JOHN 13:1-17
Life at Boiling Point - Serving


When the temperature of water is raised to billing point, great power is released through steam - enough to power 180 years ago, the first steam engine, locomotion weighing 80 tons with 553 passengers at a speed of eight miles an hour.  Enough power this morning to launch jets from aircraft carriers in the gulf - the power of boiling water. In this short series called, ‘living life at boiling point’ we are reflecting on how to raise our spiritual temperature to 100 degrees centigrade so that God’s supernatural power is released in and through us for His glory. We began by examining the way Jesus uses this analogy to evaluate the spiritual temperature of the Church in Laodicea. We saw how Jesus described them like their water supply, neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. We considered the importance of Sunday services for raising our spiritual temperature. Then we considered the importance of being in a small group meeting regularly for bible study, worship, prayer and fellowship. Today we want to consider a third element that will help us to raise our spiritual temperature - serving. Please turn with me to John 13.

In the very first verse it says "Having loved his own … Jesus now showed them the full extent of his love." (John 13:1).

1. The Full Extent of Loving Service 13:1-5

Jesus often acted before he spoke. Jesus got up from the meal in the same way he had got up from his eternal throne. He took off his outer clothing as he had laid aside his eternal glory and took the form of a servant and wrapped a towel round his waist. Jesus, bent over a bowl of water and removed the dirt from the feet of his friends. In the silence of that room the careful, deliberate washing lasted a long time. The breathing of the kneeling man became heavier as the minutes passed, and his hair fell over his forehead.  Imagine the scene, Christ was at work, on the same level as the dogs gnawing on the lamb bones and scraps of food under the table, interrupting their own Passover meal to marvel at the man on all fours like themselves.  He chose to begin saving us from below. In the final frame he would dominate us from above, raised, fixed to the cross. But the first scene was this one: crouching like a foreign slave over our toes, over our un-poetic nails, over those unattractive odours.  Jesus permitted himself the royal joy of self-humiliation.  According to the Jewish "Midrash Mekicta" commenting on Exodus 21:2  "Foot washing" was not even required of a Hebrew slave, it was the task of a foreign slave. The Lord of glory was on his hands and knees cleaning his disciple’s feet because none of them was willing to stoop as low as a foreign slave.  So the Lord of glory became a servant.  John Stott says, "For me there is no clearer or more compelling evidence of the deity of Jesus than the extraordinary paradox between his lofty claims and his lowly conduct."  Someone once said, “It is possible to give without loving but impossible to love without giving.” Service is an act of loving.

A response to the One who demonstrated his love by serving. On Thursday evening it was my privilege to attend a celebration at Lambeth Palace. I shook hands with the new archbishop, there were many other Bishops present and guests from all around the world. All there to honour a frail and bowed 90 year old gentleman who had them all in awe. Kenneth Cragg is the leading scholar in the world today on Islam and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. He has written 30 books, all of them classics. His words are so distilled you have to read each sentence several times to have any hope of understanding its meaning. After the Archbishop and various Bishops had expressed their appreciation, Kenneth spoke with humility and erudition about his love of the Lord Jesus Christ in a way that was breathtaking. He summed up his long life, his academic studies, his contribution to our understanding of Islam and interfaith relations in one sentence - “Confronted by the love of Christ, we have no choice.” We have no choice. No choice but to serve the one who in loving service gave his life to set us free, forgave our sins, gave us eternal life. The apostle Paul put it like this in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For Christ’s love compels us.” Compels us. My first question to you this morning then is this: “Do you feel compelled to serve? Are you serving Christ in some way in and through his church?” If not, is it perhaps because you have yet to comprehend the depth of his loving service on the cross for you? The full extent of loving service = slavery (1-5), leads us to the primary purpose of loving service, (6-11).


2. The Primary Purpose of Loving Service 13:6-11

Read 13:8. Why wash their feet and not their hands or faces? Think about your feet for a moment. Our feet are not usually regarded as the most beautiful part of our bodies. At the level Jesus chose to minister to his disciples, there was no friendship or agreeable relationship, no eye to eye communication, just a sense of embarrassment and self consciousness. Feet are miles away from our smiles, they are rough skinned wild dumb animals. Looking at our feet makes it hard to believe in the human soul. They remind us that life is transitory.  Perhaps that's why we feel a kind of instinctive modesty at having to expose them. As Peter said, "You'll never wash my feet, no way."  So emphatic was Peter, he uses a double negative - "no, never..." Perhaps it was the fisherman's zealous determination not to be done a service that made him cry out in protest. Maybe it was the humiliation that he did not offer Jesus this simple act of hospitality himself. 

I can only think of two people who ever wanted to wash my feet.  My mother and father. They wanted to get me clean regularly.  Why? because they loved me.  This was what Jesus is communicating so graphically here. Through surrendering our pride to the hands of Christ, by identifying him bent over the bowl scrubbing us clean like little children, that is how our salvation comes. "If I don't wash you", said Jesus, "you have no part of me."  What ever it was for Peter, his feet exposed both his independent pride and his need of Jesus ministry. Peter would rather wash the feet of Jesus than let Jesus wash his feet. Peter would rather die for Jesus than let Jesus die for him. And that was the lesson he was beginning to learn.
At its most fundamental then, this story is speaking about receiving the salvation which Jesus offers.  There can be no substitute. As the beautiful Easter hymn puts it:


"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride." 


The person who has not yet learnt to count in this way cannot cope with this humiliating Christ. Do not be surprised when some friends and family make excuses when you invite them to a special service or church based event. They like to pretend they don't need a wash, they're clean enough already.  “I know I don’t go to Church but…” But what?  We can do nothing for Jesus until we have been washed by Jesus. Read 13:9-10.  Its important to understand what Jesus is saying to Peter. We must not question the Lord's will or work, or try to change it.  He knows what He is doing. Peter had a difficult time accepting Christ's ministry to him because Peter was not yet ready to minister to the others.  It takes humility and grace to serve others, and the first step is to allow our pride to be humiliated to the point that we repent and are broken.

Let me ask you, have you allowed Jesus to wash not just your feet but your soul?  The invitation is here, the choice is yours. Choose while you have the choice. Just remember what Jesus said to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." (John 13:8). The ultimate purpose of all our acts of loving service as a church must be to lead people to salvation. We are not primarily a club or a charity or a political party. We are a community of slaves serving a loving Lord by bringing others into that saving relationship also. We should evaluate all our activities by this criteria. The full extent of loving service = slavery.  The primary purpose of loving service = salvation


3. The Ultimate Proof of Loving Service   13:12-17

Read 13:12-15.  "I have given you an example."   Luigi Santucci, the Italian mystic once said,


"If I had to chose some relic of the passion I wouldn't pick up a scourge or a spear but that round bowl of dirty water. To go round the world with that receptacle under my arm, looking only at people's feet; and for each one I'd tie a towel round me, bend down, and never raise my eyes higher than their ankles, so as not to distinguish friends from enemies....and all in silence, until they understood." 


To the unbeliever such an attitude may sound like slavery. Yet to serve the Servant King is not bondage but perfect freedom. Bondage and freedom. In Christ the world sees only bondage, we see in Christ perfect freedom. Without Christ, the world thinks it is free but is in reality in bondage.  The King of the Universe wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples feet, even the two that belonged to his betrayer. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done."  Lets look at these verses in a little more detail.


3.1 The Mandate for Loving Service (13:13-14)

Read 13:13-14. If we call Jesus our teacher and Lord we have no choice. Is Jesus your teacher and Lord? Then loving service is not an option. The only question is where and when. We are mandated to serve one another - by washing one another’s feet, one another’s wounds, one another’s sins, one another’s fears. The mandate for loving service.


3.2 The Model for Loving Service (13:15-16)

Read 13:15-16. An example. Jesus is our example. Supreme example. A Christian not engaged in practical acts of loving service on a regular basis is saying in effect that he or she is greater than Jesus. If sacrificial service is beneath you, so is Jesus. Jesus has given us the benchmark for loving service and it can only be done by stripping off our outer garment of pride and getting on our knees. The mandate of loving service. The model of loving service, and,


3.3 The Motive of Loving Service (13:17)

Read 13:17. The purpose of loving service is to bring a blessing. A blessing to one another. If we are ever to touch the people around us in any lasting, transfiguring way, it will only be by sharing the humble, sacrificial love with which Jesus loves us. Praying for them, sharing Christ with them, loving them, serving them. This is how to experience life at boiling point. For as we serve one another as Christ has served us, our lives are transformed and the power of Christ is revealed. The full extent of loving service = Christ’s slavery.  The primary purpose of loving service = other’s salvation. The ultimate proof of loving service = our submission. Now lets get practical. As you came into our building this morning, who was it that washed your feet? Who? Did you notice as they washed your feet? How many times have your feet, or the feet of those you love, been washed already this morning? Or are being washed?

Or will be washed before you leave? Someone served you as you entered the building. One or more of the ushers… the welcomers… the flower team… gardening team… admin team who put the news sheet together for you… the buildings team… the cleaning team… the leader of this service… the Readers who read God’s word… the prayer who will intercede for you… the crčche looking after your baby, Chipmunks your pre-school toddlers, the Scrambler leaders, Climbers, Explorers, Pathfinders, the cup assistants, the PA team, the musicians, the treasurers who will count the collection after the service, the refreshments team, the prayer team, the Wardens who will check the windows and lock up. These are some of the people who washed your feet this morning. They are wearing their towel around their necks - it says “here to serve”. And they are. What about you?

Esther is putting the list of team members together for May-August in the next week or so. Which team or teams will you join? In your news sheet is a leaflet summarizing the 20 essential teams we have at Christ Church. There are many more like our mission team. Pretend the leaflet has your name on it. That it is personally addressed to you. If God has spoken to you this morning about the full extent of Christ’s loving service, of the primary purpose of loving service to bring people to Christ, and the ultimate proof of loving service and God is asking you to respond, please don’t put it off.

Simply return your slip and we will help you to serve. In doing so we will raise the spiritual temperature of Christ Church.  We don’t call these teams ‘volunteers’ because we are not volunteers. Most of those who already serve don’t want or expect praise or the limelight, and those who do, shouldn’t. They know they are only responding to the loving service of Jesus. They are ultimately serving Jesus humbly and quietly but intentionally.

You know what saddens me most in ministry? Its when someone takes a dislike for something we are doing in the church, and writes me a letter resigning from one or more of our service teams. I haven’t yet done so but I feel like returning it with a simple cover note. “I think you have addressed this to the wrong person. I think you meant to give it to Jesus.” For that is what they are doing.  Someone once asked Corrie ten Boom if she had a hard time serving and staying humble.  This was her reply: "When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it even entered the head of that donkey that any of it was for him?" She smiled and went on, "If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in His glory, I give Him all the praise and all the honour."

Lets give Him all the praise and all honour we can not with our words but with our actions - by loving, sacrificial service. Lets pray.