© Marcelo A. Tolopilo
When Jesus and the disciples were on their final trip to Jerusalem, the Lord was going there to die. His heart was heavy with the anticipation of the cross. He must have been in a pensive mood, quietly thoughtful as they made their way to redemption’s most pivotal point. Jesus as a man certainly desired the understanding, fellowship, support, and affection of His friends at this most difficult time of His life. And you would think that the disciples seeing the Lord’s evident seriousness and grief would come around Him, try to understand Him, and attempt to comfort Him in His solemnity. True, they didn’t understand much of what was happening. They couldn’t comprehend the Lord’s death, let alone apprehend His resurrection. Yet, Jesus made it clear that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, and these words troubled them so they registered at some level (Matthew 16:21,22). That impending sense of a gathering spiritual storm should have drawn them to the Master in curious and thoughtful concern. You would think that would be true …
And yet as they made their way to Jerusalem, Mark in his gospel (Mark 9:34; 10:35-41) tells us the Lord’s men were in the throws of an intense debate – not about their Master’s needs – but an impassioned discussion about which one of them was the greatest. They thought they were on their way to Jerusalem to inaugurate the millennial Kingdom. They literally believed Christ’s earthly kingdom would materialize right before their eyes when they reached Jerusalem (Luke 19:11). With the Kingdom seemingly at hand the competition for the places of greatest honor was on! Like young bucks, the disciples were posturing with each other trying to determine primacy. The whole conflict crescendoed when James and John (two brothers) along with their mother (Matthew 20:20) preemptively came to Jesus and put in a bid for the top two places of honor in the imminent kingdom.
Sensing the deal was hot, James and John made their strategic move, beat their competitors (the other disciples) to the punch, and scrummed in for the massive promotion while the others hung back talking at each other. The two brothers were able to catch the other disciples flatfooted, completely unawares and whats more even used their mother to work the deal. These thunderous siblings (Mark 3:17) went all in and used every persuasive means of cajolery they could muster to secure their prize. Their mother Salome (who may have shown up with some nice bagels and cream cheese) was likely the Lord’s aunt. This would also make James and John the Lord’s first cousins. In other words, they’re working the ‘mother-aunt-cousin-mishpokhe (Yiddish for ‘family’) angle to weasel and slither to the top. The response of their equally selfish fellow disciples was predictable. The gospel accounts tell us the other men became indignant towards James and John (Matthew 20:24; Mark 10:41). They were moved viscerally with anger towards the brothers for their preemptive, shrewd, and bold move.
Unfortunately, this ugliness, this poisonous, noxious, toxic atmosphere clouding the disciples continued to hang over them all like a pall clear into the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Even though the Lord had spoken to them about their distorted view of leadership versus kingdom leadership (the greatest is the servant, the first is the slave of all, Mark 10:42-45), the message failed to penetrate their minds. The words seemed to go right over their heads. The arguing continued.
As they arrived to the upper room on that solemn night, Jesus had entered what is known as His Great Passion (that intense time of suffering from that last Seder with His men and through the events leading to and culminating with the cross). In a few hours after the Passover seder, the Lord would make His way to the garden of Gethsemane where His grief became so acute, so deep and fierce that He almost died from the stress of His anguish (Matthew 26:38). But as He gathered in the upper room with His men for their last Passover meal together He was no doubt feeling the immense weight of the cross. The gravity of what lay just ahead was weighing down on Him. His hour had come. Sadly, instead finding the eleven reaching out to Him in prayer and comfort the disciples were unable to connect with Jesus’ grief because they were too caught up in their own petty, spiteful, self-focused feud.
You know, the Lord could have arisen from the table and laid into these guys with a sobering dose of righteous indignation. If anyone had a right to do this, it was Jesus. You would think that if Jesus was going to pull back on His love for them it would be at this critical moment. I mean, He was about to be betrayed by a friend He had nurtured for three years, a man who would be possessed by Satan himself; He was about to carry the sin of mankind on His shoulders; He would shortly be separated from God the Father, yet the disciples were too self focused to notice anything was out of place or that the Lord was in the throws of deep grief. At this point, the Lord could have thrown in the towel and put these guys in their place with a stern rebuke. He could have left them wallowing in their pettiness and gone away to pray.
Instead what did Jesus do? How did He respond to their selfish desires and deeds? Well, He didn’t throw in the towel. Instead He literally picked one up. He quietly got up from the table, took His outer cloak off, girded His robe, baring his legs, got down on His hands and knees, and like the lowliest servant began to wash His disciples’ feet. How sublime and beautiful is that?! But let me tell you, that simple act of humble service – as beautiful as it is – paled in comparison to the sacrificial service He would render for His men (as well as you and I) the very next day on the cross.
In the face of their failure and myopic selfishness, Jesus chose to love His men with a selfless, sacrificial, everlasting love. John 13:1 tells us, “Now before the Feast of the Passover (before they ate the meal), Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Literally, “Unto the end He loved them.” The “them” in that sentence is in an emphatic position, meaning that the disciples – even in the midst of their pettiness – were the focal point of Christ’s intense love. This shows us the Lord’s extreme, sacrificial love toward His unworthy people.
Jesus chose to love His men with a sacrificial and lasting love, not because they deserved it, but because He loves His own with a selfless, sacrificial, perfect love.
This is the love with which Jesus Christ loves you and me. It flows to us each and every day in uninterrupted torrents. It circumscribes us above and below and all around without failure. Drink it in my friends; glut your desire for it; we cannot run it dry, and as you delight in His love, praise the name of Jesus who pours out His love to you.