Jesus, Facing Death


Jesus knew His time had arrived, not for a coronation but for a trial and an execution. But knowing what awaited Him, He still went into Jerusalem.

I imagine most people, including those closest to Him, thought things were pretty much as usual. Sure, they had hopes that Jesus would publicly declare Himself to be the Messiah and seize the throne. But things didn’t start off so well.

I mean, His first stop was the temple, as it so often was, where He once again kicked out the merchants and money changers. I suppose some people might have seen this as an act of defiance toward the powers that be, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the Messiah exercising His authority over the nation. I don’t know. Clearly the Pharisees saw His actions as unwelcome.

The thing that catches my attention most of all is the Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples. In reality, Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor and treated with special respect. Instead, He played the role of host which involved washing the feet of the group. Tradition had the host arrange for the foot-washing when the guests arrived. After all, people mostly walked from place to place, but when they ate, they reclined. In other words, their feet could easily end up in someone else’s face.

At this meal, no one washed feet when they arrived. I don’t know what prompted Jesus to get up from the table and start washing feet. Maybe someone’s feet smelled, but I doubt it. I think He wanted to take the opportunity to teach one of the most important principles He wanted His men to learn: to love one another.

After all, they’d been arguing about who was the greatest and about who would sit on his left and His right hand. He wanted to give them a living example they would remember of selflessness: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14).

The fact that Jesus washed their feet is amazing enough, but when I realize that Judas was still with them and Jesus washed the feet of the very man who would sell Him out, seems shocking. Peter was there to, and before the night was out he’d swear he didn’t know Jesus. Of course, the rest weren’t much better: they all left Him when the mob came to arrest Him.

And Jesus knew those events would take place—the betrayal, the denial, the desertions. Yet He washed their feet.

John, at the beginning of his account of that last supper, included this statement, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

His act of washing feet had to be an act of love. He was doing servants’ work. But who could miss His injunction to go and do likewise. I know some churches in the past took that idea literally and had feet-washing services.

I attended a few of those when I was growing up. The way it worked was like this: men went in one room and women in another. Then the people paired up. So one woman washed the feet of one other woman, and then they reversed the role.

Jesus washed the feet of twelve men.

I’m guessing they stayed reclined at the table while He moved from person to person. I wonder if any of them looked for another towel and tried to come alongside Him to get the job done. We certainly have no record of that, and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it have been shocking to see Jesus bending over those dirty, calloused feet, scrubbing away the road dirt, and drying them so they could continue their time around the table without irritating each other with the filth that did not belong at a meal. I can’t imagine all those guys just sitting there munching away at the Passover lamb while the Lamb of God did the work of a servant.

But that’s what He wanted to show them. I know some people mock the idea of servant leadership, but that’s precisely what Jesus modeled for us, and then commanded us to do.

Lots of people understand the verses in Philippians 2 about Christ’s humility, and they are very important.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In reality, this simple act of washing the disciples’ feet fits in with those verses in a powerful way. Not only did Jesus give up the glory of heaven, come to earth as a man, and ultimately died the death we deserved—a huge sacrifice—He also did the small sacrifice, the private sacrifice behind closed doors, the act of service that demonstrated His love in the face of indifference, at best. Because clearly, none of those men cared enough to wash His feet.

It’s like a microcosm of His offer of salvation. He came to save even the people who nailed Him to the cross. In the face of their rejection—Pilate caring more about the approval of Caesar than true justice, the Jewish leaders concerned more about keeping Rome out of their business, the Roman centurions concerned more about doing what they were told, the people more concerned about their dashed hopes—Jesus offered forgiveness.

Just as He does today.

Published in: on March 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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