Summary: A brief sermon intended for a communion service (about an 8-9 minute talk).
The entire life of Jesus can be summed up in this short slogan:
“Wake up. Serve. Repeat.”
If Jesus were to have T-shirts printed for all His disciples, like I do for my earliteens for campmeeting [I direct the 13-15 year-old program at our annual 9-day family campmeeting at Camp Yavapines, Prescott, AZ], this would be it for all followers in His Disciples Club.
But in reality, He didn’t have to wear a special sign or slogan on a T-shirt—nor do His followers—to make or remind Him to serve people. It was in His blood. The spiritually proud and hypocrites liked to wear slogan T-shirts in Jesus’ day (and in ours), but Jesus saw right through that. They had some things underneath that He grievously exposed (Mat. 23).
Almost 4 decades after Jesus’ day, the apostle Paul mentioned to his protégé Timothy that difficult times would come in the last days and the first thing he said about that was, “men will be lovers of self” (2 Tim. 3:2). I think He nailed it. At least he did with me, underneath my slogan-T-shirt life.
We’re all lovers of self, and that hangup will only be blown up and expanded more and more as we near the end. That’s what makes last day living difficult. Everyone is looking out for Number One. But a selfless, serving posture was not only Jesus’ MO, it was who He was—and what we need most in these last days.
The quarterly Communion that we are celebrating today is a palpable reminder of how Jesus lived His life. One of selfless service.
The following words, that take us back to that upper room where the Passover was celebrated between Jesus and His disciples, say it all:
“Before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself” (Jn 13:1, 3, 4).
Jesus loved His rough-around-the-edges group of fishers of men, in spite of the fact that in that same upper room, on that same night, an argument ensued between them as to which one was the biggest and best, anticipating with pride their high positions in the soon-to-come earthly, messianic kingdom—or so they mused (Luke 22:24). And He loved them, even though he knew of their just-minutes-from-now betrayal of Him. And He loved them, in spite of the physical torture He knew He was about to experience for this ungrateful motley crew.
The book Desire of Ages (p. 643), a narrative of the life of Christ, says it this way:
“He knew that He would be deserted in the hour of His betrayal. He knew that by the most humiliating process to which criminals were subjected He would be put to death. He knew the ingratitude and cruelty of those He had come to save. He knew how great the sacrifice that He must make, and for how many it would be in vain.”
In spite of all this somber knowledge of a very dark and sinister evening that would frighten any of us from going through with it, Jesus went through with it.
And the little drama Jesus played out at the dinner table to prove to these guys that He would go through with it—to die for them, wash them from sin, and give them new life—was to play the slave boy role and serve them by washing their calloused and dirty feet. This was just a teaser to the bigger role he’d play the next day—a dying servant on a cross.
There was no servant available in the room to wash feet and no one dared volunteer; they were too busy with their grandiose fantasy, Game of Thrones, in the new kingdom. Anticipation of power has a pernicious way of killing humility.
So Jesus stripped Himself of His outer garments and basically was in His undies. Then He grabbed a towel. This is the part we usually don’t reenact in our communion services. We don’t want to be that humble now do we? When Jesus was in His undies in front of these guys, He was more than just exposing what was underneath His cloak. This was a sublime and transcendent way of saying, only servants look this way—and that’s who I am.
When Jesus did this, Peter was aghast at how inappropriate this was. Only slaves do that and this was a bit edgy, even for Jesus. He undoubtedly thought to himself, are you out of your mind Jesus? which is why he told Jesus, “Never shall you wash my feet!” Actually, what Jesus was illustrating and trying to get through their thick heads was how to get into your right mind.