Jesus, the servant king
by Marlin Caddell
January 27, 2016
John 13:1-20: 1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
How do kings and rulers and people in authority usually display their power to the world? They could live in large palaces surrounded by guards. They could wear kingly robes and jewelry as they sit on huge thrones. They could issue decrees to be executed and new rules to be obeyed. And let’s just say they don’t stop at McDonalds for dinner.
If this is the way that earthly kings show their power, how does Jesus display His ultimate authority in this passage? Jesus, the king of the universe, who maintains everything in existence by His power (Colossians 1:15-17) shows us His power and authority by getting on His hands and knees and washing the disciples’ feet. The One who made the stars washed the filthy, stinking feet of those who would desert Him mere hours later. He already knows what they’ll do, and yet, He still washes their feet.
Jesus turns the disciples’ notions of authority upside down in a moment when He takes what would have been the lowest position (as a slave). This is in the middle of their argument about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God (Luke 22:24-27)!
Jesus commands us to follow His example to wash one another’s feet. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need to break out the washcloths and a bucket of water every time we see each other. It means that our hearts should be turned toward serving others as a servant would. The act of serving like this tears down the idols of pride in our hearts that whisper the lie that we’re too good to lower ourselves to serve others. In the same way that our love for one another demonstrates that we’re disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35), this type of service also demonstrates to the world that we’re a different people.
We don’t show our authority and the rightness of the Gospel through the sword but through the love we show to one another and service we gladly provide. The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) is what should mark our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
See the love that Christ shows from verse 1 when John writes that Jesus “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus did not begrudgingly lower Himself to serve. It wasn’t a duty forced on Him that He does with an exasperated sigh. He gladly washes the disciples’ feet out of love for them. When we serve, it should be from a heart that’s glad to do it.
Jeremy asked a question on Sunday that I’ll repeat here: How would our relationships look different this week if we followed Jesus’ example? Really think about this. What would our marriages look like if we lowered ourselves to serve our spouses daily? What would our relationships at work look like if we served like this? How would it look with the random strangers we see in stores or in restaurants?
Do we open ourselves up to “abuse” when we serve and love like this? Possibly. Most likely even. But when we live by Jesus’ example, we become a people living in stark contrast to the world. Where the world steps on people to gain power and authority, we lower ourselves to serve. Where the world serves others only as a means to an end, our service points to the hope we have in Christ, the One who is better than anything this world has to offer!