Tuesday, October 04, 2016
"Humility" Sermon: John 13:1-20
September 25, 2016 Second Reformed Church
If your friends and family were asked if you are a humble person, how would they reply?
If you were to ask people to say a word that describes Christians, would they say, “humble”?
Jesus tells us that the virtue of humility is to be known as a Christian virtue.
We said that chapter twelve of the Gospel of John is the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus spends the last week of His life in private with the Twelve, teaching them and praying for them before He is arrested.
Chapter thirteen begins on Thursday of what we call “holy week” – this is Maundy Thursday – this is the night that Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper with His disciples.
And as we open the chapter, we see that Jesus is committed to the Gospel.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.”
Jesus and the Twelve are in the Upper Room. They had gathered here to celebrate the Passover meal. And Jesus knew in His Divinity – because He is fully God as well as fully man – Jesus knew that it was time for Him to return to the Father. It was time for Him to die and rise and ascend back to the Father. It was time for Him to complete the Gospel, securing salvation for all those who believe throughout time and space. This was the Will and the Plan of the Father. And Jesus had followed the timetable set before Him. And the time to die had come.
John tells us that Jesus loves those who are His that were in the world and He loves them “until the end” – that is, He loved them to the uttermost – to the fullest extent He could possibly love them.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV).
John explained the implication of this for us as Christians: “ By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16, ESV).
Jesus loved us to the point of being willing to be betrayed and tortured and put to death by the horrific means of crucifixion – that is how much He loves all those who believe – all those that have been given to Him by the Father.
But we tend to be flippant about that, don’t we – as though the death Jesus died and the fact of His dying for each one of us who believes is not that big a deal – or worse, we think that Jesus died for us because we are so wonderful – we are so worth it – Jesus just couldn’t live without such wonderful, loving people.
No. Paul reminds us, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10, ESV).
Jesus loves us and lay down His life for us while we still hated Him. Jesus loves us to the uttermost. Are we willing to lay down our lives for the sake of those that Jesus lay down His life? Are you willing to die for a brother or sister in Christ if you find yourself in that position? Do you have that love that Christ shows us?
As the dinner began, Jesus knew that Judas had chosen to follow the devil and betray Him, yet, He also knew that God had put all things in His hands. Jesus knew that He is God the All-Sovereign. Everything is subject to Jesus and His Authority.
Jesus understood this as He talked about His soon coming death “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18, ESV).
Jesus has all authority and all power, because He is the Sovereign God enfleshed in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is utterly God always and forever, even united in the human, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus chose to lay down His life. Jesus had the authority to lay down His life. And Jesus had the authority to take it back up again. Although sinful men put Him to death, it was His choice to allow all this to happen because He is committed to the Gospel as the only means to salvation, and He loves all those who believe to the greatest extent anyone can possibly love another person, and so, as the Trinity had planned in counsel, the Father sent the Son and the Son lived and died and rose, because He is God and has the authority and the charge to do so.
Jesus was committed to the Gospel – to complete the work the Father had given Him – to die and rise and ascend back to His throne at the right hand of the Father.
Jesus was committed to the Gospel because He loves us – all we who believe – as much as anyone can possibly love – to the point of being willing to die for us when we hated Him. What manner of love is this? Jesus loves us because He makes us His sisters and brothers to the glory of God through the Gospel.
Jesus is committed to the Gospel as the Almighty God, sovereign over all, He seeks out all those the Father gave Him to save and will do so until the last day – when the last believer is brought into the sheepfold, and then Jesus will return to judge the earth and restore the Creation – that justice would be accomplished and we would be received through grace into the fullness of His kingdom to worship and enjoy Him for all of eternity.
Secondly, Jesus portrayed the humility of God in salvation.
“He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ’Not all of you are clean.’”
We need to remember the context of these events: People tended to walk from place to place in first century Israel, and they wore sandals on their feet. Because they wore sandals, their feet would get covered with dirt and animal refuse as they walked the streets. Their feet would become very dirty.
It was customary that when you visited a person’s home, the servant would come and wash the guest’s feet as he or she entered the home. This way, the person’s feet would be clean and comfortable, and he or she would not track dirt and whatever else was on their feet all over the house. Washing people’s feet was not an honorable job – it was a job for people pretty low ranking in society.
As Jesus and the Twelve meet in the Upper Room, there is no servant. Only Jesus and the Twelve are in the Upper Room; there is no one to wash their feet. As their Rabbi, Jesus was the highest ranking person – the person most honor should be shown to – in the room, and the Twelve – none of them volunteered to take this position of humility to wash the feet of the others. The twelve had a problem with pride – thinking they were better than others – we see them arguing over who is the greatest and who will get to sit in positions of honor in the Kingdom. There was no humility among the Twelve.
Jesus takes this opportunity to instruct the disciples in what must have been a jaw-dropping moment, as Jesus stood up from the table, took off His outer garments, picked up a towel, and took the place of the humble servant, and He washed the disciples’ feet.
Do you get the shock of Jesus’ act?
It is similar to if President Obama came to worship this morning and noticed the toilet was filthy, so he got the cleaning supplies and cleaned the toilet, so we would all have a clean place to use. We would be shocked, would we not? We would not expect the President to come to our church and, of his own accord, take the humble position of toilet cleaner. Yet, here we have God Almighty cleaning the feet of His inner circle – the Twelve.
We’re not told how many feet Jesus had cleaned by the time He got to Peter, but when He did, Peter was appalled – this position of humility was wrong for Jesus to assume – Peter argued, “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus said he would understand later.
And Jesus rebuked him, telling Him that if he did not allow Jesus to wash his feet, he would have no part in Him.
What was Jesus talking about? We’ll see in a moment.
So, Peter, who saw things in black and white – two extremes with no middle ground – Peter said, “Alright then, if You are going to wash my feet, then wash my entire body.” “If You want to portray humility in washing my feet, go all the way and give me a full-body-cleaning”
And Jesus told him that his body only needed to be cleaned once – not at each place he visited – because his body remained clean – it was his feet that got dirty as he walked along the roads.
Jesus explained that they were clean – except for Judas – and they – the Eleven – only needed to have their feet cleaned.
We can understand the image: if you bathe in the morning, and go out for a walk in sandals or bare feet, you don’t need to bath your whole body again, because only your feet would have gotten dirty, right?
Now, Jesus said Judas was not clean. Had Judas forgotten to bathe that morning? No, Jesus was talking about something else – Jesus was using this humble act to portray God’s humility in salvation.
Paul writes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7, ESV).
We are saved – we are washed with the waters of regeneration – we are justified by grace alone through faith alone through Jesus alone – once. Once God has saved us through Jesus, we are saved – we are clean – there is no way to lose our salvation and there would be no way to get it back if it could be lost. But since God cleans us for God’s sake, we are His eternally and always, and we do not need to be made clean again.
However, we get our feet dirty. Our feet need to be cleansed day by day, if not more often. What is Jesus referring to in His living example? The fact that we continue to sin as Christians.
We do not lose our salvation every time we sin. We do not have to be cleansed or justified or regenerated again when we sin. God makes us right with God by himself through Jesus once, and it’s a done deal.
But our feet get dirty. We sin. And we need to continue to come before God and repent of our sin and ask for forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, through Whom we have been saved. And He will make our feet clean again. He will forgive us for all of our sins.
And so Jesus portrayed the humility of God in salvation through this act of humility in washing their feet. He explained that salvation is a one-time act. But repentance for our sins is an ongoing work that will continue until Jesus returns.
But that wasn’t all Jesus had to say on the subject of foot washing.
And we see, third, Jesus explains that self-sacrifice and service are hallmarks of the Christian.
“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’”
Jesus finishes washing their feet, puts His clothes back on, and asks, “Do you get it?”
The words that Jesus uses as He talks about being their Lord and Teacher, are the Most Holy Name of God and the term of rabbi. So, Jesus tells them that they confess Him to be God the Savior – the God of Moses – and the Rabbi Whose interpretation of the Scripture they believe – and Jesus says they are absolutely right to confess Him as the One God of Israel and Rabbi. Jesus affirms what they call Him: God and Teacher. Let it sink in: Jesus says, “yes, I am God and Teacher.’
We mentioned the shock of President Obama cleaning our toilet; Jesus says, “You are right, the Almighty God, your Teacher, just washed your feet.”
Jesus said, “I have given you an example as your God and Teacher. I am greater than all of you, so if I did this, you ought to follow my example. If you believing savingly and follow My example, you will be blessed.”
Was Jesus saying that we ought to regularly wash each other’s feet?
Some people believe He was. But most readers of this text understand that Jesus is telling us that we are to be humble towards each other – and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ – just as Jesus showed His humility in washing the feet of the apostles – not to mention His incarnating for our salvation.
As Paul writes: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11, ESV).
Do you count everyone else as more significant than yourself?
Do you come to worship and to work, and to wherever you may go, and think, “O look, there is so and so, how might I show Christ’s love to him or her today?”
Or do you look around and say, “Eh,” or “Oh, no, look who’s here.”
Jesus is not calling us to be doormats – to let people walk all over us as we smile and take the abuse. No, what He is saying is we ought to be humble enough to look at every person as someone who needs salvation – or as a brother or sister in Christ – and think what we might do to help improve their lives, especially with regards to the Gospel and their belief in it.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy – there are people who drive each of us nuts. There may be people who you or I are not ready to deal with – but someone else is able – and there are others for us to come before.
Jesus is telling us that if He was willing to come to earth as a human being, suffer, die, and rise from the dead, and return to the Father, you and I – as His followers – as His disciples – ought to be willing to go just as far for the sake of Christ and His Gospel.
We are to live lives of humility doing whatever we can to show Christ and His Gospel to everyone and to show the love of Christ among all we who believe. Christians ought to be known for self-sacrifice and service. Are you?
Finally, let us note that Jesus knew He would be betrayed by a friend.
“’I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’”
There are two ways to kick a person: you can kick with your toes – your kick going straight ahead, or you can kick with your heel – in which you walk past someone and kick backwards. Jesus was saying that someone He broke bread with – someone He had considered a friend and a disciple – would stop walking with Him and kick back at Him with His heal – such was the betrayal of Judas.
Jesus ends this section noting that anyone who receives Him will receive those who bear His message and His Father. And conversely, those who do not receive Jesus or His Father will not receive those who come with His Gospel.
Perhaps you know what He was speaking about.
Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, You Who are co-equal with the Son, You sent Your Son to earth to earn and be for us salvation from Your Wrath – that we might be made right with You. Your Son came in all humility – in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, serving and calling all those who follow Him to serve and sacrifice themselves, as He did. Help us to see the example that Christ set before us that we would follow after Him in humility before all people and especially in the Church. And may You be glorified in all that we do. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.