Two Lessons from the Master

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi,
we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.—John 3:2

Tim Thomassen

Before partaking of his last meal with his disciples, Jesus said to them: “Ye call me The Teacher and The Lord,—and well say, for I am” (John 13:13, Rotherham). The King James translation uses the word “Master” instead of “Teacher.” It reads: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.”

The Greek word translated “Teacher” or “Master” means instructor. It may refer to a doctor, master, or teacher. Therefore, either the title “Master” or “Teacher” is appropriate when applied to Jesus. He may even be thought of as our “Master Teacher.”

On another occasion, Jesus issued this invitation: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus was indeed meek and lowly in heart. This was dramatically exhibited on numerous occasions. He had his heavenly Father’s approval and assistance because this trait is what God desires in all his children: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

If we are to be taught, we must also be of this attitude and disposition. The psalmist wrote: “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Psalm 25:9). We must humbly look to Jesus as our teacher and sincerely desire to receive his schooling. It is essential that we be familiar with our Master’s life and teachings and conduct ourselves in accordance with those things.

With this in mind, let us consider two incidents in our Lord’s life to learn what he expects of his followers. What Jesus said to Phillip, he says to us: “Follow me” (John 1:43). This means to follow him in the same way, to accompany him as a disciple.

The Samaritan Woman

The Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is found in the fourth chapter of John and it offers many lessons for the students of Christ. This was a truly remarkable and significant event, certainly one of the great events in Jesus’ earthly life. He related some miraculous things to this inquisitive and thirsty woman.

The fact that Jesus even chose to travel through Samaria is noteworthy, for in so doing, he risked injury. It was well known that the Samaritans and Jews were engaged in a longstanding feud. Hatred and bitterness characterized their feelings toward each other. There was no social interaction between them except for business transactions from time to time. Jesus could have bypassed Samaria but he did not. After all, his heavenly Father was with him. He knew he had his Father’s protection and assistance, just as we have it.

The words of the psalmist should give us strength and confidence for every situation: “The LORD is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

We should take courage from Jesus’ words to Pilate shortly before his death: “So Pilate said to him … Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you? Jesus answered, You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10,11, NASB).

This should be a comfort to us, for we know that our heavenly Father is watching over and caring for us. He will not allow any harm to come to us unless he designs it for our good. Jesus demonstrated his firm faith and belief in that fact as illustrated in his trip through Samaria and on many other occasions.

Jesus quickly turned the conversation with the woman into an opportunity to discuss a feature of God’s plan and character. Beginning with a simple request, “Give me to drink” (verse seven), he proceeded to discuss deep spiritual truths with this lonely woman.

Although perhaps tired from the journey, Jesus did not hold back from discussing spiritual matters. What an example he was of the apostle’s later admonition, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). If Jesus ever spoke of earthly things, it was usually to explain profound spiritual lessons. His parables were good examples of this.

But in this experience Jesus shows us what it means to be instant in the preaching of God’s word, whether for us it is “in season, [or] out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). The Greek word translated “season” means “well timed,” “opportune,” or “convenient.” So we should proclaim God’s word, not only when it is convenient, but also at times when it is not so convenient.

“This cannot mean that we are to violate the laws of reason and decency by intruding the good tidings upon others at times inconvenient and unseasonable to them; but it does mean that we are to have such a love for the truth, such an earnest desire to serve it, that we will gladly accept the opportunity to do so, however inconvenient it may be for ourselves. It is the chief business of our lives, to which life itself even is subservient, and, hence, no opportunity for service must be laid aside.”—Reprints, p. 3211.

This incident in Samaria calls to mind our Lord’s description of himself: “I am meek and lowly of heart.” He was willing to talk with and minister to just one person. He did not need a large audience nor did he feel a need to be “in the spotlight.” And he was not bound by the prejudices of people around him.

Politically Incorrect

According to the customs of the time, Jesus committed several “politically incorrect” blunders. First, he spoke to a Samaritan, something Jews generally did not do. But it was not just a Samaritan, it was a Samaritan woman.

The decorum of that region regarded it as unbecoming, if not positively wrong, for any man, especially a rabbi, to hold a conversation with a strange woman. Additionally, the rabbis cautioned Jews not to address any woman in the street, even their own wives, lest they cause a scandal.

Furthermore, there was something about this woman that suggests she was an outcast or one held in low esteem. Many have labeled her a harlot, though the Scriptures do not specifically say it. Nevertheless, it seems significant that she came to the well at noon, during the heat of the day. The customary time for women to draw water was either in the cool of the morning or evening. They would visit and socialize as they completed their tasks.

But she came alone. Whatever her circumstances, Jesus knew what they were, for she later declared, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did” (verse 29).

It was to this lonely Samaritan woman that Jesus uttered words of significance to which all future ages would heed. Jesus first revealed himself as Messiah, not to his family, nor to his disciples, nor even to his fellow Jews, but to this woman of a despised people.

On so many occasions our Lord said remarkable things to unremarkable people in unremarkable situations. This should reassure us as we realize the Lord has been dealing primarily with the unpretentious. He takes the ignoble things of the world and makes of them things that are noble, that will reflect his glory and show forth his praises throughout all eternity.

Washing the Disciples’ Feet

In John 13 we read of another incident where water is also featured. But unlike chapter four where it appears for drinking purposes, our Master Teacher put it into a basin and washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus, knowing that the time of his death was near, evidently thought it necessary to teach his disciples a lesson of humility illustrated by himself. He needed to correct the erroneous ideas they had concerning the prerequisites for discipleship. Previous to this experience, at least two of them had shown too much interest in worldly honors and esteem. James and John had requested that in the kingdom they might sit the one on the right hand and the other on the left, in closest proximity to Jesus, and implying very high office (Mark 10:35-37).

Our Lord taught his disciples a lesson in humility: “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”—Mark 10:42-45

Not only Jesus’ words but also his actions were often inexplicable to his disciples. This foot-washing incident was no exception. Jesus had acknowledged himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, their Lord and Master. And yet there he was, kneeling before them in the attitude of a humble servant, washing their feet.

After finishing the service, Jesus explained its significance. He had given them an example of humility, in his willingness to perform the most menial task for those whom he loved. In their fear to be the least, all of the disciples had missed the opportunity of service for the Master and for each other.

Their Lord, their Head and Master, had humbled himself to serve them all. Thus he rebuked their pride and at the same time set them an example that would apply to every affair of life. He powerfully illustrated how that they should be glad to serve one another on every occasion, whether it be in the high things or in the common affairs of daily living. This washing of one another’s feet applies to every operation of life, any and every kindness, though especially along the lines of spiritual assistance and comfort.

Our Foot-Washing Opportunities

We have many opportunities for comforting, refreshing, and consoling one another in some of the humblest affairs or even in respect to some unpleasant tasks or trials. Any deed done or attempted to be done in love, with the desire to do good to one of the Lord’s people, we may be sure has our Lord’s approval and blessing. Let us lose no opportunities of this kind as we remember the Master’s example. 

Like him, we should not merely assume humility, but actually perform kindnesses and services to all with whom we come in contact, especially the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). It is a special privilege to assist the members of the Lord’s body, the church.

Christ is our Master Teacher. He instructs us by example as well as by doctrine. For that end he came into this world and dwelt among us, that he might exhibit all those graces and fruits which he desires his followers to develop. And it is a picture without a single false stroke. That is why it is so important to attend to his word, to imitate his examples, and thus be thoroughly conformed to his image.

May the words of a beautiful old hymn echo the sincere sentiments of our hearts:

“More like the Master, I would ever be.
More of his meekness, more humility;
More zeal to labor, more courage to be true.
More consecration for work he bids me do.
More like the Master, I would live and grow;
More of his love to others I would show;
More self denial, like his in Galilee,
More like the Master, I long to ever be.”