I received a letter in the mail a few years ago. It looked like a regular old form letter but in fact this piece of paper was my ticket to a free night’s stay at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Cleveland, OH. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much to you but this is actually a $150 a night room and it is reserved for me. All I have to do is show up and redeem this coupon.
I received this letter because I had a reservation at this hotel for three nights for an Annual Meeting for our denomination and I received a phone call a couple of days prior to the conference by a staff worker that the hotel had to cancel my reservations because the air conditioning units had quit working and they were forced to close the facility. The person sincerely apologized and promised she would give me a complimentary stay at this hotel as a way of recompensing for the inconvenience of having to cancel and find another place to stay. This letter informed me that whenever I visit Cleveland, OH I have a place reserved for me. The Crowne Plaza has promised to have a place prepared for me in their hotel facility at anytime I need.
Of course being the critical and skeptic person I think to myself, “Yeah let’s see if they make things right when I do decide to redeem this coupon.” Or “What’s the catch? Is this truly a FREE night or do I need to stay for two nights to get a free night?” Part of me doesn’t trust the corporation because they lost a lot of money when they closed for those days and why would they want to lose even more by giving customers a free night? Regardless of my skepticism, critical thinking or distrust according to this piece of paper I have a room waiting for me at the Crowne Plaza in Cleveland, OH. I just need to keep this in a safe place so I can find it and redeem it next time I am in that city (who knows when that will be).
Why am I telling you this? Well, listen to the words of John and hopefully you will be able to understand that those who have placed their faith and obedience into Jesus not only have a place reserved in heaven but we have a place that is fit for a king waiting for us…
Read John 14:1 – 14
Verse 1: “Let your hearts not be troubled…” Why is Jesus telling the disciples to not be troubled? If we take into consideration what has just happened in chapter 13 the disciples could have had a lot to be worried about. First we see Jesus is going to be betrayed by one of the 12. Second, Jesus is talking about to leave them. Third, where he is going they can’t go with. Fourth, Jesus informs Peter that he will deny him soon. I think with all Jesus is telling his disciples they may have become a little unsettled. In today’s terms we could say, “The disciples had good reason to start freaking out.”
Jesus tells them, “Do not be troubled. Believe in God and believe in me.” He is saying, “Hold on tight to your faith (because there will be a time where that is all you will have). Remember what you have seen me do. Trust that I am who I say I am, because this is ultimately what is going to get you through this troubling time.”
We could all learn a little from these two short sentences from Jesus, “Do not be troubled. Have faith in me.” These are words of comfort to me and hopefully they are a comfort to you. But notice Jesus does not say, “Do not be troubled everything is going to be ok.” He isn’t promising an easy road from here on out, if anything he is telling them it’s going to get tough but hold on to your faith because this is what is going to get you through.
Verse 2: “In my Father’s house (temple) are many rooms…” The KJV translates the word rooms as “mansions” which is not the best translation. The word more closely resembles the word for dwelling places. According to R.C Sproul, “The word calls attention to the idea of a suite.” These rooms are not a Microtel economy room… He has a house with dwelling places that are “royal suites” fit for kings or queens.
If this were not true then Jesus would not have told them about these rooms. In fact when he goes away (referring to his death and resurrection) he is going to go and prepare these rooms for his followers. These rooms or dwelling places point to being a permanent place of residency in the house of God. As believers this is one thing we have to look forward to when we leave this earth. Some have wondered are these literal physical dwelling places or are they symbolic of something else. The answer is… Does it matter? It is a place (whether physical, spiritual or symbolic) that Jesus has prepared for those who believe and obey. It can’t NOT be spectacular! It will be the best of the best, nothing on earth can even come close to comparing to it. It is a dwelling place prepared for you by the hands of the Creator… Now that’s a place and invitation that I will accept without hesitation.
Verse 3: Not only does Jesus promise to prepare a heavenly dwelling place but also promises to come and bring us or usher us to our place of dwelling. He will personally come back so that the disciples (and we) can finally go to the place where we could not go to follow him. This dwelling place is not only prepared for us but is also in the place where Jesus is. How can one not look forward to the day when we will be with our Savior for all eternity? Does this excite you? Does this reality cause you to rejoice? I can’t understand how it could not.
Verse 4: Up to this point Jesus’ ministry has been (and will continue) to point to the Kingdom of God. He has been sharing how one may have eternal life. He has shared frequently and often about how one receives life. So here he is saying, “You know by the words I spoke and the miracles I have performed the way to where I am going.” He has clearly said throughout this Gospel that faith and obedience to Him are THE key to eternal life.
Verse 5: Apparently the disciples have not quite grasped what Jesus has been talking about in the previous verses as Thomas (the one you and I have come to know as doubting Thomas) asks Jesus point blank, “How can we know the way if we don’t know where you are going?”
Verse 6: Jesus responds that he is the Way to the Father. Recall Jesus refers to himself as the door to the Sheep fold and now he refers to himself as the way to the Father. If you want to know how to get to the Father’s house then you must follow and obey me. He is the way to the Father because he embodies the truth of God (everything I say and do is given to me by the Father)… D.A. Carson writes, “He is God’s gracious self-disclosure, His word made flesh.” Jesus is also the life… In Jesus is life eternal. Since Jesus is truth and the source of eternal life He thus becomes the means (the way) to the Father. He tells Thomas that in fact he is the ONLY way to God. Jesus tells us and his disciples there is no other way to God. Faith and obedience in Jesus is it period. Your certificate of baptism… not valid. Your membership to a church… not valid. You went to church (and maybe even helped start one) your whole life… not valid. You gave or tithed faithfully… not valid. All the aforementioned are great things (and hopefully outward expressions of your faith in Jesus) but are not in any shape, way or form a detour around faith in Jesus Christ. Please hear these words. There is no other way to God. These are Jesus’ words and as Christians we MUST heed, believe and proclaim this and live our lives with this truth at the core of our faith.
He continues, “If you knew me you would know the Father…” I believe the point Jesus makes at the conclusion of verse 6 is, “Since you know me, you know the Father.” The Disciples had spent the last three and a half years of their lives with him, they have eaten with him, they have witnessed the miracles and heard his teachings. These very things themselves are the true installment to knowledge of God the Father. Everything Jesus has done has been done to point to the oneness of He and the Father.
Verse 7: Now it is Philips turn to speak up. He says, “Show us the Father and this will be enough for us.” “Give us a glimpse of God in heaven and then we will be convinced.” It would seem at this point the Disciples still haven’t grasped the oneness of Jesus and God. They do know and acknowledge that he is special and unique (truly the Messiah) but are still not able to get their minds around the fact that God is making himself known to the people through Jesus.
Verse 8: If there was a verse 7.5 in the Bible I think it would read like this, “Jesus, placing his hands on his head completely exasperated says, ‘Are you guys that dense?’” But it doesn’t. I have added it in for a dramatic aspect. But I am sure Jesus’ patience was being tested right now as with his reply, “Have I not been with you long enough that you don’t truly know me?” These people have been with Jesus for a long time and yet many of them still are “spiritually blind” so to speak. This unity or oneness of Father and Son is the message Jesus has been proclaiming from the beginning. His words have been laden with references and bold statements of Him being one with God so how can Philip even ask Jesus to show him the Father. The Father should be visible to him through Jesus. However some of these followers will not be able to truly see until the Holy Spirit is given (more on that next week).
Verses 10, 11: Jesus questions whether they believe he is one with the Father or not. The expected answer from the disciples is, “Yes, we believe.” Jesus expects both his disciples and opponents to recognize the Father and He are one.
Ultimately he says, “If my words don’t convince you of the Father in me then look to the works (or the miracles) that I perform and you should then be convinced of who I am.”
Verses 12 – 14: The next few verses Jesus is beginning to set up his disciples for the introduction of the Holy Spirit and the works He will do in the lives of the disciples (and ultimately us). I have to be honest with you that the next few verses are very difficult for me to fully comprehend let alone imagine happening throughout the body of Christ (but I do believe it can and does happen). Here Jesus tells us in so many words that those who believe in him will also be able to do the same miraculous works Jesus did, in fact we will do greater works! How can this be? Certainly he is preparing the disciples for Pentecost and I personally believe he is preparing those who come after to know the great power we have to do mighty and miraculous things in Jesus Christ. We will spend more time on this next week.
Not only does he speak of doing extraordinary things he also speaks about prayer. I believe this is possibly one of the most misunderstood sayings of Jesus. In these verses Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” He states this twice. Some key words we need to note here are, “in my name”. I don’t think this means ask whatever you want and just tag my name on the end and then I will give it to you. Nor does it show that Jesus is a type of Genie at our beck and command. I like what N.T. Wright says, “Praying in Jesus’ name means that as we get to know who Jesus is, so we find ourselves drawn into his life and love and sense of purpose. We will then begin to see what needs doing, what we should be aiming at within our spheres of possibilities, and what resources we need to do it.” In other words as disciples (if you love me you will keep my commandments) of Jesus the more we grow in our understanding of the Lord our prayers begin to be sensitive as to what we should be praying. As we grow closer to God, our prayers begin to reflect the heart of God and the prayer and answer will be to glorify the Father through Jesus. However we should also note that Jesus does say that “whatever you ask… will be given to you.” This simply means when we pray with the heart of God we should be praying big prayers and expectant prayers because we serve a big God who is willing to give to us all we need to accomplish his will here on earth.
The video above is a children’s TV show called Bear In The Big Blue House (Stop right now and watch the video before proceeding). As you see Bear (yeah that’s his name) is a big, fluffy, loveable bear with a calm demeanor and a keen sense of smell. As a parent of four children I have watched my fair share of Bear In The Big Blue House episodes (quite honestly this was a very tolerable show). I remember when my oldest was just a little baby she would crawl right up to the TV and wait when Bear would welcome you into his house he would stop mid sentence and start sniffing. He would sniff the air and proceed to sniff the camera (as if sniffing the person watching the show) and would step back and say something like, “You smell like pancakes. Did you have pancakes for breakfast today?”
Whenever I watched this show ( it has been a while) I used to spiritualize it a bit and I would ask, “What kind of ‘spiritual’ aroma do I emanate as a Christian?” When I walk into a room do I have the fragrance of Jesus? Does the way I talk, act and treat others reveal the sweet aroma of Jesus that attracts others to him or am I a repulsive stench of hypocrisy that pushes people away from him?
Isn’t it amazing the power smell has to identify objects and even people? What is your first response when opening your refrigerator and pull out a jug of milk that has been in there for a while and you are not certain if it is still good or spoiled? Maybe the expiration date is a few days past or that same day and you would hate to throw away a perfectly good jug of milk. Don’t you open the cap and smell it to see if it is good or bad? Usually it doesn’t take much to know the milk has gone bad. Or how about when someone hands you a loaf of fresh baked bread you sniff in the wonderful aroma which ultimately triggers your taste buds before digging in.
Spiritually speaking the way we live our lives and treat others emanates a spiritual aroma. Today we will look at a text where Jesus speaks of the spiritual aroma we are to emanate so people will identify us with him.
Read John 13:31 - 35
Verse 31- 32: Now with Judas out of the picture the process which leads to Calvary has begun. Judas has left and now Jesus begins his “Farewell Discourse” to his disciples to prepare them for life without him around.
Now Jesus can be glorified (magnified, honored made renown) through his impending crucifixion, death, resurrection and ultimately ascension. In the Passion Jesus will be magnified and in his obedience the Father will be magnified as well.
Verse 33: “My little children”… This is a term of endearment and affection. He is speaking as a loving Father would speak to his children who would be departing and not returning. Jesus begins the task of preparing his disciples for his soon departure (through death and resurrection). He will soon be handed over to the authorities to be tortured and crucified. In his death he will be going where they cannot go (yet). Jesus will be returning to the Father. He is returning to where he belongs and where he rules and reigns. The disciples cannot go with him; this is a trip and destination that can only be reached by the road paved with torture, pain and sacrifice.
Verse 34 - 35: “A new commandment…” Jesus now lays out what he expects his followers to do in his absence. In his commentary on John D.A. Carson hits the nail right on the head concerning reality of this new command, “The new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” Sadly but truthfully Carson is right. Jesus’ command for the disciples is to love one another the way he loved them. We know Jesus showed his great love for his disciples in the foot washing ceremony but it wasn’t the washing of the feet that he was referring to. The foot washing points directly to the death of Jesus and the disciples would soon see the importance of loving each other in the manner that Jesus truly loved them.
Jesus tells them why it is important for the disciples to love each other in this way. He says that in loving each other with a sacrificial and self-less love people will know you belong to Him. Essentially he is saying you are going to be on display for the world to see and the way you treat each other will speak volumes as to who you follow. If I may use some license here by saying Jesus in a way is saying people will know you by your spiritual aroma. Love for one another needs to be the fragrance you emanate as a disciple. He is giving them a life command and not one that they are to keep once and then move on… love must be displayed among them forever so people will see they belong to Jesus. Some have cited here that according to Tertullian who wrote about a century later than this Gospel about the love of Christians in his day. It is stated that the Pagans marveled at the love of the Christian fellowship, especially as it faced some intense persecution. Tertullian wrote, “See how they love one another! ... How are they ready even to die for one another!” This is an amazing quote. If it is true (which there is no reason for it to not be) then it is a shame to see that the Church over the centuries or Christians for that matter no longer astonishes the world with the extraordinary love we should have for one another.
One simple command Jesus gives to his followers that still apply to us today. This new command was not just for the eleven disciples… it carries over to us modern day disciples as well. If this is the one command Jesus gave us then why are we failing so badly at keeping it? When you look at Christianity today are you awed by the superior and jaw dropping love that followers of Jesus have for one another? I am not. If anything I am more ashamed at the stench of hypocrisy, hatred, and legalism so many have been emanating for so long. * Please note that I am not saying love is non-existent in the body of Christ because it is (I personally have witnessed and have been a recipient of this love as I am sure you have as well). What I am saying is that for so long the world has associated Christians with negative things and not because of our love for one another. It seems more and more people are thinking, “They will know you are Christians by your hypocrisy, back biting, feuding, and moral failure.” Christians should be somewhat ashamed of what Christianity has become in certain aspects. Instead of being identified as a group of Christ followers who know how to love properly we are being associated with hate, hypocrisy and elitism. Someone wrote, “The badge of Christian discipleship is not a cross worn around the neck or lapel, or some distinct type of clothing. Anyone can profess by these means. The true mark of a Christian is love for his fellow brother.”
What is interesting is the love Jesus speaks of is not the kind of love we have been accustomed to here in the America. It is not the feel good strong attraction and emotion you have towards someone. It is also not defined as the absence of conflict and getting along with one another. I think we sometimes confuse love with toleration and keeping the peace. Jesus says, “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” How is it that Jesus loved his disciples? With sacrificial love Jesus gave a model to the Christian community as to how we should love.
What does sacrificial love look like? A few chapters later in John Jesus re-iterates the command to love one another as he loved the disciples and continues with “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Really? This is sacrificial love? Yes! I don’t think Jesus is implying that we go around and die for each other by throwing ourselves in front of buses or jumping off cliffs. It is the attitude of love we are to have… loving others as yourself and being willing to give your life for someone if it means it will glorify God.
When we look at the cross of Jesus it isn't intended to make us feel good about ourselves and to ensure that we will have a nice comfortable life. The cross of Christ was intended to bring glory to Jesus and to the Father and ultimately bring life to those who believe. The willingness and obedience of Jesus going to Calvary speaks volumes as to his love and full commitment to his people. The cross wasn’t an example of Christ’s love for us it was the essence of his love. The cross was Jesus’ love in action. We have heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words” and this is truly the case in Jesus and the cross. This is an awe inspiring love, it is an unbelievable love, it is the kind of love that is motivated and given by the Spirit so we can in turn love our brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus loved us.
So the question I leave with you today… “What kind of aroma do you emanate?” Is it the sweet aroma of love for one another that attracts others to your savior or is it the stench of death, decay and repulsion? “What is the badge you wear to associate with Jesus?” Is it the true and genuine sacrificial love for others in Christ or is it hypocrisy, hatred, and backbiting? My prayer, hope and dream for this congregation is that we would be a body of believers who are known for our genuine love for one another and that it would be a love motivated and spurred on by the Holy Spirit. Would you join me daily as I pray for us to become people who have an pleasant fragrance of true Christian love?
I have yet met a person who aspires to be a servant. If you ask a child what she wants to be when she grows up you would probably now here her say with joy, enthusiasm and a glimmer in her eye, “I want to be a servant!” I haven’t heard one yet. One cannot find a degree or even an accredited course in high school or college in the area of servanthood. Rarely do we even give a second thought to serving, or putting people’s happiness, well-being and needs over our own. In fact in a society that is becoming less and less aware of God the act of serving one another is becoming a lost art and it is rarely practiced on a selfless level. As followers of Jesus we are well aware of his words about greatness. He says, “The one who desires to be great must first become a servant/slave to all.” Serving one another in Jesus’ name is something all Christians are commanded to do and yet it is even becoming a lost art in Christianity.
Today we are going to look at a passage many of you are familiar with and I will tackle the subject of serving. In these 17 verses we will see the example Jesus establishes for us as believers. Not only does Jesus tell us about the importance of serving but he also shows us by example the need to serve each other.
Read John 13:1 - 17
Verse 1: This is not the actual Passover Feast but it is a supper before. It was here that Jesus was well aware his time had come for his impending death (or his hour was near) and would soon return to the Father. He had fully loved his people and his greatest act of love was not only shown in the washing of the feet but also in dying on the cross.
Verse 2: It was during this evening meal that Judas had purposed in his heart to betray Jesus. John tells us that the Devil had put it in Judas’ heart. Judas had already made up his mind that he was going to turn Jesus over to the authorities in exchange for money.
In this we see the true heart of service in Jesus because as he was preparing to wash the feet of his disciples he knew Judas’ heart and yet he didn’t turn away from washing his feet. He served his enemy with genuine love. The phrase “The devil put it in his heart” just goes to show that the whole underhanded plot the Jewish leaders were planning was indeed satanic. We know that Jesus’ death had to happen as it was planned from the beginning of time however it is revealed to us that the means in which it would be done would be through satanic influence.
Verse 3 - 5: During the evening meal Jesus rose and stripped down to his loin clothe and wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash the disciple’s feet. When we read this account we can see the beauty of service that Jesus does for his closest friends. However we also fail to see how much of a servant Jesus becomes in doing this. A foot washing was a task that was usually reserved for the lowest of menial servants. Peers and especially teachers of students did not “stoop” to the level of foot washing. It is suggested that some Jews believed that even Jewish slaves should not wash feet; instead this should be a job for gentile servants.
Jesus taking off his outer clothing shows that He was becoming the lowest of servants and serving his friends. This kind of dress was looked down upon in both Jewish and Gentile circles. What’s even more fascinating is that this act of humility and service was ultimately unnecessary. He did not perform this service to fulfill prophecy, he didn’t do it to gain respect of his disciples, nor did he do this because he wanted something in return. This was a true display of love and service for both his friends and enemy and to show them the significance of being a follower of Jesus.
Verses 6 – 7: As Jesus approaches Peter he sees his Lord and master preparing to wash his feet and questions what Jesus is doing. Even the disciples recognized the “awkwardness” of the situation. Jesus informs Peter and the rest of the disciples that they don’t understand the symbolism in this act of service which he does explain in verses 8 & 10.
Verse 8 - 9: Peter’s strong objection and downright refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet was nothing more than Peter responding to him performing this lowly and menial task that is reserved for the lowest of servants. He couldn’t allow his master to “stoop” to such levels… In fact he refuses. Jesus then informs Peter if he is not washed by Jesus then he has no share in Jesus. As with all believers we must be washed clean by Jesus in order to be one of his.
Peter now gets what Jesus is saying and goes to the extreme opposite by telling Jesus, “Well if that is the case then don’t stop at my feet clean the whole body!” As we read through the Gospels I come to love Peter more and more. The man says what he feels; he wears his emotions on his sleeve and he is by no means an introverted individual. Oftentimes he opens mouth and inserts foot but he is teachable.
Verse 10: Jesus brings Peter back to earth and explains the symbolism of this act. The one who has been bathed does not need to be washed. As children of God we have been washed clean by Jesus. We have been redeemed, we belong to God. However the Christian life is not about just getting cleansed and then moving on with life. It is not a box we can check and proclaim… well I have done that it’s time to move on to the next thing in life. Jesus demands more than that from his followers. The foot washing is symbolic to the daily cleansing we all should seek. As saved individuals we are still human and still prone to sin. We, contrary to what many think we believe, are not perfect. We are far from perfect and we have daily the choices to choose to continually walk in the light or stray into darkness (sin). I don’t know about you but I am sure, in fact I know I have committed a sin today. As I walk this journey, as WE walk this journey together we will get our feet dirty. The world is a dirty place. We will choose to sin in our lives and we will need to be cleansed from these dark marks in our lives.
Nowhere is Jesus suggesting that a true believer loses his salvation when one sins and is need of repeated bathing. The cleansing is a one time thing and we live in a fallen world thus we are defiled by the world, spotted by sin, and sometimes influenced by evil. We must be cleansed daily through personal confession to the Lord, prayer, and we can guard ourselves from giving to the temptations of the world through the study of God’s word and continual prayer.
Jesus proclaimed them clean BUT not all of them… referring to Judas.
Verses 12 - 15: As Jesus finishes washing their feet he puts his clothes on and resumes his place. Like a good teacher he asks the disciples, “Do you understand what I did and why I did it?” He then goes on to talk about servant leadership. Jesus, God in human flesh, the Messiah, the teacher washed the feet of his disciples. He served them in a way that they never would have expected. He set an example. He is the greatest of all, the Son of God, and he had every right to demand that his disciples serve him (whether by foot washing, through meals, etc.) but instead he shows the disciples the necessity of serving and humility. What Jesus has done for his disciples he declares they should do for each other.
Verses 16 - 17: A servant is not greater than his master. Jesus is the master he is the one who sends out. No longer should these men consider serving one another a menial task reserved for the lowest of servants. They are not to be prideful men but humble men who are willing to serve at the drop of a hat. Jesus then proclaims, “If you know these things and you do them, you are blessed.”
In this passage we can learn much about our conduct as followers of Jesus. The overarching theme for this passage is serving one another in Christ’s love. As we have seen here no task is to be considered below us and as believers we are called to serve one another in love. As a body of believers we should be seeking out ways to serve one another and serve the community. Serving is an action and it requires movement. Serving involves getting up and doing and it does note entail sitting and watching. Maybe this is why so many of us are reluctant to serve. We enjoy the spectator aspect of Christianity but we do not appreciate or value the involvement aspect. We are all called to serve faithfully and forever. This includes the youngest of our children to the eldest adults as they are able to do so. Serving in Jesus’ name should bring such joy and happiness to our lives that we never grow tired of doing it. Sure there will be times (unfortunately more than not) you may not be appreciated or even criticized for you act of service for someone this is why it is important that we do it unto the Lord and not unto man. Humans can be harsh, critical and downright mean but if you do it with the heart of Jesus you will be blessed.
Questions to ponder. Do you have the heart of a servant? What are some practical steps you can take today to serve someone or bless the body? Is there anyone the Lord has laid on your heart to bless by serving?
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