On the very last night Jesus was on the earth, that was His heart’s desire. His family, especially the twelve, eleven of the twelve, that after He left they would be connected, they would be authentic, they would be deep. He knew that everything He had lived for, and the next day He was going to die. He knew it all hinged on whether they had deep, authentic, lasting friendships for a lifetime. And so He gives us the secret to how to have those. And you can know it.
Because what He is going to say is that honoring others above ourselves is the acid test of how much we really love one another.
All those “one anothers” that we have heard about? This is sort of the pinnacle. This one cannot be faked. Those others have to be operating but this is the test, the acid test, of how much you love other believers and how much I love other believers.
John 13, follow along as I read the first five verses. “It was just before the Passover Feast, and 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, now, tonight, He showed them the full extent of His love.
“The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God, so,” since He knew those three things, all things under His power, He came from God and He’s going to God, since He knew, notice the application, “so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and He wrapped a towel around His waist.
“After that He poured water into a basin and He began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” Now, if you have never read or been exposed to the New Testament, you might be thinking, “Well, this is unusual. I guess that’s, maybe that’s how they did it back then.” Huh-uh. Let me give you a little background so you understand what’s going on here.
When you would go into a room, they would have a large basin, sometimes three or four feet high, actually, and it would have water in it. And there would be a little bowl and there would be a towel.
And there are about three or four levels of servants in the New Testament culture. A bondservant, or the lowest of the servants, this was his job. The lowest of the low. They would hire servants and then they would hire servants to serve them, and then they had another layer and this was them.
And when you would walk in, your feet would be dusty and it was not only cultural but it was a sanitary issue. And so then they would wipe your feet and dry them off.
The other thing about this is as you would come in this room, there was a low table about like this and they would eat around a low table, ancient Near East, and there would be pillows around, and so you would kind of lean. You hear the stories of the Last Supper and Jesus is leaning and it’s because the table is real low and you would lean with these pillows and you could talk to one another, but that also meant that certain people’s feet were near other people’s face.
So, this idea of washing your feet was not just like a cultural deal. It was like, you know, “You clean your feet, I’ll enjoy my meal.” So, here’s the situation: The twelve are walking in and they have been sent ahead on purpose. As you read the other gospels, they had an argument on the way.
What a discouraging thought for a teacher. You have been teaching these guys three years, they’ve seen the miracles, they have seen You raise people from the dead, they have heard all the sermons You’ve ever given, and on the last night You are with them, what are they doing? They are arguing about what? Who is number one? Who is number one? Pete says, “It’s me!” James says, “No, it’s me!” I mean, they are just at each other’s throats!
And so they walk in after this argument about who is the most honored, who should be recognized, who should get a title behind their name, who is the most powerful, who is the most esteemed, who should everyone else look up to? That’s what honor is all about. Who should be the most recognized, who should be the spokesman?
And they walk in and then it’s a familiar scene, they’re going to have the Passover meal, they know all about the story, but there’s no servant. Well, these guys are so arrogant, they not only don’t wash their own feet, they don’t wash each other’s. And you know the dynamic of the room must have been just incredible.
The first guy walks in, “Hey, no servant.” He’s got a decision to make. “Am I going to do my own? No, I’ll wait for one of the lower level disciples to come in and take care of me.” Right?
Well, he waits and no one gets it. One, two, three, four, five, six, twelve. Now, they are all sitting around this table, they all know what’s going on. And their pride is being revealed by what’s between their toes.
Now, Jesus, being very secure, not needing position, not needing power, not needing a title realized… see, the sign of a good teacher is that people learn. It’s not how well you say something. And His goal was that they would learn.
He is going to give them the most powerful snapshot, I believe, they ever received. Because they knew who He was. And He did something that was just outlandish to them. So much so that one of them, the ringleader Peter, would just bury, I think, his hands in his face and just go, “Oh, no, why didn’t I, I would have gladly washed everybody’s feet than…” He was absolutely humiliated when there was only person that they all knew shouldn’t wash anybody’s feet. And that was - Jesus. And He got up and did it.
He was honoring them above Himself. The acid test of your love toward other believers, where the encouraging, the admonishing, the devotion to one another, you know where it comes out? Where it comes out on the street level for you and for me is when we honor others above ourselves.
The slice of pie that we deserve, the limelight that we deserve, the recognition that we deserve, the attention that we deserve – you willfully step back and you give that to someone else. Jesus said He was revealing the full extent of His love.
Well, He moves now from the example to the teaching time. Notice verse 12, we pick it up, “When He had finished washing their feet He put on His clothes and He returned to His place,” I bet you could hear a pin drop.
Now, can you imagine being there and you’re thinking, “Oh man.” It’s not like they haven’t heard this message before. “‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ He asked.” Translation: “Guys, do you get it? I mean, do you get it at all?”
“You call Me Teacher and Lord,” He is identifying His position, “and rightly so, for that is what I am.” He wasn’t disputing the fact, “Am I above you? Absolutely.” Rabbi, Teacher, esteemed position in that day. “And I am Lord, Master, esteemed! You got it right, guys.”
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s.”
“Since I have taken My position and My power in order to honor you above Myself, I just set an example and now I am telling you this is the way we followers of Yahweh treat one another. This is the new Church. How we treat one another inside God’s Church, God’s body, the body of Christ, this is how we function.” Why? Because this is how our leader showed us to function.
You use your position and your power and your wherewithal to wash other people’s feet. Translation: To honor them. “I have set an example, that you should do as I have done for you.” Not an example so that you should know it, not an example so you should memorize it, not an example so you could tell the story.
This is an example for real, live Christians of every age to actually do it. I mean, this is counterculture for them and for us.
He goes on, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” They all agree with that. Now get this, verse 17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed, you will be happy, you will find joy, you will find fulfillment, real satisfaction comes,” how? “if you do them.” If you do them.
Now, what I’d like to do is give you some observations about this, He has just given us a snapshot. He has now given us some teaching. Do you want to have lifelong relationships, do you want to have relationships that will be deep and authentic and last? Then listen to these five observations and He’s going to give us the secret of how to have those kind of relationships.
Observation number one, honoring others is motivated by, I get it right out of verse 1, love. See, something has to happen in your heart. I don’t know about you but if I would have walked in the room and I would have known, as Jesus did, that these guys are arguing about who is being the greatest, and I knew that tomorrow morning they are going to nail me on a cross, I believe I would have lined the guys up and said, “You know what? I’m up to here. I’m ready to check out. You haven’t listened to a single message I’ve got. I am sick of this kind of behavior.”
I wouldn’t have reproved them gently. But He did. He wasn’t down on them. He understood them just like He understands you. And He showed the full extent by giving them - we hate this, don’t we - what they don’t deserve.
I don’t know about you, the only person I want to get what they don’t deserve is me. I see that recognition of laughter. Isn’t it amazing how, in every situation, what do we say? “That’s not fair, that’s not right, that’s not fair, we want justice for everyone except for…” Right?
Jesus didn’t give justice. He was motivated by love. Few things are as hard to give up as our position, control, esteem, and ego to voluntarily serve others. But according to this passage, that’s how He revealed the full extent of His love.
I would have thought, “Oh, the full extent must have been the teaching, it must have been the miracles, it must have been the counseling sessions.” Uh-uh. According to Jesus, the way we express the full extent of our love to other people is when we honor them. Not even equal to, but above ourselves.
The second observation is security in God’s plan allows us to choose downward mobility. Did you notice that’s what He did? Now, humanly speaking He is Lord and Teacher. But beyond humanly speaking, this is the Son of God, fully God, fully man. He spent time in eternity before this being worshipped by angels.
And He not only became downwardly mobile and was born in a little stall of a teenaged girl, walked upon the planet, but now, His last night, they should have been throwing a party for Him and telling Him how great He was! But, see, the way God works it is great leadership is not working your way up to the top until you get to call the shots. God takes that pyramid and He flips it upside down and He says, “The greatest leaders are servants.” People who use their power and position to leverage it to love other people.
Why did He do that? Did you notice verse 3? Why could Jesus do that? And why don’t we? Well, why don’t I? I don’t know that you’re not. Did you notice in verse 3, He knew three things. He knew God had given all authority, all power into His hands, He knew where He came from, and He knew His certain future. He knew where He was going.
See, He knew God’s plan. He knew what God was doing that night, He knew why He was there and how He got there, and He knew for certain where He was going to be. You know what that produces? It produces security.
See, you can become downwardly mobile. The reason I don’t want to be downwardly mobile and most of you, is because we are insecure. And, see, if you work and work and work where people finally think this of you, or you have a good idea, or you do something great, people have got to know about it. They gotta give you recognition, they gotta give you pats on the back, they gotta put letters behind your name, they’ve gotta get you a reserved parking space! You have to drive a certain kind of car, live in a certain area, make so much money, have so many people report to you, have people involved in ministry sing your praises and talk about how wonderful you are, because you’ve worked hard to get there. Right?
It gets kind of convicting when you say it that way, doesn’t it? See, we long to be the one in the limelight, we long to be the person esteemed, we long to be recognized because down deep we think that makes us a someone.
But, see, Jesus was secure, He knew who He was, He knew where He was going, that gave Him the freedom to be downwardly mobile and use His power and His position to love people instead of using those things as badges to tell people He was okay. Do you see the difference?
There’s a gal named Darcy, she’s a doctor, and her husband is a doctor. You know what they do every Saturday night? They choose to be downwardly mobile and the moment the message gets done on Saturday night they go over to another building and they make tapes so that when you walk out, you have one already done. Because they have seen how God passes these tapes around, to all of our amazement, and reaches people.
And so they feel like their veterinarian training has qualified them to make tapes for the body of Christ.
You ought to come in here some Tuesday night and go back into the kitchen. We’ve got people - retired people, young people, old people, people who own their own business, people who have all kind of wherewithal, you know what they do? They do dishes for you. They come here early and they chop up stuff. And then they cook stuff and they feed five, six hundred people.
You know why? They’re choosing to be downwardly mobile, honoring you, why? So the gospel can go out. We’ve got one staff member here, I remember when I was offering him the job and we talked it through with the elders and he was the perfect guy for the job, and then I told him what the salary range for that level of job in a church like this in the Bay Area was.
And then I found out what he made. And then I found out what an awesome opportunity for him to become downwardly mobile. And I’m talking to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. Why? How can people do that? Because they are secure.
See, once you understand God’s plan, who you are in Christ, once you understand you’re going to land in heaven, once you understand what other people think about all those external things don’t mean a thing, then you’re free.
I was with Chuck Luyties and his wife, he’s the man who is dying. And the next day I spent with Paul Graff, he just had cancer surgery, it came through the colon wall. It’s in a couple of the lymph glands, it’s in the fatty tissue, it’s got a couple spots on his liver. An executive with Intel, physicist.
Isn’t it amazing, with both those people, amazing thing, we didn’t have any conversations about what titles they had. We weren’t discussing what year, make, model, or benefit packages they had. Net worth never came up in conversation, how many people report to them or where they have been, what they have done, and who they have impressed never came up.
You know what came up? I remember Nancy Luyties, she said, “You know, one of the things we have learned is we had all the kids around us and friends from this church have just loved us, loved us, loved us. We have learned there are very few things in life that are important. And the things that are have to do with relationships.”
See, that’s what Jesus knew. That’s what Jesus knew. See, when you know God’s plan, you’re secure. And what people think of you doesn’t matter. It allows you to be downwardly mobile.
Third, honoring others begins in a very unique place. It begins with humility. Humility. The very last night Jesus was talking and modeling humility, the apostle Paul, I think the greatest portion of the Christmas message isn’t in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. I think the greatest picture of the Christmas message is in Philippians chapter 2 where what we get is a behind the scenes look at what really occurred on that first Christmas morning.
Philippians 2 beginning at verse 5, the apostle Paul writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “Your attitude, believers, should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” well, what attitude are you talking about? He describes it, verse 6, “[W]ho being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself,” downwardly mobile, “and He became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” See, Jesus is going to teach, when Jesus left, He had lifetime friendships for now and for eternity. And He’s going to teach something: Honoring one another above ourselves is the acid test of how much we love people.
So He says, “You want to see, in your culture, in your time in human flesh, what it looks like to honor you,” and He does the lowest servant’s job to the people who all knew they should be doing it for Him. But long before that, the apostle Paul says, “Let me give you a better picture. Let me give you a bigger picture.”
He said, “For eternity past, in heaven, the Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, perfect relationship, perfect equality, unapproachable light streaming from them before the throne of God, and there is myriads and myriads and myriads and myriads and myriads of angels of all kinds and they are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.”
And Isaiah says that some of the seraphim cover their eyes with two wings because He is so holy, and with two wings they cover their feet. And with the other two they flap. And this honor, majesty, praise to - who? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
In the midst of all that honor, the first step toward your salvation was humility like we never have known. That One who is the object of all worship was born in the stall of a teenage girl to become fully God, fully man, to make the incarnate Christ because when God looked down the portals of time, He saw you and you and you and you and you and you and me and He said, “I love you.”
And the acid test of my love is to honor you above myself. He experienced the ridicule of being a poor child, the ridicule of being a bastard child because they understood that she was pregnant before the marriage, the ridicule of coming from a place called Nazareth where people said, “Nothing good comes out of Nazareth!” The ridicule of being spit upon, beaten, and nailed naked to a cross.
Why? Because He loves you, that’s why. Because He loves you. Do you begin to understand why when you honor others like that, that extreme, that kind of love, that kind of sacrifice, people are attracted to you, people want to be around you?