Leading a Rebellion: The Servant Leader
Rebel: Anyone who goes against authority, control, or tradition.
The Story So Far: Jesus and His disciples were in the upper room for the Passover Meal, which was a huge Jewish ceremony done each year commemorating the Jewish miraculous exodus from Egypt. They had just settled in around the table for the meal, but something that should have been done was glaringly overlooked. We’ll get to that in a minute, though.
Secondly, this was the Passover Meal, but we as Christians also know it as something else. What do we refer to it as? The Last Supper. What does Jesus know at this point that the rest of the disciples don’t know yet? Jesus knew that he would be dead within 24 hours.
What would you do if you knew you were going to be dead in 24 hours? What would you not do if you knew you were going to be dead in 24 hours? Everything that you do and everything that you don’t do takes on extreme importance. You spend time doing the things you want to do, with people you want to spend time with, because time becomes extremely precious. It’s the one commodity that can’t be traded.
So here we have Jesus, who knew, even though His disciples didn’t, that He would be dead within 24 hours. How did He spend His time? What did He do?
Scripture: John 13:1-15 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 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, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 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.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but is completely clean. And you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
The Rebellion: In 1st century Israel, what was the number one mode of transportation? Birkenstocks. They walked everywhere they went. And it was a dirty, dusty walk. And because people in 1st century Israel had fashion sense they refused to wear socks with their sandals so their feet got dirty. If they just took a shower, got dressed and realized they needed to borrow a cup of sugar, and walked next door, their feet would get dirty and would need to be washed again. Did their whole bodies get dirty again? No, just their feet.
So it was customary, because it was such a necessity to have your feet washed anytime you came inside from the outside. And because it was such a dirty job, nobody ever really wanted to do it, so it became customary to have a servant do it. Or if there was no servant available, it fell to the person who had the lowest standing within the group to wash everyone else’s feet. I have no idea how that was decided back then other than by age. Today if there are three people in a car and you’re sitting in the back seat…Guess what? You’re not the coolest person in the car. You would be the foot washer.
Unfortunately, the disciples had some issues with humility. In Mark 9, Jesus had just performed some miracles, and had been transfigured on the mount with Moses and Elijah and the disciples were still arguing amongst themselves who was the greatest.Mark 9:33-37 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Back at the Last Supper: You can imagine the scene. They walked into the Upper Room after traveling through the dirt streets, they came inside but there was no servant to wash their feet and they for sure were not going to humble themselves and take on the lowly role of foot washing. Did it need to get done? Yes. Was it getting done? No. Everyone just kind of sat around the table waiting for someone else to do it.
How many of you have ever eaten over the sink because there were either no clean dishes, or you were too lazy to get a dish out? How many of you have ever crammed another piece of garbage in the trash can hoping someone else would take the trash out? Ever see a mess on the floor, maybe a pet mess, and pretend not to see it? Ever leave a tiny bit of milk in the carton for someone else to finish off?
Everybody in the room was waiting on someone else to wash their stinking feet. I imagine them saying things like, “Boy Bart, my dogs are barking and could sure used to be washed.” “I know what you mean, Pete. I don’t think I stepped in that dog poop, but the way my feet are smelling, I may have some residual stink on there. Someone should wash them before someone gets sick.” But nobody moved. Until Jesus stood up, grabbed a basin, a pitcher of water and tied a towel around His waist and changed the standards of leadership forever.
Is there any doubt that Jesus was the greatest person in the room that night? Then why did He humble Himself all the way down to the lowest form of humility by taking on the role of a servant? Remember what we said before about what Jesus knew and what the disciples knew. What you would do and what you wouldn’t do within the last 24 hours of your life. Everything He did during His last hours takes on the utmost importance because He chose to do that over doing something else. He chose to teach something over teaching something else. He chose to spend time with certain people over spending time with others. What He did, taught, and who He spent time with during His last days shows us what He thought was most important. He decided to spend His last day with His disciples. He chose to teach on the servant mindset that they must have going forward. He chose to talk about the promise of the future. And He chose to humble Himself to the role of a servant.
Some people like to be leaders and be in charge of stuff because they like telling people what to do, and having people kissing their rear ends. If Jesus is your example of leadership, which He should be because He was the greatest leader of all time, then you should serve the people you are leading. Is Pastor Brian a servant leader? Is there any job or task at Ferris Hill that he is “too good” to do? The world says, “I want to lead so I can be served.” Jesus said, “If you are going to lead, then you are going to have to serve.”
Washing feet is not the only time Jesus demonstrated being a servant leader. His entire life was built around serving other people. Next week will be our last week in the Leading a Rebellion series. We will look at the greatest act of service and rebellion ever. In the song “Misconceptions” on Lecrae’s Church Clothes album Braille has a line that I really like: “The life and crucifixion, of Christ is a beautiful depiction, of service and submission, within a leadership position.” He was humble and He served. He is our example of leadership.