Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
One day, the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, dropped to his knees before sinful man and washed his feet. I find this display of humility simply incredible. And after he had washed his apostles feet he asked them: “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15).
Unlike the Pharisees that he berated in today’s passage for not practicing what they preached, Jesus never told anybody to do anything that he hadn’t demonstrated himself. If we want to fulfill our commission to make disciples of nations, then we need to model ourselves around Jesus. We have already seen his great sense of humility. What other things did he do that we need to do? Well, we need to pray. Jesus prayed constantly, and when his fame with the ensuing crowds prevented him from praying at will, he would wake up early to spend time with his Father. See Mark 1:35 for just one such example.
Jesus also fasted. Immediately after he was baptized by John the Baptist, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights” (Matthew 4:1-2). Nobody suddenly takes off into the desert and fasts for forty days unless one has made a habit of it so it stands to reason that Jesus had been fasting regularly before he did this long fast. On more than one occasion he has suggested that his followers fast too. See Mark 9:29, Matthew 9:15, Matthew 6:16. Not only does it make for good spiritual discipline, fasting also increases our dependance on God.
And during this occasion of the temptation, Jesus demonstrated that he knew the Scriptures. When tempted in the desert, the devil tried to entice him several times, but each time Jesus responded with words from the Bible (see Matthew 4:1-11). “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,” he said the first time quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” he said the second time quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. And the third time he quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 when he said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.
Then, he taught us to serve rather than be served. One day Jesus called his apostles who were fighting among themselves about who would sit at his right and left in heaven. He said to them (I paraphrase), “You know that in the world people who want to be great lord it over each other. But it should not be like this among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
Finally, although I am sure there are many more lessons to be learned from how he lived, Jesus led a life of subservience to the will of God. It isn’t easy being subservient to the will of God, because not only is it difficult at times, it can also be very painful. Jesus understood this all too well and in the Garden of Gethsemane he sweated blood as he begged that the cup that awaited him be taken away from him. “Yet not my will, but yours be done,” he said (Luke 22:42).
Let us all live in imitation of Christ, and if we are chosen to be shepherds to his flocks, let us never tell them to do anything that we ourselves don’t do. In short, let us walk the talk.
May the Spirit be with you.