Imagine what it would be like to have been one of the apostles at the Last Supper. Kind of like being invited to an elite catered dinner in a small conference room to hear the CEO make a presentation. You’d probably feel a bit honored and might even see yourself as being pretty significant for having been invited. Rumors were going around that some pretty cutting edge secrets are going to be revealed at the dinner meeting. There’s an air of excitement in the room. Peter is speaking forcefully and his voice can be heard above the crowd as usual and Judas is hovering over the Hors d’œuvre tray stuffing a few in his camel skin fanny pack when he thinks nobody is looking.
During the course of the evening the group enjoys a Passover meal. The disciples were probably jockeying for position – trying to see who could get close to Jesus – you know how organizational politics tend to work. As Jesus ate He already knew that he was in the process of being betrayed by one of those in attendance. He also knew that one of his most enthusiastic disciples would completely deny any allegiance to Him in just a few hours.
Can you imagine the intensity of the emotions that someone in that position would feel? What kind of feelings would you have if you were at that dinner table knowing that one of your “friends” in attendance was going to sell you out to men that would torture and execute you in a gruesome way and another would wash his hands of even knowing you when the betrayal was in process? Could you remain calm and cordial? Would you be like Michael Corleone when he discovered that his brother Fredo had betrayed him in “The Godfather?” Would you be angry and confrontational? Would you lash out in an angry diatribe? I’m sure those are just a few of the things most of us would do.
If you knew that you had just a few hours left before you would be seized and executed what message would you want to impart to your followers and those who would watch the events unfold from afar? Would you want to give an impassioned keynote speech detailing your vision for the organization? Would you want to give them instructions on how to crush and dominate the competition? Would you want to expose the infidels and vindicate yourself? What would you want your final status update to the group to say?
Jesus lived up to His reputation for contrarian tactics. He once again made it clear that His ways are not our ways. Here’s how Scripture records what He did:
“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” – John 13: 1-5
Whoa! Ponder that for a moment! Here’s Jesus, God incarnate, guilty of absolutely nothing sitting amidst men that He knows will soon turn their backs and allow Him to go through the most inhumane suffering and instead of throwing thunder bolts or summoning a legion of angels to avenge Him (all within His power), He strips, wraps Himself in a towel and gets on His knees to scrub the stinky, dirty feet of His companions! For those of you who are familiar with Neuro Linguistic Programming, this may have been one of the first recorded examples of a pattern interrupt! In the modern field of NLP or Neuro Linguistic Programming, a pattern interrupt is used to disarm the audience’s normal or programmed responses and open their minds to considering a new idea.
Indeed the disciples were shocked when they saw what Jesus did. It completely went against the grain of their normal inclination. Fallen man’s prideful nature wants to be elevated, recognized and revered. Jesus, however, consistently taught that the road to accomplishment was paved with humility and service. After he had washed all of the disciple’s feet, Jesus looked at his followers who were now staring in bewilderment like deer caught in the headlights, and said:
“Do you know what I have done to you? You all Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13: 12-17 (NKJV)
That was the theme of Jesus’ final training session with the disciples. Instead of lecturing them or lording it over them as it was His perfect right to do, He got on His knees and served them in a most demeaning and lowly way. Who wants to wash dirty feet? I mean it wasn’t like the disciples had made appointments for pedicures at the going rate and were all eagerly waiting to pay and lay a 20% tip on Him. No, it was an act of selfless service and humility. It was a living demonstration of the idea that in order to be first you must be willing to be last.
Jesus frequently taught by example. Actions speak louder than words and religious rhetoric. He did, however, grace the group by giving them some further instruction. After Judas had left the supper and was on his way to commit his treachery, Jesus again addressed the disciples and said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13: 34-35 (NKJV)
More than 2 millenniums have passed and the lesson Jesus gave and lived has still not been effectively appropriated. The “church” or the group generically referred to as Christians is still making headlines for behavior that is contrary to the teaching of the Master they claim to follow. Many have even left the church in disgust after being hurt or abused.
All too often I hear those that are skeptics of Christianity exclaiming their astonishment at how self aggrandizing those claiming to be Christians often are. They see Christians as having a “holier than thou” attitude and elevating themselves egotistically above those who do not agree with them. The situation is both paradoxical and tragic. The skeptics don’t have the opportunity to see what the disciples saw – they only see what the group calling themselves “Christians” are doing. They could, of course, turn to the Scriptures and see what Jesus actually taught but many are so turned off by the behavior they see that they never open the Book that holds God’s true and accurate and inspired teaching. Actions of hypocrisy often eclipse the life giving Word of truth.
If you are a believer please meditate on that message that Jesus left the disciples with. His commandment to us is to show love for one another. That’s how the world will know we are His and that is what will attract them to us and more importantly to Him. It isn’t our works or the list of good deeds that we are so ready to boast about. It isn’t our attendance at church or membership in religious groups. The badge of love is the trademark that identifies the true Christian. It isn’t the love of hormonal arousal or mushy emotion; it’s the love that shows long suffering, forgiveness, meekness, service and ultimately a willingness to lay our lives down for others. If we don’t have that love we are effectively nothing in God’s kingdom other than noise (1 Cor. 13:1).
For those that may be opponents of Christianity or skeptics who have been influenced by what they observe in today’s “church,” I invite you to take your eyes off of us for a minute. A lot of us in “the church” are still trying to get our act together and conform it to His act. Instead of looking at us I invite you to spend a few hours searching the Bible to find out what God said and what Jesus taught and did. You might even close the door and ask God to explain it to you as you read. He’s been known to do that and He might even send the Holy Spirit to give you ongoing support. Don’t be afraid to ask God directly. He’s busy but He’s great at multi tasking and He has all the time in the world – and then some.