He Stoops to Conquer
28 May 2011, Dr Alex Currie
(Alex is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
He Stoops to Conquer (another in a series on the Gospel of John) - Scripture Reading: John 13:1-17
Water has so many uses. We drink it, wash in it, and irrigate with it. We use it for cooling and heating. We swim in it, water ski on it and ski down frozen slopes of water turned to snow. We generate power with it and produce ice or steam out of it. It has its religious uses too.
In John's gospel there are many uses of water. Person are baptised in water as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. John 1:26, 31, 33. Miracles are performed with water. John 2:7,9; 9:6. Birth and New Birth is occasioned with water. John 3:5. Water is drawn from a well for drinking but is compared with living water that satisfies forever. John 4:7. Water possesses healing and cleansing properties. John 5:3. It's used in a symbolic sense. John 7:38. It's used as a symbol of washing away sin. John 13:5. At the cross blood and water flow from His side, a symbol of redemption.
John 13:1 '...the time had come for him to leave the world...' Jesus was conscious of a divine timing in His life.(1) A person's last words and actions often are significant. From John 13 through to 21 we have the last words and actions of Jesus.
Alfred Nobel discovered in a newspaper obituary he discovered that had been written well before His death that he was called 'the merchant of death.' He decided he wanted to be remembered as a person of peace, so he commenced the Nobel Peace prize after he thought about how he would like to be remembered. How do you wish to be remembered?
The Gospel of John was possibly the last book written to complete the New Testament. John knew what Matthew, Mark and Luke had recorded in their gospels. He wanted to supplement the Lord 's Supper with new things that would give a more complete theology.
John's gospel is divided into two sections or books.(2) The Book of Signs (1-12) and the Book of Glory (13-21). The first book highlights His public ministry while the second features His private ministry. The first is recorded so we might believe; the second so that we may have life. The first book records four Passovers, while in the second, Christ is the Passover. Paul says Christ is our Passover Lamb. 1 Cor. 5:7. John says he is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. John. 1:29, 36. In Revelation, written by John Jesus is called a Lamb 28 times. Isaiah the OT prophet saw the Messiah 'led like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah 53:7. The first book covers three years; the second a few days. Johns focus in the first book are the miracles or signs; while in the second the focus is on 'the hour 'or the cross. His audience in the first is wide ranging from Nicodemus to a woman at the well; but in the second it's His disciples that loom large. In the first He introduces God as the creator; while in the second He farewells His disciples and reveals our Saviour and Redeemer.
A quotations found in Desire of Ages says "Each of the disciples, yielding to wounded pride, determined not to act the part of the servant....How could (Jesus) show that it is loving service, true humility, which constitutes real greatness?...He had full consciousness of His divinity, but he...laid aside His royal crown and kingly robes, and (took) the form of a servant."(3)
What is greatness? It is seeing Jesus pick up a towel, a basin of water, and wash the feet of unstable Peter and Judas the traitor. It is having the same attitude of Jesus, who took the 'nature of a servant' and 'humbled Himself." Philippians 2:5-8. It is considering 'others better than yourself' Philippians 2:3. It means following Jesus example of service and humility. John 12:26; 13:1-17. This biblical principle is highlighted in Matthew 10:43-44 - 'Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all."(4)
Remember in the Roman Empire in that first century, only 10-15% of people could read. So the gospels were read aloud and heard by many. Rev. 1:3. Because this was reality, John painted pictures in words for his readers. The foot washing service is one of his graphic and meaningful pictures.
John highlights three important keys to Servant Leadership in this chapter.
1. Servant leadership flows out of love and compassion for people.
John 13:1 '...having love His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.' Their genuine concern for people is so different to performance driven leaders who must achieve at all costs, even to the point of abuse. Because of His unfathomable love for His disciples, eleven eventually followed him unwaveringly, even to martyrdom. Andrew, brother of Peter was crucified in Edessa. Bartholomew was beaten and crucified in India. James was stoned then clubbed to death in Jerusalem when he was 94. Mark was dragged to death in Alexandria. Matthias was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. Thomas was speared in India and Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem in A.D. 34.
At what age do people become great in the Western world? Donald Barnhouse researched 40,000 names in Who's Who in America and discovered that the average age when people made an impact on society is 28. Jesus was in His early 30's and He lived in a very different culture.
Love and compassion for people is also important in non-Christian organisations. Kouzes and Posner note that the outstanding trait found amongst top CEO's was affection.(5) Jesus was able to humble Himself and wash his disciples' filthy feet because He knew where He had come from and knew where He was going.(6)
2. Leaders must know and accept who they are. (7)
Insecure people worry how other's perceive them. Only secure people are really free to serve. President Harry Truman had a buzzer on his desk to summon aides to the Oval Office. Other presidents had always used this means of communication. But Truman always went to the door and invited them in. During a reception for Churchill and Stalin, President Truman invited an American soldier, Sergeant Eugene List to play the piano for his guests. When List requested that someone turn the pages of his music for him, Truman volunteered. List wrote to his wife 'Imagine having the president of the US turn pages for you!....But that's the kind of man the president is." Truman wrote of his leadership style "I tried never to forget who i was and where I'd come from and where i would go back to." Truman was loyal to those around him.
3. Christlike Servant Leaders understand who they serve.
Spiritual leaders are not servants of the people, but of God. The disciples did not set the agenda for Christ's ministry. The Father did. Jesus was aware that He was the teacher and Lord of His disciples.(8) When He concluded He said: 'I gave you an example..."(9) The disciples learned the lesson and helped change the world.
Besides washing one another's feet can we practice this principle in other ways? Hona Hon who we laid to rest this week shone in her service to others through many different conduits. The way she served, she was washing feet.
Henri Nouwen, (1932-96) a Dutch author, who wrote more than 40 books, including The Wounded Healer, and Creative Ministry, moved to the Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada in 1986, where he served 100 mentally impaired people. Nouwen was a Catholic theologian who had taught at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. Not long after he moved into this challenging community he wrote Inner Voice of Love about the depression he experience in 1987-8. He wrote, 'L'Arche (the Ark) exists not to help the mentally handicapped....'normal', but to help them share their spiritual gifts with the world. The poor of spirit are given to us for our conversion. In their poverty, the mentally handicapped reveal God to us and hold us close to the gospel.' He had been washed by Jesus and so he symbolically washed the 'feet' of others.(10) Nouwen wrote: 'For a Christian, Jesus is the man in whom it has indeed become manifested that revolution and conversion cannot be separated in man's search for experiential transcendence. His appearance in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing human society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross."(11) In serving the mentally challenged, Nouwen was washing feet!
Dr. Robertson McQuilkin was President of Colombia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1980 he observed memory loss in his wife Muriel. During the next ten years he watched his wife's career of public speaking and Radio and TV programs disappear. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. When her conditioned worsened he resigned Presidency to care for Muriel fulltime from 1990 until she died in 2003. He wrote 'It was a choice between two loves...It is more than keeping promises and being fair. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved. I also see fresh manifestations of God's love -the God I long to love more fully." It's the love of Jesus that transforms and empowers us for service. In 2010 McQuilkin was presented The Lifetime of service Award. On his 83rd birthday, in Chapel at Colombia Bible College, Dr. Bill Jones and friends were invited to give $83 - they eventually raised $109,000. McQuilken quipped that he was sorry he wasn't celebrating his 110th birthday. He too was symbolically washing feet.
Christ modelled servant leadership.
1. In the incarnation He left heaven to become human - Philippians 2:5-6
2. Jesus became poor that we may be rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
3. Jesus took our sins in His own body on the cross. 1 Peter 2:24
4. He willingly took our place on Calvary. Isaiah 53:4-6
5. He shed His blood for our redemption. Revelation 1:5; 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18-9.
6. He conquered death so that we may live forever. Matthew. 28:1-6; Revelation 1:18
7. He returned to heaven to minister and serve as our High Priest. Hebrews 7:25
(1) Paul Barnett, John The Shepherd King, Aquila Press, 2005, p 192
(2) Gary M.Burge,The NIV Application Commentary, p 363.
(3) Desire of Ages, pp 664-5.
(4) Jon Paulien, John. The Beloved Gospel, p 90.
(5) Kouzes and Posner, Encouraging the Heart, 1999, p 9; The Leadership Challenge.
(6) John 13:3
(7) Internet, 'Sergeant List plays at Potsdam Conference'.
(8) John 13:13.
(9) John 13:15.
(10) Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, JOHN, Zondervan, 2000, p 383
(11) Quoted in A Remarkable Life - The Henri Nouwen Story.
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