Jesus’ Relationship with His Disciples

John 13:1-17

This passage is the quintessential illustration of servant leadership as demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ. Two aspects stand out among the many themes we can pick from this passage.

As we talk about Jesus’ relationship with His disciples, we will first examine His self-perception as a leader, and then how He viewed His disciples.

Jesus’ Self-Perception

Three things stand out in His self-perception. First, Jesus knew His identity. Jesus knew who He was. He was very secure in His relationship with the Father. Washing the disciples’ feet would not diminish His worth. Often, we struggle to serve because we feel the tasks may be below our pay grade. Sometimes, we fear doing certain tasks will demean and rob us of our authority. Only a leader who is secure in his identity will gird a towel and serve. Our worth does not come from a title. It is not conferred by those below us or around us. It is conferred from above. When you know what heaven thinks of you, titles here do not bother you.

Secondly, Jesus knew His purpose. He knew what His assignment was. He was clear about the cross ahead of Him. He knew what awaited Him in the hours that would follow. These were His last moments with the disciples, so He would leave them an example they would not forget. Washing the disciples’ feet was very intentional. They had been arguing about which of them would be the top dog in the kingdom that was imminent. They had no idea of what was ahead. A sense of mission drove Jesus’ actions.

To be servant leaders, we must carry the same attitude. We must be secure running in our lane. No competition. Happy with fulfilling our assignment. Later in John 21:21, when Peter wanted to know what would happen to John, Jesus told him it was none of his business. He was to focus on his assignment. Is He sending a similar message to today’s servant leaders? Focus on your assignment, and do not be derailed.

Thirdly, Jesus knew His hour. His time to leave the earth had come! All the way from John 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 12:27-13.1, the clock was ticking, and now the hour had come. Succession planning is a problem in Africa. We all have a “Sell By” date stamped on our backs that spells our shelf life. When our eldest daughter visits us, you can be sure that any food in the house past its expiration date will be tossed out! She argues that she doesn’t want us poisoned. Some of us think those dates are a guideline and not a command! Don’t overstay your usefulness. Do the best you can and then exit gracefully. Life is a play on a stage. Allow for changes in the cast! Knowing you are not here forever will help you serve better! So much could be said here.

The second part concerns what Jesus knew about His disciples. Again, we will limit it to three things.

How Jesus Viewed His Disciples

First, He knew he would betray Him, yet He still served Judas. Ouch! What a lesson. I am told the table was set in a horseshoe shape with the Master at the head and everyone leaning on their left toward the next person, with their right arms free to eat and pass things on. For Jesus to have passed the elements to him, Judas would have had to be on the right, a place of honor. Jesus allowed Judas that privileged position, knowing full well what he would do before the night was over! Here is a Lamb to the slaughter! Serving His enemy. Did Jesus talk about turning the other cheek somewhere before this? Feeding your enemy? Heaping coals of fire on his head? This is difficult. But that’s what servant leadership is all about.

Secondly, Jesus knew who would deny Him, yet He still served Peter. Peter was part of His inner circle, yet when push came to shove, he was not man enough to stand up for Jesus. I think Jesus had two things in mind when He served Peter. He knew his weaknesses and had prayed for him. He needed him to strengthen the rest. He knew his potential, and that’s why He prayed for him. Jesus also had a picture of the Day of Pentecost and how this weakling would fly that day! Don’t write anyone off! You don’t know God’s recipe and the processes He is using.

Thirdly, Jesus knew who would desert Him, yet He still served the ten! One of the most difficult things in ministry is when you have invested so much in people, gone through so much pain with them, and stood with them in their failures, and when they start showing signs of life, they leave you and go elsewhere! All that labor and someone else benefits from your sweat and toil! Servant leadership serves despite!

Here is the bottom line. As a leader, you will be treated unfairly. Your faults will be magnified. You will be lied about. You will be betrayed! You will be denied! You will be deserted. I’ve seen a measure of all three in fifty years of trying to follow the call of God in my life. I’ve had to pull off a few parties that got through my shield! On many occasions, I didn’t know I was wounded until I saw the arrows sticking out of my chest!

Sometimes, I fell flat on my face and said, “Lord, I can’t do this!” Then He comes along and lifts me up! He tells me He has prayed for me. He tells me He is with me. Tells me He understands my pain. Reminds me of my Identity, Whose I am and therefore, who I am. Reminds me of my Calling and Purpose and therefore, the price I have to pay. Reminds me of my hour, that my times are in His hands, that nothing will happen to me that has not passed through His sovereign will. Then He asks me…do you love Me more than these? Feed My lambs.

Lord, give us the strength to serve when we need to be served and the will to keep going when we’ve been betrayed, denied, and deserted.

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