WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
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. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 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, 4 rose from supper.
He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 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.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 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.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 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. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
— John 13:1-20, ESV
Death has long taken all of my grandparents and both of my parents, much too soon in almost every case. This makes my generation of the family up next, but death has yet to come knocking on my or any of my siblings’ door. However, it has recently reached out to a dear old friend.
Raymond and I attended the same high school and college, played baseball together, were roommates, and graduated together. He had a bout with cancer a few years ago and was successfully cured. Sadly, it has now returned, and this time there is no operation or treatment that can stop it. His doctors have told him he has mere months to live.
I’ve been trying to get inside his shoes, but I do not think you can walk in them unless you are actually wearing them. Perhaps you’ve had friends or family members who had to take this walk, too. What must it be like, to be told you have months to live? What if it were weeks, days, or the final hours? What would you do if you know you were going to die?
The answer to all questions in the Christian life, and Christian death, is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the Lord is omniscient, He had the luxury, or the agony, of knowing exactly when He was going to die. As John’s Gospel turns to its second half, we see how Jesus faced His final “hour.”
Get together with your true friends.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette features a “High Profile” in every Sunday edition of some good person who has done some good work in our state. One of the questions they are asked is who would they invite to a fantasy dinner. The answers are very revealing of someone’s personality and priorities.
When Jesus faced His final hour, being the Creator of the world, He could have summoned anyone to dinner. He could have compelled Tiberius Caesar to come, or his spineless governor Pontius Pilate. He could have commanded Caiaphas the High Priest to sit before Him, or assembled the whole Sanhedrin. He could have made it a family dinner, with mother Mary and His earthly half-brothers and half-sisters, whose faith was very much in question at this point. He could have made it an evangelistic event and sat with unaffiliated Jews or curious Greeks.
But Christ chose to meet with those He had chosen. His final fellowship was with the first Christians. This was a church dinner, with Jesus at the head of the table, circled by eleven imperfect members and one perfect traitor, whom we shall discuss more fully in the next sermon. With every option at His disposal, this is who Jesus invited to the last supper.
The most important person in the world to you should be the Lord Jesus Christ, and the most important people on the planet should be your fellow Christians, your likeminded brothers and sisters in Christ. You will find them in your local church. Get together with all of them every Sunday, get together in small groups of them for prayer and Bible study, get together with a few of them over food and fellowship, get together with them two by two and go into the highways and the hedges to reach out to others.
Christians should prioritize gathering together with the local church. That’s what Jesus did, even in His final hour. If you don’t do so regularly, either something is wrong with you or something is wrong with your church.
Wash their feet.
This old fashioned foot washing has a literal interpretation, rooted in history, and a spiritual meaning, grounded in theology.
Literally, this is what people of the first century did when they hosted a dinner party. Roads were dusty. Footwear consisted of sandals at best and bare feet at worst. If the family owned slaves (about a third of the Roman Empire were slaves at that time), a lowly servant would wash the guests’ feet. If no slave was available, a family member would have to volunteer. Otherwise, the house would become filthy fast. In the East, it is still a common courtesy to remove one’s shoes when entering a home. In the West, we have doormats. I suppose these are the modern ways of washing feet.
At Jesus’ foot washing, His fledgling church had come to a prepared upper room that evening for the Passover meal. Everything was in its place. There was bread, wine, food, utensils, plus a basin and a towel. Peter thought James would do it, James thought John would do it, John though one of the other disciples would do it. I think they were all ashamed when Jesus got up and did it. But the Lord was glad to do it, for the heart of Christ and the heart of Christianity is serving others, beginning with the household of faith.
This is the literal lesson here. It is not that we should have ritual foot washings added to the sacraments and ordinances of the church, although on occasions I have ceremonially washed others’ feet to make a point. It is not that the low man on the totem pool should do the most laborious task. It is that all Christians should be on the constant lookout for ways and means to serve the church.
May I preach you a sermon? May I keep your child in the nursery? May I pray for you? May I bring you some food? May I offer a smile or a kind word? May I, may I, may I, should be the constant question of the Christian.
There is also a deep spiritual meaning in what Jesus did, too, inadvertently pointed out by Simon Peter, who put his foot in his mouth when it should have been in the basin. But the faux pas allowed Jesus to explain that we all need one spiritual bath, but many a spiritual cleansing. We become Christians in one born again experience, one baptism of the Holy Spirit, one bath, and we are forever clean before God. But we still sin, need constant confrontation with the word of God, constant prayers for forgiveness, constant spiritual foot washing to make our walk with God right and rewarding.
Once again Christ highlights the hallmarks of His church. We come together regularly for spiritual food and spiritual cleansing. We come to hear God speak to us in word, sacrament, and Spirit; and, we come to speak to God with prayers, praise, and worship. Every time we gather God is washing our feet.
Leave the basin and the towel behind.
We all should think about what we will do when faced with our final hour. It may not confront us with a cancer diagnosis, or as in Jesus’ case, a cruel cross. But it will come, and one day we will be gone. We are all predestined to leave this world at a particular moment, but what will we leave behind?
If I could write the script for my death, it could come on a Sunday. I want to spend it with the church. I want to preach the gospel. Then, I want to go eat some fried chicken, take a nap, and wake up in the arms of Jesus.
I will leave behind a nice library of books, which Andrea can give away or sell. I hope to leave behind a strong church body and a nice church campus, beautiful and functional and inviting in every way. But none of that matters if I have not picked up the basin and the towel from Jesus, used them well, then left them for others to serve after I am gone.
A life without Jesus Christ is a wasted life. But confessing Christians can waste their lives, too. If they neglect the church, if they don’t find ways to serve one another, if all they leave behind is money or stuff, it could be that they will have wasted their lives, too.
Do not miss Heaven by neglecting Christ and His cross. Do not miss the joys and rewards of Heaven by neglecting the church, and the basin and the towel. Cling to Christ, cling to Christ’s church, and give a life of service to God, God’s people, and others. This is what you do when you know you are going to die.