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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, April 18 2024

A lesson for all time

On the evening before His death, the night of the Passover meal, Jesus was uncharacteristically subdued. During the meal, He rose, took a pitcher and a large bowl and began washing the disciples’ feet, instructing them to continue the practice as a remembrance.

Jesus had earlier directed Peter and John to prepare their last meal together, and it was during this meal that Jesus instituted the symbols of the New Testament Passover: The unleavened bread would represent His broken body and the wine would signify His shed blood.

Peter was puzzled by Christ washing the feet of the disciples, because whenever guests were invited to a home, the lowliest household slave or servant washed the guests’ feet. (John 1:27 and Luke 7:44 refer to this custom.) Although all four Gospels record events of this evening, none records any of the disciples volunteering to do this task.

As Jesus bent down to wash Peter’s feet, he blurted out, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" (John 13:6). Jesus responded, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this" (verse 7). Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit's revelatory power, which would eventually guide the disciples' understanding (John 16:13), enabling them to grasp the spiritual meaning of what Jesus was doing.

When Peter continued to protest: "You shall never wash my feet", Jesus Christ responded, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (John 13:8). Jesus was speaking about becoming spiritually cleansed, which would happen through His shed blood and death for the sins of humanity.

Jesus instituted the foot-washing ceremony to illustrate that He had come to serve mankind, and clearly explained the primary lesson of foot-washing: "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:13-14). If Jesus Christ was willing to humbly and unconditionally serve His followers in a lowly human task, His disciples should follow His example and be willing to perform even the most unpleasant tasks for others.

The Apostle John, who recorded these events, later explained this attitude with a simple question: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). Christ’s example of humility, service and generosity is all the more poignant because of its contrast with the attitude of the rest of humanity. His ultimate service for mankind was his willingness to give His life for us. Our natural tendency is to look for ways to make others serve us. God's way, on the other hand, is unpretentious, willing service to others.

Serving others God's way expects no reward: "But love [even] your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35). This powerful scripture tells us much about God's character—that His approach is one of unbiased service to mankind. This is not the way we naturally think. Those who would follow Jesus Christ must ask a tough question: Will we dedicate ourselves to Jesus' way of outgoing, humble service toward others, or will we go the way of the world, demanding, taking and serving ourselves? Christ's example of washing His friends' feet is a reminder of that fundamental choice.

Jesus tells us to emulate His actions in the simple ceremony of foot washing: "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). Every year as we observe the Passover, washing each others' feet symbolizes our serving others with humility and without imposing our own conditions. We can do three things to help us understand and capture Jesus' attitude as He washed His disciples' feet:

1. Ask God to help us better understand and practice the spirit of foot-washing.

2. Seek God's attitude of humility and service by researching and studying the many examples of it in your Bible, including Abraham, Ruth and Daniel.

3. Look for ways to serve others.

Luke 22:24 adds an interesting detail about that same evening: "Also a dispute arose among [the disciples] as to which of them was considered to be greatest." Rather than considering how they could best serve each other, the disciples' minds were focused on "which of them was considered to be greatest," to the point that an argument broke out and angry words were exchanged as the men jockeyed for position within the small group. Jesus quietly rebuked them: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them ... But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves" (Luke 22:25-26, also Matthew 20:25-28).

Jesus concluded His lesson by saying: "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him" (John 13:16). Jesus Christ says that if He was willing to humble Himself and put Himself in the position of being a servant, and to take on the duties of the lowest of slaves, who are we to think we're too good to humbly serve others? We need to ask ourselves if we have learned the lesson Jesus Christ so vividly pointed out to His followers when He assumed the role of the lowest servant to teach His followers the vital attitude of humility, serving and giving.