Served We Serve (John 13:1–20)

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.”

—John 13:3–5

The opening scene of the Book of Glory is one of the most humble in the life of our Lord. John is divided into two parts. The first half is known as “The Book of Signs.” Seven signs drive the narrative forward and are central to the express purpose of the fourth gospel.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

Chapters 11 and 12 have prepared you for what lies ahead in the second half of John where the cross of Christ is chiefly in view. Why have theologians referred to this portion of John, where our Lord hangs cursed and shamed on the tree, as “The Book of Glory?” Because the one who journeys to the cross is the Resurrection and the Life (11:25). Because this is the hour of His glorification (12:23). Because by the cross the Christ will conquer (12:31–33).

And so it is fitting that the opening episode of the Book of Glory would be one of striking humility. The washing of the disciples’ feet is not simply an overflow of Jesus’ love (13:1). It is no mere demonstration that Jesus loves them. It is an illustration of the love of Christ that will love them to the end. This act is a kind of sign of the sign of signs—the death and resurrection of our Lord. Our Lord’s taking on the form of a servant at the feast doesn’t shock when you realized how low He has already stooped in the incarnation. When one has already knelt so low, what is it to then reach the hand just a little lower?

“[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:17–18).

Jesus’ action at the feast perfectly illustrates what it means for Jesus to empty Himself. He didn’t become less in His being when He took of the towel. He humbled Himself. Likewise, when Jesus took on human flesh, He didn’t empty Himself of His divinity, but His dignity. All of Jesus’ earthly days He wore the towel of a servant in the wearing of His flesh. And now, that towel of flesh is soon to be rent so that sinners might be made clean.

After cleansing them, Jesus resumed His place. Having resumed His place, He again acts as their Rabbi and Lord, instructing and commanding them. Jesus’ actions here anticipate His ascent into glory, from whence He will send the purchased Spirit to redeem the elect children of God and guide them into all truth (12:16; 13:7; 14:26; 16:13).

In all of this, the service of Jesus is something utterly unique; something that cannot be replicated. And yet, because it is unique, it may be emulated. If the death of Jesus is simply an example, it is a horrid one. It is not loving to say to someone, “I love you so much I could die for you!” and to then kill yourself without meaning or purpose to prove your love. The love of Christ is not like that. And it is because it is not like that, in a unique sense, that it is exemplary for us in another. Because Jesus served us, we may serve others. We cannot serve so that sins are washed away, but we may serve to tell them of such a service. We cannot give our lives to make an atonement, but we may give our lives to tell of the atonement that was made.

Without penal substitution, Christus exemplar is meaningless. Both are true. One is paramount. Because Christ has served, we may serve. The cross of Christ that informs our service, empowers our service, and shapes our service is the message of our service. We are not to serve simply for the sake of serving. We are to serve for the sake of Christ. We are to serve because we have been served by Christ. We are to serve telling others of His service.

Salvation by Judgment (Jeremiah 25:1–38)

“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.

Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.

Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”

—Jeremiah 25:3, 12, 15

eric-gilkes-DNbdk2BM0_I-unsplashJeremiah 25 is a stout drink. It’s all judgment, 200 proof. Or perhaps we should say it’s 99.9% judgment. There is a hint of grace, but it’s easy to miss because it is disguised as judgment. That grace can dress as judgment should come as no surprise. The protoevangelion, that is, the first preaching of the gospel, was good news in just this way. Genesis 3:14–19 is all judgment but nestled in the judgment of the serpent is the implicit hope and salvation of man. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). That word of judgment was grace. Here, the disguise is simply harder to see through.

We shouldn’t miss the implicit salvation for the explicit judgement, for when salvation comes, it is certain to be salvation by judgment. What is subtle here is lurid in Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” However God saves, know that it cannot be in any way that compromises justice or righteousness.

The judgment of God is inescapable and inevitable. Judgment will fall and it will fall on every sin. Every injustice, every iniquity, every idolatry will be judged. You see this in how Babylon is used by God for judgment, and then judged herself. God’s judgment cannot be evaded. His righteousness cannot be compromised.

We have no hope that our sins might be swept under the rug. We, like Judah and the nations, have not listened. For this reason the wrath of God is revealed against us (Romans 1:18ff). We deserve to drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath and nothing more. Our only hope is that God would somehow act so that judgment would fall on our sins and yet not fall on us sinners.

The cup of God’s wrath is a common metaphor. In Isaiah 51 Yahweh promises grace to His people by judgment saying, “Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors…” (Isaiah 51:22–23a). Again, salvation for Judah comes by judgment. But still, how can the cup be taken from us? 

We find the answer in a garden where the only servant of Yahweh to ever listen perfectly and deserve no judgment prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus took the cup of the wine of God’s wrath, not because He failed to listen, but for our failing to listen. He drained it; finishing it off down to the bitter dregs, bearing the judgment of His people. Again, when salvation comes, it comes by judgment. We are saved because our sins were judged on another standing in our place.

Because judgment fell on the Just one, for the sins of the unjust, there is now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Saints, judgment has already fallen on this earth for our sins, but praise be to God, it wasn’t we who drank of that cup of the wine of wrath. It was drained for us by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He drained of the cup of the wine of wrath, we now raise the cup of salvation given to us by the exalted Christ.

A Drink from Brooks: If You’re Considering Sin, Consider Christ

The fourth remedy abasing this device of Satan is, Seriously to consider, That even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus. That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of his Father to a region of sorrow and death; that God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he who was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he who filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; that the almighty God should flee from weak man—the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God who made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade; that he who binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he who is one with his Father should cry out of misery, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46); that he who had the keys of hell and death at his belt should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body; that that head, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those eyes, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those ears, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that face, which was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that mouth and tongue, which spoke as never man spoke, accused for blasphemy; those hands, which freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross; those feet, ‘like unto fine brass,’ nailed to the cross for man’s sins; each sense annoyed: his feeling or touching with a spear and nails; his smell, with stinking odor, being crucified on Golgotha, the place of skulls; his taste, with vinegar and gall; his hearing, with reproaches, and sight of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his soul, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against sin, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed! —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices

The Apologist: Penal Substitutionary Atonement

If we forget the absolute uniqueness of Christ’s death, we are in heresy. As soon as we set aside or minimize, as soon as we cut down in any way (as the liberals of all kinds do in their theology) the uniqueness and substitutionary character of Christ’s death, our teaching is no longer Christian. —Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

The Blood Can’t be Drained Away, but It Can Be Applied (Exodus 12:1–28)

The Passover is a sacrifice-feast. No one would contend that it’s not a feast. Besides the eating, it’s explicitly called a feast twice in Exodus 12:14. Thus, no one contends that the Passover isn’t a feast, but some do want to say that it’s not a sacrifice. While no one could argue that Passover isn’t a feast, no one should argue that it’s not a sacrifice. The feast looses it’s significance if it isn’t a sacrifice-feast. Blood isn’t just drained so as to prepare a meal to eat. It is smeared and applied. The blood is a sign. Further, the Passover is explicitly called a feast in Exodus 12:27.

You can be certain that those who toy with the shadow do so because they hate the One who casts it. Academics and theologians revise the historical Passover because they hate the Passover Lamb who fulfilled it. They might say they like Jesus, but they’ve revised Him too. Why do they exert such mental muscle to cook up a Passover that’s nothing more than a commemorative meal celebrating deliverance? Not because they hate the idea of Passover as sacrifice, but because they hate the idea of the cross as sacrifice.

In 1993 at a “Protestant” conference one speaker said, “I don’t think we need a theology of atonement at all; I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.” Others say penal substitutionary atonement is “a form of cosmic child abuse.” Drain the blood, on the with the feast.

R.C. Sproul was once invited by a Quaker community to lecture on the relation of the Old and New Covenants. As he was unfolding the curse motif of the Scriptures and spoke of how Christ, as a substitutionary sacrifice bore the curse, someone in the back of the room yelled, “That’s primitive and obscene.” Stunned he asked, “What did you say?” With great hostility he repeated, “That’s primitive and obscene.” Sproul recollects, “At that point, I had recovered from my surprise, and I told the man I actually liked his choice of adjectives. It is primitive for a blood sacrifice to be made to satisfy the justice of a transcendent and holy God, but sin is a primitive thing that is basic to our human existence, so God chose to communicate His love, mercy, and redemption to us through this primitive work. And the cross is an obscenity, because all of the corporate sin of God’s people was laid on Christ. The cross was the ugliest, most obscene thing in the history of the world. So I thanked the man for his observation. But my point is that the man was extremely hostile to the whole idea of the atonement.”

Why do men hate it so? It isn’t because of refined and enlightened tastes. This isn’t like those who lash out against blood and gore in film and video games. The same chap who loves those games can hate the idea of the cross as sacrifice. Why do they hate it so? Because the Passover as sacrifice, pointing to the cross, undermines all human pride and gives all glory to Christ.

Pronouncing Repentance Correctly (Matthew 27:1-10)

The word used to describe Judas’ “repentance” is slightly different from the normal one. It has the same prefix, but a different suffix. It begins the same, but ends differently. Herein is a parable.

The camera that is intensely focused on Jesus’ trial and crucifixion pans away only twice; in both instances the focus is the failure of one of His disciples. You’re meant to contrast the two. Together, Peter and Judas are the best illustration of 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Douglas Wilson once tweeted, “As you contemplate repentance, be sure to distinguish ice shattering and ice melting.” Judas was shattered, but he was still ice. He was still cold. He was still hard. Peter was melted. Peter changed. Peter repented. Repentance does mean brokenness, but only brokenness coupled with warm faith.

Judas’ repentance is like that of Esau, Pharaoh, and Saul. It is, as Spurgeon quipped, “a repentance that needed to be repented of.” The prefix was pronounced perfectly, but the suffix was garbled. Pharaoh’s pronunciation of repentance sounded good at first, “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer (Exodus 9:27-38),” but he muddled the rest of the word, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses (Exodus 9:34-35).”

In Judas, Esau, Pharaoh, and Saul we see sorrow, conviction, grief, and remorse, but we do not see repentance, and one way in which we do not see repentance is that we do not see faith. Repentance turns from sin, to Christ. Judas ran to the priests seeking to make things right. If he had the eyes of faith, he would have cried out to the only one who could make things right. Instead of trying to pay back, He would have looked to the one who was paying. Instead of finding priests who care nothing for his troubled conscience, he would have found the great High Priest who alone could purify his conscience (Hebrews 9:14). Worldly grief leads to death. When you are truly aware of your sins, if you have not faith in Christ, your only other option is the deepest despair. Hung on a tree, Judas was cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

And here is where another, surprising, but comforting contrast pops out at us. We are not merely to compare Peter and Judas, but Jesus and Judas. Two men would hang on a tree this day. Both would be cursed of God. But whereas Judas was cursed for his own sins, Jesus was cursed for the sins of others. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).”

Let your despair, let your sorrow, let your guilt drive you to a tree, to a place of execution, to a cursed place of darkness, to a place of wrath and judgment. And may it be your sins upon that tree, but may it not be you. May it be Christ. Look to the cross of Christ and you will see both the ugliness of your sins, and the beauty of redemption. This is the only sight that can produce true repentance, because it is the only sight that can produce true faith.