123. Washing the world off.

[John 13]

 “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” 

(Andrew Murray)

 

So often Christian principles and teaching contrast sharply with secular standards for advancement in life. Self-promotion, self-confidence and self-articulation applied with skillful boldness, are crucial for the fight to press forward. Goal setting is all-important, they say.

The idea of servant leadership has been analyzed extensively, to be used cunningly and overtly for the same advancement of self, as any arrogant, defiant and big mouth attitude of so called “strong” leadership could ever be. Servanthood can be faked. The attitude can be learnt without the heart of humility and love.

On the other hand, servant leadership with the love and servant-heart humility, the real thing, the original concept we learn in John 13, is a powerful life-changing act of greatness. It is refreshingly void of an earthly sense of achievement. It is a pouring out of self into a conscious response to provide comfort and show humble, authentic focus on another person.

It is an ancient exercise in the very modern buzzword:  mindfulness.

 To kneel down and wash somebody’s feet is the indisputable act of being in the moment.

Jesus knew the cross was near, but He also knew His glorification and victory were near. He acted in supreme humility with no pride.

To wash the feet of people attending a meal was a menial task for a slave. Feet were usually very dirty. They walked the dusty roads with sandals. At the door of most buildings were big pots for washing and a servant, mostly a slave with a towel, ready to wash the feet of anybody entering.

Jesus was near to God. That brought Him even closer to men. He performed a task that His disciples would not dream of doing. They were caught up in culture. Society dictated what is to be done, by whom and how.

Jesus was close to suffering and poverty throughout His ministry on earth. Proximity to the suffering and poverty of others brings us closer to humanity where we reflect His life, light and love (the theme of this Gospel).

He also washed the feet of Judas. It showed His love and forgiveness even while knowing he planned the betrayal.

The scene at this occasion, which might or might not be the Last Supper, was filled with competitive pride.  Maybe no one would have accepted the duty of feet washing. Jesus did that which none were prepared to do as an example of how we ought to behave towards one another.

So often in churches trouble arises over positions or the honour that goes with the office. This is a lesson in the greatness of service without any vision of position.

[In the British Army the ordinary troops eat before the officers when they are out on the battlefield]

The scene set by Jesus in this room with His closest friends is a dramatic and unforgettable lesson in humility.

Humility is counter-intuitive living. I can really recommend the book by John Dickson called Humilitas as well as Andrew Murray’s book on Humility – the Beauty of Holiness.  It is powerful and to the point analyses of the principle and the misconceptions of weakness associated with a worldly view.

Humility is the road to greatness and fulfilled content living. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Here is how Andrew Murray says it:

“Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” 

It was not customary for the host to wash the feet of guests. You either did it yourself or a slave did it. Jesus is comfortable in ‘breaking the laws of custom’. He did it without flinching on quite a few occasions. (Jewish Sabbath (Mark 2:23-26); the Jewish fasts (Mark 2:18-22); the Jewish cleansings (Mark 7:1-20)).

Humility is a virtue in the Christian life (Luke 22:27; compare Matthew 5:523:11,12). The Greek philosophers mostly shunned humility and meekness as weak traits for good living.

Peter’s remark to be part of Jesus as a whole comes in the shock of what Jesus is doing. He wants this scene to be different from the well-known picture of a slave washing the feet, which they saw daily.

He wants to change the menial to something more. Jesus does not allow it. Peter wants a special touch from the Master.

Jesus’ remark on those who have been bathed refers to baptism. Baptism as the seal on a new life after rebirth brings us into the Kingdom. It is not repeated. It does not happen every time we approach God. We just need a washing of our feet, cleaning off the dust and grime of the paths we have to walk in the brokenness of this world each day.

Before the feast the people bathed as they obeyed the cleansing instructions of the law of Moses. When they arrived only the feet washing was necessary. Feet washing were part of the entrance to the house. If Peter were too proud to accept the washing, he would miss out on the touch of the Master.

Pride shuts you out, makes you to miss out, and makes you blind for provision and the small miracles in life.

We should accept the way Jesus chooses to make us part of Him and in so doing receive God.

Judas’ betrayal was foremost in Jesus’ mind. He suffered because He knew what was coming. (Psalm 41:9; 55:12-14)

Betrayal is an important theme here as it is the opposite of love and loyalty (2 Samuel 9:7,13).  By washing the feet of Judas, Jesus wanted to communicate that the occasion was more profound than Judas realized. Judas was so set on his own goals to use Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities and force His hand for his own goal of getting rid of Roman rule, that he completely missed the message in the action.

Betrayal is often committed by the one who eats bread at your table.

It is Jesus’ last appeal to Judas.

There is often tragedy in the purpose of God and here it is accepted by Jesus because of Scripture. Redeeming the world cost the broken heart of God. Jesus was not killed – He chose to die. So many times we have to look back for understanding. Things are not so clear in the moment.

At this juncture the bitterness of disloyalty played out in the same moment as the glory of unfailing allegiance. All the faithful disciples became witnesses to the greatest message and man of all time and history.

We also need a washing to enter the house. The house is symbolic of the presence of God. The house that night was where Jesus was and He welcomed them to a meal with Him at the table with this most extraordinary deed. Could we submit to His methods? We might be shocked like Peter and try to reason it into something else.

Let us come with a humble heart and pray: Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven and then enter into the heaven of His presence.

 

 

Advertisements

98. Face to face with greatness.

Have you ever experienced the greatness of man’s creative forces? You might have sat nailed to the chair in a show or concert while the beauty and excellence of the performance permeates your soul. The brilliance of a concert pianist, a singer or another performing artist that touches you in music brings the same awe as staring at art, architecture and cinematography.

I am easily overwhelmed by beauty. I often long to see something magnificent. The past week the sunsets were spectacular. I feel I must watch them so intensely as not to miss a minute of the changing sky.

Earlier this year I was attending a women’s retreat north of where I live. We had a bonfire on the Friday night, something I love dearly. Late night around a fire has long been one of my favourite evenings. This particular night was cold, but very clear. Inside somebody talked to me and it was around 11pm that I had a chance to make my way out of the building to the fire. It was only the last few women sitting around and talking for a few minutes more. We stood up to leave and as I turned towards the building, the sky was dancing!

I could not believe my eyes. I cried spontaneously at the absolute magnificence and slendour of the green lights jumping and swirling around me. I honestly felt God put up a show for me. I don’t know how long I stood there until it stopped. My girlfriends, who are so used to it, enjoyed my reaction so much, they stayed with me. Some of them live up north and watch the aurora from their patio every winter.

I will never forget it. It is forever engraved in my mind.

How would somebody ever forget a meeting with the Light of the world? I can just imagine how it must have felt to come face to face with the man Jesus. Actually, it is guaranteed to stay with you, but you are still in control, still able to bring judgment as you reject Him.

Here in John 3:17-21 we see the paradox of love and judgment. The mere fact of His love has judgment built in. Any person rejecting love brings judgment on himself.

It is possible to offer an experience in love and it turns out to be a judgment. An experience of joy, could turn into a judgment. We might think an evening of beautiful music with an orchestra is a joyful experience, while the friend that we take with to share our joy with, starts fidgeting and yawning in extreme boredom.

When men are confronted with greatness the reaction is judgment. Art, music, preachers, books or nature all demand judgment. If somebody is not thrilled with what he sees, he is blind for that particular beauty in front of him. The beauty itself is not on trial – the one who look is. His indifference shows his own pitiable blindness.

Men are confronted with Jesus. He is salvation and redemption. When man sees nothing in Jesus, they are condemned by their own reaction. God loves while mankind condemns itself.

When men see Jesus, they are confronted with their own shortcomings and it is not pleasant. Love of darkness and secrets is to conceal and hide. Jesus is the light that reveals and liberate when truth is introduced.

In John 3:22-30 we read the words of John the Baptist and the eternal wisdom in it.

In John’s words the loveliness of humility shines brightly.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”

Humility is defined as: Modesty, a sense of moral insignificance, an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. It is the total absence of arrogance, conceit and haughtiness.

 The word was unknown in classical non-Biblical Greek. The strength of a humble person was unrecognized by the ancient world. The Greeks were not schooled in the ancient Hebrew principles found in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

To be humble is to willingly submit to the will of God. Humility clears the way for God’s work in your life.  Such a person will inherit the Kingdom, the miracle of the invisible Kingdom of God on earth to live under heaven’s authority while her on earth in the body. (Matthew 18:4)

There is no self-pity from John the Baptist. He never expected anything else. He was the herald, the forerunner.

It would ease life a great deal if more people were prepared to play the subordinate role. So many people look for great things to do. Any task done for God has greatness built into it.

No man can receive more than God gave him.

In the words of John the Baptist:

A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. (John 3:27)

He called Jesus the bridegroom and himself the friend of the bridegroom. 

One of the great pictures of the Old Testament is of Israel as the bride of God and God as the bridegroom of Israel. The union between God and Israel was so close that it could be likened only to a wedding. When Israel went after strange gods it was as if she were guilty of infidelity to the marriage bond (Exodus 34:15Deuteronomy 31:16Psalms 73:27Isaiah 54:5). The New Testament took this picture further and spoke of the church as the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2Ephesians 5:22-32).

The friend of the bridegroom, the shoshben, had a unique place at a Jewish wedding. He acted as the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom; he arranged the wedding; he took out the invitations; he presided at the wedding feast (MC). He brought the bride and the bridegroom together. He had one special duty. It was his duty to guard the bridal chamber and to let no false lover in. He would open the door only when in the dark he heard the bridegroom’s voice and recognized it. When he heard the bridegroom’s voice he let him in and went away rejoicing, for his task was completed and the lovers were together.

In the last verses of the chapter (3:31-36) we do not know if it is the words of John the Baptist or comments from John.

The words declare the supremacy of Jesus. He has firsthand information on God. We live in the Spirit-dispensation. We have firsthand knowledge through the Holy Spirit.

All ancient documents were approved and confirmed by a seal at the bottom. Jesus is the seal on God’s message to us.

God did not hold anything back from Jesus. He poured out His spirit in full measure. The Spirit had two functions: To reveal God’s truth to men and to enable them to recognize and understand.

To listen to Jesus is to hear the voice of God. Therefore there is a choice between life and death. The choice is emphasized throughout the Bible. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Joshua 24:15)

At the crossroads of your life, there is always a choice. What will you do with Jesus? Every day, every hour brings a choice. The wrath of God is brought about by men on men, not by God. God loves. That is His core characteristic.

He said so Himself. (Exodus 34:6, The Message)

God passed in front of him and called out, “God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.