A Servant of Servants
IN the upper chamber of a dwelling at
Jerusalem, Christ was sitting at table with His disciples. They had gathered to celebrate
the Passover. The Saviour desired to keep this feast alone with the twelve. He knew that
His hour was come; He Himself was the true paschal lamb, and on the day the Passover was
eaten He was to be sacrificed. He was about to drink the cup of wrath; He must soon
receive the final baptism of suffering. But a few quiet hours yet remained to Him, and
these were to be spent for the benefit of His beloved disciples.
The whole life of Christ had
been a life of unselfish service. "Not to be ministered unto, but to minister,"
(Matt. 20:28), had been the lesson of His every act. But not yet had the disciples learned
the lesson. At this last Passover supper, Jesus repeated His teaching by an illustration
that impressed it forever on their minds and hearts.
The interviews between Jesus
and His disciples were usually seasons of calm joy, highly prized by them all. The
Passover suppers had been scenes of special interest; but upon this occasion Jesus was
troubled. His heart was burdened, and a shadow rested upon His countenance.
As He met the
disciples in the upper chamber, they perceived that something weighed heavily upon His
mind, and although they knew not its cause, they sympathized with His grief.
As they were gathered about
the table, He said in tones of touching sadness, "With desire I have desired to eat
this Passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat
thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And He took the cup, and gave
thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I will
not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come."
Christ knew that the time had
come for Him to depart out of the world, and go to His Father. And having loved His own
that were in the world, He loved them unto the end. He was now in the shadow of the cross,
and the pain was torturing His heart. He knew that He would be deserted in the hour of His
betrayal. He knew that by the most humiliating process to which criminals were subjected
He would be put to death. He knew the ingratitude and cruelty of those He had come to
save. He knew how great the sacrifice that He must make, and for how many it would be in
vain. Knowing all that was before Him, He might naturally have been overwhelmed with the
thought of His own humiliation and suffering. But He looked upon the twelve, who had been
with Him as His own, and who, after His shame and sorrow and painful usage were over,
would be left to struggle in the world. His thoughts of what He Himself must suffer were
ever connected with His disciples. He did not think of Himself. His care for them was
uppermost in His mind.
On this last evening with His
disciples, Jesus had much to tell them. If they had been prepared to receive what He
longed to impart, they would have been saved from heartbreaking anguish, from
disappointment and unbelief. But Jesus saw that they could not bear what He had to say. As
He looked into their faces, the words of warning and comfort were stayed upon His lips.
Moments passed in silence. Jesus appeared to be waiting. The disciples were ill at ease.
The sympathy and tenderness awakened by Christ's grief seemed to have passed away. His
sorrowful words, pointing to His own suffering, had made little impression. The glances
they cast upon each other told of jealousy and contention.
There was "a strife
among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest." This contention, carried
on in the presence of Christ, grieved and wounded Him. The disciples clung to their
favorite idea that Christ would assert His power, and take His position on the throne of
David. And in heart each still longed for the highest place in the
kingdom. They had
placed their own estimate upon themselves and upon one another, and, instead of regarding
their brethren as more worthy, they had placed themselves first. The request of James and
John to sit on the right and left of Christ's throne had excited the indignation of the
others. That the two brothers should presume to ask for the highest position so stirred
the ten that alienation threatened. They felt that they were misjudged, that their
fidelity and talents were not appreciated. Judas was the most severe upon James and John.
When the disciples entered
the supper room, their hearts were full of resentful feelings. Judas pressed next to
Christ on the left side; John was on the right. If there was a highest place, Judas was
determined to have it, and that place was thought to be next to Christ. And Judas was a
Another cause of dissension
had arisen. At a feast it was customary for a servant to wash the feet of the guests, and
on this occasion preparation had been made for the service. The pitcher, the basin, and
the towel were there, in readiness for the feet washing; but no servant was present, and
it was the disciples' part to perform it. But each of the disciples, yielding to wounded
pride, determined not to act the part of a servant. All manifested a stoical unconcern,
seeming unconscious that there was anything for them to do. By their silence they refused
to humble themselves.
How was Christ to bring these
poor souls where Satan would not gain over them a decided victory? How could He show that
a mere profession of discipleship did not make them disciples, or insure them a place in
His kingdom? How could He show that it is loving service, true humility, which constitutes
real greatness? How was He to kindle love in their hearts, and enable them to comprehend
what He longed to tell them?
The disciples made no move
toward serving one another. Jesus waited for a time to see what they would do. Then He,
the divine Teacher, rose from the table. Laying aside the outer garment that would have
impeded His movements, He took a towel, and girded Himself. With surprised interest the
disciples looked on, and in silence waited to see what was to follow. "After that He
poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with
the towel wherewith He was girded." This action opened the eyes of the disciples.
Bitter shame and humiliation filled their hearts. They understood the unspoken rebuke, and
saw themselves in altogether a new light.
So Christ expressed His love
for His disciples. Their selfish spirit filled Him with sorrow, but He entered into no
controversy with them
regarding their difficulty. Instead He gave them an example they
would never forget. His love for them was not easily disturbed or quenched. He knew that
the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came from God, and went to
God. He had a full consciousness of His divinity; but He had laid aside His royal crown
and kingly robes, and had taken the form of a servant. One of the last acts of His life on
earth was to gird Himself as a servant, and perform a servant's part.
Before the Passover Judas had
met a second time with the priests and scribes, and had closed the contract to deliver
Jesus into their hands. Yet he afterward mingled with the disciples as though innocent of
any wrong, and interested in the work of preparing for the feast. The disciples knew
nothing of the purpose of Judas. Jesus alone could read his secret. Yet He did not expose
him. Jesus hungered for his soul. He felt for him such a burden as for Jerusalem when He
wept over the doomed city. His heart was crying, How can I give thee up? The constraining
power of that love was felt by Judas. When the Saviour's hands were bathing those soiled
feet, and wiping them with the towel, the heart of Judas thrilled through and through with
the impulse then and there to confess his sin. But he would not humble himself. He
hardened his heart against repentance; and the old impulses, for the moment put aside,
again controlled him. Judas was now offended at Christ's act in washing the feet of His
disciples. If Jesus could so humble Himself, he thought, He could not be Israel's king.
All hope of worldly honor in a temporal kingdom was destroyed. Judas was satisfied that
there was nothing to be gained by following Christ. After seeing Him degrade Himself, as
he thought, he was confirmed in his purpose to disown Him, and confess himself deceived.
He was possessed by a demon, and he resolved to complete the work he had agreed to do in
betraying his Lord.
Judas, in choosing his
position at table, had tried to place himself first, and Christ as a servant served him
first. John, toward whom Judas had felt so much bitterness, was left till the last. But
John did not take this as a rebuke or slight. As the disciples watched Christ's action,
they were greatly moved. When Peter's turn came, he exclaimed with astonishment,
"Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?" Christ's condescension broke his heart. He was
filled with shame to think that one of the disciples was not performing this service.
"What I do," Christ said, "thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know
hereafter." Peter could not bear to see his Lord, whom he believed to be the Son of
God, acting the part of a servant. His whole soul rose up against this humiliation.
did not realize that for this Christ came into the world. With great emphasis he
exclaimed, "Thou shalt never wash my feet."
Solemnly Christ said to
Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." The service which Peter
refused was the type of a higher cleansing. Christ had come to wash the heart from the
stain of sin. In refusing to allow Christ to wash his feet, Peter was refusing the higher
cleansing included in the lower. He was really rejecting his Lord. It is not humiliating
to the Master to allow Him to work for our purification. The truest humility is to receive
with thankful heart any provision made in our behalf, and with earnestness do service for
At the words, "If I wash
thee not, thou hast no part with Me," Peter surrendered his pride and self-will. He
could not endure the thought of separation from Christ; that would have been death to him.
"Not my feet only," he said, "but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to
him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit."
These words mean more than
bodily cleanliness. Christ is still speaking of the higher cleansing as illustrated by the
lower. He who came from the bath was clean, but the sandaled feet soon became dusty, and
again needed to be washed. So Peter and his brethren had been washed in the great fountain
opened for sin and uncleanness. Christ acknowledged them as His. But temptation had led
them into evil, and they still needed His cleansing grace. When Jesus girded Himself with
a towel to wash the dust from their feet, He desired by that very act to wash the
alienation, jealousy, and pride from their hearts. This was of far more consequence than
the washing of their dusty feet. With the spirit they then had, not one of them was
prepared for communion with Christ. Until brought into a state of humility and love, they
were not prepared to partake of the paschal supper, or to share in the memorial service
which Christ was about to institute. Their hearts must be cleansed. Pride and self-seeking
create dissension and hatred, but all this Jesus washed away in washing their feet. A
change of feeling was brought about. Looking upon them, Jesus could say, "Ye are
clean." Now there was union of heart, love for one another. They had become humble
and teachable. Except Judas, each was ready to concede to another the highest place. Now
with subdued and grateful hearts hey could receive Christ's words.
Like Peter and his brethren,
we too have been washed in the blood of Christ, yet often through contact with evil the
heart's purity is soiled. We must come to Christ for His cleansing grace. Peter shrank
from bringing his soiled feet in contact with the hands of his Lord and Master;
often we bring our sinful, polluted hearts in contact with the heart of Christ! How
grievous to Him is our evil temper, our vanity and pride! Yet all our infirmity and
defilement we must bring to Him. He alone can wash us clean. We are not prepared for
communion with Him unless cleansed by His efficacy.
Jesus said to the disciples,
"Ye are clean, but not all." He had washed the feet of Judas, but the heart had
not been yielded to Him. It was not purified. Judas had not submitted himself to Christ.
After Christ had washed the
disciples' feet, and had taken His garments and sat down again, He said to them,
"Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so
I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one
another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that
is sent greater than he that sent him."
Christ would have His
disciples understand that although He had washed their feet, this did not in the least
detract from His dignity. "Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I
am." And being so infinitely superior, He imparted grace and significance to the
service. No one was so exalted as Christ, and yet He stooped to the humblest duty. That
His people might not be misled by the selfishness which dwells in the natural heart, and
which strengthens by self-serving, Christ Himself set the example of humility. He would
not leave this great subject in man's charge. Of so much consequence did He regard it,
that He Himself, One equal with God, acted as servant to His disciples. While they were
contending for the highest place, He to whom every knee shall bow, He whom the angels of
glory count it honor to serve, bowed down to wash the feet of those who called Him Lord.
He washed the feet of His betrayer.
In His life and lessons,
Christ has given a perfect exemplification of the unselfish ministry which has its origin
in God. God does not live for Himself. By creating the world, and by upholding all things,
He is constantly ministering for others. "He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and
on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Matt. 5:45. This ideal
of ministry God has committed to His Son. Jesus was given to stand at the head of
humanity, that by His example He might teach what it means to minister. His whole life was
under a law of service. He served all, ministered to all. Thus He lived the law of God,
and by His example showed how we are to obey it.
Again and again Jesus had
tried to establish this principle among His disciples. When James and John made their
request for pre-eminence, He had said, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be
your minister." Matt. 20:26. In My kingdom the principle of preference and supremacy
has no place. The only greatness is the greatness of humility. The only distinction is
found in devotion to the service of others.
Now, having washed the
disciples' feet, He said, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have
done to you." In these words Christ was not merely enjoining the practice of
hospitality. More was meant than the washing of the feet of guests to remove the dust of
travel. Christ was here instituting a religious service. By the act of our Lord this
humiliating ceremony was made a consecrated ordinance. It was to be observed by the
disciples, that they might ever keep in mind His lessons of humility and service.
This ordinance is Christ's
appointed preparation for the sacramental service. While pride, variance, and strife for
supremacy are cherished, the heart cannot enter into fellowship with Christ. We are not
prepared to receive the communion of His body and His blood. Therefore it was that Jesus
appointed the memorial of His humiliation to be first observed.
As they come to this
ordinance, the children of God should bring to remembrance the words of the Lord of life
and glory: "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say
well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought
to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have
done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord;
neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are
ye if ye do them." There is in man a disposition to esteem himself more highly than
his brother, to work for self, to seek the highest place; and often this results in evil
surmisings and bitterness of spirit. The ordinance preceding the Lord's Supper is to clear
away these misunderstandings, to bring man out of his selfishness, down from his stilts of
self-exaltation, to the humility of heart that will lead him to serve his brother.
The holy Watcher from heaven
is present at this season to make it one of soul searching, of conviction of sin, and of
the blessed assurance of sins forgiven. Christ in the fullness of His grace is there to
change the current of the thoughts that have been running in selfish channels. The Holy
Spirit quickens the sensibilities of those who follow the example of their Lord. As the
Saviour's humiliation for us is remembered, thought
links with thought; a chain of
memories is called up, memories of God's great goodness and of the favor and tenderness of
earthly friends. Blessings forgotten, mercies abused, kindnesses slighted, are called to
mind. Roots of bitterness that have crowded out the precious plant of love are made
manifest. Defects of character, neglect of duties, ingratitude to God, coldness toward our
brethren, are called to remembrance. Sin is seen in the light in which God views it. Our
thoughts are not thoughts of self-complacency, but of severe self-censure and humiliation.
The mind is energized to break down every barrier that has caused alienation. Evil
thinking and evilspeaking are put away. Sins are confessed, they are forgiven. The
subduing grace of Christ comes into the soul, and the love of Christ draws hearts together
in a blessed unity.
As the lesson of the
preparatory service is thus learned, the desire is kindled for a higher spiritual life. To
this desire the divine Witness will respond. The soul will be uplifted. We can partake of
the Communion with a consciousness of sins forgiven. The sunshine of Christ's
righteousness will fill the chambers of the mind and the soul temple. We "behold the
Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29.
To those who receive the
spirit of this service, it can never become a mere ceremonial. Its constant lesson will
be, "By love serve one another." Gal. 5:13. In washing the feet of His
disciples, Christ gave evidence that He would do any service, however humble, that would
make them heirs with Him of the eternal wealth of heaven's treasure. His disciples, in
performing the same rite, pledge themselves in like manner to serve their brethren.
Whenever this ordinance is rightly celebrated, the children of God are brought into a holy
relationship, to help and bless each other. They covenant that the life shall be given to
unselfish ministry. And this, not only for one another. Their field of labor is as wide as
their Master's was. The world is full of those who need our ministry. The poor, the
helpless, the ignorant, are on every hand. Those who have communed with Christ in the
upper chamber will go forth to minister as He did.
Jesus, the served of all,
came to be the servant of all. And because He ministered to all, He will again be served
and honored by all. And those who would partake of His divine attributes, and share with
Him the joy of seeing souls redeemed, must follow His example of unselfish ministry.
All this was comprehended in
the words of Jesus, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to
you." This was the intent of the service He established. And He says, "If ye
know these things," if you know the purpose of His lessons, "happy are ye if ye