What did Jesus say about Himself? How did His words bring these claims home to the minds of His listeners?
At its core, all of what Jesus said was an attempt to help us, as weak humans, to see the true character and will of His Father. Jesus made a number of “I am” statements during His life. These are self-descriptive phrases that refer to His identity and purpose. Here’s one of the major ones: “ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him’ ” (John 14:6, 7).1
Notice the three ways Jesus describes Himself: the way, the truth, and the life. What is He talking about? Is He saying that the only way to get to God is through Him? That there is only one way to God? Is this the kind of exclusivity that permeates the attitudes of so many Christians and turns off so many others?
If you read these two statements together, the idea Jesus is building is one of revelation and knowledge. Notice how He uses the word “know” several times. He’s saying that one of His roles is to make God known, to reveal God and God’s way of life, to show what the truth of life really is. The author who writes these words, John the disciple of Jesus, at the very beginning of this personal account of Jesus’ life, calls Jesus “the Word” of God (John 1:1-3, 14). He’s suggesting that Jesus’ primary mission or purpose is to reveal God and what God is like.
Jesus is the spoken words of God made flesh, the one who describes God as “grace and truth” (vs. 17). Jesus comes to live life God’s way in order to show what that “way” is. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (vs. 18). So Jesus is the human revelation of God. The question is, What did Jesus’ life reveal God to be like? What is God’s “way, truth, and life?”
John the disciple, writing his book about Jesus, remembers a radical and revealing scene involving Jesus and the twelve disciples. In Chapter 13 he describes it. The whole group had gathered together to celebrate the Jewish Passover in an upstairs room. (This is the evening before the day Jesus was executed.) The normal practice is for a servant to enter the room to wash the guest’s dirty feet before the meal. No servant showed up. The disciples looked around the room, uncomfortable, wondering what to do. None of them moved toward the pitcher and basin. They each felt that was too demeaning. John describes what happened next: Jesus “got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:5, NLT).
Imagine the shock waves reverberating through the room. The master, the Rabbi doing the washing! Unheard of. It’s a servant’s job, after all! “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, ‘Do you understand what I was doing? You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them’ ” (vss. 12-17, NLT).
What is the “way” Jesus is both referring to and demonstrating? The way of unselfish service. The willingness to give yourself in meaningful ways to others. The path of humility and selflessness. Significantly, Jesus gave His life to others before He ever went to the Cross. He lived a life of compassion and service to everyone, no matter what their condition or status. Washing feet symbolized Jesus’ entire way of living.
And by doing life this way, He was making powerful statements about what God was really like, the truth about God. He once told the disciples: “ ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.
Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’ ” (Matt. 20:25-28).
Imagine how radical and revolutionary this view of divine and human interaction was. The Greeks viewed humans as placed on this earth to serve the gods. The Romans embraced a hierarchy of status in which the lower strata of the population existed solely to serve the higher strata. But Jesus came along and portrayed the polar opposite. In God’s regime, God serves. God washes people’s feet. God acts in humble caring and compassion. God’s way is the path of selfless service. The truth about God is that God lives to love.
So in God’s world, real life, real living, centers on giving and serving. Jesus once said, “ ‘The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life’ ” (John 10:10, NLT).2