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Looking for a Sovereign, Receiving a Servant
Scripture: John 13:1-17
Track 1 of 6 in the Advent--The Great Misunderstanding / Paradox series
Running time: 38 minutes, 58 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

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"Looking For a Sovereign Receiving a Servant.
November 25, 2007

We all have expectations, don't we? Some things just don't fit the picture. They don't quite seem to match up with our expectation of what ought to be, like McDonald's and a prince sweeping floors. That's not new. It's always been around. Jews had expectations of their Messiah, their king coming. They had it figured out. After all, they were oppressed people, had been for, well, not years, not even decades, but centuries.

Here they were supposed to be the privileged people of God. They had been set apart as a nation and had been given a place in the universe that was different than every other person. They had been promised a land and superiority. They had been given an opportunity to be the people of God and to experience his presence, and somehow no matter what happened, it seemed like every time they turned around they were under oppression, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, now Rome, always under somebody's thumb and always living in the hope, the anticipation that the Messiah would come. When the Messiah came, he would give them the freedom for which they had so longed and had been expecting.

When this Jesus showed up on the scene, He seemed to have everything that they needed, especially when you think about it from their perspective. Not from yours, thinking about it in the way that you think about it, but thinking about it as an oppressed person under political persecution looking for someone who could come and release you, who could come and set things straight militarily, politically. He must have made an enormous impression, able to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. You are thinking military leader. That's got to sound good to you because you don't have to worry about supply lines and cooks.

He healed the lame, made the deaf to hear and the blind to see, and you can just imagine somebody who's thinking militarily thinking, wow, it doesn't make any difference what happens. No matter what, if our guys get hurt, he can just fix them right there on the spot. He can raise the dead. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a military leader with a leader who could raise the dead? Then you could send your soldiers in as zealously as they chose because nothing would ever really matter. They could go full force, and if they died, he could raise them up again and out they would come. This was what they were looking for.

You remember how the story goes. He spends time with the disciples, with people, and pretty soon He asks the question, Who do people think I am? Well, some people think you are prophet. And he turned to his disciples, and he asked the question, But who do you think I am? And Peter steps out and says, The Messiah. Hopeful, not quite certain, but really longing for that to be the truth. And he immediately announces that He is going to go to Jerusalem and die. He is going to be crucified. And Peter's response is, You can't do that. Messiahs don't die. Particularly they aren't crucified. I mean, any good Jew knew that anybody who died on a tree, hung or crucified on a piece of wood, was accursed, that that was God's direct statement that this person could not possibly be right in his eyes. How can the Messiah be both cursed and blessed? Jesus didn't fit the bill. It didn't make any sense, because their expectations were such that He could not fill what they wanted.

We come to John Chapter 13. We find ourselves in that transition period in the life of Jesus where he is trying to live out his Messiahship in his final hours. He has gathered together, as you know, in John Chapter 13 for the final supper, the Lord's Supper, the last supper. Call it what you will. It's going to be a foot washing service. You are familiar with that. In the context outside of John we learn something that is really significant to the story, because it's in this context of the final meal with Jesus that the disciples are arguing over who is greatest in the kingdom. That's what's going on in the background when they gather in the upper room. Which one of us is the most important? From John's perspective the story starts simply enough in Verse number 1 of John Chapter 13. "It was just before the Passover feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." Verse 1, The hour has come. The time has come. What a rich picture in the Gospel of John. You will find that word, "The hour has come," from beginning to end. It shows up early on in Chapter 4 and Chapter 7. Every time it occurs in the first part of the book the hour is not yet. The hour has not yet come. Something of real significance is going to happen, but it hasn't happened yet.

And then when you get to Chapter 12 we turn this corner. We begin to move into the last hours of the life of Jesus. From that point on, Chapter 12, Chapter 13 and Chapter 17, The hour has come. The transition is being made. It's time. Things are starting to unfold in the way that God intended for them to unfold.

It's transition in the life of a disciple not unlike the fact that we are in transition ourselves. It's advent season. I don't know if you've ever followed the christian calendar, but starting today we begin to live in anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Now, that's the christian calendar. Of course, everybody already always economic calendar started Friday. Black Friday. Everybody knows that you can't really enter the holiday season until after Thanksgiving, and the first day coming out of that, midnight, 4:00 A.M., wherever you happen to be, that's when the official transition occurs. It's now holiday season, time to buy for Christmas. I don't know if you saw this. I saw this several times over the weekend. I didn't fully understand it. But last night I heard them say on the television, there are seven days left before the days of Christmas. I thought, what? There are seven days left before 25 days start. What you know is that you are in transition. Something has happened, something is changing, something is different, and that's happening in the life of these disciples.

We are at this transition where he is going to begin to say things that they are not going to understand, but don't miss the last part of Verse number 1, because it is at this moment He is going to show them the full extent of His love. Whatever it is that they had seen up to this point, He is going to somehow magnify that and show them the fullness of that. Now, that, too, is a rich picture in John's gospel. His love. It reaches all the way back to the third chapter at least when in conversation with Nicodemus we have for us the most famous of all verses of John, "For God so loved the world," and that theme is going to run itself out all the way to the 21st Chapter when He was going to remind Peter at least three times that love is at the heart of this relationship. And in this chapter He is going to say, I'm about to demonstrate to you what it means to genuinely, fully, completely love. In verse 2 the text says, "The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Him. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power and that He had come from God and was returning to God. And so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist. After that He poured water into a basin, and He began to wash His disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him." Did you catch that little bit right at the beginning? He knew his relationship with the Father. He fully understood that God had put all things under his feet. He recognized that he was the legitimate sovereign. He understood. And John wants you to be sure to know that he understood that this servant thing He is about to enter into is not some kind of thing sprung on him, but He understands He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, everything. That's been the plan from the very beginning was to put everything under the feet of Jesus, to put Him Lord over it all. And Jesus knows that that's true. It has come His time. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe. He doesn't need to do this. So He takes off his outer garment. He wraps himself in a towel. He does what the host should have done when they arrived. He begins to wash their feet. And you just have to understand, of course, that there is flip-flops on their toes and feet are dirty. It is the nature of what happens. And so whenever you enter the house the slave meets you at the door with a basin and a towel and he cleans up your feet because, frankly, who wants a bunch of people in your house with dirty feet, especially when you think about how they ate their meals. Now, if you get invited to the Sackett household, don't plan on this. Just wash your feet yourself before you get there. Nobody is going to meet you at the door with a towel. And all of those pictures that you remember seeing of the Lord's Supper with everybody sitting neatly around the table? That's great for artists, just lousy history. That isn't how they did it. They laid down on their elbow and their feet stuck out away from the table. And so Jesus gets up from the table, and He begins to make his rounds washing dirty feet. It must have been just a bit uncomfortable. But it's so Jesus-like. This text is so parallel to all of the other stories that you hear about Him. For example, the early church captured in one of its very first songs this image. We see it in Philippians Chapter 2. He did not think equality with God something to be held onto. He took upon himself the image of a man, and in that form became a servant. Now, this is a job of the most lowly slave in the household, and the sovereign Lord of the universe was performing that act.

The text goes on to tell us that in the context of understanding who He is He still performs this rather menial task, and it creates a bit of a problem, particularly for Peter. Verse Number 6, "He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.' 'No,' said Peter. 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus responded, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.' 'Well, then,' Lord Peter replied, 'not just my feet, but my hands and my head, too.' Jesus says, 'A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet. His whole body is clean. And you're clean.'" By the way, that's plural. The disciples are clean. "'But not all of them,' he says. For He knew who was going to be betray him." That is why he said not everyone was clean.

You can imagine, can't you, Peter trying to anticipate this. I don't know where Peter was in the order. The text simply says, He came to Peter. You can almost see the mounting anxiety in Peter as Jesus gets closer and closer and closer. He knows he is going to experience this humbling foot washing experience, and so he raises the question, Are you going to wash my feet? No, you can't.

And then it gets really confusing, and there is a bunch of stuff about cleansing, taking a bath, anointing your feet, and washing, and I throw my hands up in despair and say, wow, I don't get it. And I don't. And, in fact, this text has been discussed and debated for 2,000 years. What in the world is Jesus talking about here? Is this somehow related to the Lord's Supper? Is it somehow related to our baptism? Is that the kind of cleansing that he is talking about? And in all honesty, I don't know. I just don't know what all the connections are. And, frankly, I'm content to just leave it with my lack of understanding. I'm okay with not knowing. Because I think I understand the point that's being made in Peter's life. I'm not sure that Peter understood it all either, but he understood this. If God is God and Jesus is the Messiah, then whatever Jesus wants is what I have to give. And, Lord, I don't know exactly what you want, but if you want to wash my feet and somehow that's going to help, then don't just wash my feet, wash everything. Now, obviously he misunderstood. But Jesus implies in this text that one of these days Peter would get this thing figured out and he would understand something about his relationship with God because of this experience that he doesn't currently understand. So I'm content to live with the fact that I don't fully understand, and maybe one of these days I will. If I just hang around long enough I'll get some of this sorted out. What I do believe is this. That what this text teaches is that God is God and God can do whatever he wants, and my response is to say, okay, you do it. I don't understand it, but whatever it is you want to do you do it, and I'll go along with it because you are God and I'm not.

And I do think Peter began to understand a bit later at least, because in Acts Chapter 3 he comes back to this image of cleansing, and he reminds the people in Jerusalem there at the temple grounds in worship, those who have responded to the gospel apparently already on the day before, he says to them, you need to repent and there will be a refreshing that comes from on high because there will be a cleansing associated with that repentance, and somehow he understood that in the presence of Jesus we can come for cleansing. We can come for cleaning. We can respond to God in such a way that he would take from us that which has made us dirty. It didn't require a whole new bath, but it did require for us to come.

Some of you know that. You know what it's like to have made a relationship with God, have created this possibility of entering in with God and living with him, but you find yourself dirty. For some reason you find yourself unclean. You find yourself needing a refreshing. And what he says is it's available in Jesus, it's available, turn to Him, ask for it, He'll bring it. And he figured out that this was more than one act. This was something that we were to imitate. Jesus is going to use the word example here in the next paragraph, and Peter is going to pick that language up and he is going to carry it over in his own book in Peter Chapter 2 when he is going to remind us that Jesus is our example and we are to walk in his steps. And so whatever else Peter learned today or didn't figure out today, he figured out later that there was something in this experience that was to drive who he was and how he lived. Jesus is going to go another step in this story, and he is going to explain some things to the disciples about what's going on. It says in Verse 12, "When he finished washing their feet, He put on his clothes. He returned to his place, and He asked this question: 'Do you understand what I've done? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.'" Did you notice that subtle shift in the text? "You call me Teacher and Lord. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher." Do you hear it? There are some folks really content with letting Jesus be the teacher. They want to learn. They come. They study. They listen. They read their bibles. They engage God in some kind of a relationship whereby they can begin to learn. But the doing, that's another matter. Jesus turns to that. And it's not that learning isn't important, but he shifts the focus from learning to doing. Master and Teacher. And, quite honestly, most of us know a lot more than we are doing now. So the question isn't, can I learn more? The question is, am I willing to submit to the Lordship of the one who teaches me? Because it is pleasant, isn't it, to come, to learn, to experience, and you walk out -- often you walk out, I do at least, walk out thinking, I need to do something about that, and by the time you get through lunch you've pretty well forgotten what happened on Sunday morning. And so you come back next week, and you hear and you experience and you enjoy and you learn and you think to yourself, I ought to do something about that. And another week passes, and somehow it's okay. He is teacher, but is He Lord? And in this example there is this powerful statement to the disciples that they are to listen and to learn from the full extent of his love. Well, what was that? How did Jesus illustrate the full extent of his love? Well, he does it, first of all, by becoming their servant, by doing the menial task of washing their feet. And if we stay with this text and we follow it out, what we could see is the full extent of his love not only went from washing their feet but going to a cross and dying for them. And it confounded all of their expectations, just like I'm afraid that sometimes Jesus confounds our expectations as well, because I think all of us come to Jesus with a certain set of expectations. We picked them up either from what we have heard from other people or maybe something we have heard from sermons along the way. We have been exposed to enough of what Jesus teaches and what the church says about that that we have this kind of expectation of what's supposed to happen when we come in a relationship with God to experience whatever it is that God has for us, and I have a sneaking suspicion that some of our expectations are just not true.

I think christians often come believing that, having heard that once they give their lives to Christ everything is smooth and easy from that point on. Because, I mean, after all, he is the one who turns life upside down and makes everything right. And so if you give your life to Christ, everything is going to be good after that and nothing bad will ever happen to you. Most of you have enough experience in life to know that that simply is not true, and yet it gets said all the time. And there are christian people who honestly believe that if I give myself to Christ that that's the end of my trouble.

Some of you know that I tend to become a bit overly passionate about some things. For those of you who don't know that, don't be surprised when that happens. I believe deeply what I believe, and sometimes it gets me responding more emotionally than maybe I should rationally. I try to keep it under control. I'm only picking on you guys once in awhile. Sitting in my office one day a student came in, and he stood in the doorway and began to engage this conversation, and it became clear to me very quickly that he had bought into this kind of theology that says once I became a believer all I had to do was pray hard enough and believe strong enough and nothing bad would ever happen. And we carried this conversation for a little while, and I said, do you really believe that, that if you just pray enough and believe hard enough that nothing bad happens? He said absolutely. And I said, I think it would be a good idea if you leave now, because I think if you stay here I'm going to end up saying things I shouldn't say.

He didn't leave. And so we carried the conversation a bit further, and I said, I just need to get some clarity. Just let me ask you this question. Are you telling me that the reason that my friend Wendy was raped and tortured and ultimately murdered and thrown into the sage brush in San Bernardino, California, was because her parents didn't have enough faith? And he said, yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. And I said, don't let the door hit you on the way out, because if you stay here I'm going to say things I will regret saying and have to apologize to you for them.

Those are false expectations. And on behalf of anybody whoever taught anything in any church wherever you have been, if you have been taught that, I apologize on our behalf because it's just a lie. Bad things don't stop happening just because you're a believer in Jesus. Life is still life, and the world still hurts. And you may still have financial trouble, and you may still find yourself physically in pain. You may find yourself having a spouse who has walked out on you or children who have rebelled against you. You may find yourself feeling the most hurt that you can ever imagine, and if you are not careful you will be like those who have those false expectations. You will begin to think that God isn't keeping his promise, and it has nothing to do with God's promise, because God's promise isn't to make everything right. God's promise is to walk with you through this and to never leave you, to be with you constantly, and to take those bad experiences and shape you into the nature of Jesus through them. He will not even change the experience. The experience will still be bad. But he will make you like Christ. And our expectations can sometimes get us in so much trouble because we find ourselves thinking things that simply are not true, then want to blame God when life doesn't turn out the way it is supposed to.

It is such a struggle for those of us who really believe these things to think that there is more to this life than just what we get out of it. I confess that's why I became a christian. I wouldn't lie to you about that. I didn't know anything about the expectations of being a believer when I became a christian. I knew where my life was going. That was nowhere. And I knew I needed forgiveness and I needed to have my life matter for something. And when Jesus came along, He was the answer to that. And so I responded to the gospel for what I could get out of it. But it didn't take very long before somebody came along and said, there is more to it than this. This is not just about what you get as a benefit. There is something that you're supposed to give back to this.

I remember when David became a christian. Dave was your typical selfish human being. And when he became a christian, all it did was heighten his selfishness, because people wanted to treat him well. They wanted to be nice to him. And so he would go to somebody's house for a meal, and they would send food home with him because they knew that he probably needed it, and he began to expect that and he would ask for it. And one day we just had to sit him down and say, whoa, wait. You know, people, first of all, would enjoy giving to you more if you weren't always asking. And, secondly, when are you going to start giving back? I don't necessarily mean financially, but when are you going to turn the table? When are you not as a repayment to somebody who has done something nice to you, but just as a part of your core character that you become a giving, serving person? For those of you who are guests with us and haven't been here very long, don't know us very well, I probably should clarify something for you. When you come here, I make you one promise, that from this pulpit you will be told the truth. I'm not telling you that I will never make a mistake. I'm not telling you that I will not sometimes mess up on the interpretation of things. I am telling you I will never tell you knowingly a lie of what to expect in your faith. What you should expect is for God to call you to become a servant just like His son did. This sovereign God who has the ability to forgive your sins does. That's the benefit.

But you should also expect him to turn you inside out and to reverse what's going on in you and put it down for other people. That's the nature of what this is about. If you've ever wondered why we have this Wednesday evening Inside/Out approach, this strategy of what we are trying to do is not because we can think we can feed every hungry family, it is not that we think we can wash every dirty window, it is not because we can do anything. It's because what we need is to be reshaped on the inside, and we need to get out of our chair, onto our knees, and wash somebody's dirty feet, not because their feet are dirty, but because we want to. Because, otherwise, we will never become like Christ.

He is a servant, and those who follow Him must somehow, sometime find themselves just naturally serving people without having to gather on a Wednesday evening under somebody's instruction, just by your very nature looking and seeing and becoming sensitive to opportunities to wash other people's feet just because it's who you are. And so we'll keep doing it. And you'll hear about what the next opportunity is, and you will hear it again during the winter season after the first of the year. We will come back because we honestly believe that more than we need anything else we need to be turned into people who look like Christ.

And there is one way to do that. And some of you will come back in a week or two, and you'll think, oh, man, here we go again. We are talking about the ministry plan, slash that means money, and you'll find yourself saying, how come you guys keep raising the money every year? Because there is more ministry that needs to be done, that's why. That's one reason. And the second reason is because every one of us, all of us need always to learn to grow in our generosity, in our service to other people, and we must always be stretched. Because, otherwise, we grow really comfortable with our place at the table.

And if you sometimes get tired of hearing about our need for you to serve, even here in the building, it's only partly because we need your service. It's partly because you need to serve. You know, some people think that because we have so many people here on a Sunday morning than we couldn't possibly ever run out of volunteers. Can I correct that just a second? We don't have enough people signed up to serve communion right now. We don't have enough people volunteering to stand at the door and just greet people, to just say hello, to pass out a bulletin, to be at an outside door just to say good morning.

And I suspect that there are a lot of people who sit in these services Sunday after Sunday thinking, well, they have got plenty of people to do that. They don't need me. Listen, if you are a grump, we don't need you. A frown at the front door is not what we are looking for. But a smile and a warm handshake and a welcome to this community. Do you have any idea that in the first 10 or 11 seconds that somebody comes in our door is going to determine whether they come back. Now, that doesn't mean that they are going to become christians or not christians, but not coming back is not a move in the right direction.

And those of you who feel like you have nothing to offer, make a quick trip through the bathroom between services and just make sure they are presentable to a guest. If you don't feel like you can be up front doing something that people see, if you don't feel like you have the skills to teach a class or to sing in choir, you have the skills to serve, and it isn't just because we need you, we do, but it's because you need to do that. It's part of who you are as a christian, to serve people.

I don't know what you think you're going to get when you meet Jesus. I do know this. You're going to meet both sovereign and servant. Just because he served at a table, just because he washed their feet didn't make him any less or any worse. It simply meant he was a humbling sovereign who was both Lord and servant. And whatever else Peter might have learned, he apparently began the journey of learning what it means to come to one who is both teacher and Lord, because Peter is the one who reminds us again and again about faithfully obeying the teaching of God. I don't know what all Peter understood that particular day, but I have to confess to you I love the spirit with which Peter came. Even in his misunderstanding. Lord, if making me clean is what you need to do, then start with the head and move to the feet. That wasn't what he was asking, but it's what Peter wanted was to be clean. And he was willing to say, Lord, whatever you have to do in my life do it, because I want to belong to you. I find myself wondering if that's the spirit in which I come. I genuinely wonder if it's the spirit in which you come. I mean, if the church were put in a position where they said we could only worship at 4:00 A.M., do you suppose that our parking lot would be as full as J.C. Penney's was Friday morning? Do you suppose if being a christian was really exacting and demanding and inconvenient that we would still be here? He came showing us the full extent of his love, which was not _____. It wasn't even safe. And every Sunday we come to a table that reminds us how much it cost him to be our savior, our sovereign, our servant. We hold in our hands the broken body and shed blood of one who gave everything for you. So we invite you to come and to celebrate that relationship and to recognize that in that relationship there is the need for you to be an obedient servant as well as a gracious recipient. So come. Share with Him, and in the sharing commit yourself to the learning and the doing of what He asks.