Which of those descriptions is true of us as disciples? Both, actually. We are the sons and daughters of God Almighty, Creator of the universe and King of this world and all worlds. But we are also servants of the King, the Master of all creation and of all peoples, those who submit (now) and those who don’t (yet). Ultimately, all will submit.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”
The event in view in this passage occurs at the end of time when time shall cease, leaving only eternity in its place. Those of us who have confessed Jesus as Lord of our lives in this time-bound world will confess then with joy beyond measure, while those who made no such confession with tongue (and life) will then confess with horrific fear and unbelievable regrets. Then eternity with God will begin for the “few” who chose the narrow road of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 7:20-21. Eternal damnation and separation from God will begin for the “many” who chose to remain on the world’s broad road described in the same passage. Thus is reality described by God in his word – unbelievable joy and indescribable pain, depending on our choices regarding Jesus Christ, the crucified.
Back to the Title
Are we disciples children of the King, with the full rights that go along with that exalted depiction? Indeed we are! Sometimes we miss one of the most important points of the popular biblical parable we know by the term, “The Prodigal Son.” Our focus is, understandably, on the son who recently vacated the pig pen and has now come home begging for mercy from the Father he betrayed and sinned against. Remarkably, no begging was needed or even accepted. The Father in this story (capitalized because it is God who is represented) interrupted the prodigal’s well-rehearsed confession, showing that a repentant heart was enough to satisfy him. Beautiful! And, by the way, the Father was so anxious to have the son return that he ran to meet him. Will God run? Obviously, yes – if for nothing else, to welcome home a wayward child. Much more could be said about this part of the story. It is one of the most heart-warming stories in the entire Bible, one that gives us sinners hope. O Jesus, thank you for that!
The lesson I want us to see now is the one that comes in looking closely at the interaction between the Father and the other son. This son wasn’t guilty of the kinds of rebellious, overt sins of his younger brother, but guilty of sins that were far more serious and deadly. Those were the sins of self-righteousness and obliviousness to who he really was before God and who God himself was. He represented the leadership class of Jews, who like the Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14, patted themselves on the back that they did lots of right things and avoided wrong things. They looked good on the outside to their fellow humans, but putrid on the inside to their Creator. Scary stuff, that.
Sinners Are We All
As all self-righteous people do, he looked down his nose at those awful sinners, even his own brother. Especially his own brother. While the Father rejoiced at the return of his long-lost son and prepared a celebration festival, the older son was insanely jealous of his brother and incredibly resentful toward his Father.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”
Wow! How had he lived with the Father all of those years and totally missed who He was? As many of us can attest, certainly me, we can miss who God is by a country mile. Satan tries to twist our view of God into a 180-degree distortion. Due to my very legalistic religious upbringing as a child and young adult, Satan has been more effective in such attempts than I like to admit. It’s embarrassing to admit, especially for a student and teacher of the Bible. But Satan is nothing if not incredibly cunning and deceptive and effective at what he does.
But Here’s the Answer!
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.
32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
“Everything I have is yours.” Thus said the Father to the child of a king. He had it all and didn’t know it! He had the Father and all that the Father owned. He was a prince. He lived as a son with the King – in ignorance, without appreciation and with resentment. That’s beyond sad; it’s tragic. Is that you? Is that me? It all depends on our view of God and of God and you (your relationship). How can you tell? Your level of gratitude toward God and your level of love for the unlovely is a good place to start looking for the answer.
Back to the Title (Again)
Child of the King and servants of the King – disciples are both. Which concept do you most treasure and like to picture yourself as being? Think about it a bit before reading further. Please…
No matter what your answer, I think I know what it should be. What do you think is God’s favorite way of viewing himself – king or servant? Take another moment to consider your answer… Beyond question, I believe it is the latter. We so miss God and who he really is! Oh yes, he is all of the magnificent things we can contemplate: Creator of all, Judge of all, the All-Knowing, All-Powerful God of all. But God has no emotional need of such titles. We humans need them due to our incredible selfishness and resultant continual bent toward rebellion. But the most accurate picture of God you could ever have is that of a suffering servant, a God on his knees with towel in hand washing the dirty feet of those who, like us in our humanity, failed to see him as he really is – the Servant God wrapped in flesh, volunteering for death on a cross as a common criminal. But wait a minute, you say – he wasn’t a criminal, he was sinless! No, that day he was identifying as a criminal, for on the cross “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) as “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).
No writer of whom I am aware has been able to portray God as servant quite like my old friend, Jim McGuiggan, someone I wrote about recently in another column. As he often says, God didn’t become a servant at the Incarnation when he became a human; rather, he became a human because he was already a servant, always a servant. All of us are created in the image of God, and like him, we can be identified with many terms, all of which are accurate in their own right. But regarding our nature, some things about us are more dominate than others. Likely one descriptor fits us better than any other. The descriptor that identifies God best is servant, for that ever-giving heart drove him irresistibly to the cross. Yes, God is love, said John, but love manifests itself in different ways and in different degrees. I think its greatest way and greatest degree is encapsulated accurately and astonishingly as simply, “Suffering Servant.” Jesus actually made the point quite clear in these words:.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Therefore, that is what I want to be; who I want to be. I am not that – yet! But I want to be and I’m trying to take that road and stay on that road at every fork along the way. I wish I were doing so much better at it. I’m glad to be the son of a King, the very King of kings and Lord of lords. But the high-water mark of all that anyone can be is servant. Please, Lord, let me be the servant of a king, the King – my King! In the name of Jesus, your human name, Amen!