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Worship Series: The Hands of the Passion
Worship Theme: Hands of Humility
Message: The Hands of the Passion - Hands of Humility
Pastor Jon Brohn
Hands. Throughout this Lenten season we’ve been looking at different hands. The hands of the tax collector showed repentance. Judas’ hands betrayed the Son of man. Hands of misguided zeal moved Peter to deny his Savior. With his hands of hypocrisy Caiaphas looked religious on the outside as he condemned Jesus, but inside was nothing but death and decay. The soldiers’ hands of brutality beat and bruised Jesus in our place. Pilate washed his hands of self-preservation to salve his guilty conscience.
Tonight we see yet another set of hands. At first, it might seem like they are hands of preparation. Jesus entrusted Peter and John with all the preparations for the Passover meal, and they carried out all his instructions. They found the upper room just as Jesus had promised. They arranged for all the food to be prepared. The matzah (thick chunks of unleavened bread) was baked and ready. Parsley and salt water to dip it in—to represent hope and redemption. Bitter herbs (lettuce and horseradish) symbolized the bitterness of slavery. Charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and sugar represented the mortar used by the Jews to construct buildings for Pharaoh. Hard boiled eggs, dipped in salt water, would remind the people of God’s gift of life. Finally, a roasted lamb shank bone to symbolize the lamb sacrificed so the angel could pass over the Israelites. Peter and John had also taken the Passover lamb to the temple at 3 that afternoon. A priest killed the lamb and caught its blood. Another priest sprinkled the lamb’s blood on the bronze altar, and the fatty portions would later be offered on the altar. Then Peter and John returned to the upper room where they would roast the lamb whole on a pomegranate-wood spit. Lots of work! Lots of preparations! Finally, It was time to relax and enjoy the meal together with Jesus and their friends.
It was the custom that when guests and family members entered the home, someone would wash their feet. That was a task for a lowly servant. When Jesus and the disciples entered the upper room, apparently Peter and John had forgotten about the foot washing. There’s no servant, no one to wash feet. What will they do? On the way to the meal they had been arguing over who was the greatest among them. Their argument carried over into the upper room. We can almost hear what each of them would say about washing feet. Peter and John were thinking, “We’re not washing feet! We had to find this place and make sure the food and the lamb were prepared. Someone else can do it!” The others didn’t reach for the basin and towel either. “Feet? The only feet I’m going to wash are my own, and that’s not my job tonight. Someone else is supposed to do it!”
What words would describe the disciples and their hands at this moment in time? Selfish hands? Prideful hands? Lazy hands? Entitled hands? How could all these people be so insensitive and uncaring? Why didn’t one of them just humbly give in, grab the basin and start washing feet?
Why don’t we? Mom and dad have spent a bunch of time preparing the food, cooking it, and making sure everyone had plenty to eat. At the end of the meal, mom says, “Who’s going to do the dishes?” Crickets. The question hangs in the air and suddenly everyone has something to say: “It’s not my turn. I did them last night. He skipped out last time. I hate doing the dishes!” No one wants to help. No one wants to serve.
Why? One of your classmates really struggles with math. The teacher needs to focus on the rest of the students, so he asks you to help your friend. “Why me? That person is way smarter than I am. Isn’t that the teacher’s job? I need to focus on my homework, not someone else’s. I don’t want to do it!” We don’t want to help, not unless it benefits us.
Why? The restaurant server is struggling. COVID closed the place for months, and they’ve just recently reopened. It’s busy, and with the added burden of sanitizing and remembering orders, it’s tough. We put our order in a half hour ago, and nothing’s happening. We call the server over, and they quickly apologize, but it’s not enough. Our tempers get the best of us and we start in on them— “I’d like to speak to the manager. This service is terrible. We expect better when we go out to eat. We’re leaving!” We expect to be served, and don’t have much compassion when servers don’t do a good job serving.
Why? It even happens at church. We need help with __________. The call goes out. We make the announcement. We print it in the bulletin and in the newsletter. What happens? All kinds of good reasons not to help: “I’m busy with work, with my family, and with sports.” “I’m not good at that—someone else has to be able to help.” “I’m not going to do that!” We all find plenty of excuses not to serve.
No matter what the opportunities are, we’re just like Jesus’ friends. Instead of loving God and our neighbor, putting them first before our own needs and wants, our hands are selfish, prideful, lazy, and entitled. Sadly, much of the time we don’t care as long as someone serves us and takes care of our needs. Thanks to these sins, and many others, we are, as we confessed earlier, “worthy of death.”
Here’s where we expect Jesus to look at his friends, shake his head, and say, “Guys, didn’t I already teach you this lesson? Remember when I said, ‘The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve’?” (Mark 10:45 NIV). We might expect him to add, “You of little faith!” (Matthew 14:31 NIV). The easiest way to teach them is to shame them, right?
“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.” (John 13:1 NIV). Jesus loved this band of brothers and sisters. He understood that tonight was the last time they would be together in this way. He could see the rough road ahead. He knew what Judas was plotting and how that would play out. He recognized how weak these friends were, and how all of them would abandon him before the night was over. Jesus knew, and he wouldn’t stop loving them because of everything that would happen. Jesus loved them completely, to the end of his life!
Jesus knew even more. John wrote, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3 NIV). Jesus knew, and would later tell his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 NIV). Jesus was in control of everything! The devil’s influence on Judas and the betrayal—was under Jesus’ power. He could have stopped it! The soldiers who would surround him in the garden—under Jesus’ power. They had to draw back and fall to the ground when Jesus identified himself! The Sanhedrin, Pilate, the soldiers who crucified him—all were under Jesus’ power. He could have stopped them. He could have come down from the cross. Jesus didn’t. He knew that it was time to go home to the Father.
With all this knowledge and power, Jesus did the last thing any of them expected. He loved and served them! “So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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” (John 13:4–5 NIV). Jesus went to work with hands of humility. He washed their feet! Here is love in action. Jesus went to each of his friends. He gently rinsed the day’s dust from each foot and lovingly dried them off. He didn’t stop until all of them, Judas included, were clean. He washed them in anticipation of an even greater act of serving. Jesus would suffer and die for them. He was about to give them a new meal, a new covenant in his body and blood, given and poured out for them for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus would completely cleanse them and they would be clean!
Clean! In a short while we will come forward in remembrance of Jesus. We will eat the unleavened bread and share in the cup he gives us. With the powerful promise of Jesus’ Word, he doesn’t wash our feet. He washes us clean of all of our selfish actions, our prideful thoughts, our laziness and entitled attitudes. Jesus’ ultimate act of service paid our debt!
Jesus never does anything without teaching. He wanted his disciples to learn from him. “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. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12–14 NIV). Jesus kindly emphasized who he was. He was the Lord who deserved the place of honor in their hearts. They needed to remember that on this night, and into the future. Their Lord loved them! He would always love them, and his love led him to put their needs before his own. Jesus wanted them to cultivate that same attitude in their own hearts. They could love each other. They could serve each other with hands of humility just as he had served them.
What will our hands look like? What happens with those dishes, or other chores around the house? We love Jesus. We love the people around us, so our hands of humility do the dishes without arguing or avoiding. What happens when the teacher asks us to help our classmate? We love Jesus. We love the people around us, so our hands of humility help that classmate with the knowledge God has given us. What happens when the restaurant server struggles? We love Jesus. We love the people around us. We can interact with kindness and understanding, even when mistakes are made. What happens when we need help here at church? We love Jesus. We love our fellow believers. We can look for the areas of ministry where we have gifts and talents. When we ask for volunteers, we can step forward and use those gifts to make everything we do here at Salem the best it can possibly be!
Jesus used his humble hands to set an example for us. He also provides the strength to serve. It’s right here in this incredible meal that’s waiting for us! John Crysostom, an early church father who loved to serve the spiritual and physical needs of the people around him, shared where his strength came from: “Let us then return from the Communion table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil; thinking on our Head and on the love he has shown for us ... The blood of Christ is the salvation of our souls. By it the soul is washed, is beautiful, and is inflamed!” (John Chrysostom, Homily 46). We won’t see anyone breathing fire when they walk back down the aisle, but we will be on fire—on fire with Jesus’ love, on fire with Jesus’ forgiveness, on fire to serve with hands of humility instead of being served! Amen!