As another academic year begins, our ministry team is spending lots of time with students from the area. One of the things we’re trying to do is help them (and ourselves) step back and think about the kind of year they (and God) want them to have.
Part of our prayer is that they would have hearts that go beyond themselves to think about, and care for, others. We all want this, of course, but how do we actually do it when our lives get incredibly busy and serving others starts to feel optional?
Jesus shows us how in John 13. Watch him at work:
- He’s about to die. John tells us it’s time for the Passover and that Jesus “knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world” through his death on the cross. If ever there were a time to be self-focused, this was it!
- He serves His disciples in a shockingly humble way. It’s not shocking to us because we’re familiar with the story, but it was absurd to the disciples: Jesus, the Lord of Glory, washes their feet, a job usually reserved for non-Israelite slaves. Peter’s reaction in verse 8 shows us how ridiculous it seemed. (Note that he washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, too).
- His ability to serve humbly under pressure had deep roots. Want to serve when it’s tough? Jesus shows us there are two keys. First, we have to know who we are. Three times John tells us Jesus’ humble service was linked to his clear sense of identity: he knew that, as God’s Son, he came to earth to die for his people, and that he would be returning to God (see vv.2-3). Instead of holding onto his life, he knew that his Father had called him to lay it down, and that he would receive it back again. Second, Jesus humbly serves because of his love for the disciples. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” This act of foot-washing, which symbolizes the greater act of cleansing he was to accomplish on the cross, was simply an extension of the love he already had for his followers.
When I’ve heard others preach on this passage in the past, it’s almost always goes like this: “Jesus served humbly, so we should too.” That’s legitimate – after all, Jesus tells the disciples as much in v.15. But it’s critical to underline that last bullet-point because it reminds us that we can only give ourselves to others when we understand who we are in Christ and actually love them.
When exams come, when you’re on your surgery rotation, when you’re on call and exhausted, when your spouse disappoints you, when… we have to have a deep-seated conviction that we’re called to follow our crucified Master through the difficult circumstances he’s calling us to right now. We have to already have love for the people we’re being called to serve in the moment. As God brings us into these realities more deeply – often through our failures (see vv. 36-38) – we’ll be increasingly ready to care for the people he puts in our path.