Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he comes shall find watching: truly I say to you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)He shall gird himself.—The words give a new significance to the act of our Lord in John 13:4. Their real fulfilment is to be found, it need hardly be said, in the far-off completion of the Kingdom, or in the ever-recurring experiences which are the foretastes of that Kingdom; but the office which He then assumed must have reminded the disciples of the words which are recorded here, and may well have been intended to be at once a symbol and an earnest of what should be hereafter. In the promise of Revelation 3:20 (“I will sup with him and he with Me”) we have a recurrence to the same imagery. The passage should be borne in mind as balancing the seeming harshness of the Master in Luke 17:8.
To sit down.—Literally, to lie down, or recline.
Will come forth . . .—Better, and as He passes on will minister unto them. The Greek verb expresses, not the “coming out” as from another chamber, but the passing from one to another, as when He washed the disciples’ feet, in John 13:5.
SERVANTS AND STEWARDS HERE AND HEREAFTER
No one would have dared to say that except Jesus Christ. For surely, manifold and wonderful as are the glimpses that we get in the New Testament of the relation of perfect souls in heaven to Him, none of them pierces deeper, rises higher, and speaks more boundless blessing, than such words as these. Well might Christ think it necessary to preface them with the solemn affirmation which always, upon His lips, points, as it were, an emphatic finger to, or underlines that which He is about to proclaim. ‘Verily I say unto you,’ if we had not His own word for it, we might hesitate to believe. And while we have His own word for it, and do not hesitate to believe, it is not for us to fathom or exhaust, but lovingly and reverently and humbly, because we know it but partially, to try to plumb the unfathomable depth of such words. ‘He shall gird Himself, and cause them to sit down to meat; and come forth and serve them.’
I. Then we have, first of all, the wonderful revelation of the Servant-Lord.
For the name of dignity is employed over and over again in the immediate context, and so makes more wonderful the assumption here of the promise of service.
And the words are not only remarkable because they couple so closely together the two antagonistic ideas, as we fancy them, of rule and service, authority and subordination, but because they dwell with such singular particularity of detail upon all the stages of the menial office which the Monarch takes upon Himself. First, the girding, assuming the servant’s attire; then the leading of the guests, wondering and silent, to the couches where they can recline; then the coming to them as they thus repose at the table, and the waiting upon their wants and supplying all their need. It reminds us of the wonderful scene, in John’s Gospel, where we have coupled together in the same intimate and interdependent fashion the two thoughts of dignity and of service-’Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hand, and that He came from God and went to God,’ made this use of His consciousness and of His unlimited and universal dominion, that ‘He laid aside His garments, and took a towel, and girded Himself, and washed the disciples’ feet’; thus teaching what our text teaches in still another form, that the highest authority means the lowliest service, that the purpose of power is blessing, that the very sign and mark of dignity is to stoop, and that the crown of the Universe is worn by Him who is the Servant of all.
But beyond that general idea which applies to the whole of the divine dealings and especially to the earthly life of Him who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, the text sets forth special manifestations of Christ’s ministering love and power, which are reserved for heaven, and are a contrast with earth. The Lord who is the Servant girds Himself. That corresponds with the commandment that went before, ‘Let your loins be girded,’ and to some extent covers the same ground and suggests the same idea. With all reverence, and following humbly in the thoughts that Christ has given us by the words, one may venture to say that He gathers all His powers together in strenuous work for the blessing of His glorified servants, and that not only does the metaphor express for us His taking upon Himself the lowly office, but also the employment of all that He is and has there in the heavens for the blessing of the blessed ones that sit at His table.
Here upon earth, when He assumed the form of a Servant in His entrance into humanity, it was accompanied with the emptying Himself of His glory. In the symbolical incident in John’s Gospel, to which I have already referred, He laid aside His garments before He wrapped around Him the badge of service. But in that wondrous service by the glorified Lord there is no need for divesting ere He serves, but the divine glories that irradiate His humanity, and by which He, our Brother, is the King of kings and the Lord of the Universe, are all used by Him for this great, blessed purpose of gladdening and filling up the needs of the perfected spirits that wait, expectant of their food, upon Him. His girding Himself for service expresses not only the lowliness of His majesty and the beneficence of His power, but His use of all which He has and is for the blessing of those whom He keeps and blesses.
I need not remind you, I suppose, how in this same wonderful picture of the Servant-Lord there is taught the perpetual-if we may so say, the increased-lowliness of the crowned Christ. When He was here on earth, He was meek and holy; exalted in the heavens, He is, were it possible, meeker and more lowly still, because He stoops from a loftier elevation. The same loving, gentle, gracious heart, holding all its treasures for its brethren, is the heart that now is girded with the golden girdle of sovereignty, and which once was girt with the coarse towel of the slave. Christ is for ever the Servant, because He is for ever the Lord of them that trust in Him. Let us learn that service is dominion; that ‘he that is chiefest among us’ is thereby bound to be ‘the servant’ and the helper ‘of all.’
II. Notice, the servants who are served and serve.
There are two or three very plain ideas, suggested by the great words of my text, in regard to the condition of those whom the Lord thus ministers to, and waits upon. I need not expand them, because they are familiar to us all, but let me just touch them. ‘He shall make them to sit down to meat.’ The word, as many of you know, really implies a more restful attitude-’He shall make them recline at meat.’ What a contrast to the picture of toil and effort, which has just been drawn, in the command,’ Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning, and ye yourselves as men that wait for their Lord!’ Here, there must be the bracing up of every power, and the careful tending of the light amid the darkness and the gusts that threaten to blow it out, and every ear is to be listening and every eye strained, for the coming of the Lord, that there may be no unpreparedness or delay in flinging open the gates. But then the tension is taken off and the loins ungirded, for there is no need for painful effort, and the lamps that burn dimly and require tending in the mephitic air are laid aside, and ‘they need no candle, for the Lord is the light thereof’; and there is no more intense listening for the first foot-fall of One who is coming, for He has come, and expectation is turned into fellowship and fruition. The strained muscles can relax, and instead of effort and weariness, there is repose upon the restful couches prepared by Him. Threadbare and old as the hills as the thought is, it comes to us toilers with ever new refreshment, like a whiff of fresh air or the gleam of the far-off daylight at the top of the shaft to the miner, cramped at his work in the dark. What a witness the preciousness of that representation of future blessedness as rest to us all bears to the pressure of toil and the aching, weary hearts which we all carry! The robes may flow loose then, for there is neither pollution to be feared from the golden pavement, nor detention from briars or thorns, nor work that is so hard as to be toil or so unwelcome as to be pain. There is rest from labour, care, change, and fear of loss, from travel and travail, from tired limbs and hearts more tired still, from struggle and sin, from all which makes the unrest of life.
Further, this great promise assures us of the supply of all wants that are only permitted to last long enough to make a capacity for receiving the eternal and all-satisfying food which Christ gives the restful servants. Though ‘they hunger no more,’ they shall always have appetite. Though they ‘thirst no more,’ they shall ever desire deeper draughts of the fountain of life. Desire is one thing, longing is another. Longing is pain, desire is blessedness; and that we shall want and know ourselves to want, with a want which lives but for a moment ere the supply pours in upon it and drowns it, is one of the blessednesses to which we dare to look forward. Here we live, tortured by wishes, longings, needs, a whole menagerie of hungry mouths yelping within us for their food. There we wait upon the Lord, and He gives a portion in due season.
The picture in the text brings with it all festal ideas of light, society, gladness, and the like, on which I need not dwell. But let me just remind you of one contrast. The ministry of Christ, when He was a servant here upon earth, was symbolised by His washing His disciples’ feet, an act which was part of the preparation of the guests for a feast. The ministry of Christ in heaven consists, not in washing, for ‘he that is washed is clean every whit’ there, and for ever more-but in ministering to His guests that abundant feast for which the service and the lustration of earth were but the preparation. The servant Christ serves us here by washing us from our sins in His own blood, both in the one initial act of forgiveness and by the continual application of that blood to the stains contracted in the miry ways of life. The Lord and Servant serves His servants in the heavens by leading them, cleansed to His table, and filling up every soul with love and with Himself.
But all that, remember, is only half the story. Our Lord here is not giving us a complete view of the retributions of the heavens, He is only telling us one aspect of them. Repose, society, gladness, satisfaction, these things are all true. But heaven is not lying upon couches and eating of a feast. There is another use of this metaphor in this same Gospel, which, at first sight, strikes one as being contradictory to this. Our Lord said: ‘Which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, go and sit down to meat, and will not rather say unto him, make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink.’ These two representations are not contradictory. Put the two halves together like the two pictures in a stereoscope and, as you look, they will go together into one solid image, of which the one part is the resting at the table of the feast, and the other part is that entrance into heaven is not cessation, but variation, of service. It was dirty, cold, muddy work out there in the field ploughing, and when the man comes back with his soiled, wet raiment and his weary limbs a change of occupation is rest. It is better for him to be set to ‘make ready wherewith I may eat and drink,’ than to be told to sit down and do nothing.
So the servants are served, and the servants serve. And these two representations are not contradictory, but they fill up the conception of perfect blessedness. For remember, if we may venture to say so, that the very same reason which makes Christ the Lord serve His servants makes the servants serve Christ the Lord. For love, which underlies their relationship, has for its very life-breath doing kindnesses and good to its objects, and we know not whether it is more blessed to the loving heart to minister to, or to be ministered to by, the heart which it loves. So the Servant-Lord and the servants, serving and served, are swayed in both by the same motive and rejoice in the interchange of offices and tokens of love.
III. Mark the earthly service which leads to the heavenly rest.
I have already spoken about Christ’s earthly service, and reminded you that there is needed, first of all, that we should partake in His purifying work through His blood and His Spirit that dwells in us, ere we can share in His highest ministrations to His servants in the heavens. But there is also service of ours here on earth, which must precede our receiving our share in the wonderful things promised here. And the nature of that service is clearly stated in the preceding words, ‘Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find’-doing what? Trying to make themselves better? Seeking after conformity to His commandments? No! ‘Whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching.’ It is character rather than conduct, and conduct only as an index of character-disposition rather than deeds-that makes it possible for Christ to be hereafter our Servant-Lord. And the character is more definitely described in the former words. Loins girded, lights burning, and a waiting which is born of love. The concentration and detachment from earth, which are expressed by the girded loins, the purity and holiness of character and life, which are symbolised by the burning lights, and the expectation which desires, and does not shrink from, His coming in His Kingdom to be the Judge of all the earth-these things, being built upon the acceptance of Christ’s ministry of washing, fit us for participation in Christ’s ministry of the feast, and make it possible that even we shall be of those to whom the Lord, in that day, will come with gladness and with gifts. ‘Blessed are the servants whom the Lord shall find so watching.’Luke 12:37. Blessed are those servants, &c. — And blessed also will you be, if this shall be your case: verily, he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat — The master of such servants, pleased with their care, would perhaps order them a refreshment, after having watched and fasted so long; and if he were of a very humane disposition, might even bring it them himself, and give it them out of his own hand. It may not be improper to observe here, that it was usual for servants to sit at table, and for their masters to wait upon them, among the Romans in their Saturnalia, among the Cretans in their Hermæ, and among the Babylonians at their feast called Saccas: but whether our Lord here alludes to these, or any of these, it is difficult to judge. The words certainly are very intelligible without supposing any such reference. What our Lord chiefly meant by the similitude evidently was, to intimate to his disciples how acceptable their zeal in discharging the duties of their function would be to him, and how highly he would reward them for it.
Shall make them sit ... - Shall place them at his table and feast them. This evidently means that if we are faithful to Christ, and are ready to meet him when he returns, he will receive us into heaven - will admit us to all its blessings, and make us happy there - as if "he" should serve us and minister to our wants. It will be as if a master, instead of sitting down at the table "himself," should place his faithful "servants" there, and be himself the servant. This shows the exceeding kindness and condescension of our Lord. For "us," poor and guilty sinners, he denied himself, took the form of a servant Philippians 2:7, and ministered to our wants. In our nature he has worked out salvation, and he has done it in one of the humblest conditions of the children of men. How should our bosoms burn with gratitude to him, and how should "we" be willing to serve one another! See the notes at John 13:1-17.
1. A negation of sleep;
2. An industrious keeping ourselves awake with reference to some particular end. The end here expressed is the happy receiving of Christ, coming to judgment; from whence is evident, that the watching here intended is a spiritual watching, which is a denial of ourselves as to our lusts, and the sleep of sin, which is compared to sleep, Romans 13:11 Ephesians 5:14, and an industrious keeping ourselves from such sleep in order to the coming of our Lord, who will come at an hour when we think not, Luke 12:40; his coming is to us uncertain, and will be to many surprising.
This watchfulness he presseth upon his hearers;
1. From the reward the Lord will give to such persons:
He shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them: very high metaphorical expressions, signifying no more, than that he will put upon them a very high honour and dignity, and satisfy them with a fulness of happiness and glory, and they shall be at rest for ever. The state of glory is elsewhere set out under the notion of drinking new wine in the kingdom of God, and eating and drinking in his kingdom.
2. From the benefit which they will have by watching in this; that let the Lord come when he will, whether in the second or third watch, they will be ready, and they shall be blessed.
3. He presseth it also from the ordinary prudence of men, who if they have an intimation that a thief is coming, will watch, and prevent the mischief that might ensue by the breaking open of their houses. But concerning those words;
See Poole on "Matthew 24:43", See Poole on "Matthew 24:44", where we met with them before used upon the same occasion.
when he cometh shall find watching: for him, and not asleep. The Ethiopic version reads, "so doing, and watching"; girding up their loins, trimming their lamps, and waiting for their Lord's coming: such servants are happy, they will appear to be in the favour of their master, who will take notice of them and show some marks of respect to them; as Christ will to all his good and faithful servants, whenever he comes, whether at death, or at judgment; and who will be happy then, being found so doing, and found in him:
verily I say unto you that he shall gird himself; not that Christ shall really do this, or appear in the form of a servant; but that he shall readily, cheerfully, and at once introduce his servants into his joy, and make them partakers of all the glories of the other world:
and make them to sit down to meat; at his table in his kingdom; see Matthew 8:11
and will come forth and serve them; with food, yea, will feed them himself, and lead them to fountains of living water, Revelation 7:17 The Arabic version renders it, "he shall stand to minister unto them": the phrase is expressive of the posture of a servant; who, as Dr. Lightfoot observes, is "walking", and who goes round about the table, whilst others sit (t): some think there is allusion in the words to a custom used at some feasts, particularly at the feasts in honour of Saturn, in which servants changed clothes with their masters, and sat at their tables, and their masters served them (u).Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Luke 12:37. A symbolic representation of the most blessed recompense, which the servants of Christ, who are faithful to their calling, shall receive from Him at His Parousia. It is not the idea of the great and general Messianic banquets (Matthew 8:11) that underlies this, but it is the thought of a special marriage-feast for those servants (the disciples). That the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus, John 13, gave occasion (de Wette) to the mode of representation, according to which the Lord Himself serves (“promissio de ministrando honorificentissima et maxima omnium,” Bengel), is the less probable the greater the difference is seen to be between the idea expressed by the foot-washing and that which is here set forth. The thought of the Saturnalia (Grotius, comp. Paulus and Olshausen) brings in something wholly foreign, as also the calling of the slaves to partake in certain sacred feasts according to the law, Deuteronomy 12:17 f., Luke 16:11 f., is something very different from the idea of this feast (in opposition to Kuinoel, de Wette, and others), in respect of which, moreover, it has been assumed (see Heumann, Kuinoel, de Wette) that the Lord brought with Him meats from the wedding feast,—an assumption which is as needless as it is incapable of proof.
περιζώσεται κ.τ.λ.] a vivid representation of the individual details among which even the drawing near to those waiting (παρελθών) is not wanting.
The parable, Luke 17:7-10, has an entirely different lesson in view; hence there is no contradiction between the two.Luke 12:37. μακάριοι: here as always implying rare felicity the reward of heroic virtue.—ἀμὴν: the Hebrew word retained here contrary to custom, introducing a startling thought, the inversion of the relation of master and servants, lord and slaves, through joy over their fidelity. For the other side of the picture vide Luke 17:7-10.—διακονήσει αὐτοῖς: the master, in genial mood, turns servant to his own slaves; makes them sit down, throws off his caftan, girds his under-garments, and helps them to portions of the marriage feast he has brought home with him, as a father might do for his children (De Wette, Koetsveld, p. 244). There is not necessarily an allusion either to the last supper (Luke 22:27) or to the Roman Saturnalia (Grotius, Holtzmann, H. C.).37. he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meat] Doubtless some of the Apostles must have recalled these words when Jesus washed their feet. To Roman readers the words would recall the customs of their Saturnalia when slaves were waited on by their masters.Luke 12:37. Παρελθὼν διακονήσει) The participle is pleonastic (παρέλκον), and often occurs in similar cases where a banquet is spoken of. See ch. Luke 17:7, παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε. Sir 29:23 (26), ΠΆΡΕΛΘΕ ΚΌΣΜΗΣΟΝ ΤΡΆΠΕΖΑΝ. This promise of Himself ministering to (serving) His servants is the most distinguishing and greatest of all marks of honour. It is thus that the Bridegroom receives and entertains His friends on the solemn day of the marriage feast.
 Go forward and sit to meat. Wahl, Clavis, under ἀνίστημι, ἀναστὰς, attributes this pleonastic junction of a participle with the finite verb to the simplicity of antiquity, which is wont “totum rei ambitum emetiri, nihilque cogitationum, quod eodem spectet, missum facere.”—ED. and TRANSL.Verse 37. - Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. The title "blessed," when used by our Lord, is ever a very lofty one, and implies some rare and precious virtue in the one to whom this title to honor is given. It seems as though the house-master of the parable scarcely expected such true devotion from his servants; so he hastens to reward a rare virtue with equally rare blessedness and honor. He raises the slaves to a position of equality with their master. These true faithful ones are no longer his servants; they are his friends. He even deigns himself to minister to their wants. A similar lofty promise is made in less homely language. The final glorious gift to the faithful conqueror in the world's hard battle appears in the last of the epistles to the seven Churches: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne" (Revelation 3:21).
See on Mark 13:35.
As a servant girding up his loose garments to wait on the table.
See on minister, Matthew 20:26.
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