TEXT: Mark 10:32-37, 41-45; Luke 22:14-20, 24-27; John 13:1-5, 12-17
Once in my ministry I have had to deliver a “farewell message” to the congregation I had served as their pastor, and I would like to tell you that that is not an easy job to do. My purpose is to prepare them for the future. This “farewell message” includes both warning and instruction.
John 13-17 is our Lord’s “farewell message” to His beloved disciples, and like many “farewell messages,” Jesus has given them warnings and instructions. And tonight I would like to zero in to one of the many instructions Jesus has given to His disciples before He accomplish the mission He was commissioned to finish – the instruction of being a servant.
Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room to celebrate one final meal together before He would die on the cross. It’s important to know that it was the custom of the day for a host to provide a servant at the door of any dinner party to wash the feet of the guests. Remember, in those days people walked with sandals down dusty roads and reclined at low tables—a foot to eighteen inches above the ground—while eating. That meant their feet would be dangerously near the next person’s face. Having a foot washer greet guests at the door was standard practice, much like we would have someone greets visitors and offers to take their coat and hang it up.
I want you to use your holy imagination right now, and try to imagine that you can see everything in the room, but no one in the room can see you. You stand, unnoticed, and watch the events of the Last Supper.
Here come the twelve with Jesus, climbing the stairs. The first disciple walks in the door, looks for the foot-washing servant and notices he’s not there. Does he wash his own feet? Does he take off his garment and become a servant and wash everyone else’s feet? Look at his eyes. He is saying, “Not me. I’m a disciple of the great teacher Jesus. I’m not a lowly servant.” So he hurries to the table to get a good spot. The second disciple comes in. Realizing that the first guy refused to be a servant, he comes to the same conclusion. He too goes in and looks for a good spot at the table. Each disciple does the same thing. They all file in. They all go right past the water basin and recline at the table, making themselves comfortable as they stick their dirty feet in each other’s faces.
Finally Jesus and His twelve followers are all at the table. Jesus looks at the water. He looks at the filthy feet of the disciples. You can see it in His eyes. Unbelievable! Three years of sermon after sermon, illustration after illustration, confrontation after confrontation, and not one of them is willing to serve his brothers. And even more heartbreaking, not one of them was humble enough to serve even Jesus. Notice the how the disciples were constantly seeking greatness while Jesus was constantly seeking to serve.
After giving every chance for one of them to take the role of a servant, Jesus gets up from the table. No one knows where He is going or what He is about to do. Jesus quietly walks to the water basin and begins to remove His outer garment. He carefully picks up the servant’s towel and tucks it in His belt, exactly the way a common servant would. Then He pours the water into the basin and kneels down at the feet of one of His followers.
What was He doing? He’s showing to His disciples how they must serve…they are showing to them that true greatness would mean humbly serving others. The Big Idea that I have seen in this passage is to be like Jesus by serving others. Jesus said to the disciples, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). In other words, Jesus is simply saying, “Be like Me,” “Do what I did.” “Imitate Me!” Let me show to you the reasons why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and what it means to us in our time right now:
1. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet because HE LOVED THEM.
When Jesus stooped to wash His disciples’ feet he showed us several important truths about serving others. Jesus shows…the Priority of Serving
v. 1 It was just before the Passover Feast. 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.
What would you do if you knew you would die a violent death in about 12 hours? Would you want to be alone in prayer? Record some final thoughts? Would you spend time with those you loved? What would you want to emphasize? Would you share recipes or gardening tips or would you focus on what’s important?
Jesus, the Bible says knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and so he took off his cloak put a towel around His waist and washed the dirty feet of His disciples. Who’s going to waste time on that when the end is so near? Jesus. Why? Because He wanted to show them how important it is to humbly serve one another.
Jesus applied the meaning of His action very clearly. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (14). Surely, He says, if the Lord of glory is willing to take the form of a servant, actually washing the feet of those who are very far below Him, it ought to be easy for mere disciples to render loving service to one another. Some Christians have taken the words of Jesus literally. I read of one fairly large denomination around the world that practices feet washing – and perhaps they find it helpful in combating pride among church members. But Jesus wasn’t instituting a new ordinance here. He isn’t commending His disciples to do what He has done but rather giving them an example. He wants them to do as He has done, to render loving service to one another in the spirit of genuine humility. “… later you will understand,” said Jesus.
We need to remember that the disciples at that moment were not an easy bunch to love:
- They were arguing about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24).
- One of them would betray Him
- One of them would deny Him
- Ten of them would desert Him
Jesus had the right motivation for serving the disciples: love. He was giving an emphasis that the RIGHT MOTIVATION in serving others is LOVE.
Why do we serve others? Sometimes we can have the wrong motivation.
Wrong motivations for service:
- The need to soothe feelings of GUILT
- The desire to EARN God’s favour
- The need to be PRAISED by others
Love for others starts with a love for God. When we discover that God loves us with an everlasting love and that we matter deeply to Him, we want to obey Him. And one of the most important commands He has given us is, “Love one another.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
“If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
Don’t get Jesus wrong, when He said, “love one another,” it also means loving even the unlovable: Understand with me that the Scripture notes both before and after the description of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet that of all people Judas was there. Judas, having decided already, that He would betray the Lord, was among them and received the humble demonstration of Christ’s love.
Lest we think that somehow our love and service to others should end at the chapel door, or that we have no responsibility to love and serve those who don’t reciprocate our efforts, Jesus washed the feet of Judas too.
Doesn’t Jesus’ example tell us something special about service? Doesn’t it remind us that we are not called to serve only those who are like us, or even those who care for us? We are called to serve all people – the lovely and the unlovely, the friendly and the not-so-friendly…When was the last time you “washed the feet” of someone like Judas?
Mother Teresa visited Phoenix in 1989 to open a home for the poor. During that brief visit, she was interviewed by KTAR, the largest radio station in town. In a private moment, the announcer asked Mother Teresa if there was anything he could do for her. He was expecting her to request a contribution or media attention to help to raise money for the new home for the needy in Phoenix. Instead, she replied, “Yes, there is. Find somebody nobody else loves, and love them.”
How can you and I be like Jesus? Have the RIGHT MOTIVATION: Serve others because of LOVE.
2. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet because HE WAS FOCUSED ON THE NEEDS OF OTHERS.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that people are in the business of “looking out for number one.” That was true in Jesus’ day and it’s definitely true today.
From the moment of birth, people urge others to meet their needs. The infant cries until Mom comes to feed or change her. The toddler misbehaves until Dad stops playing with little sister and gives full attention to him. At older ages siblings often demand privileges in at least equal proportion to, and preferably in greater amounts than, their brothers and sisters. Adults often seek the highest paying jobs, the most comfortable homes, the most prestigious cars, and the most extravagant vacations possible, and are willing to go to considerable trouble to achieve these ends. What begins as a survival instinct quickly becomes an expression of fallen human nature.
We are obsessed with having our own needs met. But Jesus was different. During the Last Supper Jesus knew that He would die in just a few short hours. When it would have been normal for Him to be consumed with His own concerns, He was focused on the needs of His disciples.
If we want to be like Jesus, we need to have the RIGHT ATTITUDE: To Serve others with HUMILITY.
The disciples must have been shocked when they saw their Master rise from supper, lay aside His outer garments, wrap a towel around His waist, take a basin of water, and wash their feet. Washing feet was the job of servants and slaves. It was a menial task. It was a task of hospitality and servanthood. Verse 3 also tells us that Jesus knew He was the King of Kings and yet He took the place of a servant.
He was Teacher and Master, and yet He served His followers.
He was Lord and Christ, and yet humbled Himself.
He had all things in His hands, and yet He picked up a towel.
(Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1, pgs 344-345.)
Jesus knew that there was a competitive spirit in the hearts of His disciples. In fact, within a few minutes, the men were disputing over which of them was the greatest. He gave them an unforgettable lesson in humility, and by His actions rebuked their selfishness and pride.
I want to share another passage of Scripture we should know about. Please turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 2. READ PHILIPPIANS 2:5-8.
Jesus was the Sovereign, yet He took the place of a servant. He had all things in His hands, yet He picked up a towel. He was Lord and Master, yet He served His followers. It has well been said that “humility is not thinking meanly of yourself; it is simply not thinking of yourself at all.” True humility grows out of our relationship with the Father. If our desire is to know and do the Father’s will so that we might glorify His name, then we will experience joy of following Christ’s example and serving others.
I’ve seen some people like that…I saw businessmen sweeping the floor, preparing the venue for the mission, lawyers and doctors, mingling with people who are not educated, but they don’t care on what other people might say! Why? Because they have learned and experienced in their own lives that it has never been their money that has given them worth, it has never been their educational attainments that has given them worth, it has never been their connections that has given them worth…they have experienced that only Jesus has given value and worth for their lives! And they don’t care what task you will give to them, as long as it pleases the heart of the Heavenly Father!
Jesus comes up with the idea of washing the disciples’ feet and he shocks them. The disciples should have been doing this for him. As he washes, you can hear the silence in the room. Finally, Peter’s are the last feet to be washed and he just can’t take it. He states, “Jesus, you can’t possibly do this. It is beneath you. You are my teacher and my Lord. How can you do this?” Jesus says, “Peter, you need this. You don’t understand what I’m doing. Unless you receive this, you have not part in me.” He’s really telling Peter that unless he are willing to do anything for God’s kingdom, he is not worthy of the kingdom. If we are going to follow Jesus, there is no such thing as something below our dignity. If God wants us to do something, we can’t say no if we are going to follow him. That’s what a servant does and it’s God’s message not only to Peter but to us as well.
If we follow him, there is no such thing as service below our dignity. Husbands, is there anything below your dignity in the service of your wife? Wives, is there anything that you consider below your personal dignity in the service of your husband? Parents, is there anything below your dignity in the service of your children. Children or youth, is there anything below your dignity in the service of your parents? If so, then you have not understood this message yet or this act of Jesus.
Jesus was a servant. He took a towel and washed his disciples’ dusty, smelly feet and said we should do the same. Imagine that! What kind of impact could we have on the world if we washed peoples’ feet? People are searching for something real, something different, something way out of greedy and dying world. Why don’t we show them the true nature of Jesus by adopting the servanthood he modeled for us? There is no way we can drag people into God’s kingdom through political power or glitzy TV shows. We thought we would win the world with words, but in the process we become as pushy as everyone else. What if we truly served? What if Christians became known for their humility? It would change everything. Literal foot washing would be a little weird these days, but what else could we do? Help a neighbour who is in need, help a co-worker with a project, pay school tuition for a kid in a struggling family, offer free babysitting for a single mom, or visit someone who is sick, feed the street children, or give away your excess clothes to orphans, etc.
We today, just like the disciples that night desperately needs this lesson on humility. The church is filled with a worldly spirit of competition and criticism as believers vie with one another to see who is the greatest. We are growing in knowledge, but not in grace. No longer people want to do menial tasks, tasks that won’t put them in the spotlight.
It takes an understanding of our identity to be able to humble ourselves. The world tells us that we need to make ourselves look good in front of others, that we need to exalt ourselves, but Jesus said that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12).” Let me remind each and every one of us that we are nothing without God…the things that you’re having right now, the status that you’re enjoying right now would be impossible without Him in your life…so in other words, I want you to understand that nobody, I say nobody in this room can raise a heel and would say that it’s all because of you and yourself why you have this and that…I want you to know that everything we have, everything that we are, and will be is all about JESUS! If we don’t understand who we are in Jesus we will be unwilling to humble ourselves until the Lord Himself humbles us.
One of the tests of true service is humility. John Ruskin said, “I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation in speaking his opinion. But really great men have a curious under-sense of powerlessness, feeling that the greatness is not in them but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them.” Remember that humility is not depreciation of ourselves, but appreciation of God in your life! TANDAAN MO ITO KAPATID, “God is not looking for more stars; He’s looking for more servants.”
3. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet because HE UNDERSTOOD THAT TRUE GREATNESS COMES FROM SERVING OTHERS.
Illustration: “Be like Mike” (Gatorade commercial)
What does it mean to be like Mike? To be the best basketball player in the world, famous, rich, idolized. What does it mean to be like Jesus? To serve others. Being like Jesus isn’t as attractive to the world as being like Mike. But most people don’t realize that true greatness doesn’t come from being a great basketball player; true greatness comes from serving others.
- a. We must understand that true greatness must be based on the Real Standard of Greatness.
Jesus says that greatness is different than how the unbelieving World behaves. Jesus began by contrasting Christian greatness with the world’s concept of greatness in verses twenty-five, “And He said to them, ’The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’”
Jesus said that in the world greatness is determined by how many people you exercise control over. Those who are leaders like to exercise power over people while at the same time boasting that they are caring for the interest of the ordinary citizen.
Jesus does not argue that some people achieve a higher degree of greatness or recognition that others. Everyone is not equal when it comes to talents and abilities or opportunities. The issue here is not whether some believers are greater than others, but how that believer uses that greatness.
Jesus says that you must make a choice. Will you accept the world’s method of honoring greatness? Or will you follow the Lord’s example of being a servant? In verse twenty-six Jesus points out, “But not so among you; [But you (are) not (to do) so] on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.” Rather firmly Jesus commands “But you are not to act as they do.”
“Ten years ago, Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, put together a brief comparison of the characteristics of service that is focused more upon self and service that is focused upon Christ. In paraphrased form, it becomes a self-help test worth taking. Why not measure your clarity of vision against his conclusions?
Self-focused service is concerned with impressive gains. It enjoys serving when the service is titanic or growing in that direction.
Christ-focused service doesn’t distinguish between small and large. It indiscriminately welcomes all opportunities to serve.
Self-focused service requires external reward, appreciation, and applause.
Christ-focused service rests content in hiddenness. The divine nod of approval is sufficient.
Self-focused service is highly concerned about results. It becomes disillusioned when results fall below expectations.
Christ-focused service is free of the need to calculate results; it delights only in service.
Self-focused service is affected by feelings.
Christ-focused service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need. The service disciplines the feelings.
Self-focused service insists on meeting the need; it demands the opportunity to help.
Christ-focused service listens with tenderness and patience. It can serve by waiting in silence.
This list offers a way to begin refocusing our blurred image of Christ in the midst of ministry.
[Paul D. Robbins, Leadership, 1988, p. 146]
b. True Greatness is Demonstrated in the way He lived His life.
Jesus now tells us in verse twenty-seven, “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”
Christ has set the example, as he himself displayed when he played the slave’s part and washed the disciples’ feet.
I read of a wonderful example from the life of the great evangelist D.L. Moody. It seems that a “large group of European pastors came to one of D. L. Moody’s Northfield Bible Conferences in Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Following the European custom of the time, each guest put his shoes outside his room to be cleaned by the hall servants overnight. But of course this was America and there were no hall servants.
Walking the dormitory halls that night, Moody saw the shoes and determined not to embarrass his brothers. He mentioned the need to some ministerial students who were there, but met with only silence or pious excuses. Moody returned to the dorm, gathered up the shoes, and, alone in his room, the world’s famous evangelist began to clean and polish the shoes. Only the unexpected arrival of a friend in the midst of the work revealed the secret.
When the foreign visitors opened their doors the next morning, their shoes were shined. They never know by whom. Moody told no one, but his friend told a few people, and during the rest of the conference, different men volunteered to shine the shoes in secret. Perhaps the episode is a vital insight into why God used D. L. Moody as He did. He was a man with a servant’s heart and that was the basis of his true greatness.
We are called to serve and in way possible let us offer our service to God.
An elderly widow, restricted in her activities, was eager to serve Christ. After praying about the matter, she decided that although she could not do much walking around to distribute tracts or witness, she was able to play the piano. The next day she placed this small ad in the Oakland Tribune: “Pianist will play hymns by phone daily for those who are sick and despondent – the service is free.” The notice included the number to dial. When people called, she would immediately inquire, “What hymn would you like to hear?” Within a few months she had played for several hundred depressed and lonely individuals. Frequently they would pour out their hearts to her, and she was able to help and encourage them. Later she testified, “That service became the most rewarding thing I ever did in my life.”
How can you and I be like Jesus? Have the RIGHT KNOWLEDGE: Serve others to achieve TRUE GREATNESS.
Have the RIGHT KNOWLEDGE: Serve others to achieve TRUE GREATNESS.
David Livingstone made mention about serving God: “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which simply pays back a small part of the great debt we owe God? Is anything a sacrifice when it brings its own blessed reward in healthful activity, consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with such a thought. It’s not sacrifice – it’s a privilege!”
BROTHERS AND SISTERS, IT’S AN HONOR AND A PRIVILEGE SERVING THE KING OF KINGS AND THE LORD OF LORDS!