A Lesson in Servanthood

Gospel of John #34: An exposition of John 13:1-17. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, August 14, 2011.

Nothing reveals the true heart and character of a person like extreme trial.  Let a person live under what seems an unbearable strain and you’ll soon learn what they are made of.  Placed into the fiery forge some are ruined while others are refined.  Some crumble others are confirmed.  Haven’t you been amazed by how some people handle adversity?  There are those who face dark, troublesome days with grace, dignity and strengthen.  They shine in the midst of adversity while others fail.  But no one ever shined as brightly as the Lord Jesus in those dark hours before the cross.  As we approach the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel, we slip quietly into the “holy place.”  His death is imminent.  Eternity has been aimed at this very moment.  Life and death; heaven and hell hinge on this moment.  God’s eternal plan is unfolding.  History’s greatest moment lies just ahead.  God’s lamb is being prepared for slaughter.  The weight of eternity is on His heart.  The God/man, the Lord of Glory, the creator of all that is, the Eternal One is about to become sin for us.

The hour of His glorification has come.  Seated at table with the 12 He does a most remarkable thing.  Knowing His time has come; knowing He has already been betrayed; knowing that all things have been put under His power He got on His knees and washed the feet of stubborn, sinful men and taught us the meaning of servanthood.  Our text this morning is found in John chapter 13 beginning with verse 1.

Text: John 13:1-17

Jesus has withdrawn from “public ministry.”
We are in the last hours of His earthly life.
One of the great interpretive difficulties in NT studies is harmonizing John’s Gospel with the synoptics.

We have the reference, “Before the Feast of Passover” yet there is no reference to the Passover Meal.  It appears this is a different evening meal yet immediately after this scene we have the farewell discourse and language that appears in the synoptics as part of the events the night of the Passover Meal/institution of the Lord’s Table.  Scholars are divided as to whether this is a separate meal or the same upper room experience from a different perspective.  Whether it is the Passover Meal or another the point is the same.  We are hours from the cross and this event points to the cross and the cleansing accomplished by the Atonement and demonstrates the servant heart of the Lord Jesus.

The key, for me, in interpreting this significance of this act is found in the last 3rd of this text when Jesus asks if they understand what He has done.  This is about love and servanthood.  Thus I think the message for us is that…

Thesis: Christlikeness demands a life of humble service.

This is unexpected and yet in keeping with John’s whole theme.
His triumphal entry to the city to the shouts of, “Hosanna!”  (Save us!)
Yet riding on an under-seized donkey.
“Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
“Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die…”
“Hold onto your life and you’ll lose it…give it up and keep it for eternity.”

Here is the King of the Universe, great, powerful, majestic and awe-inspiring He can speak and a universe comes into being yet He washes feet?  His ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts.

Three things about servanthood are reflected in our text.

  1. Genuine love expresses itself in service to others.  (13:1-5)
  2. The experience of grace positions you for service.  (13:6-11)
  3. The example of Jesus demands a servant lifestyle.  (13:12-17)
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