The Sublimity of Jesus
June 5th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
THE SUBLIMITY OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 13: 3-10
6-5-88 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we have come to chapter 13. This is the beginning of the “Holy of Holies” of the New Testament. There have been more tears that have fallen upon these pages than upon any other literature in human speech. And more hearts have been strengthened and comforted by these sacred chapters than by any other portion of the revealed Word of God.
We begin reading this morning at the thirteenth chapter and the third verse:
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.
Then He poured water into a basin, and begin to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
Then He came to Simon Peter—who was reluctant that the Lord should wash his feet;
… Peter saith unto Him, Thou shall never wash my feet. And the Lord answered and said, If I wash thee not, thou has no part with Me.
Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, then not my feet only, but all over, wash my hands and my head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet, but is clean every whit…
So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and sat down, He said, 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.
Now the exposition. When we begin reading this story of humility and service and condescension, at the third verse: “Jesus knowing that God the Father had given all things into His hands” [John 13:3]—when we begin with that startling and unusual pronouncement, “All things” in heaven and earth, created, uncreated, seen and unseen; all things are given unto the hands of Jesus from God the Father [John 13:3], then we are amazingly startled at the continuation of the narrative. He takes off His garments. He girds Himself with a towel. He pours water into a basin, and He washes the disciples’ feet, and wipes them with the towel wherewith He was girded [John 13:4-5].
It is as though the Lord God, in thunderous tones, calls the attention of the universe to this incarnate Son of heaven. And in startling anticipation, we expect the Lord God to reveal to us a burning seraph, or a flaming warrior with his sword of judgment unsheathed. And instead He presents to us a little humble mountain flower, or a small newborn lamb, or a wide-eyed innocent child.
The contrast is overwhelming and unimaginative. “All things are given Me of God the Father in heaven [John 13:3]: the whole vast illimitable creation that lies above us and the earth planted that lies beneath us and the future that lies before us. All of it is given into My hands.” Then He disrobes, and washes feet [John 13:4-5].
What do you think He will do when He makes the pronouncement that all things are given into My hands? Omnipotence, grandeur and glory: “All of it is given unto Me” [John 13:3]. Wouldn’t you expect Him to make some marvelous revelation of the secret of His incarnation, the humanity of His flesh? Or maybe He will call for His angels from heaven, and in dazzling, blazing glory they bring to Him the diadem that He left on His throne in heaven. And with one hand our Lord will remove the clouds that veil it, and with His right hand He will receive the crown of the seal of the universe. And the glory of that crown will dim the brightness and burning of the sun itself. That’s what we would expect when the Lord makes the announcement that all things, all things, are given of God into His hands. And instead, instead, He takes off His garments. He girds Himself with a towel. He pours water in a basin, and He washes feet [John 13:3-5].
In the highest consciousness of His Sonship, He stoops to this menial service. The glory of His kingdom is expressed in this lowly condescending ministry. And the fullness of His Sonship is expressed in taking off His clothes and girding Himself with a towel and pouring water in a basin and washing feet. Surely, surely, this is madness. What an anticlimax to God coming down from heaven in the form of a man! [Philippians 2:8]. Surely the sentences are frayed out into feebleness. Who could imagine such a thing: dignity, and honor, and glory, and power, and grandeur, and omnipotence, washing feet?
The repercussion of that is found so often in the Bible. For example, in
Luke 22:27, our Lord says, “Whether is greater, he that sitteth at the table, or he that serveth? Is it not he that sitteth at the table? But I am among you as He that serveth”—waiting on you—God waiting on you, God ministering to your humblest need [Luke 22:27]. It is unthinkable!
Or take once again, the greatest theological statement in human speech is Philippians 2: 5-11. There is no expression in human language that rivals the glory of this theological revelation in Philippians 2, beginning at verse 5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the morphē of God…” [Philippians 2:5-6]. What could that be, morphē of God, the “form of God?” [Philippians 2:6]. What kind of a form is God in? It is beyond our thinking. It is beyond our knowing. But Jesus, whatever form God was or is, whatever form God is in, Jesus was in that form.
“He, being in the morphē of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped”—to be held on to, “to be equal with God: but poured Himself out, emptied Himself” [Philippians 2:6-7]. There’s a Greek word here, kenosis, that is used to describe this theological statement; the kenosis of our Savior, the emptying of our Savior. “And took upon Him the morphē of a man.” We understand that, “the form of a man” [Philippians 2:7, John 1:14]. From the form of God, He willingly poured Himself out into the morphē of a man. “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” [Philippians 2:8]. Could you think of it? That God, God—He was in the form of God, and He took upon Him the form of a slave and became obedient unto death [Philippians 2:8], the most horrible death human genius has ever been able to contrive; to nail somebody to a cross.
And this is the pattern for us in the Christian faith: washing feet. In 1 Peter 5:5, he says we are to be clothed with humility. That’s the only place in the Bible where this word egkombōomai, egkombōomai is used. It means to put on the garment of a slave. We translate it “to be clothed with humility.” We’re to put on the garments of a slave and to serve God and one another [1 Peter 5:5].
Dear me! What a marvelous family in the household of faith if we all were like that. If I can run an errand, if I can do something good for you, if I can help or stand by, I am your slave. To be a doorkeeper, to be a lamplighter, to be a sweeper of the house, to work in the nursery, to take a little baby in your arms, to knock at the door, to pray at the bedside of someone who is ill—anything, Lord, anything; O God, what a faith and what a way and what a blessing, sublime and heavenly, like our Savior, washing feet, washing feet [John 13:5].
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Matthew—this Book of Matthew—in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], our Lord speaks of those who desire and covet and seek the plaudits and accolades of men. What they do, they do that they might be seen and praised. He speaks of those who give, sounding trumpets before them that all might see their largess. And the Lord says, “And they have their reward in full” [Matthew 6:2]. They get what they want, but that’s all. Then He speaks of those who pray and love to be seen. They have their reward in full [Matthew 6:5]. They get what they want. And He speaks of those who fast, who give themselves fully to a course in God’s grace and goodness. And they appear before men; sanctify, holy. They have their reward in full [Matthew 6:16]. They get what they want [Psalm 36:3-6].
But the Lord says, how preciously better what you do, doing not for the accolade, or for the praise, or for the election, or for the exaltation, or for the choice, or for the lifting up, just doing what you do for the love of God, and that’s all [2 Corinthians 5:14]. Sing, sing, just for the love of Jesus. Preach, preach just for the glory of God. Serve in the church. Pray, teach—whatever, just for the love of God. Oh, what a beautiful, precious way to walk in the light of the love and example of our Savior—washing feet [John 13:5].
One other marvelous, marvelous truth in this incomparable story: He comes to Simon Peter, and He is told by that outspoken apostle, “Lord, You will never wash my feet” [John 13:8].
“But if I wash thee not, you have no part with Me” [John 13:8].
Then Peter said, “Lord, not just my feet, but wash me all over” [John 13:9]. And Jesus saith unto him, and this is one of the great typifying truths of the Word of God: “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit” [John 13:10].
“He that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet” [John 13:10]. Two kinds of washings, two kinds of cleansing: one, when we’re cleansed, wholly, completely, washed, regenerated, born again, saved—just one time [John 3:7]. And then the daily cleansing as we walk through this world day by day, every day, asking God to forgive us for the weaknesses and for the derelictions and for the shortcomings of that day [Matthew 6:12]. That is one of the tremendous truths of God. We are washed, cleansed, saved, regenerated just one time—just once, never again, just once [John 3:7]. And then thereafter, day by day, we come to God and ask Him to wash our feet, to cleanse us from the weaknesses and failures of that day [Matthew 6:12].
I want to say a word here that to me is the plainest teaching in the Word of God. Contrary to what so many teach and believe—that we can be saved and lost, then saved again and lost, and saved again and lost, and we’re saved again and again and again, and we’re reborn again and again and again, and we’re regenerated again and again—oh, there are millions who are taught that and who believe that. There is nothing in the Word of God that even approaches such a doctrine and such a teaching as that. We are saved one time, one time only. We are regenerated one time. We are cleansed, we are washed one time, just once [1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 9:12]. Then after that, day by day, we come to our Savior and ask Him to wash our feet [John 13:3-17].
That doctrine, that revelation from heaven, that we are saved one time, one time born again, one time cleansed, one time washed, one time regenerated, just once, just once. A few days ago, in the state of Florida, there was executed a man in the electric chair by the name of Willie Darden. He had been accused of murder, murdering a storekeeper, and in that violence had shot two other people. He was tried. He was found guilty. He was remanded to the electric chair. And just a few days ago, he was electrocuted. The authorities in Florida say that they think that man, Willie Darden, was also the murderer of six or seven other people, but they had no proof for it. So they electrocuted him after trial because of the murder of that storekeeper and the wounding of two others. The authorities in Florida are convinced that this man, Willie Darden, murdered six or seven other people but they had no proof of it. They electrocuted him because of the murder of the shopkeeper.
Now suppose, in these days of the present—suppose in these days there is found evidence that this Willie Darden murdered this man, and then, other evidence they discover, and he murdered this man. For what purpose would the evidence be used, and what good would the discovery serve? For Willie Darden is dead. He is dead. He is dead! And, whatever else has no pertinency now. He is dead.
And that’s the way with me and my sins, and the judgment of God upon what I have done wrong. He took my sin. He took my place [1 Corinthians 15:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:8]. And He is dead! He is dead! He is dead. They took Him, and tried Him, and nailed Him to a tree [John 19:16-30]. And one of the soldiers thrust an iron spear into His side [John 19:34]. He is dead [John 19:30]. He paid the price for my sins [Romans 5:8]. He took my place [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He died for me [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He is dead! [John 19:30]. And you don’t die twice. And Jesus is not crucified again—just once, just once.
And that great doctrinal truth is so emphasized in this glorious ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. In the shedding of blood is our remission of sins [Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22, Leviticus 17:11].
And Christ does not offer Himself often…
But once in the end of the world—hapax, once—hath He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
As is appointed unto men hapax, once, to die, and after this the judgment:
So Christ was hapax, once, offered to bear the sins of many—just once, just once—and to them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
Just once, just once; He died just once [Romans 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18]. And a man is saved in that atoning death just once [2 Corinthians 5:17]. He is not crucified again and again and again, but just once, just once. And I’m saved and forever just once, just once [Hebrews 7:25]. And thereafter, day by day I come before Him and His love and grace, and ask that He wash my feet; that day by day, I be cleansed from the weakness and the sins and the failures and the faults of that day. But I’m saved. I’m washed. I’m cleansed just once.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought.
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.
[“It Is Well With My Soul,” Horatio G. Spafford]
Dead, just once, and I am dead in Him; resurrected to a new life in His glorious justification [Romans 4:25, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58]. My brethren, it’s a marvelous gospel. It’s a glorious gospel.
I am through, but I want to say a little addendum. When I speak to people who believe in being regenerated again and again and again—you know, you can be saved and you can be lost, and you can be saved and you can be lost—when I talk to them, they say to me, “You know, if I believed as you did—if I believed as you did, that you are saved one time and saved forever—if I believed that, you know what? I’d just go out here and I would just sin all I please, just all I want to. That’s what I’d do if I believed that.”
But you know what I tell them? I say, “I do that. I do that. I just go out here and I just sin all I want to. I get drunk all I want to. I whoremonger all I want to. I steal all I want to. I just kill all I want to. I just go out here and I cuss all I want to. I just go out here and sin all I want to. The thing that happened is, when I got saved I got a new heart, got a new soul, got a new life, got a new love. I don’t want to cuss. I just don’t. I don’t want to whoremonger. I just don’t. I don’t want to get drunk. I just don’t.”
It’s exactly as falling in love. If you ever fall in love, you will go the first, the second, the third, the tenth, the thousandth mile to bless and to please and to make happy that somebody you love. Man, that’s what happened when we fell in love with Jesus. He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He died that we might be saved forever, and you couldn’t help but love Him and try to please Him. “Lord God, I want to do this for You, for You.” And you’re unhappy if you’re in any other category, or in any other way, or in any other choice, or in any other action. You’re just unhappy.
If you’ve ever been saved, I don’t care who you are—if you have ever been saved, and you find yourself in a place of wickedness, you’ll be the most unhappy creature you ever could think for in your life. You’ll feel out of place. You’ll feel dirty. You just will. And I don’t care how you try, you’ll never get over that, because you’ve been saved. You’ve been born again [John 3:3, 7].
And the obverse that is true. If you’ve been really saved, ever really been born again, when you’re with God’s people, your heart will just overflow. You’ll love the songs that are sung. You’ll love to bow in the prayer. You’ll love an exposition of the Word of God. You’ll just love belonging to the family of God.
I’m so glad I belong
To the family of God.
Cleansed in the fountain.
Washed in the blood.
A fellow heir with Jesus
While I travel this sod.
I’m so glad I belong
To the family of God.
[from “The Family of God,” Bill Gaither]
I’ve been saved, been regenerated, been washed in the blood [Revelation 1:5]. Praise His wonderful name! We’re going to sing us a song now. We’ll pray while our orchestra makes it possible for you to find a place to come.
Our Lord in heaven, what a glorious gospel; no wonder the angels bowed down their heads from heaven to see it, and no wonder the disciples lifted up their faces to praise God for it. Wonderful, glorious Savior, what an infinite glory just to think that Jesus reached down and touched me; thank You, Lord, for that day when I turned in belief and acceptance. And thank You, Lord, for the years that have followed since, a part of the family of God. And in this holy and sacred moment, may others also join us, “I too love the Lord; see in His love and grace a blessing forever for me and my soul, and I want to praise Him with you.” God bless this appeal, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen.
In this moment when we sing our appeal, a family you coming into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you, or just one somebody you; in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, and there is time and to spare, and in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I stand” [Romans 10:9-17]. Come and welcome, while all of us stand and sing our appeal.