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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Practice Of A Servant

In this post I want to consider what the humility of a servant looks like in a practical situation.  How did the mind of Christ respond when he walked the dusty trails of this earth?  I want to think about The Practice of a Servant.  No one so dramatically demonstrates the essence of service like Christ himself.

Let us quietly slip into the upper room where Jesus is gathered with his church and behold as the son of man condescends to the lowest task of the household and washes the feet of the disciples.  Let us look and learn!

I think it is important to consider the awareness of a servant.  Verse 3 notes an important element of this narrative.  It sets forth the basis on which Christ could move forward to serve these men the way he did that evening.  Verse 3 says, Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; . . . .

This verse tells us what Jesus knew.  There were basically three things that he knew that liberated him to be a servant.

1.  Jesus knowing that the Father had given all into his hands.  Jesus understood his authority.  Jesus understood his standing.  He knew who he was and was confident about his relationship to the Father.  He had nothing to prove.  He knew that washing feet would not change the fact that the Father had given all into his hands.  Knowing what he had been given allowed him to freely serve others.

2.  Jesus knew that he was come from God.  He knew this.  He was confident in relation to his origin.  Jesus knew from whence he came.  He knew that he was sent by the Father.  He knew he was commissioned by the Father.  He knew he was authorized by the Father.  He knew that washing feet would not change the fact that he was come from God.  Knowing from whence he came allowed him to freely serve others.

3.  Jesus knew he went to God.  He knew this.  He was confident in relation to his end.  He knew he would be returning to the Father to be seated on his right hand.  He knew he would be received by the Father.  He knew that washing feet would not change the fact that he went to God.  Knowing where he was going allowed him to freely serve others.

An unwillingness to humble ourselves and serve others is likely an indication that we lack confidence about what we have been given, from whence we came, and where we are going.  If we knew these things, truly knew them, we would know that washing feet would not change these realities.

If I am a son of God washing feet will not change that.  If we know we have been made kings and priests unto God we would surely know that washing feet will not change this.  An unwillingness to serve reveals an uncertainty about our relation to God.  Consequently we are not free to humble ourselves and serve others.  We will be too afraid that someone might actually think we are a servant!  When I know these things I am liberated to serve.  I can practice the life of a servant.

Next it is important to note the focus of a servant.  Jesus knowing what he did about himself and his relation to God embraced a lowly place of service among these men.  The next few verses are remarkable and riveting as they unfold a simple series of events that stand out, in many ways, among all the things that Jesus did.

Verses 4 and 5 give us the brief series of events, He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.  After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

He riseth from supper.  From the reclining position and probably not much noticed by the disciples.

He laid aside his garment.  Probably the very one that the Romans soldiers would be casting lots for in less than 24 hours.  This probably caught the eye of some of the disciples.

And took a towel and girded himself.  The Apostles had no doubt seen the servant of a house do this on many occasions.  Those who were paying attention must of thought it a little strange that Jesus was girding himself like a servant.

After that he poured water into a basin.  Again the disciples had no doubt seen this scene unfold on numerous occasions.  Had it been any other person they would have no doubt known the purpose for which this was being done.  Because it was Jesus they likely were wondering what he had in mind.

And began to wash the disciples feet.  I feel quite certain the disciples were taken back by this act of service on Jesus' part.  If the words of Peter in the following verses are any indication they were all uncomfortable with Jesus washing their feet.

And to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.  So, here was Jesus, the Lord of glory kneeling at the dusty, weary feet of these 12 rugged men performing the task of a common servant!

There are some interesting things to to take into account about this scene.  This was a role usually assumed by the servant of the house.  It was also a task that was normally performed shortly after the guest arrived in the home.  The fact that Jesus was now washing their feet seems to indicate that there had been no servant present to perform this menial task.  Remember they were meeting in a borrowed room.

There were 13 men present in the room and only one servant and that being the one who actually was worthy of being served.  The Apostles, rather than take the role of a servant, were content to let the task go undone.  They were not inclined to wash each other's feet.  They were willing for their own feet to go unwashed.  And, most importantly, Jesus' feet were going unwashed.  He was doing for others what no one had attempted to do for him!

Remember, why was he able to do this?  Because of what he knew!  Jesus knowing . . . riseth from supper and began to wash the disciples' feet.  He knew who he was, where he was from, and where he was going.  He was not worried what people would think about him assuming the role of a servant.  A servant's heart is rooted in a knowing heart.  His exercise of humility did not change the reality of what he had been given, where he was from, or where he was going.  Let me remind you, An unwillingness to serve is a manifestation of insecurity.

It is also memorable that Jesus did not say anything, he just did.  He did not say, "OK, I am going to wash your feet."  He simply got up and did it.  There was no announcement or fanfare.
When we drop down to verses 12-17 we see the lesson of a servant.  So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?  Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.  If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
Having returned to his place at the table he begins with a question, Know ye what I have done to you?  The concrete aspect of what he had done was easy enough to know.  The abstract aspect of what he had done was the point of the question.  There was more here than meets the eye.
He follows up the question with a statement of fact.  Ye call me master and Lord.  He points out that they were right to do so for it was true.  He was their master and Lord.
He then highlights an absurdity.  It is basically this.  If I am your Lord and master and have washed your feet, you should be willing to wash one another's feet.  They were equals and it should have been even easier for any one of them to assume the role Jesus did although none of them had been inclined to do so.
Jesus moves from the absurdity to an exhortation.  He claims to have given them an example.  It does not seem likely that the example was to be understood in the narrow confines of foot-washing.  The example is broader than the washing of feet.  In fact one could wash the brethren's feet on a regular basis and still not necessarily be properly applying the example.  He tells them to follow the example.  It is clear, at least to me, that Jesus does not have in mind here the physical act of washing feet for in verse 7 he said, What I do thou knowest not now; and in verse 12 he asked, Knowest ye what I have done to you?
What had he done to them?  He had assumed a place of humility before them.  He assumed the place of a servant.  It seems these were the two primary lessons Jesus was seeking to impart.  He was seeking to teach them humility and service.  What better way to do that than assume the most menial task of the household?  A role none of them had been inclined to embark upon.  They would rather have their feet unwashed than humble themselves and wash the feet of their fellow disciples.
Jesus concludes with encouragement.  If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.  If we humble ourselves we are happy.  If we serve others we are happy.  If we are unhappy, sour, dissatisfied, and filled with self-pity we should first start by examining the presence of pride and the absence of service in our own lives.  Jesus clearly said, Happy are ye if ye do them.  Can we do them and not be happy?
The reason for the happiness would seem to be obvious on the face of it.  If we are humbling serving others several things will be true.  We will be focused on others and not ourselves.  We will be occupied with serving others and not ourselves.  We will be less concerned about ourselves and our needs and more concerned about others and their needs.
These twelve men were willing to endure the indecency of coming to the table with feet that had not been washed rather than to wash each other's feet.  It was their master and Lord who had humbled himself and served them.  How happy could they have been about that??
The next time we find ourselves tiring of the role of a servant and its demands on our lives let us remember Jesus.  Let us see him there in the upper room, laying aside his garment, girding himself with a towel, taking a basin of water and washing the feet of the disciples everyone of whom would abandon him that very night and one of whom would betray him with a kiss into the hand of sinners.  He washed their feet not in ignorance of these facts but in the face of them! 
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