The apostle Matthew writes in his gospel about an ugly competitive spirit that arose among the twelve disciples toward the end of Jesus's ministry on earth. Two of them, James and John, asked their mother to try to secure privileged positions for themselves in Jesus's future kingdom. When the other disciples heard about it they were indignant. Harsh words were exchanged, tempers flared so Jesus called them all together for a meeting and this is what He said,
“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
It would seem that it would be hard to miss the point but just a few days later the disciples arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and they were still not getting it. They were still going at each other. Peter and John had secured the room for the Passover meal but they had neglected to make arrangements for foot-washing. This was a common and expected part of a gathering in this culture. It was not a religious custom just a common courtesy.
As they arrived that evening, no one would condescend to perform the humble task. Jesus's teaching a few days earlier had little or no effect! No one would volunteer. In John’s gospel he relates what happened behind the closed doors of this meal. The disciples were all reclining at the table with their shamefully dirty feet stretching out behind them. There was tension in the room and in the middle of the meal Jesus stood up and began taking off his outer garments. He took a towel and wrapped it around his body and he poured water into a basin and began slowly to move around the circle, washing each disciple’s outstretched feet, wiping them with the towel with which he was wrapped.
It was an unbelievable moment. The Jewish law taught that no Hebrew, even a slave, could be commanded to wash feet. Yet Jesus did it in a most humbling way possible, wrapped in a servants towel. Can you hear the trickle of water as it was being poured over twelve sets of feet? Can you hear the friction of the towel on dirty wet feet? Can you hear what Jesus said when He was done?
“After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.” John 13:12-16
Think about what we heard last week in verse one through four.
“. . . by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." Philippians 2
Paul is about to drive home the point that Jesus tried to instill in His disciples. He is about to set Jesus up as the model and the ultimate example of the humility and servant hood we are to emulate.
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11
For a few moments today I want to reflect on these words and try to absorb the power of them into our own lives.
Let us observe Jesus Christ as this plays out in His life.
We observe His Humility in Heaven:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. . .
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God”
It is important that we come to understand who Jesus was and why we follow Him with such abandon. He was and is God. This is important theology and the basis for us accepting and being in relationship with Christ. Christ exists in the form of God throughout eternity. Even in His high priestly prayer in the Upper Room He prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5)
This glory is almost unreal or beyond the comprehension of our unreflective and distracted minds but the reality is overwhelming. He is the Light of the World, The Bread of heaven, The Bright and Morning Star and we search for more ways to describe this one called Jesus who was and is equal with God.
Do you know what my prayer is for you and me today? It is that God will enlarge our hearts. It is that God will provide us with the capacity to wrap our minds around who Jesus is.
The thought here is that in His humility, Jesus although he was equal with God, did not think it was something He needed to hang onto and wear as a badge or honor. He didn’t hang it on the wall for everyone to see, so to speak. I have an acquaintance that has a Ph.D. in psychology and soon after he received it he had these magnetic signs made and place on his car with his name and his degree. Now I am sure he would tell you it is for advertising his counseling business but the first time I saw it I sort of wanted to go somewhere and throw up or something.
There is none of that in Jesus. When we push and shove each other around and vie for positions there is nothing about that that is like Christ. We are instructed by Paul to look out for each other not our own interests. And now he lays down the theology of Christ as our example to follow.
We observe His Humility in Life:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. . .
made Himself of no reputation taking the form of a bondservant and coming in
the likeness of men.”
I wish I would have put the word up on the screen for you to see but I didn’t do it. Here is the word: INCARNATION.
This word simply means “in flesh.” Christ came in the form of flesh and we call that the Incarnation.
Let this mind be in you? Let me give you three sub-points that you can write in your notes for reflection.
1.) His emptying: “made himself of no reputation (or nothing)” A little truer interpretation might be “He emptied Himself. . .” In other words, although Jesus had incredible credentials He laid them aside and intentionally so that He might perform the ministry He was called on to do.
2.) Emptying by taking. . .” He took on the form of a bondservant we read in Paul's letter. Here we have the word form again. He was in the “form of God” and now he is choosing to be in the “form of a bondservant.” He adopted the appearance of a slave. One that was bound to do a duty.
Jesus made a choice to come to this earth. He leaves behind royalty to take up the rags of living on the earth He created as a human being. The bible says the Son of God didn’t even have a place to pillow His head. He “put on” the form that would illustrate who we are called to be. It illustrates our call to be servants.
Let me remind you that the DNA of this church is three fold. It includes Celebration and I hope you do that in your life not just on Sunday or Saturday during services in a church building. It includes Community and that takes a lot of sacrificing of self to walk with others and do life with them. But the last one is one that sometimes new people to our church and a few of you that have been around a while either miss or conveniently overlook and that is the Call.
Listen to me very carefully. Everyone in this room that claims to be a Chrsitfollower has a call in their life to be lived out. Everyone of us needs to be serving others through a ministry of some kind.
We empty ourselves and our schedules to make room for serving. In the context of this church we attend a service and work a service. That may mean you attend at Williams Street but serve at Real Life or you attend at the Fire House but you come back here for a service at Williams Street and serve. Why? Because that is the example left us in the Bible and that is who we are as a church. The core people of this church serve others.
I always have trouble processing days like yesterday. Yesterday over 600 children received school supplies. They along with their families ate a meal together. It is always a day that makes you feel good when you participate. Do you want to know something? This day scares me to death because it feels so good, it is three hours of serving others, it is right and a great thing to do. But it scares me because I don’t want us to walk away from this wonderful day patting ourselves on the back and then waiting a year to reconnect with the hundreds of people who were on our parking lot and in this building yesterday. When I walked through and saw people sitting around our foyers who never walk through our doors on Sunday I felt like falling on my knees somewhere private and just crying out to God that we as a church will learn how to keep loving them and that we will find more ways to connect with them on a regular basis.
We empty ourselves of ourselves and take on the form of something or someone else! We are called to take on the form of our Lord.
3.) Emptying by being born: Jesus took on the form of the human experience. We are called to be born again or born anew. We follow our Lord in His continuous example of humility.
We observe His Humility in Death :
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. . .
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became
obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Serving others is the vocation of every Christ follower. We are called to serve up as well as down. We are called to serve the rich and the poor. We are called to pick up the towel and serve. We are called to die to ourselves, our plans and our wishes and just follow Christ. It may be that in the midst of following Him that we will experience the fulfillment of some of our own ambitions but we surrender our will to His.
It is a remarkable word but hear it today. . . “He humbled Himself” “He became obedient.” “He became obedient to the point of death.”
I don’t even know what to say or add to this. I want to stand back and weep. I want to fall down and worship our Lord and ask that I might come to understand and follow Him in His obedience. I am overwhelmed when I think of it today.
I want to share something with you written by J.B. Phillips:
The Visited Planet:
Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendors and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
"I want you to watch that one particularly," said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
"Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me," said the little angel. "What's special about that one?"
"That," replied his senior solemnly, "is the Visited Planet."
"Visited?" said the little one. "you don't mean visited by --------?
"Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory." And at these words he bowed his head reverently.
"But how?" queried the younger one. "Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendors of His Creation, and millions more that I'm sure I haven't seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?"
"It isn't for us," said his senior a little stiffly, "to question His 'why's', except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them - how else do you suppose could He visit them?"
The little angels face wrinkled in disgust.
"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?"
"I do, and I don't think He would like you to call them 'creeping, crawling creatures' in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him."
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
"Close your eyes for a moment," said the senior angel, "and we will go back in what they call Time."
While the little angels eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.
"Now look!" And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.
"Well, what am I seeing now?" queried the little angel.
"You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago," returned his companion. "Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father's knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time."
"Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?" asked the junior angel rather crossly.
"It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendour have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of over lives, but to them - well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful."
The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.
"I think I can guess," said the little angel in a low voice. "That was the Visit, wasn't it?"
"Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out."
"But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?"
"No, it wasn't that" returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. "They failed to recognise Him for Who He was - or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him."
"The fools, the crazy fools! They don't deserve ----"
"Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don't deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them."
"And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won't judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?"
"Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again."
In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.
"What now?" asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.
"They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves."
"Thank God for that," said the little angel.
"Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now."
As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.
"You see what is happening?" asked the senior angel. "The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth."
"Yes, yes," said the little angel impatiently, "but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?"
His senior shook his head. "We simply do not know," he replied. "It is in the Father's hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this
little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it."
"Yes, I see, though I don't understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet."
We have been visited by our Lord today. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
We are going to ask you to respond to this today by contemplating for a few moments and utilizing the card you received today when you came in. Take some time before you rush into the rest of this Lord’s day to spend this time with Him.
Now let us go from this place to serve in humility and following in our Lord’s footsteps. Let us take up the towel and serve. Let us take on the form of our Lord.