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It was a lesson Jesus had taught them many times, the place of servants in the kingdom he was introducing. Over and over he had instructed them about kingdom priorities, the inverted measures of kingdom greatness, and the roles they would be expected to play in the new order of things. He stood children in front of them and displayed them as pictures of this new world. They were startled by the revelation that he had come, the very Son of Man, not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Parable after parable, and lesson after lesson they were challenged to re-think their Messianic expectations and to literally grasp Isaiah's prophetic promise of a Suffering Servant.
Then, on their final night together he showed them this important lesson. John was the only Gospel writer to record this element of the last supper---
He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
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.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash
you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet
only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has
bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And
you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him;
that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet
and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you
understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are
right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also
should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not
greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If
you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:4-17, ESV
On that evening he had held a piece of bread, explained that it represented his body broken for them, and then told them, in no uncertain terms *remember this (see my blog from this past Monday). Now, Jesus washed their feet and in a manner of speaking, told them to *do this, that is, follow his example and do what he had just modeled for them. He had taught them this lesson over and over. Now, he showed it to them. There were two profound lessons. *remember this, his death, and *do this, follow his example of a servant spirit.
The promise Jesus appended to the *do this instruction is thrilling. He said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (verse 17). His followers will be blessed if they follow his example and accomplish his instructions with the attitude of a servant.
That's a trip wire for the contemporary church these days, the *do this thing of being servants in the manner of Christ. Sure, we're busy doing plenty. Just hang out with any group of believers on Sundays or Wednesdays, maybe even in small groups on the off days. It's a full agenda, busy-ness. Too bad much of it isn't of the *do this variety, following the example of servant Jesus.
Paul's *do this instruction took a similar turn. To the Philippians he wrote---
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he
was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of
men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death, even death on a cross
Philippians 2:5-8, ESV
He took the form of a servant, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, and expected his followers to have that same mind among themselves. The Passion Week message for me is to *remember this, his death, and *do this, follow his example of a servant spirit.