But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through His name.John 20:31
Who would you rather take orders from: a boss who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, who leads by example, who will gladly show rather than tell? or one who will only delegate, not do? In this chapter we see Jesus, the Master and Lord of all, setting an example for His followers of humble service toward others—even those who are beneath them in rank—and even their enemies.
Many thoughts (vv. 1-4)
Have you ever been sitting at the dinner table and got lost in your own thoughts? It seems that’s what Jesus did as He sat with His disciples to partake of the evening meal. John describes Jesus’ selfless act of washing the disciples feet—but first he prefaces it with a long string of thoughts. Though Christ can read our thoughts, we cannot read His. But we can imagine what must have been going through His mind as He sat there, looking from one face to another around the table, watching the disciples enjoy each other’s company, clueless about what was soon to take place.
The Feast of the Passover will begin soon, and My hour has come—the time for Me to leave this world and return to My Father. Oh, how I love these men and women who have been a part of My life while I’ve lived here as one of them! I long to return to My Father, but I’m going to miss being here with these precious people! I’ll miss the walks, the talks, the welcome rest after a long day of work, and the meals we shared together. I’ll miss teaching them. I’ll miss having them wake Me from sleep to get them out of a scrape. I’ll miss the hugs, the kisses, and the look of appreciation on their eyes when I’ve done for them some miracle. I’ll miss seeing the light come on when they realize Who I Am. Yes, I’ll still see these things, and I’ll still perform miracles on their behalf. I’ll still be a vital part of their lives, but it won’t be the same. Pretty soon the Holy Spirit will take over what I’ve begun. And I will love them to the end!
Supper’s over now, and it’s time for the next thing. The devil has put into Judas’ heart to betray Me, and I must excuse him from the table so that he can do the deed. But first, there’s one more thing for Me to do for him. I know the Father has given all things into My hands. I came from Him, and I’m going back to Him. My work here is nearly done. The hardest part still lies before Me, but My Father will give Me strength. And now it’s time for another teaching moment….
Then He arose from the table, laid aside His robe, and wrapped a towel around His waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet. The dusty roads and the use of sandals made foot-washing necessary; but it was highly irregular for peers to wash each other’s feet, and completely unheard of that a master teacher would wash the feet of his disciples. Normally a household servant performed the task. Why had their feet not been washed before the meal? I don’t know, unless Jesus purposed the omission so that He could demonstrate a spiritual truth to these men. Perhaps a servant had shown up with the basin and towel, and Jesus excused her, saying, “Thank you, but I’ll take care of it.”
And now here He is, the Master and Lord of all, performing the task of the humblest of servants. No doubt the table talk ceased as the disciples nervously watched their Master perform this menial task—a task that they themselves had been unwilling to do. I wonder if their dinner conversation had included some complaint about not having had their feet washed.
Whose feet did Jesus wash first? Not Simon Peter’s, but whose? Did He begin with John, the beloved? Did He begin with Judas Iscariot? I don’t think He began with Judas. In fact, I think He washed Peter’s feet before coming to Judas. I can’t say for sure, and it isn’t important, but for the sake of imagination, let’s assume that’s how it went.
Only the feet (vv. 5-11)
Perhaps Jesus was halfway around the table by the time He got to Simon Peter. Peter’s tongue was seldom connected to his brain in those days, and he frequently spoke out without realizing what he was saying. He protested, “Lord, are You seriously going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered him, “You don’t understand yet what I’m doing, but you will by and by.”
This response wasn’t good enough for Peter. He drew his feet back and exclaimed, “You shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can have no part with Me.” Here Jesus was speaking of spiritual cleansing. Everything He did was for a purpose, to teach some greater truth. They should’ve known that by now, but their eyes had not yet been opened to all the truth.
Then Peter, ever the extremist, blurted out, “Lord, don’t stop at my feet—wash my hands and my face too!” In other words, “I want all in!”
Perhaps Jesus smiled as He said, “He who has been washed needs only to wash his feet.” When Jesus cleanses a person from sin, He cleanses the entire person. But we must continue to walk in this world, and it’s inevitable that some of this world’s filth will get on us. So we wash our feet to remove the world’s dirt before it has a chance to contaminate the entire body. This is why it’s so important to keep short accounts with God. As soon as you’re made aware of sin, confess it.
Jesus said more. I’ll use Southern terminology because it makes it perfectly clear: “Y’all are clean . . . but not all of you.” The disciples had no idea what that meant. Well, there may have been one man at the table who had a clue: Judas Iscariot. It was Judas that Jesus was talking about when He said, “Not all of y’all are clean.”
Finally, He came to the feet of Judas. What was on that traitor’s mind as he sat there quietly allowing the Lord to serve him in this manner? Did he think his treachery was hidden to Jesus? Did he think he had fooled the Master? Did he think his soul was safe because his feet had been washed?
What’s that mean? (vv. 12-19)
Jesus’ act of washing the feet of the disciples had a two-fold spiritual meaning. The first we have already discussed: it was a picture of being washed from sin. But beyond that, the menial task also symbolized what it truly means to be great.
When Jesus had finished, He laid aside the dirty towel and basin of water, put His robe back on, and sat back down at the table to explain what had just happened. “You call Me Teacher and Lord—and rightly so, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I’ve given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly I say to you that the servant is not greater than his lord; neither is the messenger greater than he who sent him. Now you know; and you’ll be happy if you do it.”
You may recall that not too long before this night, the disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Now Jesus demonstrated that he who would be greatest must make himself the least of all. The way up is down. The way to lead is by loving humbly.
When the teaching moment was complete, Jesus revealed a bit of His care to the disciples. The upcoming betrayal was heavy on His heart. Jesus loved all the disciples—even Judas. He didn’t want to lose him. It didn’t bother Him that Judas was going to betray Him. That much had been prophesied in the Old Testament (Psalm 41:9) and must be fulfilled. What troubled Jesus was that Judas would choose to die in his sin rather than repent. He could’ve been forgiven. All he had to do was turn from his sin to Jesus. Jesus told His followers what was about to happen as further proof of His deity: “Now I tell you before it happens, so that when it does, you may believe that I am God.”
With this we’ll stop for today. But there’s so much more in John chapter 13 that I’ve decided to divide it into two parts. So next time, we’ll pick up right here.
This week’s reading:
This week’s memory verse
A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.John 13:34
Photo taken at Princess Beach in Destin, Florida, 2019