Entering the Crucible of Unbelief: Jesus and Our Pride

Sermon by David Felker on March 18, 2018

John 13:1-17

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Please turn with me in your Bibles to John chapter 13. John chapter 13. The passage begins on page 900 in the church Bible in front of you. Just before we jump in and read, something to consider. Last week, last Sunday night, you see the title in the bulletin. We started a new mini-series, “Entering Into the Crucible of Unbelief.” And we said that we all have things, we all have things, don’t we, that keep up from coming to Jesus. And tonight, you see the passage in front of you. We’re going to be looking at John chapter 13 at Jesus and our pride. Our refusal, our stubborn refusal to see ourselves as God sees us.


A few months ago I finished a Wendell Berry novel that split me open. The book is entitled, Remembering, and in it, Berry chronicles the life of a farmer named Andy Catlett. Andy Catlett lives and farms in Port William, Kentucky with his wife and his children and his parents. And one October at daybreak, as harvest was almost over, the field was almost finished, Andy was trying to clear one of the corn picking machines. And he gets out and he leaves the picker running and as he's trying to clear it, the machine took his hand. His right hand; his strength. And Berry writes that when Andy, when he lost his hand, he lost his hold of all that was dear to him. Because a major theme of the novel from that moment on is how painful it is, how painful it is for Andy to let anyone love him. The farm, as you could imagine, was difficult to manage, but everyone chips in. His parents, his neighbors even, even his children. Their care for Andy was inexhaustible. But how hard it was to receive that care. Berry writes, "Andy was moved by his son, Marcie, who was so able a boy and so willing to help, whatever it cost him. And often it cost him a great deal. There were days when Andy could not bear the eyes of his daughter, Betty, who saw everything. She saw everything, but still loved him." Their care was inexhaustible, but how hard it was for Andy to receive and rest in that care.


Berry writes that "Nothing in Andy's life had ever so drained him than having to receive and go on receiving, day after day after day after day, just to sit there and take it. He wasn’t able to pay it back. Just to sit there and take it. Their care and their charity." And the hardest person, the most difficult person for Andy to receive this care and charity from was his wife, Flora, who kept her vow in sickness and in health so faithfully. But Andy could not receive her love. And there was one intense fight between Andy and Flora whereafter it was over, Berry writes that "Andy did not trust her. Andy did not trust her to love him because Andy did not see himself as loveable." And so Andy left. He left Port William with his bitterness and his fear and his shame. He left his farm and his fields and his family. And much of the rest of that painful but redemptive story is Andy remembering that place and those people.


It’s the saddest story, isn’t it? It’s the saddest story, and yet I think we get it. How hard it is to receive and to go on receiving a love that does not depend on our usefulness, our beauty, our attraction, our productivity. How hard it is to receive that love. Another way to say it, “Do you have difficulty accepting that God loves you?” “God so loved the world.” Do you have difficulty accepting that God delights in you and not how useful you are to Him? Do you have difficulty accepting that the King of the universe will wash you? We sing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” But do we accept that? God loves you, God delights in you, God washes you. But the question that I ask myself as a struggling saint, the question I ask myself over and over again, and the question I am asked as a pastor over and over again, is, “How do I move those truths from my head to my heart?” You see, Andy Catlett received, he accepted Flora’s vow, “in sickness and in health,” but he couldn’t get it from here to here. He couldn’t get it from his head to his heart. It hadn’t dripped down. And that’s what we’re going to talk about tonight. Receiving and resting in the love of God in our lives.


And to do that, we need God’s help. So let’s go to Him in prayer. Let’s pray.


Our great God and heavenly Father, I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable to You. However we come tonight, we need You and we need You to come after us. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.


Let’s give our attention to God’s Word. John chapter 13, beginning in verse 1:


“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. 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, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’


When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand 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 just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’”


Amen. This is God’s Word.


As a child, this was my favorite weekend. As a child, this was my favorite weekend – March Madness. The opening weekend of March Madness. Some of you have no clue what I’m talking about. This weekend is the opening weekend of college basketball’s National Championship Tournament. It started Thursday. Games have been played for the last few days. As a child, this was my favorite weekend. Occasionally, my parents would even let me play hooky and pick me up from school at lunch on Thursday and Friday. This was my favorite weekend of the year. And many of you have been watching, I’m sure. Many of you have been filling out your brackets, I’m sure. Many of you have now thrown those brackets in the trash, I’m sure. But one of my favorite things about March Madness is the unlikely victories. Right? The underdogs.


I love the story of when Jimmy V, Coach Jim Valvano in his sixth-seeded NC State team, they beat the number one team in the nation, Houston – a roster filled with future NBA hall of famers like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. I love the story of the Butler Bulldogs. This underdog story in 2010 and 2011 and Coach Brad Stevens took them two years in a row, this underdog team, to the Final Four. And I love the Retrievers. Right? The Retrievers. This past Friday night, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County – who knew that place existed? The University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers beat the number one team in the nation, the number one overall seed, the team many had projected to win it all, Virginia. We love these stories.


And I come away from those games thinking, “What in the world did those coaches say to their team?” Like, “What were the words?” Like, “What were the halftime speeches?” I would love to have been there in 1983 as Coach Jimmy V walks into the locker room and to hear the words. I’d love to hear what he said to his team. Whatever was said, must have stuck with them and taken root in their hearts. And when I look at this text, some of you are wondering, “What does this have to do with our text?” This is a pale comparison, but here we have twelve apostles, and over and over again the refrain in the gospels is, “They do not understand,” and “They do not understand,” and “They do not understand.” And so this is a team we could say is “behind.” And yet, when we look at history, we see that God used these men, God used these men, minus Judas plus Paul, God used these men to change the world. God used these men. And so doubting Thomas goes to India. Andrew goes to the lowlands. Peter goes to Jerusalem and to Rome. John goes and helps establish the seven churches in Asia Minor. God used these men to change the world.


How did that happen? Well, there’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There’s the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling these disciples with the power of God. But I also think Jesus here speaking to His beloved friends about things close to His heart, I think these words must have taken root in them. We said this last week – the gospel of John is actually in two volumes. Chapters 1 to 12 and chapters 13 to 21. Chapters 1 to 12 is the book of signs. This is Jesus’ public ministry. And so last week we looked at Jesus’ seventh sign when He raised His friend, Lazarus, from the dead. It’s a signpost. And so that’s the book of signs. Chapters 13 to 21 is the book of glory. It’s not so much Jesus’ public ministry. We see here Jesus is no longer speaking to the crowds; this is a very intimate setting. In chapters 13 to 17, what’s called the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus is with His beloved friends, His disciples, and what He’s set to do in the Upper Room Discourse is this massively significant instruction. The next five chapters are almost entirely Jesus’ words to His disciples. And there’s a sense in which this is the game plan. This is the agenda. This is why they are in ministry. This is why they are suffering for the Gospel’s sake. It’s because of what Jesus gives them in this special time together.


And what I want to focus on with the rest of our time tonight, this chapter was preached earlier in the semester, and so I want to simply focus on this dialogue between Jesus and Peter in verses 5 to 8. And I want to look at two things. First, is pride’s evil twin. Pride’s evil twin. And then second, pride’s cure. Pride’s medicine. The healing of pride.


Pride’s Evil Twin

And so first, pride’s evil twin. If you look at verse 2, this is a dinner scene. This is the last meal. If you’ve seen the painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, Jesus and His disciples are at a giant farm table. Some commentators would say that’s culturally inaccurate. They’re most likely at a U-shaped table. If you’re into architecture, what’s called a triclinium, just a couple of inches off the ground, laying on their side. And normally, before supper the host would have a slave, a Gentile slave wash the feet of his guests. It was servants’ work. Only the lowest of servants would wash feet because in first century Palestine, the feet were the dirtiest part of your body. In a day when there was no asphalt, no concrete, you travel on foot. Remember the animals travel the same well-worn paths and so if you walk a mile to your destination, by the time you arrive your feet are foul and filthy and ugly and unclean.


And so look with me at the text. Verse 4, “As they were eating their meal, Jesus rose from supper.” He does what a Rabbi would never do. He takes off His outer clothing, He puts on the clothes of a slave – a towel around His waist. He pours water into a basin. He goes from disciple to disciple, from foot to foot, and washes the filth from between their toes. Until He comes to Peter, verse 6, and Peter says, “Lord, do you wash my feet? Do you wash my feet?” Peter is resisting Jesus and is reluctant, as well he should be, to have his Master kneel before him and wipe the foul and the filth and the ugly and the unclean from between his toes. And Jesus responds in verse 7, “What I am doing now, you do not understand. But after, you will understand.” And then in verse 8, Peter doesn’t back down. Peter barks out this really strong command that’s an emphatic, “Absolutely not!” It’s actually a double-negative. He says, “You will not not” – two different negative words, one after the other – “You will not not wash my feet unto the ages. Not to eternity. Not forever.”


Counterfeit Humility

Here's the crucial question. Is Peter resisting Jesus because of his humility? “You will not wash my feet unto the ages.” Is Peter resisting Jesus because of his humility? “You will not wash my feet forever.” Is this humility? “Not my feet. Not here. Not now. Not this. I don’t deserve this. I can’t accept this from You. I can’t let You do this.” You see, pride can be hard to spot because it can hide behind a virtue like humility. This is pride’s evil twin; it’s counterfeit humility. It’s pride dressing up in a costume. Peter’s problem is Andy Catlett’s problem and it’s our problem. “You will not wash my feet unto the ages.” Peter’s prideful response is in all of us. Pride will not kneel. Pride will not bend the knee. But pride will also not be weak. Pride will not and cannot be weak. Peter cannot receive and rest in God’s love on God’s terms – to receive and to go on receiving, just to sit there and take it with empty hands, God’s care and God’s charity.


One of the greatest stories of world literature became one of the most popular musicals in Broadway history – Les Mis. Many of you know the story based on the novel by Victor Hugo. As you may know, Les Mis is the story of Jean Valjean. Valjean spends nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. His sentence and his suffering are undeserved and this turns him into a bitter man. Upon his release, he seeks lodging at the home of a priest, the home of a bishop who treats him kindly. And yet in the middle of the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver and runs. The police find him on the run with silver in his pockets, a beggar. And they conclude this man must be a thief. And many of you know the story. When the police bring him back to the bishop’s house for identification, the bishop, instead of telling the police to throw him into prison, the bishop hands Valjean two silver candlesticks, implying that he had given him the stolen silver as well. This act of grace.


And Victor Hugo, in the novel, puts you inside Valjean’s head and Valjean’s heart after the bishop extends to him this gift of grace. “Valjean could not say if he had been touched or humiliated. At first in opposition to this celestial kindness, he summoned all the pride he could. He felt that the priest's pardon was the hardest assault. The priest's pardon was the hardest assault and the most formidable attack that he had ever sustained." Hugo, in another place in the story, referred to that as "the trauma of grace." The trauma of grace. It's like what Flannery O'Connor said about grace. That "grace must first wound before it can heal." Grace must first wound before it can heal. "You will not wash my feet unto the ages."


You see, there’s a thread that runs through Andy Catlett that runs through Jean Valjean that runs through Peter and that runs through us all. If we were to be honest, we would all struggle to receive that care and that charity from Flora. And if we were honest, we would all struggle to receive those candlesticks from the bishop. And I think if we were honest, we would all, like Peter, pull our feet back. We would all pull our feet back. Aren’t we with God like Valjean with the bishop, like Andy Catlett with Flora? Aren’t we with God like Peter with Jesus – pulling his feet back? See, we would say, we are more than ready to say, aren’t we, that we can teach our Bible studies for Him and that we can serve the needy for Him and that we can give of our resources for Him and that we can show hospitality to neighbors for Him, but to see Him kneeling before us and to receive and to go on receiving that care and that charity, and then living in that place – “You will not wash my feet unto the ages” – we would rather wash feet than have our feet washed. Do you see yourself in Peter? Peter who said, “Lord, I’d do anything for You.” Here, he says, “You will not wash my feet unto the ages.”


The Fight to Receive

Is it not the hardest thing? Is this not the fight of your life – to receive and to go on receiving a love that does not depend on our usefulness, our beauty, our attraction, our productivity? Is this not the greatest battle on the turf of our hearts? Just like the handicapped husband has nothing to offer back to his wife, day after day after day after day, he has to live in that weakness, so we have nothing to offer back to God to deserve His love. Jesus says in verse 8, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me, no inheritance with me.” And that’s our question tonight. Will you let Jesus wash you? Will you let Jesus be your cleansing agent? Will you let Him kneel before you and wash you? Is this story familiar to you? Is this story familiar to your heart, to the games that we play, to your movements away from God? Is this not the saddest story? And I think we get it. I think we get this story.


After all that we have seen, after all that the Lord has done to demonstrate His Fatherly care for us – that we’re kept, we’re known, we’re beloved, we’re bought, there’s no condemnation – after all that He has shown us, after all that He has done to prove that His posture towards us is not to condemn us, not to abandon us, but is to run and embrace and kiss us, I think we see what’s going on in Andy Catlett’s heart, in Jean Valjean’s heart, and Peter’s heart. I think that we know that story all too deeply. Is this story familiar to you? If you knew how much God loves you, if you knew how much God loves you, it would propel you, even and in spite of your weakness, it would propel you towards Him, towards receiving His care and receiving His charity and living in that place. John Owen says, “You have such difficulty believing God loves you, so you can no way more trouble God or burden God than by your unkindness in not believing of it.” He’s saying what displeases God the most, what burdens and grieves your God the most is your refusal to accept His love. Because God knows how unwilling is a child to come into the presence of a parent if the child thinks that the parent is disappointed. Owen is saying this grieves God the most because what God wants the most is communion. It’s communion with His child. “You will not wash my feet unto the ages.” That’s the first point. It’s pride’s evil twin.


Pride’s Cure

Second, and last, and briefly, is this. What is the cure? What’s the medicine? What has Jesus offered to us in terms of healing? You have to receive and you have to go on receiving what Victor Hugo called “the trauma of grace.” You have to receive and you have to go on receiving the trauma of grace. If you look at the beginning of our text in verse 1, we read that “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who are in the world, he loved them to the end.” And so at this Last Supper, Jesus is doing more, He’s doing more than just giving them an example. When He says, verse 1, that He "loved them to the end," that means not just chronologically to the end of His life, but it means perfectly; the full breadth of His love. That's why when He says in verse 7, "What I am doing you do not understand now. After, afterward you will." He means after His death; after tomorrow. And later, after His resurrection. So Jesus is giving them a kind of dramatic parable of all that He came to do. The full breadth of the love of Christ is not that He humbled Himself to wash feet. It’s that He humbled Himself again, as Philippians tells us, “by taking the form of a slave, He emptied Himself, made Himself no reputation, humbled Himself even unto death, and death on a cross.”


In other words, what Jesus is saying to Peter is this. “Wait until tomorrow. Wait until tomorrow, Peter, because I’m not just going to pour out some water to wash the dirt off your feet. I’m going to pour out My blood to wash the sin out of your heart. Wait until tomorrow.” And I think Peter realizes, “If I have the choice between my pride and Jesus, forget my pride. Forget my pride and give me Him. Give me Jesus.” You look in verse 9. It’s like the light goes on at Peter’s reaction. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” It’s like he’s saying with the psalmist, “Deep clean me. Create in me a clean heart. Wash me whiter than snow. Here are my hands and my head and my feet. Make me clean. Wash me thoroughly. Cleanse me from all iniquity.” The medicine to your pride is to let Jesus love you, to give into it, to surrender; to surrender to the trauma of grace and to go on surrendering every day.


Will you surrender to it tonight? Will you surrender to it for the first time maybe? Or will you surrender to it for the thousandth time? There are some here, myself more than anyone, who have the hardest time opening your dirty feet and opening your dirty heart to the King of the universe and letting Him do what only He can do. I wonder about this passage sometimes. I wonder if Peter ever thought about it. I wonder if maybe months or even years after Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, maybe in the dark night of his soul as the heaviness of his shame is pressing down on him, I wonder if Peter ever thought about verse 9 and clung to these words. “Peter, you are clean”? I want you to hear this. You do not have to get it together. You do not have to pretend that you are someone other than who you are before God will wash you. You do not have to be good enough but you do have to believe that He is good enough, that God is good enough. And so if you, like me, know the words, “You will not wash my feet unto eternity, unto the ages,” if you know those words all too well, I beg you tonight to forget your pride and come to Him. Will you? If you don’t know where to start, where to look, what to say, what to do, simply say, “Give me Jesus. Forget my pride. Give me Jesus.” “Come ye weary, heavy laden, bruised and broken by the fall. If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. Not the righteous, not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to call.”


I’ll close with this. My son, Marshall, is three. He has a favorite shirt that he wears often at night. It’s a Star Wars shirt, and on it, it has kind of the main guys. It’s got Darth Vader and some of the droids, R2-D2 and CP-3O and Yoda. And it’s a Christmas shirt. All of these Star Wars characters are dressed in Christmas outfits. And Marshall wears it year-round. And so a couple of weeks ago, we were in the den and I think he was playing Legos, I was trying to talk to him, he had this shirt on, and I just said, "Hey Marshall, I really like your shirt. I think it's cool." And Marshall said, "Thanks, Dad. I like it too." And I said, "Where did you get that shirt?" And Marshall said, "Sue Sue got it for me.” That’s my mom; his grandma. He said, “Sue Sue got it for me.” And then he kind of kept doing his thing and playing Legos or whatever and there was, you know, moments that passed. And kids do this. He kind of entered back into that conversation a minute later. “Sue Sue got it for me.” A minute later, “Yeah, she loves me.”


And when he said that, I mean, we’re talking about Star Wars shirts, somebody started cutting onions in our house and that got me! That got me in a deep place! It got me in a deep place. It’s a simple story. The faith of a child. There is something about the simple trust of a three-year-old boy. The simplicity of his statement that so often eludes us. “Yes, she loves me.” What’s the medicine for your pride? It’s to receive and to go on receiving the trauma of grace. It’s to receive and go on receiving the love that Jesus has for you. And Peter says, “Not my feet only, Lord, but also my hands and my head.” Consider that an invitation tonight. Amen. Let me pray for us.


Our great God and heavenly Father, help us to receive Your love on Your terms and to go on receiving. We pray that You would give us Jesus and we pray this in His name. Amen.

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