The 2016 Presidential election was one of the most divisive contests in history. Millions of Americans considered both major party candidates to be flawed and unpopular, albeit for different reasons. However, in times like this, I choose to step back and remind myself of the ultimate leader: Jesus Christ.
One of the most astonishing examples of Jesus’ servant-leadership is found in John 13:1-17. That story reveals at least two things.
First off, Jesus perceived his position. Three times (13:1,3,11) it says, “Jesus knew.” This word means “to be aware of, to consider, to perceive.” What we learn here is that Jesus is highly self-aware, highly self-conscious. What does he perceive, what does he know? First, Jesus knew “The hour” (v.1). Jesus public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing had come to an end. His final hours would be spent with his disciples, preparing them for his death, giving them his final instructions before he goes to the cross. There’s no small talk about the weather or fantasy football. Jesus has a sense of urgency.
Have you ever been with a loved one on his/her deathbed? You don’t shoot the breeze. You dig deep and say what needs to be said. You tell your loved one how much they mean to you. If there are any unresolved issues, you clear the air. And if you don’t know their spiritual condition, you ask if they are right with God, if they’re ready to meet him face to face. There’s an urgency because you are painfully aware that time is fleeting.
Likewise, Jesus knew he would be leaving soon, he would be dying on the cross and so acted with urgency.
Jesus also knew his power (v.3). Jesus was not a victim of circumstances out of his control. Jesus was choosing to die on the cross. The Bible indicates that from all eternity, the Holy Trinity had planned to send Jesus the Son to rescue, heal and restore our world from the effects of sin.
Not only that, but according to Matthew 8, Jesus is powerful: he reigns over sickness, demons and nature. And in John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, proving he’s the resurrection and the life, meaning he reigns over death. Because Jesus knew his power, he could lay it down.
Additionally, Jesus knew his identity (13:1,13). Jesus is God’s son, and he’s returning home soon. Verses 13-14 say he’s also Teacher and Lord. No one is wiser or more powerful. Simply put: Jesus perceived his position. He knew the hour, his power and his identity.
That’s Jesus. But let me ask you this: who is Jesus to you? Is he just a spiritual or religious teacher? Is he your Lord, your ruler, the one who will judge the living and the dead? Is he your Savior, the one who died on the cross for your sins?
Alright, let’s focus on the second action of Jesus: he loved his disciples by serving them. Normally there was a servant available to wash a guest’s feet. But there were no servants around because of the clandestine nature of this meeting. Jesus took his disciples to a secure location to observe the Passover meal. He intentionally waited until the meal was in progress, then he took off his outer robes and washed their feet. This act was normally reserved for the lowest of servants. In those days people wore sandals and so their feet were covered in dust, sweat, and in some cases, even residual animal dung.
Amazingly, Luke 22 tells us that when the disciples entered the room, they were quarreling over which of them would be the greatest in heaven. They were arguing over the pecking order! If that were not enough, Jesus washed the feet of Judas and Peter, both of whom would reject him in a just a few hours.
Yet Jesus, lovingly, tenderly, without rushing, washed the feet of his twelve disciples. Then Jesus declared “you should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should follow.” Scholar Leon Morris explains: “It is a parable in action, setting out that great principle of lowly service which brings cleansing and which finds its supreme embodiment in the cross.”
During his finals hours on earth, Jesus showed tremendous humility by doing the most menial of tasks with gentleness, love, and joy. And he states, unequivocally, “If you are my followers, you must do the same.” In 13:16 Jesus explains part of our identity as his followers: “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” In the original language, the word for messenger is “apostle” meaning “sent one.” If you are a Christian, you are a servant of Christ and an apostle, a sent one. You are sent by Jesus to serve others in love, doing the most humble of tasks: shining shoes, taking out the trash, changing diapers, etc. There is no task beneath any Christian, young or old, black or white, rich or poor, male or female, pastors or parishioners. If Jesus went to the cross, we can serve others, even those who reject us and betray us.
Bottom line, Jesus perceived his position and pursued service. Likewise, as Christians, regardless of who is President, we must remind ourselves we are called to perceive our position (as servants and apostles), and to pursue service: at home and at work, with people we care about and people who reject us.
What motivates us to do this? The cross: Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross, the most shameful and humiliating way to die in the ancient world. If Jesus loved us that much, how can we do any less?