Relationships Matter: Serve
5/18/2017 3:01:25 AM
“Relationships Matter: Serve”
May 14, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: John 13:1-17
Imagine you sense a bad smell. You can’t figure out where it is coming from at first. Then you realize it’s coming from you. Or from your shoe at least.
Have you ever stepped in dog poop? You know how it gets all over the bottom of your shoe? If you don’t notice at first and you keep walking on it for a while, it really gets pushed into the grooves. If it dries out, it gets caked into the shoe. When you start cleaning it out, it stinks again. You have to scrape it and work it out. It’s a real mess.
Have you had to scrape poop off your own shoe? What if somebody else stepped in poop. Would you clean it off somebody else’s shoe? That would be a labour of love! Would you scrape dog poop off your boss’s shoe? What about a teacher’s shoe?
Would you scrape poop of Jesus’ shoe? If Jesus came to your house and you smelled that fragrance, and Jesus checked the bottom of his shoe, would you volunteer to clean it for him?
What if the poop was on your shoe? What if Jesus offered to scrape your shoe? Would you let Jesus scrape your shoes clean of such a stinky mess?
[pic] In the ancient world, people’s feet got really dirty. Far dirtier than our feet get today! Around Jerusalem, some of the major Roman roads were paved with stones, but most roads were dirt. It was also hot. As people walked, they got sweaty. The dirt and dust on the roads would billow up in clouds around their feet. The dirt would stick to the sweat on their feet. As they continued to walk, that dirt would dry out and get caked on.
But dirt was not the only thing on the roads. Remember, they didn’t have cars or trucks. Shipping, in those days, was done by donkey power! Low on carbon emissions, donkeys and horses, however, did have a different environmental impact. Their “exhaust systems” would leave nice piles on the road, which would get stepped on, mashed into the road, and spread along the path. People walking along later would inevitably step in this addition to the dirt and it, too, would get caked onto their feet and sandals.
Imagine, then, the state of people’s feet when they arrived at somebody’s home. Here in Canada, especially in the winter, we take our boots and shoes off at the front door when we enter a home. We don’t want to track snow or ice throughout somebody’s house. Imagine living in First Century Palestine. It wasn’t snow or ice you would worry about tracking through somebody’s home!
So it became customary to wash people’s feet when they entered your home. But, as we have considered, this would be an incredibly messy, smelly, nasty job. So it was a job reserved for the lowest of servants in the house! In some Jewish circles, it was prohibited to have a Jewish slave perform such a nasty task. It was the lowest of lowest jobs, messy, smelly and humiliating. As one scholar puts it, “foot washing was virtually synonymous with slavery.” [Andrew Lincoln, cited in Frederick Dale Bruner, John, p. 762]
We need to understand that foot washing was a sign of total submission. It was a sign of humility. It was humiliating to wash another person’s feet. If a person chose to wash another’s feet, it was a sign of great love and respect. We can be assured that, if asked, the disciples would have gladly washed Jesus’ feet, but they would never have washed one another’s feet! That would be a sign of inferiority. [FF Bruce, John, p. 280]
Consider, then, our text. Please turn with me to John 13:1-17.
What It Says
Many of us who are familiar with stories of Jesus have heard about “the time he washed his disciples’ feet.” I wonder, though, how many of us have put much thought into what that meant and why he did it. The events are only recorded in John’s Gospel. They take place during Jesus’ final meal with his disciples, right before his crucifixion. Luke tells us that it was during this “Last Supper” that the disciples began to bicker
amongst each other about who was the greatest. In Luke 22, Jesus corrects them and rebukes them for this argument. He tells them that the Gentiles lord it over one another that they have authority, but they are not to be like them. Instead, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26)
Although not explicit in the Gospels, I suspect it was while they were arguing about who was the greatest among them that Jesus quietly got up, took off his outer robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and began the process of washing their feet. I imagine they were arguing and at first didn’t notice what Jesus was doing. Imagine their shock when he came around the corner and knelt down at the feet of the first disciple! I bet that shut them up!
But take a look at how John frames this act of service by Jesus. Verse 1 tells us “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father….” It was in the context of knowing his mission was about to be fulfilled that Jesus did this.
Verse 3 continues, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God….” It was in the context of Jesus’ divinity, authority and mission that he acted with such complete humility and washed his disciples’ feet. We might expect that in the context of Jesus’ divinity and authority one might expect a mighty act of power. Perhaps he would destroy Judas, or Satan. Rather, “Jesus humbles himself and washes Judas’ feet!” [DA Carson, John, p. 462] What a remarkable response to the knowledge that Judas was about to betray him!
And we must not forget that Judas was there when Jesus was washing their feet. And, according to v. 11, Jesus knew in that moment one of the men whose feet he was washing was going to turn him in. A few lines down, following where we left off, Jesus reveals who it will be. This was not a situation in which Jesus was later betrayed by Judas and Jesus thought, “Oh, drat. I really wish I hadn’t washed his feet!” He knew full well that Judas was going to betray him, and yet he washed his feet! Truly, as verse 1 reveals, “He showed the full extent of his love!”
Midway through the process of washing the disciples’ feet, we have an interlude with Peter. When Jesus comes to Peter, Peter objects! “Surely you won’t be washing my feet!” Peter objects. He is embarrassed that Jesus would so humiliate himself for Peter. It’s not right!
But Jesus gently rebukes Peter, warning that if Peter will now allow Jesus to wash his feet then Peter will not have a part in Jesus. This is a phrase used to describe a person having an inheritance. It also came to be a reference for blessing at the end of time. [Carson, p. 464] So Peter, with characteristic zeal, says, “Then wash all of me!” But Jesus says it is only necessary for a cleansed person to have his feet washed.
Contextually, let me explain what this meant. Remember, we talked about how a person’s feet would get really dirty walking along their dirt roads. A person who took a bath would be clean, but if they walked somewhere their feet would get dirty. When they arrived at their destination, only their feet would need a scrub, not their whole body. This was what Jesus was referring to. We will get to what he meant in a few minutes.
Jesus finishes his task, puts his robe back on and resumes his spot at the meal. He tells them that he is their teacher, their rabbi and their lord. If he, their lord, has done this for them, then they are in no position to declare any job beneath them. They are to follow his example of humility and service. No servant is greater than his master, so if Jesus is willing to do the lowest of jobs for one of them then they, too, should be willing to do the lowest job for one another.
What It Means
Twice in our passage, Jesus says that the disciples don’t get what he is doing. When Peter objects, in verse 7, he says, “You do not realize now….” Again, in verse 12 he asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”
So what was Jesus doing? What are we to make of his behaviour? Throughout John’s Gospel there is a pattern in which Jesus performs a sign or miracle and then explains its meaning. Here this pattern continues. However, from chapter 13-18 there is a larger pattern at work too. In these chapters, Jesus explains ahead of time what his crucifixion will mean. [Carson p. 455] Both patters are at play in our passage. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and then explains what he has done. But, on a deeper level, Jesus’ washing of their feet points forward to prepare them for his death. No death was more humiliating than crucifixion! No death was more unexpected for
the Messiah. [Carson, p. 467] But this was exactly whey Jesus came to earth!
The first thing this passage teaches us is about the nature of God and His Messiah. We’ve talked many times about how the people of Israel expected the Messiah to be a conquering king. They expected him to lead a rebellion against Rome. They expected him to rule Israel like King David did centuries before. They expected a military and political saviour.
Here, though, we see the contemporary ideas about the Messiah turned on their head. How can the Messiah, the Anointed One, take the role of a slave?!? How can the greatest leader God ever sent place himself in the lowest possible position? What is Jesus doing? What was God doing?
Jesus tells them that they won’t understand what he is doing until later. What did he mean? He is saying that they won’t understand what he is doing until after the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus had to break down their understanding of what the role of the Messiah would be. He had to destroy their pre-conceived ideas about what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah because they were not at all prepared for what was about to happen. They were not prepared for the Messiah to be arrested, beaten and crucified. It was only after this had happened that they would be able to look back at the foot washing and begin to understand that Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He came to rule through humility, not domineering power. Washing the disciples feet sheds light on what kind of Mssiaship Jesus brought. [Bruce, p. 281]
Remember, John gives us the context for these actions- Jesus knew he was returning to the Father and he knew that the Father had put all things under his power. It was in power that Jesus served in humility. Jesus revealed the nature of God by using his power to humbly serve others. Paul understood this. Last week we looked at the Fruit of the Spirit, but at the beginning of that passage in Galatians Paul urges his readers to use their freedom in Christ to enslave themselves to one another in love. Here, in our passage, Jesus is enslaving himself to his disciples! In spite of his power, or perhaps because of his power, Jesus lowers himself to the position of the lowest slave in the household for the sake of those he loves.
Paul also talks about this in Philippians 2. He urges his readers to have the same mindset as Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Paul was talking in broad terms about Jesus coming to earth, but specifically, we see in John 13 that Jesus literally took on the role of a servant!
In Colossians, Paul speaks of Jesus as “the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) In Jesus, we see God. Jesus is how we know what God is like. And here in John 13 we see Jesus showing us that God doesn’t use his power and authority to lord it over people, but instead humbly submits himself in service to others. Why? To demonstrate the full extent of his love! (verse 1) Jesus’ act of humility was “a further manifestation of the divine glory which resided in the Word made flesh.” [Bruce, p. 284] God’s character, God’s nature is being revealed in Jesus’ humility and service. “The form of God was not being exchanged for that of a servant; it was revealed in the form of a servant.” [Bruce, p. 280]
And Jesus then makes it explicitly clear that his disciples are to follow his example! The teacher has shown the students what is expected of them. The Lord has shown his subjects what is expected of them. To be a disciple of a Rabbi means to not only listen to the Rabbi’s teaching, but to model your lifestyle after theirs. To be a disciple of Jesus means to model your lifestyle after Jesus’. Jesus’ lifestyle was one of humble service and self-giving to others. That is, it was a lifestyle of agape love, radically demonstrated in foot washing as foreshadowing for or preparation for the ultimate self-giving on the cross.
Jesus knew he was returning to the Father. And he walked the path of humility and self-sacrifice. It began with foot washing but culminated in the suffering of the cross. That is that path Jesus took. It is the path his followers must take too. The road to intimacy with God is the road of humble self-giving and service to others.
The second lesson comes from Peter’s interaction with Jesus. The second lesson is the need for ongoing cleansing by Jesus. Even those who have been bathed, likely a reference to baptism, still need Jesus to continue to clean them. There is not the need for full body cleaning, but just the parts that get dirty throughout the course of the day. The follower of Christ is to live a life of repentance, daily returning to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. We continually need to check our trajectory to be sure we are heading straight for God. We
continually need to be allowing Jesus to clean up the gunk in our hearts and minds. We need to continually be subjecting ourselves to the cleansing power of Jesus’ love.
Putting these two lessons together, we see that we need to be living a life of self-giving service to others as well as a life of repentance. That makes sense because we continually fail to live in humble service to others, so we need the continual forgiveness of Jesus found in repentance! The second is necessary because of our failure at the first.
Why It Matters
So why does all of this matter? How do we apply this? What are we to do?
First, Jesus brings together the physical and the spiritual. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that in order to do something for God we have to do something profoundly spiritual. We have various ideas about what makes something spiritual. Perhaps praying, or meditating, or going on a pilgrimage.
But here we see Jesus binding together our spiritual worship of God with our physical being. Jesus didn’t wash the disciples spiritually or symbolically. He washed their dirty feet physically. And he connected this physical service with obedience to him! Here Jesus opens the door for us to serve him spiritually, to worship God spiritually, by physical acts of service to others.
Second, Jesus joined together the divine and the mundane. Jesus is God and his command to his followers is to obey him, to obey God, by doing mundane, even menial things but doing them with the attitude of Jesus, the attitude of self-giving love for one another.
What does this mean for us? How does this apply? This means that we can do anything for one another and if we do it in love, if we do it in the character of Jesus, if we do it because we call Jesus “Master and Lord,” then it is as if we are doing it to Jesus. Whatever we do, if we do it for Jesus and in keeping with his character it is an act of worship!
Let me be specific. This morning we had the privilege of participating with 2 families as they dedicated their children to God. We joined with them in pledging to care for these children and teaching them about God’s love for them.
[pic] We also have a couple of women in our congregation who are expecting new babies soon. So in our church we have a lot of little children. One thing that comes with little children is the need to change diapers. Jesus blends the physical with the spiritual, the divine and the mundane. Cleaning babies’ bottoms is just about as lowly as washing feet in First Century Palestine. When a parent cleans their child’s bum, if they are doing it as an act of self-giving love, it becomes an act of obedience to Christ. If you change a diaper with the attitude of Jesus, the attitude that says, “This chore is not beneath me because it is not beneath Jesus,” if you do it with the attitude, “Jesus cleaned me up so dramatically, so I will clean up this mess in response to his cleaning me,” then even changing a diaper can be an act of worship!
I know first-hand that it gets tiring changing diapers! I know it gets tiring cleaning up after a baby that spits up… a lot… and with distance! I remember some times when I was less than Christ-like in performing my parental duties for Megan. But, there were times in which I had the right attitude. There were times when I approached it in a self-giving way. And those times were acts of worship. They were acts of obedience to Jesus!
Even now, although I don’t have the same parental duties, I still have to parent Megan. I have to discipline her at times. I have to provide for her. I have to shape her and direct her. Sometimes I do it well. Other times I blow it. But when I have the right mindset, when I approach parenting Megan in light of what Jesus has done for me, then I am worshipping God when I parent her well. I am obeying Jesus when I do it as an act of self-giving, humble service.
We can extend this principle beyond parenting. There are always tasks and chores we don’t want to do. Maybe at work. Maybe at school. Maybe at home. But any chore we have, any task we have been given, any service we have the opportunity to perform, can become a spiritual action, an act of worship if we do it with the right mindset. If we humble ourselves and willingly perform the menial task our boss gives us, we can turn it into an act of worship. When you are asked to do something “beneath you,” when you are asked to do something hard, or something you don’t really like or want to do, you can turn that into a chance to be like Jesus. You can make that an opportunity to practice living a Christ-like life. How? By doing it willingly, humbly and thinking about the well-being of others. If nothing else, doing the task yourself means relieving somebody else of the need to do
And what happens is that we are blessed when we do them. Those are Jesus’ words in v. 17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” When we do things, even menial things, especially menial things, with the attitude of Jesus we are blessed! And blessed, in the Biblical use of the word, does not necessarily mean we are rewarded financially. Rather, blessed in the Bible is most closely related to our concept of deep happiness. Happiness and blessedness both mean “the characteristic of a life well lived.” Happy and blessed are closely linked. So, when a person puts this into practice, they find blessed happiness!
Yesterday a number of people saw this in action here at the church. Yesterday was our spring work day. A dozen or more people showed up at the church to perform tasks that needed to be done. None of these were glorious tasks. They were not “spiritual” tasks. The group wasn’t worshipping in song, meditating or anything like that. Instead, they were cleaning windows and shelves. They were painting and digging. They were laying a foundation for a shed and cutting down an unhealthy tree. None of these jobs get a lot of praise. They’re not “high and lofty” jobs. But the people doing these jobs were doing it because of what Jesus has done for them. They were doing it as a response to the work of Jesus in their lives. And they were blessed! They had a good time! They strengthened their relationships with one another. They practiced loving one another in a self-giving way. And, even though the jobs were physical and mundane, because the tasks were performed in response to Jesus’ work in their lives, they became acts of worship!
Every day, we have opportunities to put this principle into practice. When we listen attentively when a person is talking, when we offer hospitality to a lonely person, when we “go the extra mile” for a client at work, when we exercise extra patience with a family member because of the work of Jesus within us, we are serving Jesus.
And when we exercise this kind of obedience to Jesus, is strengthens our Christian muscles. It builds in us the Fruit of the Spirit! (Which we looked at last week.) It is one of the tools the Holy Spirit uses to reshape our character to be more like Jesus. This is how God slowly transforms us to be like His Son. This is part of the healing from our brokenness in sin.
When we find a community in which we belong, we start to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, we grow in Godliness. When we grow, we are to respond by serving others with a Christ-like attitude. When we serve, we feel a stronger sense of belonging. Serving others builds our relationship with them. Serving a community creates “buy in” or “ownership” with that community. As we establish stronger roots with a community, we are able to grow more, which results in greater service, which causes us to grow more and belong more and the cycle continues.
This is our strategy at Priory to help broken people find wholeness through the love of Christ. This is how, as a community, we seek to meet people’s physical and spiritual needs demonstrating God’s agape love for them. This is what Christ-followers are all about! But it is hard. It doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a conscious choice on our parts. I don’t naturally serve others with a Christ-like attitude. I don’t want to be humble. But, when I choose to be so, when I choose to serve others because of what Christ has done for me, I grow. I develop my Jesus-muscles! But it doesn’t happen by accident.
So let me challenge you. How are you serving? How are you serving God through serving others? You may already be serving in a few ways. But let me challenge you to serve in lots of ways! Let me challenge you to consider your current collection of jobs, tasks, chores and activities. Are you doing them with a Christ-like attitude? You can serve God by continuing to do what you already do, but do it with a better attitude. Do it with a Christ-like, self-giving attitude.
[pic] Maybe you have to do the dishes, or take out the garbage, or do the laundry. There are a lot of ways you can do these things. You can do it grudgingly and grumbling. You can think about how unfair it is, how much other stuff you have to do, how other people in your house don’t seem to do as much as you do. Or you can do it out of a sense of duty. It’s your job so you do it. Or, you can make it an act of worship! You can do it with the attitude, “No task was beneath Jesus. No task is beneath me. If Jesus could wash Judas’ feet, I can take out the garbage/wash the dishes/do the laundry.” You can do it in light of what Jesus did and make it an act of obedience to Jesus, an act of worship.
Now, let me go beyond what you do now. How can you be intentional to serve other Christians? When
we spoke of the importance of belonging a few weeks ago, one things we talked about is the importance of church because it forces us to associate and build relationships with people we wouldn’t normally choose. This extends to serving. It’s one thing to serve our families, to serve our friends, or our boss or our clients. But what about those people at church? What about those people we are called to love but don’t actually like?
Serving at church expands our horizons of service. It means we are serving our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we have not chosen, but Jesus has! So let me challenge you, as you think about reframing your attitude for the things you already do, reframe your attitude about church too. What can you do at church, for this community, in obedience to Jesus? What tasks might you have thought “beneath you” or things you wouldn’t “Want” to do here or for this community? Considering that Jesus washed the filthy feet of his disciples, what are you willing to do for his disciples here?
Priory is a community in which to belong, grow and serve. Our vision is to see broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ. We want to be agents of Spirit-filled transformation in our city and the world. That transformation takes place in each of our hearts as we build community with people we wouldn’t choose, growing in ways we wouldn’t choose, serving in ways we wouldn’t choose all because they are ways Jesus asks us and calls us to belong, grow and serve. Why? Because it is for our own good. It is to make us more like Jesus. How can you serve God by serving your fellow disciples?
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