The Towel That Can Only Be Picked Up by You by Rick Burdette
2 Corinthians 1:1-1:7
THE YEAR OF THE TOWEL – The Towel That Can Only Be Picked Up By You
2 Corinthians 1:1-7 (pg. 803) January 31, 2016
[“The evening meal was in progress and, the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power; and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He 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 them.]
We are told in Luke’s gospel, that right after Jesus says He will be betrayed by someone who shares this meal with Him that the disciples begin to argue…they discuss among themselves who it will be…and the argument begins to focus on which of them was considered “the greatest” (Luke 22:24).
Pretty human behavior huh? They try to overcome their fears of failure by posturing for power…Can’t you imagine this dispute includes things they’ve done, places they’ve been with Jesus, sacrifices they’ve made…Things they thought made them great in God’s eyes. But God’s eyes are right there looking at them, listening to the argument…so God speaks…Listen:
LUKE 22:25-30 (p. 735)
I wonder if it was around this time that Mrs. Zebedee…James and John’s mom asks… “Now about that table, how ‘bout letting my boys sit right next to you…they’ve earned it, haven’t they?”
And chaos breaks out as the others become indignant and jealous.
I don’t know the chronology of how it all happened…but it all happened right before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion…probably within 24 hours.
So intentionally picking up a servant’s towel to meet someone else’s need probably wasn’t even something they considered. This would make the others see me as weak and anything but great…each of the King’s followers refused…so the King Himself picked up the towel and served them.
Clearly this King was different…even in the midst of the most troublesome and heart wrenching time of His earthly life…His focus is on the needs of others.
I. THE COMFORTER IN ALL OUR TROUBLES
The Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Corinth…it’s his second letter to them, and the Corinthians have shown very human behavior in their journey to follow Christ…divisions and arguments about greatness and popularity, sexual sins, suing each other, commitments made and broken, concerning giving, even doctrinal struggles with the resurrection and worship…This Church was filled with people who had sinful pasts…but had been washed, cleansed and redeemed through the Holy Spirit, but old ways are hard to forsake…selfishness is hard to crucify. Servant towels are hard to pick up, especially when your focus is on your own struggles…“My feet are dirty…I need a slave to wash them!” is almost always how each of us think…it’s natural.
Thinking about comforting others when you need comfort is supernatural…thinking about others dirty feet when yours will be nailed to a cross shortly is…well, nothing short of God-like…no wonder Paul says:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.”
Jesus said much the same thing when He told us “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.” (John 16:33)
The “these things” he had just told His disciples was “I’m leaving…I’m going back to my Father…and you can’t come right now…but I’ll come back for you one day.”
One of the greatest schemes of Satan is to try and make us believe our lives here on earth should be about comfort and self fulfillment…that most of our 79.5 years should be…without conflict…or trouble…it’s a lie…
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It’s natural to hope for good things…hope is one of the two things we can’t live without…Air and hope are essential. But you don’t need a “comforter” if you’re always comfortable…and one of the most important motivations for our faith is…Our hope isn’t in the temporary…our hope isn’t in the things we see…our hope is in the eternal and the things we can’t see! In our text Paul mentions troubles, suffering, and distress…but 8 times in those 5 verses he mentions God’s comfort.
And for those who have experienced this comfort in the midst of suffering, trouble and distress…He says, “We don’t pick up the towel of Jesus only to bitterly cry into it…we pick it up so we can lay it on the wounds of others.
“Our hope is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
“God comforts us…so we can comfort others in trouble.” This is real ministry. And if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ…only you can choose to pick up this towel in your life.
This is why Jesus came and why He saved us. The writer of Hebrews wrote this about Jesus:
HEBREWS 4:14-16; HEBREWS 5:7-9 (p. 840)
God became flesh…He understands suffering, trouble and distress. He faced it all without sinning. He died in our place, was buried, rose again and ascended back to the Father, where He now is, until He returns. Perfect, obedience learned through suffering. He is the source of all salvation…and intercedes for our mercy. He is the High Priest that now represents us before God…and He understands by experience.
How can the world understand the good news of Jesus unless it’s an answer to the world’s bad news?
II. OUR TOWEL OF HOPE IS WHAT HURTING PEOPLE NEED
Our story of God’s goodness is one of the most powerful tools of the Holy Spirit.
You see Jesus said, “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father if perfect.” (Matthew 5:45-48)
Believers live in the same world as unbelievers. God’s children encounter the same mixture of good and bad according to God’s purposes. But our response to it when it comes to how we relate to people, shows who our Dad is…and our hope for eternity shines…in a very clear difference to the unbelieving world.
If you are a disciple who’s suffered, do you still believe God is good? Do you still believe He loves you and has a plan? I ask that sincerely because you will hear two voices speaking to your spirit in these times…The Holy Spirit who is the comforter…telling you “Take heart, trust God, nothing will touch you that doesn’t pass through Jesus’ nail scarred interceding hands.” But you will also hear from the adversary…the Evil One, the inventor of lies “God must not love you to let this happen…If He was really in control He’d of stopped it immediately. Your plans are over!”
Abraham heard both those voices as he walked up the hill with Isaac. Moses heard those voices as he stood trapped at the Red Sea. Jesus heard both those voices in the garden and as He carried His cross up Calvary. But trust, faith and obedience let God provide a ram, part a sea, and produce a resurrection.
The world needs to know that our God is bigger than any struggle. His plan is at work…and His people really believe it. Our Father, our God, Jesus Christ His Son is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. No matter what the trouble is…He’s in control…Our comfort abounds through Christ, we patiently endure because some day He will wipe away every tear with His own hand.
I’m not sure what kind of towel He’ll use…but it’ll be the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.
Until this happens each of us have an opportunity to minister to those who have hurt like us…some of the most powerful words of hope that can be spoken are “I know how you feel.”
I would warn you though…be careful about speaking those words if you don’t!
Comforting someone with the same comfort you’ve received is one of the most unselfish and powerful acts of ministry possible. And only you are able to pick up this towel…no one can share your experiences and God’s goodness in your life, but you.
It takes trust and sometimes time to walk back into the burn unit, or the hospital, or the recovery group.
But it’s my firm belief that when you use your greatest hurt for ministry you have come to understand God, the Father of compassion and comfort in the most intimate way.
The truth is trouble does one of two things to us…it will make us better…or it will make us bitter…And as a child of God His plan is ALWAYS to make you and me better.
Romans 8:28 promises “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
And then verse 29 tells us His purpose…“So that we might be conformed to the image of His son…that He might be the older brother among many brothers and sisters.”
God is more concerned with molding our character than making us comfortable.
[One of my best friends died a year ago…He’d asked me earlier to preach his funeral while Kari and I were at lunch with He and his wife Alyson. It’s hard to tell you, unless you’ve been there…how emotional that was…6 months later. I got to honor my friend Greg…by fulfilling his wish…Through his battle with cancer Greg, preached, ministered to others, and fought to spend time with his wife and children…including his youngest son’s marriage…He was one of the most others “comforting” people I’ve ever known.
I saw him often during his final weeks and days…The last time I saw him here on earth…He knew I was there, but couldn’t speak…He grabbed for a piece of paper…and whispered to Alyson…to write something…she did, “Greg loves Jesus.” I took the paper and wrote “Rick loves Jesus.”
Greg died 2 days later…And I have no doubt that what he wrote is true…I picture Greg laying down his servant’s towel at the feet of Jesus…and hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Loving Jesus…loving people…it’s what makes the words on paper true.]