Servant/Savior

Good morning, Friends!

This morning, as you know, is Palm Sunday. We’ve already heard the children with the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

One of the things you’ve probably noticed, as you’ve read the Bible on your own, is how stories are repeated, in different parts of the New Testament. Sometimes the story sounds a little different, and today is a good example.

All four gospels give us different versions of what happened at the Last Supper. The version we’re looking at this morning is the story of the Last Supper according to John.

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world. It was time for him to go to the Father. Jesus loved his disciples who were in the world. So he now loved them to the very end.

They were having their evening meal. The devil had already tempted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. The devil had urged Judas to hand Jesus over to his enemies.

Jesus knew that the Father had put everything under his power. He also knew he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the meal and took off his outer clothes. He wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a large bowl. Then he began to wash his disciples’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus came to Simon Peter. “Lord,” Peter said to him, “are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t realize now what I am doing. But later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter. “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you can’t share life with me.”
“Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet! Wash my hands and my head too!”

Jesus answered, “People who have had a bath need to wash only their feet. The rest of their body is clean. And you are clean. But not all of you are.” Jesus knew who was going to hand him over to his enemies. That was why he said not every one was clean.
When Jesus finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes. Then he returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You are right. That is what I am.

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you.

What I’m about to tell you is true. A slave is not more important than his master. And a messenger is not more important than the one who sends him. Now you know these things. So you will be blessed if you do them.

 – John 13:1-17

Can anyone tell me what’s different here? Does Jesus talk about bread and wine? Does Jesus talk about his body and blood? Not here.

Does Judas get up from the table, and leave to betray Jesus? Not here.

I want you to notice something else, too. In the other gospels, the story of the Last Supper is very short. Matthew, it’s ten verses. Luke is a little longer – twenty-eight verses. Mark is only nine verses. In John’s gospel, the Last Supper, which we just heard the beginning of a moment ago, takes five whole chapters. I think John is trying to send a message here.

In order to show people who he is, and in order to demonstrate the way that he saw himself, Jesus took his coat off, and he put on a long piece of rough, coarse material – kind of like burlap or old flour sacking – what the lowest servant in the household would wear.

And leaving it wrapped around him like a towel, Jesus poured some water into a bowl, and he took on the role of the lowest and humblest servant – the one who opened the door and greeted people, who knelt down and helped them clean their feet as they entered the house.

Jesus went around the supper table, and he washed the feet of his friends. Then he asked them a question. He said, “Do you know what I just did for you? Do you understand what this is all about?” Then he looked around at them and waited for an answer. Nobody said a word.

Then Jesus said, “You call me Rabbi. You call me your teacher. You even call me Lord and Master sometimes. And that’s right. I am those things. But I, your Lord and your Teacher, have just washed your feet. Think about that. Because this is an example, of what I want you to do for others.”

This is a terribly important message for us to hear and understand. In the other versions of what happened at the Last Supper, Jesus talked about bread and wine, and he was misunderstood. People still argue to this day about what Jesus meant.

But in John’s version of what happened at the Last Supper, it’s impossible for us to misunderstand Jesus. Jesus wants us to do as he did, to take on the role of humblest of servants, to be there in that way for other people.

I hear people arguing, all the time in religion, about who’s right and who ‘s wrong on different issues. And I see lots of people, trying to prove that they’re smarter, or wiser, or holier, than others. Whether it’s people saying, “I do more,” or saying, or “I give more” or “I understand more about the Bible than you do,” we are still trying to prove ourselves better.

Jesus first disciples did that a lot, too. It says they were always asking each other, who was going to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Over and over Jesus said to them, “The greatest is the least. The last will be first, and the first will be last. The person who gives all they have, gives the most, even they’ve only got a couple of pennies in their pocket. The children, and the ones who are simple and pure of heart, come into the kingdom of heaven first, and the know-it-alls are left standing outside. The ones who love most are welcomed, even if they’re sinners, even though they may have much to be forgiven. . .”

There’s whole philosophy there. There’s a whole different understanding of what it means to belong to God’s kingdom. This is something which overturns the entire way we live. And Jesus says it again to them, right here. He didn’t just say it, he demonstrated it, at the Last Supper.

Do you remember how, last week, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .you are my friends, if you do what I command you.” (John 15:13-14)  That was at the Last Supper.

The Last Supper is also the place where Jesus says, “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. . .” (John 13:34)

This is the same section where Jesus also says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the same works that I do; and even greater works than these will they do, because I am going to the Father. . .And I will pray to the Father, who will give you the Counselor, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to be with you forever, whom the world cannot see or receive. . .” (John 14:12, 15-17)

All these things Jesus is saying here — all these famous sayings are part of the Last Supper. It goes on for five chapters. And it all begins with Jesus taking on the role of a servant, and telling us to do the same.

Every so often, I hear people arguing over whether they “feel the Spirit” in some particular song. Or they’ll talk about whether some particular style of prayer is better. They’ll even argue about whether God pays attention, when some other group of people are gathered for worship. Does God listen to them?

Christians have argued for two thousand years about whether and in what form Christ is present, at different celebrations of communion. And I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear these things. Because it’s so simple.

Jesus said that he would be present, wherever the least, or the lowest, or the loneliest, or the lost, are being cared for. He said, “You will know me, you will meet me, whenever you help them. Whatever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers, you do it to me. I’m right there. . .” (Matthew 25:40)

And in the same way, in this morning’s gospel, Jesus asks, “Do you want to know who I am? Do you want to know where I am? I am always there, in the form of a servant – the lowest and the least of servants. If you want to find me, if you want to know me, look there.”

This understanding of Christ as servant, and this understanding of ourselves as servants, if we follow the way of Jesus, is something which goes to the very center of who Jesus is, and who we are.

  • Think about what it means, for Christ to be found in the least and the lowliest of places – born in a stable, raised in a small town so poor that people said no good could ever come out of it. That’s what they said about Jesus’ home place.
  • Think about Jesus despised for his lack of formal education, scorned because of the people he hung out with – tax collectors, prostitutes, common fishermen.
  • Think about all the examples Jesus gave us, in his own life, of the people who he ministered to – the untouchable leper, the foreign woman’s child, the despised Samaritan who had been divorced several times.
  • Think about all the people you know from the gospels – the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, the broken, the sinful.
  • Think about Jesus himself – how he was rejected by his own people, betrayed by his friends, accused of things he never said or didn’t mean, and executed along with common criminals. They even let a terrorist, Barabbas, go free instead of Jesus.

Think about all these things, during this week before Easter.

Think about where we find Jesus, and where we look for him. Think about the roles that we choose for ourselves, and whether they’re the roles that Jesus commanded us.

Jesus was never cruel to people. He never bragged. He never bullied.

He didn’t put people down. He never lied, or cheated.

Jesus almost never got angry at other people. About the only things Jesus ever got angry at, were greed, and hard-heartedness, and hypocrisy.

It’s a different kind of leadership. It’s being a servant, not a boss. It’s taking on the dirty jobs, and the thankless jobs. Jesus seemed to think that there is no job too humble for a real leader to do.

Jesus told stories about rich people and he said, “That’s all the reward they’re ever going to get. They can’t take it with them. But if you care for the poor, they’ll bless you, and thank God, and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”

Have you ever heard some of these things before? I’m not making any of this up.

True Christianity is always based on service. And true leaders are never too proud to kneel down, or take low, or to do the humblest jobs.

When Jesus comes riding in to town, he doesn’t come riding in a big car, or at the head of a fancy parade. He comes riding on a donkey, or on foot. He slips quietly into people’s homes, and brings his peace with him.

He greets us, in the lowest person we see – the person who holds the door for us, the person who comes and cleans, the waitress, the person at the car wash, the janitor, the housekeeper at the hospital.

That’s who Jesus is. Our Lord and Savior is also a servant. The tired cashier, who’s working three jobs. The nurse, who’s working extra shifts. The lunch lady at the school cafeteria. The person who stays late to clean up the kitchen and make it nice for the next group. Jesus is all those people.

To take that servant role can be tiring and discouraging. So be extra nice to those people, because they are Jesus. And take on that role yourself sometimes, because that’s what Jesus did.

Jesus brings dignity to those who are at the bottom. He saved the world, by being a servant. He leads by example. The hands that bless and heal are work-scarred hands. And the hands of Christ reach out to the poor and the lost.

Think about this. Remember this. Think about what Jesus means. Follow Jesus, the best way that you can.


Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Brown

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