Leading By Example

by The Doctor

The story of Jesus’ life wouldn’t be complete without a look at something that happened just before His death and resurrection. That “something” occurred during Jesus’ final meal with His disciples, a meal that has come to be known to us today as “The Last Supper.”

“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus” (John 13:1-2 NIV).

These two verses reveal something important about Jesus’ character if you really stop to think about it. For example, how do you think you would feel if you were in Jesus’ position and knew with absolute, 100% certainty that you were going to die a horrible death within 24 hours? Would you feel preoccupied with the fact that the time of your death was rapidly approaching? Well, even though Jesus was fully aware that His crucifixion was drawing near, He didn’t spend this time by only thinking about Himself. Instead, this Scripture tells us that Jesus decided to spend part of this time by demonstrating how much He loved His disciples.

Now one of Jesus’ followers was a man named Judas Iscariot. Judas had a plan to sell Jesus out to those who wanted to kill Him (1) and we’re also told in these verses that the devil had already inspired him to betray Jesus before the meal had been served. This made what happened next all the more unexpected…

“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:3-5 NLT).

Whenever guests came to visit someone’s home in those days, it was a servant’s job to remove the guest’s footwear and wash away any road dirt that they had picked up on their feet along the way. This means that Jesus intentionally took on a servant’s responsibility in washing His disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. This reveals another important aspect of Jesus’ character- Jesus is someone who leads by example. You see, instead of acting as a “do as I say, not as I do” type of person, Jesus instead chose not to ask His followers to do something that He wasn’t willing to do Himself.

For instance, Jesus once said to His disciples…

“…among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant” (Luke 22:26-27 NLT).

Jesus also said, …the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NIV). It was that kind of attitude and example that later caused Paul the Apostle to say…

“In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death—death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 NCV).

So rather than simply just telling His followers what they should do, Jesus responded by demonstrating it.

Now before we go any further, we should also stop and think about something that’s easy to overlook when talking about this event- the guest list. We know that “the disciples” were present with Jesus during this time, but whom does that actually include? Well, among the people who were with Jesus at the Last Supper were…

  • James and his brother John
  • Phillip, Bartholomew and Thomas
  • James, the son of Alphaeus
  • Matthew
  • Thaddeus
  • Simon the Zealot
  • Peter and his brother Andrew

That’s eleven people. Do you know the only other person who was there with Jesus but hasn’t yet been named?

It’s Judas.

You see, we’ve only read the first five verses of this account in John chapter 13. If you read ahead a little in this chapter, you’ll find that Judas does not actually leave to arrange for Jesus’ betrayal until verse 30. That means that Judas was there with the other disciples when Jesus washed their feet.

So why is this important? Well, has it ever really occurred to you that Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the person who was about to betray Him? Did you ever realize that Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the man who was planning to sell Him out? This should serve as an important example to those people who feel that God doesn’t really love them. Listen, if Jesus was willing to wash the feet of someone who was planning to arrange for His death, how do you think He feels about you?

So to make sure that His followers fully understood the meaning and purpose behind His actions, Jesus took some time to give His disciples -and us- an explanation followed by some good advice…

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and sat down again. He asked, ‘Do you understand what I have just done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that is what I am. If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, a servant is not greater than his master. A messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them'” (John 13:12-17 NCV).

(1) See Matthew 26:14-16