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Taking Up The Towel

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Taking Up The Towel

John 13            February 23, 1997

Scripture:         Unison Reading, Pew Bible, page #1673, John 13:1-9.



          If you were Jesus, and had been teaching your 12 hand-picked students closely for the last 3 years, knowing you would have to bring your instruction to completion very soon because of your departure schedule, what would you teach them?  What singular event would seem to demonstrate all that you had tried to convey during your whirlwind tour?  After all, 3 years is not a long time to redirect a man’s lifetime, once separated from God, now called into service.  What would you show that would contain the very essence of your message, not only to your students, but to all mankind as your students go forth into the world to bring others into the service of God?  John 13 contains a summary example of Jesus’ teaching, not only to his disciples but to us as the continuation of a long line of disciples in training.  What was this supreme example?  It was that we should take up the towel.  But after his beautiful example, as always, there are reactions.  In order for teaching to be received, attitudes must change.  We must interface with the truth.  Some will receive it readily, some not at all, and some must be convinced.  All this we see here in this passage.

I.       We must take up the towel; the example of Jesus.  (vv. 1-17)

          ( He dressed himself to serve.)


          A.      Fullness  (v. 1)

                   1.       The fullness of time.

                   2.       The fullness of destiny.

                                      The only way to get out of this world is to die.

                   3.       The fullness of accomplishment.

                   4.       The fullness of example.

                                      The full extent of love is to serve.

          B.      Fact  (vv. 2-5)

                   1.       The fact of failure.

                                      How could the devil prompt Judas?  The sin                                         was already in his heart.

                                      Our failure does not limit God’s plan or power.        

                   2.       The fact of power.

                                      The assurance of power is the enablement of                                          service (meekness - power under control) even                                        to enemies.

                                      Jesus was well aware of his nature and mission.

                                      That knowledge prompted him to serve.

                   3.       The fact of service.  (Lk. 12:37)

                                      The object lesson.

                                      What was the lesson that they should                                                      understand?


          C.      Individual Instruction  (vv. 6-11)

                   1.       The uncertainty.

                                      I don’t understand.

                                      Peter said, in effect, he did not want to learn it.

                   2.       The assurance.

                                      You will understand, but it might take some                                           time.

                   3.       The refusal.

                                      I don’t want to understand.

                                      (Pride doesn’t want to accept help.)

                                      “Lord, if I surrender to you, I’ll have to                                                  surrender to everyone.”

                   4.       The ultimatum.

                                      You must understand.

                                      Jesus said if Peter didn’t learn it then Peter had                                      no part with him.

                   5.       The surrender.

                                      Then teach me.

                                      Peter said, “If that’s the way it is then I want all                                     of you.”

                   6.       The explanation.

                                      Personal hygiene.

                                      Jesus said, “You already have all of me.”

                                      His lesson:  “Since you already have all of me,                                               you must give all of you.”  No part may be                                           withheld.

                   7.       The difference - between Peter and Judas.

                                      Judas never really cleaned up - got a bath.

                                      Did Jesus wash Judas’ feet?  It would add to his                                   condemnation.

                                      Jesus pronounced Peter clean even before his                                          betrayal.

                                      How did this foot washing demonstration                                                        connect with Judas’ betrayal?  It evidently                                            confirmed his uncleanness and yet also                                                   confirmed Peter’s cleanliness.  Whereas Peter                                                 erred in opposing it, Judas may have erred in                                              liking it too much.


          D.      Group Instruction  (vv. 12-17)

                   1.       Completion.

                   2.       Reflection.

                   3.       Authority.

                   4.       Application.

                   5.       Example.

                   6.       Humility.

                             a.       No one can be a true servant without humility.

                             b.      Humble service gives a profound message.

                   7.       Blessing.


II.      We must not throw in the towel; the tragedy of Judas.  (vv. 18-30)

          (Judas thought Jesus was all wet.)


          A.      The blessing of service is only for those willing to be led into                 service.  Some, like Judas, would rather have others serve                         them.  However, it grew distasteful to him quickly.  We                         were created to serve God.  Judas is a picture of those                      visibly in the church but not spiritually in the church.  They                    may appear to be chosen but at some point they will be                         revealed.

                   1.       Horse illustration.

                   2.       Serving illustration.


          B.      This truth was confirmed by prophecy fulfilled in the                                     betrayal of Jesus by Judas, who was not willing to serve,                      and who would not receive the blessing.


          C.      The mission of serving mankind is now linked inseparably                             between Jesus and his followers, those willing to serve                           others as he served them.  Accepting those whom Jesus                         sends to serve is the same as accepting Jesus.  (And serving                          those to whom Jesus sends us is the same as our accepting                         Jesus.)


          D.      It is troubling to come with a pure heart of love and service                            and truth and not be accepted.


          E.      Those unwilling to serve reject Christ, he did not reject                          them.


          F.      Rejecting Christ is serving Satan.

                   Jesus gave Judas permission to do what was in his heart.

                   We do have God’s permission to go to hell if that is what we                 want.


          G.      Serving Satan is darkness.


III.    Sometimes, we must be laundered; the further instruction of       Peter.  (vv. 31-38)

          (Peter, still wet behind the ears, needed to be hung out to dry if he       was going to dress to serve.  A wet towel isn’t much good.)


          A.      Jesus would be going away.


          B.      His going would glorify God.


          C.      The disciples would not be able to follow immediately.


          D.      But they would be able to also glorify God by following the                           command Jesus gave them to love one another by serving                              selflessly in the same manner as he served them, by taking                         up the towel.


          F.      They would glorify Jesus by bringing credit to him as his                     disciples through love.


          G.      Peter is still searching.


          H.      Peter will have to wait for God’s timing and work to be                        done in his life.


          I.       Peter wants it now without the work.


          J.       Jesus tells him he must go through the process.


Conclusion:                   1.       We must take up the towel.

                             2.       We must hang on to the towel.

                             3.       We must sometimes have our towel laundered                                        by God to increase our effectiveness.


            Basically, we cannot be happy unless we are able to serve.

One day the King's best personal servant was walking in a dense forest near the palace.  There he stumbled and fell down a hill.  He awakened, looked around, and found at his feet the proverbial magic cup, which, when rubbed, released a genie.

   The genie said, "Your finding this cup was no accident. You've worked hard all your life.  So you may receive one wish. But make it carefully because you can have only one."

   The man replied, "All my life I have been in positions requiring that I serve others.  In fact, I'm known as 'The Servant of the Kingdom.'  In the future, I want people to wait on me and serve me. Yes, that's it.  I want the tables turned.  I want servants to do everything for me."

   Sure enough, when the man returned to the castle, the door was opened for him.  His food was cooked, his meals were served, his dishes washed, his clothes cared for by others.

   He was not allowed to perform his usual work -- everything was done for him.

   For the first month, the newness of the experience amused him. the second month, it became irritating.  During the third month, it became unbearable.

   So the man returned to the forest and searched until he found the genie again.  He said, "I've discovered that having people wait on me isn't as pleasant as I'd thought.  I'd like to return to my original station and once again be 'The Servant of the Kingdom.'"

   The genie replied, "I'm sorry, but I can't help you.  I had the power to grant only one wish."

   The man said, "But, you don't understand.  I want to serve people. I found it far more rewarding to do things for others than to have all those things done for me."

   The genie just shook his head.

   The man begged, "But you must help me.  I'd rather be in hell than not be able to serve others."

   The genie said sorrowfully, "Where do you think you have been, my friend, for the last ninety days?"

   -- A French fable, retold by Cavett Robert


            Having others serve you is not everything it is cracked up to be.

Steven Brown tells the story of a Polish king who was out hunting with friends when he disappeared.  They looked for him four days without success.  Then, shopping in the marketplace, one of them spotted the king -- working as a mere servant, a porter in the market.

   They reprimanded him for serving in such a demeaning way, but the king responded: "Gentlemen, the load I have quitted is far heavier than the one you see me now carry.  I have slept more in the last four nights than I have in all my reign.  Elect whom you choose; for me it would be madness to return to court."

   -- Steven Brown, Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church,

      Key Biscayne, FL


            Labor without serving is useless.

If you want to utterly crush a man, said the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in The House of the Dead, just give him work of a completely senseless, irrational nature.  Dostoevsky, who himself spent 10 years in prison, wrote:  "If he had to move a heap of earth from one place to another and back again -- I believe the convict would hang himself -- preferring rather to die than endure such humiliation, shame and torture."  Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.

   -- Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas, New York: Doubleday, 1990, p. 408


            The rewards for true serving are immeasurable.

In the late afternoon in Korea a missionary doctor emerged from the operating room, tired with beads of perspiration on his forehead. His lips were almost purple with strain and his hands began to tremble with fatigue.  He was asked by an onlooker how much he would have received for such a delicate operation in America.  "Perhaps $2000," he replied.  But then came the question, "How much will you receive from this Korean woman?" The doctor hesitated and then replied, "Nothing but her gratitude, and the Master's smile."


            Giving the gift of humility discovers the greater gift of God.

F.B. Meyer once noted:


   I used to think, that God's gifts were on shelves




   and the taller we grow,

   The easier we can reach them.


   Now I find that

   God's gifts are on shelves




   and the lower we stoop,

   The more we get.


Timeless Truth:  Wash up, not out.

Taking Up The Towel

John 13           February 23, 1997


I.          We must t _ _ _ up the towel; the example of J _ _ _ _ .  (vv. 1-17)


            A.        Fullness  (vv. 1-2)

                        1.         The fullness of t _ _ _ .

                        2.         The fullness of d _ _ _ _ _ _ .

                        3.         The fullness of a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

                        4.         The fullness of e _ _ _ _ _ _ .


            B.        Fact  (vv. 2-5)

                        1.         The fact of f _ _ _ _ _ _ .

                        2.         The fact of p _ _ _ _ .

                        3.         The fact of s _ _ _ _ _ _ .


            C.        I _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  Instruction  (vv. 6-11)

                        1.         The uncertainty.

                        2.         The assurance.

                        3.         The refusal.

                        4.         The ultimatum.

                        5.         The surrender.

                        6.         The explanation.

                        7.         The difference.


            D.        G _ _ _ _  Instruction  (vv. 12-17)

                        1.         Completion.

                        2.         Reflection.

                        3.         Authority.

                        4.         Application.

                        5.         Example.

                        6.         Humility.

                        7.         Blessing.


II.        We must not t _ _ _ _ in the towel; the tragedy of J _ _ _ _ .  (vv. 18-30)


III.       Sometimes, we must be l _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ; the further instruction of P _ _ _ _ . 

            (vv. 31-38)


Conclusion:    1.         We must t _ _ _ up the towel.

                        2.         We must h _ _ _ on to the towel.

                        3.         We must sometimes have our towel l _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ by God to                                        increase our effectiveness.


Timeless Truth:  Wash _ _ , not _ _ _ .


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