EFAC Australia

Bible exposition

Reflections on John 13:1-17
The episode recorded in John 13 of Jesus' washing the disciples feet is usually seen as an example of servant leadership. Of course it serves this purpose well, as Jesus says: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). However, there is more to be gained from this footwashing exercise of servant leadership.
The setting of Jesus' actions is the upper room on the night he was betrayed. John introduces the scene with Jesus' reflection upon going to the cross. With a deliberate echo of the words of the Prologue (“he came unto his own, but his own received him not - but to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave power to become children of God”), Jesus prepares to return to his Father, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1). Thus the immediate context is the death of Jesus and the application of that death to his disciples.

Leviti­cus used to be the first book that Jewish chil­dren stud­ied in the syna­gogue. In the mod­ern Church it tends to be the last part of the Bible any­one looks at seri­ously. … “You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self” (Lev. 19:18) is the only memo­ra­ble maxim in what is to many an other­wise dull book. In prac­tice then, though not of course in the­ory, Leviti­cus is treated as though it does not really belong to the canon of sacred Scrip­ture.
So opens the land­mark com­men­tary by Gordon Wen­ham. My quest is to get books like Leviti­cus back on the agenda. This article is an oppor­tu­nity for me to offer you a quick refresher of its con­tents and rele­vance. And the pend­ing sea­son of Lent is one of many good oppor­tu­ni­ties when you might do the same for believ­ers around you, espe­cially in min­is­try con­texts which seek a formal, dis­tinc­tive series for the sea­son.
What follows is purely to stir up your theo­logi­cal enthu­si­asm and to set your crea­tive juices flowing. The sug­ges­tions will work well as a ser­mon series, but could easily be adapted for per­sonal devo­tions or group Bible studies or youth reflec­tions. (I'm yet to trial it as a chil­dren's pro­gram!)

There is no doubt that technological development and increasingly rapid rates of change in so many areas have made making ethical decisions more difficult than it used to be. Now that is not to say that getting agreement about the rights and wrongs has ever been easy. Moralists have disagreed through all of history. And Jesus had a hard time getting some of his core values across, even to those who were most devoted to him.

But these days self-doubt has set in among Christians, and it has set in on a large scale. Loss of clarity about a distinctly Christian ethic has become widespread. There are various reasons for this, but let me offer you just a limited list. First, there is so much that Christians have done in the past that embarrasses and shames us. Second, there are the clever things that scholars have done to give parts of the Bible a totally different sense from how they have traditionally been understood. And third, Christians have largely lost sight of the importance of the Old Testament for their faith and life.

For us who are Christians radical values for a confused society must come from our Lord. And what I have in mind to appeal to here is Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

We do not know a lot about him. His oracles portray him as nothing out of the ordinary. He was a shepherd or breeder of livestock, a cultivator of sycamore fig trees, an inhabitant of the town of Tekoa in Judah, and one who probably travelled to the northern kingdom of Israel to ply his produce. He lived in the days of King Uzziah in the South and King Jeroboam II in the North. But God took this ordinary man Amos. He drew him out from his ordinary trade, thrust him into a land not his own, and placed him under obligation to perform the task of a prophet with a nation that would have no inclination to listen.

The prophecy of Amos is rich for its courage, depth of insight, and contemporary relevance. One example of this is one encounter within its pages that has some sobering words for those of us who have been appointed by God and his church to engage in ministry. The encounter is between the prophet Amos and Amaziah, a priest of Bethel in the eighth Century BC. My intention here is to explore the text of Amos 7:10–18 in the light of the obligations these two men had before God and to observe what we can learn from their encounter for our own ministries.

The larger context of the encounter is set by a series of five visions that are given to Amos. These visions begin in Amos 7:1 and conclude in Amos 9. All the visions involve God judging his people. The first vision (7:1–3) is of a locust plague which God uses to judge the wickedness of his people. The response of Amos is to mimic the prophet Moses by interceding on behalf of the people. God responds to such intercession just as he had with Moses in Exodus 32 and relents from sending disaster. The second vision is of God judging by fire (7:4–6). Again, Amos intercedes on behalf of the people and God again relents. The third vision is the famous but somewhat enigmatic one of a plumbline (7:7–9). This time Amos does not intercede and there is no relenting on God’s part. Instead, God promises a fierce judgment that will reach not only the religious establishment but also the secular, striking even the house of Jeroboam. The mention of Jeroboam is significant because until this point Amos has largely focussed on the social and religious sins of the people and has not specifically mentioned the king and it appears as though it is this mention that lies behind the events that unfold next.

In the previous edition of Essentials, Simon Flinders invited us to reconsider in what ways we should — and should not — interpret the messianic content of Genesis 3:15. We can avoid a simplistic approach, where the answer to every question is Jesus, and use responsible biblical theology to plot an equally-exciting trajectory concerning God's plans for his world and for his victory over Satan.

Similar caution should be applied to the third chapter of the last book of the Old Testament. And similarly-exciting results can be found…

The Problem

Malachi 3:1 has long been considered a messianic proof text. To his people who had resettled in Judah after returning from exile, Yahweh Sabaoth announces:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple;
the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come. (NIV)

What do you understand these words to promise?