Imitate Jesus’ Humility
Series: The Gospel of John
This week, our very own Walter Shaw dives into the “Big Idea” that we’re to Imitate Jesus’ Humility; in order to do that, we must:
1. Understand His motivation
2. Receive His cleansing
3. Follow His example
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, by D.A. Carson
Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel According to John, by Andreas Kostenberger
The Tony Evans Study Bible by Tony Evans
Expository Thoughts on John by J.C. Ryle
The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung
One of the most encouraging moments of my life was the night I spent with my groomsmen and closest lifelong friends in time before my and Patsy’s wedding. All the guys stayed up late into the night and even the early morning reflecting on our years of friendship, how God had worked in each of our relationships, marking the end of an era and the start of a new one. I will always treasure the words that my friends spoke to me and the prayers that they prayed for me until 4 or 5AM around that campfire leading up to my wedding. The conversations we had on those last nights of that season of life will stick with me forever. There’s something very weighty about the nights that lead up to a very significant event. The eve of an event can often be nearly as meaningful as the event itself.
The context of our passage this morning, John 13:1-30, marks the beginning of a significant night in the life of Christ. In John 12, Jesus is anointed for his death by Mary, and has given his last summary of his teaching to the crowd. And now, knowing that his time on earth is extremely limited, he focuses on his twelve closest followers one last time before the Feast of the Passover. The events depicted in John 13-17 all occur in just one evening. It’s almost as if the apostle John, the human author of this book, takes a magnifying glass to Jesus’ last night with his disciples in order to carefully record Jesus’ final words to his most loyal followers.
And what does Jesus do to set the tone for his final evening with the disciples? When I was getting married, all my best friends sat in a circle and said nice things about me. The night before Jesus is betrayed, he goes around the room and washes his disciples’ feet. In a stunning reversal of what you would expect a king to do, he assumes the position of a servant and gets his hands dirty. He washed his disciples’ feet in order to model what a life following him is supposed to look like. And that brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: Imitate Jesus’ humility. Imitate Jesus’ humility. This raises the question, how are we supposed to imitate Jesus’ humility? In this passage, John lays out the process by which we can follow the example of Jesus: 1. Understand his motivation 2. Receive his cleansing and 3. Follow his example. Understand his motivation, receive his cleansing, and follow his example. First, understand his motivation.
UNDERSTAND HIS MOTIVATION
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
The drama and extreme humility of the act described in this short passage is hard for us 21st century-Westerners to understand at first glance. It is almost as if one of Jesus’ parables is being played out in real life. For a teacher to remove one’s outer layer, wrap it around one’s body, and kneel at the foot of his student would have been a shocking and confusing act of humility. Can you imagine a Super Bowl winning-hero quarterback removing a rookie lineman’s sweaty and gross sock after the game and gently washing his calloused, enormous smelly foot? By our world expectations, that is something that a servant does, not a master.
Why would Jesus do such a thing? What would possess a man to display this level of humility? “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Christ humbled himself to the point of assuming the role of a servant because of his love for his people.
In a word, as the apostle John often emphasizes, Jesus’ motivation for displaying humility is love. He knew that his hour had come, that it would be time for him to die a gruesome, sacrificial death. Despite having that knowledge, he loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them to the very end. Even knowing that Judas Iscariot was going to betray him in the near future did not deter Jesus from exercising extreme humility as one of his final acts.
Now let’s take a minute and begin to take this part of our passage personally. If we want to imitate Christ’s humility, if we want to get our hands dirty and serve others in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord, we have to love like Jesus loves. But in order to love others like Jesus loves, we need to experience his love for us personally. John Piper helpfully defines love as the “overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.”
Although Jesus has not literally washed your feet and mine, for those of us who are in Christ, we have experienced the greater love that this foot washing pointed toward – the love that Jesus showed by dying on the cross in our place for our sins. Each of us by nature and by choice has sinned and so we have a broken relationship with God. We all have not done or been what God requires in His law. But God so loved the world, that he sent his son to die for us. Jesus came to earth and lived a completely perfect and sinless life. He took on flesh and blood, and assumed the form of a servant, the truth to which this passage points to. He died on the cross, in our place, and for our sins, because he loves us.
But how do we take this head knowledge of the love of Christ and work it into all the crevices of our hearts and the day-to-day of our lives? One encouragement from me is for all of us together to pursue the personal and corporate means of grace. Like Paul says in Romans 10:17, Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. When we study God’s word privately and gather together to hear God’s Word read and preached corporately, the Holy Spirit takes God’s Word and builds us up in holiness and comfort. Do you want to fan your affections for others in our church into flame? Gather with them on a Sunday, sit next to them as you praise the Lord together (even if like me, singing isn’t one of their spiritual gifts), receive the preached Word together and participate in the Lord’s Supper together. That is how you understand Jesus’ motivation ahd imitate his humility. Let’s continue to our second point, imitate Jesus’ humility, and in order to do that we need to receive his cleansing.
RECEIVE HIS CLEANSING
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Imitate Jesus’ humility, but in order to do that you and I need to receive his cleansing. Jesus is going around, washing the feet of his disciples apparently in silence until Peter asks the question that would have been going through my mind as well, although I’m not sure I would have been brave (or foolish) enough to ask! He basically says, “Jesus, what are you doing? And Jesus responds to Peter by saying effectively, “You don’t yet understand what I’m doing.” Peter rightly thinks that he should be the one washing Jesus’ feet, but he doesn’t yet understand what the foot washing represents.
This washing is not simply the courtesy of being clean at a shared dinner table. Rather, Jesus means much more than that. Peter, along with each of us, must be eternally cleansed of our sin. Finally, Peter understands where Jesus is heading. It isn’t going to be enough just for Peter’s feet to be washed, his whole body needs to be cleansed! Jesus gently corrects him again, reminding Peter (and us) that we only need to be justified (or completely cleansed) once. There is a definite moment in time where God the Father looks upon you, me, anyone who trusts in Christ and says “This person is not guilty. They have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus once and forevermore.” Because of our union with Christ, he has cleansed us from all of our sin and shame. This is the cleansing that only Jesus can bring. Even if you’re not exactly 100% sure when that moment was, if you are united to Christ by faith, if you have received and rested in him alone for salvation, then you are completely cleansed from head to toe.
And yet, as we walk on the narrow path, because of our remaining sin, our feet metaphorically get dirty again and again. Although our position is that of one who has been permanently cleaned, on this side of heaven we will continue to fall short of perfection. On a day by day basis, we need to receive cleansing from Jesus again and again.
How do we take this part of the passage personally? The application for this point comes right in the name of the point itself: receive his cleansing. But receiving his cleansing happens in two ways. First, Jesus says that not all of the people in that room were clean. Although maybe trusted in Him, not all had been cleansed. If this morning you haven’t received Jesus, rested in him alone for salvation, you need to be cleansed. I invite you this morning to turn from all of your attempts to clean yourself up on your own, and to put your trust in Christ as your only hope in life and in death. If you’d like to do that today, there is a sample prayer on the connect card that was on your seat. There are no magic words, but this sample prayer might be helpful for you to express the desire of your heart. That is the once for all cleansing that each of us need to experience.
For those of us who have trusted in Christ, we still need to receive Jesus’ cleansing “for our feet.” The apostle John, in one of his letters, writes this about our ongoing cleansing: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Cling to this promise. If we confess our sins, even our deepest sins that we hold close to our heart in order to hide them from the world, we will be forgiven. Confession simply means saying the same thing about our sin that God does. We agree with God that our sin is sin, and God is faithful and just to forgive us of those sins, whatever they are.
So what might this look like on an ongoing basis? Here’s just an example: When you feel your pet sins bubbling up inside of you, whether it is anger or impatience, or envy or anything else, when you become aware of it, resist the temptation to stuff it down and ignore it. Instead, admit that anger, impatience or envy in that moment without delay. And let that confession of whatever sin you commit in that moment drive you back to the work of Christ for you. Sure, it’s true that you and I commit more sin than we care to admit each day. But we have been freed to drop our guards and freely confess our sins because while our sins are many, His mercy is more. May his mercy motivate you to regularly and honestly confess your sins. Let’s move on to the third and final point, imitate Jesus’ humility by following his example.
FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Imitate Jesus’ humility by following his example. In vv.12-20, after his exchange with Peter, Jesus explains to the disciples why he performed this symbolic act. He washed their feet in order to model how his followers ought to relate to one another. When it came to the disciples, Jesus was their superior in every way. They listened to all of his teachings and they asked him every question that came to their mind because they thought that he had the answers to life, the universe and everything in it. His disciples literally followed him around as he went around teaching from place to place. He was truly their master and he chose the lowest place in humility in order to show his followers that they (we) must take the lower place. The disciples aren’t greater than Jesus. If Jesus takes the lowest place in humble service, his followers must imitate his humility by following his example of taking the lowest place. His point is to say that there is nothing that is beneath his followers. He is doing the most menial and lowly task in order to show you and me that we should not view anything as below our level of service.
Yet, the life of a humble servant, poured out for the good of others, is also one of great dignity. We have been sent by Jesus to live in humble service, and those who receive us receive Jesus himself. To follow Jesus is to take the lower place of sacrificial service. And yet, there is a holy dignity to the person involved in a simple, not-newsworthy act of service. That person is following the example of Christ’s humility. Ultimately, we are mere messengers of the one who sent us. We don’t need to invent the message, we don’t need to adjust the message, we are called to live out our message in humble service.
So how do we follow his example? While most of us agree that to take this as a strict example and require washing actual feet as a requirement for following Jesus isn’t right, we can all admit with Francis Schaeffer that it is ten thousand times better to wash each other’s feet in a literal way than never to wash anybody’s feet in any way. This is a real example that we are meant to follow, and so it’s healthy to ask from time to time, “Whose feet am I washing?” Let us be a people who consciously choose to take the lower place and to serve one another.
This could take shape in a million different ways in your life, but I’d like to highlight just two as we consider how we can imitate Jesus’ humility by following his example.
The first way is by joining a serving team. It takes many hands in order for these gatherings to take place each week. Every single Sunday, even the Sunday before Memorial Day, is a glorious occasion for the saints to assemble and worship the risen Lord Jesus. The glory of God is our ultimate goal and there is no worthier goal in the universe. Here in our church, people from all kinds of backgrounds and social statuses, doctors, teachers, students, transplants, Philly lifers, bosses, and employees, all consciously choose to take the lower place and serve the body of Christ here on Sunday mornings for mutual edification and for the sake of God’s glory. By God’s grace, I see the way that this is lived out in Citylight. I see the way that people of various backgrounds come early and stay late, imitating the humility of Christ by following his example of service. I am constantly amazed by the way I see others take on extremely servant-hearted tasks for the sake of God’s glory in the world. And if you’re here this morning and you’re not a part of that right now, consider this an invitation to be a part of it.
But if you’re thinking to yourself, “I have no idea what it would look like for me to imitate Jesus’ humility by following his example, but I’d like to do so,” one thing that you can take action on right now is to fill out a connect card, check the serving box, and drop it in the Orange Box in the back. I will send you an email on Tuesday to help you find your place in our body to the end of the glory of God through humble service..
If joining a serving team is one way you can imitate Jesus’ humility by serving the church on a broad or general level, I’d also like to suggest a way for you to follow his example on a specific level as well. We followers of Jesus are to serve others in the family of God, especially in those moments when life gets hard. In your citygroup, who could you consciously choose to serve? There may be parents in your group who can’t remember the last time they went on a date without their children. There could be someone in your group who needs a ride to the grocery store. These small acts aren’t mind-blowing on their own, but they help to create a culture of service as we imitate the example of Jesus’ humility.
Again, I praise God in the ways that I’ve already seen this lived out in our church. Here’s a small example that might get you thinking on how you might personally apply this. In the summer of 2020, I heard about the story of a woman in Roxborough who needed help with all kinds of small things around the house and landscaping, and other tasks like that. The citygroup that was nearest to her, but two men in particular from that group, regularly gave of their time to bless her and serve her in practical ways. She has since joined citylight as a covenant member and is constantly finding ways to serve the body herself. Who are the specific individuals God might be calling you to serve? We imitate Jesus’ humility by following his example of service.
On Jesus’ last night with his disciples, the first thing he did to set the tone was demonstrate his humility. Not as a means to prove himself, but out of love for those who had received him.
As we close, the final question we all need to ask ourselves from this passage is from v.20 – have you received Jesus? John calls us to imitate Jesus’ humility, but we can’t do that on our own. We need to remember Jesus’ motivation, that he loves us and gave his life for us. And we need to be cleansed by Jesus. Serving others in order to prove ourselves as righteous is an impossible task, there will always be another need, there will always be another opportunity to serve. If you’re trying to keep up an image of righteousness to earn the approval of man or God, lay that image down and receive Jesus. Confess your sins, receive his forgiveness, and live a life of service motivated by the love of Christ for you.