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Loved By Jesus

The Servant

Rev. Philip Miller | April 11, 2021

Selected highlights from this sermon

The scene takes place during Jesus’ last meal with the disciples. It’s Thursday evening of Holy Week, just hours before His crucifixion the following day. As the story unfolds, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. We might see it as moving and touching, but in first-century Palestine it was shocking, radical, and scandalous.

Pastor Miller shows us three characteristics at the very heart of Jesus found in this account: from the Servant to the Redeemer to an example we should follow.

The Servant

On the campus of Dallas Theological Seminary where my wife and I were students from 2005 to 2010, there is a statue called “The Divine Servant.” It is a sculpture made out of bronze of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. There’s a basin. He’s kneeling down. And every time we would walk by, there was just a moment where we would just be gripped by the scene. It is a scene that is documented for us in John, chapter 13, which is our text today. It’s a scene that takes place at Jesus’ last meal, what we know as the Last Supper. Thursday evening of Holy Week, less than 24 hours before Jesus is crucified, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. And to us it’s a very humble and moving, touching scene. But in the first-century Palestinian world it was shocking. It was radical, even scandalous and I want to show you that today because it is in this act that Jesus reveals His very heart to us, and it’s a beautiful picture of Christ.

We’re going to see three things this morning about Jesus: The Humbling Servant(Jesus is a humbling servant), He’s the Cleansing Redeemer, and He’s the Transforming Example.

He’s the Humbling Servant, the Cleansing Redeemer and the Transforming Example.

Let’s bow our heads and open God’s Word together.

Father, we love you and we love being here. We thank you that we can gather once more. We thank you for the kids who are joining us. We thank you for their joyful voices. We thank you for the chance to be together. And now, Father, we ask you that you would open our eyes to see Jesus in this beautiful picture of His humility. Help us to see His beauty, that we might love and serve Him as He has served us. We pray this in His beautiful name, Amen. Amen.

All right, number one: the Humbling Servant, okay? The Humbling Servant. John 13:1: “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.”

Just pause there. I know we’re interrupting right in the middle of the flow, but just pause there.

So what do we know so far? We know that this is the hour. Right? This is the hour. It’s all about to go down. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It is in this hour, this moment, that the devil makes his final move. Do you see this? He is plotting for the demise of Jesus, and his co-conspirator here is Judas who is scheming this betrayal. And Jesus, who is fully aware that this is His final hour, this moment has arrived, He knows exactly what’s going down. He makes a countermove. His final move, if you will, and it is this sacrificial serving of His disciples.

Now what’s happening is, Satan will make an attempt to drive a wedge between Jesus and His disciples, to destroy this band of brothers from within. But Jesus, in contrast, will deepen and strengthen the bond of love within His disciples, between Him and His disciples. John wants us to see that Jesus is in full command of this moment. He knows (verse 1) that His hour has come. He knows that He’s about to die. He’s about to rise again. He’s about to ascend to His Father in glory. He’s about to return to all of His former glory and exultation. This is His moment.

He also knows (verse 3) that He has come from God, and that He is going back to God. So He knows He’s the eternal Son of God who was in the beginning with God in glory and splendor in all eternity past who was sent by the Father into this world, the incarnate Son to take on human flesh and dwell amongst us. And it is now His time to return, return to His Father’s side that He might be enthroned in glory and majesty forever. This is His hour of glory. And thirdly, He knows that the Father has given all things into His hands (verse 3).

This is the language of inheritance: “Here Son, I give you all things.” What does that leave out? Nothing. (chuckles) All things. What has Jesus inherited at this moment? All things. The universe. Everything is His, which means that we know and Jesus knows that He is the most important person in the room. This is His hour of greatest glory and what does He choose to do? Hmm?

Verse 4: “[He] rose from supper. 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.”

Now friends, when Jesus takes off His outer garment, and takes a towel and wraps it around His waist, He is donning the traditional dress of a first-century slave. Not a servant, a slave. And not just any slave, but the very lowest of slaves.

Foot washing was a task that was reserved for the very lowest rank of slaves. Even within slavery there were ranks of higher slaves and lower slaves. The reason for this, of course, is these are dusty first-century roads that are shared, not just with foot traffic, but with horses and cows and donkeys. And you know what those animals leave behind, right? Have you ever seen a parade? Yeah. And so they’re walking in that manure and all that filth. And the very lowest of the lowest slaves were the ones who had to clean off the feet. In some municipalities in the first century it was actually illegal to make your slaves clean your feet, to wash your feet, because it was so debasing even in that culture.

So Jesus takes on this role of the lowest of slaves willingly, humbly. Voluntarily He chooses this task. Now what’s amazing to me is that this task even needs to be performed. Right? So here they are. They’ve come in for this meal. They are all kind of sitting around, and apparently they still have dirty feet, and there are no servants, no slaves around to do this task, and none of the disciples are willing to clean their own feet, much less the feet of anybody else. And so they’re sitting around, still dirty, and Jesus sees their dirty feet. He sees the lack of servants and slaves. He sees the fact that no one is willing to step up, and so He chooses to become the slave of all, the slave of all. This is shocking, friends. This is radical. This is scandalous. He’s the one person who should not be washing the feet. You see this. And can’t you just feel the disciples squirming with discomfort as Jesus kneels down to wash their feet. How would you feel?

That’s why Peter responds the way he does. Verse 6, “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.’”

See, Peter is mortified. (laughs) “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? This is so inappropriate. If someone’s got to do it, it should be one of these jokers. Not you. This is demeaning to you. It’s humiliating. I won’t let you do it. You’re not washing my feet.”

See, something happens in their hearts when Jesus serves like this, when He is humbled like this. The moment Jesus kneels down before them, their stomachs twist, don’t they? They’re abashed. They are cut down to size in this moment because the humility of Jesus is humbling. The humility of Jesus is humbling. See, what kept the disciples from washing each other’s feet, from volunteering for that job? It was pride, wasn’t it? It was their pride. “That’s not my job. That’s gross. That’s for the slaves. I’m not doing that.” But then when Jesus, in humility, kneels down and washes their feet, it humbles them into the dust. Do you see that? He’s the Humbling Servant.

Secondly, we see here that He is the Cleansing Redeemer, the cleansing redeemer. There’s more here than meets the eye, right? That’s what Jesus tells Peter. “Jesus answered him (in verse 7), ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’” In other words, there’s a dimension to this foot washing that Peter will not understand until later, until after Jesus’ hour has unfolded, until after Jesus goes to the cross.

See, what Peter cannot yet understand is that this cleansing is a picture. It’s a foreshadowing of the true and greater cleansing that is coming on the cross. That’s why Jesus, in this conversation, subtly shifts from physical foot washing to spiritual cleansing.

Watch what He does here. Verses 8: “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.’”

(Laughs) Don’t you just love Peter? I love this guy. He’s got “foot and mouth” disease. Right? One minute, “You’ll never wash my feet!” The next one, “My whole body! Give me a bath!” You know? Now what changes Peter’s mind? What triggers this move? It’s Jesus’ statement, isn’t it? “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Jesus is saying, “Unless I cleanse you, Peter, you can’t be with me.”

Now the Jewish people knew about cleanliness. Much of the Old Testament is about becoming and remaining clean so you can enter into the presence of God. And Jesus is saying, “The only way you can be in my presence is if I clean you, if I clean you. And you need not just an outward cleansing. You need an inward cleansing.” See, this is a picture that’s showing us that Jesus cleanses our soles (S-O-L-E-S) and our souls (S-O-U-L-S). Jesus cleanses our soles and our souls. That why Peter says, “Not only my feet, but my hands and my head. Clean all of me.”

I don’t know about you, but I imagine that Jesus chuckled when He said, “Listen Peter—I’m not giving you a sponge bath here at the dinner table. You had a bath earlier, Bro. Come on.” You know? “Don’t worry. You are clean, but not all of you.” See, Judas is still at the table, isn’t he?

There are eleven disciples. They’re in right relationship with Jesus because they’re hearts are open to His cleansing power, but there’s one, one is conspiring with the devil. There’s betrayal in his heart. He’s not clean, and Jesus knows it.

Now this is amazing to me. What would you do if you knew that someone in your inner circle was about to stab you in the back? What would you do? Look at what Jesus does. This Jesus who has been given all authority by the Father, who could overpower the devil and expose Judas’s motives in an instant. What does He do? He kneels down and wipes manure off His betrayer’s feet.

Why? Jesus is giving Judas one last chance, one final appeal, one last hope. “I’m right here, Judas. I’m washing your feet. Won’t you let me wash your soul? Even now, Judas, it’s not too late.”

See, to Jesus, friends, there’s no one too far gone. There’s no one beyond grace. There’s no one outside His reach. And Jesus pursues sinners to the very end. Don’t you see this? This gives us enormous hope.

Verse 1, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” to the very end of His life, to the very end of Himself, to the very end of all hope of redemption. He’s the Cleansing Redeemer, friends.

And then finally we see He’s our Transforming Example, a transforming example. Verse 12: “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 you are right, for so I am. 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.’”

Jesus says, “Look, you call me Teacher and Lord, right? You do. You’ve apprenticed yourselves to me. Right? I’m your rabbi. You’re my disciples so I expect you to do what I do. I expect you to follow me. And you’re not above this, none of you, because you’re not above me. If the master serves, so can the servant. If the author serves, so can the messenger. And if you know this, you will be blessed if you do it. Not if you think about doing it, but if you do it.”

See friends, Jesus is calling us to become like Him, isn’t He? To become exactly like Him, to become humble servants, become slaves of all, to clean refuse off the feet of undeserving people, to pursue the unlovely, to love our enemies, to lay down our lives in loving service, humble sacrifice, and selfless care. Is He not? Isn’t this what He’s calling us to?

Now here’s the question: How on Earth are we supposed to do this? (chuckles) How on Earth are we supposed to do this? Because if I take an honest look inside my heart, I will find a theoretical desire to be a servant, like “that sounds like a good idea.” I’d like to be thought of as a servant, and maybe I rally on occasion and I get a few things done, but then I want credit for it. (chuckles) I want someone to say, “Wow. Look at you being a servant.” I want reciprocation. “I served you yesterday. It’d be nice if you did something for me today.” And if I don’t get that reciprocation, I end up grumpy, I end up demanding, I end up fed up. I don’t know about you, that’s how my soul works because I’ve got a problem and the Bible calls it pride. Pride.

The Bible says we all have pride in our hearts. It means that our basic disposition in the world is one of entitlement. We believe the world owes us something, whether it’s recognition or reward or compensation or fairness. And then one of two things happens in life. We maybe become, on the one hand, very successful, which then validates our pride. “Oh, look at me. I really am somebody. You know, I’ve succeeded in life.” And then the entitlement comes out. Right? We become very unbearable human beings. We start to use other people for our ends. We value them for how much they can give for us or do for us. We step on a few people just to get ahead. Everybody does it. And then eventually we realize what we’ve done, and how selfish we’ve become, and then if we’re really successful, we become philanthropists and we try to undo everything we did in the first half of our lives. Okay? That’s one trap.

The other trap is that we try really hard to be successful, and then we never quite arrive, in which case our pride gets wounded, you see, because we become cynical. We become critical of others. We take a stand on the sidelines of life and we take potshots at successful people because deep down we believe we should have their success. We’re envious.

And see, in both cases the problem is the same. It’s pride in the heart both ways. It just adapts and morphs based off of our circumstances and life experience. Pride and success become pretentious. Pride and non-success become cynicism, but at the very heart it is still pride.

Now because most of us are not wildly successful or utter failures, we’re a blend of these things. Yes? We have both operating in our heart, but pride is the common denominator. It’s our default setting, and this is why being a servant is so hard, because being a servant runs counter to all of those impulses. Being a servant means being selfless. It means being sacrificial. It means serving other people. It means loving others more than we love ourselves. As that great theologian, Olaf the Snowman, put it, “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” That’s actually pretty good, isn’t it?

See, pride was the reason none of the disciples wanted to go wash each other’s feet because pride wants other people to sacrifice for us, but love chooses to sacrifice itself for others, which is exactly what Jesus did. It was Jesus’ love that motivated His act of service.

So the question now becomes, “How do we become loving like Jesus?” That’s the question. We’re never going to serve unless we love like Jesus. How do we become loving like Jesus? That’s the question. He says, “I’ve given you an example that you should do just as I have done to you.” Now, fortunately for us Jesus is not just our example. He is our transforming example. It’s a big difference.

If all we got from Jesus was an example to follow, to model our lives after, we might be inspired by Him. We might be compelled by Him. We might even admire Him, but it would be a crushing set of expectations to live by because Jesus is just too high. He’s too perfect. He’s too good. Amen? So the question is, “How do we become like this?” And the answer is beautiful. It is because Jesus transforms us.

How does that work? Remember what Jesus said to Peter: “If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.” If I don’t wash you, you can have no share with me.

Here’s the question. What do we do when we realize that the manure of pride is smeared all over our souls? What do we do when we realize that the manure of pride is smeared all over our souls? Answer: Let Jesus wash it off. Let Him see your selfishness. Let Him address your pride. Let Him wipe away your ego. Let Him wash away the filth. Let Him cleanse you.

See friends, this is a picture and it’s pointing to what’s happening the next day. And on the cross, Jesus served. He loved. He sacrificed Himself for us. He, as it were, wrapped a towel around His waist, and became a slave of all, and knelt before undeserving sinners and wiped the manure of sin off of our souls. And friends, if we will let that in, if we will let that sink down and melt us, and slay our pride, and humble us out and change our hearts, and teach us that because we are far more sinful than we ever did realize, yet in Jesus Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dared hope. When we’ve been humbled like that, you see, when we’ve been loved like that, you see, you cannot help but be changed. It does something on the inside, and it transforms your heart, and so you begin, you start to see if Jesus served me like this, if He washed me when I was that filthy, if He loved me enough to get that dirty, how can I hold back in loving service of anyone else around me? It changes us because served people serve people. Served people serve people. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of Jesus. He’s our transforming example.

Three takeaways as we draw to a close here. The first one is this: I want to talk to those of you who are here and maybe someone brought you, or you came to make somebody happy, and you kind of gut it out through church, and then go on in life. And maybe you’re seeking. Maybe you’re kicking the tires on faith. Maybe you don’t really even know what you think about this Jesus. I want to talk to you for a moment.

If you’re searching for Jesus, friends, you will find Him at your feet. If you’re searching for Jesus, you will find Him at your feet. Some of you have been searching for God. You’re finding Him hard to locate. You know, He’s so distant. It’s foggy. He’s sort of out there somewhere. But could it be that God is not so much too high as He is too close? Have you ever tried looking at your feet? At your feet you’ll find Jesus, the Son of God, the King of glory, the divine servant, kneeling, serving, washing, pursuing, redeeming. You’ll find a God with manure on His hands, and a towel around His waist. You’ll find a God who is bloodied and bruised, pierced through, crucified, nailed to a cross, a slave of all, who will stop at nothing to love and pursue you. This is our Jesus.

The second takeaway is this: All will kneel before Jesus because Jesus knelt before all. All will kneel before Jesus because Jesus knelt before all. Philippians 2:5–11 are a beautiful hymn to Christ. It says: “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, by 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… 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.”

And friends, Jesus ascended to highest glory because He humbled Himself to the lowest possible place of all. Jesus has won our allegiance, not through conquest, but through service; not through dominance, but through humility; not through power, but through weakness. And friends, we will kneel before the One who knelt before us. He is our Savior. He is our Lord forever.

And then finally, the last takeaway is this: We serve because He first served us. We serve because He first served us. There’s a logic to the Gospel. Do you see this? Jesus does everything for us so that now we, in turn, do everything for Him. He changes us. We love because He first loved us. We forgive because He first forgave us. We serve because He first served us. And it is His love that is teaching us to kneel. You see this. It is His love that teaches us how to kneel.

Now, let’s make this very practical as we land the plane. Okay? I want to give you and me today our assignment which is a question. Now I’m warning you. Don’t use this question unless you’re willing to do what it takes. Okay? So if you don’t mean it, don’t say this question. Okay? But this is a question you can ask. It’s a servant’s question. “How can I help?” “How can I help?”

It’s a good question for your spouse. How can I help? If you see someone who is stressed, if you see someone in distress, co-workers, friends. How can I help? And then whatever they say, just do it. (chuckles) Just do it. That’s what a servant would do. We can do that this week. Can’t you? “How can I help?”

“If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet,” Jesus says, “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 for you.” And so we follow Jesus, whatever it takes. “How can I help?” (applause)

Let’s pray.

Father, we are constantly amazed at who you are. If we were God we would make a world where everyone served us, where the universe made life easy for us. But you did just the opposite. You made a world so good and beautiful we couldn’t believe it. And then we fouled it up in our selfishness, in our ego, in our pride, and you came to show us the way to live. You came to serve, to give up all that was rightfully yours, to get manure on your hands for us.

We can’t believe it sometimes. Your love is amazing. Your grace is so good. Your mercy is unending, and to think that we get to be your children by grace through faith in Christ alone. This is amazing love. We adore you. The humble servant King and our Savior and Lord.

We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.

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