On the cross, Jesus felt the agony of the entire world, including those who feel voiceless in the developing world. He died for us, all of us, so that freedom from sin and all of its consequences could be accomplished; so that we may live in relationship with God once again. All we must do is choose him back (John 3:16), to cry out to Jesus.
"Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush him; he afflicted [him] (with sickness). If she [Zion/Jerusalem] places his life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh in his hand will succeed. From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied. In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide to him [a portion] among the many, and with [the] strong ones he shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with transgressors, and he carried [the] sin of many and will intercede for transgressors" (Isaiah 53:10-12, my translation).
500 years before Jesus, these words were prophesied. And in them is resurrection, for all of us. There is resurrection for the suffering in the developing world, who have placed their hands in my hands asking for prayer for relief from the pain. There is resurrection for the homeless man who I watched cry out "Jesus Christ my Lord," asking for salvation from his addictions. There is resurrection for me, the sinner who is only saved because of Jesus. There is resurrection for all of us.
Here, in the gospel according to the prophet Isaiah, I see a suffering servant dying as a "guilt offering" at the hands of his own people, Zion (or Jerusalem). I see a servant who does things that can only happen in life, after his death has already occurred: He sees offspring, prolongs days, and sees light. In these things he is satisfied, for he has accomplished the will of God.
I see resurrection here for all of us.
Jesus accomplished all the things in this prophesy. He is the suffering servant. In Jesus, I see hope for the entire world, including hope to overcome the pain being experienced by those in poverty in the developing world.
It is in Jesus that all things are possible (Philippians 4:13). In Jesus, one day, all things will be made new (Revelation 21). It is Jesus who can sympathize with our weaknesses and intercede on our behalf. It is Jesus who has overcome all.
Perhaps the author of Hebrews states it best:
"Therefore, since the children share in blood and flesh, he also in like manner shared in these same things, in order that through death he could destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and could set free these who through fear of death were subject to slavery throughout all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Jesus has come to set us free. And we are given the opportunity to set others free, from spiritual and physical poverty. Let us live that message this day. Let us feel it. Let it be like the joy of Easter Sunday, the resurrection day, when we embrace the spiritual resurrection Jesus offers now and the resurrection of the dead when he one day returns. Let us live the resurrected life now.
(The views on Isaiah 53 in this post are based on my book The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, published by InterVarsity Press, 2010.)
This article was previously published under the title, "Resurrection for All People, from All Pain, in Jesus."
The founder of Jesus' Economy, John D. Barry, is an author and editor. And now you can buy his books right on JesusEconomy.org! By purchasing John's books on JesusEconomy.org, you will help fuel the movement of Jesus' Economy. You will also get free shipping on every book! In addition, all of John's books are 10 percent off right now, for one week only!
This series of studies works through books of the Bible verse by verse, even phrase by phrase, with practical prayer suggestions and guided reflection questions for individual or group study. For this series, John has authored studies on the books of Malachi, Colossians, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter and Jude.
This 365-day devotional, which John co-authored with Rebecca Van Noord, covers the full span of the Bible in one year. The included reading plan curates readings each day from the Old Testament, New Testament, and poetic literature. John and Rebecca’s devotionals will help you grasp how the entire Bible is connected to reveal and exalt Jesus Christ. Practical questions at the end of each section help you reflect on what it looks like to live out the love of Jesus in everyday life.
In this study of 2 Corinthians, John uses Paul’s relationship with the church he established in Corinth to explore how Christians should deal with broken relationships. This study will equip you with godly wisdom to help you discern when to reconcile in relationships and when to walk away, by cutting ties with darkness.
These studies by John are perfect for your small group, Sunday school class, or small group. If you want to order several books for your group, we can offer you a bulk discount on John's books. Contact us at 1-855-355-3266 or email@example.com.
John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus' Economy. As such, he has dedicated his life to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. He also serves as a missionary with Resurrect Church Movement, the domestic division of Jesus' Economy dedicated to equipping U.S. churches to alleviate poverty and plant churches. John is the General Editor of Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary. He has authored or edited over 30 books, including Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, Cutting Ties with Darkness, and the daily devotional Connect the Testaments. John formerly served as founding Publisher of Lexham Press for Faithlife Corporation (the makers of Logos Bible Software) and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Bible Study Magazine, a product he launched. John speaks internationally on engaging the Bible, poverty, and spreading the gospel.
We hope that these books will help you gain understanding of the heart of our organization and, most importantly, the heart of Christ. Each and every purchase goes to support operations to fuel the movement of Jesus' Economy. Now that’s a win-win.
We all have moments of despair, but there are also the days when the sun peaks through the clouds and we stop and say, “You know, God really is here and working among us. I’m not alone at all.” It’s these moments that we have to capitalize on. These feelings of new life, of resurrection, can transform our lives and the lives of others.
The last month has been rough for me. I have often felt like everything is going the opposite way it should. But today, I realize that Jesus is here. It’s not that I didn’t believe that before—of course, I did—but today I feel like he is sitting next to me. When I think about Jesus’ presence among us, about his resurrected life, I imagine how Mary Magdalene must have felt upon seeing the resurrected Jesus. John’s Gospel records:
“Mary stood outside at the tomb, weeping. Then, while she was weeping, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white, seated one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him!’ When she had said these things, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ She thought that it was the gardener, and said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned around and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’ (which means ‘Teacher’). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene came and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” (John 20:11–18 LEB).
When you encounter the living Jesus, in the midst of despair, everything changes.
Here’s how my viewpoint recently changed: I just had the wonderful opportunity of announcing that the organization I lead, Jesus’ Economy, will be able to fund two church planters in northern India for another year. For us, reaching this goal was huge and difficult. And honestly, I wasn’t sure if we would make it. But I also couldn’t bear the thought of not living up to our commitment to fund these two church planters for three years.
The prompting of being on mission for Jesus, in proclamation of his resurrection, is what kept me going through this rough patch. And God coming through inspired me.
I believe the resurrected Jesus will keep you going, no matter what you’re going through.
I often think of what various holidays are like for those serving Jesus around the world—and of course, I especially think of our church planters in northern India.
Our church planters in northern India are living self-sacrificially everyday, spreading the gospel to those who have never heard Jesus’ name. Their lives are living testimonies of who Jesus is. And this puts it all in perspective for me: all of my difficulties do not remotely compare to their hardships. And yet, they get the splendid opportunity of seeing Jesus work everyday—which really makes it all worth it.
Easter resurrection is something real for church planters in northern India: They regularly see lives fully transformed by Jesus. And so, their lives make me wonder how much better and fuller my life would be if I could make the same kind of sacrifice. This makes me think of Jesus’ words just prior to the cross:
“This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13 LEB).
Living resurrected life with Jesus means living self-sacrificially. And that changes everything. It makes every difficulty an opportunity to do something good for someone else. It takes the perspective off of us, and puts the perspective on God’s workings in the world.
Until this last month, I thought of thankfulness as an attitude, but it’s so much more. Thankfulness is a perspective we look at the world through. As we are grateful for the resurrected life of Christ, and the resurrected life he offers us, our worldview changes. It’s not about saying, “Oh, I’m so grateful I have all this (whatever this is for you).” Thankfulness is saying, “Oh, I’m so grateful that Jesus came for me (for all of us), and that he is with me now—right here.” Saint Paul put it this way:
“One person prefers one day over another day, and another person regards every day alike [for the Sabbath and festivals]. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who is intent on the day is intent on it for the Lord, and the one who eats eats for the Lord [in celebration], because he is thankful to God, and the one who does not eat does not eat for the Lord [that is he fasts], and he is thankful to God. For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For Christ died and became alive again for this reason, in order that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:5–9 LEB).
Paul is talking about various viewpoints for feasting, celebration, worship services, and fasting among his audience, but this has a direct implication for us. Whatever we do, let us do it for Christ, in thankfulness—in order that he might be Lord over all things in our lives, in every season.
It’s this perspective that perfectly fits with the Easter season, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection for each of us, for all of us. This season we celebrate Jesus’ resurrected life and his resurrection of our lives.
I’m not saying that this sorts everything out; like all of us, I still get depressed along the way. But today on the other side of this, I feel different—today, I realize that God is much greater than I could ever imagine. Today, I realize that he indeed always comes through—he resurrects our efforts and turns them into something beautiful.
At times, justice becomes a bit of a catch phrase, sadly even a cliché. Yet it’s one of the most important concepts we can understand and live. I have seen injustice with my own eyes, and each day the news tells each of us of acts of injustice. But rather than feel defeat, let’s stand up, take action, and do something about it. Here are four ways justice should be the cry of today’s Christian.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus taking on our pain and anguish—and on the cross, we see him taking on our sin. Think about these four things Jesus says and prays in the Garden:
“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
“My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.”
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will must be done” (Matthew 26:36–46 LEB).
It is here that we see the man—Jesus. It is here that we find one who walks alongside the downtrodden, the hurting, the poor, the outsider, the refugee, the sinner—all the way to the cross. Here we find the one who walks alongside all of us, all the way to the cross. Here we see God enfolding, through Jesus, all people into his kingdom. Jesus does God’s will, so that we can have life.
In the garden, Jesus asks if the cup can be removed from him; but not his will, but God the Father’s be done. Jesus realizes the burden he is about to carry. This burden is described in Isaiah (over 500 years before Jesus) as:
“By a restraint of justice, [the servant] was taken away and with his generation.
Who could have mused that [the servant] would be cut off from the land of the living? Marked for the transgression of my people.
And [Yahweh] set his grave with the wicked, and [the servant] was with the rich in his death, although [the servant] had done no wrong, and there was no deceit in his mouth
Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush [the servant]; he afflicted him (with sickness). If [Zion] places [the servant’s] life a guilt offering, [the servant] will see offspring, [the servant] will prolong days. And the will of Yahweh is in [the servant’s] hand, it will succeed. Out of trouble of his life [the servant] will see; [the servant] will be satisfied by his knowledge.
[Yahweh says,] ‘My righteous servant will bring justice to many and he will bear their iniquities’ ” (Isaiah 53:8–11, my translation).
As painful as it is, it pleased Yahweh that Jesus should go to the cross, for it is in this that God found not just ultimate obedience, but also the bridging of humanity with himself. The judgment of God for our wrongdoings was satisfied. Once again, we were put into right relationship with God.
It is in Jesus that we find the refugee on the cross. Here we find the guilt offering for all of our wrongs. Here we find one who carries our sin, bears our iniquities, and intercedes for transgressors. Here we find a restraint of justice bringing justice to those who do not deserve it.
But what will we do with this justice, with this freedom?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in his work from Birmingham Jail. And it is injustice that we see today—all over our planet.
Near the end of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. was working to bring equality by creating jobs. And yet, so much of the world still lacks jobs, because we haven’t completed the task. This is injustice.
We look around the world and we also see those who are oppressed—who lack spiritual and religious freedom, who lack knowledge of Jesus. This too is an injustice.
We must stand up, lift up, and rise up—to fight these injustices, boldly proclaiming that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We can read Jesus’ call to care for the “least of these” in Matthew 25:37–40 as a direct preface and parallel to what he will do on the cross. Jesus went to the cross to make us who do not deserve to be right before God, made right. And just before doing so, he calls us to live this message—noting for us that whether or not we did will be a primary question when he one day returns to earth.
So when we look around our world, and see a lack of access to basic healthcare, clean water, and jobs—like I have seen in the impoverished region of Bihar, India—we know that we must take action.
Jesus cries out for this. This is the Christian cry. And it is my personal cry, as I am personally broken for the hurting that I know in Bihar—for those who have placed their hands in my hands and cried out to God with me for justice.
We can also read the final words of Matthew’s Gospel, spoken by Jesus, as a commission based on his ministry in life, on the cross, and in his resurrection. And it’s a commission of action. Jesus says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20 LEB).
Yet, there are still millions of people who have not heard Jesus’ name—again, this is the case in Bihar, India. In Bihar, there are 101 Million people who have never heard the name of Jesus. This again, is an injustice. All people deserve the chance to have access to the gospel.
The question becomes for each of us: What will we do about it? Why are we content with the knowledge of God, but not the actions of God? When will justice become part of the gospel? Because in actuality it is—we’re just not living it.
Do not walk away with guilt; walk away inspired to take action. Let’s continue the work of Jesus, the apostles, the early church fathers, and people like Martin Luther King, Jr. Let’s mark this season as the one everything changed, and we began to renew our world again with Christ, by his power and grace.
Gospel work is a process. And there are days when it feels like the road ahead feels not just rocky, but downright treacherous. We’ve all been here. It is in these moments that it can feel difficult to go on with Christ’s work. When all feels hopeless, here are some ideas of what you can do.
We often forget just how holistic God’s work is. And God can manage the concerns of his creation, surely he can manage our concerns. Jesus once said:
“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat, and not for your body, what you will wear. Is your life not more than food and your body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky, that they do not sow or reap or gather produce into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are? And who among you, by being anxious, is able to add one hour to his life span?” (Matthew 6:25–27 LEB).
Anxiety and worry is easy. Faith is hard. But if we lack faith, we need to look no further than the birds of the air to realize God’s faithfulness. And this isn’t some sort of “easy way out” theology. I am advocating that we actually stop and observe—contemplate, pray, and then act. Notice the order: stop, observe, contemplate, pray, and then act.
Once we visibly observe God’s work, trust in him becomes much easier. In the midst of hopelessness, we must realize that we serve a God who shows us everyday that we can indeed have hope (Hebrews 11:1).
It can seem a bit cliché at times, but it’s an important reminder: God’s creation is beautifully clothed, so why would he not also care for you? In the same passage we have already looked at, Jesus goes on to say:
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe the lilies of the field, how they grow: they do not toil or spin, but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these. But if God dresses the grass of the field in this way, although it is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not do so much more for you, you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30 LEB).
We struggle over our concerns of today, but how often do they merely fade into the background when tomorrow comes. At times, we wonder where God’s provision will come from while we forget what he did yesterday. Think of what God did yesterday—that may change everything about today.
Anxiety brings no real value to our lives. Instead, it concerns our mind and occupies our time. It’s meant to distract us from what is real and important—what matters, which is our loving God and the work he wants to do through our hands. Jesus concludes his remarks about worry and anxiety by saying:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?,’ for the pagans seek after all these things. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, because tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:31–34 LEB).
If we seek first God’s kingdom, everything else fades into the background. As we turn our focus from ourselves to Jesus, we see that our concerns about ourselves were really not that important at all. When we mentally place our fate in God’s hands—which it literally is anyways—our perspective shifts and we realize what’s most important: knowing God and accomplishing his purposes by loving others.
It’s so easy to toil from one day to the next without acknowledging what God has done the day before. I make that mistake, and I’m sure you have made that mistake before too. And lest we think this is a small matter, let’s take a moment and contemplate why changing our perspective is so important.
When we change our perspective from our worries and concerns—from food, clothing, materialism, and even our personal goals—and turn our focus towards God’s goals, we have an opportunity to truly change the world. Around our globe there are people who are suffering in poverty, and people who have never had the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus. If our perspective is skewed, we will never find the strength we need to address these issues. We will lack the courage necessary to do God’s work, because we will be paralyzed by fear. But if we have courage, imagine what could happen.
God has incredible things in store for this world. Joining him means partnering with him, and partnering with him means setting our eyes on Jesus.
Join us in providing access to the gospel in Bihar, India, where 101 million people have never heard the name of Jesus. Together, we can renew hope.
It's always surreal to review your past year. There is part of you that feels good about your accomplishments and part of you that wishes more goodness would have occured. I recently experienced these emotions when launching the 2014 Annual Report for Jesus' Economy. Here are some spiritual lessons I learned through my reflections.
Hindsight offers so much clarity that the process does not. When I look at some of the bigger decisions Jesus' Economy made in 2014, I only wish we had made those shifts earlier. I have to remind myself that I can only have that emotion in hindsight. In realtime, ideas come together slowly: We need input and discussion to draw wise conclusions, and much prayer. Rather than wishing for changes sooner, we should be glad that we were open to changes when we were.
This makes me think of James' words: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him ... let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak" (James 1:5, 19).
I always want to do more and be more, and in the process, I easily forget to thank God for what he has done. Near the end of assembling our annual report, I began going back through it and emphasizing the work of God. What happened through Jesus' Economy in 2014 is nothing short of a miracle, and I need to give God credit for it. It was God who came through for us, to make his work happen. We are merely stewards of this effort. When you see all the work put together in one picture, like an annual report, this becomes obvious. Thus, I wonder if this is a process we should apply to our lives in general. If we were to review regularly, would we more easily see God at work and be grateful for it?
Simply put: There is no value in wishing for more in retrospect. There is only value in being grateful for our "portion" and what God has done with it. This is the lesson of the book of Ecclesiastes. We should be grateful for growth, but also grateful for sustainability. Another way to put it: Growth too fast makes the heart grow weary. We should be grateful for sustainability, not longing after growth that is overly ambitious. For that type of growth will not last.
Reflecting on this past year has made me dream about all the great things that could be, and all the incredible work that I want to see God do. Our dreams must fold into God's dreams (the lesson of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7), but once we're certain of God's dreams, we should pray and work to make those dreams real (Matt 7:7-11).
Once again, simply put: We should celebrate the victories of God and then act on what we believe he wants to do next. And along the way, we should pray, pray, and then pray again.
I am thankful for these lessons. They profoundly remind me that all of us merely steward God's work in the world. We are all instruments that God is using to play his beautiful song. Let's dream with him and sing with him.
In Bihar, India church planters are facing a great challenge. There are millions of people who have never even heard the name of Jesus. I met over a dozen church planters when in Bihar—they changed my life. They were like meeting Saint Paul, over and over again.
One church planter said: “I lead six churches in five villages and three small groups. I also oversee five Bible studies.” He then went on to list half a dozen community development programs he leads, all of which empower people in rural villages. I was flabbergasted.
Another said: “We’re reaching out to villages who have never heard the name of Jesus” and “The message is empowering people—they’re being healed and finding a new life.”
“There are women who are finding hope again for themselves and their children in the gospel of Jesus,” said yet another church planter. “They’re seeing that Jesus can change their lives for the better and embracing the gospel.”
The good news of Jesus is renewing lives in Bihar, India. Stories like these are just a few of hundreds. But these questions don’t just motivate me; they convict me.
When you meet a church planter who has given up everything to provide others access to the gospel, you suddenly realize that you can spend your entire life studying the Bible and not understand Jesus. Am I willing to give what these church planters give? Am I willing to live as Saint Paul lived, like they are?
What does the process of making a complete commitment to providing access to the gospel look like? For Paul, it was his direct experience with Jesus (Acts 9), but it was also more. Acts tells this story:
"Now there were prophets and teachers in Antioch in the church that was there: Barnabas, and Simeon (who was called Niger), and Lucius the Cyrenian, and Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch), and Saul. And while they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart now for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:1-3).
For Paul, his decision to provide others with access to the gospel began with a personal experience, but then moved to a group decision. It also, most importantly, involved the direct words of the Holy Spirit. Paul knew he was called, but he waits for this moment to commit all of his time to it. God was working in Paul's life the entire time, but this moment marked his full-time commitment.
Being around church planters in Bihar made me admit to myself that I am not as hardworking for Jesus as I thought I was, and furthermore that I actually know very little about what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t say this to be self-depreciating—in some kind of false humility; I actually mean it. Meeting church planters in Bihar, India is like meeting people who lived like Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. And meeting those kinds of people will change you.
My time in Bihar made me realize, as we all should—that no matter what our calling is—that we have a long ways to go. And that Jesus wants to work on our hearts to get us where we need to be. No matter what our specific calling, he will use it for his glory, but we must first be willing to admit our weaknesses and be used by him (Phil 4:12-14). We must also wait on God's precise timing, as Paul and Barnabas did.
When Paul decided to pursue a global ministry, he was giving up other parts of life for Jesus. Nonetheless, Paul—and likewise the church planters in Bihar—made the decision to share about Jesus and the incredible life he offers. They committed their lives to providing access to the gospel and alleviating poverty.
No matter what your precise calling is, Christ wants to renew your life, for the better. And along the way, during the discernment process, he will be with you.
We are actively working to renew Bihar, India through church planting: Please join us. For just $226, you can support a church planter for a month. You can help people hear the name of Jesus for the first time.
We have all experienced suffering. We look for answers. We cry out to God. And we ask him, "Where are you?" In this sermon, delivered at The Bowery Mission in New York City, I tell about my experience with depression and suffering, and what I learned about God in the process. I also share some profound biblical passages about pain and anguish.
In John 13, Jesus and his closest friends gather together to celebrate the Passover. It is a scene of beautiful companionship. They are relaxed and uplifted by their engagement in the ceremony of the Passover supper. In their culture, it was an act of hospitality for a slave to perform the distasteful task of washing the guest's feet. But here in the upper room we get to witness something very special.
All of a sudden we notice Jesus rise from the table and break tradition by taking the role of a servant, of the lowest of the low. He takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, and fills a bowl with water. He stoops to wash the first of his disciples' feet, and then proceeds to do so for each and every one of them. Their feet are not clean as ours are. They are dirty, muddy, and probably smelly.
One Sabbath morning in Lae, Papua New Guinea, I encountered a foot washing experience that will forever stick with me. The church was decked out with tropical flowers in readiness for the communion service, and the worshippers were in their best clothes, wearing their big white smiles, and carrying their precious Bibles. Just as Jesus did for his disciples, each of the church attendees was to wash one another's feet. This was like no foot washing experience I had ever participated in. There was mud. There were flies. We were kneeling on leaves to try to keep our best clothes out of the mud. Many of them had no shoes, and those who did wore flip-flops. They trekked for kilometers over mountains, through streams, through red betel-spit stained puddles. Some had fungal infections. Many had sores. It was a uniquely humbling experience to wash the feet of, and have my feet washed by these beautiful Christian people.
Back in the upper room the disciples must have looked at each other somewhat sheepishly. Their master, their teacher, their savior was washing their feet. “I should have done that!” perhaps they inwardly rebuked themselves; Peter even said so (John 13:8). Just like the disciples, we too need to be humbled. Jesus took the first and biggest step of humility when he left heaven to come as the newborn babe of a poor girl, born in a manager, with a label of illegitimate hanging over his head.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8, “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!”
Let's look at the steps Jesus took when he washed his disciples’ feet. First, he took off his outer robe. What might this represent for you and I? Overcoming our pride? Casting aside selfish ambition? Stepping beyond our comfort zone? Allowing Jesus to remove our fear? Sometimes, the first step is the hardest to take, but if we don't take that first step, we may never learn the joy of service.
Second, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and poured water into a basin. He prepared for the task at hand. This will differ for each of us according to what the Lord is calling us to, and our calling now might not be our calling next month, next year, or next decade. Perhaps we need to gain a certain skill or qualification (e.g., learn a new language or take a first aid course). Perhaps we need to purchase resources, do some planning, get together a team, or maybe just spend more time in prayer and Bible study. Whatever it is, we cannot just rush headlong into service. Just like Jesus, we need to take the necessary steps of preparation to be effective in our respective ministries.
The next step is what I like to call “see a need, fill a need.” Dirty feet need to be washed. Hungry bellies need to be fed. The illiterate need lessons. Those with illness and disease need medicine. Wayward teens need guidance. Abused women need a refuge. Corrupt governments need to be opposed. The list goes on and on. What needs do you see in your home, community, country, and world?
Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 how each body part serves a unique purpose and yet is valuable and integral to the function of the body. Similarly, each one of us has different gifts, skills, and passions, and God designed us that way because he has a unique role he wants each of us to enact. Yet we all serve the ultimate purpose of bringing him glory. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Jesus is our example when it comes to dirty, muddy service. The disciples followed his example taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, being stoned, imprisoned, and even martyred for the sake of the gospel. So, what dirty, muddy service is the Lord calling you to today? Is it to help out in the local soup kitchen? Volunteer to wash the dishes after a church potluck? Serve in a far-off land whose President's name you cannot pronounce?
Whatever your call might be, just remember that Jesus too made sacrifices, Jesus too got his hands dirty, and Jesus too calls us to this dirty, muddy service.
As we enter the New Year, it’s easy to look back at the last year and think, “What if …” but is that what God wants for our life? Regret is a fickle friend. I think there is a better friend to be found.
Regret assumes all of the knowledge of today, much of which wasn’t available when past decisions were made. And as such, “regret” is never accurate. Regret also leads to self-pity—and “self-pity” only tells lies.
But there are some helpful things about regret—the self-reflective nature of regret can be used for good. So what if we had the self-reflection without the self-pity and without regret itself? What if, right now, each of us took the things we wish could have been different and turned them into positive change?
Although God himself is unchanging in character—he is no fickle person—he is prone to make changes. God knows that things must be different to be better.
We see this in the life of Moses; Moses’ entire journey starts with his deep sadness about the enslavement of the Hebrew people (Exodus 2:11). Moses first responds incorrectly, with taking the life of a persecutor. Filled with worry, and likely regret, Moses runs to the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15). And this is where the story could end—with Moses living out his life as a fugitive. But God wants something from Moses—he wants to redeem Moses and use his life for good. Yahweh says to Moses:
“Surely I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry of distress because of their oppressors, for I know their sufferings. And I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from this land to a good and wide land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, … look, the cry of distress of the Israelites has come to me, and also I see the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. And now come, and I will send you to Pharaoh, and you must bring my people, the Israelites, out from Egypt” (Exodus 3:7–10 LEB).
Moses believes God, but knows the severity of these words. He understands that the task of freeing the Hebrew slaves will be incredibly difficult. Moses says to God:
“‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out from Egypt?’ And [Yahweh] said, ‘Because I am with you, and this will be the sign for you that I myself have sent you: When you bring the people out from Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain’” (Exodus 3:11–12 LEB).
Moses’ life will not be one full of regret after all, but instead one of advocating on behalf of the oppressed. And God himself will be with Moses. And today, God himself wants to be with you. He wants to change the world through your life (John 17).
The New Year brings with it the thought of new opportunity. Indeed, each day is new, but the feeling of a New Year helps us to make commitments and take actions. Some of these actions are fueled by regret, while others are fueled by desire. But what if our new commitments were instead fueled by our love for our God?
We have an opportunity, right here and right now, to make a decision to walk alongside the oppressed. To be a people who, like Moses, lift up those on the underside of power—those without a voice. And we have a God who wants to see that happen.
Our God hears the cries of the hurting. What can you do this coming year to walk alongside those who desperately in need of an advocate? How can you change your lifestyle to better align it with God’s ways? Imagine the power of the Holy Spirit working through you this year to transform lives. And imagine all the glory you could give to Jesus when that happens.
Here is the New Year. May God renew you. And may God renew our world. Let’s make this Jesus’ economy, based on self-sacrifice and love.
Want to get involved with helping the oppressed right now? Join Jesus’ Economy in renewing Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus. You can also partner with Jesus’ Economy by donating your time or birthday to making the world a better place.