Jesus is the Servant Leader
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Peter, seeing a slave’s task as beneath the dignity of Messiah, was horrified at seeing Jesus wash feet. Once convinced otherwise, Peter was not content doing it halfway, and impulsively said, “Also my hands and my head” (John 13:9).
A first mark of discipleship is humble self-surrender. We must let God do to us what He deems best. We must trust He knows and does what is good for us. Always believe, if we knew what God knows we would gladly do what God does.
Jesus said Peter, though he did not understand now, later would (John 13:7b). Trust the Lord. Flavel said, “God’s providences, like the Hebrew letters, are often to be read backwards.” If we submit to God’s will, we shall in due time know the “why” of His dealings. It may not come in this life, but will someday.
When Peter reversed himself, and asked Jesus to wash his hands and head in addition to his feet, Jesus returned to using this foot-washing as a teaching event.
John 13:10a (Holman) “One who has bathed,” Jesus told him, “doesn’t need to wash anything except his feet, but he is completely clean.”
This foot-washing pictured the need for spiritual cleansing. To illustrate this, Jesus used an event of everyday life. After a person bathed their whole body, they for a while only needed to wash off dust that collected on their feet from walking.
This physical image pointed to a vital spiritual truth. Being born again is the bath that washes sinners thoroughly. Sins committed by a believer after conversion are like dust that sticks to a traveler’s feet. Judas and Peter perfectly portray both of the needed cleansings. Judas needed a full bath; Peter needed only a washing.
Sins committed after conversion can’t undo the eternal effect of our spiritual bath, but do need to be removed. We need daily cleansing from sins we commit.
At conversion we receive legal forgiveness. We are justified. There is no condemnation to all who are in Jesus (Romans 8:1). We are everlastingly covered.
Day to day we need personal forgiveness. We seek forgiveness because we want to make sure our one on one daily walk with the Lord is unhindered.
Any who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus are eternally secure. They need only to wash off by confession and repentance sins they daily commit.
We must make sure we are, first of all, spiritually bathed, legally forgiven. This has to come first. Daily washing helps no one who has not been born again.
Once we are spiritually bathed, don’t forget to daily ask for cleansing, for personal forgiveness. Constant confession of sin is important. If we do not sense a need for this daily cleansing, we are overly proud, not understanding ourselves.
For many unbelievers, it is difficult to come to Christ the first time. For many believers, it is difficult to come to Jesus continually, but we must do so.
John 13:10b-11 “You are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him. This is why He said, “You are not all clean.”
The fact a Judas was among the Twelve reminds us; when hypocrites are discovered among us, it should be neither a surprise nor a stumbling block to us.
Judas’ sin should also make us ponder our own spiritual condition. Always be on guard, asking, “Is it I? Am I an unclean one among the clean?”
John 13:12-14 When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Some take Jesus’ words about foot-washing literally, but I feel He was dramatically urging us to be willing to humbly serve others in whatever ways we can. Our text gives at least three clues as to how we can wash one another’s feet.
One, promote purity. Foot-washing pictured what Jesus would accomplish at the cross. He washed feet to symbolize the fact He came to wash away the sins of the world. People have the awful freedom to refuse the benefit of Jesus’ washing. For instance, Judas did this. Christ came to promote purity. We too must strive to help each other be spiritually clean, by their being born again, and daily repenting.
John 13:15 “For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.”
Two, follow Jesus’ example. Don’t put too much faith in anyone else as a role model for Christian behavior. Even the best saints are imperfect. Don’t blindly follow them. Keep our eyes on Jesus. Let Him be the image we want to model.
Never grow tired of striving to be like perfect Jesus. We could never choose a better Champion than Jesus to watch and imitate. Look at Jesus’ life. What He did thunders as loudly as what He said. One example He for sure set this night that we are to imitate was; He loved the disciples, though they had failures aplenty.
The disciples were wrong in their thinking. After the resurrection, they still thought Jesus would establish a physical earthly kingdom immediately. They were slow learners, but Jesus left them to be His witnesses to the world, and blessed them. We too need to minister to people who are mistaken about spiritual matters.
The disciples had weak faith. This night Philip, who had walked three years with Jesus, demanded more evidence, “Lord, show us the Father, and that’s enough for us” (John 14:8). Do we know people we think could never have enough faith to believe? Don’t let their little faith keep us from loving, and trying to win, them.
The disciples were unkind. James and John once wanted to call fire out of Heaven to destroy a whole city. Jesus rebuked them, but retained them as dear friends. Even Judas could not escape his love. Jesus made Him treasurer, gave him a seat of honor at the Last Supper, and called him “friend” (Matthew 26:50) at the betrayal. However harsh, cruel, mean, or caustic people are, we are to love them.
The disciples sinned. Peter rebuked Jesus, who responded by calling him “Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Peter also denied the Lord openly, and cursed, but when Jesus left the tomb, He commanded the angel to mention Peter by name. The angel told the ladies, “Tell Peter Jesus wants to see him in Galilee” (Mark 16:7).
Jesus later chose Peter to preach the sermon at Pentecost. Do you know a “huge sinner”, one who is vulgar, evil, yea blasphemous? Love them anyway.
Our Lord was the essence of constant love; He embodied unchanging love, and refused to cease blessing the undeserving. We also must never give up.
John 13:16 “I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent Him.”
Three, be a servant. When Christ humbled Himself, He dignified humility, and honored it. Our Lord washed feet; we should be willing to do the same, to be ready to perform for others undignified service—yea even a slave’s task.
Learn to highly value Christlike servanthood. Be willing to perform any act of service for believers, however lowly it be. If a church position requires hard work, and offers little reward and praise, take it. Be glad to have a job few want.
In local churches, there is no rush after belittling jobs. But by taking one, we hurt no one’s feelings, escape the envy of others, gain a conscience at peace, and defeat the pharisaic spirit that craves the applause of people. If we do menial tasks, don’t forget to let the receivers of our service know they are of utmost importance.
A final word. Often the least provocation causes a church member to explode with anger or sink into sulking. A true servant refuses to respond this way.
We hear many messages on not offending others. These are worthwhile. We also need more sermons on servants being willing to not get easily offended. Yes, it is wrong to offend; it is also wrong to carry a chip on our shoulder all the time.
The same Lord who said, “Woe to them from whom offenses come,” also said, when offended, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Our Master was a servant in deed as well as in word. May we go and do likewise.