Today, we’re continuing to talk about Service, one of the Discipleship Path steps. But let’s back up before we continue. To be a disciple, means that we are following and learning from the teacher to be just like the teacher. It’s much more than just learning a trade or a task. Discipleship means to literally learn to imitate their teacher’s life.
So applied to Jesus, a disciple is someone who learns from Him to live like Him — to take on His words and ways. It’s why Jesus says “follow me” 87 times.
So while we are going through these Discipleship Path steps, keep that in mind. Remember that when Jesus repeats Himself, it’s means He’s not only saying something so important, but it’s something that He wants to really sink into our minds. The same is true with His actions.
When it comes to servanthood, there are so many examples of Jesus’ being a servant in the Gospels that I could probably preach for a whole year on that subject alone. I’m obviously not going to, as we’re going to wrap it up today. But I’m telling you this so you get the importance of Jesus’ model of service.
And since Jesus is such a great example of how to be a servant, it’s only wise for us to examine His servanthood and learn how we can reflect that same servanthood in our own lives.
And get this, once we are a disciple of Jesus, we get to, we’re not made to or force to or are just to add something else to our daily list of things to do which none of us want because we are all so busy, we get the amazing opportunity to join Him in His work. I want you understand the magnitude of that.
The God of the universe, who created everything in this world, who is all powerful, whose name is so holy, who has no beginning or end, wants you and me, wants us to join HIM in HIS work, wants to give us an opportunity to feel what it is like to join Him. He wants to give us the gift of knowing what He can do through us. He wants us to be a part of His work. How amazing is that!
And you know what’s really awesome? That work He wants us to join with Him in doing, always involves freeing people from some kind of bondage, embracing those who are hurting and suffering, accepting those in isolation, encouraging the ones we love so much, teaching about who God is and loving everyone in our midst just the way He does.
One of the examples of Jesus serving that John gives us, next to dying on the cross, is probably the most shocking act of service that Jesus has ever done.
John 13:1-17 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 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; 4 so he 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.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus (very practical) answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. (Now He takes it to a spiritual level) And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.
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 Very truly I tell you, 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.
So let’s just set the scene. This is the evening before Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s just before the Passover meal is about to begin which was the celebration of the history of the Israelites being set free from slavery in Egypt by the all-powerful God. This amazing event showed just who God is, it showed how He loved His people and never forgot them even though they had been in slavery for 400 years, it set the motion for the Promise Land, the 10 Commandments, and so many miracles that proved God protection, care, and grace for His people over and over again.
So every year, the Jewish community honored where they came from with this Passover meal. It was called Passover because just before they were freed from slavery, God told them to paint lamb’s blood over the door ways of their homes so that when the angel of death came as the last plague to Egypt to kill all of the firstborn sons, their homes would be passed over.
This was God’s first covenant with His people being fulfilled. So it was a pretty big deal.
Now the custom in homes back then was that as guests entered your home, the host was to provide water to wash their feet as a sign of hospitality which came from as far back as Abraham, 2,000 earlier, when three men from God came to visit him and his wife in their old age to tell them that they would have a child, which would have been impossible to the human mind, but would be the beginning of God’s promise to Abraham of making him a father of many nations.
But loosing the sandals and personally washing someone’s feet was the job of the host’s servant, so the low of the low, not just the lowest of the low in the household, but in society. Yet this is what Jesus took upon Himself to do.
So picture this upper room. The cushions for the guests to sit on would be arranged on the floor around a low setting table of food, with the upper part of each person’s body facing the food and their feet away from the table. The person would lean on the left elbow, leaving the right hand free to reach food on the table.
And Jesus got up from the table, from the seat of honor, took off His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist and walked around the outer circle of the table and began to wash each person’s feet.
Now disciples normally served their teachers after the model of Elisha serving the prophet Elijah and Joshua serving the leader of the Israelites, Moses. One expression of service, however that was not required even of the disciples was dealing with the teacher’s feet. Yet Jesus goes beyond the service expected even for the disciples. Why?
In verse three, I think we get a glimpse of the bigger picture here.
John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
The first thing John says in his Gospel is: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
Who’s the Word? Jesus. Jesus, the Word, had come from God and was now about to go back to God. And just before He does, Jesus, the Word, in other words God, gives this image of laying aside His glory, and puts on our human nature in order to wash our feet.
If I were to ask you to participate in a foot washing service, how many would participate? Not many. Most of us are ashamed of our feet. Maybe we have weird toenails, calluses, bent toes, etc. Feet are gross. That’s just the way God made them…which is what makes this story all the more powerful.
John 13:4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
The point is not to say, “Despite the fact that He had come from God, He nevertheless washed their feet!” The point is to say, “No, washing their feet was what He had to do, precisely because He had come from God.” The foot washing which points to the crucifixion itself (I’ll speak more on that in a moment), was Jesus’ way of showing who God was and is. This is all building up to the climax of the story of Jesus’ death on the cross.
So Jesus is kneeling before His disciples to wash their feet. I know, it doesn’t sound right, especially when we think of Him as someone we give our exclusive praise to. It didn’t sound right to Peter either. The little drama with Peter misunderstanding yet again what Jesus is up to, is kind of funny on the outside but is deeply serious on the inside.
Jesus must wash us if we are to belong to him. Yet He has already washed us, in calling us to belong to Him (John 15:3), we are already cleansed, we are already His. But what we need on a daily basis is the regular washing of those parts of ourselves, our personalities, our sins, our disobedience when we get dusty and dirty.
When Jesus is done washing each disciples’ feet, even Judas by the way who He knew was going to betray Him, Jesus gets up, puts His outer garments back on and sits back at the seat of honor at the table.
The next time Jesus has His clothes changed would be to reveal Him as the “the man” or “the king” when a purple robe was put on Him as a mockery after His arrest. After that, even more of His clothes would be removed to be on the cross, revealing the entirety of our Father’s heart as He gives His life for the world.
The foot washing and dying on the cross are extreme displays of Jesus’ love for His own. The foot washing was shocking to Jesus’ disciples, but not half as shocking as the notion of a Messiah who would die the hideous and shameful death of crucifixion. But the two events—the foot washing and the crucifixion—are truly of one piece: the admired and exalted Messiah assumes the role of the despised servant, the low of the low, all for the good of others.
Paul says this about Jesus in Philippians 2:5-11, You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus speaks in John 13:14-15 of giving His followers a pattern to copy.
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.
When you really thing about it, this pattern or task that Jesus sets for His followers is so intense that we shouldn’t be surprised at how many of us fail to get it right. It’s not an easy task. But why is this so hard?
Why does He have to go on to insist that the slave is not greater than the master, that the messenger is not greater than the person who sent them?
The simple answer is because we are proud. Today, when we perform the foot-washing ceremony in our churches, it’s the leader or minister who does it. It has become a sign of leadership. Yet when Jesus did it, He was doing what normally a slave would do, the lowest of the low. Today, we can’t really understand the magnitude of this like the disciples did.
He’s basically saying, there is no more slave and master, no more one greater than the other. So much that even I, the Son of God, your Lord and Teacher, who you are to learn to imitate, have done the servant’s job of washing your feet. This whole act of service was to prepare these very men for the work ahead. The work that they would get to join Jesus on.
Jesus is a servant. He came to earth not to be served, but to serve. (Mark 10:45). If we are going to be His disciples, we have to take on Jesus’ words and ways, the same way Jesus did and meant by washing the disciples’ feet.
In one sense, the posture of servant should describe how Jesus’ disciples should act towards everyone. But in another sense, being a servant like Jesus, has a particular focus on disciples serving disciples. “Let us do good to everyone,” Paul said, “and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Jesus says just after the Passover Meal and the Lord’s Supper as we know it today, it’s how we will witness to the world. Just a little further down in John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In other words, it starts with how we love each other. We will show the world Jesus’ love by how we love each other.
He describes it as a ‘new commandment,’ but the newness isn’t so much a matter of never having heard words like this before. The Old Testament commanded love.
In Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
But what makes Jesus’ commandment new is the new standard and example. Jesus said, “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you.” Disciples are expected to learn by following the examples of their teachers – to the point of laying down one’s life for others.
But you know, to ask people to love one another is pointless if they don’t understood the love of Jesus in His death for them. The new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, yet profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.
As I have washed your feet, wash each other’s feet. As I have fed you, feed others. As I have served you, serve others. As I have taught you, teach others. As I have loved you…enough to die on that cross…love others. Be a living sacrifice.
Serve like Him. Which means to serve your brothers and sisters and going low in acts of love, even when it’s an inconvenience for you, even when it flip-flops the world’s social order and expectations.
See, if we understand the true meaning of Jesus love on that cross, the depth and type of love this is, we see that the kind of love Jesus is demonstrating for us, is a love that is all about the other person. Therefore, it overflows into service, without really thinking about it. That’s the natural form of this kind of love.
It was hard for the disciples up to this point to even appreciate what Jesus has been doing on their behalf, and now He’s telling them to copy Him! Through the foot washing, Jesus is telling them to look back at His whole life, His whole way and manner of life, and to find in it a pattern, a shape, an example, a power of how to love and serve others.
In this cute video by Samaritans Purse, children explain what it means to love someone. The children have some great ideas of what it means to love people. If they can figure it out, adults should certainly be able to understand Jesus’s teaching. The challenge is putting it into practice.