Jesus lived upside down. The way he governed his life, it was as if He had fallen into the rabbit hole and was living topsy-turvy from the rest of those around him. Everything he did was so backwards to the natural existence of mankind, so fundamentally different that he seemed to be living life upside down.
But the root of this life lived upside down was because Jesus lived life inside out. He never let the outside circumstances, pressures, or opinions of others dictate a thing about Him. The compass for His life was the Spirit of God within Him, so the daily grind, economic pressures, political turmoil - none of these things could touch Him because none of the outside world dictated His behavior, attitudes, or emotions. Only the inside hidden world of His Spirit determined his atmosphere. This made Him appear to live on the ceiling in comparison to the clamoring, chaotic emotions of those stuck on the ground around Him. Everything about Jesus was contrary to the way of the world: Serve to lead. Die to live. Go lower to get higher. His ways were so upside down because He lived inside out.
Never is this contrast more clearly seen then in His final week before the cross, the week we call Holy Week. The way he came into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, lowly and meek, was in direct contrast to Pilate marching in across town on a white stallion with an army surrounding him. The way he rejoiced in costly perfume being spilled out on His feet in worship was in stark contrast to the pious attitudes of those present, who were moved to anger by such extravagant displays of devotion. And this dichotomy builds to climatic proportions in the way that He remained silent when people who, seemingly had the power to kill Him, falsely accused Him of crimes only to then speak forgiveness for his killers while pouring out His life on Calvary. It’s as if Holy Week was a magnifying glass on the extraordinary contrast of Jesus’ life; a magnifying glass brought by The Spirit that is an invitation to gaze upon such distinct beauty. This week is the invitation into wonder for those who will pause and study Jesus’ life. And what we find when we ponder this week’s events is that He lived life inside out and upside down.
The gospels unfold that final week before the cross in amazing detail. And in John 13, we find the account of the final Seder Meal between Jesus and his disciples on the night He is to be crucified. Outside of the cross, I think this Passover account shows some of the greatest examples of Inside-Out/Upside-Down thinking from our Master. There are 2 grand but often unnoticed examples I see here. The first is seen in John 13:1-4:
1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.
Certainly every believer is familiar with Jesus girding himself to wash His disciples feet. This is an obvious inside-out upside-down moment. But it’s the context that moved Jesus to do this that so captures my attention. Read it again:
…3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came from God and was going to God, rose…took a towel and girded Himself…
According to John, what caused Jesus to grab a towel, take off his outer garments, bend down low, and wash His own follower’s feet? He knew who He was.
In our fallen world, when we “know who we are,” the last thing we do is humble ourselves like this. But for Jesus, having all the power and knowing who He was and to where He was returning, this was an invitation to do the unthinkable. He had it all! All things were in His hands. He came from God and was about to go back to His original glory AS God! And yet this was His response to such a revelation: grab a towel and wash feet. I can imagine Him looking around that Seder table, the reality of who He was filling his soul, and then saying to Himself, “It’s all mine. My time has come. I know what I must do now.” And what was that? Not mustering the boys at the table to take up arms and go to war. Not demanding the boys pour the water out and wash His feet, but it looks like Him stepping into even greater humility. The striking dichotomy between Jesus’ innate omnipotence and corresponding humility at the Last Supper is magnified because of what is about to come: the cross. Because Jesus knew who He was and that He had all the power, He was able to make His last act before His death a debasing one. What an astonishing contradiction.
This is the mysterious inside-out/upside down glory revealed in the heart of Jesus in this moment: people who truly know who they are have no problem doing the basest of things; in fact – they often choose it. People who know who they are have no problem being the slave of all. Why? Because, like Jesus, people who know who they are do not get their value from what they do. If my value is in who I am and not what I do, then what does it matter if I am washing dirty feet? What does it matter if I serve without thanks in return? It makes no difference for I know who I am and that is where my value lies. This is the power of living life inside out and upside down.
The second often unnoticed example of Jesus’ upside down life is recorded a few verses later:
21 When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. 23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. 25 Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. 29 For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night. 31 So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” (John 13:21-31)
This is one of the most intense moments of Jesus’ life so far. A friend among his closest followers is about to betray Him to the point of death. He absolutely knows what is coming. The cross is casting a heavy shadow over His heart. Yet clear eyed and determined, He looks Judas in the eyes and says, “What you do, do quickly,” sealing His own fate.
I imagine that Jesus kept His gaze upon Judas until He had completely left the room. And although the room was filled with the sounds of celebration from the other disciples, Jesus was heavy with silence. He bowed His head with heart racing and breathing labored, closing His eyes under the weight that was to come. But I imagine Him then taking a deep breath and gathering himself by turning to that internal world that governed Him: the place of The Spirit. Yes, the outside world was blackest night but His inside world was brilliant light. He lived from that place so not even the betrayal of death could shake Him. Resolutely, Jesus lifts His head and makes an announcement about what just happened and what is about to come. He says, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him (John 13:31).”
Did you catch the inside outside response? In one of the most intense moments of Jesus’ life, we see Jesus define his death as the glorification of the Father. So here is the Christ – the Only Begotten of the Father – saying he is about to glorify God how? Through execution. What an inside out/upside down response. If we were to define “glorifying God,” such ideas as lifting our hands in worship, giving our money to the poor, healing the sick, and sharing the gospel would come to mind. But Jesus taught us here that God is also glorified in the most painful, gut-wrenching moments of obedience. For Jesus, worship looked like Him hanging on the cross. “NOW God is glorified,” he said. Now in this moment of betrayal, now in this moment of certain death – NOW glory has come to the Father.
I know in my life and my church congregation, we are praying for and expecting the glory of the Lord to fill our lives. We are longing for His presence to be tangible among us, his power to be on display. But if the glory of the Lord came through a cross for Jesus, how will it come for us? Is a servant ever above their Master?
When we set our eyes on Jesus’ example given here, we suddenly must look at our circumstances as filtered through the Father’s hands. Not everything that happens in life is from Him, but everything that happens can be turned for Him -for His glory. When we live at such a trust level, we suddenly find that our worst betrayals can be opportunities for glory. Jesus set the example of what extravagant worship really looks like and it is wholehearted obedience on a cross. We may never face martyrdom for His glory, but we must choose like our Savior to live a life so inside out and upside down, that we fully abandon our hearts to the Father’s glory. And if that glory comes in a job promotion because of our faithfulness or if that glory comes through job loss because of our faith, it’s all worship to the Father. This is the power of living life inside out and upside down.
So as we ponder Jesus’ passion this Holy Week, may we ask the Father to conform us even more to the image of such a Son. May we find ourselves learning who we are and to Whom we are returning and be empowered to go even lower in humility. May we be willing to sit and break bread with our enemies and friends alike. May we embrace the worshipping kiss on our feet and the betraying kiss on our cheek. May we begin to see that the glory of God comes to our lives not just in resurrection power but also in the fellowship of suffering. May we, like Jesus, live our lives inside out and upside down.