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I Have Set You An Example

One of our human conceits is to think that we’re better than everybody else. At least we tend to think that we’re more important than others – we ought to be first in line or receive quicker service or that we’re the exception to the rule.

Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to the “me-first” attitude. All too often, we put our own interests and desires ahead of what is best for the church and God’s Kingdom as a whole. I suppose we get it honestly. Even Jesus’ closest disciples had the problem. Jesus had to deal with it just a few hours before His crucifixion. Let’s read about it in John 13, verse 1 through 17.

[Read John 13:1-17]

It was not a carefree group which gathered around the table for the last meal Jesus was to eat before His arrest. Jesus, of course, knew that His betrayal and death was just a few hours away. All week the tension between Jesus and the religious authorities had been escalating. The disciples must have realized that things were coming to a head. They must have felt stress anticipating what might happen. Judas must have been wondering how he could fulfill his promise to betray Jesus to the authorities without tipping his hand to the other disciples.

In addition to the stress and worry due to the external pressures, there was tension within the group. The disciples were out of sorts with each other. Luke records that they had another squabble about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24-27). Luke doesn’t tell us when the dispute took place that night, but it is logical to assume that it happened as they were gathering around the table. Who would get the places of honor next to Jesus? When they went to Judas and John, I can imagine Peter harrumphing, “Well be that way! If I can’t have the place I deserve, I’ll take the lowest place!”

It is in this context that Jesus began the Passover ritual. Keep in mind that according to verse 3, Jesus was fully aware that the time had come for Him to return to God. Not only that, He was in full control of events. As always He was operating according to the will, and in the power of God. Everything which Jesus did during this meal was done on purpose to teach needed lessons and to demonstrate His love for the disciples.

While following the Passover ritual, Jesus would have taken the first of four cups, spoken a blessing over it and passed it around to the disciples. After passing the first cup, the Passover ritual called for the host to rise from the table and wash his hands. It was probably at this point that Jesus turned the ritual into a graphic lesson in servant-hood. He took a basin of water and a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet. In other words, the host of the feast proceeded to perform a task normally assigned to a slave.

Peter was incredulous. “You’re going to wash my feet?” It’s interesting to me that Peter was flabbergasted that Jesus would do such a menial task, yet neither he nor any of the other disciples volunteered to do it.

But Jesus intended much more than merely performing a task that nobody else was willing to do – He was trying to convey a spiritual lesson through the physical act. Peter didn’t understand and exclaimed that Jesus would never wash his feet! Jesus responded that unless He washed him, Peter had no part in Him. There is a timeless truth in this. How do we participate in Christ? Not by anything we do, but by accepting what Christ does for us.

Again, Peter missed the point. “Well, if it’s that way, go ahead and give me a bath!” Jesus explained that those who are clean, need only to wash their feet. What Jesus was trying to convey is that those who have had their hearts cleansed, only need to have the incidental sins of daily life removed. John was later to write, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7 NIV)

Jesus went on to say that not everyone was clean. He knew very well that Judas was going to betray Him. I think Jesus was trying to get Judas to recognize his true condition and repent.

After Jesus had finished and returned to His place at the table, He applied the lesson He had just acted out. If He, as their Teacher and Lord had served them, they too ought to serve one another. Instead of arguing about who was the greatest, they should have been looking for opportunities to serve each other.

We need to listen to the same lesson Jesus taught the disciples. To refuse to serve is to place ourselves above the person we call our Master.

We’re about to take part in what we call the “Lord’s Supper.” It’s a token reminder of the meal Jesus ate with His disciples that night so long ago. We rightly say that the bread we eat is to remind us of Jesus’ body which He sacrificed for us. We rightly say that the juice is to remind us of Jesus’ blood which cleanses us from sin. We’re right to say this because Jesus, Himself, asked us to remember His sacrifice for us with these emblems.

However, there is another lesson in the Lord’s Supper. It is Jesus’ example of servant-hood. Jesus instructed His disciples to serve one another. And, He gave us an example of loving service when He washed the disciples’ feet. A few hours later He gave an even greater example of love when He died on the cross for both them and us.

What do our actions say about us? When people look at us do they see loving service or do they see an example of “me-first”? Today as we eat and drink let’s think about Jesus’ example and what kind of example we set.

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