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Author:Rev. Steven Swets
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 www.urcpastor.blogspot.com
 
Congregation:Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church
 Abbotsford, BC
 www.abbotsfordurc.org
 
Preached At:
 
 
Title:Christ's Humility
Text:John 13:2-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Humility
 
Preached:2022-06-12
Added:2023-04-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(songs taken from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal:  375, 84C, 118A, 54, 429, 456, 134

Scripture Reading: John 13:1-20

Scripture Text: John 13:2-17

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Steven Swets, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

             Actions speak louder than words. At least that is what the old adage says. This is oftentimes true in marriage. A man vows to love and protect his wife. Maybe he thinks he will have to fight off bad guys and defeat dragons. Those are pretty weighty words. But what a husband and wife will learn, is that it is often the small things that make a big difference.

            A husband who does the dishes or makes supper unexpectedly, will find a wife who is grateful. Each family is different. But it is the action of love and service in marriage that speaks louder than the words, “I love you.” For love has shown itself in action. 

            Politicians are notorious for saying one thing and doing another. Election promises are quickly forgotten. The voters say, show me by your actions, your decisions, your enacted policies. Talk is cheap.

            In our text this morning, Jesus shows a very clear picture of humility. He does so to teach the disciples about service, humility, and ultimately love. He doesn’t just tell them to do those things, he shows them those things. But this is the way of Christ. We are showed the greatest picture of service and sacrifice by action, for as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. Be encouraged by the Lord.

Our theme this morning is: Our Lord instructs the disciples to have the hearts of humble servants.

  1. The Act of Humility
  2. The Teaching of Humility
  3. A Deeper Look at Humility

I. The Act of Humility

            The context of our text is that we find Jesus with the disciples just before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. We find Jesus and the 12 disciples in the upper room. They are ready to eat the Passover meal.  Verse 2 says that the meal was being served. This means that they had not yet started eating and they frankly wouldn’t have without washing their feet.

            So, let’s set the stage for this important narrative only John includes in his account. Think of all the disciples reclining by a table. They did not sit on chairs, but rather on the floor, similar to how the Japanese often eat. Already at this time, Judas had determined to betray Jesus and Jesus knew this full well even though the disciples had no idea. Nevertheless, here they sit, ready to eat. 

It was customary for a servant to wash the feet of the guests of the host of the home. It was the hosts job to ensure this was done, though a host would likely never do this. It was the job of a servant. The reason for this, is because in Jesus’ day, everyone wore sandals, and the streets were full of dust and dirt. When it rained it was a complete mess. So, even though one might have just bathed, as soon as they walk somewhere outside, their feet are all dirty again. So, Jesus rose to wash the disciples’ feet. Think about how startling this would be to an original hearer of this event.

Well, why didn’t one of the disciples wash the feet of the others? Because they were proud. Shortly before this event Jesus found them arguing about who was the greatest. Who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God. None of the disciples stood up to wash feet because they thought they were too good for that. William Hendriksen says of the disciples, “The fact that greatness is measured with the yardstick of service had not registered with them.” When Jesus stands up, it is to all of their shame.

In verse 4 we read that Jesus stood up, took off his garments (leaving on his undergarment only, dressed then as a slave), and took a long towel and wrapped it around his waist to use to dry the disciples’ feet once he washed them. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet. So, there was sitting there, almost in an accusatory way, a pitcher of water, an empty basin, and a drying towel, and none of the disciples got up to use them. Jesus goes around the table washing the disciples’ feet until he comes to Peter who stops him. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” As if to say, no, no, no, this is not happening. Not you Lord, you are the last person who should be washing my feet.

Jesus answers in verse 7 (read). Once Jesus is done washing the feet of the disciples, he will explain it, but Peter, incessantly can’t wait that long. Then read verse 8. Jesus clarifies to Peter that this is in fact important, this is part of Christ’s work as the Saviour of His people, this is part of His humiliation as he is nearing the cross. (More on that in a moment).

Since Peter sees that this is evidently important, he tells Jesus not to just wash his feet but his whole body. Peter, once again here is focusing strictly on the physical washing. He wasn’t getting it. Maybe the other disciples had similar thoughts and just kept their thoughts to themselves, but not Peter, he comes right out and shows his misunderstanding of the situation. Jesus explains to Peter that he doesn’t need to be washed if his body is already clean, but only the feet need to be washed.

However, in this statement in verse 10, Jesus reveals that not all of the disciples are in fact clean. Here Jesus is speaking of Judas as we can see from verse 11. Jesus purposely equivocates on the term clean, first meaning physically, not spiritually or morally clean.

Once Jesus is done washing all of their feet and drying them with the towel he had around his waist, he put his garments back on and sat back down at the table. He showed them the event, the washing of the feet, the picture of utmost and utter humility. Think of a king or queen leaning over to tie the shoelace of a peasant. Now he sits down and is going to explain it to them.

II. The Parable of Humility

            The first thing we need to understand about the event of our text, is that Jesus performed this work as part of his calling to be the suffering servant. The suffering of Christ was not just on the cross, but throughout his whole life. We can divide his life into two parts, the humiliation and the exaltation. This is the Lord of heaven and earth, who has been rejected in the towns and villages, who is about to be betrayed by one of his closest friends, Judas, who was certainly a man of respect as a treasurer of the disciples. In preparation of his death and ultimate defeat of death and the Devil, Jesus stoops down to wash the disciple’s feet.

            It was John the Baptist, who when speaking of Christ said that he was not even worthy to untie the thongs of Jesus sandals, picturing the washing of his feet. This is how honoured Jesus was by those who believed in Him as he should be. He, after all, just told the disciples in John 10 that He and the Father are one. That means that Jesus is to be worshipped and adored. The great King of kings bends down to do the dirty and humbling task of washing the disciples’ feet.

            Another reason for Jesus to wash the disciples’ feet he explains in verses 13-15 (read). Here Jesus uses the argument from the greater to the lesser. If, I, the Lord, he says, the one who is called Teacher (rabbi), the one who is the sinless Lamb of God who is to become the final Passover lamb, can stoop down to wash and dry your feet, certainly, you can do the same to each other. Jesus used this opportunity to teach by way of example. Do not just do as I say, but do as I do.

            Jesus is not instituting foot-washing here as an ordinance that must be carried out. Hendriksen explains, “It should however be stressed that what Jesus had in mind was not an outward rite but an inner attitude, that of humility and eagerness to serve.” There are many things that Jesus did, that we are not called to also do, such as a necessity to fast 40 days, which is what those who celebrate lent attempt to do. But, when Jesus says explicitly that this is an example, then we had better listen closely.

            If those who follow Christ want to please Him, they first of all must believe that all of his works have been done for their salvation. But, in faith and united to Jesus Christ, then they live with a desire to be more and more Christlike. This is sanctification or daily conversion. The dying away of pride and the putting on of humility. All Christians are called to this. But, you cannot do this if you do not believe. Jesus is willing to wash the feet, spiritually speaking, to wash away their sins, but they must be willing to sit down and let him and that takes faith, not pride or prestige, but a humble trust. Is this your Saviour, then that means you are washed in him.

            Who here is not willing to do the menial tasks? Who is about that kind of thing. Its the question of what you would fill in the blank to the question, “I’m not going to __________!” Really? What if God calls you to that which you do not want to do? Now, who is willing to wash your neighbours’ feet, metaphorically speaking?

            Jesus concludes this section in verses 17 and 18 by telling the disciples to do this and God will bless you. What that means is that those “blessed” are the objects of God’s favour. They might not be physically blessed in the way we might think...they might be poor or even mourning, (think of the beatitudes of Matthew 5), but they will be blessed by God nevertheless. In fact, and here is where it gets really startling, they might be poor or mourning because of the humility of their hearts. If you are a servant, you leave yourself open to be hurt, or mocked, or scorned.

III. A Deeper Look at Humility

            First, recognize that even though we would consider this lowly act of Christ, he is doing this as the God-Man. When he humbled himself, he didn’t cease to be divine. Read verse 3. God’s timing, God’s plan was all known to the Lord. The beautiful Christian hymn found in Philippians 2:5-11 is what we see taking place in our text. In fact, it is not a stretch to see in the actual event of washing the disciples’ feet the process of servant hood. Jesus did the job of a servant. Jesus bent down to the ground, having left heaven, Jesus washed clean the disciples’ feet, thereby symbolizing his spiritual washing. Afterward, Jesus returns to his place at the table, just as he did in the resurrection and ascension. God Almighty took the ultimate form of humility.

            Second, the context of this washing is the celebration of the Passover meal. During that meal, Jesus is going to institute the Lord’s Supper. He will show what we see this morning. But, in doing so, he teaches them about his atoning work. Jesus tells Peter that he is clean, he doesn’t need to be washed again. In the ancient world, at a supper meal, only the feet needed to be washed. Jesus connects this outward service with inward devotion of love for others. Jesus gives this event a spiritual dimension in verse 15. What this pictures is the atoning work of Christ. Peter is clean because he is washed clean by the blood of Jesus. He only needs to be daily cleansed from sin. He is already made right with God through faith. For us, as believers, we need to turn from our sin. However, the motivation to do so is because we are already cleaned by Jesus’ blood. We are justified by faith. Sanctification is what is happening now. The two primary ways this takes place is through the preaching of the gospel and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The more we celebrate it with faith, the more our faith grows. Let us heed the very tools God’s gives us to grow in our faith.  

            Let us conclude, by the way we began. Actions sometimes speak louder than words. In Matthew 10:42 Jesus speaks of a cup of cold water given to one of these little ones. That action speaks volumes. Jesus wept before Lazarus’ tomb, that spoke volumes. Brothers and sisters, let us be people of word and deed in the name of Jesus. If you serve, do so in the name of Christ. If you volunteer, do so in the name of Christ. It is often our actions that open the door so that we may share our words. And, oh what precious words we have, when we can share the good news of Jesus. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Steven Swets, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Steven Swets

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