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Lord, are you going to wash my feet? (and Psalm 41)

March 29, 2018, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (John 13:1-20, Psalm 41:1-13) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: John
Preached at a Maundy Thursday service

Tags: John, Messianic, 约翰福音

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Title: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Date: 29th March 2018
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

John 1: 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
If Jesus is the Word, then what is the message? The message is that God cherishes his relationship with us so much that he has come to sacrifice himself for us. This was the true purpose of Jesus' coming. (John 12:27) The message of the sacrifice and death of God was hard to accept at that time, almost impossible and unimaginable. Yet it must be communicated. In fact, what was considered shameful to men is the glory and honour of God. Jesus dying is God fully revealed. The message is about God who suffers for the sake of his people. But how would Jesus communicate this sacrifice? How would Jesus show that this is the way the Father loves? Actions speak louder than words. Jesus made his message concrete, by washing his disciples’ feet.

“Most footwashing in the ancient world was a menial task. It involved washing off not just dust and mud but also the remains of human excrement (which was tipped out of houses into the streets) and animal waste (which was left on country roads and town streets). The task of doing this as an act of hospitality to honour guests was therefore normally assigned to slaves or servants of low status, particularly females, so much so that footwashing was synonymous with slavery. On rare occasions in ancient literature it is depicted as an act of loving service, performed by a daughter or wife for a father or husband. What makes this account so extraordinary is that there is no parallel in extant ancient literature for a person of superior status voluntarily washing the feet of someone of inferior status. Jesus’ act therefore represented an assault on the usual notions of social hierarchy, a subversion of the normal categories of honour and shame. (But for us it is even more shocking than this.) It is not just an honored teacher who is performing a shameful act but a divine figure with sovereignty over the cosmos who has taken on the role of a slave.”[1] Jesus made his message of divine sacrifice concrete, by washing his disciples’ feet.

“Nordstrom is an American departmental store known for outstanding customer service. For Nordstrom’s strategy to work, it must transform its frontline employees into customer service zealots. And such employees do not walk in the door that way. Most people with service experience come from environments where managers spend much of their energy trying to minimize cost. The prevailing schema of customer service might be roughly, ‘Get customers in and out of the door as fast as possible, and try to smile.’ The company solves this problem, in part, through unexpected stories. (The story of an employee) who cheerfully gift-wrapped products a customer bought at Macy’s (another American departmental store). (The story of an employee) who refunded for a set of tire chains – although Nordstrom doesn’t sell tire chains. You can imagine the surprise, if not shock, that these stories provoke in new Nordstrom employees. These stories attack the unspoken assumptions of customer service, such as don’t waste your time on someone who’s not buying. Nordstrom could simply tell his employees that its mission is to provide ‘the best customer service in the industry.’ This statement might be true, but unfortunately, its sounds like something that (other departmental stores like) JCPenney or Sears might also tell its employees. To make a message stick, you’ve got to push it beyond common sense to uncommon sense.” [2]

Brothers and sisters, Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is pushing it beyond common sense to uncommon sense. This is the message of who God really is: God was fully revealed on the night of the footwashing. Jesus the Lord demonstrated with the actions of a slave, the degree to which God is willing to sacrifice for us. We know God loves his people. But this footwashing immediately goes beyond our common sense as to the degree God is willing to love. This footwashing is about the humility to suffer for the sake of others. [3] This is Jesus’ way of revealing God. Can you accept it? If you like your worldview in neat and tidy structures, then you might reject this God. God should always be high and mighty, and he should remain that way and solve everything that way. The remote-control-wish-fairy God does not need to get down and dirty in the midst of my sin and shame and all the troublesome mess in my life. Just flick your magic wand as and when necessary whenever I call. Peter made a lot of sense when he said, “You shall never wash my feet.” (13:8) You are the master; I am the disciple. You are God; I am a human with the occasional prayer of petition. Let us keep that separation and our lives can stay unchanged.

But that’s not the Father that Jesus knew. Jesus would know that, since we were told in the beginning he knew about his impending death. He also knew the way the Father loves. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (13:1) And so Jesus answered (frankly and directly), “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (13:8) The way Jesus would relate to his disciples would be to serve and sacrifice for them. This would define the relationship with such a God. If you reject his sacrifice, then of course you have nothing to do with him. That is the Father that Jesus knew. He is not a conceptual God. He is not an official title. We are connected because of the sacrificial love for one another. Jesus can even serve you as a slave would, and he would even die for you. There is a famous song (by Meatloaf): I would do anything for love (But I won’t do ‘that’). With this footwashing, Jesus was saying: I would do anything for love, I would even do ‘that’. Without the acceptance of such a love, there can be no relationship.

Before you accept this love, Jesus continued: 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. In revealing the God who acts in sacrificial love, this is the same God who demands mutual sacrificial love among his disciples. Just as God loves us, we are to love one another. Whenever the disciples think about love, they remember the night my master washed my feet. Whenever they think about sacrifice, ministry and serving, they remember the night my master washed my feet. Even if they quarrel, we know from the Bible that Peter quarrelled with Paul, Paul quarrelled with Barnabbas, they will remember the night my master washed my feet. It is the same for us. You might be used to saying: I would do anything for love (But I won’t do ‘that’). With this footwashing, from now on you should be saying, I would do anything for love, I would even do ‘that’.

Do you even know how crazy God’s love is? Jesus even washed Judas’ feet! That is a reminder from John in the beginning, 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. And then at the end, 18 But this is to fulfil this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ This verse is taken from Psalm 41:9. And so on a night with a message about foot-washing, I must tell you about the story of Psalm 41 to tell you the extent to which the servants of God must sacrifice. This is a crazy world. And you need to see this clearly, before you commit to God’s crazy love.

Psalm 41 is about a king who cared for the needy. Psalm 41: 1 Blessed are those who have regard for the weak. Just like Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet, this king was a caring and responsible king, willing to humble himself to serve others. But even a servant of God would have their moment of weakness. One day, this king fell sick. You would think that since this king was such a loving king, he would be taken care of by the people he loved. But unfortunately, this is a crazy world. In Psalm 41, we read the verse quoted by John about Judas Iscariot. 9 Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. The sick king was rejected by his enemies and even betrayed by someone close to him. This is a stark reminder to all of us about this crazy world, that when we serve others, it doesn’t guarantee that they will repay us with kindness. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet, knowing fully well that he would be betrayed by Judas.

So if Jesus served others not for the sake of being appreciated by others, if Jesus served as a lowly servant knowing that his love would be betrayed, why are we advocating this crazy love? We do it for the sake of God. I believe this is why John wanted to remind us about Psalm 41. Our hope is in God.
10 But may you have mercy on me, Lord;
raise me up, that I may repay them.
12 Because of my integrity you uphold me
and set me in your presence forever.
In the end, it is God who shall be the vindication of his faithful servant. It was God who raised Jesus up from the dead. And it is God who seats Jesus at his right hand forever. “The royal one is betrayed, and by a man who ate bread with him; and the prayer holds on to hope in God’s purpose.” [4] This is why I need to tell you the story of Psalm 41. Tonight, I encourage all of you to be faithful servants of God. You might even have to wash Judas’ feet. But in doing so, know that God is your true reward, and the one who will be your saviour at the end of time.

You might be wondering: Isn’t it already our salvation when we accept God as our saviour? Why the need to love one another? Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” This is the same for us. Unless we wash one another’s feet, we have no part with one another. So that we don’t just remember the night my master washed my feet. We will also remember the days and nights we washed one another’s feet. The footwashing is only an example, so we don’t need to start a footwashing campaign in Jubilee. But the moment we serve one another in humility is the moment when we truly become one family.

This is my vision for Jubilee Church. That we become a life-giving church. The good shepherd took on the actions of a slave to show what it means to love. It is an example so that we too know how to love one another. I like the word “life-giving”. Because it describes what we are giving lovingly to one another. It is not free time. It is not spare change. It is life that we give. On the other hand, “life-giving” also describes what is being received in love. When we give life, others receive life. It may be the courage to live on. It may be the support to make it through. It may be the faith to believe. One thing is for sure though. We once gathered as strangers. But because we are willing to be life-giving in this community, we become a part of one another. Tonight, we reflect on the sacrifice of God. Let that be our vision to also live a life of sacrificial love.

Jesus says in John 13: 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me. When we willingly wash the feet of another person, it is how we show our acceptance. But we do it, because we are doing it to Jesus, and even to God himself. Matthew 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ So, let’s serve in humility those whom God sends our way, accepting them as if we are receiving Jesus the King himself. We do it not for earthly gratitude. We might even be betrayed. But we continue to serve with this crazy love, knowing that God will not betray us. Our reward is in God.

[1]The Black’s New Testament Commentary, the gospel of John, p 367
[2]Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick, p 73-74
[3]This footwashing is not about spiritual cleanliness. As Jesus replied to Peter, there are those that are clean, and those who are not.
[4]John Eaton, Psalms for Life, pg. 103

John 13:1–20 (Listen)

13:1 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. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 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, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

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. 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.”

(ESV)

Psalm 41 (Listen)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

41:1   Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
  the LORD protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
  The LORD sustains him on his sickbed;
    in his illness you restore him to full health.
  As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me;
    heal me, for I have sinned against you!”
  My enemies say of me in malice,
    “When will he die, and his name perish?”
  And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
    while his heart gathers iniquity;
    when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
  All who hate me whisper together about me;
    they imagine the worst for me.
  They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
    he will not rise again from where he lies.”
  Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10   But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
    and raise me up, that I may repay them!
11   By this I know that you delight in me:
    my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12   But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
    and set me in your presence forever.
13   Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting!
      Amen and Amen.

(ESV)