Following Jesus in Serving
Topic: Discipleship Passage: John 13:1–13:17
Years ago my wife and I were part of a convoy of people from our church who were driving upstate for a church retreat. We didn’t know the way so we were following some friends in a van and there was a lot of traffic so we’re weaving in and out of cars to stay with them, when all of a sudden they’re getting off an exit that we knew wasn’t the right exit. This is before the days when everybody had cell phones and could text message and all that stuff, so we can’t contact them and ask what’s up so we just keep following them. And they drive down some streets and then pull into the parking lot of a shopping mall. Now we’re really wondering what they’re up to. We’re following them around in this mall parking lot until finally we are able to pull up to them to ask them why they’re stopping at a mall and as we pull up to ask, we see that it’s not them. We had been following the wrong van for who knows how many miles!
If you’re visiting us this morning we’re talking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and we’ve named this series, Following Jesus because in the end that’s what it means to be a disciple – to follow Jesus. We want to make sure we’re following the Christ of the Bible and not some made up Jesus. The devil would be very happy to have us following a misguided understanding of who Jesus is and have us detouring off the wrong exit and end up in a very different destination from the life of a true disciple. Thankfully, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He is faithful and wise in His leadership of His sheep and through His word and by His Spirit we can see who Jesus is and what He means when He says “follow me”.
This morning we will see that following Jesus means living a life of serving others. If we don’t see serving others as having a significant place in our life, may God’s word help us to “pull up alongside” of Jesus’ command to us to follow his example, because serving others is an essential aspect to being a disciple of Christ.
Following Jesus calls us to a life of serving
So let’s pray and ask the Spirit to guide us this morning and then we’re going to read John 13:1-17
Setting the context
Just to set the context, in chapters 1-12, Jesus’ ministry has been primarily focused on the masses but in chapter 13 Jesus pulls his disciples aside to the upper room where they will share the Passover meal together. This is very personal and intimate time shared between Jesus and his disciples. Many of those who once heralded Jesus have now abandoned him, and even one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, is planning to betray him into the hands of the authorities. Ironically, John records that it is in this intimate setting that Satan solidifies Judas’ resolve to betray Jesus.
While they’re eating the dinner, Jesus takes his robe off, wraps himself in a towel, and begins to wash their feet – and the disciples are shocked and embarrassed. Washing feet was a degrading job that was reserved for the lowest servant in the house to perform. As usual, Peter puts into words what they’re all thinking: Lord do you wash my feet? What do you think you’re doing? Jesus patiently explains that what he is doing Peter doesn’t understand now, but later he will. You will never wash my feet! Jesus answers, If I do not wash your feet, you have no part in me. Needs to happen Peter. Some see in this a picture of all that Christ came to do: he set aside his royal robes of deity and took on the humble form of human flesh, even coming as a servant, to wash us clean of our sin by his death on the cross. Those who refuse to allow Christ to wash them have no part in him.
And when he’s done, he tells them that we are to follow his example and do the same to one another.
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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. John 13:12-15
Following Jesus means we leave the crowded highway of serving ourselves and our own interests first and take a rarely traveled exit marked Serving others. He has given us the example that we should also do as he has done to us.
I. Jesus served as an expression of His love and in the same way our service for one another should be an expression of love
Verse 1 tells us clearly what motivated Jesus to serve: 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.
With the weight of the cross heavy on Jesus’ mind, knowing that he would soon carry the weight of the sins of the world on his shoulders and suffer and die, Jesus loved his own right to the end. Not even the pressure of Calvary could press out the love of Christ for his people. Nothing can ever destroy the love of Christ for his people. Nothing can ever separate us from that love.
From Gethsemane to Golgotha, along the blood—sprinkled road, you see proof that having loved his own he loved them to the end. Not all the pains of death could shake his firm affection to his own. They may bind his hands, but his heart is not restrained from love; they may scourge him, but they cannot drive out of him his affection to his beloved; they may slanderously revile him, but they cannot compel him to say a word against his people; they may nail him to the accursed tree, and they may bid him come down from the cross, and they will believe on him, but they cannot tempt him to forsake his work of love; he must press forward for his people's sake until he can say, "It is finished." ~ CH Spurgeon
There is nothing more precious to the believer than the assurance that we are loved by Jesus. Brothers and sisters, never doubt that you are loved by Christ – or you will be loved until the very end. He knew you before you were born and he loved you. He loves you now. And he will love you when you take your last breath on earth – and welcome you into his kingdom. Jesus’ mission was summed up in serving and that serving was motivated by love. For the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Paul is keenly aware of this which is why he can say, The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
So as Jesus calls us to follow him in serving one another he calls us to do more than imitate his behavior, he calls us to love one another from the heart. This presses on all of us: if we find that we’re not doing much to serve others this presses us to examine, am I still following Jesus? Or did I lose sight of him? But if we are serving, the question still presses on our motivation: are we serving out of love? Do we rejoice when our service really helps someone? Do we find ourselves resenting it if we don’t get “recognized” for our service? It’s not wrong to be recognized, but I’m pretty sure it’s wrong to expect it. Love seeks the good of the other not the recognition.
And the good news is Jesus is right here to help us. Help us where we don’t love. Help us where we don’t serve. We can cry out to Jesus for help and trust him that as we grow in love we will serve, and as we serve we will grow in love. We can’t do it on our own, but our Good Shepherd is here to lead us.
II. Jesus’ response to the greatness of His power and position was to wrap himself in a towel and serve, and in the same way we should seek greatness by humbling ourselves and serving others
It might surprise you to hear me say we should seek greatness, but Jesus is the one who encourages us to unashamedly seek personal greatness. It’s just that how he tells us to seek greatness is not how the world or our flesh would ever lead us to seek greatness. Jesus takes a very different exit, one that has no traffic jams!
Luke records that in the upper room, before the last supper, an argument broke out among the disciples about who was the greatest among them. They were fighting over the pecking order for– each vying for that top spot. God created man with both the desire and the ability to be great – but sin corrupted our definition of greatness to being considered better and higher than others – having more money, more prestige, more power, more fame, more status. Greatness became a mad scramble for the top position – and it didn’t matter who we had to step over to get there.
One of the ways that sin corrupts our service is to turn it inward so that we are openly self-serving. We promote ourselves, thinking that the more we promote ourselves, the greater we become.
But there’s another, more subtle way that sin corrupts our service. Serving others becomes a way we promote ourselves. Our service in the church becomes the way we press ourselves forward. The word “ministry” means service – so ministers are simply servants, but people can turn that into positions that bring personal perks and status. I remember years ago hearing Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel say that no one would ever preach in his church whose hand didn’t fit the handle of a broom. If a person only wanted to serve in high-visibility positions, than he had no place for him.
It’s sad, but people can look at their “gift” as their calling card to status and position in the church, and if a church doesn’t recognize their gift they move on until they find a church that does. As Dave Harvey has said, the church becomes a brokerage of their gift instead of a community of believers growing in love and humble service of one another.
Look with me at vv. 3-4. Jesus knew all authority and power had been given to him by the Father. No name higher, no power greater, no position more elevated. The Father had given all things into his hand. And his response? To take off his outer robe, to wrap himself in a towel and to serve. In a way that was for the lowest of the servants to do: he washed their feet.
And he will tell his disciples that the servant isn’t greater than his master. In this case no one is greater than the master – God IS the definition of greatness – and serving others flowed FROM his greatness, not in spite of it. So if we are to seek greatness we must follow Jesus in a life of serving. There is no other road to true greatness.
Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10:43-44
This is a rebuke to the disciples who were scrambling for the first place in line – Jesus reverses the order of the line and the first are suddenly the last and the last are suddenly the first. If you want to be first, take the last place – become the slave of all. Lower yourself below all others and you will be exalted above all others.
Humbling ourselves and serving others is the path to greatness. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled (no greatness) but whoever humbles himself will be exalted (greatness). Jesus says that those who serve him well will one day hear, well done, good and faithful…servant. Because greatness in the end isn’t defined by being better than others or applauded by others – greatness is the life that honors God and glorifies Him by serving and caring for others. Greatness is being useful and fruitful for God and His glory.
This turns greatness on its head – it means some are chasing greatness on a dead-end road. Rather than greatness at the end of it, emptiness and futility are at the end of it because the life spent promoting itself is an empty useless life in God’s sight.
But it also means that some who think that their lives are pretty meaningless are candidates for greatness:
• The mother of young children who works so hard each day and feels like there’s nothing to show for it.
• The husband who goes to a non-descript job faithfully to earn a living to bless and support his family
• The children’s ministry worker who rarely gets acknowledgement or applause, and often goes home wondering if any of the kids got it.
• The widow who puts in a few dollars in the offering out of devotion to God. The amount is so small it seems insignificant but it represents a great deal to her – and therefore represents a love for God that is great in the eyes of God.
• The teacher who teaches a small class of pretty ordinary looking folk who will probably go on to lead pretty ordinary lives. Not a Billy Graham or Mark Driscoll in the bunch.
Where has God called you to serve? We could spend a whole message on that – I think it’s important to consider two thing: grace and place. Where has God gifted you and where has God placed you. But ultimately we need to be careful that we don’t write serving opportunities off or ignore areas of need because “it’s not my gift”. Serve and serve faithfully.
Jesus’ commendation on that last day commends faithfulness: well done, good and faithful servant. When you take a job – whether a serving opportunity in the church or a job or an effort to serve a friend in need – be faithful. Some people you can give a task to and they are faithful – you can depend on them. And there are others that simply aren’t as dependable. Their intentions might be every bit as good as the faithful persons, but their follow through lacks faithfulness. Be faithful. If you’re not faithful in small stuff, you’ll never be trusted with bigger stuff. That’s not me – that’s Jesus saying that.
Jesus is our great example. Out of love he wrapped himself in frail human flesh and became a servant – all the way to the cross to die for our sins. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. And he calls us to follow him. One of the signposts that tells us we’re still following the biblical Jesus is that we’re living a life of serving others. All people, but especially the household of faith.
Wrap yourself in a towel and serve. As unto the Lord, for the glory of God, and for the good of others. And you will be great, because you will be imitating our Lord Jesus Christ.