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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Not Like That

Luke 22:24-34, John 13:1-30

Lesson audio

It should be noted that there is some question of the order of events given in this section. I have used one particular author’s opinion (Robinson), but alternate chronologies are certainly reasonable.

Jealousy

Luk 22:24-30 NIV Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. (25) Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. (26) But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (27) For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (28) You are those who have stood by me in my trials. (29) And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, (30) so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The World’s Way

Recently an Orange County businessman donated thirty million dollars to Cal State Fullerton for a new building for its business school. The building was then named after him, along with a campus street renamed for him. As far as I know, the extent of the return he received from this donation was entirely intangible – and by this act he is known as a benefactor of the school. Apparently, it’s an expensive hobby; I doubt I shall take it up any time soon.

But it’s not just businessmen who want to be known as benefactors. The greatest desire seems to come from politicians – perhaps because they don’t have to use their own money. Throughout history those in authority have cherished the reputation of being a public benefactor. It’s easy to see why in a democracy; politicians want to be reelected, and this certainly helps. But even in the days of autocracy the king wanted to be known as a benefactor – it helps prevent revolutions, rebellions and rivals. In either case the society soon descends into bread and circuses – or welfare and television, as may be. Being a benefactor is often expensive; appearing to be one is cheaper. In this age when manipulation replaces truth this leads to bread, circuses and tyranny.

Organizational inversion

Consider for a moment the nature of worldly organizations. Those whose object is profit or power tend to be top-down – defined as authority at the top and responsibility at the bottom. Those who object is service (like the church) tend to be bottom up – if you’ll assume the responsibility, you soon get the real authority. Think not? Volunteer to be a little league coach.

If you do, you’ll find that the top down approach doesn’t work. The players on the field – in theory the “bottom of the food chain” – are in fact at the top, for they are the ones who win or lose. They won’t listen to one who claims authority, but they will to one who has the responsibility of coaching. How do they know a real coach from someone who wants to run things? By his service.

Sometimes it appears to Christians that God is blind to service. We see the highly visible servants, but once in a while we notice one who has labored in obscurity for years. We wonder; why doesn’t God reward this person?

Perhaps our problem is not that God cannot see the person, but that we cannot see the reward. Ask yourself: what do you consider really rewarding? How do you get it?

Suffer, then reign

Most of us take pleasure – are rewarded – in team victory. The question, then, is – are you on the team? If you are, you are rewarded in the context of the team. Most athletes resent the “hot dog” – the athlete who cares nothing about the team winning, only his own personal accomplishments. There’s a truth in this. For the Christian, it is Christ and the church who are the winners – noting well that many individual Christians will suffer for that triumph, as Christ suffered. Ultimately, God will reward his teammates beyond our expectations. In the meanwhile, there is suffering.

But isn’t that typical of service organizations? Baseball games are decided on the field, but won or lost in practice. (How often did I repeat,
“Play like you practice, practice like you play.”) Hard work – suffering, if you will – means victory. For the church as well this is true. Victory starts with the live of devotion, and that is a life of self-sacrifice.

Christ next gives his disciples a supreme, simple example of this.

Washing the Disciples’ feet

Joh 13:1-20 NIV

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.[1] (2) The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. (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; (4) so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (5) 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. (6) He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" (7) Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." (8) "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." (9) "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" (10) Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." (11) For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (12) When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. (13) "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. (14) Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. (15) I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (16) I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. (17) Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

(18) "I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'[2] (19) "I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. (20) I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."

A little background: in this time personal hygiene was a bit different. One went to a bath; then walked home. In the process the feet would become dirty – and needed to be washed again.

Leadership by example

Permit me a war story, please; it is especially cherished.

Rich was, to put it simply, arrogant. A manager who did all the thinking personally, as he personally had all the brains, he was difficult to work with – and for. One day he went into the executive coffee room and took the last cup from the pot. A secretary admonished him; the rules were that whoever took the last cup, made the next pot.

Rich turned on her and let her know, in loud language, that he was much too important to be making coffee – that’s what we had secretaries for. As he was explaining just how grateful she should be for the chance to make coffee for people at such a high level, Rich’s boss walked in. JJ paused for a moment, understood what was going on – and silently proceeded to make the next pot of coffee. Lessons by example tend to be memorable ones, don’t they?

Christ sets just such and example here:

·         Washing the feet was not just a servant’s job – it was the job of the lowest ranking servant in the place.

·         It’s back bending work – especially if you have more than one person’s feet to care for. You either kneel in front of the person – or bend over like a pretzel. Neither position can be called dignified.

·         One other example: he washed the feet of all twelve – including Judas. He knew what Judas was going to do – and served him anyway.

Symbolism

The early Christian writers saw this incident in symbolic or metaphoric ways:

·         The starting point was that bath which cleaned the whole body. That, of course, symbolized baptism.

·         Washing the feet symbolized repentance after baptism – for example, when we examine ourselves at the Lord’s Supper.

The point then becomes clear: repentance is effective only when our Lord does the cleansing. By his stripes we are healed.

Lordship

We call Jesus Lord, for such he is. But do you not see that even lordship is not incompatible with service? Indeed, we are taught just the opposite: it is precisely because of the service and sacrifice of Christ that he has been made Lord of all.

See, too, the humility of Christ. The King of Kings understands that true lordship is expressed in service and sacrifice. So his humility in doing this tells us that no task is too low for the leader – for the leader is to be the servant of all.

The great principle of Christian living is the Imitation of Christ. He has set you the example; will you follow it?

Judas and Peter

Joh 13:21-30 NIV After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." (22) His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. (23) One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. (24) Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." (25) Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" (26) Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. (27) As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, (28) but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. (29) Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. (30) As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Teamwork is not without its problems. It is important to distinguish the types of problems one may have, for the response to each is quite different:

·         Innocent problems – most commonly, failures to communicate clearly. We didn’t want to foul things up, we just didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. Solution: communicate a little better. Example: did the disciples really know what was going to happen in the next few days?

·         Leadership – often enough, somebody thinks he has a better idea. Perhaps he does. The issue should be confronted, worked out – and the team should proceed with the chosen solution. Example: Peter – who knows how Christ should handle things.

·         Rebellion – the rejection of the team’s leader. In the church, it is the prideful desire to “be like God.” It is Satan’s own sin.

So how, then, did Jesus handle this rebellion?

·         As we pointed out earlier, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. He reassured him that, despite what he had done (and was planning to do) Jesus still wanted him amongst the disciples.

·         Dipping the bread and handing it to Judas was an act of hospitality – one which would be interpreted as showing Jesus’ desire for Judas’ friendship.

·         Finally, when it is clear that Judas is going to betray him, Jesus tells Judas to do it quickly. He removes the rot from amongst the disciples; the leader is always concerned for the well being of the team. Our Lord is always concerned with the well being of the church.

(The following questions really don’t fit in the flow, but I thought it wise to put them here as the questions, and their answers, are important for a Christian’s general understanding).

It may be asked: Did Judas really have a choice? After all, it was prophesied; Christ clearly knew he was going to do it. The answer, I think, is this: yes, he did. God saw him do it from the perspective of the eternal; to see someone do something is not to make them do it.

But if God saw it beforehand (if we can apply that to the eternal, timeless God) does that not mean that God in some sense authored this evil? After all, there was no necessity that Judas be even born – and Christ tells us it would have been better for Judas if he hadn’t. I answer that God did not author this, but allowed it. He allows no evil out of which he cannot make a greater good.

Peter

Luk 22:31-34 NIV "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you[1] as wheat. (32) But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (33) But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (34) Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."

It is not a comparison made very often, but Jesus had a rebellion problem (Judas) and a leadership problem (Peter). Judas will sell Jesus out; but Peter will deny he even knows the man, after three years of discipleship. On the face, they are similar sins. Why, then, are the two treated so differently? Denial is, after all, a form of betrayal.

Consider this: both of these men, when confronted with their sin, showed remorse. Judas flings back the money; Peter weeps. Both knew their guilt and were sorry for it. But of the two only Peter takes the next step: to let remorse be godly sorrow and thus lead to repentance. Judas is remorseful, but no more. He tries to make atonement for himself; Peter seeks forgiveness from Jesus.

That action, or lack of it, determines the response of God: for Peter there is restoration; for Judas, replacement. Perhaps Judas thought himself indispensable, who knows?

We sometimes are quick to judge our leaders. It is worthwhile, then, to see what the leader of the disciples did. Not all saints are made of plaster:

·         Sometimes Peter says what he thinks is appropriate, rather than what he knows is right. Social pressure led to his denial.

·         He’s been known to try to talk himself into doing the right thing. If you brag enough about your courage, perhaps it will show up at the right time.

·         It can even be said that Peter just doesn’t really know who he is – until Jesus points it out to him (see the last chapter of John – and the various words used for “love”.)

Judas failed; Peter failed. Peter thought himself capable of success in himself; perhaps Judas did too. Peter alone turned back. Christ is never a failure, even though we are.

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