************ Sermon on John 13:1-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 19, 1997
vs 8b, 15
"Be Like Christ"
Topic: ServiceThe college president is a Christian. We know that what he was doing was imitating the behavior of Christ as we see it in today's Scripture reading.
Robert E. Speer says that several years ago he was being entertained by the president of a small college in the South. The school had limited guest facilities, so the head of the institution offered him his apartment. "I woke up early the next morning," said Speer, "when I heard someone tiptoe into the room. I lay there quietly with my eyes open just a slit to see who it was. To my surprise the president of the college walked in, picked up my dirty boots, and walked out. I got out of bed, opened the door a crack, and watched him take them to an adjoining hallway. Then he got down on the floor and began polishing them. I could have cried at the sight. His humility and service showed me what a great man he really was. Some years after that he rose to national prominence. Because of his complete humility of spirit, God elevated him to a higher position."
I The Lord's Service/Humility
A Jesus and His disciples are seated around the table. The supper has already begun. As Jesus eats, one thing is on His mind: that soon He will be suffering and dying.
1. John introduces the passage by saying, "It was just before the Passover Feast." The Passover, when the lamb is slaughtered, when its blood is put on the cross-piece and sides of the doorframe. The Passover, when Israel remembers how all those in Egypt with the blood of the lamb are saved from the Lord's avenging angel. "It was just before the Passover Feast." The lamb will soon be sacrificed. Of course, the Lamb the Gospel writer is thinking of is not a little bundle of wool. Rather, he is thinking of Christ. Remember the words of John the Baptist?
(John 1:29) "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
2. John tells us that "The devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus" (vs 2). And Jesus knows this (vs 11, 18f). Again, we are being pointed forward to the cross and the grave.
3. In the first three verses John tells us some other things which also indicate to us that it is the cross and the grave which are foremost on Christ's mind:
(John 13:1-3) Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love ... (3) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God ... What are we being told here? We are being told that Jesus knows the time is short, He knows that the hour of His death has almost arrived. So, of course, this is what is uppermost on His mind.
B Within this context, while in this mindset, Jesus does a most surprising thing: He gets up from the table and washes the feet of His disciples. He's thinking about His suffering and death and what does He do? He washes feet. What is going on here?
In that time and place, foot-washing was an act of utter humiliation. In Israel, foot-washing was considered such a degrading act that no Hebrew slave could ever be required to perform it, though a Gentile slave might be. So we see Jesus, dressed like a slave, doing something below even a slave's dignity. Again I ask, what is going on here?
Jesus intends for His disciples — and us — to see in the service and humiliation of the foot-washing episode a foreshadowing; He want us to see a foreshadowing of the ultimate act of service and humiliation; He wants us to see a foreshadowing of the cross.
II Where His Own Are Cleansed
A There is Jesus, dressed and acting like the lowliest of slaves. Scripture records no comment for us until He comes to Peter. Peter is embarrassed, perhaps even ashamed, of the Lord's behavior. So Peter opposes Jesus' attempt to wash his feet. Obviously, Jesus' point is lost on Peter. Peter doesn't associate the foot-washing with Jesus' impending suffering and death; he sees it merely as the kind of act performed by a Gentile slave before a banquet. Jesus says it isn't until later, after the crucifixion and resurrection, that Peter will understand what Jesus is really doing (vs 7). But, in the meantime, Peter resists what the Lord is trying to do. "No," he says, using a double negative, "you will never wash my feet" (vs 8).
B Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me" (vs 8b). By "wash" Jesus means an act of salvation. Jesus is talking about a cleansing which only He can accomplish.
Topic: SalvationPeter needs the same cleansing. So do you and I and every other person who has or will ever live.
Subtopic: Forgiveness of Sin
Title: Sacred Stream
Dr. Jacob Chamberlain, an early missionary to India, recalls that while preaching to a group who had come to bathe in the "sacred stream" of the Ganges, a man joined them who had crawled many agonizing miles on his knees and elbows to reach that spot. The poor exhausted soul made his prayer to the river god, and then slipped into the water but emerged with the same conviction of sin as before. The fear of death still tugged at his heart. Then he heard Chamberlain tell the wonderful story of grace and how Christ died on the cross to cleanse needy sinners. With new hope the man staggered to his feet, clasped his hands together, and cried, "Oh, that's what I need! Cleansing and peace!" The missionary soon led him to Jesus.
"Unless I wash you, you have no part with me" (vs 8b). Without that washing, no person has a "part" in Christ, no person "shares" in Christ, no person has a "heritage" in Christ. In other words, without that washing, no person shares in Christ and all His benefits and gifts. We need to be washed in order to be saved!
"Unless I wash you, you have no part with me" (vs 8b). But with that washing, we are cleansed, we are forgiven, we are saved, we share in Christ and all His benefits and gifts. One of my favorite images for our cleansing has to do with snow. You know the words of the Psalmist:
(Ps 51:7) Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Whiter than snow? How can that be possible? Let me tell you how.
Subtopic: Spiritual Commanded
Title: The Dirty Heart of Snow
Scientists have discovered that every snowflake has a tiny piece of dust at its core. Yes, every snowflake has a "dirty heart." In the spiritual realm, when the blood of Christ is applied to the heart of a sinner, it cleanses him from all sin. Not a speck of defilement remains, for God removes every stain and washes him even whiter than snow.
C "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replies, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Peter rightly understands that the Lord must wash him and cleanse him. But he fails to understand that Jesus does this with His blood and not with the water in the bowl; Peter fails to understand that the foot-washing is but a symbol of the total cleansing to be accomplished upon the cross.
Jesus gently sets Peter straight on this point. He says to Peter,
(John 13:10) "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean ..." The lesson to Peter, and to us, is that anyone who believes in Christ crucified is already cleansed and does not need to be washed again. No other bath is required. In Christ they are clean, washed, saved, and whiter than snow. The one cleansing that is needed has already been done.
But what about the feet? What does Jesus mean when He says, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet"?
The Lord uses the imagery of the public baths. After bathing, the people returned home along the dusty streets wearing sandals. On reaching home, they found it necessary to have their feet washed. Likewise when they went to the market, visited a friend, or attended a banquet. There was only one bath but many washings of dirty feet.
The lesson to Peter, and to us, is that even after conversion the dust of sin clings to us. We may be washed but our feet still get dirty in the mud of sin. The dirt of these sins must be removed--but not by taking a bath, for in Christ we are already clean and no further bath is necessary. The dirt of these sins must be removed by confession, repentance, and renewal. In other words, when Christians sin, what they don't need is salvation — for it is already theirs. When Christians sin, what they need is renewal of fellowship with God. This lesson is especially important for Peter to learn, for within a few hours he will commit the worst sin of his life — he will deny the Lord! But even then, what he doesn't need is another bath of salvation; rather, what he needs is "foot-cleansing," the restoration of fellowship through confession and repentance.
In front of us, then, is a beautiful parable of the cross. By humbling Himself and taking on the nature of a servant, the Lord foreshadows the cross where His loved ones are cleansed, washed, and made whiter than snow.
III Example We Must Follow
A But there is also a second lesson in the foot-washing. By humbling Himself and taking on the nature of a servant the Lord is giving His disciples an example they must be prepared to imitate. Jesus says,
(John 13:15) I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. In other words, like Jesus, the disciples — and us — must practice humility and take the nature of a servant.
According to Luke's account the disciples were arguing "as to which of them was considered to be greatest" in the kingdom (Lk 22:24). The foot-washing episode shames them into silence more quickly than any words could ever have. Jesus silently washes their feet. When He is finished, He puts on His clothes, returns to His place, and says:
(John 13:12-14) "Do you understand what I have done for you?" ... (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. Jesus reminds them of Who He is: Teacher and Lord. He is an exalted person. If He, an exalted person, can wash feet, so can they; for, don't forget, "no servant is greater than his master" (vs 16).
Is Jesus telling us to practice literal foot-washing here? Is He establishing another sacrament or ritual for the church here? That's how some churches understand His words here. So three or four times a year they engage in a foot-washing ritual.
Jesus is not commanding a foot-washing ritual; rather, He is commanding an attitude. He wants us to be like Himself. He is telling us to imitate His humiliation and servant-nature. He is telling us to have a life of humble service.
B We are being called upon to imitate Jesus, to lead a life of humble service.
To do this, to imitate Jesus, requires an attitude of love. The humiliation and servant-nature of Christ Jesus was prompted by love. Jesus washed the feet, He went to the cross, He humbled Himself and became a servant, out of love. Says John,
(John 13:1b) Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. And in another place, quoting Jesus, we read
(John 15:13) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. It was love, pure love, which led Jesus to humble Himself and become our servant.
C We are being called upon to imitate Jesus, to lead a life of humble service, to have an attitude of love. And this applies to all of us.
This applies to elders in the church and to myself as pastor. Twenty-five years later when Peter wrote his first letter, he echoed the Master's message in the foot-washing episode. He tells the elders of the church to be examples to the flock, not lording it over them but humbling themselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:3,6).
This applies to widows. In the church of Ephesus there was an honor roll of widows. It seems these were women who were leaders of the church, women who ministered to the sick and poor in the name of Christ. One of the qualifications for a woman to be enrolled is that she has shown hospitality and washed the feet of the saints (1 Tim 5:10).
This applies to husbands. Husbands are to imitate the humiliation and servant-nature of Christ. Paul says,
(Eph 5:25) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... Husbands are not to be domineering and dominating when it comes to their wives. They are to be like Christ.
This applies to wives. Wives are to imitate the humiliation and servant-nature of Christ. Paul says,
(Eph 5:22) Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
This applies to all church members in their dealings and relationships with one another. Paul says,
(Eph 5:21) Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Let me give you two examples of people who succeeded in imitating Christ, of people who adopted the servant nature of Christ, of people who humbled themselves. The first is John the Baptist. He was such a powerful figure that Josephus, the great Jewish historian, reports that when John's name was mentioned many years after his death, people still trembled at the thought of him. Jesus' eulogy of John was that "Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist" (Mt 11:11). Yet, John was one of the meekest men in history. When John saw that the crowds of people were forsaking him in order to follow Jesus, he had this to say about Christ: "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30). Another time John said that he was not worthy to untie the thongs of Christ's sandals (John 1:27). Untying thongs ranked way down there somewhere with washing feet. Only a Greek slave could be asked to do such a menial task. But John considers himself unworthy to do even that for the Lord. His humility could scarcely be greater.
Another example comes from the second world war. It concerns a Christian and a Jew.
Subtopic: Imitation of
Title: Personal self-sacrifice
A Jewish woman was fleeing the German Gestapo in France. She knew she was close to being caught and she wanted to give up. A Christian woman, a widow, told her it was time to flee to a new place. The Jew said, "It's no use, they will find me anyway. They are so close behind." The Christian widow said, "Yes, they will find someone here, but it's time for you to leave. Go. I will take your identification and wait for them."
The Jewish lady then understood the plan; the Gestapo would come and find this Christian widow and think she was the fleeing Jew.
The Jewish lady asked her why she was doing that. The widow responded, "It's the least I can do; Christ has already done that and more for me."
The widow was caught and imprisoned in the Jewish lady's place, allowing time for her to escape. Within six months the widow died in the concentration camp.
The Jewish lady never forgot. She too became a follower of Jesus Christ and lived her life serving others. She met God through the greatest love a person can give-- personal self-sacrifice.
D Jesus said to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Without this washing, no person shares in Christ and all His benefits and gifts. And, without this washing, no person is able to imitate Christ either. It is only in Christ that we are able to be like Christ. It is only in Christ that we are able to imitate Christ. And apart from Him, we can do nothing.
The best example here is Judas. Judas was not washed and cleansed by the Lord (vs 11). He had no part, no share, no heritage in the Lord. Judas was not washed and cleansed by the Lord, so he found it impossible to live for others and to die for others. Judas was not washed and cleansed by the Lord so he lived for himself and he died for himself. Judas was not washed and cleansed by the Lord, so he couldn't understand nor accept a Jesus Who humbled Himself and took on a servant-nature.
(John 13:4-5) (Jesus) got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (5) After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
There are two questions I need to ask. First, are you washed by the Lord? You are, if you believe in Him. Second, do you imitate His example of selfless service?
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