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Sermon on John 13:1-17

Theme:  Christians have been commissioned by Christ for humble service.

Goal:  to motivate Christians to accept their commissioning to be humble servants

Need:  Christians often fall short of serving humbly.


1.       Introduction:  How we don’t serve humbly

2.      Christ’s washes so that humble service shows the full extent of his love.

3.      Christ washes to symbolize the washing away for sin.

4.      Christ washes to give the example of how disciples are to live

5.      Conclusion:  Go wash.



  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Do you know where that quote is from?  I read it the first time when it was put as the status by one of my facebook friends.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  It’s by a guy named Ghandi.  I feel challenged by the line because it captures so much of what is wrong with me and you might feel the same way.

          All too often we are quick to notice what things that need to be changed in the world.  We see that the environment is being destroyed by our love for things like oil and plastic and disposable diapers, yeechs, and the benefit of doing things the easy way.  It bothers me.  I am sure it bothers many of us when we stop to think about it. 

          We see people who are caught in downward cycles of poverty.  We see that people are going hungry on the other side of the world or even right here in our own town.  We know that in poverty people often turn to drugs and alcohol or prostitution.  Then you hear of children who grow up in homes like this.  Homes with parents too drunk to answer the door.  Too wasted to clean up themselves much less the mess around the house.  We wonder how such a big problem in the world.  I see these sorts of things and we wonder in what way have I really helped out. 

          Be the change you want to see in the world. 

          The words might have been spoken by Ghandi, but the concept came from a more reliable teacher.  Jesus Christ.  In the chapter that we read for this morning, we need to realize that Jesus is passing something important on to his followers.  He is showing them how he wants them to influence the world around them.  He is showing them the attitude it takes to be a follower of Jesus.  He is showing them what is at the heart of true morality, being a good person in the only sense of the word.  Jesus bows down to wash his disciples feet to leave them with something concrete, something they have experienced, so they know how they can be a part of the changing of the world.

          As we look at this awesome moment we need to pay special attention to how Jesus washed his disciples feet to change our lives so that we could change our world.  Jesus washed to change our lives so we could change our world.


          First what we hear in the passage is that Jesus washes his disciples feet to show the full extent of his love.  Jesus humbly washes their feet to show the full extent of his love.  We hear this at the end of verse 1.  The full verse goes like this “1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

          The full extent of his love!  That’s a pretty huge package to be wrapped up in one little action of washing feet.  Its powerful just to think about that.  The God who is defined as love.  God is love right.  The God who is defined as love has taken on human flesh in Jesus Christ.  And the passage says at this moment.  Right here and now God, the very definition of love, is going to show the full extent of his love.  He’s going to push his love to the limits.  God’s going to make clear to everyone what that love consists of. 

          The fullest extent of Christ’s love includes this humble act of washing his disciples feet.  It also includes the events that follow soon after the washing of the disciples feet.  The full extent of Christ’s love includes his betrayal, his persecution, his unjust death for our sins.  It includes the  miracle of Easter where Christ defeats death for us.  His ascension into heaven.  His sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  All of those things put together makes for one great big humongous showing of the definition of love by Jesus Christ.

          So quickly we can be amazed at the marvelous parts of Good Friday, Christ death, and Easter, his coming back to life.  We have to be careful not to fly right past the moment where Christ strips down to his undergarments.  Puts a towel around his waist and washes the filth off the feet of his disciples. 

          The real humility in this is almost hard for our generation today.  We don’t know what slavery is like.  We don’t really know what it would look like for many households to have a low level slave.  Perhaps in the days before emancipation and the civil rights movement.  But today we really don’t have a sense of what sort of degrading it would be to take on the role of a servant.

          But in order to understand what Christ did for his disciples we need to understand that step down, that humility.  By taking putting a towel around his waist and preparing to wash his disciples feet he took on the job of a gentile servant.  In Jewish households, they wouldn’t even let the Jewish hired servants do the job of washing feet.  That was for the scum of the earth.

          Jesus stepped down.  He washed feet.  He humbled himself as low as he could go to show the greatest extent of his love.  The greatest extent of his love would bring him lower down as well.  Down to the cross.  Cursed by God.  Down to the grave.  Down to death itself.  Down down down is the fullest extent of the love of Christ.

          That’s the love for his disciples and that’s the love for all those who put their trust in Christ alone. 

          He did more in this feet washing than show the fullest extent of the deepest love in the universe.  He gave a symbol of what Christ’s love effectively does for us.  The love of Christ isn’t just a nice cuddly, oh he loves me sort of happening.  The love of Christ effectively takes washes us clean just like he washed the disciples feet clean.

          Perhaps our hearts are a little bit like some gross looking feet.  Anyone want to see my feet.  Oh, its gross.  But our hearts are often callused and hard.  And DIRTY.

          Anyone remember playing outside as a kid with your shoes off. That’s nice and pretty clean.  Your mom was happy to have you come into the house like that, right? Nope.

          When sin gets us it gets ground in and gross in our lives.  It needs to be scoured and scrubbed away.

          Jesus Christ, gives that to us.  He says, your heart may be black as asphalt, but he is going to wash us clean.  In fact, Jesus washing the feet of the disciples gives much more power to what we see when a child or an adult comes to be baptized. The water placed on them is a sign that Jesus Christ is into the washing business.  He is going to clean you right up and make you ready.  It is through the washing by Jesus Christ that we belong to him and receive the full extent of his love.

          When Peter tells Jesus to get away from his feet, (oh here we go with this Peter bashing again.) Jesus rebukes him in verse 8-98“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

          We understand.  Jesus washed the disciples feet to show us that he effectively washes away the grime of sin from our lives.  No one else can do it. We can’t stand in dirt before God on judgement day.  Jesus washes clean those who sin.

          So, Jesus washes the feet to show the greatest extent of his love: stooping down to serve. Jesus washes the feet to show he has the power to wash away sin. 

          The last part of the passage reminds us of something that we know but constantly need to be reinvigorated by.  Jesus washes the disciples feet to give them an example of how what followers of Christ must do for others.  Jesus washes the disciples feet to give them the example of how Christians are supposed to love others. 

          In our passage, verses 12-17 we find Jesus explaining to the disciples why he washed their feet.  In the explanation is a charge or a commissioning for them as followers.  Let look at verses 14-17 again.

          14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

          “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you.”  The whole feet washing bit, it was to show what a good person really does with their life.  He shows what a good person does with their life.

          Today there are many people who claim they have an idea of how Jesus wanted us to treat people.  Some people will say that Jesus taught us just to be good people.  To treat people well. Just to do the right thing.  That is partially right.  For the whole story we need to listen to what Jesus is saying.  And here it is.

          If you want to be the good person that you say you are, then get off your duff and go serve someone.  Get up and be the change that you want to see in the world.  Get up.  Actually get down.  Get down and because the people that Christ calls us to serve are not the ones at the top. They are the ones who are at the bottom.  We are called to serve the ones who are down and out.  The ones who don’t have it all together already.  That’s the person we are supposed to serve.

          How do we do that?  That’s a whole different question.  The first step is in the support of the organizations that do fabulous work for those who don’t have enough.  The Trenton Food bank.  The pregnancy and Family Care Centers.  The Belleville Mission.  The Salvation Army.  Operation Manna that the deacons are inspiring us to pay attention to today is helping us bend down and serve to the fullest extent of our love.  So we can support Operation Manna. But Christ never said to his disciples, make sure you support organizations or committees that are good at serving others.

          Jesus said, you, follower of mine.  Because I did this because I showed my love.  Because I bent down and washed your feet.  Because by sheer grace I saved you.  Now its your moment.  Bend down.  Serve in a new way.  Reach up and out together in love in a new way.  Jesus assures us, if you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


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