tenor

I bent down in front of the Bangladeshi pastor to illustrate the act of washing another’s feet. He, like every other man in the small church building, was sitting cross-legged on the concrete floor. His feet were bare, as were mine; as were all forty-five pastors. His feet swiftly disappeared under his legs. I turned to the man seated next to him. Same reaction. The chuckles of all those watching these two uncomfortable responses added to the sermon illustration, but they, I, and all Christians must come to understand the truth of Scripture. The truth here is that servanthood, including following the Servant’s example at the Last Supper, requires a lowering of oneself as He did.

A day or two later, a thought occurred to me about that most significant foot-washing event in Christian history, the Last Supper. As the reader probably knows, Jesus, the Son of God, Savior, and Creator of the universe lowered Himself and bent down to wash His disciples’ feet like a servant. However, Peter rejected Jesus’ humble act, as the Bangladeshi  pastors had. We should note here that Peter was not the first disciple Jesus approached with the basin and the towel. This might cause us to wonder if Peter, having watched the previous disciples submit to this act, may have thought himself humbler than his fellows. When his time came he would show Jesus how true and humble he was.

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet’” (John 13:5–8a). 1

We’re not told if Peter’s feet disappeared like those of my two Bangladeshi brothers, but what Jesus said next was extraordinary:

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me’” (John 13:8b).

What does it mean that Peter would “have no share” with Jesus? The Louw & Nida Greek-English lexicon offers this about the word “share”: “ἔχω μέρος ἐν: (an idiom, literally ‘to have a part in’) to experience along with others—‘to experience together with, to share in experiencing.’ ὁ ἔχων μέρος ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῇ πρώτῃ ‘one who experiences along with others the first resurrection’ Re 20:6.” 2

Thus, it is safe to safe to say that if Peter would not submit to Jesus’ servanthood, he would not know Jesus. He would have no experiential relationship with Him.

Let’s pause and think about this for a moment.

If we do not accept that an essential part of Jesus’ character is that of a servant, we do not truly know Him. And, since He told us that what He did that evening was His example of servanthood that we should follow, we will be “sharing with” Him as we behave as He did (John 13:12-15).

Extraordinary.

The Jews of Jesus’ day could not accept Him as the Messiah. Their anticipated Messiah was to be a holy, conquering hero, a greater David. When Jesus lowered Himself to have table fellowship with sinners, He was condemned as a false prophet (Luke 7:36-39). But the Jews greatest refusal came at the cross. This false messiah was clearly a fraud and a failure. He was being punished as a criminal. He had become a curse because He was hanging on a tree. He wasn’t going to conquer anyone or anything. He was a nothing. A dead man.

So much for human reasoning. Jesus brought the greatest truth, the greatest “success,” conquering, and victory in the weakness of the cross and His resurrection.

We Christians have too often found ourselves in the same camp as the Jews of Jesus’ day. We believe Jesus was and is a conqueror. We believe He will bring us “success” in our ministries and defeat the forces of darkness that oppose us. We have been taught for decades that we must learn how to be effective leaders to accomplish “successful” church growth as part of that victory. We like this leading stuff. It gets things done. It brings results. It keeps the machine oiled and moving. However, all of this has nothing to do with lowering oneself like a servant. Leading—Yes! Servanthood—Huh? What does that accomplish? We are not sure what do do with His statement that He came to serve, not be served (Matthew 20:20-28). We should acknowledge that Jesus didn’t say He came to lead; never, anywhere. No, He clearly told us that if we do not accept that servanthood—not leadership—is one of His essential characteristics, we have “no share with” Him and do not know Him.

Why don’t we care?

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 808). New York: United Bible Societies.

Gif courtesy Bing images.