The Towel and Basin

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The Towel and Basin

John 13:1-17 NIV


Thesis – We should follow Christ’s example of service.

Ethical Objective – To cause people to follow Christ’s example of service.

            What would you do if you knew you had just twenty-four hours to live?  Would knowing that you had just twenty-four hours change the way you’d spend your day?  What things would you make sure you did?  What things would you leave out?  Who would you talk to?  Where would you go?  If you had only twenty-four hours to live—what would you do?

            Our Lenten sermon series is going to focus on the final twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life.  What things did He make sure to do?  Who did He talk to?  Where did He go?

            You might be interested to know that if you took all four Gospels and counted all the verses—the amount of paper and ink given to the life of Jesus—32 per cent of them would deal with the final week of the thirty-three years Jesus lived on earth.  You might also be interested to know that only nine events in the life of Jesus are covered by all four Gospels.  Of those nine events five take place in Jesus’ final twenty-four hours.  Those five events are the Last Supper, Peter’s denial of Jesus, Jesus’ trial and sentencing by Pilate, the crucifixion, and the burial of Jesus Christ.

            It’s clear the Gospel writers deemed all of Jesus’ life as very important.  They considered His final week extremely important and His final twenty-four hours as most important.

            The final twenty-four hours begin with Jesus instructing Peter and John to make preparations for Him and the disciples to eat the Passover meal together (cf. Luke 22:7-13).  John provides us with an eyewitness account of some of what happened around 3:00 – 4:00 PM, Thursday in chapter thirteen, verses 1-17.  Listen to John 13:1-17.

These verses relate an example and an explanation.  Let’s spend some time considering

I.  The example.

            A.  The need

1.  Personnel

a) Satan had already successfully tempted Judas to betray Jesus (v. 2; Luke 22:3-5).

b) Prior to this the disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24).

(1) “Suppose you and I were standing in the presence of Wayne Gretzky (the greatest hockey player of all time).  And suppose you had the same hockey [ability] as me (that is no hockey ability at all).  And further, suppose you and I were engaged in a heated discussion of which of us is the greatest hockey player of all time.  Remember, in our little fictional scenario, the hockey player known as ‘The Great One’ is standing by overhearing this whole conversation.  Still, we proceed in making the argument that one of us non-skating, ‘could-not-even-name-all-of-the-teams-in-the-NHL’ person[s] is actually the greatest hockey player of all time. It would be an insane and absurd discussion.  Welcome to the disciple’s world!”  -Rob Prince, Pastor, Central Church of the Nazarene, Lenexa, KS   

(2) “In the presence of Jesus, these disciples were giving (with a straight face presumably) their best Muhammad Ali impersonation: ‘I am the greatest.’”  -Rob Prince

2.  Personal

a) A common courtesy of this time was for the host to provide a servant to wash the dusty, hot feet of guests as they arrived.

(1) The guest’s sandals would be left at the door.

(2) Their feet would be accessible as they lay on low couches with their heads toward the central table.

b) A towel, water, and basin were present but there was no servant.

            (1) This meal was held in a borrowed facility.

            (2) There was no “host.”

c) The disciples had two options. 

(1) They could ignore the problem of the dirty feet.

                        (a) A case of boys being boys.

(b) Micah brought home five clean pair of undershorts from AIM camp.

(2) One of them could grab the towel, water and basin and start washing feet.  None did!

(a) This is one of the earliest records of consumerism in the church.

(b) “As a result, they also dodge serving.  They don’t want to teach Sunday School, work with the youth group or ‘baby-sit’ in the nursery.  They simply want a church that provides inspiration and encouragement for them.  They may even feel uncomfortable with the biblical language of sin and salvation.”  -H. B. London, Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman, Pastor’s at Greater Risk          

(c) “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”  -Merrill Tenney

B.  The deed

1.  Jesus puts on the apron (towel) and begins to wash the dirty feet of the disciples (we don’t know who was first). 

                        2.  Peter protests (vv. 6, 8).

                                    a) Then he volunteers for a bath (v.9)!

b) He doesn’t volunteer to take over the job!

(1) “’Jesus you should not be washing our feet!  What were we thinking?  Let me do it.  Give me the towel.  Let me have the basin.  I can wash these guys’ dirty feet.’”

(2) To do that would require humility and a servant’s heart.   

c) He was loud, but all the rest were also too proud (dirty hearts were behind the problem of the dirty feet).

d) They didn’t even wash the feet of Jesus. 

We are ready now for

II.  The explanation.

            A.  We should follow Christ’s example.

                        1.  Jesus did not intend for us to literally observe this practice.

2.  As the Roman Catholics and a dozen small denominations do

3.  Jesus said we should do as he had done not what he did.

4.  If He had meant a literal observance He wouldn’t have asked if they understood what he had done (v. 12).

            B.  It’s an example of spirit.

                        1.  He set aside His rank (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). 

                                    a) Some of us have rank hearts.

                                    b) None of us have rank.

                        2.  He served for the sake of another. 

3.  We need to be humble enough to give and receive help from anyone, anytime, anywhere.

                                    a) Caring for children

                                    b) Cleaning the ministry center

                                    c) Peeling potatoes

                                    d) Washing dishes or clothes

                                    e) Cooking a meal

                                    f) Giving a ride

g) Wayne Cordero picking up trash

h) Spirit-filled Christians aren’t too good to do anything.

                        4.  Dirty hearts, left uncleansed, will lead to betrayal and denial. 

5.  To have a servant spirit we must experience a Pentecostal power-wash.

            C.  Following Christ’s example is a blessed thing (v. 17).

            I want to ask you to respond to what God is saying to you this morning.  Two ways of responding come to mind.  You may choose one or the other or both.

            The first response would take the form of a personal prayer.  During that prayer you’d surrender your right to be served and ask God to make you a servant.

            The second response would be to decide upon an act of service that you will perform for someone else this week.  After writing down what you’re planning to do, pair up with someone and share your plan.  Then pray for each other.

            During this time of response Michael Card’s song, The Basin and the Towel, will 

be played.  Let’s respond to God!

Wyoming, PA – 02/17/08

Bangor, ME – 03/15/09

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