How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 6

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:17

God created all people to connect with Him in a personal relationship. In our study of the gospel of John, we are now in a section where John’s primary focus is on developing an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ (John 13-17). How can we develop a more intimate relationship with Christ? So far we have discovered that we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ when we…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

– Receive Jesus’ cleansing grace (John 13:6-11).

– Resolve to apply Jesus’ cleansing grace to others (John 13:12-15).

– Revere Christ’s Lordship (John 13:16).

This leads to the final way to experience the blessedness of intimacy with Christ – REMAIN OBEDIENT TO HIM (John 13:17). Jesus is not talking about perfection, but faithfulness to Him. Christ said to His disciples, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17). Christ says you will be “blessed” (makarioi) or find favor with God if you do more than “know” His teachings, but simply “do them.” Humble service provides benefits for both those being served and the one serving. For example, the most joyful Christians are not those who just know they are to humbly serve others, but those who actually practice humble service. Our joy increases because we know we are pleasing the Lord Jesus.

Not all Christians are blessed in this way because not all Christians are obedient to Christ’s commands. James reminds us that we are “deceiving” ourselves if we think we can grow in our Christian lives if we are “hearers only” of God’s Word instead of becoming “doers of the word” (James 1:22).

In March 2017 my wife and I went to an island in the middle region of the Philippines, and we were deeply refreshed when we went to a church in a remote mountain area to preach and conduct a discipleship training seminar there. When we arrived at the church, we were warmly greeted by a very gentle and humble pastor. During the worship service after the message and communion, the church honored this pastor for his faithful service there for thirteen years. Many people praised God for this pastor’s patience and understanding. When God’s people feel loved by their pastor, they will gladly follow his leadership. I learned later that previous pastors had been there an average of only two to three years, but this pastor had far exceeded those ministries and the people were so appreciative of this.

After enjoying a delicious piece of Casava pie during lunch that was cooked by the pastor, he took me on a hike up a nearby mountain to show me where his church members live. Many of them must hike great distances just to come to church. But they were willing to make that sacrifice to be under the refreshing and rejuvenating ministry of the Lord through this humble servant. When we returned to the church, I enjoyed some scrumptious homemade ice cream prepared by this pastor before conducting our discipleship training seminar.

This man’s example of humble servanthood was a great inspiration to me. Time spent with him was very refreshing and rejuvenating. This pastor was a joy-giver, not a joy-taker. He loved to serve people. He was not threatened to have another pastor preach and teach his congregation. There was no pretense. No pressure to perform. Just a humble acceptance that encourages you to be the person God has made you to be.

Although I may not see him again in the Philippines before heaven, I think heaven will be filled with a lot of humble servants like this pastor. After all, the Lord Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 18:3-4).

God does not bless His servants for what they “know,” but for what they “do.” Obedience is not guaranteed among Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is asking us for more than humility. He is asking for humble service. Like Christ, we are to humbly serve others, especially when it involves getting dirty. Humble service is most needed when people are broken and hurting.

When Christ’s servants practice what they know to be true, they will find favor with God both now and at the Judgment Seat of Christ when they will be rewarded for their faithful obedience to Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). In a world where division and hate are the norm, how refreshing and rejuvenating it would be to have Christians humbly serving those with dirty feet.  

Prayer: Father God, I want to praise You for the Lord Jesus Christ’s example of servant leadership. Instead of coming to earth to be served, He came to serve people whose feet are dirty with sin and shame. How often I have mistakenly measured spirituality by how much I know instead of by how much I practice what I know. Thank You for exposing this lie in my life. Please forgive me for letting my culture influence me more than Your Word. I pray Your Holy Spirit will renew my mind with the blessedness of doing what I know to be true. As the song says, “Make me a servant today.” In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 5

“Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” John 13:16

One of the greatest dangers in our churches today is for religion to replace an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. By religion, I mean anything you may do for God that does not come from a heart that is intimately connected to the Lord.

How can we develop a more intimate relationship with Christ? So far we have discovered that we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ when we…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

– Receive Jesus’ cleansing grace (John 13:6-11).

– Resolve to apply Jesus’ cleansing grace to others (John 13:12-15).

The fifth way to experience the blessedness of intimacy with Christ is to REVERE CHRIST’S LORDSHIP (John 13:16). The apostle John now emphasizes the Lordship of Christ. “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” (John 13:16). Jesus reminds His disciples of their status as “servants” and the “sent.” If their Master and Sender does lowly services, then they the “slaves” and “sent ones” must not consider menial tasks beneath their dignity. Christ submitted to His Father and we are to submit to Him. If we refuse to follow Jesus’ example of humble service, then we are exalting ourselves above Him. We cannot experience intimacy with Christ if we refuse to place ourselves under His control as our Lord and Master.

We can say that Jesus is our Lord and Master but the true test is our actions. Christ said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We can talk all we want about the Lordship of Christ in our lives, but if our actions do not align with His will, our words are empty and meaningless. Our behavior expresses what we truly value. If we are not humbly serving others as Jesus did, then we are not placing ourselves under His Lordship.

Surrendering to Christ’s Lordship in our lives will happen more naturally as we grow in our relationship with Jesus. Relationship, not rules, is the basis of surrender to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are my source of joy and peace, not religious rules and rituals. Thank You for reminding me to keep my focus on You and not religion. You are my Lord and Master, and what You say to do is what matters most. In Your name I pray. Amen.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 3

“Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” John 13:10

We are learning in John 13 how we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ. So far we have discovered that we must…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

Today we discover we can experience the blessedness of clean feet when we RECEIVE JESUS’ CLEANSING GRACE (John 13:6-11). In Jesus’ day, people wore sandals without any socks or stockings on their feet. Since the roads were dusty, their feet would become dirty and need to be washed. It was the host’s responsibility to provide a servant to wash the guest’s feet. But Jesus did something that was unheard of in that day. He, a Rabbi, got up from the table and took the position of a servant and began washing His disciples’ feet.

John informs us, “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ ” (John 13:6). Apparently there was nothing said as Jesus washed the other disciples’ feet until He came to Peter. Peter did not understand the significance of what Jesus was doing. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ ” (John 13:7). Jesus asks Peter to submit to Him by permitting Him to wash his feet. He assures Peter that he will understand the significance of this foot washing later.

Has Christ ever asked you to do something that does not make any sense to you? But later on, the Lord showed you what He was doing in your life or in the lives of others? Maybe He is asking you to do something that no one else will do. When Christ tells us to do something, we must be willing to do it whether it seems reasonable to us or not. This is one of the keys to experiencing the blessedness of intimacy with Jesus!

“Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ ” (John 13:8a). Peter may be saying, “You shall never wash my feet for eternity!” Peter felt that Jesus should not degrade Himself by performing such a lowly task. Or perhaps he was thinking, “Never, Lord. My feet are not dirty, and even if they were, I certainly cannot permit You to clean them.” Peter’s words reflect pride and false humility. Our humility does not begin with giving service to others. It begins with a readiness to receive it. It is easier to have pride and a condescending attitude when we receive service rather than when we give it. For example, we may not hesitate to take a meal to a church member who has taken ill. But it is more difficult for us to receive such a meal if we are the one who is sick.

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ ” (John 13:8b). Jesus is not talking about social fellowship here as Peter was thinking, rather He is talking about spiritual fellowship (closeness) as the context will reveal (cf. 13:10-11). “If I don’t cleanse you from the effects of sin (dirt on your feet), you can have no part (fellowship) with Me,” Jesus is saying. The word “part” (meros) is a term for fellowship (cf. Luke 10:42) in the New Testament.Hodges states, “This truth, of course, is more fully elaborated in I John 1:5-10 where fellowship is related to the question of the believer’s ‘walk’ (which one’s ‘feet’ suggest) and it is conditioned on the cleansing that comes in response to confession of sin (I John 1:9).Peter could not have fellowship with the Lord until He was willing to receive His cleansing ministry.

The same is true for all believers in Jesus. We cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with our Lord until we are willing to let Him cleanse our dirty feet (the effects of sin in our lives). We must be honest with the Lord about sin, which John refers to as “walking in the light” (I John 1:7), and “confess” that sin to Him and God promises to be faithful to forgive us of that confessed sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness or unknown sin in our lives (I John 1:9).

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’” (John 13:9). Peter’s outburst reveals his deep need for intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus. “If fellowship with You, Lord, depends on cleansing, then wash not only my feet but my hands and head, too!” Peter seems to be telling the Lord what to do instead of submitting fully to Him.

“Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.’” (John 13:10a). In the first century, there were no bathing facilities in small houses. So a person had to go to a public bathhouse to bathe. When invited to a meal, a person would first go to the public bathhouse and bathe, and then put on clean clothing, anoint himself with fresh oil, and proceed to the home where he would be served a meal. On the way from the bathhouse to the home, the guest’s feet got dirty. Hence, the host provided a basin of water so that the one who already had a bath and cleansed his entire body could sponge the dirt off his feet. 4

Jesus is referring to two types of cleansing in this verse. The first type of cleansing refers to the complete cleansing of regeneration or salvation which takes place at the moment of faith in Jesus (cf. Titus 3:4-5; Revelation 1:5). This is seen in the word “bathed” (louō) which refers to bathing the entire body. This verb is in the perfect tense which conveys the idea of a permanent cleansing. A person only needs one complete bath spiritually. This is a one-time experience. The Holy Spirit performs this complete cleansing at the moment of faith in Jesus for eternal life (Titus 3:4-5). Some believers think they need to be totally bathed over and over again. They fail to understand that God’s water or soap is guaranteed for eternity.

Have you experienced this one-time permanent cleansing? If not, Christ invites you right now to believe or trust in Him alone for it. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Once you trust in Christ, you will need the second type of cleansing that He speaks of next.

This second type of cleansing refers to daily forgiveness in order to have fellowship or closeness with God. This cleansing is represented by the word “wash” (niptō) which means to wash parts of the body. This fellowship forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 11:4) is based upon the confession of sin (I John 1:9). So Christ is saying in verse 10, “He who is bathed [regeneration] needs only to wash his feet [fellowship], but is completely clean.” Every bathed person (Christian) needs daily cleansing of his dirty feet to have fellowship with Christ.

For example, “just as our children may sin within our family, the believer may sin within God’s family. Our child is always our child, but until he confesses [his sin], our fellowship is not good. In God’s family, the same principle applies. There is a forgiveness for salvation and a forgiveness for restoration. The Lord referred to this second kind of forgiveness when He said to Peter, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’ (Jn. 13:8). Peter told the Lord to wash him all over if that was the case. To this Jesus replied, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean’ ” (Jn. 13:10).” 7

“Jesus said to him, ‘… and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” (John 13:10b). All but one of the disciples were “completely clean” in their position before God and could have fellowship with the Lord. “For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’ ” (John 13:11). Judas had not experienced the cleansing bath of salvation because of his refusal to believe in Christ (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). Nothing in the text suggests that Jesus did not wash Judas’ feet. Christ cleansed the feet of His greatest betrayer. This teaches us not to be selective about whom we will love. Christ loved everyone, including His enemies. And He commands us to do the same (cf. Matthew 5:43-48).

As I have thought about Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, including the feet of Judas, I realized that Jesus did not ask them why they walked through the mud and got dirty. That is a part of life. Water was there regardless of the amount of dirt on their feet. The Lord does not seek to condemn us. He seeks to cleanse us (cf. John 3:17; I John 1:5-10). All Christians have a need for daily cleansing because we all sin (Romans 3:23). We all have dirty feet. As we appreciate God’s cleansing grace in our lives both at the moment of salvation and daily for fellowship, we will grow deeper in our intimacy with Jesus and be more eager to humbly serve Him by serving others.

Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus, thank You for the complete cleansing bath You gave me the moment I believed in You alone for Your gift of everlasting life (Titus 3:4-5)! Thank You that I do not need to repeat that bath because it permanently cleansed me of all my sin and shame positionally. But my feet still get dirty – I still sin as I walk with You in this sin-stained world – and I need cleansing from You daily. I praise You because You are faithful to forgive the sin I confess to You (I John 1:9)! And not only that, You graciously cleanse me of all my unknown sin at that time as well! I am doubly blessed by Your faithfulness to me! Please use me, my Lord and my God, to serve You by serving others even when it may not make sense to me or be the popular thing to do. Serving You in light of all You have done for me is one of the greatest privileges I could ever do. In Your grace-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Zane C. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers – John 2:23-25,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978), pg. 147; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 326, 353, 401,593-594; Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 438.

2. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers,” pg. 147.

3. Literally “the sins,” tas hamartias.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 429.

5. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp 480-481.

6. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 238-239.

7. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pg. 353.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 2

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” John 13:3-4

Jesus is in the final week of His life before His crucifixion. It is Thursday, our time. We are learning in John 13 how to experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Jesus Christ. Last time we saw that we are to recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2). Today we discover we are to RECKON WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST (John 13:3-5; cf. Ephesians 2:10).

What happens next is incredible. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God…” (John 13:3). Jesus knew that His Father in heaven had given Him a position of absolute authority (“the Father had given all things into His hands”). He knew His origin (“He had come from God”) and His destination (“and was going to God”). He knew who He was and where He was going. From this position of strength and security, we see Jesus taking the role of a lowly servant.

Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” (John 13:4). “In Palestine the roads are dusty, and though guests would normally bathe before a social gathering like Passover, after a walk across the city their feet would be dirty. A basin of water and towels were customarily placed at the door of a home for washing. The task of washing guests’ feet was generally assigned to a household servant. A basin of water and towel had been left in the upper room for the disciples’ use, but not one of them took responsibility for washing the others’ feet. They were too busy thinking of themselves to think of others.” The disciples’ refusal to put themselves in the place of a servant reveals their own insecurity.

We are told that Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments.” Pentecost observes that “there are several hints from Scripture concerning the outer clothing which Christ wore. From the record given to us at the Crucifixion, we know that He wore a seamless robe. This would have been an unusually costly robe. Normally robes were made of strips of cloth that had been woven on narrow looms; these strips were sewn together to make a garment of sufficient size to be wrapped around an adult. But the robe that Christ wore had been especially prepared at great cost… We also notice that when Christ during His ministry went into a strange synagogue He was greeted as a rabbi and welcomed in that assembly. A rabbi was normally designated by the color of the tassels or ribbons sewn onto his robe. It may be that Christ wore the robe of a rabbi. Such a robe would have entitled Him to respect and honor. In Israel only the priest was held in higher esteem than the rabbi… It was such a garment as this that Christ laid aside in order to wrap a towel around His waist. A towel was the sign of a servant. A servant had no position and no honor.” 2

Imagine the look of shock on the disciples’ faces when Jesus stood up and laid aside His robe of honor to wrap Himself in a servant’s towel to wash their feet. Yet, even after Jesus took the position of a slave to wash their feet, no one offered to do the task instead. They were too embarrassed or too proud to perform a house servant’s task. This is the extent of Jesus’ love for His own disciples. He is willing to humbly serve them. Humble servanthood is not an expression of weakness. It is actually a show of strength. The more we embrace who we are in Christ and where we are going because of His amazing grace, the more we can serve others from a position of strength and security. This means we must lay aside our robes that entitle us to honor and respect and put on Christ’s love with which to serve others.

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:5). The “towel” was long enough to wrap around Jesus’ waist and use the free end to dry His disciples’ feet. This was a tremendous expression of love! Jesus loved them enough to become their servant and minister to them. You would have thought that Jesus needed them to minister to Him as He faced the cross. Instead, we see Him reaching out to them and meeting their needs. He knew that in a short time they would reject Him, but here He is serving them. What an amazing Savior and Lord we have! The more secure we are in Christ’s love and our identity in Him, the more empowered we will be to serve others.

When Jesus took the position of a lowly household servant, He made Himself extremely vulnerable. He knelt down before men who would betray Him. Among those feet were Judas’ and Peter’s. One man would betray Him and the other would deny Him before the night was over. Still, in love, Jesus knelt down before them. Today, God’s love kneels down before us wherever we are. And as He does, He urges us to bare ourselves before Him, to be vulnerable before Him with our dirty feet (i.e. sinfulness). Jesus’ security and strength to humbly serve these men (John 13:4-5) was based upon His knowing His absolute authority from the Father, His origin, and His destination (John 13:3).

Likewise, as we discover and believe who we are in Christ, we can also make ourselves vulnerable to serve others even when it involves washing dirty feet. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The word “workmanship” is the Greek word poiēma from which we get our English word “poem.” God has made us a heavenly piece of poetry on this earth. We are His masterpiece, not a mistake. The more we see ourselves as He sees us, the more we can “walk in the good works, which God prepared beforehand.” You and I are not defined by our sin and shame, we are defined by God’s view of us recorded in His word. The more we embrace the way God sees us, the more vulnerable we can become in serving one another.

What are the “good works” God has “prepared beforehand” for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10)? I believe some common “good works” for all Christians to walk in involve going into all the world and preaching the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) and making disciples or followers of Christ by baptizing those who believe in Jesus and teaching them to obey all of Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:19-20). Christ’s gives all Christians the “authority” to do these works for His glory (Matthew 28:18).

Do you want to experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ? Then recognize Jesus’ loyal love for you and reckon who you are in Christ. When you do, you will be in a position to humbly serve our Lord by serving others. The world could use a lot more of this right now.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, what a beautiful picture of Your love when You got up from the table and made Yourself extremely vulnerable by taking the position of a lowly household servant to wash the dirty feet of Your disciples who should have been washing Your feet. Even though they would eventually abandon You in Your darkest hour, You chose not to abandon them. Lord, none of us deserve this loyal and unlimited love from You. But we gratefully receive it because we need cleansing from our own sin and shame. Thank You so much for meeting us where we are at. Please help us to see ourselves through Your eyes so we can serve others from a position of strength and security. We have been given Your authority to represent You on earth as Your ambassadors (Matthew 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20). We have been entrusted with Your gospel message to boldly share it with a lost world (Mark 16:15) and then make disciples of those who believe in You (Matthew 28:19-20). Because You made Yourself vulnerable for us, we can now make ourselves vulnerable for others. We love You, our Lord and our God. In Your gracious and loving name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 239.

2. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 428.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” John 12:24

We are learning from John 12:20-33 how to overcome self-centeredness in our lives. The first way is to seek Jesus (John 12:20-22) and grow closer to Him. As we grow closer to Jesus, we will be more motivated to apply the second way to overcome self-centeredness which is SELF-DENYING SERVICE TO CHRIST (John 12:23-26). The coming of the Greeks (John 12:20-22) stirred Jesus’ heart to its depths. But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” (John 12;23). Their coming confirmed that it was time (“the hour has come”) for “the Son of Man” to “be glorified” through the cross. The cross must come before the Greeks can “really come” to Jesus in a spiritual sense. We see interest in Christ extending beyond Jewish circles now as news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead spreads. When Jesus speaks of being glorified He is referring to His death. To Him, His death would be a triumph, not a tragedy. This is not a kingly glory from people; this is the glory of the cross from the Father. The world views death by crucifixion as a humiliating defeat, but Jesus sees it as a means of glorification.

What about us? Do we see suffering for Jesus as a shameful thing to be avoided or as a God-honoring thing which expresses the power of God working in us (cf. I Corinthians 1:18)? God wants us to set our sights on Christ and His calling in our lives which includes suffering for His sake (cf. Philippians 1:29).

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24). That Jesus’ death is in view here can be seen in the grain of wheat analogy. A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die to produce many seeds (fruit). So, until a kernel of wheat died, it could not multiply itself. Jesus is the grain of wheat. The word “alone” refers to Christ dealing with Jews alone. It was necessary for Jesus to die to produce life in many others – both Jews and Gentiles in one body. Death was necessary for life and fruitfulness. This idea was foreign to the Greeks.

In the Encyclopedia Britannica, there is an account of a notable experiment at Wolverhampton, England. One grain of wheat was planted and produced several distinct stalks with ears of wheat. Each grain was transplanted. The grains produced by each were again separated and transplanted. In two years, 32,500 grains of wheat were produced from one single “grain of wheat.” Christ’s death would produce a tremendous harvest of Jews and Gentiles!

Why does Jesus use this grain of wheat analogy? I believe one reason is because He wants to address the obstacle that hinders our spiritual growth. Every seed has a shell and a grain inside that shell – an inner and outer nature. A grain of wheat has the potential to produce thousands of other grains on one condition, if the shell “dies” and releases the life that is inside which can produce more plants that will produce other grains. 

When you become a Christian, the Spirit of God comes to live inside you (John 7:38-39; Romans 5:5; 8:9-11; I Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13-14), but the Spirit is encased in the shell of your “outward man” i.e. your physical body (2 Corinthians 4:16) and sin nature or “old man (self)” (cf. Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8-9). The Spirit of God will never leave you, that’s what the last few verses of Romans 8 guarantees (Romans 8:31-39; cf. Psalm 139:7-10).

But that does not mean that He will be in full control of your life. You have the choice to keep the Spirit of Christ in its shell. It is like pushing the Spirit of Christ into the back seat while you take the steering wheel of your life. In I Corinthians 3:1-3, the apostle Paul gives a name to the believer who is not letting the Spirit of God direct his or her life because the Spirit is still in the seed shell. They are called “carnal”or worldly Christians. How can we let the Spirit take full control of our lives? Christian author Watchman Nee explains:

“As long as this shell does not break open, the grain cannot grow. ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies’ What is this death? It is the action of the temperature and moisture of the earth upon the grain which results in the breaking of the shell. When the shell breaks, the grain grows. Therefore, it is not a matter of whether or not the grain has life, but whether the outer shell is broken.” 1

“Whether our works are fruitful or not depends upon whether our outward man has been broken by the Lord so that the inward man can pass through that brokenness and come forth. This is the basic problem. The Lord wants to break our outward man in order that the inward may have a way out. When the inward man is released, both unbelievers and Christians will be blessed.” 2

Do you understand what he’s saying? He’s saying that it is possible to live your life as a Christian and even do ministry as a Christian in your own strength and not by the power of the Holy Spirit. But two things will always be true: your ministry won’t be very effective, and your life won’t be very satisfying. It is possible as a Christian to live in the outer person, the shell, and not the inner person, the Spirit. And if you are multi-gifted, you will probably be considered a great success. The church will grow, the money will pour in, the books will sell, but lives will not be changed. And deep inside you won’t feel like a success because the Holy Spirit of God inside of you will be telling you the truth. He will be saying, “This is not My work. It is your work.” That is why it is effective from the world’s viewpoint, but it is not effective from God’s viewpoint and that is why you don’t have any joy.

The Lord Jesus then applies this wheat analogy of death leading to life to discipleship. “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). The issue here is rewards, not salvation from hell. The believer who “loves his life” by selfishly living for his or herself, “will lose” the fullness of that life both now and in eternity in terms of the loss of rewards. Living a self-centered life results in losing the very thing we are trying to hold on to. If my life is all about me and finding myself, I will not find the “me” I am looking for. To hate my life means not living in a self-centered way but being a servant of others. The one who lives a life of service in the name of the Lord Jesus will be rewarded in this life and in the life to come.3

Christ goes on to say that “he who hates his life in the world” by making his or her love and loyalty to Christ a priority “will keep it for eternal life,” that is, they will enjoy a deeper and fuller experience of eternal life both now and in eternity. 4  So, the issue is not salvation, but the quality of a believer’s life both now and in the world to come.

When Jesus mentions hating one’s life, He is not talking about self-abuse or mutilation. That would be contrary to His other teachings about loving others “as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; cf. Ephesians 5:29). While self-denial is implied in the phrase, “he who hates his life” (cf. Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24), this does not mean we are to deny our humanity which includes our physical and emotional needs.

For example, in a helpful article, Amie Patrick talks about when we go through stressful seasons of life, we may have a greater need for sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional refreshment. Denying self does not mean we overlook these needs. She emphasizes that it is important to accept our God-given limits and receive the Lord’s gifts of rest, food, recreation, and solitude which are also acts of worship and obedience. While Jesus was fully human and fully God—He often set aside time in His ministry to be alone or enjoy meals with friends. 5

The expression “he who hates his life” refers to Jesus being a priority in your life over self and the material things “in this world.” Our devotion to the Lord Jesus makes our interests in the material affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred. Those who are dedicated to Christ will “keep” or preserve that lifestyle for eternal rewards. Our earthly experience becomes a part of “eternal life”in that it contributes to the quality of our future life in eternity. If we put our material things and selfish ambitions ahead of Christ, we will decrease the quality of our life in the world to come.

The Bible teaches that eternal life as a future acquisition is always a reward that is based upon works (cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19), but when eternal life is presented as a present possession it is always received as a free gift by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17). 6  If we die to self and make Jesus a priority in our lives, we can also experience His quality of life now. So, the way to truly live is to die to self and live to Christ.

Jesus explains further what it means to “hate” one’s life. “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12:26). He is referring to self-denying service to Christ. If you want to serve Christ, you must follow Him. He is to be the number one priority in your life. Just as Jesus denied Himself and died for the world (John 12:27-28a), His disciples are to deny themselves and serve Him. When Christ says, “and where I am, there My servant will be also”in glory and honor is the main idea here as confirmed in the next part of the verse. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” The verb “will honor” (timēsei) refers to honoring faithful Christians with rewards. If you serve Jesus, you will receive “honor” or reward from His heavenly Father. If you want to be rewarded in the future, you must earn it by serving Christ now. Rewards are not a free gift. We must work for them to receive them in the future.

Jesus chose the way of the cross because of His desire to please His Father (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Likewise, every follower of Christ must face a similar choice of taking the way of the cross. For example, a woman was told that the baby in her womb would be mentally impaired, but she refused the early abortion recommended by her doctors because she believed this would be wrong. An investment salesman lost his job because he insisted on being honest about the risks. And before the revolution in Romania, a lawyer lost his professional status and had to do menial labor because he openly confessed Christ as his Savior. These three Christians chose to take the way of the cross. They took seriously the words of Jesus, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me.” These two verbs, “serves” (diakonē) and “follow” (akoloutheitō) are in the present tense and convey the idea of “keep on serving Me” and “keep on following Me.” 8  Disciples of Christ who faithfully serve Him are promised His companionship (“where I am, there My servant will be also”)and those who faithfully serve Him are promised the Father’s “honor.”

The world says to put your material things or earthly life and self, first. It says, “There’s no need to take God seriously.” But if you don’t take God seriously, then there’s no need to take your marriage seriously, or the rearing of your children seriously, or such character traits as submission, faithfulness, sexual purity, humility, repentance, and honesty seriously either. If we don’t take God seriously, if we don’t make Jesus Christ our #1 priority now, it will cost us in the future. Oh, we will go to heaven, but the quality of our life there will be less than it could have been if we took Christ seriously. You see, the things we do now will prepare us for what we do in eternity. How I live on earth now will contribute to the quality of my life in heaven. If I live for Christ now by His grace, death will not interrupt that lifestyle. It will continue in eternity without interruption.

First John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”  John reminds us that the world is passing away and therefore, it is a totally unworthy object of our sinful lusts and longings. If I am a laborer on earth, an architect, a musician, a secretary, a farmer, a teacher, a scientist, a physician – however skilled I may be at any of these activities – none of these designations will survive the present age. The term “abides” (menō) is a fellowship term. The believer who is doing God’s will possesses a lifestyle that will not be interrupted by the passing away of this world. He experiences uninterrupted fellowship with God. He will experience “boldness” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I John 2:28; 4:17) where the eternal worth of his earthly Christian life will be evaluated (I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). But the believer who lives out of fellowship with the Lord does not “abide”forever in that his worldly lifestyle will be radically interrupted when he goes to heaven. His worldly lifestyle will not abide forever. It stops at heaven’s gates. But a dedicated lifestyle to Christ really has no ending. 

Prayer: Father God, thank You for bringing me back to Your eternal perspective in these verses today. As the Lord Jesus approached the time of His sufferings and death on the cross, He began to focus on the outcome of His death. Like a grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die to produce many seeds, so Jesus had to die to produce life in untold millions of people, including both Jews and Gentiles. In the same way, Father, I need to focus beyond this life to the life to come. Envisioning that future life motivates me to serve You faithfully as a disciple or follower of Christ. As Your disciple, You call me to deny my selfish desires so I may sacrificially serve You by serving others. Instead of living a self-centered life, I am to live a Christ-centered life that will honor both You, Father, and Jesus. And Jesus promises that You will reward such sacrificial service both now and in eternity. As missionary C.T. Studd once said, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” By Your grace, Lord, I want to invest in what lasts forever – You and the works You have prepared for me to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). In Jesus’ life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Watchman Nee, The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit, (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1997), pp. 8-9.

2. Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Cloverdale: Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), pg. 11.

3. Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1795). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

4. See EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1180; Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary [TGNTC], Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pp. 433-434.

5. Amie Patrick, “Self-care and Self-Denial,” The Gospel Coalition at https://www.thegospel coalition.org/article/ self-care-and-self-denial.

6. See Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards, (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 35-56; see Jody C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 135-145.

7. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 817.

8. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 228.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 1

“Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” John 12:1-2a

American financier George A. Kessler had a passion for unusual parties. All the wealthy guests at a “hobo dinner” were required to wear tattered clothing and eat out of cans. On another occasion, his guests sat down to dinner in an airship hovering over the Atlantic Ocean. His most extravagant party, however, was held at the Savoy Hotel in London on June 30, 1905, in honor of King Edward VII. 

This was the famous Gondola Party, held in the old courtyard of the hotel. The doorways around the courtyard were sealed with putty, and the courtyard was flooded to a depth of three feet with water dyed blue to resemble the sea. Magnificent painted scenery around the sides of the courtyard represented buildings in Venice, and a huge (stationary) silk lined boat bobbed on the “canal,” surrounded by twelve thousand carnations and an enormous number of roses. Kessler’s twenty-four guests sat inside the gondola and enjoyed a twelve-course banquet prepared by fifteen master chefs and served by waiters dressed as gondoliers.

A bridge linked the boat to the hotel and the entire scene was illuminated by four hundred hand-made paper lamps. An additional touch was three impressive lions carved out of ice bearing trays of peaches and glace fruits while a throng of Gaiety Girls drank to the health of the king with expensive Champaign.

The evening’s entertainment featured the great opera singer Enrico Caruso; he performed an aria while a baby elephant with a five-foot-high cake strapped to its back was led across a gangplank to the gondola and one hundred white doves flew overhead. Unfortunately, it turned out that the blue dye was poisonous for both fish and birds, and the dead and dying creatures had to be quickly scooped out of the water and disposed of. The entire evening was organized by the hotel’s General Manager, Henri Pruger, and the total bill, paid for by Kessler came to £3,000 or over $14,000 at that time. 1

The next few days we are going to look at a more significant dinner which took place for a much more honorable King than any human monarch. The context of this dinner was about two to three weeks after Jesus withdrew from Bethany of Judea to escape the Sanhedrin who had plotted to kill Him after He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53). While in Ephraim, Jesus ministered to His disciples (John 11:54). Christ had just finished a day of controversy in Jerusalem (Matthew 23), having completed His teaching about the Second Coming on the western slope of the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25). He now retired down the eastern slope to Bethany of Judea where He would have supper with some dear friends. From these verses in John 12:1-8, we will learn how we can honor only Jesus.  

The first way to honor only Jesus is to SERVE CHRIST OUT OF THANKSGIVING FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE (John 12:1-2a). We read, “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.” (John 12:1). John records that this event was “six days before the Passover” because the time schedule was more definite and critical now. Six days before Passover would be the Jewish Sabbath or Saturday. The location was in “Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.” Lazarus “was” because Jesus had restored him from death into life. This is a follow up visit from the Lord Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead a few weeks earlier.

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” (John 12:2a). The “they” probably refers to Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus’ disciples. They prepared “a supper” for Jesus to honor Him for raising Lazarus from the dead. The word “there” likely refers to the house of Simon the leper because Matthew and Mark record the same anointing by Mary and both of them inform us that this anointing took place in Simon the leper’s house (cf. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).

However, this is not the anointing that took place in Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50. That anointing took place in Galilee, but this one at Bethany of Judea. There the host despised the woman, here her brother and sisters are the guests. There the woman was a notoriously“bad” sinner, but here it is the devoted Mary who “sat at the Lord’s feet and heard His word” months before (Luke 10:39). There the host thought it strange that Jesus allowed her to touch Him, here the disciples complain of the waste. There the Savior gave assurance of forgiveness, here He gives assurance of the perpetual and worldwide honor that would accompany the preaching of the gospel. Especially notice here that the woman who anoints Jesus is anticipating His speedy death and burial but at the earlier anointing His death and burial are not mentioned. In view of all the differences, it is absurd to suggest that the anointing here in John 12 (cf. Matthew 26; Mark 14) is the same as the anointing in Luke 7.

Of special notice are the words “Martha served” (John 12:2a). The verb “served” (diēkonei) is in the imperfect tense and tells us that Martha acted in this way throughout the dinner. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha served fewer guests and was “distracted” and overcome with worry. Here she serves many more guests and there is not a word about her being distracted or troubled. Why? Because Martha had learned not to neglect Jesus in her ministry. Earlier she was distracted by all her preparations and had lost sight of Christ. Now she was occupied with the Lord Jesus and not just for Him. She had learned to keep her eyes on the Savior and not her duties.

It can be easy for us to lose sight of Christ and become preoccupied with things to do. After all, we think to ourselves that what we are doing is a good thing for the Lord. Ministry is a good thing; but when it replaces our Master it can become a burden. Me may engage in ministry activities to elevate our value. Or we can use ministry to avoid unwanted feelings in our lives. We convince ourselves to stay busy for the Lord as a way of medicating the uncomfortable emotions inside us. I believe this may have been what Martha did earlier in Luke 10:38-42.

But Martha learned a very important lesson that all of us can learn as well. She learned to become preoccupied with Jesus and what He had done for her brother, Lazarus. Instead of working for Christ, she worked with Him. Instead of focusing on what she did to determine her value, she looked to Jesus to determine her value. Instead of turning to ministry to avoid her feelings, she turned to her Master Who raised her brother from the dead and helped her face her unwanted emotions, resulting in a renewed passion to serve Christ.

Likewise, the more we focus on the Person and work of Christ, the more eager we will be to serve Him with thanksgiving by serving those He has placed in our lives. His performance on the cross determines our value, not our performance in ministry. As we grow closer to Him, we will discover that He already knows our feelings so there is no need to try to hide them from Him. He understands what is going on inside us so we can trust Him to help us face our unwanted emotions and process them. And the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead, is the same power available to each of us to help us serve and honor only Jesus with thanksgiving.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me for the many times I have turned to ministry to avoid unwanted feelings in my heart instead of turning to You to help me process them. I have often lost sight of You by becoming preoccupied with what I do. If I am totally honest, I must confess that I have sought to elevate my value through my performance instead of resting in Your performance on the cross which provides the basis for my infinite value. Today, I give You my heart and all of its uncomfortable emotions. Please hold me in Your arms of everlasting love and mercy. Just knowing that You loved me enough to die in my place for all my sins causes me to pause and say, “Thank You, my Lord and my God. Here I am to honor only You. I am trusting Your resurrection power to enable me to serve You by serving others.” In Your precious name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Adapted from https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-champagne-king-the-playwright-and-the-savoy-hotel.html on May 29, 2017.