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Washing soles and soles

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Matthew 4:23, John 13:34-35

Houston Baptist University, my alma mater, required an identification card of every student every year. I still have mine for 1978, my junior year, with my picture complete with mustache and sideburns. Why have I kept it? Because my ID number that year was 666. Remember Revelation 13 and the prediction that the beast who will accompany the antichrist has the “mark of the beast,” 666. My receiving this number bothered some of my friends, but was no surprise to others.

Today let’s discuss the opposite subject: the mark of a disciple, a fully-devoted follower of the Lord Jesus. There is such a mark, and only one. How do we acquire it? With a washbasin and towel. Let’s see why this is so, and how we find our towel today.

Take God’s word to people

Matthew 4:23 says that our Lord “went throughout Galilee.” The Greek grammar shows that he continually, incessantly did this. Through all Galilee, the northern part of Israel, an enormous task. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, documents 204 cities and villages in Galilee, none smaller than 15,000 residents and a total population of three million.

Why did he go to them?

They were despised by their Judean neighbors in the south, since the majority of their population was Gentile. Greek language, pagan customs, and non-Jewish influences were everywhere.

But this area was extremely strategic. The Way of the Sea, one of the oldest trade routes in history, passed through it. Those reached here could touch people from across the known world. Jesus always sought to be strategic—so should we.

And their spiritual needs were great. Matthew 4:15 calls them “the people living in darkness,” “in the land of the shadow of death.” The Jews here were caught in the legalism of their Pharisaical leaders; the Gentiles were trapped in paganism. And Jesus always brought his light to those in the darkness. As we should still.

How did he go to them? With a three-part strategy we must follow today. First, he taught in their synagogues.

The synagogue service began with prayers, then readings from the Law and the Prophets. Then the address would be given by someone selected by the synagogue leaders. They had no “pastor” or permanent preacher, but rather invited guest rabbis or synagogue members to speak.

And so Jesus was given opportunity each Sabbath to speak in their synagogues, to teach them the word of God. In Isaiah 55:11 God calls the Scriptures “my word that goes out from my mouth” and promises, “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

To reach our Galilee we must teach the word of God to all who will come to hear it. To all who will join us in this “synagogue” for worship and Bible study. We must have space for all who want to come, from preschoolers to senior adults. And in that space we must teach the word of God, for the gospel it proclaims is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Second, he spoke in their countryside, “preaching the good news of the kingdom.” Jesus brought God’s word to those who would not or could not come to the synagogue to hear it. The “good news” that God loves us and has provided us a way to spend eternity with him in his glorious heaven. The good news “of the kingdom,” that God is our King and we are his subjects.

To reach our Galilee we must preach the good news of the kingdom to those who will not join us here to hear it.

Evangelism training and strategies are empowering our people to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors through their personal witness.

Media initiatives are being planned right now to communicate the gospel itself to our community effectively.

Missions strategies in our community and partnerships around the world are preaching the good news of the kingdom to multiplied thousands who will not come to our “synagogue” to hear the word of God.

And so we must have space for all we can train to do their ministries, to equip Christians to fulfill the Great Commission. We must have the latest technology to utilize distance learning in training believers across the city and around the world. In this way we will preach the good news of the kingdom more fully than ever before.

Heal bodies, heal souls

So Jesus taught in their synagogues and preached in their countryside. Last, he reached Galilee by meeting their personal needs: “healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

“Healing” translates the Greek word “therapeuo,” meaning to serve, to treat medically, to heal and restore. He healed their “diseases”—”nosos,” chronic, serious, life-threatening diseases. Cancer, strokes, heart attacks. And their “sickness”—”malakia,” occasional illnesses and problems. Every need gained his attention.

He did this healing ministry repeatedly.

Matthew 9:35 repeats this exact ministry strategy a second time in his work: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

The Gospels record 23 different healing episodes in two years. Not to mention episodes like the next verse of our text: “people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them” (v. 24).

And when he healed their bodies, he was then able to heal their souls.

Jesus healed the paralytic on his mat, and the crowd “praised God” (Matthew 9:8).

He asked two blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They replied, “Yes, Lord”—kurios, God. And he healed them (Matthew 9:28).

He healed two blind men outside Jericho: “Immediately the received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34).

He healed a leper, who “came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (Luke 17:15-16).

After he healed the man born blind, “the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (John 9:38).

And in our text, v. 25 says that “large crowds…followed him.”

Jesus met the personal needs of his hurting world, earning the opportunity to meet the spiritual needs. He showed the people God’s love in his own. When they believed that he loved them, they could believe that God loved them. Now, what does his ministry strategy say to our church and our lives?

Love as he loves us

Here’s the answer: “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). Here is the mark of a disciple, the proof that we follow Jesus: when we love as he loves us.

So how does Jesus love us? He showed us.

Earlier that night in that Upper Room, Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5). He washed their dirty, smelly, mud-caked feet. Judas’ feet. Peter’s feet.

Then he told them, “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” (vs. 14-15). When we show others unconditional, sacrificial, servant love, we prove to them that we follow Jesus. And only then.

Preaching doesn’t prove this—anyone can speak from a pulpit. Singing doesn’t prove this, or leading, or teaching. Only serving. Servant love is the disciple’s mark. When we meet the personal needs of our community, we earn the right to meet their spiritual needs. This was Jesus’ ministry strategy, and it must become ours.

The building initiative is nothing more than a large towel for us to use. When we give our community a recreation center, a senior adult center, a youth and preschool center, a library, a civic center, we meet their needs. When our people use these facilities to reach out to their neighbors, we wash their feet. We extend Jesus’ ministry. We build his Kingdom. We show our Jerusalem, our Galilee, that we are his disciples.

And so I am thrilled with this initiative, and invite you to pray daily for God’s clear will as we consider it together. But don’t wait for the building to find your towel. The Bible study materials today focus on the gift of prophecy, of preaching, and its significance. And God does use preaching to get his word to his world. But whether you have this gift or not, you can wash feet. You don’t need a pulpit to preach—just a towel.

Conclusion

Now Jesus is here. He has come from Galilee to Dallas. He is teaching his word, by his Spirit, in our synagogue. He wants us to preach it to our community. And he is ready to heal your diseases and sicknesses. He is ready to pardon your sins and failures, to wash away your past, to give you a new life and a fresh start. To wash your feet, and your soul.

And to examine your towel. The world rewards your title, Jesus your towel. Whose feet will you wash in his name this week?

I’ve told you of Dr. A. O. Collins, my father in the faith. My major professor in college, the brilliant scholar who befriended me and mentored me. He was part of my licensing and ordination, my father’s funeral and my wedding. Some years ago my first pastorate had a birthday party for me and invited him to come. He drove from Houston to Waco the night before, preaching in Waco that Sunday morning, drove to Ft. Worth that afternoon, and hid in the broom closet in the back of the Fellowship Hall for 45 minutes until it was his turn to speak. He stayed with us until ten that night, then drove back to Waco to get his wife, and then drove to Houston so he could teach his 8:00 class the next day.

Dr. Collins died last year. His family gave me much of his library. And an old, wooden tennis racket. Why? Because the first thing we did together, 25 years ago, was begin to play tennis. Every Friday, nearly every week. On that tennis court, and before and after, we talked together and prayed together, and he shaped and molded my soul.

To you it is a tennis racket, but it’s not. It’s a towel. Where is yours?