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25th November 2001

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Scripture Reference

JOHN 13:1-17

This week Wesley Mission honoured three thousand committed volunteers who help in our ministry. We presented four hundred certificates commemorating their service at special dinners where they have been guests of honour. Without pay, they serve others. 

Men and women, young people and old, giving regular service visiting the sick and frail, massaging the limbs of the disabled, ringing the lonely, teaching children, running camps, pushing tea trolleys, selling books, organising libraries, painting fences, digging gardens, mowing lawns, counting money, building a library on a Pacific Island, collecting cans of food, packing Christmas hampers; accountants and computer programmers, bank tellers and secretaries, actuaries and bus drivers, housewives and widows, spending a work-day in a children's home, or a centre for the profoundly disabled, but all of them volunteers changing lives by humble service.

Remaking lives and humble service have been the two pole stars of my life. They are the focal points of Wesley Mission. Some Chinese people on hearing the story of Jesus for the first time were asked their impressions. What impressed most was the utter humility of Jesus in willingly serving His followers by washing their feet. Humble service was impressive. Jesus taught His disciples how to humbly serve during one of His top ten encounters. The disciples of Jesus were disputing "which one of them was the greatest." The mother of James and John had requested that in heaven, her sons be given special prominence. 

Luke 22:25-27 "Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." Then Jesus demonstrated His willingness to humbly serve. John 13: 2-17 On the night when Jesus was betrayed, there were four emblems on the Table of the Last Supper: bread and wine, and a basin of water and a towel. Jesus took the water and towel before He took the bread and wine, and acted as a common servant. 

In the streets of Jerusalem, feet in sandals, quickly became soiled from the dust, dirt and dried manure from ten thousand donkeys. Before a meal it was usual for a person to wash hands, and for a servant to wash their feet. Among the twelve disciples, no-one moved to take the basin and towel. Jesus affirmed to His disciples that He knew His own power and origins, then humbly washed His disciples feet. He did this as an unforgettable illustration of how His followers must be willing to humbly serve. The disciple who is willing to forget self in humbly serving others will discover incredible blessedness. So often we want to know what we are to do. But humble service starts with knowing Jesus and then you automatically do what He wants from you. Rather than knowing what you do, why not get your life right with Jesus Christ, and then you will do what you know! Knowing Him leads to doing right. Knowing leads to doing. Too many people want to do first and then know what they are doing.

Only a person confidently aware of himself is free to serve. Many are afraid to serve because of pride or fear of what others may think. They are afraid to serve others lest their service be seen as a lowering of status. John writes three times: "Jesus knew....Jesus knew...Jesus knew...." Jesus knew what? 

Jesus knew His dynamic. v3 "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power." This dynamic within enabled miracles, healings and His capacity to save the world from sin. It was power given by God. Jesus knew His dynamic. 
Jesus knew His divinity. Jesus know "that he had come from God." There was no confusion about His divine origin. He had come from God and had God's power. Jesus knew His divinity. 
Jesus knew His destiny. Jesus knew He "was returning to God" He was not confused about what would happen to Him. He knew what lay ahead was within God's plan for Him. He knew that He would be returning to the Father. He knew His destiny. But how does this self-awareness express itself? v4 "He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him." It is not accidental. Service was a consequence of a healthy self-awareness. Jesus did not fear people thinking Him a servant. He had no false humility wanting people to think Him better than He was. No concern that the others would rank Him lower because of what he was doing. These concerns frequently prevent us from humbly serving another.

But Jesus was completely aware of who He was, from whence He had come, and where He was going. So in full, confident self-awareness He was free to serve. Only people who are aware of who they really are, are free to humbly serve others. People who are insecure, who try to impress others, who hide feelings of inferiority, seek to sit in important places, be seen with the right people, and carefully avoid anything that would look like service, lack confident self-awareness. 

But they who know they are God's children, who are followers of Jesus Christ, live in the security that they are right with God. So they can be willing to humbly serve. You do not have to earn points from God, nor prove yourself to anybody else. The self-aware are free to humbly serve. But.... 

Those who are concerned with self pride are hindered in their service. Pop psychologists and do-it-yourself books tell you to make yourself different from the rest of the crowd, become aware of your uniqueness, find yourself in your special self-image. But that self emphasis may hinder your Christian service! Peter was wanting to be self-reliant, strong and proud of his own commitment. So he did not want to be seen by others being served. Peter said:v6-7 "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 answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Peter wanted to be independent. He knew he was leadership material. He could tell Jesus strongly what he would allow and not allow. 

But Jesus gently sat Peter back: "If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple." Here was a word of rebuke and an indication to Peter that discipleship demands humility both in serving and in being served. For many of us who willingly help others find being served is a humbling experience. Peter replied: v9 "Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Peter was discovering the dignity of service and the greatness of humility. Self-pride hinders any attempt at humble service. In trying to find yourself, you lose life, whereas those who lose their lives in serving others find life abundant. For..... 

Like any great teacher, Jesus having given an example then questioned His disciples if they understand what they had been experiencing. v12-17 "When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" He asked them. "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 also 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." The whole emphasis of being blessed lies in believing God and serving others. Only when you know God can you really be aware of who you are, where the power comes from and where you are going. That gives you full self awareness meaning that you are free to serve others, and thus find personal fulfilment and blessing.

Jesus said: "If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget Himself, carry his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." That is why we honour our volunteers. You have forgotten yourself, and humbly served others. Nearly one-third of people aged 18 or over did volunteer work in Australia last year. What wonderful people they are. The Australian Bureau of Statistics report showed that people aged 35-44 - those most likely to have children and family commitments - recorded the highest rate of un-paid work. In spite of the demands of their children they serve the community. Many are helping their children by running sporting teams, serving in school tuck shops, teaching youth clubs and so on. 

Jesus told His disciples to forget themselves, deny themselves, lose themselves for His sake and the Gospel. In forgetting themselves in serving others, they will find their lives and true blessing, the reward of humble service. When you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you do not have to promote yourself. You do not have to paint a picture of yourself in glowing colours, and frame yourself in gilt edges. All you need do is to forget yourself and be a mirror in which the reflection of Christ may be seen. Like Him you are to take up the towel and basin of water, and be willing to humbly serve. True freedom comes when you forget all the ways in which you try to be different from others, and instead realise that you are so alike others in your apartness from God, your sinfulness and disobedience. Your renewal begins when you realise that "all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory." You are exactly like every other person in God's eyes.

It was for people like you that Christ died. He identified Himself with you and now you can identify your-self with Him. Like Peter you will say: "Lord, do not only wash my feet then! Wash my hands and head too!" You have renounced everything of self: pride in your achievements, independence in your attitudes, confidence in your strength, arrogance in your will ? you are ready to be reborn. You have lost your life and found it! Denied yourself and gained everything. 

Forget yourself into immortality. Discover the truth that sets you free, free to serve! Let go of your prerogatives, your uniqueness, your achievements. Let go and let God take your lives into His service. Instead of losing everything, you lose nothing of worth and gained everything of value. They are most blessed who humbly serve others. As Jim Eliot, one of the martyred missionaries in Ecuador, wrote in his diary just before being killed with four other missionaries by the Auca Indians: "No man is a fool who gives up what he can-not keep in order to gain what He cannot lose." 

Whatever you give to Christ becomes yours eternally. As the Cross is the sign of salvation, so the basin and towel is the symbol of service. Jesus calls us who have met Him round His Table to be willing to take up the basin of water and towel and follow Him in humble service. He calls us to deny ourselves. He calls us to renounce self. He calls us to forget self, serve others and find true blessing. Being willing to humbly serve is the secret of true blessedness! Just do what you know and you will be blessed!

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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