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What do you do when you’re in power?

Sun, Feb 21, 2021
Passage: John 13:1-17
Duration:23 mins 2 secs
Jesus form of leadership is to serve those he came to save.

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Well friends, I've spent much of the last week contemplating what it would be like to have my feet washed! As well as when and how our snap lockdown would end. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed either train of thought. Although thankfully the lockdown train of thought ended well!

So I need to confess up front that when it comes to foot washing, I'm really, really not into it. Not into having someone else wash my feet, that is. I'd be much happier washing your feet I think. Maybe not all your feet, but you know what I mean. I've only had my toenails painted professionally twice, when a friend dragged me along. They wash your feet, before they paint your nails. I really didn't like it. And then I also got a fungal toenail infection after the second time – maybe that's too much info. My toe's better now, I promise.

I'd much rather have a shoulder and neck massage. Or even better, a head massage. Love a head massage! But please don't wash my feet!

So this has been an uncomfortable week for me, sitting with this passage, thinking about foot washing. Until I realised this passage really isn't about foot washing. It's about something much more profound – which also has its own discomfort and challenge about it. We're going to learn three things in particular from this passage. So let's pray now, before we dig in.

Heavenly Father, please speak to us through this word of yours today. It's a beautiful passage, as well as a challenging one. So comfort our hearts and prick our consciences as we have need. For the sake of your son Jesus, Amen.

We meet Jesus and the disciples here 'just before the Passover Festival' as we heard in verse 1. This is, in fact, the night before the Passover meal would be eaten. And if we'd been reading straight through John's gospel, we'd know that the Passover is a big deal in this book! As well as a big deal for the Jews at at the time.

You see, the Passover Feast celebrated the big salvation event of the Israelite people. The big salvation event to the time of Jesus. The rescue of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. An amazing event – as big in the OT as the cross in the NT.
Let's recap that very briefly. Back in Exodus, God's people were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. They were numerous and growing in number, and Pharaoh was threatened. So he started turning the screws on them. Oppressed them. Forced them to do harsh labour. Killed their baby boys as they were born. So God raised up Moses to lead his people and brought a series of plagues on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In response to Pharaoh's incredible stubbornness, the final plague was on the firstborn sons of Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt would die as the Lord passed over the land at midnight. But the Israelites were to kill a year old lamb, and put some of the blood on the doorframes of their houses. When the Lord saw the blood, he would pass over those houses without killing their firstborn sons. And so it happened. The firstborn sons of the Egyptians died that night. When this happened, Pharaoh finally directed Moses to lead God's people out of Egypt. God's people were free! They were saved!

And as I mentioned, Passover is a big deal right from John 1. John the Baptist there publicly introduces Jesus as 'the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (1:29).
In John, the Passover is all about Jesus. Jesus is the Passover lamb.

Jesus spoke at the Passover in John 2, about the temple being destroyed and Jesus raising it again in three days. … The temple he had spoken of was his body. John 2:19-21

In John 6, it was near Passover time when Jesus fed the crowd of over 5000 people, and spoke of them feeding on his flesh and his blood for eternal life.

For John, the Passover is all about Jesus. And now it's just before the Passover Festival in John 13. This is Jesus' least supper with his disciples before his death the next day.

As we read through John, it's like there's a timer ticking. I don't know how you feel when there's something big but difficult that's creeping up on you. Maybe like VCE exams/difficult deadline at work/surgery/colonoscopy. There's relief when it's not yet time. But also a sense of inevitability about the day coming ever closer. In John, the timer ticks for Jesus all the way through.

At the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, he said to his mother, "My hour has not yet come." (John 2:4).

In both John 7 and John 8, we read that no one seized Jesus 'because his hour had not yet come'. (7:30; 8:20). But in John 12, for the first time Jesus lets on that the time has come. The timer is about to go off. Jesus says there, in verse 23, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."

And now in verse 1, Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Jesus' death and resurrection is imminent – Jesus knows that it's time.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

What Jesus is about to do is an action of supreme love. In washing his disciples' feet. And in what that points forward to - in laying down his life on the cross. Jesus has already made his intention clear in John 10:

11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11.

And he repeats that in John 15:

13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13

Jesus loved his own to the end, when he uttered the words 'It is finished' as he bowed his head and gave up his spirit on the cross in John 19. Love to the end!

All of this background in verse 1 introduces the evening meal and Jesus washing his disciples feet.

Now when we think of foot-washing, if we've been around churches for a while, we have this passage ringing in our minds. Perhaps you've even been to a service or in a connect group where you washed each others' feet. But that is very different to what foot washing was about in the first century. And so we're in danger of missing the point.

Not to mention the culture gap between now and then. Washing feet was a matter of both hygiene and custom in the first century. They wore sandals, and they walked a lot. So their feet were dirty when they arrived somewhere. Sandals were taken off, as many people still take shoes off in a home. And feet were washed, because quite frankly, they would have stunk! As they ate a meal, they would recline, with their feet away from the table, so their feet would have been easily accessible to be washed.

But the key point to note here is that the washing of feet was a task normally reserved for the lowliest of menial servants. The most unimportant person present. Peers did not wash each other's feet, except very rarely and as a mark of great love!
So lets read from verse 2:

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 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; 4 so [read but] he 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.

That makes sense, doesn't it? Jesus knew he had all this power, but he got up and washed their feet.

Except that I read it wrong!

This way makes sense to me – it's how I would have written this part. Jesus had all power from God but (that is, despite that) he still washed his disciples' feet. But that's very different to what John wrote. A but in this sentence doesn't show us who Jesus really is.

John wrote it this way:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Tom Wright explains the 'so' really well.

'The point is to say: 'washing their feet was what Jesus had to do precisely because he had come from God'. The footwashing – and the crucifixion itself, to which it pointed – was Jesus' way of showing who God was and is.' (John for Everyone Part 2. N.T.Wright, 45)

Jesus, the one who had all things under his power, washed his disciples' feet. He did the job reserved for the most menial of servants. This isn't how our world works. It's not how I would imagine God. A God with all power. Yes. A God who could heal. Walk on water. Still the storm. Make blind men see. Yes, that fits my idea of God. But that God of all power abasing himself. That is shocking. It just doesn't fit. Jesus turns all expectations upside down here.

It's a dramatic display of love.

And it reminds me of Philippians 2, which really says the same thing about Jesus, but more directly. Phil 2:5-8

Christ Jesus:

 being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Jesus made himself nothing. That's what he did when he washed his disciples' feet. That's why Peter objected so strongly.
And he made himself nothing in his death on the cross. In dying a shameful, disgraceful death. A death that he didn't deserve but that we did, because we turned our backs on God.

Do you know that God loves you? Do you really know? He does. And he's shown it in Jesus' death on the cross.

Jesus washing his disciple's feet was a dramatic display of love. It was also a symbol of saving cleansing.
Verse 6-11:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"
10 Jesus answered, "Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

I love Peter. He's such an all or nothing kinda guy, isn't he? And he's the kind of guy with no filter. It feels like every thought he thinks come out of his mouth.

Now as often happens in John's gospel, things are happening on two levels in this conversation. It reminds me of Jesus' chat with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

Here, Peter's all tied up in knots about Jesus washing his feet. But it's in Jesus' answers that we see what's really going on.

Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Clearly there's more going on here than meets the eye. Something the disciples need to remember and understand later.
8  … Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." That seems extreme, if it's about washing feet. But it's really not.
10 Jesus answered, "Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. [that's just about the foot washing] And you are clean, though not every one of you." 

There are three cleaning words here. Bath, wash and clean. The Greek word for bath means just that – having a bath. The word for wash means a kind of superficial sponging down. But the word for clean also has a deeper meaning. It means purified before God. It means cleansed from sin.

Jesus' disciples are clean by anticipation – except for Judas. And we can be clean as well. By the saving cleansing of Jesus' death on the cross. This same 'clean' word is used in 1 John 1:7:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

So friends, have you accepted the cleansing that God offers you in Jesus? If you'd like to find out more about this, please talk to me or send me a message.

If you have accepted this cleansing that Jesus offers us, that's a wonderful blessing. Of course, we still sin and need to come to God confessing. But we can have confidence that Jesus has cleansed us by his death, and that this continuing need for confession is like bringing the dusty and dirty bits of us to Jesus when needed.

Jesus washing his disciple's feet was a dramatic display of love. It was a symbol of saving cleansing. And finally, it was a model of Christian conduct.
Verse 12:

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Now as I said at the beginning, this really isn't about foot washing. But it is about humility. It is about being willing to do those things that perhaps seem below us. Particularly in the eyes of the world.

I read the other day about a pastor in a mega-church. This is how his day goes before preaching. He takes a chauffeured car to the church, watches sport in the green room, greets celebrities, preaches and then leaves without speaking to anyone ordinary. He gets rock-star treatment. That is not how Jesus lived. And it's not how he calls us to live. That isn't how power is to be used by Christians.

Tom Wright has a couple of really helpful reflections here.

'The truly Christlike leader is known by the ease and spontaneity with which he or she does the little, annoying, messy things – the things which in the ancient world the slave would do, the things which in our world we always secretly hope someone else will do so we won't have to waste our time, to demean ourselves'. (John for Everyone Part 2. N.T.Wright, 48)

This is a challenge for me, friends. There is nothing about being a Christian leader that means I, or any of our ministry staff, should be treated specially. There's a challenge for us to be willing to do the little, annoying, messy things.
And that's also part of the challenge for you. Perhaps in your workplace, where you're looked up to by others. Perhaps in other areas of your life. Even in your home. Jesus, our Lord and Teacher, has set us an example. What are the things you secretly hope someone else will do? Maybe you can aim to do a couple of those this week.

And one more thought-provoking challenge from Wright:

'as with Jesus, the picture of footwashing is meant to serve not only as a picture of all sorts of menial tasks that we may be called to perform, without drawing attention to them. It also points towards the much larger challenge, … the challenge to follow Jesus all the way to the cross, to lay down life itself in the service of God and the world he came to save.' (John for Everyone Part 2. N.T.Wright, 49)

What is the shape of your life, friends? Is it centred on Jesus? Is it a servant-hearted life? Are your long-term goals shaped by Jesus and his death? What are you planning for your retirement to look like?

Paul puts it very clearly in Philippians 2:

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Friends, this is a very practical challenge. This week, how can you surprise those around you by serving them? What little actions by you might be humble and loving? And a longer term challenge. How can your whole life be shaped by humility and by service in the name of Jesus?



a dramatic display of love.
a symbol of saving cleansing
a model of Christian conduct