Nov 15 2013
Jesus washed feet (John 13:1-17)
When the King of kings bent down to wash feet he hadn’t forgotten who he was; on the contrary, it was his belief in who he was that enabled him to serve those who held on to their prideful positions. In this simple act of humility Jesus questions the character of every leader. Are we strong enough to be weak? Are we willing to become nothing so others can have the hope of being something? This is what it means to take up our cross daily and to follow Jesus (Lk 9:23).
♦ John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, was in the room that day and he wrote, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5). Knowing he had come from God he stripped down to his underclothes and served. Stripping in this way may have been normal for a servant in a home but it was not appropriate for a guest. The picture here is of someone removing their external identity to become a nobody that serves everybody. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if pastors gave up their suits, titles and platform chairs to be like everyone else? Wouldn’t it be inspiring if the leader of your country did that? We need leaders we can relate to. We need leaders that are like Jesus. But it is not just challenging to leaders, it is also challenging to ordinary people. Many of us hide behind social masks because we lack the kind of inner strength we see in Jesus. We don’t dare to look weak because we so want to be important. But true happiness is found in accepting who we are, and the church of Jesus is built by us removing our masks and being real with each other. Paul was willing to boast about his weaknesses (2 Co 11:30) and James tells us to confess our sins to one another (Ja 5:16). Church relationships are meant to be transparent. But are we strong enough to be weak?
Now, most people recognize that when Jesus washed his disciple’s feet it was more than a simple domestic service. There was a spiritual application. Jesus was about to serve humanity by dying on a cross, and this act would cleanse all who believed. This is why Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”(Jn 13:8). The cross is demonstrated in the feet washing. Just as Jesus became a mere servant to wash feet, so God became a mere man to wash sinners. On the way to the cross the King of kings was stripped naked and forced to wear a crown of thorns to the jeers of the crowd. The Almighty became weak to reach the weak. This is the romance of the cross. Those who wonder why the followers of Jesus sing passionate songs about the cross need a fuller understanding of a God who gave all.
Now, there is an up side to all this. It does not take long for us to see that the weakness of the cross is really a strength. When God makes himself nothing to save us, he wins our hearts – the hardest thing to win. We think, ‘If God did that for me, I will do anything for him!’ It is the heart that God is after. Once God has a person’s heart anything is possible. The circumcised heart has the strength to do everything God requires, because for the circumcised heart obedience is no longer a duty, but a passion. And holiness is no longer an attempt to gain God’s favour, but a response fueled with gratitude.
This is the way of the cross. When religion is a law imposed from the outside we either fail and become despondent or we succeed and become proud. But the cross secures our salvation and inspires obedience from within. Now that is powerful. As Paul said, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Co 1:25).
After washing his disciples feet Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:14-15). Here he is not telling us to have foot-washing ceremonies, he is telling us to put aside our sense of self-importance and to become each other’s servant. This is especially important where there is a lot of religious pride as there was in Jerusalem at the time. And where there is religious pride there is a need for people to open up and be weak.
Who do you relate to more, someone who claims to never fail or someone who is open about their weaknesses? There is no doubt; we will want those who are open, honest and real to be our friends. God has never failed, but at the cross he made himself weak. I ask you again, are you strong enough to be weak? Jesus set an example for us to follow.
Other Illustrations used: The collage principle who cleaned toilets | An embarrassing moment – Do you share them with friends? Can you laugh at yourself?
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