Having concluded part one of John’s gospel where we find the public ministry of Jesus, we come now to part 2 of John’s gospel where John shows his readers the private ministry of Jesus to His disciples and His passion. 13:1 begins part two saying, “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.” This opening verse sets the stage not only for the wondrous act of love we’ll see in our text today as Jesus washes their feet, it sets the stage for all of the Upper Room discourse found in John 13-17.
Notice His ‘hour’ comes back into view here in v1 but it is no longer put in terms of His cross but of His departure back to the Father.So what does Jesus do in these last moments with His disciples? He teaches them deeply and by doing so He loves them vastly, so vastly John can say Jesus “…loved them to the end.” Because of this many Christians down throughout the ages believe John 13-17 to be the holy ground of John’s gospel where Christ’s particular, powerful, and potent love for His own is made known. Yes Christ loves the world and loves all mankind in some ways, but rejoice believer (!), Christ loves His own in all ways. Of this Charles Spurgeon says, “What a title for us to wear, ‘His own’!…The fact that you are truly Christ’s is afountain of innumerable pleasures and blessings to ourhearts…He distinguishes us from the rest of mankind, and sets us apart to Himself…surely this is the highest honor that can be put on us…!”This great love of Christ is shown to us in two ways in our passage this morning. First we see the love of Christ displayed for us in v2-11. And second we see the love of Christ decreed to us in v12-17.
The Love of Christ Displayed (v2-11)
Before Jesus rises to wash the disciples feet in v4 we learn some details concerning this occasion in v2-3. In v2 we learn they were eating a meal together. Matthew, Mark, and Luke would lead us to believe this meal was the Passover meal where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. That John doesn’t seem concerned to tell us if this is that same meal or another meal shows us that John is concerned about other details. What other details? The loving action Jesus is about to do in washing His disciples feet.
A dreadful detail comes next as we move from love to hate, from the Savior to Satan, “…the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him…” Look at the contrast is presented to us here. Across the table from the self-giving Christ sits the self-serving Judas who will very soon betray Him.Judas has already been in question throughout much of John’s gospel and here in v2, v18, and later in v27 his fate is confirmed as we see Judas giving room for Satan to wield him for wicked purposes. Nevertheless, Christ is not daunted by Satan’s work in and through Judas. In v3 we’re reminded of a reassuring reality. Jesus has full command not only of this meal, but of all things. It says there He knew the Father had given all things to Him, and that He had come from God and would soon to return to Him. Knowing the wicked plans Judas and Satan are about to do and knowing the sovereign command of Christ, we would completely understand if Jesus, at this meal, used His almighty power to instantaneously destroy both Judas and Satan for conspiring against Him.That would show His power. That would crush evil. Or would it? Jesus has loftier intentions. What does He do? v4-5 tell us, Jesus “…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.” Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the cosmic Christ, in full command, completely aware of His betrayer next to Him and the cross before Him, takes up the dress and role of the lowliest of servants and washes all of the disciples feet, Judas included. “WHAT?!” ought to be our response to this. How unexpected…how humiliating…how gracious. Remember Jesus entered the city before humbly on a donkey, now He again humbly serves His own by washing their feet.
We see this from a bit of a distance so it may be hard for us to see the gravity of what Jesus is doing here, but by looking at the reaction of the disciples we get a glimpse into what was really happening. And that’s exactly what we have next. There is silence among the disciples until Jesus gets around to Peter in v6-7 where Peter, being Peter, blurts out what everyone else seems to be thinking. “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter’s question is understandable. He earlier confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of Living God so for him it was entirely inappropriate for the Messiah to wash his dirty feet. But Jesus calmly responds and says that even though he may not understand why this has to happen now, one day ‘afterword’ he will. We hear this and immediately think of the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension when both the Father and the Son will together send the Spirit to open eyes, to awaken dead hearts, and to enlighten darkened minds so that they understand the things Christ made known to them. We hear this and think of that. But is there hearing this firsthand, he doesn’t know these things, so he blurts out again in v8 “You shall never wash my feet.” Again, Peter is only thinking about what is socially acceptable and because of that he thinks it’s entirely wrong for the Son of the Living God to be engaging in such lowly duties. ‘He’s the Christ, He deserves the place of highest honor, He shouldn’t be doing this!’ One commentator says here, “Peter is humble enough to see the absurdity of Christ’s actions, yet proud enough to command to his Master.”
Jesus responds to him by saying in v8b, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” You have to laugh a bit when you see his response to this in v9, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Peter, doesn’t get it, but he got enough of what Jesus was saying to understand that he didn’t fully understand what Jesus was saying and that he is wrong to forbid Jesus from doing this. So he quickly blurts out the opposite of what he said earlier, desiring to receive a whole body washing instead. To this Jesus responds in v10-11, “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.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”
Jesus response in v8b and then again in v10 are game changers for how we understand this washing. Jesus isn’t speaking of mere physical washing, not at all. He is washing their feet and their feet are dirty, no doubt about that. It is certainly a humble thing to do, no doubt about that. But more is in view than clean feet. What’s in view according to Jesus, that Peter doesn’t see, is the necessity of a clean heart! Jesus is saying, ‘Unless you washed clean from sin by My blood (which is about to be poured out for you), you have no share with Me.’ So, let’s make sure we don’t view this humble act of washing feet as merely a lesson in humility. There is cross work in view here.
Hear the language of Paul’s Christ hymn in Phil. 2:5-11 here in this act in John 13. Just asHe rose from His heavenly throne to come into the world not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many, so too He rose from His seat at this meal to serve them. Just as He made Himself nothing taking the form of a servant in the incarnation, so too He took a towel and tied it around His waist making Himself a lowly slave. Just as He would very soon pour out His blood to wash away all the sin of all those who would ever believe in Him, so too He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples feet. And just as He will take His seat at the Father’s side once more after His redeeming work is finished in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, so too He sat back at the table when He finished washing their feet. So here is One who both Servant and Master present among them, serving them, and teaching them. This isn’t just a lesson in humility, it’s a preview of His greater servant work He’ll complete in a just a few more hours. Yet, even as He ends v10-11 John makes sure to remind us that not all who were washed, were washed. Lord willing we’ll come back to these comments about Judas when we get to v18-30 next week, for now let’s move ahead to v12-17 where we see the love of Christ decreed.
The Love of Christ Decreed (v12-17)
“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?You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.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.If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
In these verses we find the implications of Jesus’ act of washing His disciples feet. As we just saw Christ display His love, we now see Him decree His love. Or to say it another way, we just saw Christ compellingly display humility, now we see Christ command the same humility. Or to say it one more way, Jesus used foot washing as a preview of His sacrificial death, now Jesus uses foot washing as model for our sacrificial life. In v12 Jesus asks if they understand what He had just done, He knows they don’t (He even said they wouldn’t in v7), so He is going to help them out by explaining this action further and working out one large implication from it. He begins doing this in v13-14 by speaking about what they call Him. They call Him Teacher and Lord, and Jesus says this is right for them to do so. Because they call Him Teacher and Lord they must do, not only what He says, but what He does also. What has He done? He has taken the role of a slave among them and performed a lowly service for them. Therefore (and this is the big implication He’ll now draw out) because He washed their feet, they ought to wash one another’s feet. Notice how Jesus, as He’s saying this, reverses the titles present in v13-14? In v13 Teacher is first and Lord is second. But as He commands them in v14 Jesus reverses the order and places Lord first and Teacher second. This small shift carries large meaning. It reminds the disciples (and us) that what Jesus has done is not just something to be left in the realm of academic discussion as if He were just a Teacher. No, He is Lord, so this is a command from God Almighty to them that must change the way they live their lives with one another. Because of this we must know in our minds that we cannot be content to leave the truth of God in our minds alone. God’s way with us is from top to bottom. His truth must be known in the mind, experienced in the heart, and then applied to the will as we work these things out in bold (and lowly) service to one another.
So in v15-16 it shouldn’t surprise us when we hear Jesus say, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant (slave)is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” This is the big lesson of the foot washing. Just as a slave wouldn’t see any task his or her master gave them as beneath them, we are the slaves of Christ and we ought to do what He commands. What does He command here? This leads us all the way back to v2-11 again and causes us to see His foot washing in a whole new light. Jesus did not, in washing their feet, intend to establish a sacrament of foot washing within His Church. No, His action of washing their feet is a “…parable in action, setting out the great principle of lowly service which finds its supreme embodiment in the cross.”
How do we apply this to ourselves today? Twofold: there is a sin to repented of here as well as a way of obedience to endeavor towards.
First, the sin is pride and thinking in that pride that any service or task or person or good work toward that person or group of persons is beneath you. If you think of anything as beneath you, what you really think is that you’re above everything. Nothing could be further from the life Christ calls us to here. Think of Paul as an example. He had reason to boast. In Philippians 3:5-6 Paul says he was “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless…” What happened when he met Jesus and saw how marvelously God had loved him Christ? Philippians 3:7-8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Paul was transformed by gospel grace, he knew gospel grace, experienced gospel grace deep within Him, and that same gospel grace then changed how he did life with others. Not for the sake of charity, not for sake of world peace, not for the sake of earning favor with God by his own works…no, Paul met Jesus, was saved, and for the sake of Christ, for the sake of knowing Christ, for the sake of gaining Christ, he became a servant to all men. Have you? Pride is the sin in view here and pride is thus the sin we must fight here. So fight…to not consider yourself above things that were not beneath Jesus.
Second, the way of obedience to endeavor towards is the way of the cross. Jesus’ washing the disciples feet isn’t about washing feet. Jesus doesn’t call us to do what He has done, but to do as He has done.This whole passage is about recognizing this act as a preview of the cross Jesus was about to bear and than recognizing that the way of the cross must be our way as well. Jesus intends His sacrificial cross to fuel our sacrificial life. In a world searching for genuine community today, do you see how bright a light the Church of Jesus Christ could be if we lived this way? In both our attitude and actions towards one another we are to be people eager to stoop. There are a million ways to bring this home so I’ll just be broad here. We’re to be eager to forgive those who fail, be eager to pursue those who wander, be eager to strengthen those who are weak, be eager to comfort those who suffer or grieve, provide for those in need, sit with those who are alone, and do these things in such a way where we are gladly willing to be inconvenienced in serving one another. We have been commissioned to a great task Church, and by grace we have been welcome into “the fraternity of water basin, and now must live as people of the towel.”
v17 is where we end this morning. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Church, it’s one thing to know, it’s another to do.Knowing is great, learning is great, and thinking is great, but doing, that is where rubber meets the road. In v17 Jesus says the way to be blessed yourself is to be a blessing to others. Therefore, true blessing comes from God into our souls first by being served by Christ in His sacrificial atoning death for our sins, and second by serving others sacrificially in light of it.
May we be people who love, not just in word or talk but in deed and truth.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 613.
Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 135-136, emphasis mine.
Reformation Study Bible, notes on 13:2, page 1883.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 462, see also Phillips, page 145.
These astounding gospel parallels come from Phillips, page 147-148.
Jason Meyer, Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life, page 215.
Skip Ryan, quoted in Phillips, page 161.