Let’s start with a story that goes all the way back to the 1920s.
There was a young Michigan farmer, a teenager at the time and it was expected that he would take over the family farm. But he really loved building things and engineering things. So, in 1927, he developed a new kind of furniture.
Back then, furniture just sat there. So, He created a chair with a back and seat that simultaneously moved into a reclining form. Later on, he developed a lever that, when pulled, kicked a footrest out in front of this piece of furniture.
He began with his cousin going around to department stores and saying, “Hey, would you consider selling this?” People fell in love with this brand-new technology from the self-taught engineer. They began selling this product, and it began to grow and grow.
He and his cousin ran this business for years. In the 1970s, this business went public, and it was a huge business. Years before that, they’d run a naming contest and the winner was Lazy Boy.
Last year alone, the revenue for Lazy Boy was over 1.5 billion dollars.
In 1998, at the age of 90, he was still working and helping run the company. One day he went out with his friends and had dinner. He came home that night, sat down in his lazy boy recliner, leaned back, and passed away.
That’s an example of the American Dream, right? The pinnacle of success! But what we are about to look at today is going to take the American dream, and essentially
FLIP IT ALL upside down.
It seems that people for thousands of years have been…
Chasing The Dream
Obviously, when Jesus walked the earth, they didn’t have the American dream, but they had the Roman dream.
During the Roman empire, a hierarchy or class system existed. And the goal of a Roman was to move up in the hierarchy.
At the very top of the ladder of course was the position called Caesar, who was referred to as the king of kings.
Then came the Roman Senate … 600 men total.
Below the Senate, you had the Equestrian class of people, which were the wealthy. This class of people also contained what were called the Decurions … wealthy people who were also landowners.
If you somehow could became really wealthy, you could buy your way into that class of people.
These few classes at the top of the Roman hierarchy had 100% of the power. This is where ALL Roman decisions were made.
Just below all the power people came the common Roman citizen. Below the citizens, you had the freed men, those who had been freed from servitude. At the very bottom of this class system were the servants.
So, the Roman dream at every single level of this class system, was simply to move up a level. No matter where you were, if you worked hard enough, you MIGHT be able to work your way up.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus specifically addresses this hierarchy that impacted the community around him, including His disciples. Jesus is going to flip that entire thing UPSIDE down to help us understand what life is truly about … not only then … but TODAY!.
Our Gospel lesson started this way…
“It was just before the Passover festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” John 13:1
In the next 24 hours, Jesus is going to be betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, beaten, and crucified. And the thing is … Jesus knows it. He knows his time has come. But Jesus knew something else as well … look at verse 3…
“Jesus knew that the Father had put ALL THINGS under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” John 13:3
Did you catch the description … ALL THINGS. Everything is under the power of Jesus, including that entire Roman hierarchy we just looked at, from servant all the way up to Caesar. Jesus clearly understands He IS ABOVE all of that.
So, what does Jesus do with ALL of His power?
“”…He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and he began washing his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:4
Does that action make any sense to you? If you want the Roman Dream, you are supposed to work your way up ladder, and if you get to the top, you can chill out in your lazy boy recliner and let everyone else serve you.
Jesus here does something that was rather shocking when He got up from the meal and washed His disciples’ feet.
Scripture says Jesus is the image of the invisible God. So, if you want to know what God is like, you look at Jesus.
In this moment, Jesus takes on the form of a servant wrapping a towel around his waist. This is the picture of WHO God is.
Jesus is not REPLACING the form of God with a servant.
He is REVEALING the form of God as a servant.
This is God in His very nature. This is WHO God is. God CAME to serve. But WHO did He come to serve?
In the Upper Room that night, there were 13 people … Jesus and his 12 disciples. One of those disciples we just mentioned was Judas lscariot.
Even if you’ve never been to church before, you’ve probably heard that name, Judas. Or, the phrase “Hey, you’re a real Judas.” That phrase is obviously not a compliment.
Here’s the thing … Jesus knows that Judas is about to betray him, yet, what does He do? Jesus kneels-down with his towel around his waist, and he WASHES the feet of his betrayer Judas.
Also, in the room is Peter. In these next 24 hours, Peter would deny that he ever knew Jesus several times. Yet, Jesus goes to the feet of the one who will DENY Him, and he washes his feet as well.
He goes to the feet of his doubter, Thomas, who would later say, “I don’t think Jesus really rose from the grave,” and Jesus washes his feet. The bottom line…
JESUS SERVES THOSE WHO DID NOT DESERVE IT.
Jesus serves those who reject him, those who would betray him, those who would deny Him, and those who would doubt him. Yet, Jesus completely humbles himself before each of them.
There is one more interesting thing that happens in this passage. Nearly everyone wore sandals back then. The roads were dirt with all kinds of animal excrement and filth all over them.
The disciples would have picked that up on their feet as they were walking through town. Jesus kneels and washes that filth off their feet with the towel that is still wrapped around him.
He could have taken that towel off. He could have washed the feet at arm’s length. But he chose, in this moment, not just to give us an EXAMPLE to follow, but to give us a picture of WHO he is, and WHAT he is doing.
He takes ALL of this filth and junk from the feet of the disciples, and He WEARS it on himself.
This towel would have been filthy, yet he chooses to clothe himself in that filthy towel. Jesus is clearly giving us a picture of the Gospel.
The Gospel is when you and I were covered in filth because of our sin. Then, Jesus came and met us right where we were. He humbled himself, knelt-down, and took OUR filth onto himself.
He did that through the cross. He took all our sin. He took it and he wore it … He wore our filth. God came to us to take our filth upon himself.
This is what makes Christianity different than every other religion on the planet. It is not about us trying to figure out how to cleanse ourselves. It is about God meeting us where we are, and us allowing him to simply wash our feet … to cleanse us from our sin, to wear our filth.
We also see Peter being Peter starting in verse 6. Peter initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet. Peter obviously believed it is beneath Jesus to wash Peter’s feet since Jesus is the Messiah … the Son of the Living God.
After some back and forth with Peter, Jesus finally says this…
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” John 13:8
Do not MISS the significance of THIS response.
Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, Peter, unless I do this thing for you, you have NO PART with me.”
Jesus is teaching us in THAT moment that this is where the Christian life BEGINS … for EVERY ONE of us. Any person who has ever walked this planet, here’s where it begins … ALLOWING Jesus to SERVE you.
The Christian life begins by humbly allowing Jesus to meet you right where you are … to cleanse you of all the dirt and filth of your sin.
Christian life begins with allowing Jesus to serve you with His love, grace, and mercy.
But, then, the SECOND half of our story today is that we, you and I, must learn to earnestly Give It Away to others.
We must learn to give away God’s love, grace and mercy in service to others.
Jesus says this in our Gospel lesson…
”I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you … Now that you know these things, you will be blessed…” John 13:15, 17
Don’t you wish Jesus would have put a period right there after that word blessed. Then, what a great promise that would be … know these things and you will be blessed.
BUT there is NO period there! Instead, Jesus added a challenge for us all…
”I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you … Now that you know these things, you will be blessed, IF YOU DO THEM.” John 13:15, 17
In other words, you will be blessed ONLY if you SERVE the way Jesus served. Jesus says this is where the blessing comes from … not from HEARING or KNOWING, but from DOING.
Jesus is teaching us that we are to serve in all places and all opportunities … serve in the church, in our community, in the workplace, and in our homes. When we do that, we will BE a blessing to others, but just as important, we will be truly BLESSED ourselves.
It is always a choice for us to make. We can decide, “I’m going to serve people. I’m going to meet needs where I see them”, or NOT. But if we do decide to serve, Jesus says people will take notice of your service.
Because we live in a culture that’s all about “I want to be served. I want to sit in a Lazy Boy recliner and live the American dream.” What Jesus is encouraging us to do today is break free from a LAZY BOY mindset.
So, do you agree with me that Jesus flips that whole culture of wanting to be served upside down? Jesus says that greatness comes not from being served, but from serving others. Jesus humbled himself even to the point of dying on the cross … to serve you … to love you.”
Jesus says serve because you know WHO you are, and you know WHOSE you are.
True soul satisfaction is totally upside down to the American dream. True soul satisfaction is found in serving.
You are never more like Jesus than when you give and when you serve. The Christian life, practically speaking, is learning to receive the love, the grace, and the mercy of Jesus, and then giving them away to others. Amen