Vision Series 2) Commitment to Service

2) Commitment to Service

Text: John 13:1-17


Last week we looked at the picture of Moses with his arms raised to God like a two year old as a reminder of the importance of prayer. If we are going to achieve our mission as a church we need to raise our arms in prayer. This morning I want to use another image as a way of reminding us of the importance of service. Whereas Moses stood tall raising his arms to his heavenly Father, this image is pretty much the opposite, it’s the image of Jesus kneeling before his disciples as he washes their feet. The story is found in John 13, verse 1-17. (Read John 13:1-17)


This passage is all about service, it’s about Jesus- commitment to serve us and our commitment to serve others. So how exactly did Jesus serve his disciples? John tells us that ‘4 …[Jesus] 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. (Jn 13:4-5)’ There’s a few helpful things to understand about that scene.

1. Firstly, in the first century it was quite normal to wash your feet before sitting down to have a meal. It’s not that they ate with their feet, it’s just that their feet got pretty dirty, and it just feels better to feel clean. To wash guest’s feet was a sign of hospitality.

2. Secondly, it wasn’t a very pleasant job, so normally the lowest person in the household got it, if you had a slave, or a servant, they did it. Or the youngest child got the honours, or the wife. But the point was the most respected person in the house never did it. And for a Rabbi, or a respected Teacher, it was unheard of. So when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, it was a pretty radical move. The disciples were dumbfounded; they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Peter expresses his indignation when he asks, ‘6 …Lord, are you going to wash my feet? (Jn 13:6b)’ And when Jesus insists he says, ‘8 …you shall never wash my feet. (Jn 13:8a)’ It really was too weird.

3. But the third thing that we need to understand about this scene is that Jesus is doing more than just washing his disciples’ feet, he’s saying something about his commitment to serve others. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Jesus’ parables. Jesus loved to tell everyday stories that people could identify with, but they were more than just stories, they taught people something about the nature of God, or how God wants us to live. They were earthly stories with heavenly meanings. In the same way Jesus often did things that taught spiritual truths, which was something the Old Testament prophets did. So when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he wasn’t just making a point about personal hygiene, rather he was trying to teach us something about service.


1) Jesus served by laying down his life

Firstly, Jesus uses washing his disciples’ feet to symbolize his willingness to lay down his life for them. Jesus alludes to the idea that washing his disciples’ feet has a deeper meaning in verse 7. When Peter questions Jesus about washing his feet, Jesus says, ‘7 …You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand. (Jn 13:7)’ If Jesus was only washing their feet they could understand that, even if it was a bit weird, rather he’s doing something that will make sense ‘later.’ They won’t get it now, but they will understand it later. But in verse 8 Jesus says something even stronger. Peter gets upset about Jesus washing his feet, but Jesus says, ‘8 …Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. (Jn 13:8b)’ Now it’s obvious Jesus isn’t talking about washing feet anymore, otherwise a pre-requisite to being a Christian would be having clean feet, and baptism would involve soap and a nail brush. So what is Jesus referring to here? I believe Jesus is referring to his atoning death on the cross. For Jesus this physical washing symbolizes the spiritual cleansing achieved by his blood shed on the cross. Jesus is talking about how on the following day he would lay down his life for them. When it comes to his commitment to serving others, Jesus will go the whole nine yards, he will go to the cross. As Jesus washes his disciples’ feet he is saying, tomorrow I’m going to wash away your sins with my blood. Tomorrow I’m going to take off my outer garments and be flogged. Tomorrow all your sins and your failures, all the darkness in your life, is going to be wrapped around me like this towel. Tomorrow I’m going to die so that you can be forgiven, so that you can be reconciled with God, so that you can receive eternal life. And that’s why Jesus tells Peter that it’s only if he is washed clean that Peter can be a part of him. It’s only when we have been washed clean of our sin through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross that we become one with Jesus. The Bible tells us that, ‘7 …the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:7b)’ Unless we have been washed clean by Jesus we can’t have any part with Jesus. Again the Bible says, ‘9 …we have been justified by [Jesus’] blood… (Rom 5:9a)’ We are only declared right with God if Jesus has washed us clean by his blood shed on the cross. We only belong to Jesus, we are only a part of Jesus, if we put our faith in his atoning death on the cross. That’s what Jesus is symbolizing by washing the disciples’ feet. The water washing the dirt from their feet symbolizes how Jesus’ blood will wash the sin from their souls. That’s why Jesus says they will understand it later. It’s not until they understand that Jesus had to die on the cross to cleanse them form sin, that they would understand what Jesus was symbolizing by washing their feet. The first way that Jesus serves us is by dying on the cross for our sins. In fact, that was Jesus’ mission. He says, ‘45 …the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10:45)’ Jesus’ greatest act of service was giving his life to redeem his people from sin. If you want to understand Jesus’ commitment to service there it is right there, he gave his life to serve us. There was nothing more important to Jesus than his commitment to serve you and me through his death on the cross. Jesus left heaven in order to serve us. Jesus became one of us in order to serve us. Jesus was crucified in order to serve us. Jesus gave his life because of his commitment to serve you and me. And on that note I want to ask you: has Jesus cleansed you from your sin? Have you been washed clean through faith in Jesus’ blood shed on the cross? Because if you haven’t you don’t have any part with him. That’s the first thing Jesus was trying to teach us by washing his disciples’ feet, his willingness to serve us, by washing us clean through faith in his death on the cross.


2) Jesus continues to serve

The second thing is how Jesus continues to serve us. Jesus has just told Peter that he won’t yet understand what Jesus is really doing in washing his feet, but that doesn’t stop Peter one little bit. All Peter hears is that unless I was your feet you won’t have any part with me. So typical for Peter he just goes to the extreme. He says, ‘9 Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well! (Jn 13:9)’ You can’t fault Peter’s enthusiasm, if getting your feet washed means belonging to Jesus than how much more a complete bath! But Jesus says something interesting. Verse 10, ‘10 …A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. (Jn 13:10)’ In the first century it was normal to wash people’s feet because your feet got really dirty from walking dusty roads in sandals. Most people bathed regularly, you’d didn’t need a bath, you just needed your feet washed. And that’s Jesus’ point, if you have been made clean through faith in his atoning death on he cross, you don’t need to be cleaned again. Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is a once for all event. Once you put your faith in Jesus you have been made right in God’s sight. Legally, your status goes from sinner to saint. When you put your faith in Jesus it’s like having a bath, you are clean. But the truth is you still get dirty feet. When you walk around in this sinful world, stuff sticks to your feet. And that’s what Jesus is talking about here, because Peter believes in him he is clean, he’s had his bath, but how he still needs his feet cleaned. Jesus shifts the application from his once for all time cleansing work on the cross, to his on-going work in our lives. The point that Jesus is making is that he hasn’t just served us on the cross he is serving us every day. Not only does Jesus give us a bath, he spot cleans us as well. The Apostle John puts both of these ideas together in his first letter. He says, ‘7 …the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (that’s the bath) 1 …But if anybody does sin (if anyone needs to have their feet cleaned), we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 Jn 1:7b,2:1b)’ Jesus cleans us once and for all in the legal sense, in how God sees us and treats us, but he also cleans us from day to day as we fall and fail. That’s why we confess our sins to him every day, so that Jesus can spot clean our lives. If someone could see your spiritual condition what blemishes might they see? What sins in your life do you still need to deal with? The Good News is that Jesus washes feet. Jesus washes those areas that still need cleaning in our lives. It’s not that our salvation is in doubt, it’s not that we aren’t justified before God, it’s just that Jesus wants to present us ‘27 …without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish... (Eph 5:27b)’ The point that Jesus is making about service is that he doesn’t just serve us and leave us, he continually serves us, he’s always there for us. Jesus’ commitment to service is on-going, it never tires, it never gives up, it never ends. Jesus didn’t just come down to earth, serve us on the cross and go home. He is still serving us at his Father’s side. He is still working in our lives through the Holy Spirit, washing us clean of sin and making us more like him. Jesus continues to serve us.


3) Jesus’ example

So Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and he makes two different statements about why he’s doing so. But when he finishes he makes a third point, the point that washing his disciples’ feet is an example for them to follow.

a) Example of Humility

Firstly, the foot-washing is an example of humility. We often think of humility as being lowly, or a nobody, but Jesus goes to great lengths to prove the opposite. Jesus draws attention to just how high, or important he is. ‘You call me Teacher, because that’s what I am, I am your teacher, I am the respected rabbi (v13a). You call me Lord, and again because that’s what I am, I am your Lord (v13b). In fact, I am ‘the Lord!’ You can’t get much higher than that. And then Jesus talks about being a Master, and how no servant is greater than his Master (v16a). And he talks about how a messenger isn’t greater than the one who sent him (v16b). Jesus is building a picture of his power and authority. It’s not a servant who is washing their feet, it’s their rabbi, their master, their Lord, the One who is sending them out into the world. Jesus is an example of someone with ultimate power and authority humbling themselves to serve the needs of others. That was John’s point in the first few verses of our text, ‘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. (Jn 13:3)’ It was at that point he washed his disciples’ feet. Humility is choosing to use your power, or your strength, or your knowledge, to serve others. Humility is about putting others before yourself. Humility is not about lowering yourself, it’s not about you at all. It’s about others, it’s about serving their needs, it’s about helping them up. The point of the foot-washing is that like Jesus we too should humble ourselves in order to serve the needs of others. Are you willing to humble yourself in order to serve others? Are you willing to put the needs of others before your own?

b) Example of Service

But we also have to be careful that we don’t make the point of the foot-washing about washing feet. When Jesus said, ‘14 Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (Jn 13:14)’ he isn’t telling us to wash one another’s feet, rather he’s using foot washing as an example of service. The Apostle John understood that. He says, ‘16 …Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 Jn 3:16b)’ Just as Jesus laid down his life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for others. Just as Jesus served us, so we ought to serve others. So my question for you this morning is: are you washing the feet of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you washing the feet of complete strangers? And if I was literally talking about washing people’s feet, we’d all be going ‘ew!’ But the point is: are you serving others like Jesus served you? Are you laying down your preferences, and your desires, and your dreams in order to build God’s kingdom, in order to reach out to others with the love of Jesus Christ?


This morning I want you to remember this scene of Jesus taking off his outer garments, wrapping a towel around his waist, pouring water into a basin and washing his disciples’ feet. And in that scene firstly see a symbol of Jesus dying on the cross for your sins, of his blood washing you clean, and remember just how important service was to Christ, that he gave his life to it. Secondly, in that scene see a symbol of how Jesus spot cleans your life, how he washes that bit, or that part of your life, how he continually serves you every moment of every day. And thirdly, see a symbol of the sort of humble service that he calls us to do for others. Like your Saviour, are you willing to take off your outer garment, wrap a towel around your waste, and serve someone else? Are you willing to commit yourself to humble service, not just because through your service God grows his kingdom, but just because your Saviour served you? Amen.

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