Moderator Designate

October 28, 2008

Congratulations to Rev. Bill Hewitt, the Moderator Designate of the Church of Scotland.  I know Bill from my days on the Board of Practice and Procedure.  Bill is a very kind man, fair and thoughtful.  He has been a familiar face at recent Assemblies as convener of the Assembly arrangements committee.  I have no doubt that he will make an excellent Moderator and will represent the Church well.

I am now on the committee to elect the Moderator, representing Lanark Presbytery, and today was my first meeting.  I have to say it was a very lack-lustre affair.  There were three nominations.  Papers detailing the CV of each of the candidates had already been circulated.  We heard arguments from the proposers, seeking to persuade us to vote for their nomination.  Then we voted.  The one with the lowest number of votes dropped out, and then we voted again between the remaining too.  Bill won.  We were then invited to elect (or rather, designate) him unanimously, which we did. 

It’s a far cry from the election of Pope!!  It was all done and dusted in less than an hour. 

I wonder if it’s not time to make the process more democratic, or at least to allow each year’s General Assembly to elect its Moderator.  This happens in theory – in theory an Assembly could refused to accept the Moderator Designate.  But as far as I know this has never happened, at least not in living memory.

The PC (USA), our sister church in America, has a proper election.  Surely it’s time the Church of Scotland did this too.  The arguement against is that it is unseemly.  Candidates will tout for votes.  However, the advantage is that the Moderator will better reflect the will of the Church.  At the moment we don’t get to meet the nominees or question them.  We don’t get to hear their views of the issues of the day.  We don’t get to examine their theology. 

One of the gripes evangelicals have is that there hasn’t been an out and out evangelical for a generation or more.  Hugh Wyllie (1992) was certainly sympathetic to an evangelical expression of the gospel and Sandy Macdonald (1997) was often thought of as evangelical.  But neither of them were associated with evangelical organisations.  They never attended the Crieff conference of evanglical ministers!!

In recent years two excellent evangelicals were nominated, Bill Wallace and Colin Sinclair, but they didn’t make it.  I have no doubt they would have faired better in a more open forum. 

Officially, the Moderator is only the chairman of the General Assembly, but in reality he/she has become the Church’s ambassador for a year.  In the year 2008 it’s only right and proper that the Church itself (or a larger slice of the Church) gets to choose the one who has become its face to the world at large.

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Second Chance

October 26, 2008

 

This week sees the 10th anniversary of our charity shop, Second Chance.  Many churches run charity shops as a way of supplimenting their income.  In KIrkmuirhill all the funds raised at Second Chance go to other good causes, not the church.  Last year we purchased our own, custom built, premises.  It’s no exaggeration to say that our shop is the most attractive in the village.  This evening we are holding a service of thanksgiving and celebration for 10 years of Second Chance.  This sermon is dedicated to all those who willingly give of their time to run the shop. 

 

 

Jeremiah 18:1-12A SECOND CHANCE

 

INTRODUCTION

I love going into pottery shops.  One of the fondest memories Kim and I have of our time in North Carolina was visiting an area not far from where we lived which was known as Pottery Country.  Because the soil there had the right kind of clay there were literally dozens of little potteries all over the place.  Some of them were very famous, and their pottery was bought by the US government as gifts for visiting foreign dignitaries. 

 

I love the whole experience of walking into a potter’s work shop.  First there is the smell—that thick, chilled, damp smell of moist clay.  Then there’s the actual pieces of pottery—mugs, jugs, plates, cups, bowls.  Some of them may have been decorated, others may have just come out the kiln.

 

And of course there is the potter.  He or she will usually have on their overalls or a smock or apron. And no matter what colour their clothes were originally they will always be covered in blotches.  And have you ever noticed a potter’s hands?  They tend to be dappled grey with crusty finger nails.  It’s very hard to resist not coming away with something. 

 

CONTEXT

Jer.18:1-3: This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Go down to the potter’s house and there I will give you my message.  So I went down to the potter’s house and I saw him working at the wheel.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived at the end of the 600s and into the 500s BC; that’s 2500 years ago.  But the art of the potter has hardly changed and so it is not hard for us to imagine what Jeremiah saw.  The potter’s wheel would have been more primitive than that one we are used to seeing.  It consisted of tow stone wheels connected by a shaft.  The stone on top was the throwing head, while the stone below was turned by the potter’s feet.  He must have been quite nifty with his feet to get some momentum going.  Apart from that, the sights and smells that met Jeremiah would be instantly recognizable to us.

 

As the prophet stood and watched the only sound would have been the whir of the wheel.  Some form of earthenware began to rise from the upper wheel, taking shape in the potter’s hands.  But there was something wrong with the clay, some defect that marred the shape of the pot.  The clay was not reacting to the potter’s hands as it ought.

 

Jeremiah watched as the potter, instead of discarding the clay, started again and began to make something else, something different, something this particular lump of clay could be used for.  He remodelled it as he thought best. 

 

Jeremiah says in v.5:

Then the word of the Lord came to me: O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?  Like clay in the hand of the potter so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 

 

The message continued.  God may have pronounced judgement upon a nation because of its evil.  It is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed.  But it that nation repents, then God would relent.  He would not inflict the threatened punishment. 

 

This is precisely what happened to the city of Nineveh, capital of the cruel Assyrian empire.  The prophet Jonah warned them that they would be destroyed in 40 days.  The Bible tells us (Jonah 3:5):

The Ninevites believed God.  They declared a fast and all of them from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth. 

 

As a result God had mercy on them (Jonah 3:10):

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he had compassion on them and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. 

 

That’s the way it is with God: he loves to forgive, he loves to relent, he loves cancelling threatened judgement. 

 

On the other hand, God may have pronounced blessing upon a nation, that it should prosper and thrive.  But should that nation spurn God, do evil in his sight, should they fail to obey him, he says (v.10):

then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. 

 

This was not merely a hypothetical situation.  The principle was to be applied to a real nation, to real people, to Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem.  Were they not the most blessed nation on the face of the planet?  Were they not God’s chosen people, to whom he had revealed himself and his ways? 

 

The Apostle Paul described the privileges of the Jews like this (Rom.9:4):

Theirs is the adoption as sons, theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

 

Yet despite this outpouring of blessing upon them, they had trampled all over God’s love, they had despised his ways, they had rejected his blessing. 

 

And so judgment was imminent.  The terrifying, merciless Babylonians were coming.  They would besiege Jerusalem, raze its walls to the ground and demolish the temple.  They would plunder and pillage and slaughter and force-march the survivors into exile.

 

v.11 This is what the Lord says, Look! I am preparing disaster for you and devising a plan against you.  So turn from your evil ways and your actions. 

 

It is still not too late, says the Lord.  It does not have to be this way.  Change and I will change; repent and I will repent.  Like the potter I will not discard you.  I will not throw you away, says the Lord.

 

THROW AWAY SOCIETY

Charity shops, like Second Chance, are at the forefront of the recycling movement.  Rather than tossing an unwanted but still perfectly wearable coat in the bin, we now hand it into the shop, certain in knowledge that someone somewhere will get some wear out of it. 

 

Nevertheless, despite all our best intentions, and all the recycling initiatives, we live in a throw away society.  Councils are struggling to find enough land to bury all our rubbish in.  The coast is so polluted that you wouldn’t let your dog swim in it.  We’re even turning outer space into a scrap yard with disused satellites floating about aimlessly. 

Some of us may be very grateful for disposable nappies; but the tragedy is that we often treat each other as disposable.  There is a huge rise in the number of couples choosing to live together rather than getting married.  The average time to stay together is just two years.  And so we have hand-me-down relationships.  Even marriage is no guarantee that one partner will regard the wedding vows as any more than a statement of good intentions. 

 

Many in our banks and financial institutions are discovering what many in this part of the world discovered 20 or 30 years ago—that no one in the work-place is indispensable.  All round Lanarkshire whole towns and villages were crumpled up like waste-paper and tossed in the bucket. 

 

It’s the easy option.  It is easier to throw all the rubbish out in one go rather than make the effort to recycle the newspapers and sort out the different coloured bottles for the bottle-bank. 

 

And it is easier to walk away from a relationship which is not meeting our expectations; it is easier to cut ourselves off from a friend or relative if there has been some bad feeling; it is easier than having to work out a solution to the problem, and perhaps admitting that some of the problem is our fault.

 

We live in a throw away society and it is not just our rubbish that we throw away. 

 

GOD DOES NOT THROW AWAY

I was speaking to a retired art teacher about Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house and how the potter, rather than tossing the clay aside, had made something different to what he originally intended.  He told me that the story had always fascinated him because it is an extremely difficult thing to do.

 

Once you have started making one thing with the clay, and you discover that it isn’t going to work out as you thought, it is very difficult to start making something else.  That’s why there are so many pieces of pottery on the “defect” shelves of craft shops. 

 

God is saying to the nation of Judah: There is a defect in you.  You have not lived according to my holy ways. You have thrown my love and my faithfulness back in my face.  You have imitated the nations around you, worshipping their gods and adopting their morals.  You have mocked me.  You are marred in my hands and I have pronounced judgement on you. 

 

But it was not too late to change.  It was not too late to repent.  Even at this eleventh hour God was willing to alter the course of history:

O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?

 

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah and Jerusalem was that there was hope.  Time and time again he pleaded with them to change their ways for by doing so they would change their destiny.  Their fate was sealed if they continued in their evil ways—they would fall to the Babylonians. 

 

But if they would turn from their old ways, God would make everything new, even their future.  Instead of tearing down there would be building up; instead of uprooting, there would be planting; instead of death and exile and disgrace, there would be life and salvation and blessing. 

 

Friends, this is a gospel message, a message of hope, a message of salvation. 

 

THE MESSAGE OF HOPE

I wonder if you are in need of a message of hope today.  Perhaps you feel like one of life’s rejects.  The message you are getting from everyone around you is that you are dispensable, you are surplus to requirements.  It may be at work, it may be at school, at home, even in church. 

 

If that is the message you are receiving from everyone around you, you may also be wondering if that is God’s attitude too.  You are wondering if there can be a place for you in God’s love.  Perhaps you find yourself in circumstances where you can only conclude that God has abandoned you.  You feel you are having to go it alone. 

 

Perhaps you are even beginning to recognize that you yourself are like the marred clay.  You have been insisting on going your own way and have been resisting God’s work in your life.  Ironically, it was you who first rejected God; it was you who told him to get out of your life; it was you who told him he was surplus to requirements. 

 

Now you are finding that life without God is like having been uprooted, torn down and destroyed.  And you are wondering if God’s judgement on your life is the final word.  Is that it?  Can nothing be done?  Are the books closed, the doors shut? 

 

If that’s what you’ve been thinking, then hear the word of God:

Can I not do with you as this potter does? 

 

Can I not take you, marred by sin as you are; can I not take you, my image in you deformed by sin; can I not take you and make you into something—someone—new? 

 

This is the message of hope which the Christian gospel brings us.  (2Cor.5:17):

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come. 

 

God does not discard his creatures as if we were old rags.  God the creator is in the business of re-creating.  Others may regard you as good for nothing; you may regard yourself as good for nothing; but the Living God has made you, and he doesn’t make rubbish. 

 

Listen to what another prophet, the prophet Isaiah, said about the Lord Jesus Christ:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. 

 

If you are a bruised reed, fit only to be snapped off and thrown away; if you are a smouldering wick, waiting to be [blow] snuffed out; if you are lump of marred clay; then there is one who will treat you with tenderness, there is one who will not discard you, but who will take you in his hands and remould you, refashion you, remake you into someone beautiful and useful, someone who will reflect his image and bring him glory. 

 

This is the good news of the gospel; it is a message of hope, a message of salvation.  It is the gospel of the second chance. 

 

 

 

Won’t you come to this potter, this tender, loving God?  Why will you allow sin to continue to dominate your life, souring your relationships with other people, creating a barrier between you and God?  Won’t you place your life in God’s hands, for him to do a new thing in your life? 

 

THE MESSAGE OF JUDGMENT

We’re nearly finished, but we cannot leave the potter at his wheel until we have considered one last point.  It’s this: the message God gave Jeremiah contained a warning.  There was hope—glorious hope—but there was also warning.  The potter was able to make something new out of the marred clay.  But we are not clay.  We are not inanimate objects.  We are human beings.  We have a will.  We can exercise choice.  And God offers us a choice.

 

Four times in this passage the word “if” appears:

if a judgement is announced against a nation and if that nation repents, their destiny will be changed for the good; if blessing is announced for a nation and if that nation spurns God’s love then their destiny will change for the worse. 

 

The people of Judah had a choice: God’s way or their way.  And the consequences of their choice was were made clear.  They made their choice.  v.12:

It’s no use.  We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.

 

Their fate is a matter of history.  In 587 BC Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. 

 

There is still a choice for each man and woman to make.  It is still the choice between judgment and blessing, between liberty and bondage.  It is still a choice between life and death. 

 

Here’s how the Lord Jesus himself put it (Mt.16:24-26):

If anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul?

 

Do not be like the ancient inhabitants of Judah.  Do not say, It is no use; do not cling to the stubbornness of your own heart.  Jesus is saying, Hold on to your life and you will lose it. 

 

Deny yourself, take up the cross, follow Jesus, and you gain life in all its fullness.  Chose Christ and hear God say to you, about you: I am making everything new. 

Strong in the Lord

October 12, 2008

STRONG IN THE LORD

Eph.6:20 with 2Chron.20:1-30

 

INTRODUCTION

It’s well known that certain animals can be very territorial.  That cute little robin singing so sweetly in your garden is in fact issuing murderous threats to any other robin that might foolishly wander into his territory.  Cats guard their territory ferociously, and will mark its boundaries regularly lest any other felines encroach upon their property.

 

Sadly, it’s not just animals that are fiercely territorial; human beings are too.  When I was a solicitor my heart would sink when a client would seek advice about a dispute with a neighbour.  You know the kind of thing—the legal advice columns of the newspapers are full of them—what can I do about the branches of my neighbour’s tree which are dropping leaves onto of my conservatory; my neighbour has erected a new fence two inches into my drive-way. 

 

At a far more serious level are the territorial disputes between nations.  In 1983 Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falklands Islands.  Geographically the Falklands are closest to Argentina; but the inhabitants are British through and through and want to remain so.  In the last few months we’ve seen Russia and Georgia fighting over the break-away republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  No nation wants to give up territory easily. 

 

BRIDGE

Friends, what is true in the ordinary human level is also true at the spiritual level.  As I was telling you last week, there is a war on, a spiritual war; and the Christian is an enlisted soldier in this war. 

 

Each and every Christian man and woman is in effect territory won by the Lord Jesus Christ from Satan.  Back in Eph.2 we learned that by nature we are objects of wrath; literally children of wrath; those who by nature deserve the full force of God’s judgment to come down heavily upon us.  Before we were born again we were subject to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, that is Satan. 

 

However, God in his mercy saved us from Satan’s clutches.  Like the Allied troops at the end of the last war liberating Paris and Brussels and towns throughout occupied Europe, Christ Jesus has liberated us from a cruel and oppressive regime.  As Paul says in 5:8:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth)

 

You were once darkness, now you are light in the Lord.  But Satan isn’t going to give up his territory without a fight.  He is going to come against you again and again and again.  He wants you back.  If he can’t get you back, then he’ll do his damnedest to make you as weak and ineffective a Christian as possible. 

 

Therefore, Paul issues this command, that first and foremost we are to stand; we are to stand against the devil’s schemes; we are to stand our ground. 

 

There’s a perfect example of this in 4:26 where Paul speaks to us about anger:

In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Anger can lead to sin; in our anger we say things and do things that are mean and spiteful, which can even divide the body of Christ.  We have given ground to the devil.

 

This section, from 6:10-20 about spiritual warfare, is not a completely new section, separate from what has gone before.  Paul is warning us that Satan is not going to surrender territory to the Lord easily.  If you think he is going to allow you to live as a child of the light unhindered you are very much mistaken. 

 

Why do you think Paul tells you to put on the whole armour of God?  Why does he talk in terms of the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit?  Do you imagine it’s because he was an ex-military man who liked employing martial metaphors? 

 

No.  It’s because there is in fact a war, a spiritual war.  Friends, if we do not take this seriously then everything I have preached from Ephesians over the past year and a half  will have been a waste of time.  Everything I have taught you about what it means to be a real Christian, and how our lives are to be marked by practical holiness, will have been in vain. 

 

Because if you think that you can put the Christian life into practice on your own, in your own strength, then you will fall flat on your face.  You will be like Orpah, Ruth’s sister-in-law.  When their mother-in-law, Naomi, set out to return to Bethlehem, both Ruth and Orpah resolved to join her.  But Naomi painted such a bleak picture of what lay ahead that Orpah quickly changed her mind.  She turned back.

 

Naomi says to Ruth (Ruth 1:15):

Look…your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. 

 

How many have professed faith in Christ, and have resolved to follow him; but when they discover that ahead of them lies trouble, persecution, rejection, temptation, in short, spiritual warfare, they have quickly returned to their own people and their old gods? 

 

One of the interesting contrasts between the two war-time leaders, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, was how they spoke to their people about what lay ahead.  Hitler promised the Germans victory and glory; they were the master race who could not be defeated.  They believed him, and for a while it worked.  But when they started to lose battles they were shocked, they could hardly believe it.  Hitler himself couldn’t come to terms with it. 

 

By contrast, from the very start Churchill offered the British nation nothing but blood, sweat, toil and tears.  He warned them that their very existence was at stake.  As a result, the nation rallied together, prepared for the worst; and when the worst did come, they endured, and fought on till eventual victory. 

 

The Apostle Paul is telling you—your faith will come under attack, your desire to be holy will be undermined, your adherence to gospel truth will be mocked, your assurance of salvation will be questioned.  Be prepared for the worst, so that when the day of evil comes (v.13) you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

 

But before you start heading for the nearest exit, remember one thing: we do not fight this battle alone.  No.  Paul’s opening words assure us of this.  He says in v.10:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

STRONG IN THE LORD

Let’s think through what this means for us; for it is the key to successful spiritual warfare. 

 

First of all, notice that Paul’s command is not simply to be strong.  That, actually, would be disastrous.   There are all sorts of situations where we tell our children to be strong and brave.  On the first day of school; if they are going to the dentist to get a filling; if we’re about to apply disinfectant to a scraped knee.  We’re telling them to muster up from within themselves enough courage to face a difficult, a frightening situation.

 

How do you muster up the courage to face hell’s legions? 

 

You think I’m exaggerating the problem.  Let me describe to you what goes on. 

 

First, there is the war against sin.  I’m not talking about signing petitions against embryo research, or arguing against abortion and euthanasia.  I’m talking about our own sin, our own pet sins, the sins we persuade ourselves aren’t really sins. 

 

Paul talks about the devil’s schemes (v.11).  Let me tell you, Satan knows every dirty trick in the book.  He knows how to camouflage sin so that you don’t really see it as sin.  He can set a trap and cover it with leaves and twigs so that you don’t even notice it.  He can make sin look small and trivial.  He can make the deadliest poison taste like the sweetest apple pie. 

 

Military history is full of stories of how unsuspecting troops have marched right into a trap.  Think of Bannockburn, and of how the English thought they had the Scots on the run.  They didn’t see the trenches dug in the ground, nor the reinforcements waiting over the hill.

 

Do you ever find yourself embellishing a story just to make it sound more exciting, or to put you in a better light? 

Do you ever find yourself exaggerating your aches and pains to make sure you get some pity and attention?

When we break a confidence somehow we manage to persuade ourselves that though we made a promise it was never meant to be binding.

When we let rip with what we think of them and what they’ve done and who do they think they are; we justify ourselves by telling ourselves that it wasn’t that bad, and anyway it’s what they deserved, it was all true. 

 

Most pernicious of all are those sins that never see the light of day.  A little pride, a little selfishness, a little feeling of superiority.  We know it’s there.  But we convince ourselves that it’s good for us, like having a wee bit of dirt in your system.  It won’t do you any harm. 

 

Do you see what you are up against?  Satan is a master of disguise.  He can appear as an angel of light.  So he can camouflage sin so that it looks harmless.  This is not an enemy you can fight on your own.  It takes courage to face sin in your life and do something about it. 

 

Again, we’re at war against this world.  The world hates Christianity.  Moslems complain against Islamophobia.  They complain they are victimised and discriminated against.  But until Sept.11th 2001; until the threat of terrorist attacks from Moslem fundamentalists, there was very much a live and live attitude in Britain.  Now we have reason to be suspicious and cautious.

 

But what have Christians done to deserve the opprobrium from the world?  Whose lives have Christians threatened?  Whose property have Christians destroyed?  Whose temples have Christians desecrated?

 

Yet in many parts of the world Christians are routinely beaten, imprisoned, vilified, and even murdered, just for being Christians.  Here, we are mocked for being old fashioned, anti-scientific, intolerant.

 

If you want to be a Christian be prepared for a bumpy ride.  Make sure you are well-strapped in, strapped into Christ; because all the forces of hell are working to dislodge you from your position in Christ.   

 

It takes strength to be a Christian, it takes courage.  Courage to swim against the tide; courage to stand out from the crowd; courage to declare a truth nobody wants to hear. 

 

It takes more courage than we are capable of; it takes greater strength than we could ever have.  That’s why the apostle doesn’t simply say: Be strong.  He says:

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

 

Be strong in the Lord.  Once again we discover the importance of being in Christ.  The Lord said to his disciples (Jn.15:5):

I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

 

Apart from me, says Jesus, you can do nothing.  Apart from Christ, you certainly cannot stand against Satan’s assaults.  We fight as those who are in Christ and who are equipped by Christ.

 

That story of King Jehoshaphat in 2Chronicles 20 provides us with a good illustration of the  principles of spiritual warfare. 

 

The story begins with war being declared.  Messengers come to Jehoshaphat with the news:

A vast army is coming against your from Edom

 

A vast army.  Do you remember how on one occasion the Lord Jesus demanded to know a demon’s name?  My name is Legion, was the reply, for we are many.  (Mk.5:9)

 

Understandably, Jehoshaphat was alarmed.  His immediate response was to enquire of the Lord, to proclaim a fast, and to gather the people together to seek help from the Lord.  There was no question of Judah confronting this vast army in their own strength. 

 

And note Jehoshaphat’s prayer (v.6):

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven?  You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.  Power and might are in your hand, and no-one can withstand you.

 

Here is a man who knows his God, and therefore has complete and utter faith in him.  He understands that if God is for us who can be against us.  He is convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, not the present and not the future, not any powers of any kind can separate us from the love of God. 

 

He then reminds God of how he drove out the Canaanites and gave the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants.  They built a sanctuary, a temple to the Lord, where they could intercede with the Lord as they are now doing. 

 

He’s doing three things.  First, he is reminding himself of God’s power in the past.  This is the God who freed his ancestors from slavery in Egypt; who led through the wilderness; who brought the walls of Jericho crashing down.  If God can enable the boy David to fell the giant Goliath with one stone, he can enable us to stand up to Satan.  God’s power is not a thing of the past; he is a very present help in time of trouble. 

 

Secondly, he is asserting his faith that what God starts he finishes.  Surely, the Lord hasn’t brought his people thus far to have them wiped out by the Moabites and their allies?  When you feel yourself teetering on the point of defeat; when you feel that all is lost, remember Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians (1:6):

he that began a good work in your will it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

 

Thirdly, he is calling upon the Lord to fulfil his promises.  And the Lord has made many precious promises to his people that we are not alone in this warfare. 

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.  (Ps.34:7)

I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, no-one can snatch them out of my hand. (Jn.10:28)

 

He’s doing all that because, as he says in v.10, they are in danger.  He confesses their utter helplessness and dependence on God (v.12):

O our God will you not judge them?  For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. 

 

What a wonderful prayer.  None of this Corporal Jones stuff, flapping about like a headless chicken—don’t panic, don’t panic.  When friends tell us that they don’t want to know us any more because we’re no longer cool; when close family members say they don’t like the way we’ve changed; when work colleagues accuse us of not being as committed to the company as we once were.  Satan’s attacks. 

 

And we panic.  We fear being lonely, we fear being left on the shelf, we fear that promotion will pass us by. 

 

Jehoshaphat had plenty to fear: We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. This is the kind of prayer the Lord God is only too pleased to answer.

 

The prophet Jehaziel comes forward.  This is the Lord’s message for the king and all the people (v.15):

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

 

That’s it.  The battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s.  Note that this doesn’t mean that Jehoshaphat and the people are to do nothing at all.  The Lord doesn’t send them home to watch the battle live on the BBC.   They’ve march out against the enemy; they’ve to take up their positions; they’ve to stand firm.  Then they will see the deliverance of the Lord. 

 

There’s an attitude among some Christians that the key to spiritual victory is to “let go and let God.”  In other words, stop worrying about things, take a step back, relax, and let God do it all. 

 

Now of course there is a sense in which we are fools if we think we can tackle Satan all on our own.  But that doesn’t mean to say there is no part for us to play.  Otherwise, what’s the point of Paul telling us about the whole armour of God; what’s the point of him telling us to stand.

 

The Biblical position is that we stand against Satan, we resist Satan, in the strength of the Lord, in his might.  Thus, Paul says to the Philippians (2:12b-13):

continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 

 

Work out the implications of your salvation—the implications of practical holiness.  But don’t fret yourself into thinking you just can’t do it—for God is working in you.  I suppose it’s summed up well in Phil.4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 

So Jehoshaphat and his army are given their orders which they obey, with the Lord’s praises on their lips.  As they do so, civil war breaks out in the enemy camp and the former allies slaughter each other.  v.25 says:

When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked towards the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground, no-one had escaped. 

 

It’s a story that deserves your attention.  It has a lot to teach us about spiritual warfare.

 

CONCLUSION

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  It takes us back to Paul’s prayers for God’s people.  In 1:18,19 he writes:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

 

The power that is available to us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead.  It’s a power which is available to us not that we may perform spectacular miracles, but so that we may live in obedience to our Lord.  Nor should we think of God’s as something we switch on and off like electricity.  It is a continual power which comes from a relationship with the Lord Jesus.  It’s purpose is to enable us to stand our ground on the day of evil.

 

Never forget what John told his readers (1Jn.4:4):

the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to get to heaven

October 11, 2008

John 13v.31-14v.7

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever had the experience of someone close to you moving away?  Maybe when you were at school your best friend’s father got a job somewhere else and the whole family had to move away.  As a child it seems so unfair; it really emphasises your powerlessness. 

 

When I was in my early teens our neighbours, the Priestlys, the neighbours we’d always had, moved away. Their kids were ages with my youngest brother and sister, and I used to do some baby-sitting for them.  So we were quite close.  When they moved I felt I’d lost something.  They had trusted me with their home and with their children.  New neighbours moved in, and we tried to be friendly, but to be honest I can’t even remember their names.  It was just never the same.

 

Or think of the previous centuries, when folk emigrated to the New World, to America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  There were heart-breaking scenes at the docks as families said their fair-wells, knowing that the chances of every seeing one another again were slim. 

 

Nowadays there are some people who dread the day when their kids will leave home.  It only seems like yesterday that they were starting school, and now they are setting up home on their own.  They talk about the “empty-nest” syndrome. 

 

RECAP

Last week we sat with the disciples in the upper room, our mouths wide open in amazement, as Jesus, the one we call Teacher and Lord, got up from the table, took off his clothing and washed their grubby feet.  Quite literally, Jesus was playing the slave.  A more powerful lesson in humility can hardly be imagined (13:14,15):

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.

 

From that moment on no task could be considered too menial, no position too lowly for the disciple of Christ.

 

But we also discovered that there was more to this act of our Lord’s than meets the eye.  For the washing of the disciples’ feet was pointing to the cross, where Jesus would wash away the sins of his own people. 

 

BRIDGE

Now Jesus drops another bomb-shell.  He tells them that he is going away.  They react with understandable dismay and confusion.  So although Jesus is the one who is about to suffer and die, and as a man is filled with dread at what lies ahead of him, he is the one who ends up giving comfort and solace.  For he knows that his going away is not a bad thing.  It is for their good. 

 

He is going to the cross where as the Lamb of God, he will be the acceptable sacrifice that will enable God to forgive their sins. 

He is going to the tomb, where he will do battle with death, and will rise again on the third day so that they may receive eternal life.

He is going to heaven, where, he says, he will prepare a place for them, so that they may be where he is. 

 

It’s the ultimate good, the ultimate comfort. 

I’m going away, and you can’t come just yet, because I’m getting the place ready for you to join me. 

 

Let’s look more closely at what the Lord was saying.  And by way of an aside, I make no apologies for preaching a sermon entitled “How to get to heaven.”  There’s a tendency in the modern church to steer away from sermons about the hereafter, because it’s not very practical.  What we need, we are told, is more sermons about everyday life in the here-and-now. 

 

My answer to that is this: If what we are studying is true, if what the Lord Jesus told his disciples is true, then this is the most practical topic we can consider.  After all, one hundred percent of us are going to die, sooner or later.  I believe there is a heaven and that there is a hell.  And I believe that the Lord Jesus has shown us how to get to heaven and how to avoid going to hell.   If you believe the same, then I hope you find this sermon of great practical use.

 

We’ll divide the passage into two sections, asking ourselves a couple of questions.

1.       Where exactly was Jesus going?

2.       How can we join him?

 

WHERE WAS JESUS GOING

First of all, then, where was Jesus going?

 

At various times the Lord had tried to prepare his disciples for the inevitable, that one day he would have to leave them.  He had dropped none-too-subtle hints that he would be betrayed, arrested, executed, and that on the third day he would rise.  It seems, however, that the disciples never really took it in.  I suppose we all have the capacity for editing out bad news. 

 

It is now the very night when all that Jesus said would happen does happen.  Jesus is celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples.  Judas has just left, gone to fetch the police. Jesus wants to prepare the rest for what is soon about to happen.  Gently and tenderly he says to them (13:33)

My children, I will be with you only a little longer.  You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews so I tell you now: Where I am going you cannot come. 

 

Just as I told the Jews.  Turn back to 8:21 where we read of one of the Lord’s confrontations with his detractors:

I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin.  Where I go you cannot come.

 

It’s interesting that they seem to have had an inkling of what he meant because in the next verse they say:

Will he kill himself?  Is that why he says, Where I go you cannot come?

They figure out that he is talking about his death. 

 

The disciples, however, are not quite as perceptive.   

 

Jesus wants to talk to them about how they are to live and relate to one another when he is gone; how they should love one another.  But Peter interrupts (v.36) and in effect tells the Lord not to go so fast:

Wow!  Let’s just back-track a bit, Lord.  Where exactly are you going that we can’t come?

 

He’s upset, as they all are.  His best friend, the one he says he would die for, is telling them that he’s going away, and they can’t come. 

 

Where I am going you cannot follow now, replies the Lord, but you will follow later. 

 

That’s more than the Lord had allowed his opponents.  Remember he’d told them emphatically that they could not go where he was going, and that they would die in their sins.  But to Peter and the other disciples Jesus says, but you will follow me later.  They would not die in their sins.  

 

So just where was he going?  He was going to the cross, and to the tomb, and thereafter he was returning to heaven, which is where he had come from in the first place.  That’s why he can describe heaven.  It’s not an unknown to him. 

 

He describes heaven as a house, his Father’s house. 

In my Father’s house are many rooms

 

Ultimately, that is where he is going. 

I am going there to prepare a place for you. 

 

The Bible describes heaven in different ways, often in ways that we recognize instantly as pictorial.  For example, to say that the streets are paved with gold is a way of telling us that this is place which will endure, which is not affected by rust or decay or pot-holes.  It’s a place of unimaginable splendour. 

 

Magazines and newspapers often run a column where they ask celebrities what their idea of heaven is, and the answer is usually to do with some pleasure or pass-time.  Heaven has the most immaculate bowling greens, the most tranquil beaches, the most fantastic golf courses. 

 

But, of course, the Bible doesn’t talk about heaven in that way.  What it does say is that heaven is the place where there is no sorrow, or crying, or pain, or death.  Day-light is perpetual; there is no night – nothing dark or sinister.  It is a place of rest.  But not idle rest.  We will be active in heaven, but our activity will be of such a quality that it will be restful, restorative, recuperating.  

 

Sometimes, heaven is likened to a city, a city whose architect and builder is God.  But there is something more personal, more inviting, more comforting in the way our Lord refers to heaven as a house: In my Father’s house are many rooms. 

 

The Apostle Paul picks up this image in 2 Cor.5 where he says we shouldn’t be concerned about our bodies getting old and decrepit, because we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  He looked forward to the day when he would be at home with the Lord. 

 

That’s the most wonderful thing about heaven.  We will be where Jesus is.   Bruce Milne, the Bible commentator says this:

The ultimate goal of the people of God and the reality towards which all God’s purposes are moving is a new state of things which the Bible calls heaven.

 

My friends, let me ask you: Is heaven your ultimate goal?  Do you regard heaven as your real home?  Are you storing up treasures for yourself in heaven?  Is heaven the home where your heart is?

 

HOW CAN JOIN JESUS IN HEAVEN

Then let’s move on to our second question: How do I get to heaven?  How can I join Jesus in heaven?

 

I suppose there are two ways of answering that question.  The first deals with the mechanics of how we will physically be taken to a place which is on another dimension from this world of ours.  How are we transferred from this observable universe of ours, to a heaven which cannot observed?

 

The Lord Jesus answers this in 14v.3.  Having said he was going away in order to prepare a place for his disciples, he adds:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

 

The Lord is referring to his Second Coming, when he will return in glory.  This is another doctrine that the modern church finds embarrassing.  I admit, it is very difficult to imagine, very difficult to conceive.  In fact, the only reason I believe it is because the Lord Jesus said it.  I’m not going to accept everything else he said, and then dismiss this one thing as crazy. 

 

This is the same man who gave us the Sermon on the Mount, spiritual and moral teaching that remains unsurpassed to this day.

This is the same man whose parables shed unique light on God and how he works among us. 

This is a man who practised what he preached.  He touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable, accepted the unacceptable. 

 

I’m not going to accept all that, and elevate this man as above every other man, but reject this one teaching as an uncharacteristic aberration.  So I believe, as every Christian should believe, that Jesus will return to take his people to be with him. 

 

The Bible teaches that when Christians die, our bodies, whether they are buried or cremated, remain earth-bound.  Our souls or spirits, the real us, however, go to heaven as soon as we breathe our last.  How this happens the Bible doesn’t say.  But remember what Jesus said from the cross to the penitent thief:

Today you will be with me in paradise.

 

However, God’s ultimate destiny for us as human beings is for us to be whole beings, with body and soul reunited.  So, the Apostle Paul teaches that, at the last trumpet, the fanfare announcing the return of the King of kings, our perishable bodies, no matter how far along the road to dust and decay they may be, will be raised imperishable.  The mortal will be clothed with immortality. 

 

We will be raised, And so we will be with the Lord for ever.  (1 Thes.4:17)

 

That’s the mechanics of how we get to heaven.

 

But of course, when anyone poses the question: How can I get to heaven, they are not primarily interested in the mechanics.  What they are really asking is, how can I be sure that when I die I will go to heaven.  They want to know how they can be certain that they will not die in their sins but that they have a place in heaven.  What is the way to heaven?

 

The Lord Jesus answers this question too.  In v.4 he tells his disciples:

You know the way to the place where I am going.

 

Thomas, bewildered and exasperated, blurts out (in v.5):

Lord, we don’t know where you are going so can we know the way?

The penny still hasn’t dropped. 

 

This is when the Lord Jesus gives his famous, and for many, his controversial answer in verse 6:

I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

The way to the Father, our Father who is in heaven, is Jesus himself. 

 

Notice that he does not say: I will show you the way, like a guide. 

No, he says I am the way.

 

He does not say: I am a way, that is one way among many ways, one option among many options.  He says, I am the way.

 

He does not even say, My way is the way, as if he has provided us with an example to follow that guarantees to lead us to heaven. 

 

No, quite clearly, quite emphatically, and quite unambiguously, he says:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

Unless we come to Jesus we cannot come to the Father. 

Unless we accept Jesus, God the Father will not accept us.

Unless we welcome Jesus, there will be no welcome for us in heaven. 

 

I know that modern men and women cry “foul” at this.  It’s exclusive, it’s narrow, it’s intolerant of other religions and philosophies.  I know it is.  But I didn’t say it.  Jesus Christ said it.  That’s what he claimed.  He claimed he was the way, the only way, to heaven.  As the Easter hymn puts it:

He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.

 

He is the way because he is the truth.  He is the one who is full of grace and truth.  He doesn’t just teach us the truth; still less does he present us with “a truth”.  He is the truth.  Everything else is measured against him.  He is the final standard by which everyone and everything is judged. 

 

He reveals the truth to us, most especially the truth about God. 

 

He is the way because he is the life.  As he said to Martha:

I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  (John 11:25)

Because of him, though we die, we shall live. 

 

And not just in the hereafter.

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned: he has crossed over from death to life. (5:24)

 

It’s only when we are in Christ and Christ is in us that we are truly alive.  Outside of Christ we are dead, dead in our sins. 

 

I don’t stand before you and say to you, Become a Christian and get a life.

I say, Become a Christian and get life.  Life as God intends you to have life. 

 

How can I get to heaven?  How can I avoid dying in my sins?  How can be where Jesus is?

 

It’s not by trying to imitate Jesus; it’s not by trying to be good like Jesus.

It’s by admitting that you can do none of these things.

In your mind’s eye, kneel at the foot of the cross of Calvary, and say to the Lord Jesus, My Lord, my way. 

 

I am the way to God: I did not come

To light a path, to blaze a trail, that you

May simply follow in my tracks, purse

My shadow like a prize that’s cheaply won.

My life reveals the life of God, the sum

Of all he is and does. So how can you

The sons of night, look on me and construe

My way as just the road for you to run?

                My path takes in Gethsemane, the Cross,

And stark rejection draped in agony.

My way to God embraces utmost loss:

Your way to God is not my way, but me.

Each other path is dismal swamp, or fraud.

I stand alone: I am the way to God. 

(Don Carson)

 

CONCLUSION

The news that someone near and dear to us is moving away, and that we might not see them for a long time, if ever again, is news that upsets us.  When Jesus told the disciples that he was going away it’s no wonder that they were distressed.  But in the topsey-turvey way of the kingdom of God, this going away of Jesus would be for their good.

 

He was going away to the cross to die for them.

He was going away to the tomb, to be raised to life for them.

He was going back to heaven, to prepare a place for them. 

For them and for us who believe in him. 

And he will return one day to take us to be with him that we may be where he is.

If it were not so, he would have told us. 

 

 

MEDITATION

Follow thou me.  I am the way and the truth and the life.  Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible joy

October 9, 2008

Today I had an experience I never expected to experience.  For several months a lady from a Far Eastern country, married to a Scot, has been coming to our church, brought by her neighbour.  Her background is not Christian.  However, she has been deeply affected by the presentation of Christ from John’s Gospel.  She wants to become a Christian.  So she started coming to the Christianity Explored course. 

To begin with she was using a modern translation of the Bible into English, but even with that she was struggling.  So we approached the Scottish Bible Society and they have provided us with a Bible in her native tongue.

I have often heard stories of the Bible being translated into a language for the first time, and the great joy people have reading God’s Word in their own tongue rather than in a foreign language.  We had a small taste of what that is like today.  The lady was so thrilled and so thankful.  We had obviously given her the greatest treasure in the world.  It was quite overwhelming. 

We take the Bible in English for granted.  Imagine if we all had to learn Hebrew and Greek before we could study it.  So let us thank the Living God for his living Word, and for those who painstakingly translate it for us and for others throughout the world.

ALL LOVES EXCELLING

John 13:1-30 Sermon #27

 

INTRODUCTION

Loving someone can cost you your life.  Last Sunday Angela Brown from Kilwinning lost her life trying to save her children from a house fire.  She managed to rescue her three year old daughter, but she was overcome by smoke after she returned to the house to try to get her two youngest sons.  According to the news the boys are in hospital in a critical but stable condition.  And I also note that a 13 year old has been arrested in connection with the fire.  We’ll find out in due course what was going on.  For the time-being all we know is that a mother’s love for her children cost her her life. 

 

At the beginning of John 13 we read about Jesus:

Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 

 

Within 24 hours the Lord Jesus Christ would be hanging on a cross, giving his life for those he loved. 

 

CONTEXT

Last week I was saying that John differs from the other three Gospel writers in that he chooses a different focus when it comes to the events leading up to our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion.  Like the other three, John does tell us about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey; but unlike them he says hardly anything about the days between what we call Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 

 

It was during this time that the Lord told some of his best known parables—the Parables of the Tenants, of the Wedding Banquet, of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, and of the Talents. 

 

Some of his most important teaching was done during this time, such as what he said about the Sheep and the Goats; rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s; the signs of the end of the age.  John tells us none of these.

 

John’s most glaring omission is the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Here in chapter 13 he talks about Jesus and the disciples eating an evening meal together, but he says nothing about “This is my body…this is my blood.” 

 

Theologians and Bible commentators discuss these omissions in their scholarly tomes.  The simplest explanation is that John, the last of the Evangelists to put pen to paper, decided that there was no need to repeat what had already been written.  Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he would tell us what the others had not told us. 

 

And so from chapter 13-17 John allows us to be flies on the wall in that upper room for the whole night, watching and listening, as the Lord prepares his disciples for what is about to transpire. He tells them that he will be going away; but that he will not abandon them, he will send them his Holy Spirit.  He warns them to expect persecution, for if the world hates him it will hate them too.  He encourages them by telling them that their sorrow will turn to joy.  And finally in chapter 17 he prays to the God the Father for them and for those who will believe in him through their message. 

 

We need to spend some time considering our Lord’s teaching in these chapters.  It’s no exaggeration to say that understanding what he says here is key to understanding the Christian life. 

 

TEXT

Let’s look at the text. 

 

It was just before the Passover Feast.  Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

 

Note the timing.  It was just before the Passover Feast.  The Passover, that great celebration of God’s mighty deliverance of his people from slavery, is the back-drop to God’s great provision of a Saviour. 

 

Jesus knew that the time had come.  Those Greeks we were thinking about last week set off the alarm clock in Jesus’ head.  (12:23):

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 

 

And how would he be glorified?  Not by being lifted high upon men’s shoulders; but by being lifted up upon a cross. 

 

The time had come for Jesus to leave this world and go to his Father.  But before he could return to heaven he had to suffer the shame of the cross.  After all, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  (12:27)

 

Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.  What Jesus was about to do was for “his own”, his own people; those who are distinguished from the rest of lost and perishing humanity.

 

A literal translation of the Greek would be: he loved them to the end.  It’s one of those phrases John uses that can have two meanings, both of which are true.  It can mean, as our NIV translation has it, that he was about to show them the full extent of his love; an infinity of love; love to the N’th degree; love all loves excelling. 

 

It can also mean, as the footnote suggests, love to the last, love to the very end of his life.

 

From verse 2 it seems that the Passover meal is in full flow.  The disciples must have been feeling euphoric.  Only Judas appears quiet and withdrawn. 

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.

 

It’s not that the devil had taken possession of Judas, forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do.  We’ve already seen how he was a thief.  He bitterly resented Mary’s extravagant offering of expensive perfume which she poured over Jesus’ feet.  He had no love for Jesus.  As Bruce Milne puts it:

Having closed his heart to the light, Judas found himself the servant of darkness.

 

 

Friends, Judas provides us with a very solemn warning.  It is possible to be close to Jesus and yet not belong to Jesus.  It is possible to mix in the best circles, and still not be influenced by them.  It is possible to sit under the best ministry, to be taught the most profound spiritual truths, to be shown the way of the kingdom of God in the clearest terms, and yet remain an unbeliever.  It is even possible to be engaged in Christian work, preaching in the pulpit, being a youth leader, visiting the housebound, and still be spiritually dead. 

 

It is possible to look like a Christian, to talk like a Christian, to do the kind of things real Christians do, and yet not be a real Christian. 

 

It’s quite apparent that the other disciples are totally oblivious to Judas’ true nature.  When Jesus reveals that one of them is going to betray him, none of them point the finger at Judas.  In v.24 Peter asks John, who was reclining closer to Jesus, to ask Jesus whom he meant.  Indeed, Matthew tells us that after Jesus had said this all the disciples went into a spiral of self-doubt: Surely not I, Lord, they all said. 

 

Judas had already decided the course of action he was going to take.  He had opened his heart to the devil and the devil marched right in.  Remember, the devil can only tempt, he can only suggest.  He cannot force us to do what we do not want to do.  The final decision rests with us. 

 

In v.30 John tells us: As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out.  And it was night.

Night in Judas heart. 

 

In the meantime, Jesus does something quite radical, quite shocking.  v. 3 says: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he called upon a legion of angels to rescue him from the awful fate that awaited him; he exposed Judas so that the man fell at his feet, a snivelling wretch, begging for mercy.

 

No.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round 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 round him.

 

I said earlier that John tells us things that the other Gospel writers omit.  However, nothing he says contradicts their accounts; indeed, the atmosphere in John’s Gospel is very much in keeping with the other three. 

 

Let me show you what I mean.  Turn back to Luke 22:24, Luke’s account of the Last Supper.  Jesus and the disciples have just eaten the bread and drunk the wine which he tells them points to the sacrifice of his body and blood.  It’s one of the most solemn moments in history. 

 

Yet true to form, the disciples are blind to the significance of what is happening.  Luke tells us: Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was to be considered the greatest.  Talk about bad timing.  These guys have had a sensitivity by-pass. 

 

Even so, Jesus treats them with the utmost patience.  The greatest is the one who serves.  And he says to them (v.27): 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.

 

Is it at this point that Jesus gets up and does what none of them had bothered to do? 

 

You may know already that washing feet was looked upon with such disgust that it was reserved for the lowest of the household slaves.  It was right down there with cleaning the toilets.  Jews would only let Gentile slaves do it, not their Jewish slaves.  If there were no slaves to do it, not even a wife was expected to wash her husband’s feet; he’d have to do it himself.

 

It’s not difficult to understand why.  Even nowadays, when we take a shower every day, and use talcum and cream and ointments, when we wear socks or stockings and shoes, still the idea of washing someone else’s feet isn’t exactly appealing. 

 

In those days they wore open sandals.  The streets were filthy.  And baths were only for special occasions.  Washing someone’s feet could be quite disgusting.

 

It seems that there were no slaves to wash their feet in that upper room.  I wonder if the older disciples expected the younger ones to offer.  But nobody moved. 

 

That is, until Jesus got up.  Without saying a word, he took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel round his waist.  Now he looked like a slave.  He got a basin of water, and started to wash the feet of his disciples, the feet of those who called him Teacher and Lord.  Here, as the Apostle Paul tells us is the one who was in very nature God, making himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Phil.2:6-7). 

 

You know how sometimes when you are in company and someone does something that is quite inappropriate, and there’s an embarrassed silence.  Everyone is too polite to say anything.  Yet they all want the ground to open up and swallow them.  That’s how the disciples must have felt. 

 

They accept what the Lord is doing in embarrassed silence.  All, that is, except Peter.  He can’t keep his mouth shut, and as usual, says too much.

 

When he’s finished, the Lord puts his clothes back on, and takes his place back at the table. 

 

Do you understand what I have done for you? he says (v.12).  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.

 

Nothing could be clearer than that.  If he, the one they all look to as their Teacher and Lord, was willing to lower himself to the extent of washing their feet, they too ought to be willing to do the same.  From now on, there would be no task, no position too lowly, too menial for a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

 

He was showing them in the most dramatic way possible that love for one another has its fullest expression in serving one another.  To talk about loving someone is easy.  To give gifts in nice.  But if we want to show the full extent of our love we will do so by serving the other person, by taking the humbler part.

 

HUMILITY

Humility and service go hand in hand.  A willingness to serve reveals a humble heart.  Conversely, an unwillingness to serve, reveals a proud heart, no matter what we might say or think about ourselves.  Calvin puts it quite starkly: There is no love where there is not a willing slavery in assisting a neighbour.  Humility and service go hand in hand; they are both constituent parts of love. 

 

That’s why the man who loved the most served the most. 

That’s why the man who loved the most was also the most humble.

 

Our Lord saw his ministry not in terms of being served by others but in serving others.  And he called his followers to see their ministry in the same light.  (Mt.11:29):

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.

 

The world tells us that we will find rest for our souls—satisfaction—in being in charge.  The aim is always to be in pole position, to be the top dog.  Yet those who have managed to clamber to the top of tree have often found that it’s not as satisfying as they had imagined.  In Shakespeare’s words: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.  The deepest satisfaction is to be found in gentleness and in humility.

 

Let me draw to your attention just three things we can learn from our Lord’s humility in washing the disciples’ feet.

 

1. Humility does not mean doing nothing.  Some people, genuinely desiring to be humble, imagine that this means they must always remain in the background, they must never offer to use their gifts, they must always let others take the responsibility.

 

It’s not that they are too proud to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.  It’s not that they think it’s beneath them to offer a helping hand.  It’s more the case that they think they are not good enough, that others will do the job better. 

 

Such thinking may be humble, but it’s a paralysed humility.  And in the end it’s a useless humility.  The Lord’s humility meant that he did something; he took the part of the servant.

 

2. Secondly, humility means taking the initiative.  None of the disciples were willing to make the first move.  Jesus saw that there was a need, and without saying anything he got on with the job.

 

Again, there is an idea that humility waits to be asked.  We’re frightened of pushing ourselves forward.  But if we see a need, it is not loving to leave it unresolved.  If we see someone in need it is not loving to wait till they ask for help. 

 

We will answer to God for our motives, not to other people.  There is a bravery in the humility that takes the risk, and acts in love.

 

3.  Thirdly, humility means that there is nothing we consider beneath us.  The Christian has no dignity to stand on.  The only reputation we should be worried about losing is the reputation for humble, loving, servanthood.  In other words, our reputation for being Christ-like. 

 

Our Teacher set us an example, to do as he did.  Not literally, to be washing one another’s feet.  But as a model of humility, of service. 

 

The Lord Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love by washing their feet.

 

GREATER LOVE

But the story is not quite finished.  We have to acknowledge that there is something rather unsatisfactory in saying that Jesus showed the full extent of his love by washing the disciples’ feet, and leaving it at that.  For all the love it displayed, for all the humility, it seems strange to say that washing feet is the fullest, widest, deepest expression of love. 

 

And we’re right to feel that.  The washing of the feet is not the full story; it’s only part of the story.

 

Remember when this incident takes place.  John tells us that it was just before the Passover Feast.  It was the day before the great festival of the Passover when the Jews remember their glorious deliverance from slavery in Egypt. 

 

The central part of the festival was the Passover meal when the families ate the roasted lamb; the lamb whose blood had been smeared on the lintels of the doorposts so that when God in judgement passed by he would see there had already been a death in the household: the first born son would be spared. 

 

It is the day before the only begotten Son of God will lay down his life as the spotless lamb, a lamb without defect or blemish, sinless and righteous.  It is the day before his blood will flow to wash the sins of his own, the sins of those he loves, so that the righteous wrath of God may pass over all his people, since his Son had already died in their place. 

 

On the Thursday our Lord Jesus poured water on the disciples’ feet and washed the dirt and grime away. 

On the Friday our poured out his blood on the cross of Calvary. 

 

The writer to the Hebrews says (9:14):

How much more then will the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse us from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.

 

What can wash away my stain?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow;

No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

 

What about that scene with Peter?  What’s going on there?  Peter thinks he is being humble: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?  (v.6)  It isn’t fitting. 

 

But this has to do with far more than merely washing feet.  So Jesus says (v.8):

Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

 

Peter still thinks he is being humble and holy when he says (v.9):

Then Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.

Jesus’ replies (v.10):

A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you. 

 

Jesus’ point is that if we are to have a part with him; if he is to consider us as one of his own; then he must wash us, he must cleanse us from our sin.  That’s what happens when someone becomes a real Christian.  That is a once in a life-time cleansing; a deep clean, if you like. 

 

However, we cannot be perfect, not in the this life.  We pick up the dirt of this world as we travel along.  We still sin.  This too must be brought to the foot of the cross to be forgiven.  That’s why we deliberately take time to confess our sins during the church service.  John, in his first letter (2:1) assures us:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

 

CONCLUSION

Let me ask you: are you clean, are you spiritually clean?

Has the dirt and grime of your sin been washed away from your soul?

Has your conscience been cleansed? 

Are you aware of what it is to be at the receiving end of the full extent of Christ’s love?

 

See Jesus, bending down, washing his disciples’ feet. 

Now in faith, see him washing your very soul with his precious blood.

See him wiping your guilt and shame clean away.

 

And as we draw to conclusion, can I also say to those of you who do know what it is to be at the receiving end of such love, who know the joy of sins forgiven: Are you following the example our Lord set us?

 

To quote John’s first letter again (3:16):

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 

 

Jesus said (13:34):

A new commandment I give, Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.