I have been embarrassed that we are in Lent – we are approaching Easter – and I have been talking about the church as a body, and about spiritual gifts – which are important but it would be terrible if we didn’t give proper attention to the suffering and victory of Jesus. And Lent is a time to prepare. We shouldn’t just arrive at Easter and think that we can worship appropriately if we haven’t taken some time to prepare.
So, I thought today we might talk about both.
READ John 13:1-17
I am guessing that you think this is going to be a sermon about washing feet, following the example of Jesus. After all, that is what Jesus said: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” And you are right, in a way. We are to imitate Jesus but I want us to see how Jesus served using a variety of gifts here.
When I say that, something inside of me says, “This is inappropriate. This is an incredibly sombre and holy time and we talk about Jesus using spiritual gifts which seem exciting and fun.
But you know what? I think that internal check indicates that I have a wrong idea about spiritual gifts. Wrongly, I have an impression that spiritual gifts are like party tricks. You know, wouldn’t it be great to go around healing people? Wouldn’t it be fantastic performing miracles and prophesying? Even that unmentionable word “evangelism” would be fun if it was all done in the power of the Holy Spirit and masses of people were converted. But party tricks during the Last Supper? No, it just wasn’t that sort of occasion. Party tricks while Jesus was on trial or being killed? No, it is offensive to think like that.
So, where am I wrong? The spiritual gifts God gives us are not party tricks; they are ways to serve. That is really important for us to understand. Spiritual gifts are not party tricks; they are ways of serving. Jesus kept on serving and ministering to others throughout, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is about serving in the power of God. The fact that Jesus kept on serving, despite facing death, is just incredible. And what He said about washing feet actually is very relevant: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. Now that I have modelled serving, using the gifts God has given me, you also should serve using the gifts God has given you.”
But was Jesus really using spiritual gifts during this time? On the screen is the list of spiritual gifts that we put together last week. Can you see any there that Jesus exercised in the few verses we read?
- 1 – knowledge, faith
- 2 – hospitality???
- 4-5 – serving
- 7 – prophecy
- 8 – wisdom
- 10 – teaching
- 11 – discernment
- 17 – exhortation/encouragement
Might we also say that Jesus exercised the gift of leadership? Pastor (shepherding)?
Let’s read a few more verses. READ John 13:18-20.
Again, there is prophecy there – not just in the sense of knowing what would happen. Jesus said, ‘I am telling you now before it happens.” But it is prophetic in the broader sense of speaking God’s words. As we mentioned last week, Jesus said that He never said anything that came from Himself. He spoke only words that came from His Father. Everything He said was prophetic, including these words. There are some really profound things that He said here.
We also see the pastor’s, or the shepherd’s, heart in the words, “I am telling you this so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” This is the pastor investing in His flock, preparing them. They are going to experience all sorts of grief and doubt and fear and a sense of failure and so many other emotions, but Jesus spent this whole evening – and of course there is lots more that we haven’t read – He spent this whole evening preparing them: ministering to them, teaching, them, serving them. This is the Shepherd caring for the sheep.
We might also see Jesus the evangelist in this verse. His expressed desire is that they believe in Him. Again, His death is going to raise all sorts of questions about who Jesus really was and whether He was still worth believing in and following. But, if they could look back and say, “This happened exactly the way Jesus said it would” that would strengthen their faith – help them to know that Jesus really is the Messiah. Jesus the evangelist is giving them reasons to believe.
Maybe one other gift we see here – actually two other gifts – are in the last five words we read: “the one who sent me”. Jesus was sent, by God, into our world. The literal meaning of an apostle is someone who is sent. And coming from heaven to earth is the ultimate cross-cultural mission.
Maybe I am stretching things a bit further than you are comfortable with. My real point is that, in 20 verses, we can see Jesus ministering in quite a list of ways that match up with the spiritual gifts. Clearly there is nothing party trick’ish about this. It is not showy or contrived. It is just the natural way Jesus operated – always working, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the good of others – for the common good.
We could keep reading. Chapters 13 through to 17 all describe Jesus’ ministry to the disciples powerfully. We would see lots more teaching, comforting, encouraging, pastoring… Think of the words at the beginning of chapter 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubles. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
People have been quoting those words, at funerals, in particular, for twenty centuries. They are words of hope and comfort. Heaven is real; there is a place reserved for you in God’s house. Trust Him.
And there is a whole lot of teaching about the Holy Spirit. Jesus was leaving but He would return – in the person of the Holy Spirit. They would not be left alone like orphans. The Holy Spirit would be their advocate, their comforter, their teacher, the very presence of God with them. The Great Shepherd was preparing His sheep for their whole future.
His pastoral heart is visible when He explains His motivations for ministering to them this way.
- 13:19 – I am telling you these things so that you will believe. Likewise, in 14:29.
- 15:11 – I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
- 17:13 – I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
- 16:1 – All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.
- 16:33 – ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
Do you hear Jesus’ heart in those things?
- I want you to believe.
- I want you to have complete joy.
- I want you to not fall away. You are going to face opposition and danger and temptations and doubts. I am preparing you because I want you to be able to stand.
- I want you to have peace. There will be trouble but, remember, I am greater; I am victor; I have overcome the world.
Isn’t Jesus the most amazing pastor? Those are the motivations Jesus explicitly stated but we could add others that are very obvious. All of the teaching about the Holy Spirit. I want you to know the constant presence of God, enabling you and helping you in so many ways.
I want you to have hope.
John 16:20-21 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
The whole of chapter 17 is a prayer for them – and for us. Jesus no doubt exercising His gift of intercession. (So, there’s another gift.)
What if we added material from the other gospels? What if we carried on and studied the deep, deep prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where, incidentally, Jesus performed a miraculous healing, putting back on the chopped off ear of the High priest’s servant? (There’s another gift.) What if we looked at how Jesus conducted Himself throughout His trial and the Crucifixion itself? We would see on-going, Holy Spirit-led, supernatural faithfulness and serving.
In the passages about spiritual gifts there are a number of verses explaining the purpose of the gifts. We might look at this more fully again in the future but very briefly now, there are three purposes. The most general statement is in 1 Corinthians 12:7: The Holy Spirit gives these gifts “for the common good”. They are not just for us as individuals. They are for the good of everyone.
- They are not just for us as individuals but we can benefit from their use.
1 Corinthians 14:2 says that those who speak in tongues, speak to God. Tongues are a way to pray. And v.4 says that those who speak in tongues edify themselves. There is some personal value. The individual grows and is built up.
But 1 Corinthians is very clear that those gifts that serve others are far more valuable. Personal growth, sure, fine, but the far bigger purpose is to serve others. We might say that Jesus’ pray in the Garden of Gethsemane was for His own comfort and He needed that time with His Father to come to the point of submission and faith. No problem with that but it is also apparent that Jesus spent a lot more time focusing on the disciples and preparing them.
- The gifts are intended to build up the church.
That is both bringing unbelievers to faith – 1 Corinthians 14:28-29 talks about sinners being brought to conviction when they experience God through these gifts – and growing believers. Various passages talk about encouraging, strengthening, comforting, equipping God’s people, the church growing up as each part does its work.
That is what we see in Jesus right through this time before His death – building up the church, encouraging, strengthening, comforting.
- The gifts are given so as to bring God glory.
1 Peter 4:11 [use your gifts] with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is our model. Spiritual gifts are not party tricks. They are not even, primarily for our own benefit although there are benefits. What Jesus models is a constant use of God-given ability to build up the church – both bringing people into the church and strengthening and maturing the church – always wanting to bring glory to God. Jesus was always serving – even in the face of death.
Jesus, we want to be like You. We want to minister to other like that. We want to bring glory to God.