January 23, 2022 | refocus | Sacrificial Service| John 13
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This week, we continue to build our understanding of the church by looking at the core value of Sacrificial Service.
To better understand this core value, we turn to one of the clearest displays of sacrificial service displayed by Jesus. This encounter wonderfully illustrates not only how we can serve one another, but paints a picture of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in service to believers.
We find this encounter in the gospel of John, chapter 13 where we find Jesus in the upper room with his disciples during the last days of his ministry here on earth.
I want to share with you three observations from our text. The first comes from berses 1 through 5.
John 13:1-5 (ESV) 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. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 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, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 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.
The first observation is that…
Jesus provided a model for us to imitate.
To get the full impact of this encounter, let’s carefully walk through the opening description to get our footing of what is happening here, as well as the implications for us.
Knew his hour had come- Knowing that he was going to face the cross and bear the full wrath of God; Knowing that the path there would begin with one of his own denying him and lead him through suffering, pain, and humility; Knowing they would all flee him in his greatest hour and one of his closest disciples would shamefully deny him three times.
Having loved his own- They were his own because he chose them (John 15:16), because the Father gave them to him (John 6:37,39), and because he was about to purchase them with his blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
This statement marks the halfway mark of John’s gospel. In the first 12 chapters, John shows how Christ has loved his disciples, in the second half he deals with the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem leading to the cross, where Jesus loved them to the end.
He loved them to the end- Here we see that sacrificial service, motivated by love, is not, indeed, cannot be, preoccupied with self. If ever there was a time for Jesus to be preoccupied, this is it. We are told in just a few verses from this encounter that he is troubled in his spirit concerning his betrayal by Judas and probably including the subsequent denial by Peter. We are told in the other synoptic gospels that in just a few short hours he would be agonizing in the garden over the coming events of the cross. Yet, what do we find? We find Jesus spending his final hours serving, teaching, and encouraging his disciples. Second, we find sacrificial love is not preoccupied with the worthiness of the recipient. In this act of service, he washed Judas’ feet.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Sometimes we have a hard time serving people that haven’t done anything to us, we just don’t like them! Or what they did is so trivial comparatively. But Jesus didn’t allow the deservedness of Judas to hinder the loving nature of his service.
Knowing all that and (VS 3) knowing that he had come from God and was going to God, he served the disciples.
He knew who he was; he knew whose he was; and he knew what was before him on the other side of the cross.
Together, his posture of sacrificial love and his knowledge freed him to leave the place of honor to serve those who followed him. Foot washing in the first century wasn’t a ritual, like how it is sometimes practiced today. It was a necessity because of the circumstances of their day and was a menial task usually done by the lowest slave in the house. The roads were dusty, the disciples wore sandals, and they walked everywhere they went. It is not hard to imagine this as a job no one wanted to do.
But, the model Jesus gave us, the example, is not merely the task of washing feet. You see that right?
I’ve watched Pastors wash feet before, and while it can be a powerful picture or an illustration, it doesn’t come close to fulfilling the model of Jesus.
The example Jesus gave us is the example of humbling ourselves, fully secure in who we are in Christ, and serving those that may seem beneath us by performing whatever menial task of service that meets the very real needs they have.
What that particular service looks like depends largely on you and the people around you. But more importantly, as we see in the next section of scripture, Jesus did not just give us an example that we may consider doing from time to time if we feel like it, he didn’t give us a model that only applies to the leadership in the church, he commands those that name his name, that call themselves followers to imitate him in it.
John 13:12-15 (ESV) 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
The second observation from this encounter is that…
Jesus proclaimed a command for us to follow
15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
If I am your master and teacher. These two words share similar meanings but have slightly different connotations.
Teacher- master in religious instructions (students)
Lord- master (servants)
That is, if you believe that what I say is to be followed (you are my students), and you believe that I am your master (you are my servants), then you do what I have commanded you.
Ought- literally you ‘owe it’. You are indebted to do it for one another. The next time they sat around a table they should be compelled to be the first to wash each other’s feet. This would continue to be an ongoing symbol for them to serve one another sacrificially in a tangible way. However, Jesus goes on to broaden the command. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. That takes us back to our first observation and everything Jesus modeled for us in this encounter. From his attitude to his actions.
Isn’t this the message Jesus gave his disciples over and over again?
In the same chapter, John 13:34-35 (ESV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And again, in the same teaching that night John 15:12 (ESV) 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
The apostle John got it, and this became a core value of what it meant to be the church, because in his letter to the church that he wrote years later, he says 1 John 4:11 (ESV) 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Isn’t this what we find in Jesus’ teaching on prayer? (ESV) forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
The command of Jesus is to take what has been done for us and do it for others. You can almost fill in the blank here.
As Christ has forgiven you, forgive one another.
As Christ has been gracious to you, be gracious to one another.
As Christ has served you, serve one another.
And on and on we could go. The question is, ‘what has Jesus done for me, how can I extend that towards others?’
If you are a follower of Jesus who has been loved by him, redeemed by him, purchased by him, his command for you is to love one another in the way he loved you, sacrificially service by meeting your greatest need. If you are his, this command is for you, which Jesus specifically says in the next few verses.
John 13:16-20 (ESV) 16 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. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
I am not speaking of all of you, I know whom I have chosen. There was one there, who although he looked the part, although he played the part, he had rejected Christ’s love and was about to betray him. But for those who are his, who follow his command, the third observation is for you.
Jesus promised a reward for us to experience
This observation is important, but hardly primary because this is merely a byproduct of sacrificial service. The reward is certainly not the motivation or the means we sacrificially serve one another, but we need to understand nonetheless.
17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Such a simple statement, that carries so much weight for us today.
Blessed- Jesus often used this word in conjunction with obedience to his words. The word is actually ‘supremely blessed’ If you look at this Greek word, it means happy, or happier. This is counter-culture, in that the world says the way to happiness comes from what we receive, from ‘making it to the top’, from ‘having someone wait on you or serve you’. Jesus turns that on its head for his followers.
I think this is what gives Paul the confidence to say later (Acts 20:35 (ESV) 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”) We do not have those exact words recorded for us in scripture, but surely we see their truth represented here.
For the church, we remember that to follow Christ is to lovingly empty ourselves in the service of others knowing the truth that the more we give, the more we sacrifice in the pursuit of following Jesus, the sweeter the day we meet him face to face will be. You don’t have to worry that if you sacrifice for others you will somehow lose in the equation. Not in the kingdom of heaven. True happiness and contentment, the things the world longs for are found, not in gaining and being served, but in giving and serving others.
Sacrificial service is a core value of the church, given to us by the Lord Jesus himself when he provided a model of it for us to imitate, when he proclaimed the command for us to follow, and he promised a reward for those who do it.
Meaningful membership coupled with generous giving and sacrificial service is what takes the church body from a club to a community. Philip Yancey says,
“Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.”
Sacrificial service is hard work, but worthy work as modeled by our Lord Jesus.