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His Unmerited Kindness

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We usually think of God’s glory as manifested in his acts of power, his absolute authority, and his irresistible will. Well, of course, God is all-powerful, supremely authoritative, and unstoppable, but how does he best display his power, authority, and will?  The life and witness of the Lord Jesus Christ provide the answer.

He displayed his power through healing, delivering, and recreating. He exhibited his authority by delegating and trusting his disciples with it. He demonstrated his will by saving and including the children of men in his heavenly family.

The Nameless Reject

All three of the Synoptic Gospels recount the story of the Leper who asked Jesus to heal him. In Mark 1:40-42 the story reads; ‘A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured’.

Ponder on this story for a moment.

The text does not reveal the man’s name and he had no standing, wealth, or handsome presence. On the contrary, he was a feared reject from society, afflicted with an infectious and disfiguring skin disease. The Jewish law commanded him to stay out in the wilderness areas and to ring a bell and call out “Unclean, unclean” whenever people approached. I do not know who this particular man was, but he probably once had a wife and children, a house, a job, and a circle of friends. Now he had nothing; no dignity, no comfort, and no hope… until he saw Jesus approaching. He must have heard of Jesus as a great healer and miracle worker sent by God to the people of Israel. Violating the laws that isolated him he came and fell on his knees at Jesus’ feet, and instead of ringing his bell and shouting out “unclean, unclean” he looked up into the face of God and said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” There is so much in that simple statement. It is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ ability to heal even a leper like him. It is also a recognition that Jesus had absolute authority to heal or to cast him aside. And in between the words, is a desperate plea to be made whole again.

Jesus’ heart filled with compassion for this wretched man. He did not see him as an opportunity to display his power and authority. No, his compassion motivated him to reach out and touch the untouchable disease carrier. Then Jesus simply said, “I am willing. Be clean!” Now, what does that tell us about the power of God, his authority, and his will? Everything we need to love him, trust him, and obey him. 

We might have status in society, some power, and a degree of authority, but from an angel’s perspective , do we not appear as worthless and unappealing as a leper?

Yet Jesus came to this little planet to reveal the glory of the Godhead, to reach out to us to make us whole, and to adopt us into his family. Glorious, unfathomable, and unmerited kindness!

Foot Washing

Many years ago, I went to the Ukraine on a ministry trip. While there I preached in a Pentecostal church where I learned that they practised three Christian sacraments, Baptism, Communion, and Foot-washing. I have a real problem with the way the church, in general, has reduced the richness of the Last Supper to a ceremonial sip, and the powerful witness of water baptism to a sprinkle. Now, I had to work through my reactions regarding their third sacrament.

Of course, their foot-washing ceremony derived from Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper. The essence of the account is in John 13:3-5, which records: ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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’.

In those times, people came to a meal like this with feet dusty from walking on dirt roads. If there were no servant present to wash the guests’ feet then the least important in the host’s household would assume the duty. They would have arranged the table in the U-shape common in those days and placed the people around it in a traditional order. At the end of one arm of the ‘U’ would be the master of ceremonies and to his left would be the host. On the host’s left would be seated the guest of honour and then the others would be distributed in descending order of importance. The person sitting at the end of the other arm of the ‘U’ would be the least important and the one expected to wash everyone’s feet. Now, we can deduce from what happened just who was seated where. John was in the place reserved for the master of ceremonies. Jesus was the host and Judas Iscariot was assigned to the seat of the honoured guest. Peter, who saw himself as Jesus’ right-hand man, was seated at the end of the table.

Peter should have assumed the duty of a foot-washing servant. Instead, Jesus, the lord of all, come from heaven with all power and authority, took it on himself to perform this act of kindness.

However, there is an even greater act of kindness embedded in this story. Judas Iscariot was the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The Lord knew that in just a few hours this man would lead the Pharisees and their thugs to grab him and lead him off to be tried, tortured, and crucified. Yet Jesus seated him in the place reserved for the guest of honour. This was no act of cynicism, but a great display of unmerited kindness.

My Own Experiences

During one of my visits to Israel, I accompanied about twenty of the members of the church I pastored. One of them had organised and led many such trips to the Holy Land and he performed this function for our group. My job was to be the spiritual leader and to provide the group with bible studies at each of the sites we visited. Part of our itinerary was to participate in a recreation of the Last Supper. The people providing the experience set up a traditional meal of lamb, flatbreads, and herbs at the sort of U-shaped table I have described. I wanted all the people to be seated and settled and so I came into the room last. The trip organiser had seated himself at the one end of the ‘U’ and had reserved a place for me next to him. I don’t quite know why I didn’t accept that seat. Instead, I sat down at the end of the opposite leg of the table – at that time I did not know the significance of the traditional seating arrangements. The woman who provided the experience started to tell us all about how the guests would have been seated in Jesus’ day and then asked, “Where is your pastor?” I held up my hand and she smiled and explained that I was sitting where Peter would have sat, in the least important place, and then concluded with, “You have chosen the right seat pastor”. I was overwhelmed with emotion and my eyes filled with tears because at that moment I sensed Jesus powerfully yet kindly impressing upon me my key role as a pastor.

He had called me to serve his people and to follow his example of becoming the least important of all. 

My second experience was very different from the first. After about ten years in full-time pastoral ministry, I was suffering a form of burnout with the typical symptoms of tiredness, discouragement, and depression. One day a lady congregant arrived at our door with a basin, soap, and a towel in hand. She asked to speak to my wife Pat and, having obtained her approval, told me that she had come to wash my feet. She sat me down and soaped, washed, and carefully dried both feet. She said nothing the whole time but the way she carefully and gently carried out the task spoke more eloquently than any words could. All she said afterwards was that she was being obedient to what Jesus had instructed her to do on his behalf. The unmerited kindness of the Lord impacted me powerful through this dear woman.

Jesus is kind and considerate to those who have no right to expect this from him. It is part of who he is and a manifestation of his glory.

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