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John 13:12-20 Following the Example of our Lord

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Sunday, November 2, 2008 – Communion Sunday

Following the example of our Lord

John 13: 12-20

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

John 13:14 NIV


Would you please stand for the reading of God’s word? Please join me in reading aloud together from John 13:12-20 (NIV)

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 I tell you the truth, 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.

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’

19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.
20
I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts Me; and whoever accepts Me accepts the One who sent Me.”

May God bless His word as we have read it and as we will soon obey it. You may be seated.

Last week and today, our focus is on Jesus washing His disciples feet just after they had eaten the Last Supper. After washing their feet, Jesus tells His disciples that they are to follow His example and wash one another’s feet. By extrapolation, Jesus has instructed us as His present day disciples to wash feet. So, if we are going to be obedient to our Master’s instructions, we need to know what footwashing is. Do you know?

Maybe you want to tell your neighbor what you think footwashing is? What is it that Jesus wants us to do that qualifies as footwashing? Tell your neighbor.

What is footwashing?

I would like to highlight 6 things that footwashing is.

1. Footwashing is a humble disposition that regularly places the needs of others ahead of our own needs. As such, it’s a constructive way of countering our selfishness. Such a disposition calls for us to spend considerable time with Jesus thinking His thoughts after Him with the goal to gain the mind of Christ. Really, there is no other way for selfish sinners like ourselves to gain this humble disposition. We must absorb the mind and heart of our Lord, particularly through bathing our thoughts in God’s word.

Notice again what Jesus did.

John 13:3-5 (NIV)

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 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.

John 13:12 (NIV)

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.

Jesus understood who He was. He was God in human flesh sent by His Father on a mission to reunite men and women to Himself by breaking down the barriers of sin. However, for Jesus to be obedient to His Father’s commission, He had to lay aside His prerogatives as God in order to take on the nature of a servant in human likeness. By His act of washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was symbolizing with the removal of his outer garments the laying aside of His royal, divine privileges.

Also symbolized by His actions is His return to His position in Heaven when after washing His disciples’ feet He put His garments back on and returned to His seat.

The words of the Apostle Paul in the second chapter of his letter to the church in Philippi is really a commentary on this footwashing event.

Philippians 2:3-9 (NIV)

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name,

Possibly the most outstanding characteristic of Jesus was His humble disposition where He regularly placed the needs of others ahead of His own. He had a heart of compassion for people and it translated into acts of service and messages of hope.

Footwashing as a humble disposition prepares us to make accommodations in our schedule for the needs of others while delaying or sacrificing something in our own schedule. Sometimes footwashing actually interrupts our plans. Sometimes it is an inconvenience and may be something we simply don’t want to do. In other words, were you to be obedient to Christ’s instruction to follow His example, it is highly likely that your schedule will be impacted.

Furthermore, to acquire this humble disposition requires us to think. It requires us to think about why Jesus does what He does to us and for us.

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.

Obviously, Jesus had thought about what He was doing. And, it was important enough that He wanted His disciples to put in some thought about His actions, as well.

It is a humble disposition that regularly places the needs of others ahead of our own needs. Humility is thoughtful love. Humility is thoughtful obedience to our Lord.

Now, rarely are Christ’s actions towards us personally intended to stop with us. They are intended to start a chain reaction bringing blessings to others. Thus, this humble disposition within our Lord who washed our feet calls on us to go as His representatives and regularly put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Jesus has instructed His disciples to follow His example of washing feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

So, in addition to a humble disposition, what else is included in this assignment to wash feet? What is footwashing? I contend that . . .

2. Footwashing is the practice of prayer for believers and unbelievers that removes barriers to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We don’t simply think about the people whose feet we will wash. We need to be praying for them, praying that our act of service will bring with it the blessing of God on their lives. We are not acting independently when we wash feet. This is an assignment we have received from our Lord. And those for whom we will wash their feet have names and addresses, birthdays and other relationships.

The act of washing feet is an act of removing dust from another person’s feet that has accumulated while they were walking on the road. Symbolically, the dust could be the sins that create barriers to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Intercessory prayer can be a means of God breaking down those barriers that are hindering our friends from obeying God in certain areas.

Though our text says nothing directly about prayer, we know that before this evening is over, Jesus will have spent considerable time praying on behalf of His disciples and for those who will become disciples through them. Certainly, Jesus was not limiting His exhortation to follow His example to a narrow list of servant activities.

As a practical application, I suggest we do something like this:

(a) Use the church telephone directory to pray for specific persons and families within our church. Take one of our folders called, Praying for Christians from Scripture. It will help you develop the practice of praying for your Christian brothers and sisters right out of the text of Scripture.

In addition to praying for believers, I suggest that you can wash the feet of those who are weak in their faith or may be unbelievers by praying for them. For instance:

(b) We have a relationship with a handful of families in our community, primarily through our ministry of VBS, where at least one adult has expressed to us his or her desire to come to church, while at the same time acknowledging how difficult it is for them to actually do it. These families need the footwashing of prayer. As we enter the prayer room on their behalf, I believe we will see some of the barriers come down that have been hindering these folks from taking new steps toward Christ.

1. A humble disposition. 2. Intercessory prayer.

3. Footwashing is the second step in showing hospitality when we welcome a person with honor and respect. The first is the invitation to relationship.

In the days of Jesus, it was customary for a servant to wash the feet of anyone entering a house from the dusty roads. It was not merely a way of washing off the dust from the person’s feet, it was a gesture of honor and respect. It was a tangible expression of welcome by the host. Jesus showed that honor and respect by taking the role of a servant and washing His disciples’ feet.

So, when Jesus tells us that we should do as He has done for us, we need to give attention to what will extend honor, respect and a healthy welcome to our guests. What will make them feel at home with us? What service can we do for our guests that will opens our hearts to one another? What will help us engage in conversation that will encourage an increased faith in Jesus Christ?

Implied in this understanding of footwashing as part of showing hospitality, is that we will work to include hospitality as part of our personal ministries.

1. Humble disposition. 2. Intercessory prayer. 3. Hospitality.

4. Footwashing is an act of obedience to our Teacher and Lord to take the role of a servant and messenger.

John 13:13-17 (NIV)

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 I tell you the truth, 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.

Obedience. When Jesus spoke to His disciples about what He had done to them, He told them straight up that they should do as He had done for them. He even added more incentive by saying they would be blessed if they did what He was asking.

But specifically, the context for their obedience appears to be both as a servant and a messenger.

16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

Jesus is their Master and their Teacher. That makes them servants and students, or if the Teacher sends them out, that makes them messengers of what the Teacher has taught.

So, notice the progression. Footwashing involves a humble disposition that regularly places the needs of others ahead of our own. That leads to footwashing as the practice of prayer for believers and unbelievers the removes barriers to a relationship with Jesus Christ. This all prepares the way for hospitality. Footwashing is the second step in showing hospitality through the welcome we give with honor and respect.

Thus, in the context of hospitality, footwashing is an act of obedience combining thoughtful service and a message of hope.

You see, footwashing is all about relationships. Therefore,

5. Footwashing is a way to say, “I would like our relationship with each other and with Christ to go further and grow stronger.”

Jesus is the best glue of any relationship. The more freedom we give to Jesus within our relationships, the stronger our relationships will be. Jesus makes us servants with an eye for the welfare of others. Jesus challenges us when we start down the road of selfishness or pride. These are enemies to strong and healthy relationships.

Do you know why, at the Last Supper, footwashing took place at the end of the meal when it would normally take place upon entrance into the home?

There may be some speculation in this, but it makes sense. Let’s suppose that the disciples were still thinking about what role they might have in Jesus’ kingdom. Now think about this. We’re about to elect a new president. Don’t think for a moment that there aren’t men and women cozying up to the candidates in hopes that were their man to get elected they would get an appointment to a pretty prestigious post in the cabinet.

Well, the disciples had similar thoughts going on in their heads that they very likely carried with them into this special time with Jesus.

Matthew records a conversation Jesus had with the mother of James and John while He and His disciples were making their way up to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Matthew 20:20-21 (NIV)

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him.

21 “What is it you want?” He asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.”

I am of the opinion that the boys put mom up to it. I’m also of the opinion that John conveniently didn’t include this story in his Gospel because of the embarrassment of such pride that he had suggested such a thing.

But, such a discussion involved more than just James and John. Luke records a dispute among the disciples that took place right during the Last Supper.

Luke 22:24-27 (NIV)

24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Is it any wonder that Jesus needed to provide His men with an object lesson on humility? These men were not allowing Jesus to be the glue of their relationships. Rather, they were vying for positions of status and power. And, with that attitude, they entered the Upper Room for this last meal with their Lord. And who among them do you suppose would wash feet as they entered the home with that attitude?

That’s right. None of them. That’s my theory. The disciples bypassed the standard foot washing as they entered the Upper Room because the last thing on their minds was being servants.

Kent Hughes in his commentary on John says, “Usually when there was no servant present to wash the guests’ feet, the first one or two to arrive would perform the ceremony for the rest of the guests. But here the first arrivals were not in the mood. Perhaps the “who’s the greatest?” controversy had actually begun as they journeyed there. They were willing to fight for the throne, but no one wanted the towel! Jesus’ act was a powerful lesson in servanthood, and they were missing the point!”[1]

Pastor Hughes continues, “If we are to count ourselves as followers of Christ, there must be humble service in our lives. We must be people of the towel. More specifically, we are to wash one another’s feet.[2]

For this reason I believe that footwashing is a way to say, “I want our relationships with each other and with Christ to go further and grow stronger. Thus, I will be your servant as I obey Christ. I will put aside selfish and vain ambition and make choices that will be for the best of others.”

My sixth definition of footwashing that I believe completes the picture of footwashing as a relationship building action is this:

6. Footwashing is the thoughtful and gentle asking of questions that requires the humility of a listening ear that builds friendships.

Again, Jesus models this even while He washes the disciples feet. And, He models it afterwards as He engages them with His questions and comments. In fact, I think it’s possible that what we are reading here in John 13 during the footwashing is Jesus gently rebuking His disciples in love. His action is in such extreme contrast to the behavior of His disciples that they couldn’t help but be stunned. If they weren’t stunned at the time, certainly when the Holy Spirit opened their eyes after the resurrection it wouldn’t be surprising to hear them say, “I can’t believe we were that arrogant and insensitive.”

Because footwashing is all about the other person and what he or she needs or what will most benefit that person, I believe that developing the ability and skill of asking thoughtful questions gently is an expression of the intent of footwashing. And, its objective is to build friendships through the humble, listening ear.

Folks, some of the strongest communication of love and compassion is done with a listening ear. Listening ears open doors for the Gospel. Listening ears are a display of selflessness, elevating the needs of the other person above one’s own.

There’s a parallel to this skill of asking people thoughtful questions to the way we engage the Scriptures. I contend that while you develop your skills of asking penetrating questions of Scripture with the desire to really hear God’s voice, those same skills will help you in gently asking thoughtful questions of a friend and waiting intently for their reply.

I often will go to bed with a question on my mind about the sermon text I am working on. I am no longer surprised when I awaken to a new thought and insight into the text. It’s like the questions I wrote on Tuesday have been sitting there like a set of listening ears. Really good questions push us to listen thoughtfully, sometimes even allowing the question to linger and penetrate while being bathed in prayer as God leads us to answers.

Our relationships will benefit from being thoughtful listeners having carefully and gently asked a question with the desire to honor Christ, our Teacher and our Lord.

There you have six actions that reveal that footwashing builds strong relationships with Christ as the glue and the goal.


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[1]Hughes, R. K. (1999). John : That you may believe. Preaching the Word (315). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[2]Hughes, R. K. (1999). John : That you may believe. Preaching the Word (316). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

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