Unprofitable Servants

Cece here from the Dallas First Church! I hope you will be blessed by some discussion notes from our Stepping Stones lesson on Saturday! Our parable this week is a story which I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on. (Do I have your attention yet?) It is the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant found in Luke 17:7-10:

“And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable [useless] servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'”

So, I have to admit when I first sat down to read this parable, I didn’t get the warm, fuzzy feelings that I normally get from Jesus’ teachings. My response was more like: “Lord, what on earth am I supposed to do with this parable??” But, as I kept studying the story, I am actually really excited about what we’re going to learn together! I hope you’ll stick with me over the next few paragraphs!

First of all, we must remember up front that Jesus is intentionally drawing upon the harsh social realities of His day. His audience would be able to relate to Him all the better because he depicted the social conditions just as they were in the Eastern context. (By the way, I certainly want to give credit to my primary study source for this week’s parable. Most of my thoughts today originate from Dr. Mike Bagwell’s website.) We also looked at this parable from a spiritual perspective. For example, we noticed that the servant’s duties included plowing and tending the sheep. When we think of plowing, I am reminded of all of the agricultural parables we’ve read thus far which depict the spreading of the gospel! (See Matt. 13:1-43.) As Christ’s servants, we are to prepare the fields (hearts) for sowing (the Gospel) and help reap the bountiful harvest! As servants in His church, we are also given responsibility to help tend the flock. (See Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). And, we also talked about how our work is never really done while we’re in this world.

But, let’s face it: one of the biggest problems people have with this parable is that the servant is never thanked for his work. Surely, after all we’ve done for God, we must deserve at least some thanks! This just irked me to no end! But then, as I was studying, I ran across a rather shocking statement that Dr. Mike Bagwell makes. He writes, “But here’s the kicker: I can find no place in the whole Bible where God thanks man for anything!” Wait, what? Seriously? This forced me to stop and check my attitude. And, you know what? I learned something about myself. If you’re anything like me and this piece of information irks you just a little too, allow me to suggest what is really at the heart of our motives: At the bottom of it, we think we can somehow do something to earn God’s appreciation and, therefore, His love and grace. But how can God thank us for ANYTHING when it is HE that has given us EVERYTHING!? This parable rips open and exposes our selfish, prideful motives. We are faced with the reality that there is absolutely nothing we can bring to the table in our relationship with God. Instead, we must receive everything from Him!

All right, are you ready to explore the next layer of this parable? Trust me, it gets really good! What if the focus isn’t on us in this parable, but on the Son of Man? What if the servant here is a picture of Jesus Christ Himself? We know that Jesus is the Great Farmer, the master tiller and sower of the soil of our hearts. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd! (See John 10.) And look at Jesus’ words in Luke 22:26-27: “he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For 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.”And here’s Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” And, finally, let’s look at how Jesus completely flips this whole thing around in Luke 12:37: “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” Do you see unmistakable connection with verse 8 of our parable? The amazing, nearly-unbelievable truth is Jesus submitted to the Father in everything and completely emptied Himself to come down to this dark, sin-sick world to serve….US! It is Jesus who is the Perfect Servant! He is the true Profitable Servant!

Let’s try to spend some time this week thanking God for everything and everyone that He has brought into our lives. And let’s remember that it is only when we have allowed Christ to serve us and send His transforming Spirit into our lives that we can become profitable servants for His kingdom.

The Good Shepherd

Hey guys! Have you been blessed at all this week? We are excited to share some of thoughts from our Stepping Stones class this last Saturday. Clay led a great study over John 10:1-18 – Jesus’ lesson of the Good Shepherd. Let’s explore some of what we learned. First of all, to set the context for this story, remember that the Pharisees have just excommunicated the healed blind man because of his belief in Jesus. The synagogue leaders were supposed to be loving shepherds of their communities but instead they had become overbearing tyrants, abusing their power for selfish gain. Now, let’s read our parable in John 10:1-18… In verse 1, Jesus immediately sets Himself apart as the True Shepherd of the sheep in contrast to the false shepherds. In fact, Jesus doesn’t just accuse the Jewish religious leaders of being false shepherds but, he bluntly says “he who does not enter by the door” is a thief and a robber. Interestingly enough, much of Jesus’ language in this parable is drawn from Ezekiel 34, a warning from Jehovah against false shepherds. I would highly recommend reading this fascinating chapter if you have time!

So, let’s take some time and walk through verses 3-4 of John 10 together:

  • “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice”: Listeners would have immediately latched onto Jesus’ language here. It just so happened that in the East, shepherds would bring their flocks every night into one central sheepfold where half-a-dozen flocks gathered together and were guarded by a porter or gatekeeper behind locked doors. In the morning the shepherds would return and each shepherd would call his own sheep. Even though the flocks had been mixed together, each flock knew its own shepherd’s voice and each would follow its own shepherd and no other. I think after we’ve spent time with our Shepherd, we begin to know His voice too.
  • He calls His own sheep by name”. Think about Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus by night. Then remember how he met the woman at the well of Samaria; how he singled-out the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda; how he sought out the man born blind. In each encounter He met the individual personally, alone. As Jesus walked through Jericho, He saw a little man in a tree and called to him, “Zacchaeus, come down. I’m scheduled to have lunch with you!” (Luke 19:5). He met Matthew at the customs’ table and told him, “Rise, and follow me,” (Matt. 9:9). Jesus personally calls His own sheep by name – and, guess what – HE CALLS YOU BY NAME!
  • “He goes before them:” When he leads you out, He does not leave you alone; He has already gone ahead of you. (This might be a good time to read Psalm 23!)
  • “and the sheep trust His voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger”: Guess what, when you know the Shepherd’s voice, it is much easier to detect an intruder…

We then come to a scene change in verse 7: Christ now becomes the door. Jesus’ audience would have immediately recognized where He was going with this. You see, an Eastern shepherd would lead his flock out of the sheepfold to the hillsides where they would graze through the morning hours, and then in the early afternoon he would provide a temporary shelter built of shrubs and rocks where the flock could rest. The sheep could lie down in this corral-type structure, protected from wild beasts. The pen had only one opening – across which the shepherd himself would lie so that predators could not enter and so the sheep could not come or go without crossing over him. This is what Jesus means in the words, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

These are just a few of the amazing lessons we learned from John 10! Before we end the week, let’s try to take some time to reflect on how Jesus has called each one of us into his fold — personally, by name.

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The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Last week, Clay led a fantastic study over the parables of the lost sheep (found in both Matt. 18:12-14 and Luke 15:4-7). To set the context for this parable in context, Jesus’ disciples have just approached him asking who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (vs. 1). Jesus responds, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus tells a story. Please read Matthew 18:12-14… It’s interesting that verse 14 ends with, “Even so it is not the will of your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Is this lesson specific to children? Or does this refer to anyone who “humbles himself as this little child,” as Jesus says in verse 4? As Clay summarized, Matthew 18 is about humility, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

Now, in Luke 15 we have the same story but with an audience change. Verse 2 opens with the Pharisees and scribes murmuring that Jesus hangs out with sinners. What kind of attitude do we have going on? (Is this a childlike behavior?) From verses 4-7, we have some vital take-aways from Jesus’ lesson. First of all, notice that shepherd must take the initiative if the lost sheep is to be restored. The effectiveness of our salvation, then, does not consist in our seeking of God, but in His search for us! Verse 5 tells that “when he has found the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” No scolding, no beatings, no leading. He just carries it back bearing the entire weight on His own shoulders.

Then, we have a party! Verse 7 then says that there is more joy in heaven over one who repents than 99 just persons who need no repentance. Now, what did Jesus mean here? You see, rabbis taught that sinners must repent before God is willing to love him. But Jesus completely nuked that idea and revealed that God’s love is ours “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8). The scribes and Pharisees, of course, automatically placed themselves with 99 “unlost” sheep. They prided themselves on their righteousness and favor with God. (See Luke 18:11-12.) But, in an ironic twist, what ends up happening here is that the lost sinner who repents is saved while the “unlost righteous” who need no repentance are not. Jesus gives a similar prognosis in Luke 5:31-32: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

In the end, both parables show us that God’s kingdom is all about undeserved, divine Grace. God has already left everything behind and taken the initiative to search for us and save us while we are hopelessly lost! But both parables also reveal that our attitudes play the key role of whether the Shepherd “finds” us or not. Just like the Pharisees, we so often think of ourselves as the “99,” but Jesus’ point was that our only hope is to humble ourselves and recognize that we, in fact, are that lost sheep.