Today we are looking at the third part of our series on Missional Communities. We are defining Missional Communities as an extended family of missionary servants who are disciples that make disciples. There are 4 parts to that definition: extended family, missionary, servants, disciples who make disciples.
We have covered extended family and missionary. Today we’ll tackle servants and then next week we’ll look at disciples who make disciples.
To look at the idea that a missional community is a group of servants we’ll be looking at probably the best narrative there is in relation to the idea that Jesus was a servant while at the same time being Lord and King. A servant king if you will. This text can be found in John 13:1-17 and is probably one of my favorite narratives in all of Scripture. This is the story of the upper room and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. John 13:1-17 says, “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. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so 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 began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
So as we look at what might be a familiar story to some of us and possible a new story to some of us, we’ll look at the story in two sections. And something I like to call Cleansed to cleanse. That there are two parts to this story, Jesus washing the disciples feet (getting cleansed) and Jesus calling his disciples to wash others feet (going out and cleansing).
And so the night before Jesus was going to go to his death at the hands of the Roman Empire, we see him gathered with his disciples during the traditional Passover feast in the upper room. Now traditionally when people would gather together for a meal you would either wash your own feet or have the lowest of slaves doing the washing. And for whatever reason this didn’t happen. In fact right before this narrative you see the disciples arguing over who was the greatest. And so none of the disciples were going to volunteer to wash the feet of the rest of the disciples because to do so meant that they were a slave and “inferior” to the rest of the disciples. And so as they had the meal, a meal where your feet were traditionally near the table, as you reclined at the table. And so dirty feet near the table, not the cleanest idea. So that sat through almost the entire meal because no one was willing to humble themselves, take up a towel and wash the rest of the disciples feet. But what happened next was probably one of the most radical, subversive, upside down thing that ever happened in the course of human history. The Son of God. The King of the Universe. The Savior of the World. God in the flesh got up from his seat, wrapped a towel around his waist and took on the role of a slave or servant by washing his disciples feet. A role that his disciples weren’t eager to take on. This act of servanthood was scandalous and mystifying. It was an object lesson on the spirit of service and love and should not only characterize Jesus but every follower of Jesus that has ever come after.
And so Jesus get up from the table, takes off his outer garment and wraps a towel around his waist. The word for take off there is similar to the word used for the idea of Jesus laying down his life. He then goes one by one to the disciples and begins to wash their feet with a basin of water and a towel.
A few things stand out here. First, Jesus, if he washed all of his disciples feet, which he did, then he needed to wash Judas’ feet, knowing that in a few short hours that Judas would betray him. Perhaps this was one final act of love, service, and to tug at the heartstrings of Judas. But no matter what happened after, Jesus poured out his love to one who would not love him back.
Secondly, when he comes to Peter to wash his feet, Peter responds quickly and rashly, like most of the other times in his dealings with Jesus. He responds by saying, “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” You see, Peter is no different than us. You see we can sometimes show a servants heart by accepting the service of others to us. If we only serve, and refuse to be served, it can be a sign of deeply rooted and well hidden pride. But is that the reason he said no to Jesus at first? Maybe, but I think it has to do with more of the fact that Peter couldn’t stand the thought of his teacher, Lord, and Messiah taking on the role of a slave. After all, Peter’s picture of Israel’s Messiah was one who would ride into Jerusalem on a white horse, wielding a sword, and vanquishing the evil Roman Empire and establish the Kingdom of God through violence. He had no concept of a towel wielding, foot washing, servant king who established the Kingdom of God through the simple act of taking a foot, putting it in a basin full of water, and drying it with a towel. A servant messiah made no sense to him. And if we are honest, it makes no sense for us even today.
After Peter’s refusal, Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” What Jesus was getting at here is that if Peter wanted to share with Jesus in his community and gain the eternal life (don’t just think heaven…think the Kingdom life here and now) that he longed for, than he needed to be washed by Jesus. He needed to be cleansed in order to live out the Kingdom of God in the world. He needed Jesus to wash his feet so he can then get up, go out into the world and wash the feet of his family, his friends, his neighbors, and yes, in following Jesus example, even his enemies. He needed to be cleansed in order to cleanse others.
And so Peter then relented but of course over states it by saying, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” And so no doubt Jesus then took Peter’s feet into his hand, put them into the basin, washed them in the water, and dried them with a towel. Peter than was cleansed and given the mission of going out and washing the feet of others in the world.
Following his radical act of servanthood, Jesus then put his clothes back on. The wording here is used then to describe his taking up this life again. And so in a real way this feet washing experience was foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Jesus. The laying down of his life and the taking it back up again.
After he sat down he then turned his attention to his disciples to expand what this simple act would mean in moving forward as a Jesus centered community. His desire for his disciples? Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” That the act of feet washing that night that Jesus had done to the disciples needed to leave the upper room and reverberate throughout the world, throughout history, and into our world today, and forever. You see the biggest crime that night would have been for the disciples to say after leaving the upper room that night, “Well that was nice. I really enjoyed that. That was a moving service. It was great having Jesus wash my feet.” and then leave the act of serving and washing feet in the upper room. But isn’t that what we followers of Jesus do all the time anyway? We experience the cleansing that God provides and then we don’t take it out into the world and participate in the Kingdom of God by serving others and washing their feet?
There are two dangers in this passage. One is getting cleansed by God and keeping that cleansing to ourselves. We don’t wash the feet of people. We don’t go out and serve them. The other danger is that we go off and serve people not from being cleansed but just wanting to make a difference in the world. We try to do the cleansing without being cleansed first. Or we try to wash others feet without having our feet washed by Jesus first.
So there are two lessons here. One, let Christ wash your feet. Two, wash the feet of others.
So let’s talk about these two things together. How do you need to let Christ wash your feet? And who is God calling you to serve/wash feet this week? Those are the two questions for our discussion time.
1. How do you need Christ to “wash your feet”?
2. Whose feet might you wash this coming week? And in what way?