Mar 1:7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
It is interesting that each of the Gospels record these words of John the Baptist. As it turns out, this phrase had special meaning in his day. Jesus, of course, was a rabbi to end all rabbis. In these days rabbis couldn’t hold regular work and have time to study and teach and so their students were expected to do all sorts of things for them to free up their time. One regulation found in the ancient times read like this, “Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher, except the loosing of his sandal-thong”.
So evidently John was known for saying that the one thing that was beneath a student to do for his teacher; something reserved for slaves alone, he was not even worthy to do for Jesus. John said this in the context of pointing out that Jesus existed before him and was of a higher rank than John. John knew that Jesus was more than just the latest Rabbi to come along. Jesus was no mere man but the Word made flesh, the God-Man.
But these words also help us put into perspective not just how we relate to Jesus Christ but to our fellow man. John knew that he wasn’t even worthy to loosen the sandal of God because he was Jesus’s sinful creature. The Gap between him and Jesus was the distance of a worm crawling around in a wheel’s rut and Jesus is the moon. When we have the proper perspective of ourselves before God then we can understand our relationship to the rest of humanity. We are all worms, crawling around on this earth who deserve nothing but God’s wrath.
If this is so then it is a particularly obnoxious sin for anyone to think there are acts of service and kindness that is beneath them when it comes to serving one another and even more so in the local church family. The fact is that the Son of God, our creator, stooped to our level and served us in the most humiliating ways possible. He was hung naked on a cross and as if that wasn’t enough, the innocent suffered the wrath of God in the place of us rebels. If he did that for us then who are we to put limits on what we will do to serve each other?
Of course this is precisely Paul’s point in Philippians 2, Php 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Php 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Php 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, Php 2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Php 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
His point is that if Jesus being God condescended to serve man then how can we put limits on our service to each other. The fact is, there is only one person who can actually condescend to a lower level and that is Christ. No matter our station in life, we are all just sinners deserving of Hell and cannot condescend because we are already as low as we can get.
By the way, this point loses its punch if Jesus isn’t God. If he is just another creature who served us then any example could be used. But because of his original position, his stooping to become a man and die for us removes any excuse we have for not serving one another.
Lastly, Paul reminds us that those who serve like Jesus did will be exalted as Jesus was. The Lord is gracious to reward sinners for doing what is their duty! This goes with Jesus’s teaching that it is the servant who is great in the kingdom, not the one being served, Mar 10:43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, Mar 10:44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. Mar 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Notice that Jesus uses the cross as the same motivation for our service as well.
We are not worthy to serve the Lord in the most menial task, yet by grace he gives us the privilege to “untie his sandal”. But we must remember that there is no task that is beneath us when it comes to serving one another. If this mind is in us, then how can the church not be a place of love, peace and fellowship?