Scripture Reference: John 13:1-14
Living Clean in a Dirty WorldDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 17, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
Moral and spiritual pollution is everywhere. Usually it’s easy to see the enemy without, but not all of us recognize the enemy within. Until we see and admit our sinfulness—until Christ has cleansed us on the inside—we’re dirty no matter how wonderful we look on the outside.
Well, you and I know, don’t we, that this world is a rather dirty place? The moral and the spiritual pollution is everywhere, not just on television or also in business today where you have a lot of corruption, and a lot of temptation to corruption. I don’t need to detail for you all of the disintegration of the moral values of our country and what is being taught in the schools and what is not being taught in the schools. And you know, all of these pressures, and all of these things that incite us to sin would be quite manageable were it not for the fact that there is something within me that corresponds to the stimuli that is without.
By nature, as sinners, we gravitate toward certain sins. So you have the enemy without, and that corresponds with the enemy within, and so that’s what sets up conflict, and we’d all like to live better lives than we are living. And sometimes we follow distantly when it comes to Christ, and what we really don’t like to do is to draw near and to be exposed to the light because there’s too much dirt hidden there that we have successfully covered. We don’t like to be exposed.
One day Jesus wanted to give His disciples a lesson on cleansing, and a lesson on humility, and the two do go hand in hand. I ask you to take your Bibles and turn to John 13. If you’ve been with us, you know that this is number eight in a series of messages on the life of Peter. And this passage of Scripture, though it deals with all the disciples, particularly focuses in on that Apostle whom we have come to love, Peter.
Before the thirteenth chapter opens, according to the Gospel of Luke, the disciples were having an argument as to which of them might be the greatest. You see, they believed that Jesus was going to establish the Kingdom, and because He would establish that Kingdom, they all were thinking that they would have positions of responsibility in this earthly kingdom so they were arguing as to who was going to be the prime minister, who was going to be the ambassador to Rome, and who is indeed the greatest. So they needed a lesson in humility, but they also needed one on cleansing.
I want you to notice that Jesus Christ teaches the disciples three powerful lessons in this thirteenth chapter – three powerful lessons, so if you are taking notes, it’s lesson one and two and three. And if you are not taking notes, you’ll just remember them, won’t you? Of course! All good sermons are remembered, aren’t they?
Alright, number one, a lesson in servanthood, and what a lesson this was. In those days it was customary to walk with open sandals. We call them thongs today, and of course the feet of those who so walked along the paths became dirty and dusty, inevitably besmirched with mud. And it was also very customary that when you came into a home, someone would have a servant wash your feet. It was a nice custom, I am sure, which was always carried out and became actually a part of Middle East etiquette.
Jesus had asked the disciples to prepare a place where they would be able to eat at the Passover. It’s called the Upper Room. And so the Upper Room is prepared, and lo and behold, as the disciples are sitting in a circle, wondering who will do the job of a servant, we read in verse 4: “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.”
This is absolutely awesome. Take enough time to think about what’s happening. This is God on His hands and knees if you please. This is God humbling Himself and serving those who were decidedly lesser than He in the eternal schemes of God. And Jesus does what they were too proud and too self-willed and independent to do. We look at the passage and we think, “This is unbelievable. How can God do this?”
It says, for example, in verse 3, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…” Hands! That’s the word I want you to see. These were the hands that created the heavens. “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” And these hands that created the universe become the hands that wash dirty, dusty feet. How could Jesus do that?
I want you to notice how He internally had a good sense of destiny, and that really helped Him, and enabled Him to do it. For example, it says in verse 1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come…” He had a good sense of His mission. He knew that He could not die until His hour was come. And by the way, if you are walking in faith and in the Spirit, neither can you. But Jesus knew that into that hour would be compressed Gethsemane and the cross, and the very purpose for which He came, and therefore He knew that this was part of the will of God, and had a good sense of what He was about in the world.
Notice that He knew His mission and He knew His resources. It says in verse 3: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…” Nothing was happening that was beyond the strength and the permission of God and Christ, the second member of the Trinity. Even though Satan was involved, it says in verse 2: “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him…”
Parenthesis: What does Satan do? Satan puts thoughts into our minds that we think are our own. And that’s why we’re not afraid of those thoughts. If we knew that these thoughts came from Satan, we’d be terrified, but as long as these thoughts seem to give us no fear, and we think that they are self-generated, we’re even unaware of it. The same thing happened to Ananias and Saphira where the thought of lying was put into their minds by Satan.
But I want you to notice that all things were given into the hands of Christ, and even the betrayal of Christ, which was so imminent, through the life of Judas inspired by the devil. That too was part of the total picture of the hour. Then I want you to notice also He knew His origin. I love this. He knew that He had come forth from God and that He was going back to God. I’ll tell you something. Anybody who knows those four things – your mission, your resources, where you come from, and where are going –will be content to take the role of a servant if that’s what God wills for you.
We look at the passage though, and say that it’s still unthinkable how it could happen. How could Jesus do something that was beneath His dignity? We have people today who lose their jobs and then they don’t find another job because they want something that is in keeping with their education, their skill level and all the rest. And Jesus had all that and more, and He does something that does not fit exactly with that job description. Talk about someone who was overqualified for washing feet!
Now, how could Christ do it? Well, Jesus knew that it’s not what you do that is important but who you are doing it for that gives dignity to the lowest menial task. Oh, I wish that I had the opportunity of preaching a series of messages on that, and someday I will.
In America we are obsessed with finding a job that we love. Books have been written about it and I’m not objecting to that. I hope you can find a job you love. I happen to have one that I love. There are some things that I have to do that are part of my job description that I don’t exactly enjoy doing, but that’s the nature of life. But not everyone is that fortunate. Slaves in the Roman Empire could not find a job that they loved. And what did the Apostle Paul say to them? Paul says in Ephesians, “Do not serve your masters except that see in your service of them Christ.” You’re doing this for Him.
So you see, to Jesus, it didn’t really matter whether He was preaching the Sermon on the Mount or whether He was washing the disciples’ feet. The only thing that mattered was that He was doing the will of God, which had been worked out from eternity past, and which He was now implementing. And to Him whatever He did was done with a sense of purpose and fulfillment because it was being done for God.
By the way, I don’t think that He did this just because He wanted to give them a good lesson in humility and said, “Well you guys really need this lesson in humility so I’m going to show you what I’m going to do.” I don’t think that was the case at all. I think Jesus did this because He really did love those disciples. It was done out of a heart of affection, a lesson in servanthood.
But secondly there’s a lesson in submission. As He makes the rounds, and I assume that He did wash Judas’s feet as well, He comes to Simon Peter. Verse 6: “Simon Peter said to him (and the Greek text emphasizes every single word), ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’” There’s more going on here than simply the washing of feet. There’s a symbolism that we’re going to unpack in just a moment. And then Peter makes a profound statement. Given to excesses as Peter was, he said, “You shall never wash my feet.” He’s saying, “Never to all of eternity! I wouldn’t let You do it.”
A superficial reading of the text might lead us to believe that Peter was just so humble that he didn’t want to have his master wash his feet. Well, if he was so humble why wasn’t he washing the feet of the disciples? I don’t think that there’s a lot of humility going on here. I think, first of all, that he felt very sheepish and very provoked and very uncomfortable knowing that Jesus was doing what indeed he should have been doing. And so, much of his response may have to do with his uncomfortableness rather than genuine humility.
You know there are some churches, and I highly respect them by the way, who believe the washing of feet is an ordinance because Jesus later says that we should do to one another as He did to the disciples. And so a couple times a year they have a foot-washing ordinance. Women wash the feet of the women and men wash the feet of the men, and everyone get their feet washed. I know what I would do before I attended a service like that. (laughter) So you would, too, wouldn’t you? Of course, we’d all wash our feet. It’s humiliating to have somebody else wash your feet, especially if it is someone with dignity, and in this case, talk about dignity. We’re talking about God, and so I’m not sure that this is humility.
But there’s another reason that I know for sure it isn’t humility, and that is Peter is contradicting Jesus. Jesus says, “I want to wash your feet,” and he says, “Never, even unto eternity you will not. You will not!”
Peter is in a strange position of disagreeing with his master. Three times Peter disagreed with Christ.
A few weeks ago we noticed that when Jesus said, “I’m going to the cross,” Peter said, “Oh, not so, Lord. That will never happen to you.” Peter took him aside, and we notice at that time that Peter, in saying that, was actually jeopardizing his own salvation because if Jesus had not gone to the cross, Peter himself would have been lost forever. But he disagreed with Christ on that point, and Christ said, “Satan (recognizing that behind Peter’s words was the devil) get behind me.” Here he disagrees with Christ, and then in the cutting off of the servant’s ear the night of the betrayal Peter again disagrees with Christ.
It’s pride really! “I’m not going to have you wash my feet.” It’s like somebody once told me, “You know, I don’t need God’s forgiveness. I’m just going to stand before Him on the basis of my own record, and I’ll take my own consequence.” Ouch! That’s not only pride but foolish pride – arrogant pride, damning pride.
Or the pride of a person who says, “You know, I’ve committed a sin that is so great that God could never forgive it.” They think it’s humility. Pride! Pride, pride, pride! Do you mean to tell me that God says that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a satisfaction for sin, and it was wholly and totally received by God the Father? And Jesus said, “It is finished,” and now you have the inoperable gall to say that you have done something which Christ’s death is unable to cover. Who are you anyway?
Well, when Jesus said to Peter, “If I don’t wash you, you don’t have any part with Me,” Peter again, a man of extremes, says, “Oh, Lord, not my feet only (verse 9), but also my hands and my head. Jesus, if it means that I’m not going to have any part with You, pour the bucket over my head. Do the whole thing.” And don’t you just love it? He was finally brought to the point of submission.
But there’s a third lesson. There’s the lesson of servanthood. There’s the lesson of submission. And thirdly, there is a lesson on salvation. That word salvation means that we are saved from something. We are saved from the wrath to come. We are truly saved. That is a good word to use. It’s biblical. All throughout Paul’s writings he talks about those that are saved. It means saved forever from God’s wrath, and saved for heaven. And notice how Jesus now takes this as an illustration of salvation. Peter says, “Not my feet only but also my hands and my head.” Verse 10: “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.’”
Now Jesus indicates here that there are two different washings, and I hope that you’ve experienced both of them. First of all, the complete bath is the washing of regeneration. That is getting saved. It is regeneration because God does a miracle in the heart. It is the new birth. You become a child of God. That is a bath that does not have to be repeated again ever.
New Christians sometimes say, “Well, you know, I’ve received Christ as my Savior but now I have sinned. Do I have to be saved again?” The answer is no, you don’t have to be saved again. Once is sufficient. But you do need your feet washed. You do need your heart cleansed, as we shall see in a moment.
I mean, folks, we take this all for granted, but salvation is a mighty big thing. Here’s somebody who believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, receives Him as his or hers. Think of what God does. The Bible says that He seals you with the Holy Spirit of God, and you are sealed until the day of redemption. The Scriptures indicate that you become a member of God’s family. You are a child of God, adopted permanently, and you get a new Father.
Then the Bible says that we are so put into Christ that we become a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones to the point that when He ascended into heaven, we are spoken of as being there in heaven with Him. Wow!
And then that’s not all. It says that when you get saved your destiny in heaven is so certain that God already glorifies you. It says in Romans 8: “Those whom He called He justified. Those whom He justified He also glorified.” God says, “For all practical purposes you are already in heaven.”
So, you see, once a person has been bathed, once you’ve had the bath (the Greek word is luo), you don’t need to be saved again because God does not undo all the beautiful things that He has done for you. To top it all off, by the way, it says that when you are saved you should know that your name, because of election, has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world. God is fulfilling His plan for you. How much more certainty could you get?
Dr. Harry Ironside, who preached here at The Moody Church years before I was around, said that on one occasion someone came forward and said, “Dr. Ironside, I have been saved 99 times.” Do you know what I would say if I ever met a person like that? I would look at them in utter disbelief and say, “What do you mean? Only 99 times? Is that all? I would have expected 999.” If you need a complete bath every time you sin, you’d better be saved over and over and over again. And there are some churches, you know, that teach that.
We had a friend in our home one time and she said that she was brought up in a church where you got saved on Sunday. You lost your salvation virtually every week, especially over the weekends. If you lost it on Saturday you came back and got saved again on Sunday. And she said the town drunk used to get saved every Sunday night, and then lose his salvation by Monday afternoon. One day the pastor said to him, “You know, next week when you get saved, I ought to shoot you so that at least we’d know that you are going to heaven.”
Shoot ‘em right after they are saved so that they make the pearly gates. Oh, no, no, no! God does not undo all the work that He does in the life of a believer just because we sin. But there’s a second bath that is needed, and that is the foot washing. The Greek word is nipto. It’s a different word that Jesus uses here. He says, “He who has bathed (luo) need only to nipto his feet, but is completely clean.” That’s the bath of confession. That’s the bath of cleansing, which I need every single day – sometimes many times during the day.
And by the way, you can judge your own spiritual maturity by measuring the time it takes you between becoming aware of sin and confessing it. Some people let their sins pile up and say, “Well, you know I’m committing so many sins that I’ll eventually confess them all.” That is immaturity. You don’t understand it, and you don’t get it. It is not just simply a matter of keeping short accounts with God. It is a matter of keeping current accounts with God. It is a matter of constantly walking in the light of agreeing with God and saying, in obedience to Christ, “Whatever you point out in my life, I will confess and receive forgiveness for it.” It’s 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us (the Greek text says) from every individual unrighteousness.”
Now, do you do what many people do? They confess their sins in a very general way, and that’s why they keep repeating those sins over and over again.
Submission! That word confess means to agree with God. We agree thoroughly and totally. We agree that what we have is sin. We also agree, and get this, my friend, that God has a right to take this sin out of our lives forever.
Do you know why there are so many believers who are constantly caught up in the same cycle of confession and failure, confession and failure? There are several reasons for it, but the predominant one is that when they confess their sins, they reserve in their own heart the right to commit that same sin again. If you are an alcoholic and you want to confess your sin before God, what you should do is not only say, “Oh, God, I have sinned,” but what you need to do is to say, “I forever and totally and completely give up the right ever to touch another drop.” When God brings you to that point of submission you might be surprised at the victory that you will win. That does not mean, of course, that after that there could be no failure. There might be, but it is this half-hearted confession where we reserve something within our heart that eventually becomes the seat of our problems, and the smallest sin that is not exposed in obedience to the light, eventually becomes the seat of our troubles. And that little leaven leavens the whole lump. And you say, “How could something so small create problems for me that are so big?”
Do you know what God says? He says, “I want you to walk in the light in obedience in confession. I want you to be thoroughly washed.
And I want you to know today that the closer you and I walk to Calvary, the closer you and I walk with God, the more dirt He shows us on our feet - in our hearts. And when we walk in obedience, we have a part with Him. What did Jesus mean anyway when he said, “You have no part with me?” It means fellowship. In Luke 10 it says, “Mary (she was at the feet of Christ) has chosen the good part.” In 2 Corinthians 6 it says that we have no part with the fable of demons. We have no part, we have no fellowship with! Christ is saying, “You have no fellowship with Me when you are walking in disobedience.”
Let me say this as clearly as I am able. If you, in any area of your life, are walking in known disobedience, you are coming to the table of fellowship with dirty hands, and your fellowship with Christ will be distant, unsatisfying, and eventually perhaps uncomfortable. And it can be in any area. For example, some of you today are absolutely convinced that it is God’s will that after you become a Christian you be baptized. You are absolutely convinced. It’s not a matter just simply because I’ve said it or anybody else. You believe that that’s what the Bible teaches, and yet you are not walking in obedience. Jesus said, “Wait a minute here. You call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say? You have no part with Me. How can you think that everything is okay between us and yet you knowingly reject what in your heart you know you should be doing?”
Now what I’ve said about that can be said about all kinds of things that are in our hearts, all of the sins that we so tenaciously protect, whether it is anger or lust or greed or ambition, or jealousy and factions, and dissensions. All of those things, you see, keep us from having a part with Christ.
Let me look into your eyes. Jesus loves you, and Jesus really wants to have fellowship with you. He really does, but you can’t come to Him with a dirty heart unless you come to be cleansed. And that’s a different matter.
And do you know that He loves to cleanse you? You say, “Oh Pastor Lutzer, but I’ve committed that sin so many times that I am embarrassed.” Humble yourself and receive His cleansing. The fact that you are embarrassed shows that pride has not been dealt with. We’re all embarrassed, but we all have to come. We have to come in submission. We have to come to receive cleansing. I believe that the great need of the church today throughout North America is the need to be totally cleansed from all of the things that Christians are imbibing in their souls and harboring there.
If I washed enough,” said Jesus, “the fellowship is broken. You have no part with me.”
All of the disciples had had a bath, but they always needed cleansing, except one. Judas! He never did even have the bath. Jesus said, “He who is bathed needs only to wash His feet, but is completely clean, and you are clean, but not all of you.” He knew the one who was betraying Him, and for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”
Did you know that the disciples did not know that Judas was an imposter? They really didn’t. When Christ said, “You are going to betray Me,” they all said, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” They never all said, “Oh, that Judas, we’ve always had our doubts about him.” No, no, no! He played the game. What does the text say? “He knew who would betray Him. There was nothing hid from His gaze.”
Look at this lovely congregation this morning. Just look! Beautiful people! It’s easy for me to look in your direction, but all that I see is the outward. Jesus knows that here today there could be a handful of Judases who have never, never been bathed. And we don’t know who they are because they sing the same songs as we do, they quote the same verses of Scripture, they give the same words of testimony. And we don’t know, but Jesus does.
Every good sermon has a bottom line. What is the bottom line? If you have not been cleansed by Christ, you are dirty no matter how wonderful you look on the outside. That’s the bottom line.
Now Father, through the strength of the blessed Holy Spirit, who has been given to us as frail and sinning people, we pray that You might do a great work in the lives of those who have heard this message. Some will hear it on cassette tape, others on radio, and no matter where it is heard, You see with Your eyes beneath all the exteriors, beneath all the shells and the shams. You know the human heart.
Today we pray for those who are Your people who really do know You as Savior. Oh Father, make us honest in our confession and in our cleansing. Help us to give up the right to continue to commit the same sin. May we agree with You fully! And then, Father, for all those who have never been bathed, oh be merciful to them lest they be lost forever, and save them.
And now, before I close this prayer, I want to talk with you and give you an opportunity to recite a prayer in your heart to God. First of all, a prayer for those who know Christ as Savior! Why don’t you tell the Lord Jesus that by His grace you will be obedient to whatever He has shown you today? Confess the coldness, the hardness of heart, the indifference, and the rationalizations. Just be honest.
And now for those of you who do not know Christ as Savior, why don’t you just say, “Jesus save me and give me a bath. I’m going to let You wash me. I need to be saved. I accept You.”
Thank You, Father. Begin a good work in the lives of people that You’ll carry on tomorrow and throughout the week, and next week, and on into eternity. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.