Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message: John 13; Date: 24 October 2010

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Unless I Wash You

 

Jesus died on a cross for us and this lies at the core of our faith. Jesus could not have done more for us. Perhaps – no other death is as painful as the slow suffocation that comes from having your body pinned to a cross by nails. Jesus could not have done more. Yet, he did. The cross by itself would not have been enough. Even today – this morning – it is not enough for you.

We read in the Bible – John 13:1-5: “ … 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. The evening meal was being served, … Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him

You can talk about the cross and make it a nice theory which you contemplate from a distance but Jesus would have none of that. The cross was all about love – burning love – for you (and me) – and Jesus made sure that this kind of love would be experienced (on your skin) – in all its incomprehensible glory. [He made sure that his love would reach into our everyday life. Surprise us! Confront us! Challenge us!] Not long before he died – Jesus demonstrated the meaning of the cross to his disciples. According to the Bible – John 13:1: “ … he now showed them the full extent of his love

Again: Jesus was not content with some kind of heroic sacrifice as a martyr – a one-off event on some sad day – (maybe an accident of getting caught by the authorities). No – the cross expressed his character and – therefore – the cross – the innermost meaning of the cross – could be demonstrated in other ways. Jesus was and is and will remain the man who sacrifices everything – including his life – for us. He loves you.

Please do not misunderstand me. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was indeed a once and for all sacrifice which made atonement for all of our sins but this action was not a fluke. The cross makes us see what Jesus was like – and is like – all of the time. He loves us.

Sometimes the Bible packs a lot of information into one short sentence. For instance – John 1:14: “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us … ” At this time – no explanation was given as to the how and when and where of the incarnation which is the word for the enormous miracle of Jesus (the Son of God) becoming a human being. Here the Bible does not explain much. However, when it comes to Jesus demonstrating his love for us, the Bible lingers on every detail – everything that he does. Listen again and let the words guide your imagination. This is Jesus – for you – John 13:4-5: “ … so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him

After a long day in the sun and traveling, you want to wash your feet – freshen up – before you have dinner together. However, in Jesus’ time there was no private bathroom for the guests. Instead – (if the host was rich enough) – a slave would perform the duty of washing your feet. No one would pay much attention to him. It was a menial task.

Only – when Jesus and his disciples were having another meal before his death, resurrection and departure from this world, no slave seems to have been on hand. The towel and water basin were at their usual place but no one volunteered for the job. Then, Jesus – the recognized leader of the group – of whom the Bible says: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3) – he that only a few days ago (with the disciples and many more as eye-witnesses) had raised Lazarus from the dead – he stood up and took off all of his outer clothing, which consisted of a flowing outer garment and the tunic, and – thus – he ended up naked – except for a loin-cloth (the underwear of the time) – and so – naked – he took the dirty – sweaty – feet of his disciples into his lap and washed them – first rinsing them with water and then drying them.

This was unthinkable behaviour. Even for us modern Australians, who do not show much respect to political leaders or any other leaders, this is unthinkable behaviour. What was Jesus doing? He was loving them as he is loving you. Receive his love this morning. Now.

Maybe – at this point – some would be tempted to look down upon a leader that behaved like a slave. This may look like groveling or trying to buy votes. However – with Jesus – it was love that made him stoop low and his love – the foot-washing kind of love – was and is tied up with leadership. His leadership was never stronger as when he served his disciples naked – wearing nothing but undies.

Jesus proceeded to do the job and – at first – no one objected. Why? How could they not stop Jesus in his tracks? Why were they like stunned mullets? No one moved. Did they begin to presume on Jesus’ servant role, thinking: “Well – he is providing for everything else. He is preaching and we follow him. Why shouldn’t he wash my feetI don’t know what was going on but – finally – it was Peter, who protested the bewildering – the outrageous – sight of a foot-washing Jesus – John 13:6-7: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … No, you shall never wash my feet

Peter had the decency to know who was Lord and who was the learning disciple. Yet, Jesus ignored him and insisted on his service because he now spelled out the fundamental connection between foot-washing love and his leadership. Jesus explained – John 13:8: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me

Are you hearing this for yourself? Unless Jesus washes you, you have no part in him. Jesus knows that we need to be loved. Wherever he leads – we can only get there, if we receive his love. We may think – like Peter – that this is not how it should work. This is not how our world functions. In our world – for instance, in business – you are meant to climb the corporate ladder based on your own work and achievements – in your own strength. First you serve your boss (which means that you should begin by washing the feet of Jesus) but then you become the boss and others are to wash your feet. This is what we know. Be a good follower of Jesus and then enjoy the promotion – Jesus may not exactly wash your feet – (this is not what a promotion looks like in our world) – but he would be pleased with you and pat you on the shoulder in recognition for your good services.

Jesus – completely – negated this kind of thinking. In the Christian faith you cannot climb any ladders. If you want to be saved by him, you need to be served by him. Jesus said to Peter – John 13:8: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in meUnless Jesus loves you – (and the foot-washing simply demonstrated the love that made Jesus sacrifice his life on the cross for us) – you will not be with him.

For Peter – and maybe for us this morning – this is confronting and it is humbling to accept the services of Jesus – (the naked foot-washing Jesus kneeling before us) – not being able to help ourselves. Peter didn’t like the response of Jesus and he had another go at gaining control of the situation. He said – John 13:9: “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as wellHowever, Jesus settled him down. Washing his feet would be enough.

Can we see now that Jesus was not groveling or trying to buy votes when he served his disciples? He did not have a towel around his waist out of weakness but served in the strength of his leadership. We pause here for a moment. How are you responding to this? How are you feeling about Jesus now? Are you glad that your feet are getting cleaned – (that your sins are forgiven) – by him or do you resent the force behind his words: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me

Can I encourage you by saying that anyone – any community – is crying out for good leadership (e.g.: the Toowoomba Regional Council, the nation of Australia) and Jesus’ leadership comes with so much love – absolute self-giving. Jesus is an attractive person. Give him your feet. Let him wash you. Understand what he has done for you on the cross.

We go deeper now. The theme of immense love and confrontation continues in our Bible account. Many a time – we only want to love people when they are nice people. In the church we can be chummy with each other – do an occasional foot-washing even – when everyone is on the same page and kind. Yet, Jesus served his disciples when they were at their worst. They had remained a hopeless bunch – (like many of us) – even after he had spent three long years instructing them on a personal basis – traveling and living together.

 On the day – when no one attended to their feet – Jesus would have had the right to relax before any of his disciples. He had the right to be more tired than the rest of them. Jesus had been on an emotional roller-coaster – teaching and preaching, performing miracles and battling unbelief. People had pressured him over the healing of his friend Lazarus but he had come late and Lazarus had already been dead for four days. At the time everyone was weeping around him so that HHThyThu  Jesus became emotional himself and tears were flowing down his cheeks (John 11:33-35). However, he then stepped out in faith and raised Lazarus from the dead which only made him more enemies. He was becoming too popular (John 11:45-48). A great crowd cheered his entrance into Jerusalem but the opposition was also growing. This was going on during the week. Therefore – on the day – when no one attended to their feet – Jesus had the right to be more tired than his disciples. They had not been helping but – nevertheless – it was he, who served them.

Who were they – the church at the time? Jesus knew. They had left all the work to him (slow to believe) but now they would top their behaviour by letting him down in the worst possible way. Without a doubt – Jesus was washing the feet of undeserving people. Yet, he loved them so much and he loves you so much. When their feet were clean, Jesus shared what he knew about them – John 13:21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray meThis was disturbing news but what made it worse was that none [possible exception John] of his disciples was confident of his own loyalty. I read – John 13:22: “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meantPeter did not even dare to ask Jesus himself about the identity of the traitor – John 13:24: “Simon Peter motioned to John [original: this disciple] and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’” Jesus gave an answer. The traitor would not be Peter but Peter would have his own failings. Jesus told him – John 13:38: “ … before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times

Jesus would be betrayed and denied by his own church people – the disciples. He knew that this would be happening. He was under no illusion as to what kind of people they were. But he loved them and – John 13:1: “ … he now showed them the full extent of his love.” John 13:4-5: “ … he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him

Do we give Jesus credit for this kind of love? This was genuine. Jesus demonstrated that no flaw within his disciples would stop him from loving them and leading them. Jesus will never give up on you but – again – as we said before – his immense love also came with a confrontation. Jesus may have kneeled in front of us naked – except for his undies – and he may have been removing the sweat from our feet but he – nevertheless – remained the leader. His actions betrayed not weakness but strength – love that comes with power.

And just think! With his combination of love and power – Jesus was able to lead free people. The disciples did not have to follow him. Jesus did not manipulate them – they were free – but they experienced his authority. Jesus healed people, drove out demons, raised the dead, etc – which impacted the disciples. Furthermore, Jesus preached in such a way that – when others began to abandon Jesus – the disciples stayed with him, saying – John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of GodThe disciples were free – as you are free – but they had experienced the authority of Jesus. Thus – when Jesus spoke after the foot-washing – they listened and suffered the confrontation – John 13:21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” John 13:38: “ … before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times

I ask you again: How are you responding to this? How are you feeling about Jesus now? What are you hearing? Can you no longer be impacted by the foot-washing – are you beginning to discount his love – because the later words of confrontation make you withdraw from him? Maybe you don’t want to be indebted to Jesus. “Jesus, don’t serve me and I won’t serve youMaybe – now – you want to tell him what Peter told him at first – John 13:6-7: “Lord, … No, you shall never wash my feet

I could preach about the foot-washing and never mention anything challenging for us. I could just praise our Saviour – uphold his service of washing our feet and washing away our sin through his service on the cross – but that would not be the whole story and it would fall short on what Jesus’ leadership means for us today. On the day that Jesus demonstrated his love to the disciples – on the day that he also confronted them – he was building a legacy which would be the practical foundation for all subsequent disciples – including us – the church of Living Grace (today).

This is important now. Jesus explained his intentions – I read from our Bible account – John 13:12-17: “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. ‘You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’” John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another

We may be tempted to get hung up on Jesus’ confronting words – take offense when they come to us today – but the first disciples didn’t. For them – what reigned supreme was the sight of Jesus – their Teacher and Lord – kneeling in front of them and washing their feet. This touched them. And they would never forget because subsequent events proved Jesus right. The disciples would betray and deny him. The disciples would trample the love of Jesus with contempt and cowardice. Jesus had known but it did not stop him. He loved them by serving them – not to put a later guilt trip on them but saving them. Jesus demonstrated his love to the disciples and the demonstration worked. They understood – love.

Jesus had said – John 13:8: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in meLater the disciples knew how to apply this to the cross and they understood how the sacrifice of his life – the loving endurance of torture and pain (for us) – was washing us again. It was his love – not the confrontation – that stayed with them.

May it be the same for you today. Give him your feet – give him your heart – and let him wash you. Don’t pull back. He knows that you are not worthy but he loves you. Let him wipe away the dirt – make you clean. He is serving you – now.

For the disciples – it was Jesus’ love – not the confrontation – that stayed with them. In fact, the confrontation only served to reveal the greatness of Jesus’ love. He loved them when they were still unlovely. His love – with some piercing insight – won them over – changed them. May I suggest to you that it is still the same dynamic that will make us step into Jesus’ legacy. I read again what is to become practice among us – John 13:12-17: “ … Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet … By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another

It would be nice if the church was full of foot-washing people and everyone was just so consumed with love for one another that it would be easy to obey Jesus’ command. However, we all know that this is not the case. Even our own church is far closer to the first disciples who sat around the table while Jesus served them than anything else. There is still so much brokenness among us – defective character traits, unlovely attitudes, etc. We don’t experience that after a long day everyone is fighting over the towel and water basin to do another job.

Therefore, how do we step into Jesus’ legacy – be recognized by his love among us? The key is that you don’t look at what the others are doing. You look at what Jesus is doing – for you – and then you make a start – serving someone else – washing the feet of someone else. And – as you are doing this – you don’t expect a nice “thank you”. You forgive – in advance – any ungratefulness – be it in the form of betrayal, denial or gossip – because Jesus did the same for you. You guard your heart and love the other person. You wash someone else’s feet without manipulating them – no laying on of guilt trips or “holier than thou” attitude. You love the other person and you demonstrate your love.

This goes especially for those that want to be leaders in the church. You have no rights. You serve and then people may behave in whatever way they do but you can never spit the dummy – never not love them. This is leadership. If you are sure of your love – and only if you are sure that your love is pure – then you may also say something. Speak the truth as Jesus did.

Learn about leadership. Jesus was leading free people and his people – our church – are still free. You can only love others – demonstrate your love to others – and then back off. Don’t coerce anyone. Let love work the transformation. If God has put leadership in you – if he is raising you into leadership – then you don’t have to worry about your authority. It will be visible. Like Jesus – you may heal the sick, drive out demons and raise the dead. And the words that you speak – in Jesus’ name – will not return empty. If God gives you leadership, no one will take it away but your job – first and foremost – is to love and – through love – lead free people. [Cf. culture of honour.]

There is no other way to achieve what Jesus left us as his legacy – John 13:12-17: “ … Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet … By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [Thus, the love of the cross is still demonstrated among us – through us.]

I summarize some of the key points of this message: 1. Jesus demonstrated his love in the foot-washing. 2. The foot-washing demonstrated the love of Jesus on the cross. 3. When Jesus washed feet, he was not weak but exercising leadership. (John 13:8: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.”) 4. Jesus was washing the feet of undeserving people. 5. Jesus was building a legacy – John 13:12-17: “ … Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet … By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 6. It was Jesus’ love – not the confrontation – that stayed with the disciples. 7. If you want to be a leader, demonstrate your love and wash someone’s feet. 8. Jesus was leading free people and his people are still free. 9. Let love work the transformation. 10. God will confirm your leadership.

In closing, can I come back to the beginning of our Bible account? Where do you stand with Jesus? Before we think about too much, let’s go back to the beginning. Imagine that you are one of the disciples who have come to sit around the table after a long day and there is Jesus kneeling in front of you and he is ready to wash your feet. Let him serve you. Be honest and humble. He died for you on the cross so that he could forgive you now. Let him love you. Amen.