One of the troubles with trouble is that it can encourage us toward selfishness. When things are going well for us, it is rather easy to feel magnanimous. When challenges come our way, however, suddenly we feel entitled to be focused on ourselves.
Not so with Jesus. It is more than shocking that the Lord of glory would, as He did in John 13, take on the form of the lowliest servant and wash the feet of His disciples. What makes it all the more potent is that He did this on the night in which He was betrayed. Jesus was within a day of facing not just Roman crucifixion, the most gruesome death one could imagine, but facing the full wrath and fury of His Father poured out on Him. Yet His immediate concern was not this grave challenge before Him but that He might teach one more lesson to His disciples. A few chapters later, His prayers were focused on two things — that God would be glorified in what was about to take place and that God would bless these same disciples. Jesus was thinking of others. In the face of His passion, His passion was those whom He loved.
Compassion, rightly understood, means entering into the passion, or suffering, of others. It means setting aside our own concerns, our own fears, our own needs, and not just supplying but feeling the needs of those around us. This, ironically, happens not when we have all that we need. It happens instead when we come to understand that we have nothing and that we need nothing. Compassion flows not out of the wellsatisfied but from those who have not. There is, in turn, only one way to do this — to die to self. When my aspirations, my hopes and dreams, my wants are crucified, I enter into liberty. I am free to take up the concerns of others. A dead man has no need to protect his comfort. He has no need to protect his wealth. He has no need at all to protect his reputation. Perhaps Janis Joplin had it right: freedom may just be another word for “nothing left to lose.”
The Serpent is more crafty than any of the beasts of the field. His passion is to build up in us misguided passions. Jesus hungered and thirsted after the will of the Father, yet the will of the Devil is that we would hunger and thirst. He delights to fill us with needs, whereas our Father delights to fill our needs. Jesus spoke to this in the Sermon on the Mount. He encourages us: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:25–26).
We can die to ourselves not because we are so worthless, but because He has ascribed worth to us. The One who gave us our value, who values us, is the same One who meets all of our needs. We who were dead, He has made alive — and He keeps us alive. He meets our needs daily, such that the last thing we need to worry about is our needs. Now we are free to show forth His compassion because we are indeed filled. We lose our cares when we remember we are dead. We care for others out of our fullness because He has made us alive.
Our passion, then, ought to be that we would identify with our Lord. We enter into His passion as we put to death all our selfish concerns and fears. When we take on the form of servants and wash the feet of our brothers, we become one with Him in dying to self. But we likewise are called to enter into His resurrection — even His ascension. He has, in Him, made us alive. When He walked out into the garden from His tomb, the Firstborn of the new creation, He blazed the trail where we now walk. When He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He took us with Him. He has, in Him, made us kings and queens, seated in thrones of glory in the heavenly places. He has made us joint heirs with Him, such that we inherit the whole of the world. We have nothing, and so have nothing to lose. We have everything, and so have everything to give.
When we live with Him, when we seek to live like Him, then we are seeking first the kingdom of God. When we put our desires to death, we are seeking first His righteousness. And when we feast before Him, we feast because all these things have been added to us.
He has given us one holy passion. He has given us His own passion. He has called us to identify with Him, and, in so doing, we identify with His body, the church. Love your brother. Walk with him. Mourn with him when he mourns. Rejoice with him when he rejoices. And in both instances, know that your Father in heaven mourns and rejoices with you.