Behold, My Servant ... Humbled!
Lord God, our dear heavenly Father, as we gather during this Lenten Season, send Your Spirit to guide us in worship. As we ponder the willing sacrifice of Jesus, who came into this world as Your Servant and our Substitute, impress upon us His divine image. Move us, O Lord, to repent of our sins, to believe in Jesus, to heed Your words, and to live in accordance with Your gracious and good will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Text: John 13:3-5
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
In Christ Jesus, who came to serve rather than to be served, dear fellow redeemed:
The theme for our Lenten Season this year is: “Behold, My Servant!” Those three words begin one of the most important Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus’ passion. Please open today’s service bulletin and you will find Isaiah 52:13-15 printed as follows: “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what as not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.”
The life and work of Jesus Christ are a study in contrasts. He is true God, while at the same time true man. He is described earlier in Isaiah as a sovereign King (cf. Isaiah 9:7), while here He is described as a suffering Servant. In this prophecy Jesus is first described as being “exalted… extolled and…very high,” but then we are told “His visage (appearance) was marred more than any man.” During this Lenten Season we will consider Jesus as God the Father’s Servant. We will see Him denied, betrayed, accused, mocked, executed, and finally exalted. Today we behold Him humbled! Yes, our God urges us: “BEHOLD, MY SERVANT…humbled… by choice in spite of possessing all things; humbled…by choice in view of knowing all things!”
The time was Maundy Thursday evening. The place was an upper room in a private residence in Jerusalem. We do not know whose home it was, although some suggest that it was the evangelist Mark’s mother’s. Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples and would shortly institute His sacramental supper. Within hours the events leading up to His passion would begin. First, however, Jesus wanted to teach His disciples the meaning of love and the nature of service. His method was simple, yet striking. We are told, “Jesus…rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
Yes, the method was striking—the Master kneeling and washing the feet of His disciples, the Teacher bowing down before His students. Somehow it just does not seem right. Had we been there, we might have been tempted to join Peter in exclaiming, “You shall never wash my feet,” yet as Peter we must listen closely to Jesus as He tells us, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). We need the washing that only Jesus can provide. We are covered with the stains of sin, which can only be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb—that blessed Son of God! We need God’s grace and mercy showered upon us, for our own works and merit cannot remove the sin that clings so tenaciously to us. So Jesus came, the Father’s Servant to bear our sins, to pay the awful price, so that we might be washed clean, and thereafter drawn close to our God. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to Titus, “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:4-7).
Yes, Jesus came to save us by serving as our Savior, but what moved Him to serve? The evangelist John informs us within our text why Jesus chose to serve. We are told, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands…rose from supper and laid aside His garments.” Jesus, as true God, possessed all things. The Bible tells us that “all things were made through Him” (John 1:3). As true God, all things belonged to Him (cf. Psalm 24:1). He has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18b). He could have come legitimately and demanded our service, but in spite of all that He possessed He chose to serve those who did not deserve His service, those who disregard His service, even those who despise His service. That is the nature of grace—the undeserved love of God for us sinners. He who possessed all came to deliver those who by nature possess nothing! The apostle Paul, understanding this striking truth, reminded the Corinthian Christians even as he reminds us, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
In addition, John goes on to say, “Jesus, knowing…that He had come from God and was going to God,…took up the towel and girded Himself.” Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him. Humanly speaking, He did not want to go through with the sufferings and death that awaited Him. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Oh My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Notice that Jesus, the Father’s Servant, chose humbly to accept the Father’s will in spite of what lay ahead. This He did, as the writer to the Hebrews states, “For the joy that was set before Him, (Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Jesus chose to humble Himself, because He knew that through His suffering He would deliver us, and after His suffering He would be glorified! Therefore, God our heavenly Father urges usBEHOLD, MY SERVANT…humbled…by choice in spite of possessing all things; humbled…by choice in view of knowing all things!
To what end did Jesus humble Himself? What was His purpose in washing His disciples feet and then proceeding through His death to wash their souls and ours? The apostle Paul explains that purpose when he tells the Roman Christians, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (8:28-29). My dear friends, Jesus served us in order that we might, having been cleansed of our sins by the grace of God, share the image—the attitude, actions, and intentions—of Jesus Christ. Jesus came into this world as the Father’s Servant, so that we might be moved likewise to serve. To the Christians in Philippi the apostle Paul wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (2:5-8).
This to our fleshly hearts often seems quite distasteful. By nature we do not want to serve. Quite the contrary, we want to be served. We work hard. We get a good education. We devote ourselves to a career. We save and invest our fortunes—not to serve others, but to be served and to get ahead ourselves! But this, dear friends, is the way of the world, and the Scriptures clearly tell us, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15b).
Jesus’ reasons for service, however, reveal that which frees us to serve. When an individual possesses all things, he no longer needs to focus on himself, but rather is freed to serve others. When a person knows with certainty that glory awaits in the future, he can dedicate himself to the service of others. My dear friends, in Christ we possess all things! In Christ our future is certain! Those facts free us to serve, even as they did our blessed Savior Jesus. Knowing these things we too can choose to humble ourselves as did our Savior, knowing that we are and will be exalted by God our heavenly Father.
Consider the following passages and their meaning for all who believe. The apostle Peter describes us Christians as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that (we) may proclaim the praises of Him who called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). What has God made us by faith? The Book of Revelation calls us “kings and priests (who) shall reign on the earth” (cf. Revelation 5:10). As kings and priests we are ruling with Christ. He can and will provide everything that we need in this earth, as we seek and serve Him. Therefore, we do not have to be constantly investing all of our time and efforts in securing for ourselves all of the things that we want, for in and through Christ we already have what we truly need. In addition, because we know that in Christ we are complete (cf. Colossians 2:10) and that our salvation is secure, we also know what our future holds—the glories of heaven. Consequently, we are freed from the fears that afflict so many people. Our future both in this life and in the life to come are in God’s good and gracious hands. We know we will go to heaven, for that is God’s gift to us by grace through faith, and we know that between this moment and eternity our good and gracious God will be with us each step of the way. Therefore, we can choose to serve, as did our Savior. Thereby we can bring glory to His name, for make no mistake—the world around us sees the faith within us as it observes our lives of love and service.
Our heavenly Father comes to us as we begin this Lenten season and cries out to us: BEHOLD, MY SERVANT…humbled by choice in spite of possessing all things; humbled by choice in view of knowing all things! Having beheld the Father’s Servant, may we in faith choose likewise to follow His example, rejoicing in the fruits of His labor, even as we share those fruits with others. Amen.
Soli Dei Gloria!
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting