The scene could not have been more inauspicious: a low-lit room, full stomachs, and the dirty feet of a dozen grown men. This is not where you’d expect to find one of the world’s greatest lessons in loving one another.
But it was here, nonetheless, in the upper room of a common house in first-century Palestine, the night before Jesus died, that we learn how to live together as the church in this world. The apostle John tells us the story, showing us three unforgettable parts.
1. Put an Apron on Authority
The apostle is so crystal clear here. He wants us to get the timing down of when this event transpired. It was before the Feast of Passover, when Jesus knew that he was about to depart from this world, when Judas was already conniving to betray him, when Jesus understood that the Father had given him all authority and his earthly ministry was almost finished. We’re supposed to see this context inJohn 13:1–3, and having all this in our minds, we read: “[Jesus] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist” (verse 4).
This is not the set-up for a snazzy TED talk. Jesus, knowing that he is the sovereign Lord over everything, puts on an apron and prepares to wash the dirty feet of his disciples.
This is a picture of Christian paradox — that wondrous, confusing, upside-down dimension of the gospel that we couldn’t make up. It is especially important for local churches that might too easily buy into the modern mentality that bigger is better. It might seem that the most impressive operation is the most sophisticated one, or that distinguishable value is really found in the bells and whistles. But then Jesus says that the last is first, and the least is greatest. He points us to a mustard seed — this teeny, incredibly unimpressive seed that, once its planted and grows, becomes a tree so big that birds make it their home (Matthew [13:31]).
The sovereign Lord washing the feet of his followers — this upside-down dimension of the gospel — redefines the nature of relationships. Where the world has its ranks and high-profile untouchables, the King of glory puts on an apron. This means that we, his people, are never too important for ordinary relationships.
2. Do What Jesus Did
John makes this point clear for us, too: we do what Jesus did. Jesus served his disciples and tells us, therefore, that we should serve one another. “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John [13:15]).
Jesus says that his humility is an example for us — that we do what he does. And this means, profoundly, that one of the ways we identify with our Savior is by caring for others in the same manner he has cared for us. We show ourselves to be his disciple when we humble ourselves and seek the good of others at our own expense.
Written by Jonathan Parnell
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