by Earl D. Radmacher
In John 13:1-11, there appears a vivid example of the way Jesus demonstrated the truth of the Word by modeling it for His disciples.
Notice His mindset in verse three: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God…”
Jesus Had a Servant’s Mindset
John tells us the source of Jesus’ actions. His actions grew out of the truth He knew. He could do what He did because He knew what He knew. He knew where He came from; He knew where He was going; He knew what His mission was. He knew all these truths on the basis of the authoritative Word of God, and that knowledge set Him free to do what He did in taking the role of a servant.
This is precisely the pattern Jesus gave to those who would desire to be His disciples: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31b-32).
Before John records the action of Christ, he therefore gives us the source of the action. This is an inexorable principle of living throughout God’s Word. What I know determines how I think. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he,” said the wise King Solomon. Indeed, our actions are simply the blossom of our deepest thoughts.
With this clue as to why Jesus was able to do what He did, John goes on to recount Christ’s demonstration of servant-leadership as He washes the disciples’ feet (John 13:4-11).
Jesus Demonstrated a Servant’s Mindset
Jesus, knowing what He knew (13:1-5), “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.”
Here was a need that all of the disciples were aware of and any of them could have met, but none did. If this had been Jesus’ own home, a servant boy likely would have done this very ordinary duty of washing the guests’ feet. The disciples obviously were not up to doing such a menial endeavor, or else they would have done it before their teacher did. But why were they intimidated by such a task? Why so restrained and insecure?
They really didn’t know who they were. And they didn’t know who they were because they really didn’t know who Christ was, as was revealed later in Matt 26:51-53 and John 14:9. And they didn’t know who He was because they really didn’t know who God was. They measured themselves by each other. A. W. Tozer has well stated that every sin we ever commit is because of wrong or inadequate thinking about God.
This group had all the seeds of dissension. It was a good cross-section of humanity, typical of any group of immature believers. Evidence of this is seen in Luke’s account of the dispute among them (Luke 22:24-30). None was ready to be a servant.
But Jesus was—for He knew who He was. He knew where He came from. He knew where He was going. And knowing all of that, He took off His outer garment, stripped down to the garb of a servant, and began to wash their feet. Knowing what He knew, He was secure. Taking the role of a servant did not intimidate Him.
If the disciples had problems before, they had greater problems now. Though they weren’t about to wash each other’s feet, they had enough sense to understand that it certainly wasn’t Jesus’ role to do it. Astonished, Peter says, “Lord, are you washing my feet?… You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answers, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Confused, Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” In other words, “Lord, give me a bath!” Jesus explains, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.”
Jesus Calls Us to Have a Servant’s Mindset
What a dear, confused disciple! Peter was so full of himself that he couldn’t see the simplest needs clearly. “I have given you an example,” Jesus says, “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, happy are you if you do them.”
Do you want to be happy? Jesus tells us how: Take the role of a servant. He is not saying specifically that we therefore need to have foot-washing services. We likely do not have the same needs in our gatherings that they had in that upper room. Our ways are different. But just as they had a need, so people around us have needs that we are able to meet. The question is: Will we use the resources we have to meet what needs we can, and thereby know real happiness?
Listen to Paul, who captured the issue beautifully: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”(Phil 2:3-5).
Dr. Earl Radmacher is President Emeritus of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary. This article was adapted from Celebrating the Word, Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1987, pp.11-14.