John is a natural follow up to the Creation 2.0 series. After all, if it’s God’s purpose to restore the Creation to Eden and to restore mankind to the image of God — an image modeled by Jesus — then there’s no study more important than understanding who God is — his character and qualities — especially as revealed in Jesus.
That is, we are called to become like Jesus, and therefore we need to get to know Jesus. Of course, we want to know his teachings, but beyond that, we want to know him. We want to know his passions, how he made his choices, what drove him — so we can be just like him.
Ray Vander Laan likes to say that the disciples of a rabbi want more than anything in the world to be just like their rabbi. It’s not enough to memorize his writings — although they’d certainly at least do that much! It’s not enough to know his biography. It’s about much more than head knowledge. Rather, it’s about both knowing and being, about becoming like the rabbi in every way possible.
We Westerners bring a certain bias to our Bible studies. We want to extract true propositions that we can teach and master. We want to glean propositional truths.
Therefore, over the centuries, the Western churches have emphasized adherence to creeds — statements of spiritual propositions believed to be true — as tests of fellowship and orthodoxy. The goal for a Westerner is foremost right propositional belief.
Now, this is not so much error as incomplete. And it’s the wrong emphasis. The Eastern emphasis — found throughout the Gospels — is about who you become. It’s about the story in which you live and that you live. It’s about relationships.
Therefore, it would be unthinkable to an Eastern thinker to consider himself a Christ follower because he takes the right positions on all the “issues” but to do so apart from the earthly community called the church. How could you be a Christian and not be part of the Christian community? It would be considered obviously self-contradictory.
Just so, to follow Jesus is not merely to accept his words as true. It’s not merely to agree with what Jesus taught. It’s to live as Jesus lived. And this is the very real challenge John hits us with.
And John does this in a very challenging way — a way that throws most Westerners totally off track. Let me explain by way of an example (which is, of course, the Eastern way) —
(John 13:2-5 NIV) 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John’s Gospel begins with the famous words —
(John 1:1-3 ESV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
John begins by declaring the cosmic nature of Jesus — as not merely a man but a man who is part of God Almighty. Obviously enough, we disciples aren’t going to attain to the power to create worlds with a word!
But in one of the climatic scenes of the book, John tells us what it means to be like God — to know that God has made one King of the universe. With Jesus fully aware of his place in the cosmic order, he did the most God-like thing possible. He washed Judas’s feet.
Now, this was First Century Palestine. The streets were filled with farm animals, horses, and donkeys. People poured bed pans out into the streets. Judas’s feet had far more than dust on them.
Jesus took the job of a slave — a filthy, nasty, vulgar task and showed his love for the man who would soon betray him. Why? Because that’s what it means to be like God. That’s theosis and that’s kenosis. It’s self-emptying (kenosis) because that’s the goal of God’s redemptive plan for believers.
Now, we should ponder and pray at length over just how it is that God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, should reveal himself through Jesus as a washer of filthy feet. That’s not how we normally think of God.
But, after all, when Jesus died on the cross, he was dying for God’s enemies, for strangers from God, even despisers of God — and such were we all before the kindness of God appeared to us.
When God made the heavens and the earth, he made it not only for the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas of this world, he made it for the Hitlers and Stalins. His sun shines on saints and sinners alike. And his blessings — his common grace — make a good life possible for some of his greatest enemies.
Yes, God is also a God of wrath. Yes, God will lose his patience at some point. But, as Jesus taught us —
(Mat 5:43-48 ESV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This is God as Jesus knows God — and who knows God better?
Therefore, as we study John’s Gospel, we’ll be amazed at the cosmic Jesus — the Jesus through whom God created the heavens and the earth — the Jesus who pre-existed the Creation. But that’s not the point of the book.
Rather that’s a point John makes to make a bigger, more important point — that no matter how high and holy you are, no matter how much like God you become, you’re never too good to wash the feet of Judas. Indeed, the more like God you become, the more you’ll want to wash the feet of Judas — not to show how much you are willing to suffer for God — Heaven forbid! — but how much you love the Judases of this world.