Your browser does not support JavaScript. Please enable JavaScipt to view our website.

The Way Up is down

John 13:1-17

     Today, we begin to look at the actions and words of Jesus as he began his last full day among them before his death.  Jesus knew he was going to die and he wanted to prepare his disciples for life without him being physically present.  In fact, the opening words of Jn 13:1 is like a banner that will fly over the next five chapters of John’s 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…”

     I have had the rather ironic experience of beginning to prepare this first sermon in our series from what is called “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse” while my own father was in hospital telling me, “Greg, I don’t think I’m going to make it this time.”  I then completed my preparation after his death.  I have little doubt about the likelihood that this experience has shaped this message a great deal.

     For those who are newer to church or who haven’t read John for a while, a disciple Jesus loved named John, summarized the powerful three-year ministry of Jesus in 12 beautifully written chapters.  It all culminated with Jesus’ declaration that he had come into the world to save people:  12:46: I have come into the world as light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

     Jesus had told his disciples repeatedly that, for him to save them, he would have to die in their place for their sins. But John does not tell us about Jesus’ path toward the cross until John 18.  So, for five chapters we have a detailed account of Jesus’ actions and words with his disciples before going to the cross.  We are going to go through that section carefully at the beginning of 2015.  These are five chapters of the most personal and profound teaching found in Scripture.  In them, Jesus personally teaches his disciples – and us – how to live after he is gone and before he returns.  What he says is as relevant to us as it was to them.

The Setting

     What we read in these five chapters all takes place in the famous “upper room” where Jesus and his disciples had their last Passover meal.  The food was prepared but all of them had filthy feet.  In more affluent Jewish homes, there would have been a servant there to wash feet – though not a Jewish servant because foot washing was considered to demeaning for a Jewish family to ask a Jewish servant to do it. 

     With the disciples stretched out on their “pallets” (something like a reclining chair) around the low eating table, Jesus’ probably offered a prayer of thanksgiving.  Then, Jesus stood up and took off his cloak leaving on his inner garments – something only a slave would do in a public place -- and picked up a towel. I am sure the disciples were shocked as Jesus then located a large water container and moved to the nearest disciple to wash his feet.

     As I imagine it, I envision a stunned silence -- an embarrassment about this person they considered to be their lord and master washing their feet.  Finally, it was Peter who broke the silence:  “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 

     So, here we are at Lake Avenue Church 2,000 years later.  Do you understand what Jesus was doing?  On one level, this act was one of simply getting some filth off their dirty feet so that they could eat.  But, as I’m sure you all know, this physical act was pointing to something much, much bigger.  In these 17 verses, John, one of the disciples who was there when it happened, seeks to explain it to us.  What he explains is at the heart of what it means to live as a follower of Jesus.  As D.A. Carson has put it: “Jesus act of humility is… simultaneously 1) a display of love (v. 1), 2) a symbol of salvation (vv. 6-9), and a model of Christian conduct (vv. 12-17).”

     So, what is Jesus teaching us about living in this imperfect world while he is away from us?

#1:  Never forget that, whatever happens to you, Jesus loves you (13:1).

     There is one phrase in v. 1 that, though it is brief, is placed where it is at the very beginning of this farewell discourse to declare something to us all that we must hold onto:  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

     So, as the Apostle John looked back on Jesus’ life, he said that Jesus had always shown forgiving, patient, and guiding love to his followers. Based on that, John looked forward with confidence that, when we have experienced the love of Jesus in the past, we should know that Jesus’ love for us will never end.

     The Bible is not denying that Jesus loves the world.  In Jn 3:16, we find Jesus’ own majestic declaration that he does. But John is talking here about his unique and special love Jesus has for those who follow him by faith.  I cannot fully explain it though I am quite sure I know what this is about.  My father is a man who loved people – all people.  He loved to engage in relationship with people regardless of wealth, status, education, ethnicity, etc.  But I know this too:  He had a special love for me and my sister – and my Mom and brother too while they were alive.  I’m convinced that what v. 1 is saying is something like that.  Jesus loves the people of the world.  But, once we have entered into a relationship with him by faith, he has a special love for us.

     And when we know that, it makes a difference all our lives – especially in times of difficulty or doubt.  These disciples would soon have to experience times when they could not understand that what Jesus was doing was a part of his love for them.  He would soon be leaving them – by choice.  That made no sense to them.  He would leave them in a very humiliating situation (as the world sees things):  They would soon see the man they had given up everything to follow hanging on a cross.  They would feel like fools.  Their families would scoff at them for this kind of crazy religious fervor.  They would have to believe that he was doing what he was doing – out of love for them. 

     “He loved them to the end.”  What a phrase!  That meant he would love them even to the end of this journey to Jerusalem.  At the cross, they would see his love for them – even if they did not yet understand it.  It meant that he would continue to love them until the very end – all the way to the day when they were complete in Christ with all things made new.

     And let me tell you this, my beloved family at LAC:  You and I need to know this too, i.e., that Jesus loves us to the end.  Do you believe it?  There will be things that happen in your life that make no sense to you.  They are not outside his control.  He loves you to the end.  And even when you walk away from him or reject him, as Peter would do, when you come back to him he will forgive you and receive you.  He will love you to the end.  I never want you to come to LAC without your pastor telling you that Jesus loves you and will love you to the end.

#2:  Always know that the One who loves you most will not leave you broken (13:6-11).

     Jesus’ encounter with Peter in vv. 6-11 is profound.  It shows us that Jesus intends to have this physical act of washing his followers’ feet serve as a sign pointing to the fact that he will have to become a slave in order to wash us of sin and to make us whole.  This foot washing is pointing us to the cross. Within a day of this act, Jesus would have to become a slave in a different way: taking our place as the sinless one, bearing our sins upon himself and asking us to allow him to make us right and clean with God through faith.  But Peter struggles with Jesus serving him this way – just as many still do.  Think about it.  To be saved:

1.  You have to admit that you cannot make yourself clean – V. 8a:  Peter said to Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus could have kept things simple by saying, “Peter, this is just an object lesson.  So, pay attention.” But that’s not what he said. Instead he astounds us with these words: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

     In other words, if I don’t wash your feet, you are in the same class with Judas. You are not mine. This is mind-boggling that Jesus would raise the stakes so high over a mere foot-washing. Well of course he’s not. The foot-washing stands for something much bigger.

     It is clear that unless we all humble ourselves and admit that apart from Jesus serving us by dying for us, we would have no hope.  That’s hard for our human pride.  But note this:  If we do not humble ourselves and fall upon Jesus in repentance and faith, we have no hope.  Peter didn’t and we won’t either. 

2.   You need to grasp that when Jesus makes you clean through faith in him, you remain clean.

          Peter says in v. 9 — as we can imagine he would! — “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” To which Jesus responds in v.10: “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.

     So Judas was not clean according to Jesus. But the eleven are clean.  That is, they had believed on Jesus and were right with God. They had passed from death to life.  And that included Peter. Only Judas is excluded in v. 10. When you place your faith in Jesus you are completely cleansed.  We are right before God. Jesus says in v. 10: “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”

     It’s all grace.  You do not earn it – nor could you.  You are made right with God when you trust Jesus. 

3.  You still need to turn from and be cleansed from daily sin.

     This point about the feet still being dirty has confused many churchgoers so let me try to clear it up.  The repeated washing of the feet that Jesus calls for represents our daily confession of sin and turning to Jesus for ongoing application of what he accomplished at the cross, i.e., our cleansing and forgiveness.

     This is exactly what John taught in 1 Jn 1:8-9:  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What Peter failed to realize was that even though he was “completely clean” (v 10), i.e., even though he was right with God, there are sins that need daily confession and forgiveness. We need daily “spiritual foot-washings”. The once-for-all gift of God’s forgiveness needs daily application.

     Know this: Jesus loves you too much to leave you living in sin.  And if you keep on saying you don’t need to be cleansed of our daily sins or don’t want it, then you show that you have not been saved -- that you have not been “completely cleansed.”  One mark of completely clean disciples is that we hate our daily shortcomings.  Do you feel this way?  Do you know you need to come to Christ for daily cleansing (spiritual foot-washing)? When you do, “if you confess your sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive and cleanse.”

     When you discover that Jesus calls you away from things that are wrong, always know that Jesus loves you too much to leave you in your broken ways but is ready to cleanse you day by day by day.  The love of Jesus means that he loves you too much to leave you as you are.

#3:  Find your new life in Christ by serving as Jesus served (13:12-17).

     V.12:  When he had washed their feet… he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you”?  Well, I don’t think they had.  And, I must tell you, that when I read about the history of the church, I find that many who claim to be Christians have not understood what Jesus did and what his action that evening in the “Upper Room” should mean to our own lives as his followers. 

     Do you realize that just before this foot-washing demonstration took place, a fight had broken out among the disciples about which of them would be the greatest in Jesus’ new kingdom?  They could not separate themselves from the world’s view of importance, power, influence and significance.  But Jesus, though, as he was truly their Lord and Master was about to ascend to the heights of influence by descending to the depths of what the world valued.  By doing that, he was going to demonstrate that the greatest victory in the history of the world would be achieved through serving others.  He changes our lives through serving!

     And, this is the heart of what life should look like when we follow Jesus – doing everything to serve others.  But, that is so topsy-turvy in the eyes of our world.  No other religion, no ideology, no self-help book has ever accepted Jesus’ teaching here.  Do you?  They way up is down.  The way to influence is to serve.   The way to be happy is to seek the happiness of others.  The way to worship is to look to the interests of your brothers and sisters as being greater than your own.

     The concept of service to all, especially to those who are socially beneath oneself, is foreign to Africa.  A chief serving his subjects would be unheard of.  Yet that is what Jesus is telling us to do.  If we would learn to do this, it would take away half the pain the African continent experiences from day to day.

                                                            Dr. Samuel Ngewa, Africa International University

     I tell you that this is not just the case in Africa.  Never miss this: On the day before he would die in service to us, we find Jesus declaring, “This is what life is about!  This is what I’m about!  This is what I live for!  This is where I find my joy!  In serving you.”  He’s saying thereby that you’re not going to find life through the way the world tells you that you will find it.    This doesn’t mean that we do not become leaders, people with PhDs, business professionals, etc.  But, in whatever place God has put us, we look each day to serve. We serve by using whatever God entrusts to us and we are to use that position, that resource, to make life better for others – as Jesus did.  The disciples struggled with that call of Jesus because their whole world – and their human flesh – told them otherwise.  And I think that we, in our consumerist world, struggle with it at least as much as they did.

     Jesus is saying to us that there are going to be many things wrong in our world until he returns and makes everything right.  He sends us into the world the further his kingdom of peace and justice.  How do we go about it?  The world as a whole takes on the philosophy of the elementary playground.  One child calls another a name.  The other uses a worse name.  The first child hits.  The second hits harder.  The first gets his friends to fight.  The second gets more friends.”  Each one blames the other.  We’re seeing this play out throughout our world today.  (Use an illustration from the newpaper.)  Evil escalates through this ongoing and growing retaliation. 

      What do we need?  We need someone to step in, love the enemy, absorb the anger and offer back forgiveness.  That’s what Jesus did on the cross.  He was the moral shock absorber who served a sinful world he loves, bore the impact of sin and offers back to all who trust him forgiveness and new life.

       So, God has placed you and me into this particular part of his broken world.  And there is a whole lot that is broken.  All of us know this: People shouldn’t be starving.  Kids shouldn’t be shot.  Police officers shouldn’t be spat on and hit. 

     But, how do we get from here to the world the Bible promises in which all things will be made new?  It’s not by us running away:  “If it gets too bad, I’ll move to the North Pole!”  And God’s main means of making things right is not simply better politics and better laws – though those things according to Rom 13 are important. What Jesus talks about here is a global group of people planted in neighborhoods who will serve.  We need people with the servant heart of Jesus who will go into the world and absorb the anger and foolishness of sin and offer back love.  We need people who will be transformed from self-servers to servants and who go and say, “I don’t know whose fault all this is.  It’s probably the fault of us all.  But, I’m willing to come and clean up as I can.  I’m willing to wash some feet.”

     That’s what Jesus did.  Jesus said, “I love the world in spite of its sin. I’ll take the hit for the sin of the world.  I’ll take the hit for your sin.  And then I’ll send you out to do the same in my name.”  The gospel is that Jesus absorbed the punishment for you sin and offers back forgiveness and a new life.  His service on the cross makes you clean.  And you are clean – when you trust him.  And, when you are, you are sent out by this same Jesus to serve.

     I’ll begin our series with that.  Jesus’ knows how hard it is to live for him in this world without him actually being physically present.  What does Jesus say to you today?

  1. Never forget that I love you.
  2. Always remember that I love you so much that I must sometimes confront you and get that dirt off your feet and out of your life.
  3. And, when you experience my love, you will have the privilege of serving as I have served you.  You’ll find your life serving.  You will be blessed when you serve.  The way up is down.  The way to be happy is to serve so that others will be happy. 

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also 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.

                                                                                    John 13:14-17

To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

Sermons Archive

Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church