It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well! ”Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:1-17).
Like a dramatic one act play, Jesus demonstrates something here before his disciples to help them understand that his whole life was about serving people. As Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus unveiled the essence of his earthly life before his disciples in a beautiful portrayal in the upper room. He conveyed to his disciples the important need for daily cleansing as they walked in this world, but he also wanted his disciples to understand that serving is at the core of what is required of being a disciple if you want to want to have influence in people’s lives.
One Act Play
Jesus communicates this profoundly without words, but through his actions by washing his disciples’ feet. A service always carried out by the least of the servants or a child. He demonstrates that this is a humble act by removing his outer garment, just like he set aside his outer garment of royalty when he left heaven. He then wrapped a towel around his waist like a servant, demonstrating that this is what he did when he became a man and took on the life of a servant. When he finished washing their feet, he put back on his outer garment and returned to his place, just like in the future when he would put back on his garment of royalty and set back down on his throne in heaven. He then asks his disciples, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He wanted them to look at what he just exhibited and asked them if they understood what he was portraying. He is asking them, are you willing to step down from your “lofty positions” and become servants of humanity like I have? And that’s the question that all of us must answer if we want to reach a world that is so bent on being somebody. Becoming a servant is counterintuitive to our human nature. We don’t like to take the lower positon and we would much rather associate with people with status in society. It is an upside-down kingdom that he is inviting his disciples into, where they become subservient to the people around them. This was a very big pill for them to swallow. After all, James and John, at the time, were pursuing sitting on his left and right side in glory, but Jesus was saying become a servant and put on the towel like I have.
Learning to Put on the Towel
I have found if we are unwilling to take on the role of a servant, the Lord has his ways of humbling us in life so we learn the importance of putting on the servant’s towel.
Years ago, I was a pastor of college group that grew in numbers very rapidly. It was incredible to be a part of these wonderful people’s lives, I was on top of my game, but at the same time I was a complete failure as a father and being there for my dear wife. Friends tried to point out to me the changes I needed to make, but their counsel only irritated me. The Lord had to humble me so I would become a servant at home. He removed me from this position of success by his sovereign hand. I took the first job that came to me through a friend. I became an operator of a large folding machine at an advertising company. On one occasion, I remember looking at these day-labors who were filling boxes with the advertisements that were coming off my machine. I remember saying these pitiful words to the Lord, “Don’t they know who I am?” He responded so clearly to me, “They don’t care who you are.” When I arrived home that evening, my wife jo handed me a wrapped package. I took the wrapping paper off with excited anticipation and there inside was one of those Hallmark plaques. I wasn’t into Hallmark, but this plaque put me in my place. On it was a painting of a father on a dock fishing with his son. Written on the plaque were these words, “Try not to be a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” The quote came from Albert Einstein. These words penetrated my heart. These two incidents along with many others began to shape my life as a servant. Another quote that kept running through my mind at the time was by Thomas Merton. Here is my variant of it, “Be careful when you climb the ladder of success only to find when you reach the top it is leaning against the wrong wall.” The Lord began to show me that true success was being in his will. For eight years, I continued working in very humble jobs, but those years were some of the best years of my life with jo and my three boys. Jesus showed me, like he did his disciples, being a servant in this life is the best way to live life.
Jesus then says something, in this story to his disciples, that may be missed if you read over these verses too quickly. And here’s the secret. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Most miss that when we put on the servant’s towel like our master, we will be “blessed.” Now the blessings come in a multitude of ways, but when you begin to serve others in your neighborhood, at work, or wherever you spend your days, life then is filled with wonderful surprises given to you by the Lord. This may shock you, but by serving others you enter the best life.
A time for reflection
The apostle Paul puts words to what Jesus portrayed in the upper room for his disciples in Philippians 2:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Would family members or others characterize you as being a servant? If yes, why? If no, what would it take to become a servant with those you spend your day with?
When the Lord confronted me about not being a servant at home, I asked my wife, “What can I do to prove I love you?’ She said, “You can start by washing the dishes.” I have been washing dishes to this day—mind you, that was just the start. If it is your desire to become a servant like Jesus with those you listed in Chapter 1, list ways that you can begin serving them.