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Jesus People (John 13:1-17)
Did you notice how our text divides up rather nicely into three parts? First, verses 1-6, there’s Jesus’ astonishing actions: he undresses, and washes feet. Then, verses 6-11, the focus shifts to Peter, who’s first of all determined Jesus will never wash his feet but then quickly changes his mind and tries to climb right into the wash basin—“Give my whole body a bath, Jesus!” And finally the third section, verses 12-17, Jesus puts it all together for us—what it means.
Which happens over and over throughout the Gospel of John: Jesus does this really surprising thing—heals a blind man, feeds five thousand—and then goes on to explain the meaning of the sign—I am the Light of the World; I am the Bread of Life.
Do you see that…how our text falls into three basic parts? Each section can help us to understand what it means to be “Jesus People.”
This morning First United Mennonite Church and Sherbrooke Mennonite Church in Vancouver, together with us here at Peace, are beginning a new series. We’re entitling this series, “Gifts of the Anabaptists.”
Kevin and I spent a couple of days in quietness and prayer at the Catholic monastery in Mission this week. The Catholics give to the whole Christian church this glorious gift of beauty, art, holy mystery and liturgical prayer. We delighted in our brief prayer retreat in that quiet and sacred atmosphere.
The Presbyterians gift us with amazing expository preaching. I got to study preaching under Presbyterian minister Darrell Johnson. And I enjoy listening to the preaching of Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City.
Then there’s the Pentecostals’ gifts to the whole church. Do you long for worship that lifts you out of your seat in exuberance, celebration, ecstatic joy? Track down a Pentecostal Church, best of all somewhere in Central or South America, or Africa.
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It would be fantastic if we had time to take a look at the historical development of the various Christian denominations and their gifts. We’re not Pentecostal, or Presbyterian, or Catholic. We’re Mennonites, and our spiritual heritage is Anabaptism. Still we can receive with joy and be blessed by the wonderful gifts of other parts of Jesus’ Church. But what gifts do we Anabaptist Christians have to offer to the whole Church of Jesus?
Our founding pastor here at Peace wrote this little book, What is an Anabaptist Christian? He’s organized the “Gifts of the Anabaptists” into three basic categories which we’ll look at over the next three weeks. This morning I get to look with you at the first gift—the way we Anabaptist Mennonites understand Jesus, and particularly what it means to follow Jesus.
The Anabaptists said Jesus does not just call us to be “Christians.” Jesus calls us to be disciples. In fact, the word “Christian” is mentioned only three times in the whole Bible.
But we’re called “disciples of Jesus” more than 250 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. So the Anabaptists said, “We’re not just ‘Christians.’ Not just believers. We’re disciples. Students of Jesus. Followers of Jesus. We’re ‘Jesus people.’”
What did they mean? John 13 can help us understand.
Let’s go from back to front, shall we? Anabaptists like to be different, so let’s be different. Let’s begin at the end of our text.
In verses 12-17, Jesus explains that following him requires our whole life. Being a disciple isn’t just believing the right thing about Jesus. It’s not just agreeing with the Apostle’s Creed, even though the Apostle’s Creed is excellent.
Look what Jesus says (verse 15): “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Then right at the end, “Now that you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Follow my example! Do as I have done! This is about action, about doing, not just believing.
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Jesus said the same thing after his resurrection, in his very final words just before returning to his Father. Very last paragraph in the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20). “Go and make disciples (not just believers!) of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them everything I’ve commanded you”? No! “Teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you!”
We Anabaptists stress that Jesus is our Teacher. Our Mentor. Our Life Coach. Our Sensei. Verse 13: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so. I am your Teacher and your Lord!”
So we Anabaptist Christians wonder why the Apostles’ Creed jumps directly from “Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary” right to “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” “Wait a minute,” we say. “Aren’t we missing something? How about everything in between? All Jesus’ teaching, and all his healing, all his casting out evil spirits, all his amazing deeds—that’s really central too. Jesus is our Teacher!
Which is why the Gospels are especially important to us Anabaptists. Many Christian denominations put special emphasis on the Epistles. “The Epistles are so logical and meaty—with deep theology. The Gospels are just the early stories about Jesus.”
“We’re not so sure about that,” we Anabaptists say. Even though the Gospels come first in our Bibles, they were written after the Epistles. These “stories” are the disciples’ most mature reflections on Jesus—even more than the Epistles! Our deepest and fullest theology is found right here—in these stories about Jesus. Besides, true Christianity is not just believing the right theology; it’s watching Jesus in action, and following him!
So Anabaptists are the original WWJD Christians, right? We look to our Teacher: “What would Jesus do?” And then we follow Jesus’ example. So, does that mean Jim Carrey is an especially great disciple...he can walk on water like Jesus?
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And what about WWJD if you’re a twelve-year-old son on family vacation?1 We took a twelve-year-old to our capital city too! Hmmm... WWJD, if he were in his capital city? Zach could have run off without telling his parents, headed to Christ Church Cathedral, and hung out there with the church leaders for three days. And not worry about us, his parents, frantically searching for our lost son. That’s what Jesus did. And when we finally find Zach and start scolding him, he could even be cheeky: “Don’t you know I must be about my heavenly Father’s business? Instead, we all stayed at the only Mennonite Church in town for three days…that’s kind of WWJD too, I suppose.
So maybe WWJD isn’t quite so simple. What does it mean to follow our Teacher’s example? What does the Jesus lifestyle look like? Let’s back up in our text to the Peter section, verses 6-11.
Peter has been Jesus’ disciple for three years. He’s been following Jesus. He should be the ultimate “Jesus person” by now, right? He should have the Jesus lifestyle down.
But what does he say to his teacher? “Never, Lord.” Literally (verse 8), “In an eternity, you won’t wash my feet!” We’d say, “Till hell freezes over will you wash my feet!”
And Jesus says, “Peter, you have a decision to make here. If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”
Peter immediately has this radical change of heart. He tries to fit his whole body into that wash basin. Verse 9: “Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head too! Scrub me clean, Jesus.”
Jesus says, “Peter, you’re already clean. You’ve already had your bath, Peter.”
1 Thanks to Bruxy Cavey in his sermon “Cruciformity” (2007) for this example.
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That word “bath” is a word also used for baptism. The early church saw this cryptic statement of Jesus as a clear reference to Christian baptism. Peter had already made the decision to follow Jesus. Only one person in that room was not yet “bathed”—Judas the betrayer (verse 11). “That was why *Jesus+ said not every one was clean.”
Historically, this was the first “Gift of the Anabaptists.” The clear call to make a decision to follow Jesus. It’s how the Anabaptists came into being. Following Jesus is a choice that each one of us has to make.
In the early 16th century, all of Europe was “Christian.” Everyone was baptized as a baby. Everyone was a believer. Every last person was a Christian. Really?! And yet there were so many wars, so much hatred, and violence, so much greed, and adultery and murder. How could everyone be “Christian”?
Yes, everyone believed in Jesus, but so few were true followers of Jesus. So few were actually disciples of Jesus. Then a new group stood up. They were called the Radical Reformers. They said, “Each person must make a radical decision to be a disciple of Jesus. Each person must make their own choice and be baptized as an adult.” That’s why their enemies called them Anabaptists”—rebaptizers. And these radicals, these Anabaptists, went all over Europe, calling Christians to become “Jesus people,” baptizing them, making disciples.
One of the very earliest Anabaptists was Michael Sattler. He said:
Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and a change in life and who... desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with him in death, so that they might rise with him...2
We Mennonites have lost our way here, a little. We’re no longer very clear or radical in calling people to make a decision. There’s no sitting on the fence, no “half-in, half-out,” for disciples. Where did we lose our evangelical courage, and enthusiasm? How can we get back to Jesus example, when he said to Peter, “Follow me! Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”?
2 Michael Sattler, Schleitheim Confession, 1527.
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Jesus’ example is also a challenge to our evangelical sisters and brothers. Jesus was not an insecure evangelist, trying to pull one more decision, trying to get just one more hand up in the air: “Anyone else want to accept me as your personal Saviour? Anyone want a free gift of grace? Just repeat this prayer after me! Salvation is free!” Jesus never said anything like that. In fact, that modern evangelizing language is not biblical language.
In the Epistles we do read how God has offered us salvation as a free gift of grace through Jesus’ death on the cross. But all the Epistles are written to Christians, not non-Christians. To Christians, after they make the decision, Paul says, “Your salvation is completely of God’s grace. You have nothing to boast about. What you have you did not earn. It’s completely free gift.”
But this is never how Jesus, Paul and the evangelists ever speak to non-Christians. They don’t try to entice unbelievers with, “Just accept Jesus into your heart. Just pray a prayer for your ‘get-out-of-jail-free card.” No, to those who are outside and need to make the decision to come in, Jesus says, “Come, follow me!” He says, “Count the cost. Are you ready to forsake the world, and take up your cross, and be my disciple? If you’re not sure, then maybe you should go away and think about it for awhile.”
Because when you get baptized, it means a radically new whole life. It means forsaking the world and the world’s point of view. It means a cleansing, a scrubbing from the world’s false concepts of greatness and success and power. It means a whole radical new identity—a whole new way of being in the world.
Which brings us to the first section, the beginning of our text, this crazy thing that Jesus did for his disciples: washing their feet. Of course Peter and all the disciples are horrified. (The reason their feet are still covered in dust or mud was that back then this was the job of a slave. The roads of Palestine back then were like the trails in Zimbabwe are today. In dry season, they’re inches deep in dust. In rainy season, they’re liquid mud.) No one liked reclining at a feast with filthy feet. But no one wanted to be a slave either. So Jesus does it. Jesus? How can Jesus be a slave?
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Look at verse 1: “Jesus knew the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” Who is this man? Verse 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.” Jesus has all of God’s power. “All authority in heaven and on earth...,” remember? He knew who he was. He’s the All-Powerful One. He’s from God. He’s going back to God. This is God, right here. So because he’s God, what does he do? He washes feet. Really?! How can we recognize the supreme God in the stooping figure of a slave clad only in a loincloth?
Listen, if we would follow Jesus as our Teacher and our Lord, then we must become a community of footwashers. Verse1: “Having loved his own...he loved them to [death].” To the uttermost! Radical love! Following Jesus means first being loved by Jesus. Then out of our new identity as the beloved, we get to radically love, like Jesus. Following Jesus means getting my head, my hands and my feet washed by Jesus. Then I too can go wash feet with the same radical love!
It’s what that early Anabaptist Hans Denck said:
No one can truly know Christ (and love Christ!) unless they follow him in his life, and no one may follow Christ unless they first know him (and are loved by him!). Whoever does not know him does not have him and without him they cannot come to the Father….For whoever thinks they belong to Christ must walk the way that Christ walked.3
Following Jesus means becoming a community of footwashers. This means a radical reorientation of greatness and power.
Greg Boyd points out that we’ve bought into the world’s assumptions about how we know that we are on God’s side and God is on our side.4 The world assumes that the proof God is on our side and we’re on God’s side is when we’re winning. When we get our own way, when we get our guy for prime minister or president,
3 Hans Denck, “The Contention that Scripture Says,” 1526.
4 Greg Boyd, “The Real Proof,” A sermon preached September 29, 2010.
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when we have lots of money and positions of power and life is good, surely that must mean God loves me, and I’m loving God, and all is good.
We see that worldly assumption all through the Jesus story.
At the crucifixion. The religious leaders sneer at Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, if God really is on your side and you are on God’s side, you’ll come down from the cross and save yourself.” Herod had the same idea: “If you really are the Messiah, you’ll show me some magic tricks, Jesus.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan tempted Jesus with the same ideas: “Call down twelve legions of angels, Jesus, and take charge. If you’ve got the power, if God is on your side, then do something! Clean up the mess in government, put your people in positions of influence and power. Do something practical. Win some battles, Jesus. Show the world who’s in charge.
Those were also the devil’s temptations back at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. First temptation: “If you really are the Son of God, prove it. Feed yourself, Jesus.” Second temptation: “If you are the Son of God, then become the king of the world. Step into your rightful position of power!” Third temptation: “If you are God’s son, jump off the Temple and demonstrate how God protects you and looks after you.” The way you prove that God is on your side and you’re on God’s side is by taking the power to rule the world, by saving yourself, by protecting yourself, looking after yourself.
“No,” says Jesus. That’s the demonic mindset. That’s Satan’s way. That’s not my way. In my Kingdom you prove God is on your side and you are on God’s side by serving. You show that you’re my disciples through radical, others-centred love. In the Satan-way you protect yourself, you get fed, you get your own way. In the Jesus-way, you lay down your life, you serve others. Instead of taking power over others, you exercise the power of self-sacrificial, humble love.
Many Christians today still think that the proof God is on our side is when we win our wars, when we get our own way, when we eat even while others go hungry, when we prosper while other parts of the world are poor.
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Here’s a gift of the Anabaptists to us. They showed us that the measure of success for “Jesus people” is not a nice house, a nice car, fine clothes, fine food. Sure, it’s lovely when God blesses us with good things, but these are not the proofs that God is on our side. No. Jesus knew that he was on God’s side and God on his side, so he undressed and washed dirty feet. And you will know that God is on your side when you put others interests ahead of your own, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the destitute, do good to those who would do us harm, bind up the wounded, healing the sick, become all things to all people. That, said the first Menno, “is true, evangelical faith.” That’s what it means to follow Jesus.
So, here’s the invitation. Will you follow Jesus into a whole brand new way of life? Will you make the radical decision? There is only one truly big decision for you to make in your life, and that decision is monumental.
Will you choose to be baptized, washed clean from the dirty old ideas of power, violence, greed, all those old ways of the world? Will you be embraced by the radical love of Jesus? Will you join the community of footwashers? Will you love your enemies? Will you swear off all violence? Will you look like Jesus, serve like Jesus, wash feet like Jesus, love like Jesus, even lay down your life like Jesus? The decision is yours to make.
As I wrap up, maybe you want to close your eyes for a bit. Perhaps silently in your heart you can pray a simple prayer, “Jesus, I want you to be my Teacher and Lord. I want to become more like you. I want to follow you.”
Prayer:
Jesus, our Lord and our Teacher, how you love us. We are your beloved. Make us bold in your love. Fearless footwashers in our world of dirty, aching feet and hearts. Give us, your people, the courage, the determination, the confidence in your love, to not just be believers, but disciples, followers, “Jesus people.” AMEN.