Servanthood: The Example of Our Humble Lord

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

November 20, 2011

Servanthood: The Example of Our Humble Lord

John 13:1-17


I have been requested to address the topic of serving the Lord, so we are going to delay our study of Daniel 9 one more week. Since this is a Communion Sunday, this is a very good time to address this subject for our Lord taught His disciples about the importance of being servants just prior to instituting the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Please turn with me to John 13.

Let me set the context of John 13 for you in preparation for our study. The apostle John wrote this book near the end of his life, probably before he was exiled to the island of Patmos. This means that John wrote many years after the three other gospel accounts – Matthew, Mark and Luke. John does not seek to repeat what they had already recorded about the life of Jesus, but in a sense he “fills in the gaps” by presenting additional information about Jesus’ life. John records the purpose of his gospel account in John 20:31 saying, “but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

It is easy to trace this theme throughout the book starting in chapter one where Jesus is presented as the “Word” who was in the beginning and was with God and was God (1:1, 14). Receiving Him through belief in His name would grant the right to be called a child of God (1:12). The testimony of John the Baptist in chapters 1 and 3 support Jesus’ claim of deity as do the miracles recorded throughout the book such as turning water into wine (2:1-11), the healing of the lame man at Bethesda (5:1-18), restoring sight to the man born blind (9:1-41), feeding the five thousand (6:1-14), walking on water (6:15-21), and raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-46). John also includes key teachings of Jesus in which He reveals His identity as the promised Messiah such as Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in chapter 3 and the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. John also includes the conflicts Jesus had with the Jewish leaders in chapters 5, 6,7,8, and 10.

As we come to chapter 13, we find that the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders has reached a peak. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they conspired to murder both Jesus and Lazarus (11:53; 12:10). They were hoping to get the opportunity to carry out their plan when Jesus came to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Jesus came into Jerusalem to the acclaim of the people, but in the course of His teaching in the Temple, the hatred of the religious leaders has been further inflamed. Jesus had already foretold His disciples about His coming death (12:27f).

The disciples had made preparation for celebrating Passover in an Upper Room in Jerusalem according to Jesus’ instructions (Mark 14:13f). Passover was a very important feast among the Jews. It still is today. It was commanded by God as a commemoration of His deliverance of them from bondage in Egypt. The meal itself was a reminder of the meal the Jews had eaten the night the Angel of Death went through the land killing the first born in every home except those that had the blood of a sacrificed lamb applied to their doorposts. The angel “passed over” those homes. Passover was a reminder of both God’s judgment and mercy.

Passover with the Disciples. (John 13:1-3)

The scene of this Passover meal is contrary to the famous painting of the “Last Supper” in which Jesus and the disciples sit around a long table. The custom of the time was that the men would recline while they ate. They would usually lay on their left side and eat with their right hand. They would be arranged in sort of a “U” shape around a table with their feet sticking out. The servants would bring the food and remove the dishes through the open end of the “U.”

While we are not sure how all the disciples were arranged at this Passover, we do know that Jesus among His disciples would have taken the position that a father would have taken with his family. Jesus would lead the various ceremonial aspects involved in the supper. From the comments made in the other gospel accounts we know that John would have been to Jesus’ right and Judas would have been to Jesus’ left. Peter may have been next to John or at least situated in a way that he could talk with John without the other’s hearing him. Some commentators conclude that Peter may have been at one end of the table.

In the first section of this chapter, John records Jesus’ heart as He came to this Passover meal. He notes both Jesus’ foreknowledge and describes the events that took place during that Passover meal.

John 13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. 2 And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, [the son] of Simon, to betray Him, 3 [Jesus,] knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God.

Notice that John describes Jesus’ motives as having loved them and striving to love them to the end since He was about to go back to God the Father. What He was about to do with them would be an act of true love. It would not be born out of warm feelings of affection, but rather the true love born of a desire to sacrifice of Himself in doing what is best for His followers.

Too often Christians act like the world because they hold to and act upon the world’s definition of love. True love has little to do with how much you may like or enjoy the company of particular people. God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Certainly Jesus would have had emotions concerning these men He had spent the last three years with, including Judas, but Jesus’ actions would not be born out of emotion. His actions arose out of a deeper love that gives of itself even when facing an extreme situation.

Jesus was well aware of what was going to happen both later that night when He would be betrayed and the next day when He would be crucified. Luke 22:15-16 records that at this point Jesus said “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” This was something that was much on His mind and heart for the hour was now quickly coming upon Him. He had been telling the disciples since Peter’s confession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day (Matthew 16:16,21). Jesus reminded them of this again at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:22,23), and then again just a few days before entering into Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations (Matthew 20:17-19).

I cannot tell you all of the emotions that Jesus would have been feeling at that time. I believe they were mixed because later on this same night we fi
nd Jesus praying that the Father would glorify Him with the Father (John 17:5), so there must have been a longing to depart this world and return to the Father. Yet, only a short time later we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus would press on to do what was right because He knew He had come from God and would be soon return to Him. As Hebrews 12:2 puts it, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Whatever Jesus’ emotions were, He set His heart on continuing to love His own to the very end.

John brings out the great depth of Jesus’ love in pointing out Judas to us. Jesus already knew that the devil had put it into Judas’ heart to betray Him. John makes sure there would be no confusion about the identity of the betrayer by using his full name and lineage – Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. At the time Judas was not suspected in the least by the disciples even after Jesus revealed to them that one of them would betray Him (vs. 21). Judas was the keeper of the money box and as such was trusted (vs. 29), but if the truth had been known, Judas’ heart was set on wealth and he had followed Jesus in the hope of gaining a high position when Messiah instituted His reign. Judas’ character was demonstrated in his stealing from the money box (John 12:6). Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was simply an effort to make a profit when it appeared to him that he would not gain the wealth he wanted by following Jesus.

What is remarkable throughout this whole passage is that all of Jesus’ actions of love are also given to Judas. This proves that Jesus’ love was not born out of fond feelings of affection. Jesus had enough compassion for Judas to give him one final warning as He told the disciples that one of them would betray Him and then added, “The Son of Man [is to] go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). But there would not have been warm feelings of affection for a man who responded to even this with a feigned surprise and disbelief saying along with the others, “surely it is not I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25). Jesus answered Him, “You have said it yourself,” And yet, Jesus had still performed an act of loving service to Judas along with the rest.

The Service (John 13:4-5)

As is still custom today, when people go to an important feast they would clean themselves up and put on nice clothes appropriate for the occasion. However, in ancient Jerusalem people wore open toed sandals and walked on dusty roads. When they would arrive, a servant would wash their feet so that they would be both refreshed and completely clean. But there was a problem here. Apparently there was no servant present that would do that task. Possibly that is because foot washing was considered about as low a task as anyone could have. According to a comment in the Midrash, even a Hebrew slave could not be required to wash people’s feet. Jesus took action to correct the problem.

[Jesus] rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. 5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

What Jesus does here is incredible. Since they have walked into Jerusalem from Bethany, their feet would have been quite dirty. All the disciples were present, but none of them showed any interest in performing this servant’s task. Their interest was in who was the greatest among them which was a point that they often argued about between themselves (Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 9:34) and for which they would soon be rebuked yet again (Luke 22:24f).

It is at this point that Jesus gets up and lays aside His garments. This would be the outer robe and the tunic. Jesus then takes a long linen towel and ties that around His waist. The end of the towel would be used to dry their feet after he had washed them. The scene is now that of Jesus standing before them as would have an oriental slave. He is wearing only His loin cloth with His waist wrapped with a long towel. Paul accurately described Jesus in Philippians 2:7 as “taking the form of a servant.

The disciples are all still reclining at the table while Jesus pours water into a wash basin, showing that there had been preparation made for someone to do the foot washing, and then Jesus begins to wash the feet of each disciple and dry them one by one with the towel around His waist. John’s description is detailed showing the impression this scene left in His mind. Jesus had taken upon Himself the role of the most humble servant.

The Surprise (John 13:6-11)

Perhaps the disciples were not surprised when Jesus first got up, for there is a certain point early in the ceremonial procedures of the Passover supper in which the person heading the supper, Jesus in this case, would rise and wash his hands as part of the ceremony. However, they all must have been astonished when Jesus disrobed and began to wash their feet.

We do not know whom Jesus started with and we do not know the reaction of any of them except Simon Peter. We would hope all of them would be ashamed. Peter responds with a question of shock. John 13:6 “And so He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Peter recognizes the contradiction taking place. The Lord of Glory should not be washing his dirty feet.

Jesus answers him in verse 7, “What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter.” Peter did not understand then, but Jesus assures him that he will in the future. This should have been enough to ease Peter’s embarrassment about what Jesus was doing. Instead, Peter reacts in his own contradictory response. Verse 8, “Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!'” This response is emphatic. A more wooden translation of the Greek here brings this out. It is, “NO! You shall not wash my feet unto eternity.” We can imagine Peter pulling his feet away from Jesus as he said this. Peter recognized the incongruity of Jesus washing his feet and was ashamed, but he does not recognize the incongruity of him telling Jesus what he would and would not allow the Lord to do.

Jesus could have strongly rebuked Peter, but instead gives a very gracious response. Verse 8, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.'” Peter is wrapped up in the immediate while Jesus has the whole picture in mind. Jesus’ answer brings Peter to some understanding of the whole picture. What Jesus is doing is proper for those that are part of Him.

Peter, in his typical pendulum like manner, now responds in the opposite extreme. Verse 9 “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Peter may still not have understood what Jesus was doing, but his love for Jesus is such that if washing his feet means he will have a part with Jesus, then he wanted even more washed so he could have an even greater part with Jesus.

Jesus now gives him a fuller explanation in verse 10 & 11. “Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all [of you.]’ 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.'”

Jesus uses the physical present to explain the spiritual reality. A person who has taken a bath does not need to rebathe because he has walked to the house of the feast. He only needs to have his feet cleaned. The fact that Jesus is talking about more than physical dirt is brought out in His pointing out that not all of them were clean and the comment in verse 11 that this was in reference to the one who would betray Him. In other words, Jesus was not saying that Judas forgot to take a bath before he came to
the Passover meal, but that Judas’ heart was still filled with sin.

The spiritual reality is that Jesus considered them clean expect for Judas. They only needed to deal with the filth that gets on them as they walk in this world. That is point of 1 John 1:9 for it is written to Christians. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is a spiritual reality for us. We need our spiritual feet cleaned as we live in this world.

The devil lies and slanders believers, and at times we may come to start believing those lies and think we cannot be used by Jesus because of the sin in our lives. That is just what our adversary wants us to believe. The truth is that all who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins through His atoning death on Calvary have been cleansed from their sins. Colossians 2:14 describes all the judgments of sin against us have been cancelled and “nailed to the cross.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 describes the sinful lives these people had lived, but in coming to Christ they “were washed . . . sanctified . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . “. So it also is with us. We are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but we still get our feet dirty walking in this world. We confess those sins and are forgiven, cleansed and restored in our intimate fellowship with God.

The Symbolism (John 13:12-17)

Verse 12 tells us that “when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined [at the table] again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?'” Jesus begins to teach them the meaning of the act He had just performed.

Jesus’ Position. First, Jesus makes clear His own position in verse 13, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for [so] I am.” Jesus is both their teacher and Lord. The sense of “teacher” here is more than what we normally accord those with that title here in America. The common Hebrew word for “teacher” is “Rabbi,” which they often specifically called Jesus (John 1:38,49; 3:2; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8). “Rabbi” is derived from “Abba,” meaning “father” or “daddy.” A Jewish teacher, especially a religious teacher was seen in the place of a substitute father and was given all the respect due a father. Jesus was in the place of the father to His disciples even in taking that position in leading the Passover meal. They also recognized that Jesus was their Lord. He was their master and they were to be His servants. Additionally, Peter had already declared on behalf of the disciples that they recognized that Jesus was also deity – “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)

Jesus’ Action. Jesus explains His action in verse 14, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither [is] one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”

It is worth noting that Jesus does not rebuke them or scold them for their selfishness. There is an implied rebuke, but Jesus’ words are a loving positive exhortation. They need to deal with each other in humility and not in pride. Jesus had taught them the principle of verse 16 previously and now He reinforces the lesson with His own action toward them. If Jesus could perform the servant’s role for His disciples, then certainly the disciples could be servants to one another.

Jesus’ Command. Jesus’ command is straightforward that this is an example that He has set for them to follow. Some have taken this to mean that foot washing should be practiced as an ordinance in the church just as baptism and communion are practiced. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having this as a ritual practice as a reminder of the humility by which we are to serve one another, this is not an ordinance. Jesus command here is that we follow His example in doing as He did, that is, we are to be humble servants of one another. It is not a specific command to do what He did as a religious ritual, that is, to literally wash each other’s feet.

Promised Blessing. That this is a command to be repeated in kind and not in a specific ritual is seen in the blessing Jesus pronounces in verse 17, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” The condition of blessing is twofold. You must know these things and then you must do them. “Things” and “them” are plural. If it was only referring to washing feet, then it would be singular and only pointing to one action. The blessings come from first knowing the lessons that Jesus just taught. These include: 1) That Jesus is the Teacher and the Lord; 2) That the servant is not above the master, and 3) Even the Teacher and Lord is humble to do the servant’s work. But knowledge is not enough. You must also do them. You must put into practice Jesus’ example of humility and serve one another. Or to state this very concisely, the practice of humble service brings blessing.

“Blessed” here is the same word used in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). The idea of blessing is not equivalent to happiness, but is rather a reference to being the objects of God’s favor. Blessedness is not a feeling, but a spiritual condition, though it may and should affect the emotions. It is this blessedness that allows the Christian to be at peace and even experience joy in the midst of difficult circumstances which leaves the world scratching their heads at us.

The world does not understand our actions because they do not understand our identity as servants.

The Christian’s Identity as a Servant (Matthew 20:25-29)

This is not the only passage in which Jesus taught this principle. In Matthew 20:25-29 Jesus corrected His disciples in their quest for position and power saying,“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and [their] great men exercise authority over them. “It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

We need to follow Jesus’ example of humility in service to one another. There is no Christian position so high that is it above doing even the lowliest job. Church leadership positions are not about power or control. They are about service. The literal translation of Deacon is a table waiter, a servant. Deaconesses are simply female servants. To emphasize that and reduce any confusion we even call the Deaconesses here the Women’s Servant Council. Paul, an apostle referred to himself as both a bond-servant (douloV / doulos) and as a deacon ( diakonoV / diakonos – which is also translated as “minister” – Colossians 1:23,25).

On occasion I am asked how I put up with the way other people treat me at times. Over the years I have had my share of people that have been rude and disrespectful to me. I am sure most, if not all of you have had similar experiences. From the world’s perspective I have achieved some things that would demand respect and honor. Even within the church there is sometimes the idea that there are some things around the church that the pastor should not do because it is beneath his position. But that is not the example Jesus set. Those of you who have known me for any length of time know that I strive to put into practice Jesus’ commands. I am simply a slave of the living God. Certainly I need to be careful to keep priorities in ministry, but if I am needed to clean floors, wash dishes or unplug toilets, then that is what I do. The slave serves at his Master’s bidding.

You should not be any different, and y
ou will not be if you understand and act upon your identity as a servant of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 13:17, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Is Jesus Christ your Teacher and Lord? Do you identify yourself as a servant of Jesus Christ? Are you following His example? Are you receiving His blessing? I pray that your answer is “yes” to each of those questions, but if it is “no,” then come talk with myself or any of our church leaders. Our desire is to introduce you to the Lord Jesus and show you how you can receive His blessings.

I have included in the bulletin this morning a sheet of service opportunities and suggestion both within and outside the church along with contact information about who can get you started in those areas. I am sure that you can think of even some more things I have not listed. The important thing is that you are serving and developing a heart for such service.

Let me also quickly point out that you do not have to know your spiritual gifts in order to serve the Lord, in fact, you generally only figure out your spiritual gifts by serving in different areas. In addition, your spiritual gifts do not limit your service to only those areas. Our spiritual gifts are to work together so that we learn to mature and serve the Lord in all areas.


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Count how many times the word “service” or “servant” is said. 2) Talk with your parents practical ways you can serve Jesus and others.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the setting for John 13? What events had recently taken place? What do other passages tell us about the preparation for this feast and Jesus’ attitude toward it? Why does John mention the devil and Judas in vs. 3? What were the customs of the time when a feast was being held? How would the guests dress? How would they be arranged? What would the servants do? What role did Jesus take upon Himself in verse 4 & 5. Why didn’t one of the disciples do the foot washing? Why did Peter resist Jesus’ actions in verse 8? Why does Peter respond in the opposite manner in verse 9? What is Jesus’ talking about in verse 10? Who was not clean and why? What was Jesus’ proper position among the disciples? What is the point of Jesus’ command in verse 14? Is Jesus establishing foot washing as an ordinance? Why or why not? What are the conditions that must be met in order to receive the blessing of verse 17? What other passages teach us about the Christian’s nature as a servant? Whose servant is a Christian? In what practical ways do you fulfill that service? How should the Christian respond to other people: to other Christians? to non-Christians? In what practical ways are you serving others? What needs to change? When will you change it?


Sermon Notes – 11/20/2011 –

Servanthood – The Example of Our Humble Lord – John 13:1-17


John 20:31 – The purpose of the Gospel of John: _____________________________________________

Jesus is the eternal _________ who is shown to be deity by testimony, miracles and teaching

_____________by the religious leaders has reached a peak following Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead

Jesus and the disciples are in an upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the _______________

Passover with the Disciples. (John 13:1-3)

Jesus leads the Passover as would a _______with John on His right, Judas on His left and Peter near John

John records Jesus’ foreknowledge and ____________ in verses 1-3

What Jesus was about to do would be an act of ______________, not fond feelings of affection

Christians will act like the world when they hold to and act on the _____________ definition of love.

Jesus _____He was about to suffer and be killed (Luke 22:15-16; Matthew 16:16,21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19)

Jesus was facing the coming crucifixion with ___________emotions (John 17:5; Matt. 26:39; Heb. 12:2)

Jesus knew Judas was planning to ______________ Him, yet also extend His act of love to Judas

The Service (John 13:4-5)

Because they wore sandals and they walked, it was normal for a servant to __________ feet on arrival.

No one took the ______________ role to wash their dirty feet, so Jesus did it.

The Surprise (John 13:6-11)

The disciples were surprised by Jesus’ actions and ___________ questioned it – vs. 6-7

Peter is embarrassed and ____________ to have his feet washed – vs. 8

Jesus explains it is necessary if Peter is to have a ____________ with Him – vs. 8

Peter wants to be completely ______________ if it meant being part with Jesus – vs. 9

Jesus explains the practical and ______________ significance – vs. 10-11

Jesus cleanses us, but our “feet” get dirty walking in this world so we need to ____________ -1 John 1:9

The Symbolism (John 13:12-17)

Jesus’ Position – vs. 13. Jesus is both teacher (rabbi / father) and ____________ (master)

Jesus’ Action – vs. 14-16. Jesus’ service was to an ______________ for them to follow

Jesus’ Command is to follow the example of being humble servants, not to practice _______footwashing

Promised Blessing – vs. 17. Blessing comes from knowing and ______________

Knowing: 1) Jesus is teacher and Lord. 2) A servant is not above the master. 3) All must humbly serve

Blessedness is a __________________ condition of being the object of God’s favor.

The Christian’s Identity as a Servant (Matthew 20:25-29)

There is no Christian position so high that is it above doing even the ______________ job.

Every Christian is simply the Lord’s _____________ here to do His bidding.

You do not have to _____________ your spiritual gift in order to serve. You learn your gifts by serving

Your service is not _______________ by your spiritual gifts.

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