For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
- How does Jesus washing the disciples feet magnify the glory of God?
- Pastor Kenny argues that foot washing was the lowliest form of serving someone at that time. What are some of the lowliest means of serving others (meeting a need) today?
- What makes it so difficult to be "the least" and serve others?
- Jesus did not commend Peter's response. Why? How can we pray in such a way to guard against having this same attitude?
John 13:1-20Now 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. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “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.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 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. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
To Know and To Give
Now as we look at this text today, my aim is first and foremost that by faith you would know and receive the love of Christ for you. And second, that, as receivers of the love of Christ, we would give ourselves to humble deeds of need-meeting love for one another. Chapter 13 begins with the Apostle John’s very detailed account of “The Last Supper” of Jesus. Verse 1 says “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.” If we take verse 1 as a thesis, let’s ask two questions of the verse and use the rest of the passage to answer those questions. Then we’ll close by making practical application. Therefore, three questions form my outline:
1. What does it mean that Jesus knew his “hour” had come?
2. What does it mean that Jesus loved his own to the end?
3. What are the implications in this text for disciples of Jesus?
What Does it Mean That Jesus Knew his “Hour” had Come?
At several points in Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Gospel of John makes clear that his hour had not come. For instance, John 7:30, “So [the religious leaders] were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come” (emphasis added). Then everything shifts six days before the Last Supper—seven days before he is crucified, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified...Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:23, 27).
From what John tells us that Jesus knew and what Jesus says at the Passover supper, we can piece together several things about the “hour” of which Jesus was consciously aware. Jesus knew at least five things.
- Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands...” (John 13:3).
- Jesus knew that he had come from God. John says that Jesus knew “that he had come from God” (John 13:3).
- Jesus knew he was going to die and return to the Father. John 13:1 says, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” Likewise, verse 3 says that Jesus knew he, “was going back to God.” The way he would return to the Father was by his death. In chapter 12, the previous chapter, Jesus foretells his death, when he says, in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John then interprets this in verse 33, saying, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
- Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. At the supper, Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples, “He knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 13:11; cf. also 13:10, 18-19).
- Jesus knew that Peter would deny him three times. In response to Peter’s declaration of self- sacrificing commitment, Jesus says to Peter in verse 38, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
Why is it significant for us to know that Jesus knew that the ‘hour’ for which he had come had arrived? Because it reveals to us that Jesus authoritatively and willingly died in love for us, his people. God had given him authority over all things, that in his life he would accomplish that for which he was sent and return to God. That’s why he said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18).
In his sovereign authority over the soldiers, religious leaders, Pilate, the crowd, the disciples, suffering and even death, Jesus moved toward the cross with knowledge of what lay ahead. He knew what he was getting into. Jesus wasn’t trapped or tricked into dying for us. It was not an accident. It is not in weakness that Christ dies for us but in willing, sovereign love and authoritative mercy.
What Does it Mean That Jesus Loved his own to the End?
Verse 1 also says that Jesus loved his own to the end, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John Calvin gave this most encouraging comment on this verse, “Although we appear to be very distant from Christ, we must realize that he is thinking
about us, for he loves his own who are in the world. And there is no doubt that he still has the same attitude now which he had at the moment of his death.” In love, Jesus finishes the task for which he came knowing what it entails. Jesus knew it was going to get ugly. Jesus was not turned back from loving us all the way to the end. The path of love from this Last Supper onward entails betrayal, denial, rejection, injustice, tears, flogging, blood, crucifixion, suffocation, and death. Against the backdrop of what Jesus knows, his love shines brighter.
Jesus loved his own to the end. One way he did this, in this text, was by humbly serving his disciples. Foot washing in Jesus’ day was routine because people walked on dusty roads with open sandals. Normally, the lowest servant in the pecking order would be expected to wash the dusty feet of the guests as a necessity and an expression of hospitality. But at this Passover meal, there are apparently no servants.
So Jesus, observing the dirty feet, rises and takes on the role of the lowest household servant and rises to wash the disciples feet. He took a towel and put it around his waist. This was like the uniform of a servant or household slave. He took a pitcher of water and a basin and went from one disciple to the next washing their feet in the water and drying their feet with the towel.
All goes quietly until Jesus gets to Simon Peter. Peter asks the question in verse 6, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus replied, verse 7, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter refused Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet” (v.8).
Now note that Jesus’ reply reveals that there is much more at stake than clean feet when he replies to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (emphasis added). In other words, Jesus says, “Peter, I wash you or you have no part with me, no inheritance with me, no part in the kingdom, no forgiveness, no peace with God, no love—but rather eternal destruction, hell.” So Peter replies, “Lord, wash me all over; my hands and head too!” (cf. v.9). And Jesus answered in verse 10, “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,” referring to Judas.
The Purpose of the Feet Washing
In Jesus washing feet, it is as if he is acting out a parable. Don’t let the foot washing distract you from the point that Jesus is making. Jesus does this all the time. He asks for water from the woman at the well and teaches her that he has living water (John 4:7-15). He feeds bread to the hungry and teaches that he is the living bread (John 6:5-35). He raises Lazarus from the dead and teaches that he is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25, 43-44). Here, he washes the disciples’ dirty feet and shows himself in the role of a humble servant, meeting the needs of his disciples. He points to the “hour” for which he came from God, “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The point is that he is washing the sins of the disciples. You will miss the point of the foot washing if you do not see it as a parable- like pointer to Christ’s humbling of himself to die for us. This is what Jesus gets at when he says in v.7, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
What are the Implications in this Text for Disciples of Jesus?
Jesus says in verses 14-15, “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.” This is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If Jesus, our Lord and Teacher, humbly serves us in foot washing and in his death for us, so also, as his disciples and followers, we should do as he has done. Here Jesus intends to kill our pride that so often hinders us from the humble, messy, time-consuming, labor of love.
I do not believe Jesus intended that, through the ages, his disciples literally wash the feet of one another. I don’t think so for two reasons.
First, our feet aren’t dirty. In other words, you and I don’t need our feet washed. Our feet are probably cleaner right now than Peter’s were in this text after Jesus washed them! But what about the evidence, although a bit sketchy, that the early church practiced foot washing? It makes sense to me for the same reason it made sense for Jesus to wash his disciples feet in John 13. Namely, the people of the early church had dirty feet because they walked on dusty, Middle Eastern roads in open sandals. Thus, basic etiquette and basic cleanliness created the need for dirty feet to be washed. There are thousands of needs that we have which are within reach of the love of others. I just have trouble settling for a ceremony because our ceremony would not meet a real need and therefore miss the point.
Second, foot washing in John 13 was a pointer to the humble, sacrificial love of Christ demonstrated in his dying for us, not just cleaning our feet. As Jesus humbly washed his disciples’ feet and met their real physical need, he pointed to the fact that he was about to humbly wash his people of their sins spiritually by his death. To meet a non-need in a ceremonial foot washing of clean feet and declare that it is a pointer to the love of Christ, in my opinion, misses the point.
However, I do believe Jesus fully intended that we love one another in humble, servant-like, need-meeting ways. Jesus is commanding us, his disciples, to love one another by meeting each other’s real needs. Jesus states the direct application most clearly in verses 34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I take confirmation on this from how the rest of the New Testament describes fulfilling love for one another. No where in the New Testament is there a call to practice literal “foot washing”.
The New Testament informs us how we can love one another by meeting felt needs. And again in John 15:12, Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In the Apostle John’s letter, he reminded the churches of Jesus’ teaching, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). The Apostle Peter restated Jesus’ teaching, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). The Apostle Paul restated Jesus’ teaching, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Likewise,
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)
This is the meaning of foot washing.
Application for Communion
Here are two points of application as we come to the Lord’s table. Know these things. Know the love of Christ for you, in His authoritative embrace of the cross in laying down his life for you, in His becoming a servant in that act and serving us in love. Like Peter, Jesus says to us that unless He washes us, we have not part with Him. May we accept Jesus’s serving of us. As we take the cup and the bread, let us receive with faith the washing of His blood.