The month of July will focus on the nervous system. The nervous system is the collection of the nerves in our body – a system that allows the body to experience life – both good and bad. For instance, most mornings, my nerves send a signal to my brain that gets interpreted as my back is sore. Many of you can relate. Other times, my nerves send an impulse to my brain which says my wife grabbing my hand is pleasurable. Or perhaps, you eat something new that is interpreted as delicious. Or you smell something that your brain finds repulsive. So, the nervous system allows us to experience life as we react to our various senses.
The sense of sight may not be the most powerful (some experts say smell is the strongest of our five senses), but sight triggers more than our senses. While any sense is able to trigger an emotional response, modern technology allows sight to do so through various mediums like TV. For years advertisers have used this idea against us. For instance, have you ever noticed how much better a pizza looks on TV than it does on the pizza tray on your table? Or think about all of the starving children you have seen on TV, or the computer. You do not need to have the sound on for the emotions to be activated. You do not smell anything different, nor are you touching or tasting anything different, it is simply your sight that sends a signal from the optic nerve to the brain which then triggers some sort of emotion – and the advertiser hopes it is one of mercy (or perhaps pity).
Sight also allows us to discern how others are responding to our teaching, our feedback, etc. Certainly, Jesus could see the looks on His disciples faces as He taught them. Facial responses help us to know if someone is angry, confused, or perhaps has an “Aha!” moment. All of this comes from the sense of sight. But more importantly than seeing something needs to be done is to determine what should be done because of what we see.
The nervous system cannot instruct us on what to do; it only alerts us to the fact that something needs to be done. The focus for the church then is that our nervous system as a church should cause some sort of response. That response first is a recognition that something needs to be done, then knowing what to do, and finally, doing what needs to be done.
As we review John 13 this week, we will see that it was a sensitivity to others that caused Jesus to serve others, and that should prompt us to do the same.
Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end. In fact, he really only had one major act of ministry left before He would fulfill His ultimate ministry purpose – defeating death for those who believe. In fact, as part of Jesus’ final words prior to the story we will review today, that is what Jesus said, “I have come to save the world” (John 12.47). But in this final night with His closest followers, Jesus has a couple of important lessons for them – they are to serve and they are to love (which echoes what Paul wrote to the Galatians as we saw last week, Galatians 5.14).
Jesus Shows His Disciples What It Means to Serve (John 13.1-20)
A review of the other accounts of the Gospel show that Jesus had made intentional preparations to spend this last night with His disciples (see Matthew 26.17-19; Mark 14.12-16; Luke 22.7-13). He knew what was coming; they did not. Verse 1 says that Jesus knew the hour had come. During the dinner, Jesus first provides a lesson of service. Why? Because He could see that the disciples had not yet fully grasped what Jesus wanted them to do.
Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
After washing, Jesus returns to His place and shares the reason for this lesson of service (John 13.12-20). Most importantly, Jesus teaches that even though He is the teacher, He has served them. And then He instructs them that they must be willing to do the same. Jesus has seen that something needs to be done – an example must be set. Jesus knows how shocking the example will be in the culture, but He knows what must be done – and He does it. Finally, Jesus does more than simply think about what must be done, or talk about what must be done, Jesus does it.
Then Jesus tells His disciples that this is an example of what they must do.
Much can, and should, be said about other significant components of this passage (e.g. the cleansing Jesus offers, or that our Teacher would serve us by dying for us, etc.), but for today, the focus is simply upon the act of service. But the rest of this text reminds us that the service is to be done in love.
Jesus Commands His Disciples to Love (John 13.31-35)
Jesus speaks of His betrayal by Judas in the verses following what we just reviewed before giving the disciples a new commandment. Before we get to this new commandment, notice that Judas was still with Him at the table (vv. 22-31, particularly 26-27). This fact is significant because it means that Judas was among those who had his feet washed by Jesus. We should not infer from this that Judas was born again, but we can conclude that our service is not meant only for those whom we like, or more directly here, who have our best interest in mind. That is, we are to serve others – beginning with those in the church, but that does not mean we neglect those apart from the church. Why?
Because of love.
Our love and care for one another is proof that we are disciples of Jesus. Again, Jesus saw a need. Something needed to be done. We do not have to look hard for evidence that the disciples were often arguing with one another. At times, that argument was about which of them was the greatest (e.g. Mark 9.33-34; 10.35-45). Jesus was obviously the greatest, and yet He humbled Himself. Now, He was clearly stating that He was about to leave, and thus, for them to continue what He had started. To continue required just two characteristics – service and love. And not just a token expression of love; rather they were to exhibit the same kind of love for one another that He had shown to them.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is true for us today. We also prove that we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another. Again, that love must go beyond the walls of this church body, but it begins with a love for those who are a part of this church body. If we can’t do that, then we must question our dedication to Jesus because it was He who said that love would be our proof.
I began this message speaking about the importance of the nervous system. But we must remind ourselves that the nerves themselves are only informative. Once the brain receives the signals, then the information is considered and a decision is made. The decision could be to do nothing, or it could involve doing something different. Those decisions could be relatively minor such as shifting our head to see something better or more major like deciding to put on a coat and gloves because it is cold outside (wishful thinking in July!). Regardless, our senses reveal the current information, and then we must decide what comes next.
The truth is that oftentimes our senses reveal that something must be done. Then we must decide what that something is. What should be done? Do we know how to do it? Could someone else help us? Etc. But then, once we have asked those questions, action should be taken. I understand that sometimes inaction is the appropriate action. But often times not acting is from laziness or worse apathy. However, intentionally choosing not to act is still an action. The key is having the wisdom and the courage to know what to do and to do it.
In 2 Chronicles 1, the Bible records the story of a young Solomon praying for wisdom. The result is that God grants Solomon the wisdom he desired, and Solomon is considered the wisest man to have ever lived. (I would clarify the wisest besides Jesus.) But wisdom is both knowing and doing. Solomon knew a great deal, and did many things too, but evidently his wisdom did not fulfill him. Remember, the writer of Ecclesiastes, often presumed to be Solomon, wrote that everything is meaningless.
Jesus, on the other hand shows the purpose of wisdom. That is, the purpose of both loving and service is to bring glory to God (see John 13.31). If we desire to be wise, we must be willing to seek to understand, to learn what must be done, and then to do it – not for our purposes, but for God’s. As we live our lives in obedience to Christ, we will then find our senses heightened so that we will have more opportunities to serve and to love and thus to bring God glory.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is: J – JESUS.
More than knowing He had to set an example of service, Jesus knew His true purpose was to die for our sins and raise again so that we might live. Again, He knew something had to be done. He knew what to do, and actually let what needed to be done happen to Him, having the courage to do it. And that courage brought a glory to God that would not otherwise be possible.
PRINCIPLE: A follower of Christ is to serve and to love in order to bring glory to God.
QUESTION: Whom can you love by serving them unexpectedly this week?
OPPORTUNITY: We often know something must be done, and sometimes know what is needed, but we do not act. Act on what needs to be done this week.
NEXT STEP(S): LOVE: Partaking of the Lord’s Supper