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This is post 3 of 4 in the series “THE ... OF JESUS”

The Tactic Of Jesus: What You Count Lowly, Christ Counts Holy

John 13:1-20

When I was young, every Saturday night at our house, there was a fight. I don’t mean an argument, a disagreement, a difference of opinion. I mean a bloody fight—a fight so that when all was over and smoke had cleared, somebody was left on the ground. Every Saturday night.When I was young, every Saturday night at our house, there was a fight. I don’t mean an argument, a disagreement, a difference of opinion. I mean a bloody fight—a fight so that when all was over and smoke had cleared, somebody was left on the ground. Every Saturday night.

You see, every Saturday night after dinner, we would go into the den and switch on the television set, and there, at the prescribed time would appear the great Marshall Matt Dillon—a firm set in his jaw, a steely glint in his eye, a marshall’s star glistening on his chest. The streets of Dodge City were empty. Everyone had scattered either into the general store or into the Long Branch Saloon. At one end of the dirt street of Dodge City, there stood Marshall Matt Dillon toweringly tall in his grey stetson. At the other end of the street stood the bad guy with the black hat who had challenged him. You couldn’t see the guy’s face, but then, you didn’t have to. I mean, all those bad guys always looked alike. They always needed a shave. They always had their lips curled in a sneer. They always had traces of tobacco juice dripping off their chins—mean as snakes, those bad guys were! Every Saturday night, no matter how many times I watched the introduction to that television show “Gunsmoke”—every time, as the music would build louder, and suddenly Matt Dillon would draw that gun that looked like it had a barrel a half a block long, and the shot would explode, and the bad guy would fall into the dirt.

Every time I saw it, I was learning all over again, that the way to resolve conflict was to have a fight. It is a lesson I fear I learned too well—a lesson which decrees that might make right. If you’re in an argument, don’t back down. If you feel a disagreement coming on, get in the first lick. That’s the lesson that I learned, and apparently I am not the only one who learned that lesson, for even though I no longer see “Gunsmoke” on television, I do see gunfights and shoot-outs. I see gunfights in living rooms where husbands and wives know that one of them ought to break this cold war going on between them, but neither of them will because it would be an admission of weakness and failure. I see shoot-outs in boardrooms where quarterly reports are handed out and there’s too much red ink on the pages, and they don’t point guns, but they do point fingers—and they do not fix the problem; instead they try to affix the blame. And I see standoffs in church foyers where one person is unhappy because he or she has not gotten their way, and others are incensed because they do not like the way things are going. It’s a stand-off. And before long, the bullets begin to fly. Oh, not real bullets, but the fiery ammunition of words and accusations. And when it’s all over and the smoke has cleared, inevitably there will be someone left hurt. But you know, for all of the fighting, nothing gets resolved, next week, just like “Gunsmoke” the same thing will happen all over again because fighting is not the best way to resolve a conflict.

Jesus shows us the best way to resolve conflict in a remarkable incident which took place on the last night of his life. He and his disciples were sharing a meal together—Jesus knew that within twenty-four hours he would be dead. And yet, look at what happened on that occasion. Surely it must have broken Jesus’ heart. The disciples descended into an argument. They were bickering among themselves about which one of them was the most important. Peter probably inserted: “I’m the most important because once I walked upon the water.” John then tried to one up him by saying: “I’m actually the most important because I am the one who gets to sit right next to him all of the time.” Andrew couldn’t let that pass, so he jumped in: “You seem to forget that I am the one who introduced all of you to him in the first place.” And on and on it went. It was an argument; a gunfight, a shoot-out, a conflict. And what did Jesus do? Did Jesus suddenly stand up, slam his fork down on the table and cry: “Enough!” That’s what most of us probably would have done. Well, then did he do what I probably would have done? Preach a three-point sermon on humility? No. He didn’t do that either. He didn’t yell and he didn’t preach. But what he did do deserves a hard look.

Understand, please, that in those days, that the streets of the city were dirt; very dusty. The sandals the people wore offered little or no protection for the feet. And so it was customary that when a person entered a house, a servant would take a towel, a pitcher, and a basin, which always stood right next to the front door. The servant would kneel down and gently sponge off with water the hot, tired feet of the guest. It was an act of genuine hospitality, and it was a job reserved for the servant. The problem was that the house where Jesus and his disciples were dining was a borrowed house, and so there was no servant there. As the disciples entered the house, they all noticed the towel, the pitcher, and the basin standing beside the front door, but nobody touched them. Nobody wanted to stoop so low. Nobody wanted to serve the others. They were quite eager to talk about the throne; they were not so eager to talk about the towel. And so it was that suddenly in the midst of the meal, Jesus was listening to his disciples engaged in this bickering and conflict with one another. Suddenly Jesus got up, and he took the towel, the pitcher, and the basin, and he proceeded to kneel down and wash disciples’ feet. It was an absolutely incredible moment. It must have stunned them to the core. We hear a lot of talk these days in business and professional circles about a so-called new management technique called “Servant Leadership”. My friends, it’s not new; here is where it began: when the Lord of all glory himself, got down on his knees, and took the role of a servant in order to break and overcome the conflict between his disciples. What the disciples counted as lowly, Christ counted as holy. That is the real lesson we all need to learn. Not the lesson of smoking guns, but the lesson of washing feet.

So let’s yank this story out of the past and insert it into our present. Let’s look at the problem, the solution, and the application. What is the problem? The problem is playing “king of the mountain.” My guess is that most of you, when you were children, played that game “king of the mountain”. Do you remember how many kings there are in the game? Only one. And that one does not last very long; only as long as it takes someone else to push that person off the top. Do you know I learned something else playing the game king of the mountain”. I learned that while there is not much room at the top, there is plenty of room at the bottom. And I learned that people at the bottom don’t push and kick and shove and hit and trample. I learned that all of the fighting takes place at the top.

Jesus would remind us that the best way to deal with the game “king of the mountain” is not to play the game. Easy to say; not so easy to do. You see, we are living in a society where the pressure is all about us—the pressure to play that game. And all about us are the visible signs of the devastating effects of the conflicts which result.

I always loved the wonderful little story about the Trappist monastery where the monks were sworn to vows of silence. One day at breakfast in the dining hall, one of the monks sent a written note to the abbot—the priest in charge of the monastery. The note read: “May I have permission to speak?” The abbot wrote back the reply: “Okay, one sentence.” So the monk stood up in the dining hall, and he said to the other monks: “I hate oatmeal.” Then he sat down. No one said a word. A whole year passed; no one spoke. Then a second monk passed along a note to the abbot one morning after breakfast in the dining hall asking for permission to speak. The abbot sent back the reply, written on the note: “One sentence.” Second monk stood up, looked at the other monks and he said: “I hate oatmeal too.” He sat down. No one said another word. For another whole year no one spoke, and then a third monk passed a note to the abbot one morning after breakfast. It was asking for permission to speak. The abbot sent back the written reply: “Permission granted. One sentence.” The monk stood up, looked at the other monks in the dining hall and said: “I’m sick and tired of all this bickering and complaining about oatmeal.”

The fact of the matter is, my beloved, that everywhere you go you find people bickering and complaining about something. Everywhere you go you find people engaged in conflict and dispute. Everywhere you go you find people playing “king of the mountain”; trampling over other people in order to get to the top. Jesus said to his disciples then, and he says to his disciples now: “Stop playing the game.” When other people are scrambling to the top, you get off the hill. When other people are complaining about everything, you address the problem. When other people are demanding their rights, you work for what is right. When other people are looking out for number one, you look out for those who are left behind. When other people are scrambling to become the top dog, you give yourself to the service of the underdog. What we count lowly, Christ counts holy.

The problem? Playing “king of the mountain”. So what’s the solution? The solution is taking the attitude of a servant. Servant leadership, as Jesus portrayed it, is displayed by three very distinctive marks upon an individual. Those marks are very clearly portrayed right here in this great passage of scripture. I’ll show you.

The first mark—quiet confidence. That is when you know your rights, but you don’t demand them.

Look at what happened in the story. It says: “Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God, and was going to God.” Jesus knew that he had the power of God in his life, and therefore, he didn’t have to show off. I want you to remember that. You know, it’s not too often that I say something smart, but I’m getting ready to say something smart, so listen upl Arrogance is the child of insecurity. Say that again. Arrogance is the child of insecurity. Whenever you encounter people in your life who are arrogant and boastful, don’t pay them any attention, don’t take them seriously, because deep inside they are simply hiding a hollow hole of insecurity.

Remember the story about the couple who went to a dinner party? The men gathered on one side of the room, and the women, talking on the other. The men were talking about the fish that they had caught that summer, and they were all boasting away. This particular wife noticed that her husband never said a word. The men kept holding up their hands indicating the size of the fish. Her husband kept his hands in his pockets. Later on, as they were on their way home, she asked him about that. She said: “How come you weren’t bragging about your fish?” He said: “Because I caught some.”

When you possess the power of God in your life, you don’t have to show it, people will know it. You don’t have to fight and argue over pride and turf and territory, because you, if you are a part of Jesus Christ, you are a part of something infinitely bigger than all of that. If you’re a part of Jesus Christ, you know that you have come from God, and that you are going to God. When you are a part of Jesus Christ, then you know that heaven is your home. When you’re a part of Jesus Christ, you possess the power of God in your life. And when you possess the power of God in your life, then you don’t have to show it, people know it. Quiet confidence.

Second mark. Genuine kindness. That is, when you know you’re right, but don’t push it.

Look at what happened here. It says that suddenly Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. He didn’t lambaste the disciples for what they hadn’t done. He didn’t even suggest that they all take turns washing one another’s feet. He simply did it himself.

I’m not suggesting that in order to serve our neighbors in the world, that we have to take a basin and a pitcher and a towel, and that we have to wash their feet. Although, on second thought, it might not hurt. But maybe instead of taking and using a basin and a pitcher, maybe you might try a letter, a phone call, a check, a meal, a visit, a lawnmower. Maybe instead of thinking only about yourself, you might seek to serve someone else with a genuine act of kindness.

Third mark. Deep convictions. That is, you know what is right, and you stick to it.

This is so important, because you see, so many times it seems to me that we seem to think that in order to be a servant in the style of Jesus Christ, that means being weak and wimpy and spineless. No, my beloved, just the opposite. Look at what happened here. As Jesus was washing the disciples feet, he heard Peter say: “Lord, you are not going to wash my feet.” And what happened? At that point, Jesus looked up at Peter and said: (and I want to tell you something—I believe there was a sternness in his eye and a firmness in his voice -) Jesus looked up at Peter and said: “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.” In other words, “Unless I forgive and cleanse you, you are not forgiven and cleansed. You cannot be a part of me. And you cannot do that on your own.” You see, even though Jesus was on his knees, he still had convictions which he would not compromise. I want you to understand something. Being a servant to someone else, does not mean enabling that person to live an evil life. If you know of someone who has a drinking problem, you are not being a servant to them if you enable them to keep drinking. If you know of someone who is cutting ethical corners on the job, you’re not being a servant to them if you say: “Well, that’s the price you have to pay for getting ahead these days.” If you know someone who has fallen out of the faith and their life is being ship-wrecked, you are not being a servant to them by being silent. Being a servant in the style of Jesus Christ means having some convictions which you will not compromise. It means knowing what is right, and sticking to it. So there’s the solution, taking the attitude of a servant.

How do we take that home? How do we put that to work in our daily lives? What’s the application? The application is practicing what Jesus preaches. Look at what happened in this great passage of scripture. Jesus said to his disciples: “If I, your Lord and teacher can wash your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done.”

Chad understood that. Chad was in the third grade, but Chad didn’t have a single friend in the whole class. You see, Chad had some learning and mental disabilities which made him a trifle slow. Consequently, the other kids in the class wouldn’t have anything to do with him. In fact, most frequently they just laughed at him and made fun of him. It broke his mother’s heart. Every day after school, she would stand in the kitchen and look out the window, and she would see the kids coming home from school…and all of the other children would be running along together laughing and playing and scuffling with one another. Ten or fifteen paces behind, there would be Chad, all alone. One day in January, Chad came home from school and said: “Mom, I want to make Valentine’s cards for everybody in my class.” His mother thought to herself: “Oh, no Chad, don’t do that. They will only make fun of you and it will hurt your feelings.” The little boy was determined, and so the mother gave in. And so every night for the next three weeks this mom and her little boy Chad worked making Valentine cards; carefully drawing them and cutting them out and personalizing them. Thirty-five of them. One for every kid in the class. Three weeks, every night. On Valentine’s Day, Chad got up, went off to school with his sack of Valentines. His mother worried all day long about what was going to happen. That afternoon when school was out, she was standing in the kitchen looking out the window. She saw all the other kids come running along. There behind them was Chad, and his hands were empty. Her stomach clutched and her heart was stabbed with pain. The door opened Chad came in and she heard her little boy say: “Not a one, Mom, not a one.” She fully expected to see a tear- filled face. Instead, he was beaming. He said: “Not a one, Mom. I didn’t forget a single one!” That’s the joy of the heart of a servant. What we count lowly, Christ counts holy!


You have some gunfights in your house? Some shootouts in your boardroom? Some standoffs in your school or church? Learn a lesson from the king, and serve…

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