Advent week 1
It is only after we allow Jesus to serve us through his death and forgiveness that we are free to serve others in humility
Intro – What are going to get is exciting. What we are going to give is perplexing.
We have turned the corner from November to December, from Thanksgiving to Advent and maybe from gratitude to frantic shopping. When you are a child the weeks leading up to Christmas are all about what you hope to get. Christmas is about getting presents. It was this way when I was a kid and I imagine it is that way now. But as you get older the stress changes. You worry about what to give. You start exchanging presents with friends and relative. Christmas is not just a one way experience – people giving to you. It is now about giving as well as getting.
Transition: With all this pre-occupation about giving and getting it is worth asking what Jesus might say to us. Today we will be looking at two passages, one where Jesus talks about what he has come to give and the other where he demonstrates what that looks like.
Jesus gave himself as a ransom, to free us from sin’s slavery and remind us that we are to serve one another.
In Mark chapter 10 James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples and closest friends come to him and ask him about sitting by him when he comes into his kingdom. Their request shows that they believe Jesus is the Messiah and will reign over a Kingdom. It also shows that they did not understand what his kingdom means or how he will enter it. Jesus tells them this and gently leads them away from the request.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
In essence what James and john were doing in this account is calling “shotgun.” You know how that works. When you are all running out to the car for a family trip and you yell “shotgun” to reserve the from seat next to the driver. This dooms everyone else to the backseat. It is both very common and very annoying because it is about securing privilege for yourself before anyone else. You can see in the narrative that Jesus does not openly rebuke his disciples here. Instead he tries to help them to see that they do not know what they are asking. They want glory, but Jesus will enter his kingdom through suffering. There will be a thief on his right and his left dying slowly when he enters his kingdom.
Still James and John think they can “drink the cup” that Jesus is going to drink. So he assures them that they will participate in his suffering (although we know it is not the same kind of suffering in that it is not “for sin”). James will be martyred and John exiled for their devotion to Jesus. But they still cannot have the positions of honor the seek because they do not understand what they are asking.
It is not until Jesus sees how this question and response has affected the rest of the disciples that Jesus addresses the problem at the heart of the request.
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The other disciples are indignant because they feel they have been duped. They do not think James and John are better than them and they resent the attempt to steal the positions of glory. Seeing this Jesus is aware of the fundamental problem at the heart of his disciples. They are self-seeking instead of self-giving. James and John want glory in the kingdom which, in and of itself could be understandable. But they are willing to take it at the expense of others and this is the opposite of what following Jesus is all about.
Jesus reminds his disciples that they are different than people in the world. In the world people seek authority and status above others and they exploit it as soon as they have it. So they climb to the top of the totem pole and once there “lord it over” those who are below them. They take the prize parking spot, the corners office, the honorific title. But we are not to be like that. In Jesus’ kingdom we must serve in order to be great. If we want to be first we must be last and a slave to others. This is the path to greatness.
This is different than the way people around us live both in the first century and now. In the first century the world was very hierarchical. Men were above women, citizens above refugees, free above slave. No one wanted to be at the bottom. Today we live in a more egalitarian society, but at the heart of our meritocracy is self-promotion. We are always tempted to exalt ourselves at the expense of others, to beat others to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Jesus tells us we are not to be like this. To be great in his kingdom we are to serve.
There is a lot is our culture about servant leadership and about serving the less fortunate. We are told that if we serve our employees, if we act like they are special, they will work harder for us. We should put the needs of the customer first; it is the best way to keep a clientele. Or we are shamed into serving the poor because everyone else sees the need and give. For be it for us, the followers of Christ, to be behind the societal curve in serving others. But Jesus did not tells us to serve in order to keep employees happy or to impress clients. He did not say we serve to be liked by our culture. Our call to service is rooted in the work of Jesus. Jesus came as a servant. He left the glory of Father’s presence to enter earth. This is the incarnation, God becoming a person. It would have been understandable if Jesus had come in glory recognized as a great king. Living in a palace and waited on by all of humanity. He is God and deserves no less. But that is not how Jesus came. He came in humility. He came to serve, to see the needs of the most forgotten people of society as well as those of the powerful. He came to give his life as a ransom for all of us. A ransom is a payment given to purchase freedom. Jesus’ death is a ransom that pays the penalty for our sin.
We serve because he served us even to death.
Transition: So what does this mean for us? Jesus’ example is really too great, too exalted for us to apply to ourselves. We are in danger of making the same mistake as James and John – oh okay we will be like you. But nothing we can do will ever atone for sin, or make us right in God’s eyes. Jesus is a servant and a sacrifice, what does that mean to us?
The foot washing also reminds us that even as Jesus washes us we are to serve one another in any way we can
We do not need to wonder too much about how to apply the call to servant hood to ourselves because Jesus showed us just what it looks like. It happened on the last night of his life on earth as he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Jesus and his disciples reclined at the table which means they laid down on their left side with their feet away from the table. This was the standard way of gathering around a table because everyone wore sandals and their feet got dusty. At a formal dinner such as this one, the youngest member of the family or a slave would wash the feet of the guests. But there were no slaves there and none of the disciples would assume the posture of the lowest ranking person in the group. In fact one of the other gospels tells us that they were arguing about which of them was the greatest.
In this situation Jesus took the initiative to demonstrate what it means to give your life as a servant.
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.
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; 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.
12 When 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. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
This was a strange experience for the disciples. They all knew that Jesus should not be the one to wash their feet, but they also knew they were not willing to humble themselves. Jesus’ point it powerful. If I serve, then you should serve.
But the interaction with Peter is important too. When Jesus comes to Peter the apostle does not let Jesus wash his feet. He does not know who should wash his feet but he knows Jesus is not the one. But Jesus surprises us again telling Peter “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” This reminds us that it is not our service that makes us right with God but our being served that makes us right with God. We cannot belong to Christ until we have let him wash us. We humble ourselves before the Lord, ask for his cleansing and we are forgiven. This act of repentance reminds us that all people are essentially the same. We are all equal at the foot of the cross and real service begins with this conviction.
Without repentance our service can be a strange sort of pride. We can see our willingness to serve others as the thing that makes us good, better than others and maybe acceptable to God. We serve from a position of pride or superiority. But the cross changes all of that. Like Peter we are forced to wait humbly before Jesus as he washed us. We are forced to admit our own dirty feet. And once we have been washed by the master we are ready to serve others.
Conclusion – make a present of yourself
So how do we apply this to ourselves? We serve wherever we are needed. We are willing to do whatever needs to be done. That is what the foot washing scene means. There are many ways to save, but service does not need to be complicated.
Here are a few closing thoughts of application.
Serve each other throughout the holiday season. Certainly there is enough to do.
Maybe do something deliberate as a family – serving at a ministry or shopping for presents for the poor.
Maybe make your gift to another an act of service and give the money you would have spent to someone in need.