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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:Love’s Example
Text:John 13:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Love’s Example


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, I said at the outset of the sermon this morning we live in a very proud and egotistical age. You know, when I was growing up, it used to be a bad thing to be called the GOAT. If you were the goat it meant you lost the game, or you were to blame for doing something that went wrong.


But I’ve come to find out that in today’s culture being the GOAT is actually a good thing, in fact it’s what everyone wants to be; it’s what everyone claims to be. That’s because the GOAT is now understood to be an acronym for the Greatest Of All Time.


This morning we discussed how the disciples (over the course of the ministry of Jesus) had repeatedly argued over who would be the GOAT among them (who would be the greatest). And it was that foolish pride, it was those sinful and selfish thoughts that paralyzed the disciples in the Upper Room with Jesus; that is what made them unwilling and therefore unable to love each other enough to do the work of a servant; to wash the feet of their fellow disciples.


And so it was Jesus who stood up and proceeded to do what they would not do. It was Jesus who showed them what true greatness was all about in the Kingdom of God. We saw this morning how this humble act of Jesus was a powerful demonstration of his love – that he loved them to the uttermost.


Tonight we are going to continue our consideration of this amazing text, this shocking display of humility. We are going to look at Love’s Example. We’ll look once more at what Christ does, then we’ll look at Peter’s reaction to it, and then wrap it up by discussing how Jesus applies it.

A Lesson in Humility

An Unexpected Response

An Example to Follow  




A Lesson in Humility

For the benefit of those who were not here this morning, I just to summarize what we looked at in verses 1-3. We first looked at the Shocking Depth of Christ’s love. Verses 1 tells us that the hour had come for Jesus to leave the world and go back to His Father.


This meant that the time had come for Christ to do what he had come to do – to be the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. And so it was now, at this time, that Jesus would show his disciples, show his church, show his people that he loved them to the uttermost.


And while we understand that the occasion of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples was (by all itself) an expression, an outworking of Christ’s amazing love, we really can’t fully understand what takes place here without seeing it, without reading this account in the shadow of the cross.


For ultimately, it is on the cross of Calvary that Jesus will demonstrate the full extent of his love. It is there that his love will be displayed for all to see – and he will show us just how far he is willing to go, just how low he is willing to humble himself all for the sake of us, his sinful, unclean, undeserving brothers and sisters.


Christ was willing to suffer the shame of the cross, to lower himself even to the depths of hell, death, and the grave, all for our sake! So that too must be seen and understood as we watch what Jesus does here. This foot washing was, in fact, just a foretaste of the full cleansing that Jesus would provide through his crucified body and shed blood.


But now let’s go to the scene in the upper Room. Jesus has removed his outer garment, and taking on the role of the lowliest servant and slave in the household, Jesus ties a towel around his waist and he proceeds to go around the table to wash the feet of his disciples.


The sight of seeing Jesus -- their Rabbi, their Master, their Lord – washing their feet was undoubtedly a shock to them They felt ashamed and more than a little embarrassed! Here was Jesus, the glorious Son of the Father, the Bright and Morning Star, the King of all glory, who came to earth to save us from our sins; and here He is.

He’s surrounded by proud and sinful men, with one man in particular among them who is about to betray Jesus (and this was already known by Jesus), and yet Jesus proceeds to wash the filth and the stink from the feet of these unworthy followers. Again, it is as shocking as it is ironic.


Jesus -- as always -- is the selfless servant, the faithful servant, the loving and humble servant who never says no; who never says not me; who never says why should I? Or, Let someone else do it.  And as I said before, Jesus even washed the feet of Judas. Although Jesus knew what was already in his heart, he did not treat him any differently. Jesus gave Judas no cause, no reason to hate him or to betray him.


So the evil that Judas was about to do was of his own accord; out of his own selfish greed, contempt and hatred for Jesus. If anything, the kindness and humility of Jesus only made Judas hate Jesus more (I think what Paul writes in Romans 12 could be applied here: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”).


Here Jesus washes the feet of his enemy, and soon he’s going to break bread with him, and it’s simply more kindness than Judas can take. But interestingly enough it is not the response of Judas that demands our attention. John (in verses 6-11 draws our attention to Simon Peter’s reaction. Here we consider: An Unexpected Response


An Unexpected Response

Although all of the disciples (except Judas) would have been embarrassed and ashamed, they remain silent. It is Peter who says out loud what he, and everyone, is thinking or feeling. He says (vs 6): Lord, are YOU going to wash MY feet? The Greek language has a way of ordering the words so as to show the emphasis. We can’t see that emphasis in the English language unless we would use italics or bold or all caps. (Greek order is: Lord, Do YOU MY feet wash?).


Clearly the implication is that Peter objects. He can’t stand the thought of his Lord teaching and washing his feet. Peter believes that this as s shameful thing for Jesus to be reduced to this role – to washing his feet. And on the one hand, at first glance, this seems to be an extremely loving and pious response of Peter. We want to applaud him and we’d like to think that we would have felt the same way and would have said the very same thing. But as one commentator pointed out

Peter’s love is a defective love. His love lacks humility, which Jesus is trying to illustrate and teach him. Here true love and sincere humility require that Peter sit back and let his Lord serve him and wash his feet.


And that is a very difficult lesson to learn. It’s not only difficult to humble ourselves and take the role of a willing servant, but it’s also difficult (maybe even more so) to allow others to serve us in love. Where we are the recipients of someone’s act of kindness or mercy and love.


And why is that? Most often it because of pride. Receiving someone’s loving service can make us feel uncomfortable, indebted, and even ashamed. Sometimes a widow (or our own mother and grandmother) wants nothing more than to help you when you’re sick. Maybe she offers to make a pot of soup, or to come over and do some laundry or back a cake.


And right away we throw up our hands – Oh no! Oh no! You don’t have to do that. I’m fine. I can always order out. I can always eat leftover. You don’t have to put yourself out for me. But do you see, do you realize what she is saying? Do you see what she wants to do? She wants to serve you in the spirit of love and humility; in the Spirit of Christ. And, even though she will not think of it in these terms, in as much as she is serving you, she is serving Christ.


And we ought to be very careful that we do not deprive others of the opportunity for service, because in then we risk depriving them of the blessing and privilege of serving others to the glory of God.


Now, getting back to the text, we see our Lord’s response to Peter in verse 7: Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."  So Jesus was trying to tell Peter that there was more going on here than meets the eye. And Peter should have known this, and he should have learned this by now. And he should have submitted to his Lord.


And I love the observation of Hendriksen here who points out that for Jesus, the washing of the feet of his disciples was another necessary step of humiliation on the way to the cross; this humiliation was something that Jesus also must suffer, all for the sake of earning the salvation of sinners.


So when Peter’s refuses ( in verse 8) and says "No, you shall never wash my feet." Jesus rightly rebukes him and tried to show Peter what he is really saying. Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." (No inheritance or share in me).


Again, Jesus is trying to show Peter that this small act of humility is all part of something much greater, something of eternal significance for him and the fallen human race! If Peter is unwilling to accept this small humble act of servitude on the part of Jesus, then how will Peter ever come to grips with what was about to happen?


How could Peter possible accept and embrace a Savior, His own Messiah humbling himself all the way to death, even death on a shameful cross! That was and continues to be a stumbling block to the Jews! They will not accept a suffering and dying Savior. And if that is the case, then they cannot accept and believe in Jesus, and then there is no forgiveness for their sins!


And upon hearing Jesus say this, Peter of course, goes full circle and overreacts the other way – he goes from one extreme to the other: “You shall never wash my feet” to “Wash all of me!” He basically asks Jesus to give him a bath. So typical of Peter! But it’s also typical of us when we do not humble ourselves before God and submit to what he is going in our lives.


So Jesus just patiently and gently explains to Peter A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you. Jesus assures Peter that he is already in fellowship and union with Christ.


There is a sense in which Jesus says this of Peter and the others, (excepting Judas) fully anticipating his finished work on the cross, securing their salvation. In that way, their sins have already been forgiven and washed away. So this foot washing serves as a physical symbol for the greater washing, for the spiritual washing they are about to receive as Jesus will shed his blood on the cross to wash away the filth of sin and guilt from their heart and soul.


An Example to Follow  

But now, what are WE to do with all this? That is what we will consider in our third and final point: An Example to follow.


Please look with me at verses 12-17: 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


After Jesus finished this living illustration of humility and showed them a preview of the way he will secure their salvation, Jesus gets back to the main point. He essentially tell the disciples that they need to follow his example. They need put this into practice on a daily basis; they need to operate on the basis of humility; they need to deal with people they meet every day on the basis of humility.


And notice how Jesus argues from the greater to the lesser. If the Lord of glory is willing to do this, if Jesus their Lord is willing to tie a towel about his waist, and take on the form of a servant, and do the work of a slave, and wash the dirty feet of sinful disciples, isn’t it reasonable that they, his disciples, should be expected to do the same?


Shouldn’t they now be willing to wash each other's feet? I mean, what a powerful demonstration this was. Don’t lose sight of the lasting impression this would have made on their hearts. And when you think about it, what better way to teach someone how to love; how to show humility; and how to serve! Yes, one can lecture about it, and talk about it, and tell others what it should look like. But there’s nothing better than taking up a towel and showing by example! 

I’d like to think that after this event the disciples had to argue among themselves about whose turn it was to wash each other’s feet, as they each wanted the privilege; as they each went to the water pot first. We can only hope that’s the case.


Now, I realize that there are Christians (and even some churches) that have turned this practice into an institution, into a lasting ordinance so that it is much like a sacrament. And while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with one person washing the feet of another person, but I think we’re wrong if we read this passage and come away thinking that Jesus is advocating a formal, ritualistic foot-washing service.


No, if that’s all we see, then we clearly have missed the point and misunderstood our Savior. He’s not saying, do the same thing I have done and wash each other’s feet. No, Jesus is saying that this was an object lesson. They were to conduct themselves after the manner of Jesus, showing true love, showing true humility; bucking the culture of SELF and putting the needs of others before their own.


And the result of that kind of love and humility is unmistakable! Love and humility and willing service are the calling cards of the Christian. And this kind of love, and humility and eager service cannot help but have a positive and transforming effect on every relationship we have.


Think of this a moment. How will this Christ-like attitude, this approach effect your marriage? What if we husbands and wives together put the needs of our spouse before our own? What if we look first to serve instead of being served? What if we are first to be willing to apologize in an argument or disagreement, first to admit wrong; first to make peace?


Are you ready to do that? Are you ready to strip yourself of all your pride, of your ego, of your desire to be right, and be like Christ and wash the feet of your spouse, and thus be blessed in your marriage?


And the same goes for your relationship with your boss, or your co-workers. Are you ready to humble yourself and serve? Are you prepared to not be so eager and quick to take offense? To not be so eager to stand up for your rights? Are you willing to humble yourself and do what is asked of you, without grumbling or complaining and thinking that certain work is beneath you?


The same goes for you children and your parents. Are you ready to humble your hearts, to obey and to honor your parents even when they are wrong? Even when they are at fault? Even when they ask you do to something that you know it’s not your turn to do, but maybe your sisters turn or your brothers turn? Remember, that in serving your parents, you are serving Christ!


And what about us here at church? In order for the church to function properly, in order for us to fulfill our God given task and mission, we need willing servants; we need willing hearts and hands. We need people whom God has gifted in any number of ways, and with gifts both great and small, to be willing to step up and be involved.


This past Wednesday I was amazing again at how many people in this congregation are actively involved in its ministry. Now I realize that some do more than others. But that’s not a basis to complain. That’s always the way it is in Christ’s church because to some God gave a greater measure (or abundance) of gifts and talents and abilities and even greater energy and strength.


And so if you see yourself out ahead of everyone else a little bit, and you’re the one whose always volunteering or always willing to lend a hand, then praise God for that and rejoice that God has given you a servant’s heart and a humble spirit.


But also be very careful. Because Satan will use that opportunity to make us look around the room and instead of being grateful for whoever is there, and doing our work unto the Lord with all our heart, we become angry at who isn’t there.


And we grumble against our brothers and sisters; and then instead of reaping a blessing for the good work that we do -- you poison that good work with feelings of anger and resentment and pride. Why am I always the one; where is everyone else? I know this by experience. I have done this time and time again and I preach this sermon to my own prideful heart as much or even more than I preach it to anyone else. So again, be careful especially if you are among those who do much for the kingdom of God. See, Satan desires nothing more than to turn our humble and willing service into bitterness and ingratitude.  


I want to close this sermon by reminding you again of what we said at the outset of the sermon – about who wants to be the GOAT. The Greatest of all time. Jesus showed us here that He is the greatest. And he did that by being the least, by humbling himself and taking the form of a servant and doing the work of the lowliest household slave.


And Jesus demonstrated His greatness later on, when on the cross the very Son of God obeyed His Father’s will and He humbled himself all the way unto death, so that in the end, the Father might exalt the Name of Jesus above all names!


See that’s the way it works. When we humble ourselves for the sake of Christ, it is Christ Jesus we are serving; so that in the end, it is not WE who get the praise, but it is Christ’s Name that is exalted through us – and that should be our greatest incentive and motive for serving others: to bring glory and honor and praise to the name of the Lord our God! Amen! 


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Pastor Keith Davis

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