The way to joy is to serve other people, no matter who they are, no matter if they deserve it. Find someone to serve—and do it! It’s the way to joy!
November 18-19, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
JOY: The Outward Focused Life
#2—Do as I have done for you
Introduction and offering:
ILL: Who went to the Garth Brooks concerts last week? I heard it was great. I also saw that last Saturday, before he did two shows, he joined coach Mark Few and the GU men’s basketball players for a clinic for underprivileged kids. “One of the most important things I’ve done in my life, other than be a father, is this right here,” Brooks said. Coach Few described Brooks as “really a genuine, humble guy…a servant.” Of course, Mark also said, “shame on you and Laina for not knowing any Garth songs…unAmerican!” Hey, I know a Garth song: “Two Pina Coladas!” Totally American!
Garth Brooks is a servant. He’s a Big Deal, but not too proud to serve underprivileged kids, or visit a fan in the hospital. It made me a fan!
This is part 2 of our series, “JOY: the Outward Focused Life.” The way to joy is to live Jesus first, then put others ahead of yourself: Jesus, Others, You. Jesus taught His followers that the way to greatness was serving: be the servant of all. He modeled that Himself by coming not to be served, but to serve, and by giving His life to bring us back to God. Jesus came to serve. Perhaps no other story captures this as beautifully as the one we’ll read today: the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. We’ll start by reading and unpacking the story, and then I’ll focus on three important takeaways from the story.
- The story. John 13:1-17, Luke 22:24-27
This story takes place on the last night of Jesus’ life—Thursday night in the upper room, the site of the Last Supper. Here is the story:
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.
It’s the last night of Jesus’ life. He knows that He is going to be crucified the next day. He knows “the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father.” He knows these are His last hours with His followers. He has loved them, and He loves them to the very end. In fact, He is going to love them fully over the next few hours by serving them and dying for them. And while Jesus is giving His life for them, what are they doing? They are arguing about who is the greatest, deserting Jesus and running for their lives and denying that they know Him. Yet He loved them to the end.
Does anybody else find this encouraging? Through all my flaws, my failures, my weakness, and my stupidity—He loves me to the end. Fix that in your heart today: He loves you. You did nothing to earn His love; you can do nothing to lose it. He loves you 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.
John tells us that Judas was at this meal, and that he had already decided to betray Jesus. Yet Jesus washed Judas’ feet too. Remarkable! Jesus knew that, “the Father had put all things under His power.” He could have blasted Judas and put an end to the threat. One time Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered and died. He could have done that to Judas; instead He washed his feet. He loved Judas to the end. In fact, a few hours later, when Judas approaches Jesus in the garden to betray Him, Jesus greets Judas by calling him, “Friend.” He loved him to the end. He loved him despite his failure, his betrayal.
Jesus knew something else. He knew where He had come from (God) and where He was going (God), and that, “the Father had put all things under His power.” Jesus knows who He is and where He’s going—and knowing that, He washes His disciples’ feet. Knowing who you are can set you free. You don’t have to be pretentious; you don’t have to prove yourself; you don’t have to worry about what others think of you. Insecure people have to be served; secure people can serve, because you know who you are.
ILL: My pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. was short in stature but large in spirit. Once I heard Larry, one of his staff call him “Junior.” I asked Larry, “Should you call him that?” He laughed and said, “Roy knows who he is.” I’ve never forgotten that. Roy wouldn’t take offense over being called “Junior” because he knows who he is. He’s secure.
When you know who you are—that you are a deeply loved, fully forgiven, completely accepted child of God—you can serve anyone. Insecure people have to be served; secure people can serve. You have nothing to prove, nothing to defend. You’re secure.
So Jesus, knowing who He is, begins to wash the disciples’ feet. A little background. In those days people wore simple sandals, and roads were dirt: dusty when dry, muddy when wet. Your feet got dirty. So it was custom that when you arrived at someone’s house, a servant took off your sandals and washed your feet. (How many of you take off your shoes at the front door? Don’t track dirt in!) Foot washing was the task of the lowest servant. The disciples of a rabbi like Jesus would have never been expected to wash each others’ feet, or even the master’s feet—that was the job of a lowly servant.
Evidently, when the disciples arrived in the upper room, there was a basin of water and a towel, but no servant. Luke tells us that an argument broke out over who was the greatest. It’s possible that the argument started because there was no servant there to wash their feet, so one of them had to do it—that was the job for the lowest among them. Who is the greatest? And who is the least? What’s the pecking order? Who should wash everyone’s feet? I can hear them each presenting their case.
Peter: “I shouldn’t have to do it—everyone knows I’m the leader of this group! And besides, I’ve walked on water.”
Andrew: “That’s right! And I’m the one who brought Peter to Jesus. That’s what I do; I bring people to Jesus. My gift is evangelism, not foot washing.”
James and John: “We shouldn’t have to do it. We have already applied for the VP positions in Jesus’ new kingdom. VP baby! VP’s don’t wash feet!” By the way, I found this ancient picture of James and John.
Judas: “I’m the treasurer! I handle money, not feet. Besides, I’ve got to go soon and collect 30 silver coins.”
Thomas: “I… doubt that I should do it.”
And on it went—each man arguing why washing feet was beneath his dignity. And while they argued, Jesus quietly got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and dressed like a servant, knelt and began washing their feet. Jesus did what none of them was willing to do. I think it suddenly got real quiet…until Jesus got to Peter.
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 answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. 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 every one was clean.
You gotta love Peter. This guy stuck his foot in his mouth so often that he wore mint-flavored sandals! First, he questions: Are you going to wash my feet? Peter knew he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around.
Jesus says, “You don’t realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Did Peter get it later? Yes he did. Look at:
1 Peter 5:5 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Clothe yourselves with humility. I think when Peter wrote that, he imagined Jesus wrapped in a towel, clothed with humility, washing his feet. Peter got it…later. Understanding is a process. Jesus was telling Peter, “You don’t understand now; later you will.” To be a disciple is to be a learner—we are always learning. Are there some things you don’t understand now? Keep growing; keep learning; you will understand later.
Then Peter protests: “You will never wash my feet.” And Jesus patiently answers, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Most scholars think that Jesus is referring a spiritual washing. The foot washing was symbolic of the true washing that Jesus does—washing away our sin, our guilt, our shame and making us clean in God’s eyes. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” I need Jesus to wash me, to cleanse me inside, to forgive me.
Still not understanding, impulsive Peter blurts out, “Then wash all of me: head, hands, feet, everything!”
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.
Last week we talked about Jesus teaching that the greatest would be the servant of all. Here, Jesus says that He is their teacher and Lord—and yet He washed their feet. He was living out His own teaching that the greatest would be the servant of all. He was setting an example of selfless service, of being willing to do the most menial and unpleasant tasks to serve others. And He clearly expects His followers to do the same.
So let’s look at three take-aways.
- The take aways.
- Jesus our Savior; Jesus our Example.
15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Jesus is clear: He set an example that He expects us to follow. He, our Lord and Teacher, washed His disciples’ feet. He willingly assumed the role of the lowest servant; He did the job no one else wanted to do. He served. Then He tells us to do the same, to follow His example.
So here’s the problem. Some people are concerned that if you make Jesus an example, you undermine Jesus as Savior. You compromise the gospel.
The gospel is that Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. We say this all the time: the gospel isn’t spelled DO, but DONE. It’s not about what we DO for God, but what He has DONE for us in Christ. The good news is that God has saved us by His grace, not our merit. It is a gift from God, not something we earned.
Ephesians 2:8–9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
We are saved by grace, not by our good works. You can’t earn it. It’s all God’s doing, not ours. This is the gospel, and this is all true.
Some gospel preachers go on to say that Jesus is not our example; Jesus is our Savior. We can never live up to Jesus’ example. It’s impossible. He was perfect. He’s God! To tell people to follow Jesus’ example is moralism, not the gospel, and is self-defeating. Moralism is trying to be a good person on your own. Moralism is trying to live by the rules. Moralism is trying to follow Jesus’ example, rather than trusting Him to save you. Moralism is DO, not DONE.
So if I tell you that Jesus is your example, and you go away thinking that you have to do this or that in order to be saved, I’ve misled you. That’s not the gospel. That’s moralism.
I believe all that. I hope you do too.
But here is the problem. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” It’s clear that Jesus expects us to follow His example and serve others just as He did. And this isn’t the only place where Jesus sets an example and expects us to follow. Next week, we’ll look at a passage where Jesus predicts His death on a cross, and then says that if we want to be His disciples, we too must pick up our cross and follow Him. How can we say that Jesus is not our example, when Jesus says He is?
Here’s my question for you: Is Jesus our Savior, or our Example? Yes. He’s both. This is not an either/or; it’s a both/and. I’m saved by grace, not my good works—Jesus is my Savior. I’m not saving myself; Jesus is my Savior. And because I’m saved, I’m following Jesus’ example—Jesus is my Example. He saves us out of pure grace, and we follow His example out of pure gratitude. He is my example in everything. And in today’s passage, Jesus clearly sets the example of humble service, of the greatest becoming the servant of all, and tells us to do as He has done.
“Wait,” you say. “DO? I thought the gospel was DONE? We are to do something?” Yes—we are to do something. We do something not to be saved; we do something because we are saved. Look again at:
Ephesians 2:8–9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
We’re saved by grace, not by works. DONE, not DO. But then here comes verse 10!
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We’re not saved by doing good works—we could never do enough. We’re saved by what Jesus has done. Period. But we are saved for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. I love this! God has prepared good works for you to do. God created and saved you with a purpose in mind; He has specific good works for you to do that will bring Him glory and do good for others. We’re not saved by good works, but we’re saved for good works. God has something that He created and saved you to do.
And Jesus tells us what that is.
- Do as I have done for you.
What did Jesus do? He washed their feet. And He told them to wash each other’s feet. So are we all supposed to be washing each other’s feet? When I meet you at Starbucks, should I bring a bucket and towel? Is foot washing a Biblical ordinance, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper that all Christians are supposed to practice? Some groups think so. There are churches that regularly practice foot-washing in their services as a Biblical ordinance. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that—it can be very meaningful. How many of you have ever been part of a foot washing service?
You’re probably wondering why no one at Life Center has washed your feet lately. We don’t treat foot washing as an ordinance, as a requirement. Why? I believe that there is no evidence in Scripture (beyond this passage) that Jesus intended that. And there is no evidence that the early Christians understood it that way. What Jesus did intend was that we follow His example in humble service to each other. Do as I have done for you. Humbly serve each other. Never think you’re such a Big Deal that you couldn’t serve someone. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He did what they were unwilling to do for each other. He served in the most menial way; nothing was beneath Him. He was setting an example: do as I have done for you.
In Jesus’ day, people’s feet got dirty walking from place to place, so foot washing was both practical (an act of cleanliness) and social (an act of hospitality). Today, foot washing is almost entirely symbolic. Of course, it can be a powerful and meaningful symbol. But it is a symbol nonetheless. I don’t think Jesus was commanding us to do something symbolic; I think He was commanding us to actually serve each other practically, not symbolically. Help each other. The question I want to answer is, “What is the modern equivalent of foot washing?” What would it look like for me to serve you today? We’re going to talk about it.
For group discussion: What is the modern equivalent of foot washing?
What is the job no one wants to do? What is the task that is assigned to the lowest person on the pecking order? How does someone get dirty in our world and how do we clean them up?
- Washing someone’s car.
- Cleaning someone’s shoes.
- Washing someone’s hands.
- Cleansing someone’s mind.
- Cleaning up after others.
- Picking up trash.
- Cleaning the bathroom.
- Doing the dishes.
- Picking up the dog poop.
- Changing dirty diapers.
- Making the bed.
- Doing the laundry.
Shifting gears, what are some ways to serve others?
- Giving my wife a massage.
- Bringing a friend coffee.
- Helping with homework.
- Coaching a kid’s sport or activity.
- Visiting someone who is lonely.
- Caring for someone who is sick or dying.
- Helping with chores.
- Preparing or serving a meal.
- Giving someone a ride.
- Praying for someone.
- Mowing the lawn.
- Sharing what you have with someone who needs it.
- Caring for an aging parent or a young child.
The list could go on forever. Basically, it’s doing anything that serves or helps another person—no matter who they are.
It doesn’t matter how lowly the task. Sometimes we are tempted to think that certain tasks are beneath our dignity, that they are too menial for us. Jesus didn’t think that way, and doesn’t want us to either. I love this quote from William Barclay: The world is full of people who are standing on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of their brethren. If Jesus could wash their feet, nothing is beneath me.
ILL: When I first arrived at Northwest Christian University, the faculty and upperclassmen took all freshmen through a week-long orientation. It concluded on Friday night with a raucous kangaroo court that was an absolute hoot…and a mess. Water balloons, shaving cream, and various food items were all airborne at different times during the event. When the event was over, all the freshmen happily exited to their dorms, as did most of the upperclassmen. A handful stayed around to clean up the mess. One of the handful was Alger Fitch.
Dr. Alger Fitch was a legend. His New Testament classes were among the most popular on campus. He was brilliant, an entertaining and thought-provoking lecturer, and a demanding teacher. Dr. Fitch had been at the kangaroo court as the faculty rep, watching and enjoying the mayhem. Certainly no one expected him to stay for clean-up.
But as the room emptied, Dr. Fitch went to the janitorial closet and rolled out the mop bucket and quietly began mopping the wet floor. He worked alongside a few students, until the room was clean, and turned out the lights as he left.
That image—of my revered professor swinging a mop cleaning up after some clueless freshmen—is an image that I’ve never forgotten, an image that shaped my understanding of what it means to serve like Jesus.
There is no person or task beneath me.
I love this poem, and one line in particular.
Great God, in Christ you call our name
and then receive us as your own,
not through some merit, right or claim,
but by your gracious love alone.
We strain to glimpse your mercy-seat
and find you kneeling at our feet.
Then take the towel, and break the bread,
and humble us, and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed,
and show how grandly love intends
to work till all creation sings,
to fill all worlds, to crown all things.
Brian A. Wren (1936–)
I love the line, “We strain to glimpse your mercy-seat and find you kneeling at our feet.” I’m looking up for Him…and find Him kneeling at my feet. Jesus is our example. When you see Jesus at your feet, serving you, it changes everything. It did for Peter; it will for you. Look at Jesus…then do as He has done for you.
- You will be blessed when you do!
17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
The word “blessed” is the Greek word makarios which means, “fortunate, happy, privileged, blessed.” Several translations render this verse, “Now that you know this, you’ll be happy when you do it.” It’s not knowing this that will make you happy. It’s doing it. Knowing it and not doing it will only make you miserable! The joy is in the doing. The joy is in the serving. The joy is in living an outward focused life: put Jesus first, then put others before your self.
Acts 20:35 Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It is happier to give than receive. It’s happier to serve than be served.
So here’s our challenge for the week. The way to JOY is to wash some feet. The way to JOY is to serve other people, no matter who they are, no matter if they deserve it. Find someone to serve—and do it! It’s the way to JOY!
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