“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31, King James Version

Christ the Servant: The Upper Room

We are now one day into what Christians refer to as “Holy Week.” It begins with Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem; crowds gathering and laying palm branches and clothing down as Jesus rode into the city on a donkey. I briefly covered this in my post The Triumphant Entry. In my mind when I think about that day, I envision children dancing in the streets as some of them get their first glimpse of their King coming into the city. I imagine women crying tears of joy as the Lamb of God humbly makes His way down the main street. Being someone who spent almost two decades in the military, I know the excitement and adrenaline that fills someone just prior to a military mission. I can feel the adrenaline rush that the men must have felt that day as they stood and watched the Lion of Judah get closer. Here comes the Messiah! Here comes the One who the prophets of old had told about! Here comes the Man who would lead a rebellion and overthrow the Roman government!

But what we know of Jesus by reading the Bible is the exact opposite of what was probably going through the minds of the Jewish citizens in Jerusalem that day. What we read in Isaiah 53 describes anyone but a military leader.

“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53:2-3, English Standard Version 2016 (ESV)

We don’t read this passage and envision a king parading into the city. What we do see is a suffering-Servant. And that is what I want to focus on in this post.

Servant-type leadership isn’t exactly a popular thing in 2022. We live in a culture and society that endorses anything but. Sure, it’s great to think of a leader as servant. Think of the recent military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On one side, you have Russian President Vladimir Putin; seen as a brutish man and authoritarian leader. On the other side you have Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been applauded for his leadership, humility, and sacrifice. The world has embraced him, although I am doubtful the majority of world leaders would act the same way if in Zelenskyy’s position. Servant-type leadership is seen today as dated. Selfishness, every man (or woman) for themselves, self-promotion, self-glorification, and pompousness are not only condoned, but promoted.

I don’t think the world would really know what to do if Jesus was physically walking the earth today. I don’t think even most Christians would know quite how to handle Him. We aren’t used to seeing anyone quite like Him. Well, the world in His time here on earth didn’t quite know what to do with Him either. Jesus didn’t come to dominate. He didn’t come to overthrow the Roman government. He came to serve, and by serving, He proved Himself to be a leader. He provided countless examples of self-sacrifice and servanthood throughout his few years of earthly ministry, and those examples are just a select few that we have access to through His Word. Take the following for example.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

John 13:3-5, ESV

Having spent a considerable amount of time in Iraq and the Middle East during my years in the military, I know what it’s like at the end of a long hot day. Temperatures of one hundred and thirty degrees, wind blowing, and sweating. The day ends with scrubbing the sand that has been embedded into your skin. Somehow the sand even finds its way into skin that has been covered. I can easily recall many days of returning to my tent after a fourteen-hour shift and using dozens of baby wipes to scrub the sand from my face and neck. It’s miserable! Now imagine over two thousand years ago. Jesus and His disciples wore robes and sandals. The attire hasn’t changed much since then for people in that region. After walking all day in sandals, their feet were undoubtedly pretty gnarly by the end of the day. For this reason, washing the feet was pretty common in regions where people wore sandals. Foot-washing was a sign of hospitality and was normally performed by the lowest member of the household, or a slave/servant if the family was able to afford one.

So, wait a minute. If we see the week starting with Jesus entering Jerusalem; people rejoicing and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD, even the King of Israel!”, why is this so-called King now washing feet? Not exactly what one who expect to see from a king! As I wrote earlier, the world today would have a very difficult time in accepting Jesus if He was physically present with us today. His actions in John 13:3-5 go against everything we would call “normal.” But it didn’t seem “normal” for His disciples either. Take a look at what was said when Jesus got around to washing Peter’s feet.

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’

John 13:6-9, ESV

You have to love Peter. This is the same Peter who tells Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah; that it’s good for him to be there and asks if Jesus wants Peter to set up a tent for them (Mark 9:5). It’s the same Peter who tells Jesus that he is ready to go with Him both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). This same Peter who vehemently says he would go to prison and to death with Christ, will later deny Jesus three times. But that’s another post. Peter loves to talk. Even when he doesn’t really have anything intelligent to say, he is one of those types that feels the need to break the awkward silence with something to say. Just like we read in John 13:6-9, Peter had to be the disciple to say something. Every other disciple there that evening was letting Jesus do His thing. They may not have understood it completely, or perhaps they didn’t even agree with Jesus washing their feet, but who were they to argue? It was Jesus! But then you have Peter. I wonder what the other disciples were thinking as this dialogue between Peter and Jesus was taking place. You also have to really admire the patience of Jesus when responding to good old impulsive Peter. There’s a reason all of this is taking place.

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, 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 also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, ‘a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.’”

John 13:14-16, ESV

We wrap up this story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, as well as this post for today, by taking a look at what it all means. Or at least what it means to me. From Isaiah 53 (hundreds of years before Jesus was born), to following Jesus in the beginning of His earthly ministry (and we get just a small glimpse of it as it is recorded in Scripture), we see a Man who didn’t stand up and demand attention. We see a Man who wept at the death of His friend Lazarus, despite knowing that he was about to walk out of the grave. We see a Savior that wasn’t afraid to show He was vulnerable, real, and authentic. We see a Man who didn’t demand the finest seats when He showed up for dinner. He sat with the lowest of people. Despite being the Son of God, I can’t recall a single verse in Scripture that talks about Jesus eating. Rather, I can give numerous examples of Him serving others. We don’t see a Man who healed others, restored sight to the blind, caused the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk, and then stood up and demanded that He be given the glory and honor for what He just did. No, we see many times that Jesus had to withdraw Himself to a secluded place because of the crowds. We see a Healer tell those healed to go and give God the glory for being made whole. We don’t see a King sending His disciples forward into Jerusalem days before His arrival, so that they can let everyone know He is coming. We don’t see Jesus telling His disciples to make sure there’s a huge celebration. No, all He wants is a place to observe the Passover with His twelve disciples: not in public and not loud and boisterous. Just a quiet room where He can enjoy some of His final moments with those who have followed Him from the beginning. A room where He can observe the Passover meal, tell them about what is coming in the next few days, and observe the first communion. Just a simple room where He can get down on His knees after a long day of walking…and wash their feet.

That is a servant.

That is Jesus.

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