How do we view ourselves? How do we recognize God’s glory and what it means to be his disciples? Is our understanding accurate?
WE ARE SHEEP
Scripture often references human beings as sheep and Jesus as our shepherd:
- Psalm 100:3 – “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
- Isaiah 53:6 – “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
- Matthew 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
- John 10:1-5 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Do we personally identify as sheep? We tend to think of sheep as foolish and stubborn, while we see ourselves as smart, capable and self-sufficient. Perhaps it’s a bit off-putting to be called sheep, but in the first century Palestinian world, sheep were important and valuable to the economy and community.
Jesus is claiming an essential truth — we are valuable, but we are in desperate need of guidance.
Merciful, gracious, our comforter and redeemer. God is compassionate, faithful, He gives free gifts and help in times of need. God is patient, kind, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
So who are we in relation to God?
THE PARABLE OF THE UNWORTHY SERVANT
Luke 17:7-10 – 7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
While we easily think of work as something to be rewarded and praised for, motivated by future advancement, this parable teaches us about DUTY. God commands us, not in an arbitrary way, but in particular ways that flow from His character. So by following his commands, our character conforms to his.
Another important teaching in this parable is that God is NOT IMPRESSED by our work. It is a reminder that we are not invited to eat and because of our work, but rather in spite of our work. The servant is to serve his master, but at the end of the day, he is fed. The same is true for us, because we are a part of the household of God and He takes care of His own.
Darrell Bock says it this way, “There is no selective obedience here, no bargaining to do something for the master if he does a favor in return…The service of God’s servant is not a matter for negotiation but is a duty.”
We like to think that God owes us something when we work for Him, perhaps that is even our motivation for doing the things we do at times. But we must remember that God is our MASTER, and we are His unworthy servants and have a duty to obey His commands.
3 ACT PLAY
Why is this parable so challenging at first read? Consider the story of the Bible as a 3 act play: 1) Creation, 2) The Fall, 3) Redemption.
- CREATION – God created the first man and woman in His image.
- Mankind was bestowed with “original righteousness,” to live in perfect relationship with its Creator.
- Like Him, we were given resources like rationality, volition, morality, spirituality and creativity.
- We were given dominion over all things on earth, the duty to fulfill His mission in all creation, being His ambassadors and image bearers.
> We were made to function as God’s representatives and do the work He gave us to do, trusting in His orders and being privileged to do as He asked. Knowing that it would always lead to the best possible outcomes.
2. THE FALL – From the beginning, we have longed to be our own boss.
- Adam & Eve had it all in the Garden, simply to do their duty and life was perfect.
- But they wanted more, and the serpent says: “Why listen to God and do as he says, when you could just have the power to decide what to do on your own. Do you really need to follow his lead?“
- Adam & Eve took the bate and chose to DISPLACE God and become their own boss.
> Adam & Eve chose to displace God and become their own boss. And we all have inherited this tendency to rule over our own lives, or at best, consider ourselves c0-founders of our life with God.
3. REDEMPTION – To reverse the Fall, God must be put back in His rightful place in the world and in our lives.
- What is concerning is that we don’t realize how badly we’ve messed up, that is UNTIL we encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel tells us how bad it’s gotten, how God had to come down to our level.
- Not so that we could keep him down here with us, but rather for the purpose of reconnecting with us, to make eye contact with humanity.
- Jesus came to remind us that we weren’t designed to do this on our own, to model what servanthood was always meant to look like, to DIE in our place.
> This all so that we can put God back in His proper place, and ourselves back underneath His rule and reign over our lives.
SERVANTHOOD TO GOD
Philippians 2:5-11 – “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus’ life was one of service to the Father. He alone lived the life we should have lived, perfectly fulfilling the role of image bearer of God–as he perfectly represented God the Father through his humble service and submission to every directive of God in utter obedience.
This is why we are called by scripture again and again to become like Jesus Christ.
- John 13:15 – “Jesus said, ‘For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.'”
- 1 John 2:6 – “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 – “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
THERE IS A HIERARCHY
The kingdom of God is hierarchical — There is God (the King), and the rest of us (his servants). It is not a democracy, we are not on equal footing with God. We don’t say to Him, “if you do your part & I do my part, then we can accomplish something.” We serve God, he does not serve us.
But this is FREEING & EXCITING news! Because…
- The pressure is not on me.
- We are not the ones with the responsibility to make the big decisions.
- Can you imagine having to choose how and when to bring heaven to earth?
- God is the one that decides & gives us ways to participate by simply doing our duty.
- We have the privilege of being the servant who gets fed at the end of the day. Our reward is not incentive-based compensation, and that is such good news.
2. My work has meaning.
- Our work is not just completing His commands, but fulfilling His purposes!
- We can know that the work we do for God on this earth will be PRESERVED, it will last forever.
- Can we say that about the work we do for ourselves or even for our community alone?
- Who we are is shaped in part by the kind of work we do and the kind of workers we are.
- It is not only the ends we achieve by our work, but the people we are and become by the end of the work that matters.
3. I am not measured against anything but myself.
- In the game of life, specifically of capitalism within our society, it can seem overwhelming to always be trying to transcend our current status, to “make it big,” “to make mama proud,” “to beat the curve”…
- But it’s refreshing to remember that a disciple’s main responsibility is to trust God.
- God has intentionally and purposefully given each of us a set of gifts and resources, a particular context to live out our faith and work for him.
> Whatever you have been given, DO YOUR DUTY. Nothing more, nothing less.
JESUS OUR GOOD SHEPHERD
Does the idea of being obedient and doing your duty still seem overwhelming and intimidating? That is because alone it is impossible. As sheep, we are valuable but we are in desperate need of guidance.
Luke 15:4 – “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Of course God knows our reluctance to acknowledge our need for him, our need of a shepherd, and the reality that we are but sheep…But Jesus looks past our false bravado and offers us what our souls long for.
There is a King, the Master God, who understands our need for guidance and protection and meaningful work, and for the sustenance of life day in and day out. And He delights to find us when we are lost and take care of us when we are found, giving purpose to our life. He lays down his life for us.
YES, He is the shepherd and we are but sheep. YES, there is a huge gap in power and wisdom between us and God. BUT the gospel teaches us that our fears about God being a tyrant are misplaced. He is everything but a tyrant. We want and need a leader…if we are willing to follow. And following is our duty.