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The Night my Master Washed my Feet

Sermon passage: (John 13:1-20) Spoken on: April 17, 2014
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: John

Tags: John, 约翰福音

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

John 13:1-20 约翰福音13:1-20的讲道

Our sermon series on John often felt like the exploration of a labyrinth. We were on an investigative journey to know Jesus. As seasoned expedition members would say, the preparation of a journey is as important as the exploration itself. And so, we calibrated our directional tools. We did a background check on our guide. We steadied ourselves for a lengthy 5 month mental ordeal. With stringent interrogations as our method of justification, and a heavenly local lad, John the Baptist, as our reliable pathfinder, we ventured forward, looking into rooms within rooms, opening doors behind doors, in search for the truth. I wish I can report that our preparations made it smooth-sailing. That was not to be. We were assaulted repeatedly with piercing questions. How can you really know? What can you really tell? What does it really mean? What did he really say? “Really” is a key word. Who is Jesus, really? [1]

John does not recount the temptation of Jesus in his gospel. Yet his narrative was such that the grilling of Jesus’ identity was present throughout his ministry. In the process, the confrontational stance of Jesus and his stark self-revelations proved especially daunting for truth-seekers. The truth seemed beyond our reach. Those who would listen couldn’t understand. Those who would understand couldn’t believe. Those who would believe couldn’t commit. Those who would commit couldn’t endure. There was an episode that encapsulates the sentiments of earnest followers of Christ. (John 13:36-38) 36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! Jesus’ reply was a wake-up call to all of us. Can we really follow Jesus to the very end? In our process of investigating and discovering Jesus, some passages were so heavy laden, it seems we’ve bitten off more than we could chew. If we truly know Jesus, we might disown him before we know it.

The journey has taken an unexpected turn. (John 12:30-33) 30 Jesus said, “31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. It’s good that we have the fervor of Peter. “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” We want the truth. But cheesy as it sounds, we can’t handle the truth. It is difficult to comprehend a messiah who was going to die. In the labyrinth of seeking the truth, we come face to face with the problem of death. It looks like a dead end. I’m not sure how many of us can move on if the way forward is to die. This is one of the many ways why this journey of knowing Jesus is so demanding. [2]

So far, I’ve painted the human side of this exploration. But that’s not the complete picture. This process of knowing is a dynamic interaction between both parties. We are seeking Jesus just as Jesus is simultaneously revealing the truth to us. However, Jesus in his revelation has his own set of problems. We might think nothing of the difficulties of revelation. Philip says it plainly, perhaps for all of us. (John 14:8) Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” If Jesus’ purpose was to reveal the Father, what would be the obvious thing to do? Isn’t it simply to just show him to us, and that would be it?

When I was young, there was a drama series version of Journey to the West. The Monkey had to battle some demons in 车迟国. [3] It was a competition for the king to see who had the power to summon the rain. The tiger demon tried but failed. So the king asked him why he failed. The Tiger gave the excuse that the Dragon was not at home. The Monkey then successfully made it rain. The Tiger then disputed that it wasn’t the Monkey that made it rain, but it was he. He argued that the Dragon came home late, and just saw the Tiger’s petition. So that’s why the rain was delayed, but it was his rain request that was successful. So how would you resolve it? The Monkey said that if the Tiger really had the connection with the deities, then he should ask them to reveal themselves, which of course the Tiger couldn’t. Then the Monkey called them. And all the deities from the wind, thunder, lightning and the four dragons all revealed themselves, waving in the sky to the king. The king was very pleased to see actual deities and the Monkey won that round. Till this day, I still have this mental image of these rain deities peeking out from the clouds and waving their hands.

This is one of Jesus’ biggest hurdles in terms of revelation. Amidst all the arguments and debates with the Jewish leaders over his identity, even to the point of threatening his life, we can’t quite appreciate the level of Jesus’ communication difficulties. We would’ve resolved it like the Monkey by calling the Father to just reveal himself and settle the argument once and for all. As Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Perhaps the Father can just reveal himself by peeking out from the clouds and giving us a friendly wave. Jesus would say, “See? I told you so.” And the gospel would be a lot shorter than what we have now. But Jesus couldn't, because that’s not the Father. He’s not an old man in the sky hiding from us. That would be convenient, but that would also feel a little creepy. Instead, what is consistently the biblical witness is that God’s revelation comes in the form of his word. That is the way God interacts with our world.

The world was created by his word. The promise to Abraham was expressed by his word. The laws to Israel were his words through Moses. The judgment to the kingdom was his words through the prophets. This is who God is. He reveals himself through his word. It is his will that is important, not his form. So far these are still familiar to the Jews. But to properly restore the relationship once and for all, God took a step beyond imagination. The word became flesh and dwelled amongst us. Jesus became the full expression of God. He reveals who God is. He is God coming in person. This is how Jesus answered Philip’s request to be shown the Father.

John 14: 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

This is the crux of the matter, and the underlying truth throughout the gospel of John. Jesus is the word made flesh. While the world wants to see God, Jesus was at pains to explain that he is already the full revelation of God. Because he is the word, he is the living water and the daily bread we need for life. Because he is the word, he is the way and the truth to the Father. Because he is the word, his works are the creative and redemptive works of God. But if you were Jesus, how do you reveal that you are the word made flesh? How do you challenge the paradigm that God is not a deity in the sky, and that his word and his will can be manifested in human flesh? Through the sermons in John, we listened to his testimonies, we heard his witnesses, John the Baptist and the Father himself. We examined the works, his signs which even include the resurrection of Lazarus.

But is the concept itself too far-fetched for belief? Perhaps. In John 10: 31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” 33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” The difficulty of Jesus’ revelation was that it would be blatant blasphemy, unless it was the truth. If it was not the truth, then he must die. How can this truth be tested then? Jesus knew the answer. He died for the truth. And on the third day, the truth was validated and vindicated by the Father raising him from the dead. In the labyrinth of knowing Jesus, only when we brave the passage of death to witness the resurrection, then can we arrive at the confirmation to ascertain the true identity of Jesus. He is truly the word made flesh. He is God with us.

If Jesus is the word, then what is the message? The message is that God cherishes this relationship so much that he has come to sacrifice himself for us. This was the true purpose of Jesus' coming. (John 12:27) If the earlier message of Jesus as the revelation of God was hard, the message of the sacrifice and death of God would be even harder to accept. Yet it must be communicated. In fact, what is considered shameful is glory and honour. Jesus dying is God fully revealed. The message of the word is about God who suffers for the sake of his people. We know the familiar verse in John 3: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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.” [4]

American company “Nordstrom is a departmental store known for outstanding customer service. For Nordstrom’s strategy to work, it must transform its frontline employees into customer service zealots. And they 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.” [5]

Brothers and sisters, this is God revealed on the night of the footwashing. Jesus the Lord demonstrated with the actions of a slave, the degree in 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. [6] 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.” 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.” And so Jesus answered (frankly and directly), “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 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. There are some people we connect on an intellectual level. We know one another, and we know how we think. There are some people we connect on an official level. We know one another’s social status, and we treat one another accordingly. But this is not the Father 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.

But do not be too quick to accept this love. Sometimes in our enthusiasm for evangelism, we preach only half the gospel, and end up with a church of needy people. 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, Peter quarreled with Paul, Paul quarreled with Barnabbas, they remember the night my master washed my feet. It is the same for us. You might 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’. But why? Isn’t it already our salvation when we accept God as our savior? 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 would also remember the days and nights we washed one another’s feet. This 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.

John 10: 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

This is my vision for the 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 in love 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. An important warning I must give: Life-giving may lead to abuse. Some abuse the love of Christians. That is foolishness that you don't have to give in to. Jesus says, 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. Your love and your life-giving is based on your own free will and nobody can take it for granted or judge you. Nobody can demand any footwashing or expect any demeaning acts out of your own free will. Even though it is a caveat, it must be said. However, 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. Every Lent season, we reflect on the sacrifice of God. Let that be our vision to also live a life of sacrificial love.

[1] Or as Pontius Pilate so mockingly asked, (John 18:38) “What is truth?” Note that Pilate was not seeking for the truth. He was being sarcastic. There is no truth. Truth means nothing. To him, the truth belonged to the one with more political power.

[2] The truth is sometimes so elusive that it seems unsearchable. Yet, the truth is sometimes so glaring that it’s too much to bear. But I want to share why I’m still in the hunt. Not only in the trials of knowing the truth, but also in the struggle of accepting the truth. Maybe you’ll like to follow along with me. I’m still intent on grasping and living the truth because I believe in the audacious claims of the gospel. John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. That is an audacious claim from John. Only Jesus has made the Father known. I also believe in the audacious claims of Jesus. John 14:6 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. John 14:9 Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. I’m persevering in knowing Jesus, because Jesus said that is the way to truly know God. It is audacious because in the person of Jesus, we would have the full revelation of God. Perhaps we are no longer moved by its audacity, because Jesus has been idolized into a conceptual figure in our religion. But Jesus was first and foremost a person. Yet this person is the way, the truth and the life. In him, God is made known. This is why knowing Jesus is my pursuit. Maybe you might come alongside and join me too.

[3] 西游记, 第四十五回 三清观大圣留名 车迟国猴王显法

[4] The Black’s New Testament Commentary, the gospel of John, p 367

[5] Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick, p 73-74

[6] This footwashing is not about spiritual cleanliness. As Jesus replied to Peter, there are those that are clean, and those who are not.