“Taking the Lowest Place” • John 13:1-17

Since the sermon audio was corrupt this past Sunday, I have posted my notes here in case you missed the message and wanted some devotional material to chew on this week.

It is a sad day when your children outgrow playing make believe. Not sure when it happens… Not immediate, gradual… Not to stereotype, well, okay… Girls tend to play house, boys tend to play war. Girls want to be the mother, not one of the children; boys the general, not a private. Nobody wants to take the lowest place.

But this is not only true for children playing make-believe, but for all of us in real life. We want the important positions – high places, not low places. Authority, influence, control, power.

Even in the workplace, we talk about “climbing the ladder.” Our aim is to go to the highest place.

It is utterly counterintuitive to the flesh to take the lowest place, or even the same place. We tend to be creatures of ambition who crave position and praise. Not just you folks in business, but the same is true for pastors. We all naturally pursue the highest place.

Yet, let me say something to those of you who right now are in a low place. You feel condemned, like a failure. Don’t want a high place, you want a hiding place! If you can hang with me, I have some really encouraging, helpful words just for you. Because we have a hiding place in Jesus. If you are at a low place, know that God wants to meet you there and reveal his grace to you in ways you never dreamed possible. Grace flows downhill.

And we are NOT saying that taking the lowest place is an excuse for ANY kind of abuse—especially domestic abuse.

The principle is just that grace flows downhill to the lowest places.

And it is in John 13:1-17, that Jesus shows those of us tempted to take the highest place that the greatest influence and blessing actually is the result of taking the lowest place. After all, the gospel always reverses the wisdom and values of the world. To live, we must die. To be strong, be weak. To be clean, we must confess how dirty we are. To be great, become the least.

In John 13, it is Thursday night. Jesus has much to say because that very evening, he will be betrayed and arrested, and the next day, crucified by Roman authorities at the demand of the Jews. These are some of his final words.

What I want us to see first, is that Jesus was…

I. Facing His Hardest Day (v. 1)

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 

The Passover was a major festival celebration held every spring in Jerusalem to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from oppression in Egypt. Moses, ten plagues. Final one was the last straw – the death of the firstborn son. But there was a way to save the son… The Passover lamb’s blood on the door posts.

The Passover explains why “His hour had come”– the moment for which he was born –Jesus was to be THE Passover Lamb. His altar would be a cross.

 Death puts life in perspective, doesn’t it? Affects what we say and what we do.  And this teaches us that death is not final for the believer. It is the ultimate leaving and cleaving – see him face to face. His smile.

So, before the he night is up, Jesus wants to demonstrate his love for his disciples through an object lesson.

Remember the context:

  • The night before the Passover, they are having a special dinner together in “the upper room”
  • For a gathering like this, normally there would be a servant who would wash the guests feet. Or at least someone would be appointed for this task. This was the lowest place.
  • You can imagine the disciples all looking around at each other. Were is the servant?

The second thing I want you to see in this passage is that, unexpectedly, and remarkably, it is Jesus who takes the lowest place!

II. Taking the Lowest Place (vv. 2-11)

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (everything is falling into place in the providence of the Father); 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

Imagine how uncomfortable it would be for someone to wash your feet – often an unpleasant odor associated with sweaty feet… Calluses, us trimmed nails, dirt, toe cheese… It’s easy to see why in the ancient world, this was the lowest position of even the servants.  Like Peter, you’d protest, too.

But remember, this is an object lesson. It is making a point. Teaching a lesson. It is a physical image of a spiritual reality.

What is Jesus trying to teach him? Only Jesus can really wash him the way that he needs washing/ cleaning. Not merely his feet, but his soul. And it is a clean that can’t be undone!

So, what does this mean for us?

  • Jesus washes the dirtiest, most disgusting parts of our lives. Not what stinks on our bodies, but what stinks in our souls – our sin. Complete and permanent.
  • This means that we must beware of external religion without the inner reality. Just consider Judas. He was in the proximity of Jesus for over 3 years. As the treasurer, he had a place of leadership even among the disciples. Judas’ feet had been washed, but not his soul.
    • Worship attendance
    • Church membership
    • Baptism

By taking the lowest place, the third thing I want you to see in this passage is that Jesus was…

III. Setting the Greatest Example (vv. 12-16)

12 Then he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

These verses have generated a lot of confusion. Some Christians believe that Jesus was commanding that we do foot washings in our worship services. That actually might be a great idea! However, remember that this is an object lesson. As such, I do not think that he intended this to become a ceremonial rite in the liturgy of the local church, but rather a pattern or way of life (the Gk word “example” can be trans pattern or model). Furthermore, while the early church practiced feet washing, it was not in the context of their gathered worship services.

So, then, if not in a worship service, how can we wash each other’s feet?

  • We wash feet when we inconvenience ourselves to bless someone else (taking a meal, cleaning someone’s home, watching someone’s kids)
  • We wash other’s feet when we are willing to get involved in the mess of life (without judgment, but with grace)
  • We wash other’s feet when we forgive
  • I think we can call this “Servant Evangelism.”
    • The gospel without words.
    • We actually have a ministry devoted to this – Creekstone SERVES
    • And if you think about it, practically every life event calls for someone to play the servant.
    • Whether at work, in the home, at school, we have unlimited opportunities to be the servant!

So, the fourth and final thing I want to show you from this passage is that following this example results in…

IV. Experiencing the Richest Blessing (v. 17)

17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

 Notice who Jesus says will be blessed? YOU!  When you volunteer with Connectibility… at the DCC or CHP… but not only then, but “as a pattern of life”– the day in and day out.

So two questions:

  1. Do you really believe that taking the lowest place is the path to blessing?
  2. If you do, where are you going to start?
    • Offering to clean up dinner
    • Picking up the dog poop in the yard (I may or may not be talking to my own kids)
    • Cleaning the bathroom, bedroom, putting up clothes
    • Running an errand so spouse can rest
    • Personal repentance. Grace flows downhill!
    • On a larger scale, I wonder about the church being known as a people who wash feet? Even those willing to wash the feet of a Judas. How would that would affect our voice in a post-Christian culture?

Death Valley, CA, is the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere. It also is the hottest, driest place in North America. Yet for a season, Death Valley is having to give up its name. This desert area in California is experiencing an unprecedented amount of rainfall – more than in the past century — although the rain hasn’t fallen directly on the desert, but in higher elevations. But there has been so much rain that the torrents have flowed into Death Valley, watering one of the lowest, hottest, most barren places on earth. As a result, colorful wild flowers have begun to bloom. Vast fields of desert gold poppy hve emerged, along with desert star, evening primrose, phacelia and several species that I can’t pronounce. A spokesman for the Theodore Payne Foundation said, “This will be remembered as the greatest wildflower display of our lifetime.”

You may very well be at one of the lowest places in your life. A place like Death Valley – barren, miserable, hopeless.

What if that barren landscape of your heart could turn into a beautiful wildflower display? Where from your heart grew…

  • Hope
  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Contentment
  • Thankfulness

All you have to do is look up. Not to the mountains surrounding Dahlonega, but to a hill outside of Jerusalem, where Jesus took the lowest place for us… This is what the cross is about.   

The lowest place in Roman society was the place of execution known as a cross- it was a place for the most despicable and despised criminals. In many ways, the cross serves as the ultimate object lesson of God’s love for sinners. He chose a cross to reveal to us that “It is finished… There is no more condemnation!”

So, look up, and let grace flow down to your low place as you believe. Let the basin and the towel of the cross wash you clean through his blood – not just to clean your feet, but your very soul. So that you might know that you are forgiven and accepted, because from that cross he has shown us the fullness of his love.

You see, when that grace flows down to the very core of our souls—the lowest, deepest, most needy places—when the love and grace of God flows there, our lives will begin to flower. At that point, we will no longer avoid the lowest place, but will pursue it with joy as Jesus pursued it for us.