What if you knew you were going to die?
And not only knew you were going to die, but knew the day and the hour?
And what if you also knew how you were going to die? Suppose someone who could look into the future had told you the day, the hour, and the method.
And the method is ugly.
It involves torture—an entire night of it. Brutality—beyond anything that has ever been done before. Public humiliation, too, in front of your family, your friends, and your countrymen. And then the accusations—blasphemy, treason, lying under oath, insurrection—and those are just the biggies. And then, the final betrayal—every single person who claimed to love you is going to abandon you, leaving you to face death alone.
Suppose you knew all this, and it’s now the night before your death.
How would you spend your last evening?
I think I’d be sitting in my comfy chair with my loved ones gathered around me. They’d be serving me all my favorite foods and playing my favorite songs in the background. One by one they’d wipe tears from their eyes, pause thoughtfully, and tell me how much my life has impacted theirs. Maybe I’d read the stack of Thank You notes I’d been collecting all my life, you know, the ones from the missionaries I’d supported, the students I’d taught, and the friends I’d done nice things for.
But let me tell you one thing I wouldn’t be doing—washing some man’s nasty feet. And I certainly wouldn’t be washing twelve men’s nasty feet.
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love . . . . he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:1,4,5).
On the eve of Jesus’ torturous death, what was he doing? Humbly serving others.
The task of foot washing typically belonged to the lowest servant in the household. Because this was a four-mile-an-hour, first-century world, foot washing was a nasty task. It wasn’t unusual for pedestrians to walk through animal dung, urine, mud, and garbage as they traveled the streets.
Yet while the disciples argued about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus, God in the flesh, knelt and began to wash their feet.
Only one disciple balked, ashamed and convicted, I’m sure, at the humble position his teacher had taken before him. "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet” (v. 8).
And Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
As I read this familiar narrative, I have to ask, “Why? Why would he serve them this way, at this time? How could he humble himself when he was God Almighty? His disciples should have been falling all over themselves to serve him, but they weren’t. He would have been completely justified in demanding it of them, but he didn’t.
We find the key to Jesus’ extraordinary humility in a simple statement in John 13:3:
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”
Jesus could serve humbly because he knew who he was.
He didn’t have to point out his worth before others. He didn’t need others’ affirmation and service to feel good about himself. He didn’t even have to defend or justify himself in the face of slights and disrespect.
He was confident and settled in who he was—the Son of God, sent to Earth and called to spend his life serving others.
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”
Sometimes I struggle to serve others. I don’t want to be humble. I don’t want to be last. I don’t want to deny my wishes to honor someone else’s. I don’t want to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and forgive my enemies.
I fear humility diminishes my value and servanthood will invite people to treat me like a servant.
But if I know who I am—if I know I am a child of God, sent to Earth and called to spend my life serving others, then I can know that the Father is pleased.
And that makes it all possible.
What about you? Do you fear that serving others will somehow diminish your worth? What does this vignette from Jesus’ life tell you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below or CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online, scroll to the bottom of the post, and leave a comment.
Post-Matthew Hurricane Update:
Thank you to the kind friends who have emailed and messaged me to see how my family and I fared during last weekend's hurricane. The storm swooshed through quite dramatically on Friday night and Saturday. In the center of the state, where I live, we had 35-40 mph winds and almost 4 inches of rain. The community had quite a few trees down and some local flooding (one dam broke), but no loss of life or major property. The coast is another story, and we covet your prayers for those affected. Most are still unable to return until the authorities confirm that it's safe. Currently 800,000 people are without power. I'm thankful it's sunny and warm today.