Slave Discipleship: Assuming the Posture of Power
- Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Imagine the amazement, the shock, the stunned curtain of silence that fell on the room the night Jesus got up from the Passover table and washed His disciples' feet.
There they were—thirteen men woven together around that low table like one strand, each man reclining in the chest of another. John reclining against Jesus; Jesus reclining against Judas—all locked together for the evening.
Then, suddenly, Jesus stirred, moved, got up. This never happened. The host never got up, never left the table once he was seated. Questions must have raced through their minds. Was He dissatisfied with the food? Did He not like the seating arrangement? Was He ill? That had never happened before.
Then He did something even stranger. He broke that curtain of silence with the rustling of His garments and the pouring of water. He removed His upper garment, took a towel, girded Himself about, and poured water from the pitcher into the basin that awaited the slave who washed feet—only there was no slave until Jesus humbled Himself and went from man to man, washing feet, a slave on His knees leading as He served.
How do you respond to slave discipleship? With a protest in all probability. How can a slave be a discipler? Disciplers are leaders and slaves don't lead. That's true—everybody knows that. Everybody except Jesus. Apparently He didn't get the memo, so He became a slave and a leader, in fact, a slave discipler.
Doesn't Philippians 2:5-11 describe Jesus' descent into slavery? He took on the form of a slave who humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Jesus willingly turned away from all power in heaven and on earth and became powerless in the eyes of men. He chose to be utterly obedient and dependent on His Father. But who was more powerful in heaven or on earth than this Slave, Jesus? To become a slave discipler is to assume the most powerful posture of all among our disciples, the posture of Jesus.
Still that word slave sticks in our throats. It doesn't make sense. Slaves are powerless. Slaves have no life of their own, no right to their time, no control over their future, no say in their fate, no status in society. They are total non-entities, powerless, completely overpowered. Slaves must say yes when they want to say no. How can the posture of a slave be the most powerful posture of all? Maybe it depends on what kind of slavery we're talking about. And maybe it depends on whom the slave serves.
What kind of slavery are we considering? How about biblical slavery as described in Exodus 21:2-6? When we review that passage we discover four traits of biblical slavery: it is motivated by love (vs.5), voluntary (vs. 5), total (vs. 6), and permanent (vs. 6). We must volunteer to become biblical slaves as a total and permanent commitment to God who loves us. When we do this, we willingly enter into a radical and final servitude to God, which means we must do whatever He requires of us as disciplers, no matter what. You see, the nature of our slavery and the One whom we serve makes slave discipleship utterly overwhelming. Once we understand what being a slave discipler means, we realize we have neither the courage nor the capacity to be what Jesus calls us to be—and we also realize why being a slave discipler is the most powerful posture of all, since, Christ unleashes His power through our powerlessness.
Consider the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 13:6-10. Only Peter broke the stunned silence with his protest, "Lord, You my feet wash (vs. 6)?" Peter got the point but missed the message. He knew Jesus had become a slave and he also knew he wasn't worthy to have Jesus be his slave. But he didn't understand the reality that Jesus, as a slave to His Father, had to be a slave to His followers. Nor was he prepared for the message that to be a disciple of Jesus meant he had to be a slave to his fellow disciples, and Jesus could only teach him this by becoming his slave. So Jesus patiently responded by assuring him he would understand what He was doing later (vs. 7). Yet Peter still missed the message and protested even more intensely by using the strongest negative possible him when he said, "Never shall You wash my feet!" So Jesus responded the only way He could as Peter's faithful slave by saying, "If I don't wash you, you're fired!" That's what He meant when He told Peter that unless He washed him he had no part with Him (vs. 8). The issue in the Upper Room Discourse is not salvation, but fruit bearing, so what Jesus told Peter was that if He didn't wash his feet, Peter would lose all fruit bearing opportunities. There would be no Acts 2 or Gate Beautiful or Cornelius or Jerusalem Council or ministry with his wife to the first century church or I and II Peter or martyrdom. He was done. That was the message his Slave gave him.
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