Jesus does innumerable different things to show his love for us. If you had to narrow it down, what would you say is the best display of the full extent of his love? In other words, what one event in the ministry of Jesus best exhibits his love? His creation? The times he heals? Pulling people out of the grave and back to life? What about the teaching? Or his amazing obedience to the Father?
Obviously all of these and more show us the tangible reality of how much he loves us. But the gospel writers use that language to describe a single event in the final moments of his earthly ministry — and it’s not the crucifixion.
John 13:1 says it like this:
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.
There’s a translation note here that renders the last part of the sentence a bit differently, thus our focus: … and he showed them the full extent of his love.
John goes on. Jesus got up from the table (it was dinner time), took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, (sounds like a servant, right?) and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
At what point does Jesus show the full extent of his love? Surprisingly, it’s the moment where Jesus washed their feet. Yep, this sounds rather bizarre. Footwashing? You and I tend to go places to get our oil changed, our clothes dry-cleaned, and our hair cut (some of us). I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never gone to a place to get my barkin’ dogs a bath. Footwashing was an ancient custom where, after a long day of journeying on dirt roads wearing “shoes” that were more like open-toed sandals, the earth was caked on and needed to be scrubbed off. Sometimes people were paid or indentured as servants to do this kind of dirty work for those above them. It was not a job for the educated, career minded, come-from-a-well-off family kinda person.
For Jesus to take this position and carry out such a chore had to seem no less than bizarre to his crew. I imagine the disciples looking at each other and thinking he’s out of his mind. I bet at least one of the disciples wanted Peter, the one who usually blurted what everyone was thinking, to pull Jesus aside to set him right. Jesus carried out his teaching and proceeded to wash everyone’s feet. He told them to do the same.
Jesus’ goal isn’t clean feet. It’s servanthood among his followers. No servant is greater than his master. Jesus really expects us to live the life of a servant. How does the world see the full extent of Christ’s love? Tangible, meaningful, shocking servanthood. We spread the love of God. We speak the freedom and grace of the gospel. We call people to turn to Jesus for life. Most meaningful for each other and the world, though, is the unexpected act of service that is unmistakably self-giving and remarkably upside down compared to the pattern of the world. I have to be told and reminded by Jesus to do this because it simply doesn’t come naturally. This kind of living is only by the supernatural. Living like this invites the work of God to shape our souls. Truly: everyone wins.
- God is glorified through the obedience of His servants.
- The world loves obnoxious blowhards but deeply respects humble servanthood.
- We are changed as we serve because that’s where our King is at work.
It seems that humility doesn’t get much press these days. The loudest voice, the strongest shock, the viral clip — we shake our heads in disgust and continue the viral spread by feeding the beast with our attention. Jesus pretty much misses the whole parade because He’s the guy scrubbing the floors and showing people to the Father. We serve because He does. Not easy, but certainly the way of the cross, thus the way of life.