I was talking to my friend who works at the post office. He was sharing his frustration and despair over being treated poorly by a customer after he had gone above and beyond to serve her.
I mourned with him. Though tempted to look down on or make excuses for the lady who was harsh with him, the Spirit gave me something far better. I encouraged him that Jesus knew his exact feelings. He knew and took on the very nature of a servant.
Being treated like a servant is naturally repulsive to us. Some of us may be genuinely content with serving, but the moment we are treated as a servant, something inside of us pushes back.
We work tirelessly and receive a nonchalant, “Thanks.”
We slave around the house and receive no acknowledgment.
We serve and serve and are taken advantage of in our service.
We work faithfully for years, never to be praised or privileged.
We inherently recognize and react against the injustice – inwardly with bitterness and despair, outwardly with anger or complaining. We cringe and cry out at the careless treatment. We hate being under authority, and we especially hate when that authority is unkind or ungrateful.
And we hate the feeling of lowliness that comes with being treated as a servant, the shame of feeling somehow less than and unworthy.
Can you think of a time you’ve felt this way? Ready to cry out with, “Hey, don’t you see what I’ve done here? Haven't you noticed??” Or ready to give a defense as to why something has not been done or done well? Or simply just angry or frustrated with the responsibilities you’ve been given?
This passage – Matthew 23:1-12 - has exposed my heart time and time again. The Pharisees, they are after recognition, praise, honor, acknowledgment, and glory.
I am after recognition, praise, honor, acknowledgement, and glory.
Unless my heart is centered on the Kingdom of God, which exalts the King, lives under His rule and for His glory, and opposes my sin-tainted nature, these are the things my heart craves. These are the pits I fall most readily into.
I don’t just want to be worthy; I want my worth to be affirmed.
I don’t just want to be righteous; I want to be noticed in my righteousness.
I don’t just want to be lovable; I want others to comment on how lovable I am.
As I write, it’s obvious how ugly this is. How wretched and vain and unholy the ways of my heart are. But I know that I’m not alone.
Because in the days where our names are heard on the lips of others’ praises, this way of the heart doesn’t appear to be so ugly.
Since the days of the garden, humanity wrestles against the pride inherent in our sin nature. We so easily turn privileges into sources of entitlement. We turn responsibilities into options, and we see every action as an opportunity to receive glory.
Sin is deceitful, and the pages of Scripture declare over and over how wretched man’s heart is. The combination proves deadly. Seeking our own glory comes more naturally to us than we realize. But to seek our own glory leaves us feeling empty, insecure, hopeless, shameful, and alone.
Any of these feelings resonate with your heart?
Jesus says the way of the Kingdom is by lowering oneself, not glorifying oneself. By serving and not being served. By humbling ourselves rather than exalting ourselves.
But if it’s up to us, we won’t choose this. Oftentimes, even if we do, our serving and lowering of ourselves is tainted with the desire to be loved, honored, or found worthy in some way.
It’s only in seeing the glory of the Servant-King that we can ever hope to live in this way of the Kingdom.
I wanted my post-office friend to see Jesus, the glorious One who humbled Himself and washed our feet. Who took on flesh, His very own creation, so that He could pour out and put on display His great love for us. Because I knew that if he saw Jesus, he would press on in being treated like a servant.
Seeing Jesus, that’s the only way we’ll ever rejoice in serving, in getting low, in humbling ourselves. That’s the only way we’ll ever live freely when the words of man sting us, or the lack there-of communicates unworthiness.
Choosing to live in the eternal honor that the King gives us is the only hope powerful enough to overcome our sin-bent hearts’ desire to live for the fleeting words of man.
Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, surrounded by ceaseless praise, left realms of glory to become man and enter a world tainted with sin where He would endure suffering, rejection, scorn, shame, unjust treatment, heartache, and even death on a cross.
Have you ever experienced these?
If you have, have you ever really seen Jesus in this light?
If you have, you know the feeling of being instantly humbled. No way could I ever endure what He did. In my own feelings of being unjustly treated as less than, I marvel at the magnitude of what my Savior suffered. And this, on my behalf.
We marvel that He left glory to save us. That He endured not the shame and suffering that was due Him, but that was due us.
Because it’s not just in seeing Jesus that we are changed. It’s also seeing ourselves for who we really are in the light of who He is. Glory-stealers, entitlement-junkies, and praise-of-man-lovers.
By the power of the Spirit, this vision of Jesus and of ourselves convinces us that our sin of exalting ourselves and living for the praise of man is actually repulsive. And the Spirit empowers us to hate our sin rather than love it. Because the weight that bears the burden of the two sights - the Holy One and the sinner - is the Cross of Christ.
And when we witness the gospel displayed at the Cross and the Spirit helps us believe the gospel to be true, we surrender to live in this way of the Kingdom, as servants who willingly humble ourselves so that glory can be attributed to the only One worthy.
We start to actually rejoice that we have the privilege of being identified with Christ - when we make ourselves low, when we cast off the vanity of the praise of man, when we eagerly look to God for the honor and recognition He bestows on those who love Him.
Because we discover that the glory in receiving recognition or praise from man is fleeting, like the flowers of the field, here today and gone tomorrow. And if we live for it, we’ll be running after it all our lives, consumed with worry, approval, fear, emptiness, and shame.
But the honor that the King gives to His servants?
That honor makes us come alive.
I've linked this incredible sermon here on the parable of the tenants (our first reading on Day 5 of the #kingdomreadingplan). Truly, you will never see this text the same again! Our reading was from Matthew, but this sermon is from the parallel passage in Luke.
grace & peace,