Jesus as Servant

washing_feetI have been to a few councils for ministry ordination. One frequent passage that is brought to the candidate is Philippians 2: 7 which says that Jesus “emptied himself.”  What exactly did he do in that passage?

Did he empty himself of his deity?  That is contrary to the teaching of the church through the ages, and contrary to the scriptures itself.

There is a passage in John’s Gospel that sheds some light in this question. It is when Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples in John 13.

I could go so far as to say that Philippians 2 is a commentary on Jesus as a Servant. If not a commentary, a song: many hold that it is actually a hymn of the early church.

Here is John 13:1-5:

 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John speaks of what Jesus knows, that he is from the Father and returning to the Father.  That he has god-like power in that “the Father had given all thins into his hands.”  As the LORD, Jesus removed his regular clothing and took on the clothing of a house servant and set out to do a very humbling work – he washed their feet.

Philippians says:

…he made himself nothing  taking on the very nature of a servant… (2:7)

The link is made stronger in that Philippians begins with an challenge to believers to serve each other, to be humble and considers others first.  (Phil 2:1-4). This is to be done in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:5).

In John 13 Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….”

So there is an ethical link – Jesus act of foot washing (John) and his submission to death on a cross (Philippians) are motives and models of Christian service.  I do not believe that foot washing is now a sacrament, but a picture of the way of life of all who follow Jesus.  If he, the Lord, the Master lowers himself to serve, what should we do?

 

 

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John the fleshly Gospel!

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaic

I’ve thought of John as the spiritual gospel because of the more theologically themed way it is structured. This time through the gospel in my Genesis/John/Revelation program, I have come to see that John is very related to the flesh.

It starts in chapter 1 with “..the Word became flesh…” (1:14).  Of course this is a classic text on the Incarnation of the Eternal Word.

What follows are various physical entry points to the Gospel:

  • Taste – water turned to wine at the Wedding of Cana – chapter 2
  • Birth – the need to be Born Again (or Born from Above) – chapter 3
  • Thirst – living water and the Woman of Samaria (begun with a request for actual water because of actual thirst) – chapter 4
  • Speech – Jesus spoke and the officials son is healed – chapter 4
  • Sight – the idea of signs and asking for signs  – Chapter 2, 4, 6…
  • Walking – healing the man crippled from birth – Chapter 5
  • Hunger – feeding the 5,000, talk of bread – Chapter 6
  • Thirst – water at the festival of Tabernacles – Chapter 7(v. 37)
  • Sight – mud, spit and water to cure blindness – Chapter 9
  • Hearing – sheep hear the shepherd – Chapter 10
  • Death – Lazarus raised – Chapter 11
  • Feet – Jesus anointed at Bethany – chapter 12
  • Voices – Triumphal entry – chapter 12
  • Washing – Jesus washes feet – Chapter 13

So far this is an observation, but John is, pardon the pun, grounded in the material world and is revealed by physical senses and actions.

Do you find any other examples?

Circular* Reasoning in John

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaic

The Johannine books (John; I,II, III John) share a number of characteristics in style.  This is why John the Apostle was held until modern times as the author of all of them.  Of course there are as many other theories as there are scholarly treatises on that.

I’ve been struggling in John’s Gospel with the discourse sections.  There are two that are fairly easy to track: John 3 with Nicodemus, and John 4 with the Woman of Samaria.  But the discourses in chapter 5 Miracle at Bethesda; Chapter 6, Feeding the 5000; Chapter 7, at the Festival of Booths; John 8; John 9 with the healing of the man born blind are all more difficult.

Even the discourse in chapter 4 is rambling – Jesus and the woman talk about water and worship and the holy spirit before all is done.

I’ve struggles to make sense of the shape of these discourses.  They seem to ramble or on occasions bounce between Jesus and some opponent or opponents.  So there is no neat or linear way to represent the discussion.  You know that outline method you learned in school? throw it out!

In desperation I went to my library.  There I found a book I had not spent much time with.  “John: Evangelist & Interpreter” by Stephen S. Smalley.  Smalley made some helpful observations. In the “first act” of John, there are a number of sign/miracles which are followed by discourses.  He describes their structure as being “spiral” in nature.

“John…structures his discourse material so as to advance his subject, almost in spiral fashion, through a series of dramatic disclosures towards a climax.” p. 147

So we have this: a sign/miracle followed by a discourse or disputation with Jesus and another party or parties. The theme of the discourse tends to be repeated in some way in each division in the discourse.

In John 9, the man blind from birth is healed by Jesus who anoints his eyes with mud and asks him to go and wash.

Then there these sub sections, each one except the concluding two repeating something about the man born blind: (p. 143)

  • v. 8-12 Man and Neighbors
  • v. 13-17 man and Pharisees
  • v. 18-23 Man’s parents  and “Jews” (i.e. Authorities)
  • v. 24-34 Man and “Jews”
  • v. 35-38 Jesus and Man
  • v. 39-41 Jesus and Pharisees

The last two parts leave to two conclusions: The man comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of Man and even worships him.  the Pharisees reject Jesus as a sinner because he healed the man on the Sabbath.

Through this we have woven themes of sin (was the man or his parents responsible for his blindness, Did Jesus sin by breaking the Sabbath, are the Pharisees sinners for rejecting Jesus?) and blindness (the man’s physical blindness which is cured, his spiritual insight. the Pharisees who see Jesus’ works but are blind to his light.)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind”  v. 39

*This is misnamed “circular reasoning” because a circle returns on itself. A spiral however is circular but it also moves from beginning to end.  One has to hang with all the turns and not get lost.

I am still figuring out how to preach such a passage.