The Sublimity of Jesus
November 21st, 1971 @ 7:30 PM
THE SUBLIMITY OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-21-71 7:30 p.m.
I think I better start something else . . . Now turn with us in the Bible to the Gospel of John and the thirteenth chapter. The title of the message is The Sublimity of Jesus. And we are going to read out loud together the first seventeen verses [John 13:1-17]; a rather long passage for us, but one that will bless your heart in the reading. John chapter 13, the first seventeen verses; and all of us read it out loud. Share your Bible, there is one in the pew rack. And on the radio, get your Bible and read it out loud with us; John chapter 13, the first seventeen verses. Now together:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.
And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him;
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God;
He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.
After that He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
Then cometh He to Simon Peter: and Simon saith unto Him, Lord, dost Thou wash My feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto Him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.
Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean.
So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was set down again, He said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
The sublimity of Jesus.
Every Sunday night that the pastor preaches, the message will always be, it has been for several years, it will continue to be as long as I live, the message Sunday night will be on the life of our Lord. It will be a message about Jesus. We are now preaching in the Sunday evening service through the Gospel of John. And beginning at the thirteenth chapter we enter, really, the Holy of Holies of the New Testament. In these concluding chapters of John, chapters 14, 15, 16, 17, through the remainder to 21 [John 14:1-20:31], there have been more tears dropped on these pages than on any pages in human literature. There have been more broken hearts who have sought strength and comfort from these words than from any other words spoken by human lips.
It begins with this passage. This section of John begins with this passage we have just read together. Our Lord is seated at the Passover table, saying, “With desire have I desired to eat this last meal with you” [Luke 22:15]. Then as the story, as the narrative proceeds, it brings us to an unusual and marvelous differential; the difference between the way the story is introduced, and the narrative that immediately followed.
For example, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God” [John 13:3], you would think that all the Holy Spirit could do to draw our attention to what is about to happen, the Holy Spirit has done here in that introductory verse. We would expect from such a significant sentence, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands,” things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, “and that He was come from God, and was returning to God”; you would think there would follow a narrative, a revelation, a vista, a vision, a glory beyond what human eyes could bear to see. But instead of the introduction of a burning seraph [Isaiah 6:2-3], there is almost literally in the narrative that follows, the presentation of something like a small little mountain flower, or a lamb, or a child. “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands [John 13:3], that He came from God, and now was returning to God” [John 13:3], Jesus knowing that, then what? Why, there is bound to be, following that sentence and that introduction, some marvelous, incomparable mystery, some new revelation in the divine nature.
Why, I would expect Him in a sentence and in an introduction like that, I would expect Him to unfold secret wings and fly into the very light. I would expect Him to unveil some deep new mystery in the divine nature. I would expect Him to call from a legions of angels host after host, and the bright shining creations of God to bring back to His head the crown, the diadem, that He left in glory; and with His left hand He sweeps away the clouds that veil it, and with His right hand He receives the seal of the authority of the universe, amid the plaudits and the hallelujah’s, and the praise and the accolades of all of the hosts of glory.
But instead, I read, “He riseth from supper, and took off His garments” [John 13:4]. There’s not anything more humbling to a man than nakedness. Dressed up we may be greatly different; but naked we’re all humbly alike. “He rose from supper, and took off His garments; and girded Himself with a towel, and poured water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet” [John 13:4-5]. What an un-godlike thing to do! What an anticlimax! The very sentences seem to fray into feebleness.
This is the mighty God, “Jesus knowing that the Father had committed all things into His hands,” authority, kratos, dominion, exousia, strength in heaven and in earth, given to Him [John 13:3]. But instead of some glorious panoramic parade and display of power and might, but I read instead, “He rises from supper. He takes off His clothes. He girds Himself with a towel, and pouring water began to wash the disciples’ feet” [John 13:4-5].
Then I begin to enter into the mysteries of the greatness and majesty of God. Is not that what God does? Is He not always washing feet? Washing the feet of angels; washing the feet of men; bathing the whole universe, fallen in love and mercy and forgiveness; God washing feet, an expression of the infinite tenderness of God’s love, whose name is that for that is love itself: to express itself in service and humility, obedience; washing feet.
I think of the conversion of that bitter Philippian jailer, who far beyond the bounds of duty, having beat the apostles Paul and Silas, thrust them into the inner dungeon, fastened their feet in stocks and their hands in chains [Acts 16:23-24]. But when he was saved [Acts 16:30-32], the Book says that he took Paul and Silas and bathed, washed their stripes [Acts 16:33]. A moment before, laying upon them cat-o’-nine-tails, Roman rods, beating the flesh until it bled red [Acts 16:23-24]; then saved [Acts 16:30-31], washing stripes, bathing places that hurt and bled [Acts 16:33]. That’s like God. And God is like that.
So in the story, our Lord says this is a picture of Christian love, and humility, and service, and life. That’s what it is to be a Christian like that [John 13:4-5]. Not with an eye to the applause, and the recognition, and the promotion, but always with just a heart overflowing in love, doing anything, mean or menial for Jesus. There’s not anything anybody ever does for Jesus that is mean or degraded. It may be humble opening a door in His name, shutting a window in His name, sweeping a floor in His name, knocking at a door in His name, ministering to a child in His name, offering a cup of water or a crust of bread. But when it’s done in the name of Christ, God hallows and sanctifies it, and it becomes the very worship of God Himself and like our blessed Master.
When I was a boy, pastor of a church, the man who was undershepherd of the county seat town and our leader, the biggest church in the association, his wife died. That broke his heart, kind of broke his spirit. He loved her so deeply. They had one boy. And when that boy reached manhood, not long after his wife died, their only son died; and that crushed him. You know, I just loved to look in the face of that man. I loved the tone of his voice. Any time as a young preacher that I could just get close to him I did, just hoping maybe I could brush off something of the godliness of that man’s life onto me.
Did you know, in the county seat where he pastored, there was an infidel: a vile, villainous, wicked, evil, cursing, rejecter, unbeliever, an infidel: boasting of it. The infidel had a stroke; comes to us all by and by, he had a stroke. And his sweet wife, who belonged to the church where this godly man pastored, the sweet wife was taking care of that old infidel, her husband, and doing it tenderly and sweetly. And upon a day, when the pastor knocked at the door, she was getting ready to wash his feet, to bathe his feet.
And the pastor said to her, “Do you mind if I take the basin of water and wash his feet?” And I can’t describe to you the scene of that pastor with a bowl of water, taking one of the feet of that old infidel, and sweetly, lovingly bathing; and the other foot, that infidel looking there with the tears flowing off of his face, dropping down in the water. That is the spirit of the Christian faith; washing feet.
Littleness demands recognition, seeks it, covets it, lives upon it. And if it does not come, and if it is not offered, littleness becomes petulant and critical and demeaning. Not the true child of God. Wasn’t doing it for praise or glory, I was doing it in the first place for Jesus. Did you know, in my observation of the work of God, practically all of the real honest to goodness work of the kingdom that keeps it alive and vibrant and Christian are these humble ministries that nobody recognizes and nobody sees, nobody knows? Washing feet; the humble service offered to God in the name of our Lord.
He came to Simon Peter. Simon said, “Lord, You are not going to wash my feet.” And the Lord said, “Simon if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me” [John 13:8]. All of us are unclean. We are sinners [Romans 3:23], and we need to be cleansed [1 John 1:7, 9]. We need to be washed [Revelation 1:5]. We need to be redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19]. We need to be born into the family [John 3:3, 7]. We need to be adopted into the preciousness of the forgiveness and love of our Savior [Galatians 4:5]. Outside of the cleansing, we are unfit and unworthy and unacceptable.
“Except you wash, you have no part with Me. And Simon Peter answered and said, Lord, then wash not only my feet, but my hands and my head, and all over, Lord” [John 13:9]. Then the Lord said, “Simon, he that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet; but is clean all over” [John 13:8-9]. What did He mean by that?
Well, let me translate it a little more accurately. “He that has been through the bath,” that’s it exactly, that’s an exact translation; “He that has been through the laver, he that has been through the bath does not need to be washed again. He is clean every whit, except his feet [John 13:10]. And his feet must be washed again, and again, and again.” Now the imagery is very plain. The Roman bath, when a man took a bath he was clean, all over. But when he walked from the bath his feet became soiled, and he had to wash his feet.
So the Lord says that when we’re saved, when we’re cleansed, we’re always and forever saved and cleansed. We don’t need to be bathed again and again and again. We don’t need to be saved over and over again. We are saved. We go through the bath, just one time. But day by day, as we walk through the hours of the day, our feet become soiled, and every day we must go to Jesus and ask the dear Lord to forgive us the sins and the shortcomings of that day [1 John 1:9]. We are clean having been through the bath, but our feet are soiled as we walk through the succeeding days, and every day we come to the blessed Jesus and say, “Lord, wash my feet. Forgive me this day my sins.” That’s what it is to be a child of God, a follower of the Lamb, belong to the household of Jesus, and to trust in Him [Acts 16:30-31]. To be cleansed, to be forgiven, to be saved, and to offer unto God a humble life of service, and every day confessing to Him our sins and asking forgiveness in His dear name [1 John 1:9].
Will you do that? In a moment we stand to sing our appeal. And in the balcony round and on the lower floor, somebody you coming to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13], and to us, make it now. Do it now. A family you, “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming tonight.” A couple you, just the two of you, or just you, somebody one, somebody you, make the decision now in your heart. “I’m going to give my life in faith and trust to the blessed Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and I’m coming.” And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. That first step will be the greatest step you’ve ever made in your life. Down one of these stairways, into the aisle, and here to the front, “Here I come, pastor, I’m making it now.” Or, put your life with us in the church. To answer any call that God shall press upon your heart, do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
SUBLIMITY OF JESUS
A. Contrast between
verse 3 and verses 4-5
1. Startling and
2. Disrobes and
B. God washing feet, an
expression of the infinite tenderness of God’s love
of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:23-34)
II. True Christianity
A. Willingness to be a
Doing not for the accolades and applause (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16)
B. County seat pastor
washing the feet of an infidel
C. Littleness demands
III. True cleansing (John 13:10)
A. We need to be