Know who you are : pt 2
Identity pt 2 - Wake up and smell the feet
Posted by Chris Scott (Senior Leader Bridge Church)
In part 1 we looked at the account of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet in John 13. It is a powerful demonstration of a man totally at peace with his own identity and purpose in life. A man who didn’t need to brag about his position or his title in order to gain the attention and the acclamation of the people around him.
Despite the fact he was Almighty God and that he alone had the power to demonstrate just how divine he was, he chose not to do so. This was in total contrast to all those rulers around him, both those before him and after him.
It was very common for kings and rulers in ancient days to claim, or to be given, god-like status. Most of those kings and rulers who claimed divinity did so out of a paranoid obsession to be idolised and worshipped by the people they ruled. They were mostly unbalanced and insecure individuals with a grossly over-exaggerated sense of self-importance. I mean, can you imagine Pharoah or Caesar stooping to clean the feet of one of his subjects? It would just never happen. Their authority and influence came only as a result of their position, status or heritage. To protect their privilege, they ruled through fear and subjugation.
But Jesus was different. Very different.
In fact, he was the polar-opposite. Unlike those who were using their position for personal gain, Jesus, the true God humbled himself, laid aside his majesty, and came in the form of a servant.
His influence and authority came through his authenticity, and he channelled it through a righteous character, perfect integrity, and a selfless love for the world. He was the epitome of servant leadership, only interested in the Fathers’ will being accomplished. His only concern was that the people who lived in darkness might see a great light. His sole mission was that the broken-hearted and oppressed would being healed, forgiven, and restored. He knew precisely what the divine plan had set out to achieve and understood that his only goal was to execute it to the fullest extent.
His only concern was that the people who lived in darkness might see a great light. His sole mission was that the broken-hearted and oppressed would being healed, forgiven, and restored.
He did not hanker after the false, shallow, or self-serving adoration of people. He did not come to build a personal empire, create sycophantic fan-base, or curry favour with the elites. His sole desire was for people to be restored to his Father, and for them worship him in spirit and truth.
Reading this passage again though we see another equally powerful aspect of this story. Think about the stress and anguish Jesus was under at that upper room supper. We know from v11 that Jesus already knew that Judas had betrayed him. He was fully aware that the wheels of his own death on the cross were very much in motion. This was now an irreversible journey. The die was cast. There could only now be one outcome.
How would you feel in that moment? Dread, anguish, fear? Maybe even anger or sense of injustice. We know that Jesus is, and always will be fully God, but in that moment he was also fully human. He was not immune to the horror that lay before him.
What’s more, only he knew this! The other disciples were blissfully unaware of how this dark night was about to unravel. They thought they were gathering for a party. They were still cloaked under the illusion that Jesus had come gloriously and victoriously to depose the Roman Empire and re-instate rulership of Israel to the Jews. They were maybe expecting a rousing Churchillian battle speech. They were certainly not feeling what Jesus was feeling in that moment. They were not aware of what the next few hours would hold. Jesus was in the midst of bustling and busy dinner party, yet he was totally alone.
Only Jesus knew this! The other disciples were blissfully unaware of how this dark night was about to unravel. They thought they were gathering for a party...... Jesus was in the midst of bustling and busy dinner party, yet he was totally alone.
I am sure we have all experienced something like this, to some degree or other. You know. those times when it feels like you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, in deep distress, and in great pain with something disastrous that is happening in your life. Yet no-one around you seems to be sharing your pain, or even aware of it. For them, life seems to be going on as normal, whilst your world is caving in around your ears. You just can’t get it off your mind no matter how hard you try. It’s like a constant dark cloud hanging over you. It dominates every waking thought, and every sleepless moment, and makes the world around you feel completely detached, unreal, and meaningless. Yet the person not 3ft from you on the train, is oblivious to your pain and no-one around you either knows, appreciates or even cares about what you’re going through.
I have come away from visiting a terminally ill friend in hospital, or from the funeral of a dearly loved friend who died suddenly, only to realise that the world around me is still going about their business without any comprehension of what I am experiencing in that moment.
Let me tell you that’s a very lonely place to be. You’re in a crowd but you are very much alone. This is just a fraction of what Jesus must have felt in that moment. For him, the next 24 hours would be the most horrendous ever endured by a human being, and yet in that party atmosphere, he was alone with his grief!
Given this, it would have been totally understandable for Jesus to be full of self-pity, or at the very least to be more concerned about his own predicament. I mean, knowing as he did, what was about to happen wouldn't any of us be consumed with our own needs first rather than other people's. He would be quite justified to express his deep disappointment with his so called ‘friends’ and condemn them for their lack of support and understanding. He had every right to give them a piece of his mind, and rebuke them for their lack of compassion towards him. Surely, they should be thinking about his needs at a time like this. The words ‘After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?’come to mind, right? I mean he was always there for them. Surely, they should be there for him for a change! Or is this just me?
What’s truly staggering here is that even at this time of great personal anguish he was still thinking of everyone else not himself! He saw what no-one else saw (or maybe he smelled it). Stinking feet everywhere! Why didn’t anyone else detect the aroma of camel poo in the room? Why? I’ll tell you why. Because just like I would have been, they were too focussed on their own enjoyment. They were too consumed with the party moment to notice the needs in the room, let alone Jesus’s.
Why didn’t anyone else detect the aroma of camel poo in the room? Why? I’ll tell you why. Because just like I would have been, they were too focussed on their own enjoyment. They were too consumed with the party moment to notice the needs in the room, let alone Jesus’s.
But then, Jesus does something even more astonishing. It’s one thing to notice the smell in the room, it’s quite another thing entirely to respond to it yourself, particularly when you’re supposed to be the guest of honour!! Jesus, rather than merely pointing out the problem to everyone else, asking a servant to deal with it, or blasting the host for his poor hospitality, he actually took responsibility for it himself. What's that all about? In just a few short hours he would be going to be unjustly convicted, beaten, and murdered. His friends were about to desert him and run away to save their hide. Yet he chose to spend his last night on Earth on his knees, scraping camel dung off his friend’s feet, including Judas!
It’s one thing to notice the smell in the room, it’s quite another thing entirely to respond to it yourself, particularly when you’re supposed to be the guest of honour!!
This was servanthood to the extreme!! This was radical love epitomised. This was the ultimate example of humility and sacrifice. This was Jesus, the human being, being true to his divine nature. This was a man not distracted by the trivial but focussed on the essential.
Interestingly, Jesus did eventually disclose the plan. He goes on later in the passage to explain what was going to take place, and that he was about to leave them. I am still not convinced his disciples fully got that message at that point. Peter certainly struggled with the idea of Jesus death. In fact, it provoked his famous show of bravado ‘I’ll lay my life down for you Jesus.’ A brag that was painfully exposed, and bitterly regretted a day later.
But this was an epic moment for Jesus and his disciples. With all the emotional tumult in that upper room, surely a few smelly feet could wait. Surely that wasn’t the most important issue right now.
Well, it was to Jesus!
Jesus went on to say in v34-35 ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
This was a spectacularly counter-intuitive thing, and perhaps the greatest lesson ever taught about the true nature of love, and what it is to live out the life of a disciple of Jesus. to do. He noticed their trivial need before his own critical need.
That’s divine. That’s Jesus’s way and it must become our way too!