LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 2 February 2020
Sermon Text: John 13:1-20
I. Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet
II. We should also serve each other
III. Receiving Jesus by receiving the one He sends
From today, we re-open John’s Gospel and start from ch. 13 where we left last year. My prayer is that, Lord willing, we’d be able to cover the rest of John’s Gospel up to ch. 21, the last chapter of this Gospel.
We stopped at the end of ch. 12 last year, leaving chs. 13 and following for another time, because ch. 13 was the beginning of a new phase in Jesus’ ministry depicted by John. The first twelve chapters of John cover Jesus’ ministry mostly done for and toward the general public, but from ch. 13, the main focus of the Lord is to prepare His twelve disciples for their Master’s departure and the tasks after that.
Simply put, the hour set for Jesus was near, and He had to prepare them for that hour. So, He taught them, warned them, encouraged them, and finally prayed for them as found in the next five chapters, from 13 to 17. Interestingly, in these chapters, Jesus’ heart for His disciples is well reflected, like the very first verse of ch. 13 which begins this section tells us that Jesus loved them ‘to the end.’ Ch. 17 is the highlight of this reflection as the whole chapter records Jesus’ prayer for them and for all believers after them who would come to the faith in the Son. For this reason, a minister from the 19th century commented that if the Scripture was like a temple, Jn. chs. 13-17 was the ‘inner Sanctuary.’
In this preparation, the very first thing Jesus did was washing the disciples’ feet. I found it truly interesting and, to some extent, I was puzzled – why would He begin with washing their feet? Someone who is going away shortly usually starts packing his luggage with the most important thing. In case he is going to leave his dear ones behind, he’d start making sure of the most important thing for his family set and secured. Jesus was going to leave His disciples behind and the first thing was to wash their feet. Isn’t it strange?
I want to see together with you what Jesus’ washing of disciples’ feet means, and what this act of Jesus teaches us of St Columba’s as much as all followers of Jesus who are His disciples.
I. JESUS’ WASHING OF DISCIPLES’ FEET
Talking about Jesus’ washing, we need to know that that was the very first and the most important preparation of Jesus for His beloved disciples. That was the most urgent thing Jesus’ disciples needed and that’s why the Lord did it. Through this, Jesus taught them the important truth for their souls, that is, the one and only way of our salvation is Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for our sins and we receive it through faith in Jesus. Jesus’ washing of their feet illustrates His cleansing of the sins of men.
Having said, I want you to know the weight and depth of Jesus’ love and grace wrought in His cleansing of our sins. Instead of approving it intellectually, I want you to know it by heart. By washing their feet, Jesus displayed to each of His disciples, thus, to our very eyes, the meaning of His coming death and what He would achieve through giving His life up for us.
Let me explain it this way. I don’t think many of you have questioned why Jesus washed those men’s feet. You’d probably read through, thinking that it is the Lord who did this; so, nothing seems to be strange, compared to many other works He did earlier. To list just a few, once He was sound asleep in the stern of a boat while the heavy storm hit it and waves were breaking into it; much earlier than that, He had ordered people to draw water into the empty jars at a wedding banquet; at another time, reaching at the house of a person whose name was Jairo and seeing people mourning for the death of his daughter, Jesus said to the mourners not to weep because the girl was not dead, but sleeping. Those are just some of the strange things Jesus had done earlier. In comparison, washing disciples’ feet seems to be quite normal … at least to the eyes of the people like us who live in the 21st century.
But to the eyes of those people in the 1st century Jewish culture, Jesus’ work of washing the disciples’ feet was a pure shock. As one of the Bible commentators pointed out, I’m sure that all people there in that room were frozen in shock, and remained in a dead silence. I guess, if anyone dropped a needle, that would’ve been loud enough to blow people’s eardrums. Why would that be a shock to them? Because washing people’s, especially quest’s feet, at their arrival was one of the menial works of not even a servant, but of a slave. It was a work of slaves. Yet, Jesus, their Master and Lord, the most honourable guest of the house on that day did it!
A textual evidence is also there in vs. 5-6. As you follow through the verses of ch. 13, you read v. 5, picturing in your mind that Jesus pours water into a basin and begins washing disciples’ feet one by one and wipes them with a towel. Then, you reach v. 6 which tells you that as Jesus comes to Simon Peter, then, Peter says, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” We don’t know how many disciples Jesus has washed before Peter, but at least several of them. But none has said anything because they were frozen in shock by seeing their Master doing such a work.
I guess that the unspecified host of that house, whoever it was, would’ve felt a sudden, sharp feeling of shame all around him as if he were seared by a flame of fire because it was his responsibility to provide such a service at their arrival. All disciples of Jesus would’ve felt the same because their ‘Master’ touched their feet and washed them. Jesus turned upside down everything they had known and lived by. Their custom, their religion and tradition were all turned around. Up to this moment, they were addressing Jesus as ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’ or ‘Rabbi.’ Not too long before this moment, Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But this Lord lowered Himself all the way down to the bottom, to the position of a slave, and washed their feet. It shook them all and shattered their world, then, illustrated why Jesus did come and what He would achieve through His death.
In the gospels, there are three illustrations that perfectly picture the weight of Jesus’ coming down from the heaven, from His glorious heavenly throne, to earth to be the Messiah, Saviour of the lost sinners. They are, firstly, His birth, the King’s birth, in a manger, secondly, His washing of His disciples’ feet and thirdly, this Lord’s death on the cross. We’d be greatly moved if the Queen leaves her palace and flies to Perth to meet us of St Columba’s and simply say ‘hello’ to us. Then, try to grasp the weight of the King of kings’ lowering Himself to the position of a slave, came down to earth to meet us, call us, wash us of our sins, and make us His own to dwell with Him now and forever! Thus, He said to us in Mt. 20:28 that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many”! Phil. 2:6 and following explains it this way: “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant [or more literally, ‘slave’], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
As the feet of those guests in that house were covered with dust, we were covered with sin. While their feet were left unwashed due to man’s apathy, our sins were left uncleansed due to man’s inability. There was none in that house who would wash others’ feet, let alone one’s own feet! Likewise, none in the world even wishes to do anything about his/her sin; if in case one so wishes, never can he do anything about his sins but pay its penalty, this is, death. To such people, God the Son came down and washes the sins by His blood shed on the cross! Praise Him with all your heart and mind and strength; give Him thanks now and forever!
II. WE SHOULD ALSO SERVE EACH OTHER
Once you understand the weight and depth of the meaning of Jesus’ coming down to you and washing of your sins, there arises from your heart thanks and praises to Christ. The verse that tells you that Jesus loved His disciples ‘to the end’ becomes real and true to you. Never could you wash your own feet, let alone your head and body, then, Jesus the Lord and King came down to you and made you His by cleansing you from tip to toe with His atoning blood. Thanking Him, your heart responses to the Lord in this sense, ‘Lord, please let me know of what You want me to do for You!’ To you and all, Jesus speaks with the words of v. 14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
This is a pure blessing of the Lord for us in two ways. Firstly, He has given us a way to repay His gracious gift of salvation, and secondly, this washing of each other’s feet is something we could do. Take the first and let’s consider it a bit more to see why it is a blessing for us. Jesus could’ve said to us, ‘No, I don’t need anything from you because I lack nothing; by the way, what can you do to satisfy Me?’ But He didn’t say that to us. Instead, He gave us a way to do Him a favour. He means that He’d be delighted to see us following His example and, by following Him, deepening our understanding of His love toward us. Moreover, by following the Lord’s way, we’re helping more people to look to Jesus and believe in Him as their Saviour and Lord. In a sense, Jesus has commissioned us to represent Him in the presence of others by following His example. Isn’t it an amazing blessing? By the way, following Jesus’ example, I don’t mean the act of washing other’s feet. Rather, it is serving others as Jesus came to serve than to be served.
The second point I mentioned is that serving others is what we can do here and now. If we were required to serve angels or any heavenly beings, it would’ve been a great problem because we cannot see them, we cannot feel them, we cannot communicate with them. Most importantly, we don’t know how to serve them. But, serving one another in the love of Christ, we know what it means, don’t we? Moreover, Jesus adds this in vs. 16-17 of our text chapter, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you … If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” What a blessing of Christ this is that we can serve one another to whom we can speak and listen, with whom we can interact in a language we can understand!
Having said, I’d like to point out to you that serving one another is a challenge for us also. It’s a challenge because if anyone rejects Jesus’ command for serving one another, he rejects Jesus, claiming that he is superior to Jesus the Lord. The Lord lowered Himself to serve, but would anyone who claims to be His disciple not follow the Lord? No Christian can reject this command of Jesus because, as we’ve heard over the last four Sundays, all Christians are Jesus’ disciples who adhere to the teaching of the Master, Jesus Christ. So, we should serve one another, not as one under a binding contract or obligation, but as His disciples who joyful and willing carry out the example of our loving Master.
III. RECEIVING JESUS BY RECEIVING THE ONE HE SENDS
Then, it is so natural that we understand what the Lord means by the words of v. 20 that whoever receives the one He sends receives Him, the Lord, and whoever receives Jesus receives the Father who sent His Son to us. The one we receive is another disciple of Jesus, just like us, who follows the Lord’s example and serves others. He represents Christ through his service to others, so receiving such a one is to receive Christ. And receiving Jesus is to receive the Father because He sent His Son to us to do the Father’s will and save us. So, the formula is simple to every believer’s mind. This is, in fact, what Jesus means when He says in v. 35 this, “All people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Let me conclude and remind you that washing disciples’ feet was the most urgent thing Jesus had to do for His disciples. It was to teach them the true meaning of His coming in flesh and going away through death on the cross. That is, Jesus washes our sins away and we receive it through faith in Him, our Saviour and Lord.
All who are washed and cleansed of sins have one glorious and joyful task, that is, to serve one another as the Lord showed His example. So, serving our own brothers and sisters in Jesus is not at all a burden, but our pure joy as it is our way of giving thanks to the Lord and appreciating His saving grace. It is also our way to enjoy His marvellous salvation in this world.
Today, after the worship service, we’re going to share our church’s vision for this year – in other words, our plan for serving one another in the Lord – and pray together. May the Lord open our eyes to see the joy of following Him after His example of washing others’ feet, that is, serving one another in His love. Amen. ***