“Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
What is God like? Well there are many ways we could answer that question, aren’t there? One response we might make, and this is following the thought of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and before Him the Apostle John, is to say that God is like Jesus, and in Him there is no un-Christlikeness at all.
Even here, as Jesus prepares to wash His disciples feet, there is no embarrassment in heaven. No desire in the Father to distance Himself from the Son’s willingness to stoop and wash the filthy feet of sinners. No need to caveat those astounding words, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father!” This is God on display here. Enfleshed in our nature, no doubt, but God is the One washing feet. We see hints of this radical other-centeredness throughout the Godhead: The Father who, in the face of the anti-God hostility of this fallen world, sends His treasure, His well-beloved Son out into the vicious darkness to die. Alone. Rejected. Abandoned. Forsaken. For us. The Son is not the only person of the Godhead who makes sacrifices!
James captures the Father’s nature well in the Greek of his first chapter: Who is God? James says, He is the “God who gives” with an openhanded, all day long generosity. “Without variation or shadow of change…” is James’ way of saying the shadows of God’s kindness do not lengthen. There is no nighttime to His goodness. The sun of Grace never sets. It’s always rising with healing upon its wings, ready to lavish it’s treasures on wretches who deserve anything but kindness and mercy.
We see this same other-centeredness in God the Holy Spirit. His whole ministry is to point away from Himself. You may have heard James Packer’s unforgettable illustration in which he likens the Holy Spirit to the flood lights surrounding a cathedral at night. Driving by, nobody says, “What glorious spotlights!” No, they gasp at the glorious Cathedral flooded with incandescent service. So it is with the Holy Spirit, the most behind the scenes member of the Trinity, in all His work He points away from Himself drawing the believer’s attention to the Father and to the Son; never to Himself. “Don’t look at me,” He says, “Look at Them, focus on Them!”
Godliness grows as we imitate this God. Our default posture, of course, is quite the reverse. We want to draw attention to ourselves. We are greedy for pleasure, praise, fulfillment, recognition for what we have done. We want to be in the Spotlight, not be spotlights. Repressing these urges feels more like dying than living! But dead is what we are called to be — dead to sin, yes, but dead first to ourselves.
God’s weapon for killing the ego is the cross. This is God’s slaughterhouse, the killing field of the soul, where proud sinners come and see the selfless King dying in the place of selfish slaves. Looking at the Sun of Righteousness here burns out the haughty eyes of the soul. It is a painful, but a necessary work. For before we will live for God, we must first die to ourselves.