Valentine’s Day forces we take a look at our love life. Sadly, most people I know aren’t even sure what true love is anymore. Our modern view of love has become a mixture of selfish, emotional, sexual, and manipulative tolerance. Most people will profess love for one another only as long as personal desires are satisfied. Then, when the well has run dry, they move on for supposedly greener pastures. In sharp contrast to this, Jesus Christ offered a much better way…
The Serving Christ
In the upper room, just before His death, Jesus and the disciples celebrate a meal together. Luke tells us that the men were arguing over who are most important, “And there arose a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24) The table they sat around was a Roman style triclinnium, three tables joined to form an open square. The men recline on couches, rest on the left forearm, and leave the right hand for food. Jesus occupies the center position at the head of the table. John is on His right. Judas on His left. The others sit along the wings, bellowing their boasts, and shimmying for the best spot. No one thinks to grab a bucket to wash up for dinner!
Suddenly, amidst their egotistical musings, Jesus got up and, “He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:5). Imagine it! Jesus quietly gets up, removes His coat, finds a bucket at the door, and ties a towel around His waist. No one pays Him mind, until one man sees what He’s about to do and clears his throat. Slowly, the room grows still, and in pained silence, they watch Him kneel to wash calloused toes.
The Stubborn Cast
Peter is convicted and doesn’t want Jesus to wash his mucky feet! John 13:8 tells us Peter burst at the seams, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus quietly answered, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” signaling the biblical metaphor for spiritual cleansing (Ps 51:2, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor 6:11, Heb 10:22). In short order Jesus is saying, “Those who belong to Me must have been washed by Me!”
The man who throws himself on the mercy of Christ has had his moral situation changed. When God looks at a sinner who still loves sin, God’s justice mandates that man be punished. But, when God looks at a sinner cleansed by Christ, God’s justice demands that man must live. And, live as His very own child!
Peter begins to understand but continues his egotistical rant, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” (V. 9). Peter told Jesus WHAT to do; now he tells Him HOW to do it! And, in this moment, we learn another precious truth about Christ’s love… Jesus says to Peter, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (V.10) Jesus is saying, after My complete cleansing, you don’t need to be saved again, only dusted from the day-to-day dirt that accumulates.
One illustration of this “daily dusting” comes from my children. At night, after they shower, a friend may stop by, and they’ll sprint outside to say hello. When they come in, their feet are dirty from the pavement but they don’t need to shower again, just wipe off their feet before bed. Spiritually, it’s the same – A saint is entirely cleansed by Christ at conversion, God views Him as perfect, and he doesn’t need to shower again. But, throughout the day, he gets dirty feet from the sin of earth, and at night should come to Christ for dusting.
John 13:10 finishes with very sad news. Jesus says, “…you are clean, but not all of you. For He knew the one who was betraying Him…” As Jesus washed the feet of each man, He eventually came to Judas, the traitor in their midst.
Peter and Judas both represent men too big for their britches. Peter will learn from Christ and become a powerful kingdom asset. Judas will not learn, and die in scornful treachery.
Former heavyweight champ, Muhammad Ali, was known for bragging, “I’m the greatest! I’m the greatest!” Just before take-off on a plane flight, the attendant reminded Ali to fasten his seatbelt. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt! Superman don’t need no seatbelt!” Ali told her. The stewardess retorted, “Superman don’t need no plane, either!”
To belong to Christ we must be cleansed by Christ and cleansing starts when we recognize we’re not Superman! Peter learned this. Judas didn’t. Have we?
The Satisfying Command
Christ stands up to explain what He has done. Serving the men was sweaty as ministry always is. We must never expect love to be clean and tidy. No, loving service is a vulnerable position, leaving us open to questions, open to assessment, and prompting we response to needs at any hour. Quite often, people may even reject the service we give and the years of selflessness may feel wasted. But, hold on, there’s more to the story…
Jesus asks the men if they’ve seen His selfless-sweat and then says, “If I the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (V. 14). This phrase is a synecdoche where Christ exchanges one idea (I did it) to teach three pertinent truths (reasons you must as well).
First, Jesus explains that He is our EXAMPLE of loving service. “For I gave you an example…” (V. 15) meaning Jesus expects we study His life and model. Service start with study! There are many regretful things that came out of the 1990’s, including Vanilla Ice and boy bands, but one thing that stood the test of time (and should be brought back) was a little bracelet titled WWJD. In 1998, a girl named Cassie Bernall was shot to death in the Columbine library, simply because she wore this bracelet. WWJD “What Would Jesus Do” was simply a modern version of Christ’s own words, “I gave you an example.” To live like Christ one must observe the life of Christ!
Second, Jesus explains His EXPECTATION of loving service. “That you also should do as I did to you…” (V. 15) means that it’s not good enough to wear the bracelet or memorize His words, we must serve selflessly as He did! Decades later, Peter, the very man who rejected the notion of Christ washing feet, told the beleaguered Christians suffering under tyrant king Nero, “Clothes yourselves with humility toward one another!” (1 Peter 5:5). “Clothe yourselves” is a Greek term rooted in the image of a knotted servant’s towel, indicating that Peter never lost the image of Christ down on all fours, wiping his toe grime with a servant towel!
Often we forget that Christ eventually came to the feet of Judas. In those quiet moments, He knelt to wash the very feet of a man who would nail His own to the cross. This teaches us that service isn’t selective. We don’t love because it’s easy. We don’t love because people love us back. We do it because Christ commands us to. If we lovingly serve our spouse, children, friends, or church simply when it feels good, we’ll fail miserably. We must lovingly serve because Christ told us to!
Finally, Jesus promises the EMANATION of loving service. The outcome of true and selfless love is wonderful – “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (V. 17) The outcome of selfless love is blessing, but God providentially designed life so we must love first and then receive the blessing second! This mandates a very simple question. Do you want to be blessed? My assumption is that you answered, “Yes.” If so, the next question is obvious, “Are you doing the very thing (loving service) which Christ promised would bring that blessing? If you are not loving like Christ, you cannot expect the blessings of Christ. This Valentine’s Day will be blessed if you lovingly serve.