Reading: Luke 13 – 14
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14 NIV
What would it have been like in the days of Jesus to have the disabled come to your place for tea? As in many places in the world today — with no fancy wheelchairs to travel in, or state-funded caregivers to assist — such guests may well have required a high level of personal assistance, not to mention tolerance and humility on the part of the host, and a willingness to overcome natural reservations and spiritual taboos.
On the surface of it, the cost of hosting such a group would seem high. And, as Jesus points out, there was no likelihood of the favour being returned. For those of his audience who felt “above” those disabled folks, it would have represented a step down…
And for the disabled, despised and rejected by men as they were, and familiar with suffering, how would it have been for them to be in the presence of these “respectables”, these esteemed ones of that society? How would they have felt? Because they themselves were most certainly not esteemed.
All of which sounds curiously familiar…
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2b-3 NIV
Isaiah describes it perfectly: Jesus put aside his majesty to become like those he came to save. The very same ones he would have me invite for dinner…
Jesus saw people as they really were, and he still does. He sees me as I really am. No matter what I choose to clothe myself in — respectability, wealth, position, social acceptance, an air of self-confidence — Jesus looks right through those things to see what is in my heart. And he asks that I release to him those garments that have been my source of dignity, and instead put on a new set of clothes…
“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
There is something about those clothes, and the change of heart that is required to wear them. Somehow, they seem more suited to serving in, whoever the guests might happen to be…
Lord Jesus, please help me to see people as you see them. Help me not to suffer from a superiority complex, but instead, please work humility into the very fabric of my being, that along with all of God's children, I might be dressed well — ready and willing to love and serve.
Reading: Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:1-2 NIV
“Song of Ascents” is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134. It is thought these songs were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16), or by the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
These songs were not for God's benefit, but for the singers' – to prepare their hearts and minds to enter into the presence of God. This particular song (Psalm 131) was written by David, who seemed to have discovered the secret of intimacy with God.
And what was his secret? Come like a child. In practical terms, that meant putting aside his pride and all efforts to make himself something he wasn't. He knew he couldn't impress God, and he knew he didn't have to.
Instead, he had learned to cultivate that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that God so enjoys as we come into his presence.
I too need to cultivate that same attitude of surrender and trust.
Cultivate: Break up (soil) in preparation for sowing and planting; promote the growth and development of; foster.
Father, I see that there is such a beautiful simplicity about pleasing you. I want that same attitude that David had, that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that you so enjoy.
Lord, I give you permission to break up the soil in my heart, that it might be made soft and tender. If there is any stoney attitude or hardness of thinking that needs turning over, please expose it and help me to deal with it.
Is there anything you want to sow and plant in my life? I invite you, please have your way. And I ask you to grant me the wisdom to always remember the way into your presence.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 NIV
Reading: Matthew 26:57 – 27:31 (NIV)
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:63-64 (NIV)
It's interesting to reflect on the challenge that the high priest made to Jesus. He said, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The reply he got was exactly what he wanted. He knew that Jesus was compelled to tell the truth, and he welcomed it, not as truth, but as a succinct unambiguous claim of identity: “Yes,” Jesus said, “it is as you say.”
With this statement, Jesus had nailed himself. But Jesus didn't leave it at that. He added a powerful prophetic statement to leave them in no doubt, and to lay down a warning: “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Anyone there who really was open to the possibility that Jesus might in fact be who he said he was would have cause to swallow hard about what they were planning to do. It was a stark warning, but it fell on hard hearts. The company present would kill Jesus, and his words would come back to haunt them.
There was perhaps one man in that gathering who did have fresh cause to reconsider his opinion of Jesus. Malchus was the servant of the high priest. He had been there when Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives. It was he who had his right ear cut off as impetuous Peter lashed out with his sword. And, it was he who looked up to find that the very one they had come to arrest was reaching out his hand, and touching him, and he was healed. It was a moment he would never forget.
I wonder if in that moment, something softened in his heart? Enough to give him reason to pause, and consider afresh, “Could this man actually be who he says he is?”
Humility before God is the only way for us to know truth. It's being prepared to lose face by stepping away from our old attitudes toward Jesus in order to stand with the very one we had previously mocked. Or shunned. Or perhaps simply ignored. It's being able to come before him with hands empty and heart open to say, “I was wrong. And I need you.”
Father God, your approval is what I want more than anything. Ultimately, the opinion of others matters not. Only that you would forgive me, and accept me, and enjoy me. May arrogance be far from me as I thank you, and humbly accept your incredible gift of grace.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 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 kouter 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. John 13:2-5 (NIV)
The drama described here at the “pointy end” of John's gospel is like theatre. The scene is set. Judas, the yet to be revealed “villain”, is ready to make his move, but only Jesus, the central character, knows exactly how the drama is going to unfold. The “audience”, his disciples, have no idea.
So when the curtains open at the beginning of Act 1 of this 'final week drama', the disciples are astonished at what they see: Jesus, the hero of the drama, has stepped off the stage and come down to be amongst his audience. And now, one by one, he is washing their feet! (Including, but unbeknownst to them, the feet of the one who is about to betray him).
It was just the first of many twists in a plot which, though laid out in the Scriptures for hundreds of years, they were only seeing clearly for the first time now.
What a surprise it is to discover truth for the first time! What an astonishing Kingdom, where the king washes the feet of his subjects, where evil is overcome by good, and where greatness proceeds from humility.
As I picture the scene of this last supper, I see that Jesus would have had to get right down on his knees in order to wash his disciples feet. It's not hard to understand the reaction of Peter who initially balked at the prospect of letting Jesus wash his feet.
Such humility as Jesus displayed lays wide open even the hardest of hearts, piercing our very soul. I can find in myself only two possible responses – to run, or to bow down, offering everything to the One who offered everything for me.
And I see too another truth revealed, that if I follow the example of Jesus and humble myself to serve others as he did, then even the hardest of hearts can be opened to the truth found in Jesus. When I serve others with humility, the light of Christ will be revealed.
Lord Jesus, I am completely disarmed by the love and humility you have shown to me. I offer myself again into your hands. Help me to serve as you did. Please fill me afresh with your Spirit, and may your light shine through me that others would come to know you and love you, the most astonishing King of kings and Lord of lords.
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. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:14-15, 17 (NIV)
See also The Noble Endeavour of Serving.
Reading: Philippians 3-4
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
“…Becoming like him in his death…” What was Jesus like in his death? Sapped of all human strength, mocked, tortured, tormented by the agony of crucifixion, and carrying upon himself the weight of all our sin – how did Jesus respond?
He had already committed himself to his Father's will: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Still, when it came to it, there was no protest, no pleading for mercy or shrinking back from the atrocity he was suffering. Instead, there was submission.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7-8
Nor did he show resentment, but rather, grace. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). In Hebrews 2:10, Paul tells us that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”. Indeed, though he suffered terribly, Jesus responded with enormous courage, with humility and with continuing obedience to his Father, demonstrating for all time the depths of his love for both the Father and for us.
That's what Jesus was like in his death.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). In this verse, it seems like Jesus is offering me a burden, but actually, I think he is offering me a secret, the key to becoming like him in his death. And that is, to put my life completely and utterly into God's hands – to “lose it”, as it were, to him.
But although I offer him my life, I suspect it will not be until I find myself in the 'crucible of suffering' that my submission to him will become complete, and I will, as Jesus was, be made perfect through suffering. And in the meantime, with any suffering that comes my way, I can follow Jesus' example by lifting up my eyes from the suffering at my feet, and instead fixing them on the joy set before me.
Your example Jesus is inspiring. Please open the eyes of my heart to see you, and to understand more deeply the joy that is set before me. May I live my life with courage, humility and obedience as with your help I commit myself daily into your hands.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
See also Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life.
Reading: Matthew 1
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)
Joseph and Mary are such an inspirational couple. Having each received the most profound of revelations, and facing as a couple the certainty of public humiliation because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, they each responded with a humility that is breath-taking.
In effect, by accepting God’s will for their lives, they were also accepting the promise of both humiliation – for a time – and glory. The same went for Jesus himself, who would accept not just humiliation, but also death on a cross, knowing that glory was coming (and joy!) And yet I wonder, were they humiliated? Is it possible for the truly humble to be humiliated by others?
There is something essentially different between humiliation and humility. Humiliation is a feeling, a feeling of shame and foolishness which comes when my pride and dignity is injured. The attitude of my heart determines how vulnerable I am to being humiliated, and perhaps also what is hidden in my heart. When I’m vulnerable, I open myself up to the possibility of being humiliated either by others, or simply as the result of my own actions. It might come as the result of being ‘exposed’.
Humility is not a feeling, but rather is an attitude of the heart. It comes from within, and is under the control of my will. As humility grows, pride diminishes, and I become less and less vulnerable to humiliation, which means that the way I feel about myself is no longer at the mercy of others. Instead, it is my core beliefs about what is true that set the tone for how I feel.
As a Christian I will feel less need to justify myself to others, because having God’s approval has become the most important thing. That may in fact define what humility is: The state of heart where I value the approval of God more highly than I value the approval of anyone else.
What strength of character humility brings! It enables me to endure much, and is the perfect partner for courage. In fact, I wonder if true courage may in its very essence be simply godly humility in action.
Thank you Lord God for the inspiring humility of Mary and Joseph. Their courage and their willingness to obey you in everything is something that I want in my own life. Please help me to be humble and brave, and to follow their example. I offer myself to you and ask that you would create in me a heart that is pure and trusting, and that you would work humility in me for your glory.
Reading: Mark 7-9
…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:34-37
On learning that his disciples were discussing who was the greatest among them, it's interesting that Jesus doesn't rebuke them for this. Rather he explains to them what constitutes greatness in the kingdom of God, and it is clearly not what they were thinking. Greatness in the Kingdom allows no room for pride; rather, it stems from humility. It takes the opportunity to serve and delights in allowing others to go first. It is not self-promoting, but instead leaves God to promote as he sees fit. It seeks not the adoration of men, but rather, the approval of God.
Some of the greatest people in the Kingdom of God may be those whose deeds are unknown by the world, but, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Matthew 10:26
I enjoy being recognised for doing something well. But being able to enjoy the moment with my Father in heaven, and then “chew the fat” with him afterwards – that is a very great privilege. Enjoying the warmth of his approval frees me from the need to have the approval and affirmation of others. To please him in everything I do, knowing that he sees all I do, and knows what is in my heart – this should be my number one priority. Whatever job he has for me is the job I will put my heart and soul into, whether that job be great or small.
Thank you Jesus for your wonderful example. Help me to delight in serving others, and in knowing that as I serve, I am bringing pleasure to you, my King. I look forward to the reward you have for me. My life is in your hands.
Yes, the title of this SOAP was rather grandiose, wasn't it! “Simon the Great!” I had a good laugh with God about this one. Have you tried using SOAP in your own times with God? It's a great way to listen to God as you read his Word. You can learn more about SOAP here: What is SOAP?
Reading: Philippians 2
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place… Philippians 2:5-9a (NIV)
In the curious “upside-down, back to front” economy of the kingdom of God, greatness is to be found in humility. Choosing to put others before myself and to be like a servant is not actually choosing second best. On the contrary, it is a noble endeavour, and finds me living with the very same attitude that Jesus had. Rather than it being a humiliating waste of my time, serving is a way that I can embrace the very purposes of God for my life and achieve more quickly one of my life goals, to become more like Christ.
Somehow, viewing servanthood as a noble endeavour makes an enormous difference to the way I feel about it. It begins to feel like a privilege. It somehow brings to me a degree of personal dignity that I could never experience if I was always the one being served. And, of course, it can bring dignity to those being served, especially those not otherwise esteemed in the world's way of thinking.
When servitude is forced on a person, they are belittled and deprived of dignity. But when serving is a choice, everybody wins – the served and the server. Of course, nothing worthwhile comes without cost, and serving can certainly cost. But even if my efforts are not acknowledged or appreciated by those I serve, God is always watching, and his reward will surely follow.
Thank you God that you are working in me, “to will and to act according to [your] good purpose.” (Phil 2:13). I offer up to you my attitude about serving. Please make it pure, and work humility and generosity into the fabric of my heart. Help me to put selfishness aside, as well as the temptation to grumble and complain, and instead, create in me a pure heart, that I might have the same attitude as the one Jesus had, and still has – the noble attitude of a servant.
Reading: Mark 2-3
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Mark 3:4-6 (NIV)
You can almost read the Pharisees' minds: “Hey, this guy isn't obeying the rules!” But how long had it been since they had pondered the purposes of God and understood his heart for the sabbath? Jesus asked them a rhetorical question, yet to offer the answer would be to admit that their own take on the rule book was missing the point. It could have been a moment of profound learning, but the humility required was absent. Instead, both parties became angry, Jesus at their stubborn hearts, and the Pharisees like dogs who had been backed into a corner. Jesus is described as being “deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”
Is there any stubbornness in my heart? I would like to think not, but more likely the conditions that might provoke stubbornness are just not currently presenting themselves. It's easy to feel smug when times are good, but who knows how I might respond in a squeeze. What can I do now so that in the time of testing I will respond with humility instead of stubbornness?
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
Jesus, I want to be humble, and to find a place of peace away from the need to perform and be right, away from the need to cling to worthless principles instead of learning. Though I hesitate to ask, may I have moments of profound learning that I too may become gentle and humble in heart.