Following Jesus #1 - In the Way of Humility


Dr. Kurt Bjorklund kicks off the new message series, Following Jesus, with examples from John 13 which might impede a person from becoming a Christ follower.

Message Transcript

Well, good morning! It's great to be together. I just want to mention and say a special welcome to Butler County this morning. They have moved from one service to two. They were overcrowded in one, so that's a great thing that's happening in Butler County, way to go to our team up there.

And what that means now is that there are eight different weekend services that make up Orchard Hill. There's Saturday night here in Wexford, Sunday morning at 9:30, the 11:15, there's a Chapel service as well on Sunday morning in Wexford. Now two in the Strip District, two in Butler County. So a total of eight different gatherings that take place throughout kind of our city, our region and a lot of different people responding. So it's just really fun to be a part of that and thank you for your part of that.

So let's just take a moment and pray. Father, thank you for just all the people who have gathered today at Orchard Hill, in the different eight services. Lord, I pray that especially just in this moment, for the group that's gathered here, that you would help us to encounter you. Wherever we come from, whatever our week or recent months have held. I pray that my word would reflect your word in content and in tone and in emphasis. And we pray this in Jesus' name, amen.

I have two sons that are in high school, four total sons, but two in high school. And one of the things that I've done as my sons have aged is we have done something that we've called man trips every summer. Where I take each boy individually and we go on a trip and go somewhere kind of fun, outdoorsy, adventury type of a thing. And then it culminates when they graduate from high school with the biggest of the trips. And they get bigger as the years go.

Well, my son, who is going to be a senior in high school this year, and I went on a trip this year. And the typically idea is that this is a college trip. So we went around, visited a bunch of schools. But we had a day in the middle of it where we set it aside to hike part of the Appalachian Trail.

And so, we were in Virginia and we went on an out and back hike. It was a pretty aggressive hike, it was not short, it was long and it was supposed to come to this knob or this overlook that was spectacular of this whole valley and ravine that you had seen pictures of. And so that was our plan.

And so we started on our hike and we kept on our hike and hiked and hiked. And you're in the woods, you didn't see much, you're in the woods. And all of a sudden, we came to this spot where you could kind of see the ravine. And we thought, well maybe this is it. Maybe this is the thing that we've hiked for. And yet, as we saw it, it just didn't seem spectacular enough.

And so we said, "Well, let's hike on a little further." And even though we were already tired, already a little at that point of, "Well, that's probably good enough. Maybe we've seen all we need to see." We said, "Let's hike on." And sure enough, about another half hour or so up, there it opened up into a spectacular expanse and we were able to see this beautiful thing that we had hiked for.

And here's what I think sometimes happens in faith. And that is, sometimes people, who have started out to follow Jesus, stop before they get to the destination. Now, in a sense, you never get to the destination, but here's what I mean. What we do is we stop too soon, and then we wonder why we're frustrated and we're bored, because we haven't actually taken Jesus at his word entirely and lived in the reality of all that Jesus calls us to. And we go, "This isn't all I thought it would be."

And sometimes, those of us who maybe are at a point of saying, "I'm not sure where I am in terms of faith. I'm not sure if I believe or if I'm a Christ follower." We look at people who claim to be following Christ and we see their frustration, we see their boredom, and we say, "I don't know that I even want to try to follow Jesus, because it doesn't seem like they've gotten to this space that the faith seems to promise."

Well, here's what we're going to do this fall at Orchard Hill, and that is we're going to look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We're starting a new series today and we're looking at John 13 through 17, and John 14 through 17 is what's known as the upper room discourse, where Jesus speaks directly to his followers and gives them instruction about what it means to be his follower.

And this is Jesus in his own words, and this will push you a little. Because if you're a person of faith, you will see a call that's deeper and further than maybe you have gone. And if you're a person who isn't a person of faith, I think this will push your perceptions of what it means to be a person of faith, so that you'll be able to say, "There's something here that is more winsome, more drawing than maybe what I've even experienced."

Now, I mentioned that this is John 13 through 17. John 13's a little precursor to this upper room discourse. If you've been here over the recent months, we have worked our way through the first 12 chapters of John and the total of John only really covers 21 days in Jesus' life. And now we're coming to a section that's going to cover about 24 hours from the night before he was crucified. And so, we're about 24 hours from his crucifixion.

And what we've seen in John is we saw who Jesus was, we saw how people objected to him, or how he was controversial, and now we'll see his words directly to his followers, saying, "This is what I call you to." And so, each week we'll say, "Following Jesus in the way of," and then there will be something that we're called to follow Jesus in the way of.

And today, I'm simply going to say that we're called to follow Jesus in the way of humility. You heard John 13:1-17 read, which is a story about Jesus washing his disciples' feet. Now there's a little cultural distance for us between footwashing and where we are. And the reason I say that is because chances are you haven't washed anyone's feet in a really long time. Unless your kids got dirty and had to help them get their feet clean or something like that. Chances are, you haven't washed somebody's feet. Maybe you did it symbolically once somewhere sometime, but it seems culturally remote.

And the reason is is because people in Jesus' day walked around on dirt roads with like sandals, open toed sandals or maybe no shoes at all. It was hot, they would sweat. Dirt would get caked on to their feet and then they would go into their homes and what they would usually have is a basin there and they would wash their feet. Sometimes there would be, if they had some wealth, there would be a servant there to wash the feet. And it was always the job of the person who was the lowest servant in any house or any gathering or any place to wash the feet because it was a nasty job. It was a dirty job, we could say.

In other words, it was something nobody wanted to do. And so, Jesus and his disciples gather, there was no servant evidently present. And they're having a meal. And the way that you would eat in those days, a lot of times is you would recline kind of on the floor with pillows or something that would make your feet very close to your foot. So this probably wasn't a beautiful scene. This wasn't like Jesus with clean feet washing clean feet. This was nasty feet and food.

And Jesus gets up and he decides to wash his disciples' feet. And so, he says, at the end of this passage, very simply, "What I've done, I want you to do. I want you to do what I've done." And so, he calls his followers to wash feet, and we could say to be humble or to be a servant.

Now, just a word about interpretation here. And this is important, not just in this passage, but in general in interpreting the Bible. There are some things that the Bible commands that we see and understand to have had a cultural application, but an abiding principle. This is one of those instances. And here's what I mean, when it says that we should do what Jesus did and wash one another's feet, it doesn't mean that you need to walk up to somebody and say, "Hey, take off your shoes, I want to wash your feet because I'm trying to obey Jesus."

What it means, and most people get this really clearly, intuitively, is he was saying in that culture that's a menial task, something that a servant does. I want you to be willing to take on menial tasks, to be humble enough to do that, and to serve the people around you.

And so the abiding principle is be willing to serve, be humble, not wash one another's feet. It was a cultural command, but there's an abiding principle. And here's what happens sometimes is people will get in trouble interpreting the Bible because they'll say, "Well, if it was cultural then there's no abiding principle. There's nothing that we need to carry forward." Or they'll try to carry forward the cultural manifestation and miss maybe the abiding principle.

But it's the principle that we want. Let me give you another example. In Romans 16:16, we're told to greet one another with a holy kiss. Now, I just want to go on record as saying that that's probably a cultural manifestation of a more abiding principle. So if you walk around trying to kiss everybody, you're going to be known as a creeper in our culture. Now you can say, "Well, I'm just trying to obey Jesus." But culturally, what we know is that command was culturally attuned to say, "Make your gatherings, the places where you come together as believers, warm and affectionate, welcoming. Greet one another in a way that they know that they're wanted." That's what that's saying. Not that you have to kiss one another.

So in our cultural, what do we do? We give a fist pump, we shake hands, do the side hug, you know, those kinds of things. And if somebody tries to plant one on you, you might respond with a holy slap. Now, maybe there's sometimes where it fits, but do you see that the principle doesn't go away, the principle's still there. Warm, affectionate, welcoming greet, but the exact manifestation holy kiss is not. Okay? And that's important any time that you're reading the Bible.

So the call here, from Jesus, is to say, "I want you, if you're my follower, to be willing to be humble and to serve." And you know, whether you're a person or not, that when you see somebody who serves, when you see somebody who abandons their position or status in order to serve others, that there's something beautiful about it. But you also know that it's not the most natural thing. That most of us, if we're honest, prefer to be served rather than to serve. Most of us prefer to be exalted rather than to be humble.

In fact, in our culture, we celebrate people who reach a position where they rarely, if ever, have to serve, and rarely, if ever, have to do anything that isn't exalting of themselves. So here's my question, if this is the call, why does humility flounder so much? And I'd like to suggest from this passage that we see four reasons that humility flounders.

And the first is this, humility flounders when we are too impressed by status. And here's where we see this. We see this in verse six and then in verse 13 through 16. "He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'" So when Jesus is washing feet, he comes to Simon and Simon is basically saying, "No, no, no. Look, I know how this status game works, you're up here and I'm here. You're not washing my feet. I play by the status rules."

Here's what Jesus does, verse 13, "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 should also wash one another's feet. I have set for you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, and nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him."

Translation, Jesus says that when you become too impressed with status, that what you are doing is you are creating this idea that says, "Because I have a certain status, I don't need to do certain things." And again, our culture, and not just our culture but probably every culture in every time, celebrates those who work to achieve status to where they can be served rather than serve, where they can be exalted rather than humble.

I was thinking about this recently. Sometimes when I grocery shop, which I don't do a lot, but I'll take a cart out and if you've been here in recent weeks, I told this story a while ago about how we have a phrase in our family, it's not the best look for you. And I was with one of my sons and I had unloaded the car and the place to return the cart was pretty far away. So I kind of put the cart up on a little island. And he said, "That's not a good look for you."

He said, "What about the people who have the carts and have to return them." And you know what he was saying? And he was exactly right, is that I in my own mind had said, "Well, there's cart return people and I'm not one of them. And the cart return people get paid good money to return the carts, so let them return the carts." Do you see it? It's not so far removed when you understand that sometimes what we do is we still look at things when it comes to status and say, "Well, I shouldn't have to do something like that. I don't have that job."

Here's another way that we do it. What's one of the first questions you ask when you meet somebody? What do you do? Now sometimes, to be fair, that's a very fair question because you're trying to find common ground, you're trying to make small talk, you're just trying to connect on any level. But sometimes we ask that question because it helps us establish a little bit of a pecking order, a little bit of a slotting of where people belong. And we can decide when we find out what somebody does, are they important enough for us to spend time with or are they not.

And this doesn't just happen with what we do, it happens with school. I mean, if you're in college, what major do you have? Are you pre-med or elementary ed? It happens when you're in high school and you're talking about where you're going to go do school, which school did you get into? And if it doesn't happen in our performance, it happens in our relationships. How many kids do you have? What are your kids doing? Are they into the premier preschool of our region or not?

It happens with marriage status. And then sometimes, some of us, what we'll do is we'll say, "Look, I don't want to be that kind of a person, so I don't live in that arena." And we come up with our own slotting system that is, I'm not one of those people who is so shallow that I have to figure out what somebody does. And all the time, what we're doing is we're impressed by status instead of saying, "I'm willing to be humble and to serve regardless of where somebody fits or what they can do for me."

And this really comes, not just from simply identifying it, but from understanding who Jesus is and what he's done for us, and I'll come back to that in a moment. So that's the first reason that sometimes humility flounders.

Here's the second reason, and that is, sometimes we're too self-important to be a servant. Again, verse five, right before Peter kind of objects, it says, "And after he had poured water into a basin and began washing the disciples' feet and drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him," speaking about what Jesus did.

Verse 12, "When he had finished washing feet, he put on his clothes and he returned to his place. 'Do you understand what I've done for you?' he asked them." And the reason that I say that maybe we are too self-important sometimes to serve, is what you can imagine as the disciples were all sitting there, and they were slotting out and saying, "Well, I shouldn't have to be the one to do this. I don't want to have to wash somebody else's feet. That's a menial, dirty job. I don't want to do that."

And Jesus gets up and says, "I'm going to do it because I'm not too self-important to serve." You see, sometimes what we do is we serve with the hope that we get something back. In other words, I'll serve as long as there's something in it for me. But real pure service is when we don't get anything back, that we simply are just serving to serve.

And Jesus here is basically saying, "If you're my follower, one of the purest forms of being my follower is being willing to give when you get nothing back." And unless you think this is just theory, let me give you a more recent example.

So, I have four sons, up until recently all of them were living with us, and so we had six people in our house. Bedrooms are upstairs, main floor, basement. On the bedroom floor, there are two bathrooms, one that the kids use, one that my wife and I use. Main floor, there's another bathroom. Another bathroom in the basement.

So, I don't know exactly how this happened, but we got into this family thing where nobody was replacing the toilet paper? Now the toilet paper standard in our house is if you use the last of it, replace it. Right? I mean, it's not a hard thing. And sometimes there's one in the immediate closet, but evidently those had all gone out and so it moved somehow from my kids' bathroom to my bathroom that didn't have any. People would evidently go down to the next floor, use it. All of a sudden, we had three bathrooms with no toilet paper. And everybody was going to the basement to use the bathroom.

And what's funny about that, is right by the basement bathroom is the storage room that has the extra toilet paper. But nobody wanted to take the steps to get the toilet paper to put it back in the rest of the house, me included.

Now here's just my simple point: why? I'm not going to do that. If they aren't doing it, I'm not doing it. Now to be fair, this is a time for that. If you've told somebody over and over and they do it again, you may say, "It's your turn." Okay? So I'm not saying that's always bad, but in this instance, I'll just speak for me, not for anybody else in the house, I walked past that several times saying, "I'm not doing that." And what that is, is it's saying, "Somebody else can get the toilet paper."

Now that's probably more information than you wanted about my family, but my point is this stuff shows up in menial mundane moments of our life. That's my point. That's what Jesus is doing here. He's saying, "Did you want to know how to follow me? Then wash feet." Then replace the toilet paper. Do something that's menial, rather than simply slotting where you think you fit and saying, "I'm too important to serve."

There's one book that I read on the Gospel of John where the author said this about this passage. He said, "Ever follower of Christ should have one situation in his or her life where he or she is ridiculously, absurdly, irrationally giving himself or herself away."

And what is it for you? Where are the places that you are willing to give yourself away? Or are you finding subtle reasons to avoid the call of Jesus in your life? Now I know, you may say, "Well, if I do that, then I'm going to be taken advantage of. Somebody's not going to give back to me, they'll feel entitled." And that may be true. And I would just say this, I'm not talking here about a situation where you're living with somebody who has narcissistic tendencies, that's maybe a place where you need to establish boundaries. What I'm talking about is routine relationships and saying, "When I have the opportunity in my family, in my home, in my dorm room, in my business, in my neighborhood, with my friends, to choose to serve," to say that's a call of Jesus on your life.

And so we sometimes miss it because we're too impressed by status. Sometimes we're too self-important to serve. And then sometimes, we're just to pre-occupied by our own agenda. What I mean is this, and that is sometimes it's not resistance, but it's ignorance. And it's not ignorance our of just missing it, it's ignorance because we're just too pre-occupied with what we have to do.

And so what happened maybe with the disciples is as they came together, they were all thinking about what they had to do after the dinner, about what was next. And here's my point, sometimes you and I will miss opportunities, not because we don't have the heart for it, not because we don't want to do it, but because we're so slammed with what we have to do that we say, "I can't take the 10 or 15 minutes it would take to wash somebody's feet, because I'm too scheduled and regimented with everything else in my life to have time to interact with somebody like that."

See, if washing feet was the cultural manifestation of the principle of humble service, the question then for you, for me, is what are the places, what are the ways in which you can wash somebody's feet today? What are the opportunities that present themselves in a routine basis in your life, that maybe you're just walking past because you're too consumed with your own agenda?

And unless you and I create some space in our lives to respond to those opportunities, what will happen is we'll just be so busy taking care of ourselves that we won't live in humble service to anybody around us.

Here's the fourth reason, and this is probably the most significant, at least in my view. And that is sometimes humility flounders because we're too proud to be served by Jesus. Now that may not seem like the most important, but one of the reasons that humility doesn't work is because of self-righteousness. And what I mean when I say that, and you may say, "Well, self-righteousness, that sounds like a very religious term and I don't like people who are self-righteous."

Self-righteousness just means the feeling that I have done enough. And so, what happens for some of us is we look at situations and we keep score. And so we think, "Well, I got the toilet paper last time, so they should get the toilet paper this time." Or, "I got it the last five times, they should get this time." And then, if we get it, we want somebody to recognize us.

And here's how I know this is true, I know it's true because it's true about me. If I do something that's like noteworthy, like get toilet paper, I want somebody to go, "Hey! You got the toilet paper! Way to go!" And do you hear how ridiculous that is? But the truth about me, maybe about you, is that sometimes the reason that I don't serve is I want credit. And because I want to keep score rather than saying, "Jesus has done for me what I can never do. He has served me incredibly."

In fact, this passage starts by saying that he loved them to the end. In other words, he's saying here, "I love my disciples completely." And now he demonstrates it. But what he's really doing is he's pointing ahead to the cross. And he's saying, "I want you to understand that my love for you isn't just trumping up this idea that somehow I can serve you. It's not just gathering some self-contained desire to say I can be humble." But it's being so filled with the love of God that it's what is natural to you, because you understand how God through Jesus Christ has served you.

Verse seven, Jesus responded. This is after Peter said, "Lord, you'll never wash my feet." He said, "You do not realize now what I'm doing, but later you will understand." This is a specific statement about a specific time. To these disciples, but it's also true generally. You may not understand what you're walking through today, you may not know why God hasn't done something in a certain way in your life today. But one day, you will understand.

And here Jesus applies it to this. He says, "You don't understand why I'm washing your feet, but one day you will." And I believe this is what he's doing, he's alluding to the cross and he's saying, "You think I'm just washing your feet, but what I'm showing you is that I serve you."

So Peter responded, verse eight, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me." "Then Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well." 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."

Verse 11, "For he knew who was going to betray him and that is why he said, 'Not everyone is clean.'" And so what Jesus does in this moment is he says, "If you want a part of me, you have to let me wash you." See, what Peter was doing was he was slotting Jesus up here and putting himself here, and basically saying, "Jesus, you're too high." And that sounds real spiritual. But it's based on this notion that says Jesus is here and we're here and we work our way toward Jesus. And what the Gospel message is, is that Jesus is here, but Jesus comes and serves and says, "I'm going to do for you what you can't do for yourself."

And Jesus, in washing the feet, and saying, "You don't need to keep washing your whole body because you're already clean if you're in me." He's pointing ahead to the cross and saying, "If you believe in me and what I'm doing, then I make you clean." And when you and I understand that we can't make ourselves clean, but only Jesus can make us clean, and that he has done that as a servant. Then what happens is our heart begins to be filled.

And instead of trying to say, "I should work harder at being humble, I should work harder at serving somebody," what happens is you begin to say, "I see what Jesus has done for me and my status isn't in how high I climb, but it's in what God has said about me." And we start to say that I'm not so self-important that I can't serve. Instead, we say, "I can serve because I've been served." And we can make an agenda that isn't all about us, but it's about something else because we don't need to get to a point where our status is enhanced.

And so, this section shows us that sometimes the reason that humility flounders is because we very simply are not willing to be served by Jesus. In verse 15, there's a little phrase, as in the NIV, just as I think in the ESV. He says this, "I've set for you an example that you should do as I have done for you." Some translations say, "Just as I've done for you."

And what that's pointing to is that this is not just simply a statement that says that you should do what Jesus has done, although it is that, but it's also pointing to this idea that just as Jesus has served, that that is actually the basis. Here's how one commentator put it, he said, "Not only in similarity and adherence to a standard, but also this is the ground on which this discipleship rests and the source from which it gains its strength. The just as."

And so, when we see that, then what happens is we begin to say, "Okay, now, now I can really serve." Because otherwise, we might serve, but we might do it out of selfish arrogance. A chance to be applauded. And Jesus even addresses this in a sense, because a lot of times, when you choose to serve, what will happen is you will do things that it feels like nobody sees, nobody understands, nobody appreciates, nobody gets. And Jesus says, in verse 17, "If you do this, you will be rewarded." And what he's saying is sometimes your reward won't be obvious, it won't be seen. But there are ways that God will work in your life in response to you choosing to say, "I'm going to wash feet, or I'm going to be humble and serve because of what Jesus has done for me."

So what do you think would happen if all the people who claimed to be followers of Jesus lived like this? Do you think it would impact marriages? Parent/child relationships? Sibling relationships? Friendships? Places of work? Churches? Yeah, of course it would. But too often, it's the values of our culture that drive us to say, "I want to be exalted," rather than choosing to be humbled. "I want to be served," rather than serving.

But it's in that that we really find freedom. If you're a Christ follower, you'll find that your joy and the reward outpaces whatever you put into it. And if you're not a follower of Christ, if you're here and you're saying, "I don't know really where I'm at, what I believe in this." Here's what I can just say to you, and that is, you can pursue being exalted and being served, but the world is littered with people who have attained what appears to be the top and are totally dissatisfied with their lives.

You'll find greater joy in giving your life away for something bigger, than in finding all kinds of little things that will make much of you. And that's part of the message here, and part of the reward that's promised.

I want to read a prayer that's from Frances of Assisi, it's fairly well-known, but I think it summarizes the idea of this passage in a beautiful way. The words will appear on the screen.

It says, "Lord make me an instrument of thy peace, that here there is hatred may I bring love. That where this is wrong, may I bring a spirit of forgiveness. That where there is discord, may I bring harmony. That where there is error, may I bring truth. That where there is doubt, may I bring faith. That where there is despair, may I bring hope. That where there are shadows, may I bring light. That where there is sadness, may I bring joy.

"Lord, grant that I may seek to comfort rather than to be comforted. To understand rather than to be understood. To love rather than to be loved. For it is in giving that we are received, and it is by forgiving that we are forgiven. And it is by dying that we awaken to eternal life."

Father, I pray that as we are gathered here today, that each one of us who are followers of you would see the potential and the beauty of being willing to be humble and to serve. And God, for those who are a part of the gathering this morning that aren't sure, God, I pray that even the beauty of the picture of what you call your followers to be would remind that so often we stop at the overlook that isn't the real overlook. And we get a false view of what it means to be a follower of you and that the view that you offer is so much grander and more appealing than we even sometimes realize. And we pray it in Jesus' name, amen.