The Sound Of Trumpets
It is always hard for me to read the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John without feeling a deep sense of emotion in my own soul, because the incident portrayed here is one of such beauty and such tenderness. A marvelous moment when Jesus, in the shadow of His own death, does something and says something very beautiful to His disciples. The thirteenth chapter of John, beginning to read at the first verse. “Now, before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And during supper, when the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then He poured water into a basin, and He began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
“He came to Simon Peter, and Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ And Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing, you do not know now. But afterward, you will understand.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet,’ and Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.’ And Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Well, Lord, not my feet also, but my hands and my head,’ and Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed does not need to wash except for his feet, but he is clean all over. And you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew who was to betray Him, that was why He said, ‘You are not all clean.’
“When He had washed their feet and taken His garments and resumed His place, Jesus said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, then blessed, happy are you if you do them.'”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the most brilliant of our American presidents. Far be it for me then to seek to quibble with any part of his vast wisdom. And yet, I think that I must, at least, point out to you what seems to be a decided weakness in one of the most familiar phrases that Thomas Jefferson ever wrote. It’s in the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson wrote that all of us have an “unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Now, when Jefferson wrote those words, he was clearly writing under the influence of the English philosopher, John Locke, who, years before, had written that the basic human rights are life, liberty, and property.
Now Jefferson, wishing to emphasize spiritual values as over against material values, changed that, changed it to read, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And while I understand Jefferson’s intent at this point, and even applaud his intent, nevertheless, I would still suggest to you that no one ever gains happiness by pursuing it. There are many people in our time who are engaged in the pursuit of happiness, and they are pursuing happiness through the acquisition of money or material possessions or the things of this earth. And they believe that if their bank books swell enough and their safe deposit boxes bulge enough, then happiness will be theirs. But that is not the case. They are laboring under a mistaken notion. Happiness is not something we get. Happiness is something we give.
Cecil Rhodes was a marvelous man in terms of his financial success. He was one of the richest men in the world. And on one occasion, Cecil Rhodes was asked if he was happy. And you know what he said? He said, “No, I’m not. I’ve spent all of my life making money, and I’ve made lots of it. And now, I’m spending half of it on my doctors trying to keep me out of my grave, and I’m spending the other half of it on my attorneys trying to keep me out of jail. Does that sound like happiness?”
Well, does it? You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You and I are wise enough to know, are we not, that there are twice as many suicides among those who are affluent as among those who live at the poverty level or below. You and I are wise enough to know, are we not, that happiness is not something you can attain or achieve in your life for yourself. Rather, happiness is something you give. Happiness is something which you bestow on someone else, and then know yourself only by reflection.
Someone’s tried to express it this way. “Happiness is like perfume inside you on a shelf. Every time you pour some out, you spill some on yourself.” I like that. Happiness is not something we get, not something we pursue, not something we achieve or attain for ourselves. No. Happiness is something we give. And every time we pour some out on someone else, we spill some on ourselves. You know, that’s a great biblical principle.
And as Exhibit A, in support of that principle, I’m want to hold up before you, the Lord Jesus Christ. I submit to you today that He was the happiest man who ever lived.
I suppose that in the course of my lifetime, I have seen, literally, dozens of motion pictures about Jesus. Some of them good, some of them not so good. But in looking back, over all of those movies, I’m not sure that I can recall but just one scene in all of that. Just one scene where our Lord Jesus Christ was portrayed as smiling. And my friends, that simply could not be true. Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived, and that happiness showed on His face and in everything that He did. Just look at His words – the Sermon on the Mount – which is, in fact, the whole essence of His teaching all summed up in one. The Sermon on the Mount begins with what we call the Beatitudes. And those Beatitudes are what I would call the Great Physician’s prescription for happiness. That’s right. Everyone of those Beatitudes begins with the word Blessed. It is in most translations. But you know, that word is more accurately translated Happy. “Happy are the poor in spirit. Happy are those who mourn. Happy are the pure in heart. Happy are the merciful. Happy are the peacemakers.” Happy. That’s Jesus’s credo. And Jesus lived those Beatitudes to perfection in His own life. And I would say to you, on the basis of that, that perfect happiness was His. He was the happiest man who ever lived.
And therefore, it seems to me that it would behoove us to listen to Him when He says to His disciples in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, “I want to show you how to experience true happiness in your life.” That’s what Jesus said. And then Jesus proceeded to show those disciples by something He did and by something He said. Get the picture, please.
Jesus and the disciples entered the upper room. They came in out of the hot Judean sun, the late afternoon. And as they entered the upper room, the disciples were engaged in an equally hot argument among themselves. You know what they were arguing about? They were arguing about who was going to have the place of honor at the dinner table with Jesus. Can you imagine that? They were squabbling among themselves. You see, they believed that the prestige of sitting at the right hand of the Master would give them happiness. And so in their pursuit of this happiness, they were fighting like cats and dogs.
And as they entered the upper room, it had been prepared for them. The Scriptures tell us that. And that means that right beside the door, there would have been a table. And on that table, there would have been a pitcher filled with water, and then a basin and a towel. And custom demanded that when they entered the room, someone in the group was to take the pitcher of water and fill the basin, and then with the basin and the towel, proceed to wash the feet of everyone in the room. But those disciples were so caught up in their dispute with one another, in their pursuit of their own happiness, that they wouldn’t begin to lower themselves to wash one another’s feet. At that point, Jesus did something. Jesus got up, walked over to the table, took the pitcher, poured the water into the basin. With the basin and the towel, He proceeded to go around and wash the disciples feet.
Think of it, please. Here He was, the Lord of glory Himself, down on His knees, washing the feet of His disciples. And then Jesus said something. He said to those disciples, “Look at the way I love you. Look at what I’m doing here. Look at the way I serve you. Look at the sacrifice that I make for you. Look. And when you see these things,” Jesus said, “then you will find your happiness in doing them.” That’s what He said. What He means is that those people who engage in loving like Jesus loved, who serve like Jesus served, who are willing to make sacrifices as Jesus made sacrifices, who are willing to give as Jesus gave of Himself, those who are willing to do these things every day of their experience will find the secret of true happiness in life. They’ll find, first of all, the happiness of knowing the presence of Jesus in life. Oh, there’s great joy in that.
You know, this is what makes Christianity absolutely unique among all the faiths in the world, the fact that we, as Christians, believe that God is not a God who is way off up there, out there somewhere. God is not some vague, indefinable blur. No. God actually, literally entered our human experience. That is absolutely unique among all the religions of the world. We, as Christians, believed that God literally entered our human experience in the very human form of Jesus of Nazareth. He came to our life that He might know us and know what we have to face in the living of our days. He made our life His life, our perils His perils, our sufferings His sufferings. He came to us that He might walk with us, walk with us every step of the way through life. And, oh, it’s joy to discover that in your life.
Way back in 1915, when Ernest Shackleton tried to cross the Antarctic, his ship became wedged in the ice. He and his whole crew were stranded. It was then that Shackleton and two of his crewmen set off walking across miles of terrifying ice through some of the worst weather in the world in an effort to get help. After that long and harrowing journey was over, one of Shackleton’s crewmen said to him, “You know, boss? I had a strange feeling during all that time that someone else was with us.” That’s just one man’s experience of the presence of Jesus Christ at our side in life. And, oh, it is joy beyond imagining to realize that this God of ours has come to be with us, to walk right beside us every step that we take through life. There’s joy in that.
But there’s also the joy of knowing the purpose of Christ in life.
There’s so many people in our time who just seem to be wandering aimlessly through life. They don’t seem to have any idea where they’re going or how they’re going to get there, even. They’re just going through the motions. They never get to the point where they’re ready to commit themselves to some great and noble cause. Never get to the point where they’re confronted and ready to respond to some great challenge. But that’s precisely what Jesus Christ does for us as Christians. He comes to us and He says, “I offer to you, a cause and a purpose for your living.” And I want to tell you something. You can believe me when I say it. There is joy in knowing that you have that kind of purpose in your life, to be able to say, “I know who I am. I know why I’m here. I know where I’m going. I know what I’m supposed to be doing in life. I know what my life is all about.” To be able to say that and to know it’s true is to experience true happiness and joy.
I’m thinking here of a man who was a member of one of my previous congregations. He was a profoundly committed Christian, and he was a medical doctor. I remember talking to him once, and I asked him how it was that he came to blend so beautifully in his life, both faith and medicine. Do you know what he said? He said, “It happened to me early on when I was twelve years old.” And he then went on to tell me how he and his family had lived in the Texas Panhandle. And one winter, there had been a terrible blizzard. They were snowed into their house. And while they were there, his little sister was taken seriously ill. They called the local doctor. Just a country doctor is all he was, or at least that’s what this man said he was. And you know what he did? He walked four hours through the snow, the only way he could get there. Four hours through the snow to their house. And once there, he went into that little girl’s bedroom, and he closed the door. And for the next 24 hours straight, he stayed right there, ministering to her every need. Into the second day, he finally came out of that room. And this little twelve-year-old boy was there, watching, and saw the doctor’s face drawn with weariness. His eyes swollen with sleeplessness. But the little boy watched as this doctor walked over and took the hands of this boy’s parents and said to them, “You’ve been praying, and I’ve been praying too. And I want you to know that God has been able to use my efforts. Your little Mary is going to get well.” And that little boy saw, on the face of his parents, a joy like nothing he had ever seen before. And he resolved right there, at age twelve, that he would offer himself to be used by God in medicine to bring that same kind of joy to the lives of other people. And his life in medicine, believe me, has been a procession of splendor. Captured, you see, by a kingly purpose, he has spent his life bringing happiness to the lives of others.
Is your life a procession of splendor? Or is it a procession of drudgery, getting up every day, going to work, coming home, going to bed so you can get up and go to work again tomorrow, or getting up and tending to the children and preparing them meals, and sweeping the house, and going to bed so that you can get up and do the whole thing again tomorrow? Is your life a procession of splendor, or is it a procession of drudgery? Which? If it is a procession of drudgery, then I call you to look to Jesus Christ. He will give you a purpose in your life that will consume you to the heart and pore of your being. He will set before you, a joy and a happiness that is beyond your ability to imagine. And your life, my friends – yes. No matter what it is that you may be doing in life, no matter how insignificant it may seem to those who are about you, you life will be a procession of splendor.
Oh, but there’s more. There’s also the joy of knowing the power of Christ in life.
I don’t know if you caught it in the reading a few moments ago or not. Did you? Up there in the third verse? It says that Jesus, knowing He had come from God, and knowing that He was going to God, girded Himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. Catch that, please. Jesus, knowing where He comes from, knowing that He was the Son of God, knowing that God had sent Him, knowing where He was going, knowing even in just a matter of hours, in fact, that He would return to the Father who had sent Him, knowing where he’d come from, knowing where He was going, what did He do? He ministered to the needs of those who were there at that point in His life.
And the same is true of us. We know who we are and Whose we are. We know where we’ve come from. Every single one of us. We are the children of God. He has sent us. Every single one of us. He has sent us to this earth, and we know where we’re going. We know that, ultimately, in His own time, we are going to return to the Father who made us and who sent us. We know where we’ve come from, and we know where we’re going. We are Heaven-sent, and we are Heaven-bound. And knowing that, we are called, like Jesus, to give ourselves away in loving, serving, sacrificial service to the people of this earth.
I saw this whole principle illustrated in, of all places, a barbershop. The Lord uses the strangest places sometimes to speak to me. He was in a barbershop. I was there. A young father came in with his little boy. The little boy’s first haircut. And the father put the little boy up in the barber’s chair, and the barber pulled out the clippers. And he turned them on, buzz, and the little boy started crying. And then he began to scream, and then he began to kick, and then he began to thrash, and then he began to just out and out holler. And he kept screaming, and he kept hollering, and he kept kicking. And he couldn’t hold him, and he couldn’t stop him. No amount of entreaty would stop him. No amount of threatening would stop him. Not even any amount of bribery would stop him. He just kept screaming. It looked like a hopeless case.
At that point, this young father had a great idea. You know what he did? He got up in the barber chair and he sat down. And then he picked that little boy – still screaming. Picked that little boy up and placed him in his lap and put his arms around him. And within about a minute, that little boy stopped crying. And he never made another sound while his hair was being cut. You see? He knew he could trust the father’s love. He knew whose he was. And he knew that the father had him in his loving embrace, and that gave him the power to master his fear. And what I want you to understand is that God, our Father, sent us. We have come from Him, and we know where we’re going. We are going to Him. And in the meantime, He has you and me in His great, loving embrace. We can trust that. And because we can trust Him, we know that we can have the power to master any fear. And we can have the power to do things in our lives that we never believed we could ever do. We know Whose we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going, and there’s power in knowing that.
So Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love as I love, and if you serve like I serve, and if you are willing to make sacrifices like I’m doing, and if you are willing to give as I am giving, if you see these things and then do these things in your life, then you are going to know happiness.”
How do I end this? Let me try this. C.S. Lewis wrote many marvelous books, but one of the most marvelous is The Screwtape Letters. In that book, Wormwood – that’s his name. Wormwood. You know what he is? He’s a kind of a third-class devil. Wormwood is talking to Screwtape. He’s a first-class devil. And Wormwood says to Screwtape, “Tell me, Screwtape, is there anything about the Kingdom of Heaven that you miss?” and Screwtape says, “Yes. Yes, there is. I miss the joyful sound of trumpets.”
Jesus said, “If you love, if you serve, if you sacrifice, if you give as I do, then you will know true joy and true happiness in your life.” That means that if we do these things in the living of our days, then we are going to know the joy of His presence and His purpose and His power. And that means that our lives – well, just no other way for me to say it. It means that our lives are going to be filled with the joyful sound of trumpets. And that, my friends – oh yes, that is Heaven right here on earth. Amen.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, we know where we’ve come from, and we know where we are going. We are Heaven-sent, and we are Heaven-bound. Let us give ourselves, in the meantime, the loving sacrificial service to the people of this world and to the cause of Jesus Christ in His kingdom on earth. Amen.