For three years, Jesus has been trying to teach the Twelve what it means to follow his Way.
He tells them: “A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.” (John 12.24 TEV)
Jesus knows that tomorrow he will suffer the searing agony of death on a cross. Peter and John are making arrangements for the Twelve to celebrate the Passover with Jesus – their last meal together – and they still don’t understand what he is all about.
In spite of the torture just ahead, Jesus still is more concerned about the Twelve. They must understand before he leaves.
This evening he has one more opportunity to show them what it means to be like him.
A terrible mistake
You have to understand the mood in the room. Peter and John had been sent to prepare for the supper. But one of them apparently forgot to arrange for a foot washer to be present.
This is a terrible mistake. In a place where the roads are unpaved and people walk everywhere they go, feet get really dirty. In the rainy season, you are ankle deep in mud. In dry season, it’s a sea of dust. Washing your guests’ feet when they enter your home is a practical necessity.
But arranging for a foot washer is as much a social necessity as a practical one. Not having a foot washer present as your guests arrive is like failing to take your guests’ hats and coats at a midwinter dinner party.
Who would seat their guests at the dinner table while they are still bundled up for harsh winter weather? The same kind of klutz who would forget to have a foot washer present for a supper in Jesus’ time!
The job of washing feet is so dirty that no self-respecting Jewish man will ever stoop to do it. It’s a chore reserved for Gentile slaves. If a Jew isn’t rich enough to own a Gentile slave, he makes his wife do it. In fact, even if he owns a male Jewish slave, he still will make his wife do it!
So you can imagine the discomfort in the room. The disciples arrive for the meal, ready to have their tired feet refreshed by a slave – and no foot washer is there to serve them.
Can you hear the grumbling and blaming going on?
A stupid argument
“I can’t believe there’s not anyone here to wash our feet! Who was in charge of that anyway?”
“That was Peter’s responsibility,” John replies smugly.
“No, it wasn’t!” Peter shouts. “John forgot that like he forgets everything else! You can’t trust him to do anything!”
So the argument is on. Luke’s version of the story (chapter 22) says the disciples sit there and argue about which one is the greatest. In other words, which one is the least and will have to do the foot washing.
“Well, someone needs to do it. Peter, you forgot. You do it.”
“I’m not your slave, you son of a Samaritan!” Peter shoots back. “Where did John sneak off to? Make him do it!”
Can you imagine the pain Jesus feels? Here he is, waiting to die a horrible death, and the Twelve are embroiled in a stupid argument.
A badge of discipleship
Can you imagine the shock and horror the disciples feel when Jesus – their teacher, their Messiah, the Son of God – wearily gets up to do the dirty chore they are all too proud to do?
The Twelve are embarrassed beyond belief. While they argue about which one of them is the greatest, Jesus just does the dirty deed himself. If they think it is beneath them, it certainly isn’t something Jesus should have to do.
At least that’s what they think. But Jesus has been trying for three years to tell them differently.
“You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.42-45 NLT)
Jesus stood the Twelve on their heads that night. They all wanted to be great men. They thought Jesus was their ticket to wealth, power, and popularity.
Jesus wanted them to understand true greatness. He knew pride would keep them from making the tough sacrifices they would have to make to finish the Revolution. Humility wasn’t any more a virtue then than it is now, but Jesus made it a badge of discipleship.
But what Jesus did was more shocking than you realize:
John 13.2 says Judas knew he was going to betray Jesus to the religious leaders that night.
John 13.11 says Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him.
John 13.1 says Jesus also knew that Judas’ betrayal would lead to a horrible death on a Roman cross.
Now look at John 13.5: “Then he poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel he had around his waist.”
Sometimes a verse of Scripture is as powerful by what it doesn’t say as by what it does say. What verse 5 doesn’t say is: “… he began to wash the disciples’ feet except for Judas, who was to betray him.”
Can you imagine the moment? Jesus kneels before Judas with the basin of water in his hands and a towel around his waist. Jesus looks deeply into Judas’ eyes, and Judas realizes Jesus knows what he is about to do!
What thoughts race through Judas’ mind at that moment? What emotions explode in Jesus as he gazes into the eyes of the man he knows will cause him to suffer an agonizing death?
‘Serve your enemy’
None of us has ever faced a greater enemy than Jesus faced at that moment. Yet Jesus washed those filthy feet as lovingly as he had washed the feet of any of the other disciples.
That’s why Jesus told the Twelve they wouldn’t understand what he was doing until later. They didn’t realize what Judas was about to do. They couldn’t understand how much it took for Jesus to wash that man’s feet – at least not until later.
Could you have done that for the one you knew was going to cause your horrible death? How could Jesus do it?
John 13.1-3 says Jesus could do it because he knew who he was and what God was doing with his life. He knew where he had come from (heaven) and where he was headed (resurrection). It gave him the strength to kneel down and wash Judas’ stinking feet. It gave him the strength to walk straight toward his death on the cross, resisting the urge to turn and run away.
When Jesus looked toward the cross, he didn’t just see death. He also saw resurrection. Because Jesus knew what lay beyond the grave, he was willing to walk deliberately into suffering and death.
By washing feet that night, Jesus showed the Twelve what it meant to be like him. No one had ever been or would ever be greater than Jesus, yet he was willing to kneel down and do a slave’s dirty chore – even for the man who was going to cause him unbearable suffering.
An even better example
And then Jesus would give them an even better example of just how far his love was willing to go. He would allow himself to be taken by the mob without a struggle. He would allow himself to be convicted in an illegal trial without so much as a word to protest his innocence. He would allow himself to be mocked, beaten, and spit upon without raising a fist to defend himself. And he would allow himself to be brutally and savagely murdered with only a prayer for his murderers’ forgiveness.
Does that give deeper meaning to Mark 10.42-45? Jesus’ was determined to give up his life as a ransom to buy freedom for all of us when we were held hostage by sin. He saw what God was doing through his life – and his death – and he was willing to serve anyone and suffer any torture to rescue us.
Jesus was determined to prove just how much God loves us. (Romans 5.6-8) As much as he wanted to, he would not turn back from serving, suffering, or even death. His goal was to open a way for us to come back to God.
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Jesus gave up his life so we can receive a life that full and free and forever. His followers are supposed to give up their lives so others can find it too. Following Jesus means understanding what God wants to do through our lives and putting that mission above everything else. Even if it means doing the dirty, thankless chore. Even if it means suffering and dying.
Jesus calls every one of us to put aside our pride and our self-centered ego trips and just do what needs to be done. He calls us to love and serve even those who are just going to do us dirty and abuse us. He calls us to even be willing to sacrifice our lives, if that’s what it takes to rescue others and open a way for them to be reconciled with God.
In 1983, a 10-year-old girl in Evansville, Indiana, walked to a nearby shopping plaza with her neighbor. Between them walked the neighbor’s 2-year-old daughter.
Young Monica Moore played with the toddler while her neighbor did the shopping she needed to do. Then they started home, the neighbor loaded down with her packages. When they had to cross a busy street, the neighbor asked Monica to carry the baby.
The mother crossed the street. Monica and the baby were just a couple of steps behind. As the neighbor stepped onto the grassy median, she heard the screaming tires of a speeding truck rounding the corner.
The neighbor was safely out of the way, but Monica stood frozen in the truck’s path, holding the baby in her arms.
It all happened so fast, Monica couldn’t have thought about what she did. Instinctively, she threw the baby to safety in the median. A split-second later, the truck slammed into her, killing her instantly.
Monica could have dropped the baby and jumped, trying to save her own life. She could have tried to run to safety with the baby, and probably both of them would have died. But she chose the baby’s life over her own. Monica Moore died that day so a baby could live. Today a young woman from Evansville, Indiana, lives an incredibly special life because someone died to save her.
Someone died to save your life too
Jesus stood in front of the cross, with death bearing down on him, holding you in his arms. He was completely innocent. He didn’t deserve to die. He could have dropped you, saved his own life, and left you to die as God’s enemy. But instead he threw you to safety and suffered a horrible death – because he knew your life would be saved because of it.
If you are a follower of Jesus, he is calling you to give your life away, serving and saving God’s lost children – even the ones who would turn you over to be killed. He wants you to live every precious moment like someone died to save you – because Someone did.
If you have never accepted the sacrifice Jesus made for you, never experienced the incredible life God has waiting for you because of it, you’ve got to decide what you’re going to do. If you don’t want Jesus to have died for you for nothing, click here.
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