JOHN 13:1 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.
In our series of sermons from John’s Gospel a year ago, we saw how on a number of occasions earlier in Jesus’s ministry, John tells us that Jesus’s time had not yet come. But now the hour which Jesus had been anticipating every day of his life had arrived. It would be a vital hour not just for Jesus but for the whole world, the whole of humanity in every age. The saddest hour when Jesus would not only leave his disciples but he would leave the world through his death on the cross. We heard about this time in our last sermon from John chapter 12.
John 12:23 ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The hour has come! The hour when the Son of man would be glorified would be the hour in which he died!
John 12 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
The time of judgment. The time of victory over the devil. The hour which would bring salvation to the world. The time has come. 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.
Jesus loved his disciples to the end. There is a double sense here. Jesus loved them to the uttermost. Washing the disciples’ feet showed the full extent of his love. But he also loved them right to the end of his life. Jesus kept on showing love right to the end of his life.
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 round 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 round him.
This all took place in the Upper Room the night before Jesus died. The other Gospels tell us that here in John 13 we find Jesus, about to break bread and pass round the cup by which we still remember Him today. His disciples were so busy jostling for position, trying to get the best place next to Jesus, that they had forgotten one simple preliminary – something which you will realise on the dusty roads of the middle east is not only polite but necessary. They all still had dirty feet. Nobody had done the slave’s job, physically unpleasant and socially demeaning. Nobody had attended to washing their feet. So we see Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in the upper room on the night before He was crucified, doing the job of a slave, washing His disciples feet. This was the most menial task that would be given to a Gentile slave, and certainly never done by the host who was presiding over the meal. Disciples might wash the feet of their Teacher, their Master, but never the other way round.
SERVANTS WERE EXPECTED TO SERVE, NOT THE MASTER
That is the reason why Peter objected so strongly.
6 (Jesus) came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’
7 Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise 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!’
Like the rest of the disciples, Peter wasn’t prepared to do the foot-washing himself. But it was unthinkable to him that Jesus would do that. It was so shocking! Shocking for a teacher to wash the feet of his disciples. Even more shocking when we realised who Jesus was. The Christ. The Messiah. The Son of God. King of Kings and Lords.
JESUS IS TEACHER AND LORD
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.
Many people recognised Jesus as a Teacher, a Rabbi. Not just his own disciples, but the followers of John the Baptist, and the Pharisees and the Jewish Teachers of the Law. Nicodemus and Martha called Jesus Teacher.
But he was much more than a Rabbi. Jesus was Lord! Sometimes when people called Jesus Lord, that was just a form of respectful address, as we might call somebody “Sir.” That is probably how the title was used by the Samaritan Woman, and the Invalid at the Pool of Bethesda, the Man Born Blind and the Crowds. Lord, just meaning “Sir.”
But other people used the title Lord with its full meaning – the Master, the King, the Boss. Peter, Mary and Martha, Philip, Mary Magdalene, John the beloved disciple. Perhaps most notably, after the Resurrection, in John 20:28 the apostle Thomas acknowledges Jesus as “My Lord and My God.”
Jesus was indeed the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he KNEW who he was.
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 round his waist.
Jesus knew exactly who he was. Jesus was Lord. And yet he washed the feet of his disciples anyway,
JESUS GIVES AN EXAMPLE AND HE GIVES US A COMMAND
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.
Disciples were expected to follow the example set by their Teacher. They would also be expected to follow his teaching. Here Jesus gives not only an example to follow but a a command to obey. Jesus was prepared to do the slave’s jobs. The most menial acts of service. If we want to follow Jesus, we should be prepared to do the same.
FOLLOWING JESUS’S EXAMPLE means HUMBLE SERVICE
Serving God and serving in the church and in the world is not about rendering a service, but becoming a servant. Not just doing a job. But becoming a servant, becoming a slave. The Bible uses the words servant or slave a staggering 967 times! God even describes some of the most important heroes of faith as My servant Abraham, My servant Moses, My servant David. The apostles in Acts preached about “God’s servant, Jesus.” Remember these words of Jesus. Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:43-45.
Christians are called to be God’s servants. To be prepared to do the simple menial tasks, behind the scenes and not just when we are in the spotlight. To do the jobs nobody wants to do. To go the extra mile, when nobody is looking and not just when people can see is. So how should we serve? There are so many obvious things I could say here. Perhaps the most important is that we must always serve with humility.
Over the years I have been privileged to meet a number of “great” Christians. One such special occasion was having tea with Bishop of Nebbi, Henry Orombi who soon after became Archbishop of Uganda. But perhaps even more memorable than that was a meeting over 40 years ago with John Stott who graciously met with the leaders of the Christian Unions when he was going to speak at the University Mission Week. John Stott was certainly a great Christian teacher and leader. But more than that, perhaps the most humble and Christ-like man I have ever met. God was able to use John Stott mightily because he was humble! We must always serve with humility. There is always a temptation to become proud of our service. “Aren’t you glad you’ve got me in your church God. Aren’t you pleased you put me to serve you in this place for such a time as this. Aren’t I useful to you!” If ever any of us begin to think like that, remember what Jesus said in LUKE 17:10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”
We serve with humility. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, at the Last Supper, where He would also break the bread which symbolises his body and pass round the cup which represents the new covenant, sealed in His blood. Luke’s Gospel tells us that even there, at the Last Supper, the disciples started arguing about which one of them was the greatest. And there and then Jesus said this,
Luke 22 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus washing the feet of his disciples gives us the greatest example of serving others. We must serve with humility. The great preacher and pastor F.B.Meyer once said this. “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other and that the taller we grew in Christian character the more easily we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower.”
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.
Slavery is not glamorous. Not exciting. Not even pleasant. It’s hard work, long hours with no reward. But we do it because Christ has set us an example which we should follow. Not just missionaries and ministers, but ALL Christians should follow that example of Jesus. The example summed up in that prayer of Richard of Chichester:
Lord give us the grace to serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To toil and not to seek for rest
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To labour and not to ask for any reward
Except that of knowing that we are doing your will.
So let us learn How to serve, And in our lives Enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs To prefer, For it is Christ We’re serving.
This is our God, The Servant King, He calls us now To follow Him,
To bring our lives As a daily offering Of worship to The Servant King.