As our Lord is coming to the close of His earthly life and ministry, He shares a meal with His closest followers, girds Himself with a towel, draws a bason of water, and kneels to wash the feet of His friends. It is a wonderful lesson on humility that convicts me each time that I read it. It is my desire to be that kind of a servant.
As we consider John 13 and John’s account of this impactful event, I think it is important that we not overlook the very first verse of the chapter. I believe it holds a key to why Christ did what He did with that towel and bason of water. In that verse we read these words: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” Jesus served these people because He loved them!
Many years ago I was concerned about a man who had accepted a pastorate. At the time, this man was not a very gifted pulpiteer. A friend commented to me, “He doesn’t have to be a great preacher as long as he is a good lover. People will put up with poor preaching if they get good loving.” I have never forgotten that statement, and I have tried, for more than thirty years, to be sure that my people have received “good loving.”
We can determine in our hearts to serve, and we can run on that fuel for a while. Inevitably, serving will become laborious and we will eventually find ourselves operating on fumes. The alternative to that motivation is to love God and love people. If you love God, you will find joy in serving Him. Likewise, if you love people, you will want to serve them. Kneeling down at someone’s nasty feet is not such a difficult task, if you love the people to whom those feet are attached.
Jesus operated from a heart of love. He genuinely cared. He did not weep at Lazarus’ grave because Lazarus was dead. He wept because Mary and Martha were broken-hearted and He loved Mary and Martha. Jesus did not have to force Himself to spend time with the crippled man by the Pool of Bethesda, He approached that man because He cared about him. Jesus had to go to Samaria. He did not have to go because He was making Himself go, He had to go because there was a woman there for whom He cared.
I would rather be good at loving people than to be a good preacher, a good administrator or a good supervisor. It is compassion that makes a difference, not so many things that we think make us more effective. Love is powerful. Love is impactful. Love is necessary. However, there is more to this passage than just the statement that Jesus loved the people. The Bible states, “…He loved them unto the end.”
Too often, we claim to love people, and we do love them as long as they behave like we think they should. Over the years, I have seen many ministry workers who obviously loved the loveable. As long as those to whom they ministered “toed the line,” they were quick to express their love to them. Thank God, that was not how Jesus loved.
Jesus loved unto the end. Of whom was John 13:1 speaking? It was speaking of His disciples, including Judas. He did not love them as long as they did the right thing. He loved them unto the end. He did not love them as long as they dressed a certain way, walked a certain way, talked a certain way, or lived a certain way. He loved them unto the end. He did not love them as long as they kept the rules at the Christian school. He loved them unto the end. He did not love them as long as they took a stand for what was right. He loved them unto the end.
Yes, Jesus loved them unto the end of His earthly life, (and beyond). He also loved them unto the end of themselves. When they came to the end of the dead-end road that led them away from the Saviour, He still loved them. Much like the father loved the Prodigal when he had gone as far away from home as his conscience would allow him to go. From the pig pen, the wayward son knew that his father loved him.
When our young people disappoint us and rebel against all they have ever been taught, may they know unto the end, that they are loved. When our church members allow temptation to overcome them and sin to take up residence in their hearts and lives, may they know unto the end, that they are loved. When those in whom we have invested the most seem to appreciate it the least, may they know unto the end, that they are loved. May we love them the way we will want to be loved if we walk away. May we love them the way we will want someone to love our son or daughter if they are overtaken in a fault.
Over the past three decades, I have been let down too many times to count. People for whom I had the highest hopes have driven me to some of my deepest disappointments. I have watched some of our Christian school graduates make tragic decisions that have destroyed their lives. I have watched faithful church members walk away from the Lord in betrayal, and in some cases, denial. Again and again I have felt so helpless. I have felt that there is nothing that I can do to make any difference whatsoever. Then I am reminded of John 13:1. There is something that I can do. I can love them unto the end!