|Our Y2K Challenge: Kingdom Living
January 2, 2000 / John 13:1ff
Well, here we are in Y2K — Year 2000. We didn’t melt down. We are not without lights, heat, and water. The phones work. Your ATM card still gives you access to your money – if you have any on deposit. Planes still fly through the sky. Missiles didn’t leave their silos to throw their nuclear weapons. Elevators, toasters, VCRs, hospital equipment, oil pipelines, global positioning satellites — all the things doomsdayers said wouldn’t work at the attempted computer rollover from the 20th to the 21st century are still functioning quite well, thank you! (If anyone here is ready with a cookbook on 100 Delicious Ways to Serve Beef Jerky, you’ll probably make a fortune now!)
We have lots to be thankful for today. The highly publicized "millennium bug" turned out to be the non-event most of us expected it to be. And the feared mass suicides among doomsday cults and terrorist attacks by political nuts didn’t materialize. So we’ve made it this far. We have crossed into a new century, a new millennium. Now we wonder what to make of it.
The reality that undergirds everything that will happen in the new century is this: Human nature will remain the same, and we will continue to contend with the constant tension between good and evil. If we reverence God and obey his counsel, we will fare well spiritually — in spite of any other factors such as a fumbling global economy, shortages of natural resources, or killer diseases. If we turn away from him and live in rebellion against his will, though, we will die spiritually — in spite of wealth, prosperity, or healthy longevity.
God alone knows the future, and you and I are along for a ride we cannot forecast. But what if we could sit with Jesus and receive his counsel for the new things ahead? I can recall a time twenty centuries ago when some people were in a room with him and pondering the fact that they were entering a new era whose imponderables stood to overwhelm them. I want to take you there and relive its essence with you. I want us to hear what was said that night by the Son of God and know that we still need to hear what he said as we face a future that we know will be filled with challenges we cannot even name.
Jesus lived among men in the certain knowledge that he would die at their hands. His rejection, betrayal, and crucifixion were no surprise to him. In the final few hours of his life, he sent Peter and John to make preparations in an upper room for a meal he desperately wanted to eat with the disciples before he left them (Luke 22:7ff).
When those thirteen men were all together in the room, Jesus shared with his apostles the secrets of the kingdom of God. Pilate would soon be cynical with Jesus about the possibility of being sure of anything. But Jesus was assured and confident. He spoke eternal truth to the Twelve that night. It was truth for the historical pivot that would eventually result in much of the world dividing time between B.C. (i.e., before Christ) and A.D. (i.e., in the year of our Lord). It was truth suitable for the first, seventh, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries. It was truth appropriate to the first and second millennia of the Christian era. And it is Y2K truth for anyone who will hear him yet.
The fact of the matter is that previous centuries, churches, and disciples have not paid a lot of attention to what Jesus said. It is too radical for most of us to receive. But we may be more historically, socially, and philosophically prepared for it at the start of this new millennium that at any time since the night these things were first said. The emerging paradigm that we call "postmodernism" is fertile soil for the planting of these kingdom truths again.
So I want you to hear what Jesus said that night in very brief overview. Then I want us to recreate the meal he ate with his disciples. Finally, I want us to leave here today with a call to embrace the kingdom of God as our Y2K-lifestyle ringing in our ears.
What is the kingdom of heaven? What sort of life would glorify God in the third millennium? What would be holy for us to do for him in the time remaining for us — before we die or meet the Lord in the air? Please hear three things . . .
The kingdom of God is humble service. That much should be obvious from John 13:1-7, where Jesus gets up from the meal, takes water and a towel, and begins to wash the feet of his disciples.
Proper etiquette for that night called for guests whose feet were dirty from walking through dusty streets barefooted or in sandals to have their feet washed by a household servant. Yet it is so lowly a task that a Midrash on Exodus 21:2 includes the washing of feet in a list of tasks no Jewish slave should ever be called on to perform. With the Twelve unwilling to wash the feet of their peers and equals, Jesus got up and washed the feet of his jaw-slacked followers. And, yes, Judas Iscariot was still present at that point and had his feet washed by the Son of Man he would shortly betray.
What do you see here? The event is certainly an insight into "the full extent of his love" (John 13:1c). This self-denying act of Jesus points to and prefigures his final and absolute self-denial at Golgotha. It was an act of service motivated by love. And it still challenges us. It certainly challenged those men that night — so much so that Peter protested that he would not allow his Lord to perform such a task for his sake. Jesus silenced him, however, and convinced him to allow it (John 13:8-11).
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:12-17).
Do you believe in washing the feet of others? You may need to do it literally in order to grasp the spirit behind it, but I don’t think Jesus was enjoining a church ceremony here. He was modeling a kingdom attitude that all his disciples are supposed to learn and live in following him. Paul wrote: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . ." (Phil. 2:3-5). Many scholars speculate that the "Carmen Christi Hymn" that Paul proceeded to quote at that point is an early Christian poem of reflection on the episode from John 13 about the washing of his disciples’ feet!
As with Peter that night, not everyone who has been washed externally is pure in heart. The Y2K-life that will model the kingdom of God must include purity of heart and will show itself in humble, self-denying service to others. A kingdom life is not egoistic and self-centered but God-centered and eager to help others.
The kingdom of God is loving concern within community. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).
The era we now refer to as "modernism" — roughly from around 1750 to 1980 — was characterized by competitive individual egos who resisted being vulnerable among their peers. Only those who have been humbled at the cross to see themselves as helpless sinners totally dependent on Jesus can be the raw material for a community of people able to love one another, care for one another, nurture one another.
This is a "new" commandment not so much because it is intrinsically different from the commands about love in the Old Testament or because of the broadening of the term "neighbor" that Jesus taught his disciples. Its newness is more nearly due to the divine empowerment of the love it requires by the Holy Spirit. Like those earliest disciples, our hearts are often "troubled" (John 14:1ff) by things we don’t understand. We sometimes feel that Macbeth’s lament is correct: "Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." In our troubled and troubling environment, we need a word from beyond to tell us there is meaning to our struggle. We need to know that a warm heart still beats behind the apparently cold indifference of life on Planet Earth. That word comes through and, in fact, is Jesus! To know Jesus is to know the Father (John 14:5ff). And the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the life-breath of God who makes the victory of a triumphantly resurrected Jesus available to the people of God in history.
Jesus’ title for the Spirit is parakletos, "the one called alongside to give aid." The New International Version translates the word "Counselor." Yes, the Spirit is our counselor. But he is far more. He is our empowerment as well. We don’t rely on simply having good counsel and knowing what to do. We learn to rely on his power at work in us to enable us to do what we know — what we’ve known for a long time — to do. "If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the original church, 95 percent of its work would have stopped," A.W. Tozer once said. "If he were to be withdrawn today, no one would notice the difference." Oh, I hope he’s wrong! But I fear he was right. So the call is for us to live a 21st-century life that is something other than isolated individuals doing our own things by our own insights and power. Like alcoholics seeking sobriety by being together, supporting one another, and challenging each other, sinners seeking holiness do it best together. Kingdom living is supportive life in a loving community by the power of the Spirit of God.
The kingdom of God is oneness in Christ. Toward the end of that fateful night, Jesus prayed what is sometimes called his High Priestly Prayer. He prayed for himself (John 17:1-5). He prayed for the apostles (John 17:6-19). And he prayed for us.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).
The work of the church requires two hands. One hand is gospel proclamation, and the other one is a tangible exhibition of the gospel’s power to build right relationships. The greatest barriers to bringing the world to faith are not bad preaching, bad music, and poor acoustics so much as the ugly realities of gossip, negative criticism, an unforgiving spirit, and the refusal of Christians to seek reconciliation with one another.
Our failure to have the influence we should on the world lies largely in the fact that we are battling Satan and his grip on the world with one hand tied behind us! I am committed to seeking and living the unity of the body of Christ with you. I won’t talk about you if I have some grievance with you, but you can expect me to talk with you. I plead with you to do the same with one another. And I thank you for following the leadership of our shepherds in affirming the unity of the larger body of Christ in events like this afternoon’s "Gathering 2000" at the Gaylord Entertainment Center and in linking arms with other believers this summer to help with the Billy Graham Crusade.
Do you know why it is important for us to pursue the unity of the body of Christ? It has been commanded by our Lord, for one thing. And it will be necessary to make an impact on a world that is disenchanted with "religiosity" (i.e., the structures and boundaries of traditional denominations) but eagerly searching for "spirituality" (i.e., meaningful truth about God, the destiny of mankind, and how to live wholesomely).
At some point after the washing of the disciples’ feet and prior to our Lord’s completing what he had to say on the life of the kingdom of God, Judas left. And Jesus was left to eat a special covenant meal with his disciples that anticipated life in the kingdom of God. He used the bread and wine already on the table, but he infused it with new meaning by connecting it to his body and his blood.
As we eat and drink together this morning, let there be no "Judas hearts" among us. No betrayers. No opponents to the Christ. But come to his table with those of us who renew our commitment at the start of this new year, century, and millennium to humble service, love within community, and oneness in our Lord. As you eat the bread, discern the body of Christ here of which you are a vital member; as you drink the wine, receive anew the cleansing that comes only by his blood — and rejoice.
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