Everything that could be done had been done. Everything had been taught. The training was complete. The betrayer had already begun his betrayal. The trap was being set, so Jesus stood and took the place of the servant or the host. In a very poignant moment Jesus placed a beautiful cap on all that he had taught them by washing his disciples feet. This was usually the responsibility of the host who would have a servant perform this duty for guests as they arrived at the house. Here Jesus took the role of the servant which was a portrayal of what he had done; God coming as a man in order to do for man what man could not do for himself. But this was their Master, their teacher, the Christ who was washing their feet. They should have been washing his. Maybe now they understood how John the Baptist had felt. We know it made one of them feel uncomfortable.
Peter had a big problem with this, as we might expect and Jesus tried to tell him that there was a purpose in him doing this:
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”(John 13:6-7)
Peter protested but Jesus told him that if he did not allow him to wash his feet then he could have nothing to do with him. Was Jesus speaking of what was to happen the next day? That this was simply a foreshadowing of the greater cleansing that would happen with the blood of Jesus? Whatever it was, Peter now wanted all of it; he did not want to be separated from Jesus.
Once Jesus had finished the washing he left the role of the servant and took his proper place again as the host. He explained:
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:12-17)
With a very simple yet profound gesture Jesus summed up three years of ministry by telling them that he had set the example of what they are to do. Now the blessing will be found in doing these things. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. He called his disciples not to a lordship position but to the place of servants. There is no way that the world could learn about Jesus from men who sought power for themselves. These disciples, who would become apostles, men of great influence and power, must never lose sight of their calling as servants. Jesus said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet."
Jesus clearly stated, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." Go and make disciples as I have discipled you. Go and train and prepare others as I have trained and prepared you. Today too many apostles, pastors, evangelists, teachers and prophets have taken on celebrity status. Leadership in the church and denomination is becoming a "career" choice again. So many have the ambition of becoming an overseer or an administrator and see their lowly position as temporary, only a stepping stone. How we must grieve our Lord with such an attitude and perspective.
What a wonderful, precious thing it is that Jesus Christ, Son of God, living Word, did taking my place, dying on the cross for me, a nobody. In turn he says "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." Obviously I can't die to save anyone but I can lay my life down in service to the lost. Jesus set the example in the way he served with no thanks or appreciation being shown. He did not live off of the admiration of adoring crowds. He served whether people loved him or hated him. He did it in obedience to the Father and in love for those without a shepherd. He says, I set for you an example.
The world needs to see Jesus not just hear about him. We need a major attitude check and a deep renewal in the Holy Spirit. This evening, as we reflect on this final meal, it is good for us to reflect on our service as well. We are more than worshipers; we are missionaries, ambassadors, healers and teachers. We are those who intercede for the lost, the channels of food and clothing, the vessels that carry God's blessings to the lost. Jesus has been our example and it is time to do as he has done. And he told us that the blessing is found in the obedience.