It is Thursday evening, and the crucifixion will happen on Friday. Jesus is meeting with his disciples in the last meal, and in it, giving them instructions and assurances, and again predicting his death. Much of this did not register with the disciples, as indicated by their responses upon his arrest and desertion after the sham trial. But Jesus has some final lessons for his disciples, which will shape them and the early church after his resurrection and departure to heaven. First, he leads by doing – by washing their feet. Secondly, he leads through teaching – what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:12-17.
1. The Work: Leading by Example. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, God Incarnate, in the flesh, He did not use His position or status in a proud way. Instead, Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:6-7. Rather, from His life, I have set you and example that you should do as I have done for you. Every genuine leader will lead by example, by only being willing to do what he or she is asking of others around him or her. Never more true than in the spiritual realm. He that is the least shall become the greatest. It started and finished with Jesus.
2. The Reality: True Equality in the Kingdom. In a day when equity and equality are bantered around like psychological and political softballs, the Bible sets the record straight on true equality: no servant is great than his master, nor a messenger than the one who sent him. To a disciple who thinks the menial tasks of servanthood are beneath him, or a lesser status, it is just the opposite. That is where status and stature and greatness is found. Even in the financial world, 9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. James 1:9-10. Value and standing in the spiritual world is the opposite of the physical world. Wealth puts a disciple at risk of distraction or pride. Poverty, while demanding, reminds the followers that they rely on heavenly rather than earthly values. True equality comes from service, not from asserting or rights or position.
3. The Promise: A Heavenly Reward. The first place our minds go when we consider placing others ahead of or above us is this: what’s in it for me? Won’t I get left behind? Won’t I end up without value in the eyes of others? This answer may be use to those temporal questions, but a resounding ‘no’ to the heavenly standard. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. There is the promise, the guarantee, as certain as the promise and fact that Jesus rose from the grave, fulfilling his work and promise of redemption.
I live and work in a world of position, academic qualifications, legal analysis and approval or not, and standards and authority based on reason, logic and argument – all in an evidentiary context. And the ‘win and lose’ of the legal profession is standard fare for litigators. I have won big in court, and this last week, lost big in that same court. It is easy to get distracted by the affairs of life – necessary but temporary. What is eternally important is the belief in, and following of the example of Jesus.
For the Christian, perspective, reward and accountability for our lives is in front of us:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.