit as the three Persons of the Godhead work in perfect love and harmony with one another. At Jesus’ baptism the Spirit descended like a dove, while the Father pronounced, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). In Psalm 40 Jesus says, “Here I am, I have come…I desire to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:7,8 NIV). In love for the Father, Jesus was glad to serve.
Do we see service to the Lord in the same light, or does it seem more like a burden? When the Lord places a task before us, do we sigh and think, “I already have too many people telling me what to do without God giving me orders too.” Do you envy those who go their own way without being concerned with living for the Lord? Do their lives seem happier?
If serving the Lord feels like forced slavery, look to Jesus. He gladly served in love for the Father. He is the Father’s only-begotten Son. Then remember that through His service we have been adopted into God’s family too. God has wrapped us in His loving arms and now as His children we can have no greater joy in life than serving Him who first loved us.
To do a job well, a servant needs the right tools and equipment. We’ve heard reports that our troops overseas have needed more armored vehicles and other supplies to serve as they are being asked. Jesus was glad to serve because He was equipped with all He needed. “He has made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden me, and made me a polished shaft.” [v.2]
Jesus was given the Word which is so powerful it pierces like an arrow. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV). Jesus’ call to confess sin, repent, and turn to Him for forgiveness cuts and separates all people into two groups: those who hear and believe and those who reject Him. For those who believe, the Word is the power of God unto salvation. Those who reject Jesus are condemned by the Word. Nothing is more powerful.
The Word is the equipment that God gives us with which to serve Him. Are we glad to serve, or do we make excuses? Do we sound like Moses who told God, “I can’t serve because I don’t speak well and no one will believe me” (cf. Exodus 4)? Do we tell the Lord, “I have so many other things to do, I can’t possibly volunteer for any service in the congregation”?
When we don’t feel joy in serving, it’s time to look to Jesus. After one especially long day, Jesus wanted to get away and relax with the disciples. Something else happened instead. Mark tells us, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them….So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34 NIV). Love for the Father and the message He had been sent to deliver gave Jesus the strength and desire to keep serving. It was the same servant-attitude in our parents, teachers, and pastors which caused them to work so hard in bringing us the Gospel news. When you feel your spiritual energy level slipping, ask the Spirit to revive you with the Word. Draw new life and strength from it, and then excuses will be replaced by joyful service.
A servant’s work is not glamorous. It often looks ordinary and unimportant. My canning company crew did not draw special attention. The governor of Minnesota did not give us a citation thanking us for helping to feed the state. Jesus’ life of service, likewise, involved rolling up His sleeves and working hard with little recognition in everyday, ordinary circumstances. He breathed the same air, walked the same dusty roads, and ate the same plain food as everyone else. He was put under the same requirements of God’s law as everyone else. What was exceptional, though, was that He was the perfect “Israel.” He was the model servant, unlike the nation of Israel. He obeyed the law as Israel’s substitute so that His people could receive His righteousness.
Now imagine working faithfully only to have the master come and say, “You are not doing enough. I’m going to double your load.” What would you say? Jesus’ answer was a joyful “yes.” God told Him, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob…I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” [v.6] God gave Jesus the absolute hardest, dirtiest work of all—not just to pay for the sins of the Jews, but to take on the guilt of all mankind.
It was grueling. Jesus endured 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. He was in agony in Gethsemane as He felt the burden of sin getting heavier and His death drawing closer. “He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7 NIV). Finally, He called out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). Yet He never flinched in His determination. He was glad to serve. “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).
Do we have that all-out eagerness to serve in our mission to make disciples of all nations? Or do we limit our efforts to our immediate family or perhaps our congregation? Do we tell ourselves that we are already overextended just taking care of our present group without thinking of drawing others in? Do we just talk about mission work, or do we really have a heart to do it? Do we just wonder whether people we meet know the Savior, or do we actually talk to them and share the Gospel? Do we just read about mission doors the Lord has opened for the CLC, or do we get involved through our prayers and offerings? By nature we want to do the least amount of work possible in order to get by. Our own personal comforts and goals get in the way of serving. May the Lord’s service in our behalf create in us the heart of willing servants eager to carry out to its fullest the mission before us.
Have you ever wondered whether your work was worth it? Maybe you spent the entire day scrubbing scum from bathrooms, washing grungy clothes, putting away accumulated clutter, and clearing a counter-full of dirty dishes. Then the rest of the family arrived home and within an hour everything was back the way it was before. Jesus knew that kind of frustration too: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing.” [v.4] He came to His own and His own did not receive Him (cf. John 1:11). The people of His hometown Nazareth tried to throw Him off a cliff. His popularity quickly dwindled until He even asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (cf. John 6:60ff).
It is the common experience of the Lord’s servants. Elijah faithfully preached the Word and nothing seemed to happen. He finally told the Lord, “It’s no use. You may as well kill me now. I’m the only believer left!” (cf. 1 Kings 19:1ff). Christian parents have been overwhelmed with a deep sense of despair, fearful that all their efforts in bringing a child to the Lord were in vain, when they saw their child straying from the faith he had been taught. After months of attending services and information classes, the new family at church suddenly disappears. An expensive and intensive mission effort fails to produce a single prospect. Hard, dedicated labor for the congregation isn’t noticed and doesn’t seem to make a difference. What’s the use? Isn’t it just wasted effort? Most of us have felt that way at times. We will probably feel that way again.
But then look at Jesus. He had the same feeling, but instead of giving up in despair, He was glad to continue serving because He counted on the Lord’s strength to bring about results. “Surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” [v.4] Don’t underestimate God’s power. It always works, in spite of appearances. At the cross it looked as though Jesus had been defeated. Apparently, in the minds of many, something had gone horribly wrong. But by His death Jesus conquered death and the Devil and gave us the victory.
The Word works. As long as we are using it we have nothing to worry about. We won’t always see the results, but they will come as God wills them. Paul said, “I planted. Apollos watered. God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NIV). He encouraged the Corinthians: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV). Whether it is talking to a neighbor, instructing our children, or distributing church information door-to-door, may we gladly serve, knowing God’s strength will give success.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It is not just a question for the young people. As the Spirit causes each of us to grow in faith, may we confidently say: “I want to serve Him who served and saved me.” And then may God grant us the strength to gladly do it! Amen.
When all our labor seems in vain,
Revive our sinking hopes again;
And when success crowns what we do,
Oh, keep us humble, Lord, and true
Until before Your judgment seat
We lay our trophies at Your feet.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.