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THE HUMBLE MASTER
After the American civil war, slavery was abolished, but there was still a lot of prejudice against Negroes in the South. Booker T. Washington was a negro who lived in Alabama at the end of the 1800s. He was also the highly esteemed President of Tuskegee Institute and a devoted follower of Jesus. One day Booker Washington was walking through a wealthy part of town and he was stopped by a white woman. She didn’t know that he was the President of the College and she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and chopped the wood for her. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace.
A little girl recognized him and later told the lady who he was. The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labour. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.”
Illustration: Sir Robert Laidlaw
We hear many stories like this and we take it for granted that there are lots of people in our world today who are willing to humble themselves and do lowly, menial, mundane acts of service, but what we don’t realize is that this has mostly come about because of the example and the influence of Jesus Christ.
Before Jesus came, people who were important, powerful and high ranking would never ever consider doing this. They believed it was humiliating, beneath their dignity, a sign of weakness. The powerful and wealthy expected to be served and waited on by others, never to stoop and do jobs reserved for servants and slaves.
Illustration: Baptist College. A student from Hong Kong.
Jesus whole life was marked by humility. He who created and sustains the universe, who holds the highest-ranking position in all creation humbled Himself and came into this world of rebellious, proud, sinful human beings and He spent His life on earth serving them, healing them, caring for them, and then dying for them. And Jesus example has inspired millions of people to do likewise.
Let’s look at this passage under 4 headings.
The expectation, the example, the exemption and the explanation.
THE EXPECTATION v. 1-3
John says that this incident took place at the very time Jesus was thinking about leaving this world. He was looking forward to going home to heaven to be with His Father. The end of His mission was in sight.
But He also knew that before He could go home to His Father he would be betrayed by one his disciples, denied by another and deserted by the rest, arrested by his enemies, falsely accused, tortured, beaten and publicly executed.
He knew what lay ahead of Him, He knew His disciples would betray, deny and desert Him but we read He never stopped loving them. He loved them right to the very end. In fact, He chose at that moment to show them just how much He loved them.
He even loved Judas right to the very end. God loves every person in this world, but He won’t force them to do what is right. He loves them but He won’t force them to love Him and He won’t force them into His heaven. If people choose to reject God and go on doing what they know is wrong He will go on loving them, but He will have to allow them to reap the consequences of their bad choices.
Many of you have friends and family that you love, but you know that as much as you love them, you cannot force them to make the right choices, you cannot force them to do what is good, loving and right. So often you have to stand back and watch them ruin their lives and relationships, it breaks your heart, it makes you angry – but you still love them and always will.
And even though Jesus knew His disciples would make some deceitful and cowardly choices, He loved them to the very end.
John also says that at this time Jesus was very conscious of the power and authority God had given to Him. He knew that God had put everything under His power. He was aware that He was the most powerful person in the entire universe. What does a person do when they have been given great power?
Illustration: In 1938 when Adolf Hitler stood before 100,000 adoring followers at the Nuremberg rally all saluting him as their leader and saviour, he believed he was the most powerful man in the world. When Hitler was most aware of his power he forced all of Germany to submit to Him and serve His evil purposes. Hitler’s power was like a drop in the ocean compared with the power given to Jesus.
The problem with human beings is when they are given power it often goes to their head.
I have seen people in the business world who have changed personalities when they have been given some power. Put them in a uniform and they become little dictators and start throwing their weight around.
So many tend to abuse power for their own selfish ambitious ends. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have lived to see this time and again.
Hilter, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao Tse Dung, Ceausescu, Pol Pot, Gaddafi, Mugabe, Kim Jong Aung, Putin, Trump, etc. etc.
Imagine what Jesus could have done with the power and authority that He had. With one word He could have forced the whole human race to submit to Him or He could have wiped out the whole human race because of the continual grief we have given God.
But when Jesus was most aware of the power He had been given over all creation, He got down on His knees and served people at the lowest level.
THE EXAMPLE v. 4-5
He dressed as a slave and washed the feet of His disciples.
This act was so revolutionary because in Jesus day it was always the task of a Rabbi’s disciples to serve him. In fact, when Elisha was a disciple of Elijah in the School of the prophets, his job for 3 years was to wash Elijah’s hands. No religious leader would ever consider washing the feet of his disciples.
I think it is really sad that in some churches, the leaders think that they are too important to do any menial, lowly jobs in the church and expect everyone else to do that stuff.
Illustration: A friend of mine was an intern in a church where he was training to be a pastor and he was told that one of his responsibilities was to wash the senior pastor’s car every week. I wonder if the senior pastor ever washed the intern’s car because then he would have been following Jesus example.
In Jesus day there was an order of slaves in each wealthy home. The most important slaves looked after the money and managed the lower slaves. The slave who was the second from the bottom in the order used to untie the sandals of people when they entered the house, but the job reserved for the very lowest slave in the household was to wash their feet and dry them.
Most people wore open sandals and the streets were not paved like ours. They were mostly dirt and gravel and soiled with animal droppings and household waste. So the task of washing these dirty feet was not a pleasant one.
Illustration: Every year at Easter the Vatican authorities select 12 men, they are given special clothes to wear and their feet are not dirty. They are seated on a raised platform and the Pope is given a golden jug and a golden basin and he washes their feet and dries them with a towel. It’s tokenism because the Pope does not serve his people as Jesus did. He rules the Catholic Church by order and decree and expects his subjects to serve him.
Here we have the most powerful person in the whole universe doing the job of the lowest person in the community. It wasn’t a staged show for the public. Jesus was genuinely ministering to their physical needs.
Do you know what was happening in that room before Jesus did what He did? Luke 22:24 tells us that the disciples were arguing about who was the most important among them. They were arguing about who among them should do this humiliating job.
I can just hear Peter, James and John saying to the others, “Don’t expect us to wash your feet, we are part of Jesus inner circle, we are closer to Jesus than you are.” And as they were arguing, suddenly they saw Jesus on His knees with the towel and basin ready to wash their feet. Imagine how that would make them feel.
When you consider who Jesus is and the power He commanded, this act blows your mind. He showed by this act, how to use power and authority in the Kingdom of God and in Christian relationships. It is just the opposite of how the people of this world use power.
THE EXEMPTION v. 6-11
When Jesus came to wash Peter’s feet, Peter protested. He couldn’t handle that his Master was belittling Himself to this dirty, mundane task.
Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you cannot belong to me.” Then Peter said, “Lord if that is the case wash every part of me.”
Jesus was saying to Peter, “Unless I make you clean, you cannot be part of my family and my Kingdom.”
You and I cannot enter God’s family and God’s heaven unless we submit to Jesus Christ and allow Him to wash us and cleanse us from all our sin. And that is a humbling experience because you have to admit that you are morally unclean, that you have done wrong, that you are a sinner.
Illustration: When George Whitfield was asked to preach to a group of wealthy English noblewomen, one of the ladies said afterwards, “I found it very offensive and insulting to be told that I have a heart as sinful as those common wretches that crawl around the slums of London and that I have to repent and be cleansed of sin.” Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you cannot be part of my eternal family or enter my eternal Kingdom.”
And then Jesus told them that He had already cleansed them when they believed in Him, but they still needed to have their feet washed.
What Jesus is saying here is that when we first come in faith to Jesus, He completely cleanses us from all our sin. In God’s eyes, we who follow Jesus are morally clean, but we still need on-going cleansing because we do fall and fail as believers and God has made provision for that. In Christ, we are morally clean, but as we walk through this sinful world each day we often pick up the moral dirt around us and we need to constantly come to Jesus to have our feet washed.
THE EXPLANATION v. 12-17
When Jesus had finished washing their feet, He explained to them why He had done this.
“You call me Teacher and Lord and that is what I am. I am the Boss, I hold the highest-ranking position among you and yet I am willing to do the lowliest task and serve you like a slave.
The Kingdom of God is all about serving, giving, ministering to others. It’s not about having my needs and desires and preferences met and yet so many Christians in NZ have this attitude.
I believe that one of the main causes of many psychological problems in our culture is that people are so self-centred and so focused on their needs and their concerns.
Illustration: Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous American psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health & was answering questions from the audience. One man asked, “What would you advise a person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?” Everyone there expected him to answer, “Consult a psychiatrist.” To their astonishment, he replied: Leave your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone who is in need, and do something to help that person.
Following Jesus is all about serving God and serving others and it doesn’t matter who you are, or what your status, whether you are a leader or a follower you must have a servant heart because that is the heart of Jesus.
Leadership in the church is all about serving God and serving others. It’s not about seeking positions of power and recognition. A true follower of Jesus must be willing to do the lowly unrecognized, unthanked, mundane tasks. In fact, Jesus said, “If we can’t be faithful and consistent in doing the small, insignificant tasks, we won’t be entrusted with the more important tasks.”
Illustration: Laurie Guy preached on the gifts of the Spirit at Christian Youth camp and some of the young people came to him afterwards and said, “We want to find out what our spiritual gifts are.” He said told them that at breakfast there was an announcement asking for volunteers to clean the toilets. “Did any of you volunteer? Start there.” Elisha served Elijah.
So many people want only to do the important, public, recognized tasks, but Jesus showed us that we should be willing to do even the lowly, undesirable tasks if we are to follow Him and He set the example.
Illustration: Not so long ago I was cleaning the church toilets and some of the young guys from the Samoan church came in and saw me doing it. They offered to do it for me. “It’s okay. My Boss washed people’s feet, I’m quite happy to clean people’s toilets.”
Humility and service marked the life of Jesus on earth.
After Jesus had washed the dirt and filth from the disciple’s feet He humbled Himself even further and went to the cross and washed the moral dirt and filth from our lives with His own blood.
One of the most effective ways of reaching people for Christ is by serving them. I have often mentioned this quote, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Illustration: Ralph Neighbour