Spiritual Success or Distress?
teacher's guide Quarter 1, Lesson 5

Lesson Five

Jesus: The Humble Servant

Text: John 13:1-20

Most people regard some requests, some acts, some tasks as being "beneath me." Something that is "beneath me" degrades me and demeans me. It attacks my sense of self-respect and dignity. Commonly, an American says to himself or herself, "I am important. I have worth. I have rights. I am entitled to respect. I am a person, not a piece of property. I should be treated as a person, not as an object or a nobody." With that attitude, it is too easy to consider serving others as "beneath me."

Jesus, the servant, did not view any person as meaningless or worthless--not a leper, not a tax collector, not a prostitute, not a Samaritan, not the blind or lame, not the diseased, not even the demon possessed. Jesus did not regard any act of service as being "beneath him." Jesus was not just a servant. He was a humble servant.

Read John 13:1-20.

The focus of this lesson is on Jesus the humble servant. Next quarter we will consider the lessons in this same scripture that Jesus intended for the twelve [and us] to learn. In this lesson, please concentrate on Jesus.

  1. List the specific things that Jesus did when he arose from completing the meal (verses 5,6).

    1. He took off his outer garments.

    2. He tied a towel around his waist.

    3. He poured water in a basin.

    4. He washed their feet.

    5. He dried their feet.

  2. Please take note of the fact that this was an intentional act. He was responding to a physical need that addressed the state of the disciples' hearts. Discuss the emotions and feelings that must have stirred in the disciples' minds and hearts as they watched Jesus prepare for and perform the act of washing their feet.

    From Peter's reaction, it is reasonable to assume that they would have felt embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, apologetic, disrespectful [to be the recipient of such service], maybe even like they were not showing appropriate honor to Jesus.

  3. What did Jesus say about their comprehension of what occurred (verse 7)?

    Right now you do not realize the significance of this incident, but later you will understand.

  4. What is the first thing Jesus did when he completed the task of washing their feet (verse 12). What question did he ask them?

    The first thing he did was put his clothing on and assume his place at the table. He asked, "Do you know what I have done to you?"

  5. What did they call Jesus (verse 13)? Were they right to address Jesus in this manner? Why?

    They called him Lord and Teacher, which was proper to do, because he was their Lord and Teacher.

  6. If as their Lord and Teacher Jesus could wash their feet, what should they be able to do (verse 14)?

    Wash each other's feet. Humbly serve each other.

  7. What did Jesus give them and what did Jesus expect (verse 15)?

    He gave them an example, and he expected them to follow it.

  8. What two illustrations did Jesus use to stress the importance of their learning humble service from him and his actions (verse 16)?

    A slave is not greater than his master, and one sent is not greater than the one who sent him.

  9. When [or how] would they receive a blessing from their knowledge (verse 17)?

    When they used their knowledge to produce deeds; when they acted on it; when they did what they knew they should do.

  10. Please note that Jesus intentionally stressed the fact that he was their example.

    1. For the twelve, was allowing Jesus to be their example optional or essential? Explain your answer.

      It was essential. He was the Lord, the teacher, the master, the one who sent.

    2. For us, is allowing Jesus to be our example optional or essential? Explain your answer.

      It is essential. He is the Lord, the teacher, the master, the one who sends.

Washing feet was a demeaning responsibility. Commonly, this was a task given to a slave who had no rank, no standing, no significance before the master. A Jewish master did not require this deed of Jewish slaves who had indentured themselves.

When Jesus took his outer clothing off, tied a towel around his waist, prepared a basin of water, and stooped before each of them, he looked like their slave, not their master. Their enormous respect for Jesus was genuine. What an embarrassing moment it must have been to see their master deliberately assume the look of a slave!

Thoughts to discuss:

  1. We know that the twelve expected Jesus to become king and they anticipated that they would be his administrators. We know that James and John wanted the key, prestigious positions in that kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). The other ten resented them for asking for those positions. Obviously, the other ten wanted the same positions. How would those expectations and this incident clash?

    Jesus survived his return to Jerusalem when Lazarus died (John 11). The disciples urged him not to return because they feared that he would be killed immediately. The opposite happened. After resurrecting Lazarus, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as a king [the triumphal entry]. He survived confrontations with the leaders of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others for a week. These leaders neither destroyed Jesus' popularity nor arrested him. The disciples' expectation grew. Jesus would become king and each of them would hold positions in his administration. Each of them coveted the most significant positions in the administration. Why should one of them demean himself before the other disciples by washing feet? If one of them served the others in this degrading manner, his act might work against his personal hopes and expectations. Then Jesus washed their feet. How could they explain or comprehend his actions?

  2. On more than one occasion Jesus taught them that the least in the kingdom would be the greatest. On this occasion, how was Jesus the living example of this truth?

    He, who would soon be made Lord and Christ by God, washed their feet. He who served as the least would soon become the greatest.

Jesus is humility's well. If the Master and Lord is to be our example, we must draw from that well and drink.

Suggestion: have the class consider how they would feel if Jesus' washed their feet.

Link to Student Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 5

Copyright © 1999, 2000
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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