This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John and in just a moment, we’ll be in John chapter 13.
I find it interesting that John spends the first 12 chapters of his gospel dealing with the entire ministry of Jesus, which was about three and a half years in length. And then, John spends the next five chapters on just one night in Jesus’ life.
John 13-17 records what has sometimes been referred to as the Upper Room Discourse. In these five chapters, Jesus teaches his disciples about service, about love, about the Holy Spirit, about heaven, about prayer.
This was a very special night for both Jesus and his disciples. Think about it. If you knew that you only had a few hours left to live, what would you say to your friends? What message would you want to pass on to them? Well, this is one of those nights. This was the last night before Jesus was killed. And during this night, Jesus revealed a lot about what was in his heart.
I heard a story once about a guy who knew there was something was wrong with him, so he went to his doctor who referred him to specialists and they ran all sorts of tests. They finally came up with a diagnosis and it was rather serious, so they wanted to talk with his wife first.
The doctor brought her in and he said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your husband has a very rare disease and if left untreated, he’s going to die and he’s going to die very soon.” He said, “There is some good news, though. With chemo treatment and a lot of help from you, we actually believe that your husband can be healed and live for many years.
“The challenge, though, is that he’s going to need a very strict diet, and that means that you’ll need to cook every single meal for him, three meals a day. And he’s got to have an environment that’s kept completely clean and that means that you’ll need to keep the house spotless.
“It’s going to take more from you than you could ever imagine, but if you will cook for him, clean for him, be there to serve him and do this over an extended period of time, your husband should live for many years.”
The wife walked out of the doctor’s office and the husband was obviously nervous and he said, “What did the doctor say?” His wife said, “I’m afraid the doctor had some bad news. He said you’re not going to live very long.”
Here was a woman who said, “You got to be crazy, I’m not doing that.” And while the story is fictional, there are many real people who have the same attitude. I’ve heard so many husbands and wives who say, “If that what it’s going to take to save my marriage, I’m not doing that.” I’m heard people talk about visiting people in the nursing home and they say, “I’m not doing that! That’s disgusting.” I’ve known people who were at odds with someone else, and they know they need to say, “I’m sorry” to make things right, but they say, “I’m not doing that.”
And a big part of our problem is that we live in a very self-centered society. A society where it is considered acceptable for people to promote themselves and put themselves first. It seems like everyone is demanding their own rights, wanting to be recognized as someone important. Nobody wants to start at the bottom and work their way up. They look at menial jobs and say, “I’m not doing that.”
But, one of the things we see as we look at the life of Jesus is that he was constantly reaching out to people and serving them with love. Never once did Jesus say, “I’m not doing that.” And probably the best example of his willingness to do whatever needed to be done is found in John chapter 13.
Let’s watch this video together. If you have your Bibles and want to follow along, we’ll begin with verse 1.
It was Passover and Jesus had gathered with his disciples to share that special symbolic meal that both looked back to the time when the Israelites escaped from Egypt and looked forward to his upcoming crucifixion. Jesus had instructed his disciples to set up this meal in an upper room he had reserved earlier.
Since the streets of that day were plain dirt, in dry weather they were inches deep in dust. In wet weather, they were mud. And because their shoes were nothing more than sandals, every time they walked in the streets back then, their feet needed cleaning.
That’s why inside the door to the upper room, there would have been a basin of water and a towel. It was a common courtesy whenever someone came to your home. If you come to my home, if it’s cold outside, I might say, “May I take your coat? Can I get you something to drink?” That’s common courtesy.
But, if you were to go into a home in the first century, the first thing they would do is to greet you with a kiss on the cheek. And then they would say, “Would you like your feet washed?” Now, the host would never ever wash the feet of the guest because that would have been too humiliating. Essentially, the host would say, “I’m going to show you how important I am because I’ve got someone here who will do it for you. I would never do this because, let’s be honest. Feet are kind of disgusting.” But it’s something that needed to be done.
But, as they came through the door this night, there was no one there to carry out this menial task. And certainly, none of the disciples were going to do it. They were too busy arguing about which of them was the most important. All they could think about was Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem four days earlier. They were convinced that Jesus was getting ready to run the Romans out of town and set up his kingdom…and they had this ongoing dispute about who would get the top positions in Jesus’ new administration.
Everyone was too focused on themselves to even think about washing the dirty feet of people around them. But, in the midst of their arguments, Jesus got up and shocked them all. “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.” (John 13:5). One by one, the King of Kings began to wash away the filth of their dirty feet.
In verse 12, after Jesus had finished washing his disciples’ feet, he returned to his place at the table, so they could get on with eating dinner.
But first, Jesus began the evening’s dinner conversation. And he began with a question. He asked his disciples, “Do you know what I have done for you?” (John 13:12, HCSB)
And I think it’s obvious they knew what he had just done for them, and so do we. Jesus had just washed their feet. But there was a lot they didn’t know about what Jesus had done for them. Not yet. They would only realize it later on.
But for now, let’s make this personal. Imagine for a moment that this isn’t just a question that Jesus asked his disciples thousands of years ago, after he washed their feet. Imagine that Jesus is standing here in the room with us right now. And he’s asking us this same question — “Do you know what I have done for you?”
And I want you to think for a moment about how you would answer that question. “Do you know what I have done for you?” AndI don’t know how you would answer that, but I think my first response would be to say, “Jesus, you showed me how much you love me and how much God loves me.”
You see, when I was growing up, I had a different image of God. I’m not here to point fingers or place blame, but I grew up with a different image of God. It was the image captured in that song, “There’s an all-seeing eye watching you.”
And that was the God I imagined. He was a God who always watching, just waiting for me to mess up. A God who cared more about whether or not I was following all of his rules than whether or not I was sad or lonely or afraid. A God in whose eyes I could never measure up or be acceptable.
And it’s hard to love a God like that. And it was hard to imagine that a God like that could really love me. Because when I thought of God, I only felt fear and shame. Not peace. Not comfort. Just fear and shame.
Do you have any idea what an image like that does to you? When you’re not sure that God really loves you? So, when I came to know Jesus for myself, he changed my image of God. And Jesus showed me that so much of what I’d been taught about God was just plain wrong.
Because when I started looking at Jesus for myself, I saw him healing people’s lives. I saw him forgiving people who’d made just about every mistake you can make. I saw him being patient with people who let him down. I saw him standing up for people who were being bullied and shamed. I saw him paying attention to those people who had been ignored and looked down on.
And I came to understand that Jesus loves me. And then I read John 14:9, where Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Which means that God is exactlylike Jesus. If you know Jesus, then you know God.
And when I came to understand that Jesus really does love me, then I began to understand that God loves me.
So, what about you? How would you answer Jesus’ question, “Do you know what I have done for you?”
Maybe Jesus has done for you what he did for me. Maybe you spent too much of your life relating to God mostly through fear and shame. But then you reallymet Jesus. And in his human face, you found the face of God. In his human words, you heard the very voice of God. And in his human hands, you felt the loving embrace and acceptance of God.
Or maybe you would say, “What Jesus has done for me is that he has saved me from hell.” And I don’t just mean going there after you die. I mean you were already living through some kind of hell in your life. Maybe it was depression. Or addiction. Maybe some kind of abuse or betrayal. Maybe an illness of your body. But you had something that was just stealing your life, your joy, your peace. And Jesus delivered you. He rescued you. He healed whatever it is that was hurting you. He gave you back your peace, your joy, your life.
Jesus has done so much for us, hasn’t he? And I think it’s important for us to be able to explain to others what we believe that Jesus has done for us. But I think there’s something even more important.
It’s what Jesussaid he has done for us. Listen to what he said to his disciples. Verse 12, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you speak correctly because I am.” (John 13:12-13, CEB)
The reason we need to pay attention to what Jesus said he has done for us is because he’s our teacher and our Lord. In other words, if the Christian life is like The Karate Kid, Jesus is our Mr. Miyagi, and we are Daniel-san. Jesus is our sensei — our teacher and our master.
But he’s so much more than that. There’s this little Easter egg that John hides throughout his gospel, and sometimes we miss it in English translations. It’s these two little words, I am. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am.
Do you remember back in Exodus 3, when God appeared to Moses at the burning bush, Moses asked God what his name was. And God said, “I Am Who I Am. Say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.”
In the Bible, I Am is a name of God. In fact, it’s probably themost important name of God. Because the name I Am, means everything that exists — you and me and our world and our universe — it all exists because of God. It is because God is.
So, in John’s gospel, Jesus uses that phrase I am a lot. Just like he does here: You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. It’s John’s way of saying that, yes, Jesus is our master. And yes, Jesus is our teacher. But before Jesus is anythingelse to us, he is God. And because Jesus is God, we need to listen to him as our teacher, and obey him as our Lord.
So, Jesus asks, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?” And then tells us exactly what he has done for us:
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
“For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)
Here’s what Jesus said he did for them. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he gave them an example to live by. And he gave us an example to live by.
As our teacher and master, Jesus taught us to wash each others’ feet. But what really blows my mind is that Jesus washed their feet as God.
Jesus is God. So, God dressed himself as a slave. God washed a bunch of filthy feet. God even washed Judas’ feet — the person who was about to hand Jesus over to the authorities be killed. And Jesus knew it. And he washed Judas’ feet anyway.
And then he said: “I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.”
The One who created the heavens and the earth and you and me and everything else in this universe; the One who knows what we were created to do; has shown us what we’re here for. And it’s to follow his example.
Earlier, I asked you to imagine Jesus asking you, personally:“Do you know what I’ve done for you?” And I’m almost willing to put money on it, that noneof you answered: “Yes, you taught me to wash feet. That’s what you did for me.”
You were probably thinking — like I did — about how Jesus has shown you God’s love. Or how Jesus has forgiven you. Or healed you. Or set you free.
And all of those things are wonderfully, beautifully true. Jesus did do all of those things for us. And so much more than we will ever be able to comprehend. But do you know why he forgave you, or set you free, or healed you, or showed you how much God loves you?
He did all of that so you and I would go out and do the same thing for each other, and for the people we meet every day.
He did all that for us because forgiven people forgive people. Because people who’ve been set free want others to be set free. Because people who’ve been healed want to bring healing into others’ lives. Because people who know how deeply we are loved by God, want everyone else to know and experience God’s love for themselves.
And until they do, we open ourselves up for God to love others through us. Or at least, we should.
In our story this morning, Jesus gave us an example of washing each other’s feet. That’s what he said he’s done for us. And I know there are church traditions that actually have services where members wash each others’ feet. And I think there are times when it can be valuable to practice that kind of literal obedience. But I think you understand that Jesus was talking so much more than just washing feet.
A few minutes ago, I talked about the relationship between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san in The Karate Kid. And that movie is a kind of parable describing the relationship between Jesus and Christians. If you’ve seen that movie, you’ll remember how Mr. Miyagi had Daniel spend days waxing his cars and sanding his deck and painting his fence. But that’s not really what he was teaching Daniel to do. The motions Daniel used to wax and sand and paint were supposed to develop muscle memories that Daniel would actually use in karate. Mr. Miyagi wasn’t training Daniel to do manual labor; he was training him how to fight.
And I think Jesus was doing the same sort of thing when he washed his disciples’ feet, and then he told them to follow his example. He didn’t expect us to make washing literal feet our life’s work. No more than Mr. Miyagi just wanted Daniel-san to wax cars or paint fences forever. I think Jesus wanted his disciples to form a sense memory. When they wanted to know what God’s love looked like or felt like, they could remember what it looked like and felt like to have Jesus wash their feet that night.
Because what Jesus really wants us to do is to love one another the way Jesus loves us. Washing each others’ feet is just one expression of that love. Listen to what Jesus said just a few verses later:
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Think about all the ways that Jesus has shown his love to us. He gave up power and privilege. His comfort and his desires took a back seat to what others needed. He carried burdens that weren’t his. He wept with those who wept, and rejoiced with those who rejoiced.
It is essential for us to learn to love each other the way Jesus has loved us. That means putting others’ needs and desires ahead of our own. It means not always getting our own way. It means being willing to be interrupted and inconvenienced. It means helping to carry each others’ burdens.
The truth is, literally washing each others’ feet every once in while would probably be easier than practicing loving each other the way Jesus has loved us.
And so, I have a challenge for you all, in light of what we’ve read this morning. And, no, I’m not planning a foot-washing service any time soon.
But I am asking each one of you to commit yourself for one week to reflect on this story and to pray about it. I’m challenging us all every day to seriously think about and pray over what it might mean for us to wash feet.
I challenge you to wake up every day this week and to pray, “God, give me eyes to see needs that I would otherwise overlook. Give me ears to hear those who are hurting. Give me a heart to care. God, if there’s a need that I can meet, convict me to live and to love like Jesus.
When you’re serving with the right heart, nobody needs to know. It’s not about you. It’s not about you getting recognition. It’s simply about you meeting the needs of those around you, serving God for his glory.
And it’s not just about actions. It’s about an attitude. Serving is not what we do. A servant is who we are. It’s who we are.
And developing the attitude of a servant, the attitude of Jesus, will keep us from ever uttering those words, “I’m not doing that.” Instead, it will transform us into a church full of people who are willing to give up power and privilege. Willing to be inconvenienced and interrupted. Willing to be open to the needs of those around us. To not always get our way, but to look first for what other people need.
So let us pray earnestly this week that God will help us transform us into that kind of church and those kind of people. Because, yes — it’s important for us to be ready to tell people what Jesus has done for us. But Jesus said: everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other. I want people to be able to look at us, and to see a church that is full of Jesus’ love, a church willing to do whatever needs to be done.
And that will draw so many more people to Jesus than any words you or I could ever say. When that happens, they won’t have to ask what Jesus has done for us. They’ll see it and experience it for themselves.