How do you picture God?
As you can tell, the picture on the screen portrays Jesus washing the feet of several world leaders, as well as one other conspicuous character. In 2007, a group of Adventists hired Lars Justinen to paint this picture, that you see. And they had contracts with several malls in Seattle to hang these posters for advertising a Bible conference. But no sooner had the posters gone up than angry calls began flooding the malls. Many people—mostly Christians, it seems—were highly offended at the image of Jesus washing the feet of a terrorist. There was such an outcry that each of the malls decided to go back on their contract and take the posters down. And then the Christian college that was hosting the event also canceled their contract.
Does their reaction illustrate how some American Christians might picture Jesus? The protesters simply could not believe that Jesus would wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet. And yet First John, chapter 2 and verse 2 tells us that Jesus died “not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world.” Could it be that many Christians want a Jesus who will defend their country and hate their national enemies just as much as they do? Do they want a Jesus who will help their country and culture to dominate every other country and culture of the world?
Why does that sound so familiar?
Well, the gospels do tell the story about a very similar group of people. I’d like to ask you to imagine the story with me. Jesus and His disciples had just walked the 2 miles from Bethany to Jerusalem to eat the Passover meal. And I wonder what was going through the disciples’ minds? I’m sure the excitement of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem not long before this was still very fresh. And the memory of Lazarus’ resurrection before that was still driving their expectations of the kind of power that Jesus could use for an earthly kingdom. So this Passover may have felt more like a state occasion to them, an inaugural celebration of the exciting things that they were expecting.
So they arrived at the house and they greeted the owner. And everything was ready for them, and somehow this clicked in their minds as they arrived at the top of the stairs, positioning themselves to their own advantage suddenly became very, very crucial. Like squabbling roosters crowing for their territory, the disciples scrambled into position around Jesus, each of them wanting the “chief seat” at the feast. And all of that jockeying for the best position only brought to the surface what was almost always uppermost in their minds. The question, “Who was the greatest among the disciples?”
It was so opposite Jesus’ own attitude of unselfishness and serving others. Jesus’ whole life was an illustration of His personal mission statement, “Not to be served, but to serve” [Matt. 20:28]. The only problem was that the disciples had not learned that lesson. And it was a special burden for Him. It hurt Him to think of it. It grieved Him.
And yet so much to tell His disciples before His death, but they could not bear it. And so as they began eating the meal, it was a very strange, awkward, uneasy silence that they all felt. Jesus didn’t say anything. He appeared to be waiting for something.
If that wasn’t bad enough, they had to sit down at the table with their dry, dirty and stinky feet. No one came to wash their feet, as was customary. The pitcher of water, the basin and the servants towel were all there, but there was no servant. One of the disciples should have stepped up to the responsibility, but all of them were totally above that. They refused, wouldn’t even think of it.
Jesus waited, but when none of them made a move, He rose from the table and took off His outer garment. And to His disciples’ complete surprise, He picked up the servant’s towel and wrapped it around Himself. They were stunned, shocked. And without saying much at all, Jesus picked up the basin and poured water into it. Then He turned to Judas and began washing his feet. “Oh, Judas, Judas. Why are you going this route? Why??” The love that Jesus had for Judas, and at first Judas was moved by Jesus’ act of love, but then the more that he thought of it, he began to be really offended at the thought of Christ washing his feet or that of anyone else’s. If Jesus could do that kind of thing, He could not be Israel’s king—He was too humble, too loving, too gentle for that. There would be no hope of any worldly honor. And so Judas determined to disown Jesus because he had in mind a different Messiah, a different kingdom, and a different God.
In fact, the God that Jesus portrayed was very different. Very much so. He does not live for Himself. He created the world. He upholds everything. He constantly serves His creatures. He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good. He sends rain on the just and on the unjust. He has a different kingdom than many anticipate.
So Jesus gave them an example that they would never forget. Ashamed? Oh yes! Humbled? Definitely. They got the message. They got the picture. After Jesus finished washing their feet, He sat back down, with a lot to say.
In John, chapter 13, verses 12 and onward, Jesus said to His disciples. “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
And then in Luke, chapter 22, verses 25 through 27, Jesus also said this, at that very occasion. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
There are really only two kingdoms.
There is the kingdom of power and domination over someone else; of pride, selfishness and competitiveness. Those are the things that Judas believed in.
And there is the kingdom of Jesus’ unselfish love and of serving one another, not caring for position over someone else; the kind of kingdom that leads us to let go of prominence, and to follow Jesus’ example.
Which kingdom do you want?
Today, as we, in this service, wash each other’s feet, may I suggest that what we talk about while we’re doing it, or what we think about, is to reflect on what it would be like for us to be there in that experience, and to imagine what it would be like for Jesus to wash our very own feet.
Let’s separate at this time.
First Corinthians 11, verse 23 through 26 says, “For I have received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and said, ‘Take eat, this is My body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This is the new covenant in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.’" Let us kneel for the prayer.
Dear God, as we contemplate the ultimate sacrifice of Your Son, we stand in awe of Your love and wisdom that devised this plan in eternity past. With our mental capacity, we are unable to grasp how and why a God of a perfect universe would come to this sinful world to die for our sins, but we thank You that You made a way for us to be saved. As we partake of these symbols this morning, we rededicate our lives and we ask for power to do away with the sin that put You on that cruel cross. Lord, empty us of self and place a burning desire in our hearts for a closer walk with Thee. Strengthen us spiritually. Give us love for one another and make us bold disciples to proclaim the good news that there is an empty tomb, and that You are coming back very soon. We are homesick for Heaven Lord, and we are longing to meet you face to face. May we all be there on that glorious day is my prayer, amen.
Jesus took the bread and He gave thanks for that which symbolized His sacrifice, and He said, “This is My body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
And He took the cup after the supper saying, “This is the blood of the new covenant,” and by these emblems of the bread and the wine to symbolize fully taking in all that Jesus has done for us.
On your way out, there will be an offering for those who are needy, which will go into our church’s assistance fund. Also the Scripture says the disciples sang a hymn and then they went out. We invite you to open your hymnals to number 577.
Hymn of Praise: #17, Lord of All Being, Throned Afar Scripture: John 13:1 Hymn of Response: #577, In the Heart of Jesus
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 4/9/09