Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1-30) The hour has come. The feast of the Passover has been prepared. Jesus is aware that His Father has given all things to Him. He knows that He is ascending back to heaven from whence He came. He also knows that He is going to be betrayed by Judas (vs. 26-27), one of His own disciples. Tonight represents a culmination of thirty-three years of life on Earth, three of which have been spent in intensive ministry. More than that (if it can even be said that way), tonight represents thousands of years of planning and providence of God, as Christ is about to institute a new covenant to bring in the nations of the world into fellowship with God. This table, this last Passover, is bursting with significance and anticipation as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Messiah, takes His seat at the table that for the last fifteen hundred years represented His work He was about to do.
But then He gets back up. He lays aside his outer garments. He wraps a towel around His waist, so He could dry the feet of the disciples after He washes them. This is a story that has been dulled because we are so familiar with it, but this is truly shocking behavior. The job of foot washing was necessary because roads were made of dirt, and everyone wore sandals. This job was only done by the lowliest of slaves, a sort of glorified doormat. In fact, Jewish slaves weren’t even allowed to do this, as it was considered to be so lowly as to only be fit for Gentile slaves. The closest modern example of this would be like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company being found in stained scrubs plunging one of the clogged commodes in the bathroom right before a large presentation before the board. Yet even this example is more comprehensible than what we find in John 13. Here is Jesus, the King of the world, washing the disciple’s feet, doing the job of an outsider slave. Truly, He is taking the lowest of low positions.
It also bears notice that He is washing every disciple’s feet, including Judas’, the one Jesus knows is going to betray Him. He is rendering this level of service to the one who is mere hours away from delivering Him into the hands of the Romans to be crucified, the lowliest death imaginable. That is the level of service that Christ is calling us to in following after Him in verses 14 and 15. It’s not the act of washing feet specifically, as the need for that is past, but it is the depth of service that Jesus has in mind. It is one thing to serve people that you like and consider friends and brothers in deep and hard ways, but it is quite another to do the same level of service for the one who has hurt you and is trying to betray you. Obviously, there are people and situations in which it would be unwise and ultimately unhelpful to them to serve, but as a general rule, we cannot see ourselves as “above” any sort of service that God calls us to in our lives. The calling might be unpleasant, seemingly beyond your gifting, or outside your comfort zone, but God is not calling you to anything that He hasn’t already done Himself. He has led by example (v 15), and He gives us the power to serve in these radical ways. As one final motivator, in a certain way, this is not the only betrayer Christ would serve. He would go to the cross the next day for you and me. Whether we realize it or not, every time we sin we betray God. We act as though He is not in charge nor deserves our allegiance and devotion. By our disobedience, we commit the same sins that Christ had to die for in the first place. Yet Christ served us on the cross and continues to serve us in our daily lives. He gives us bread for our bellies, air for our lungs, and yes, even water to clean our feet. Christ still serves those who betrayed Him. He has forgiven and continues to forgive. Let us not take this for granted, but use the amazing display of grace to inspire in us greater service for Him. Thoughts for prayer: Thank God for the many ways that He has served you even today, then ask Him whom He has in mind for you to serve.
Each day of Holy Week, I am going to be posting a few thoughts on the week of Christ's Passion here on the blog. I hope these simple meditations will help prepare your heart as we advance towards Easter. Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11) Can you imagine being in Jerusalem the day that Jesus entered on that colt? First, imagine being one of the disciples. Your sandals aren’t even hitting the street as the people have lined up their cloaks and tree branches. You can barely hear yourself think as the shouts of joy are so loud. Here, finally, the people seem to see what you’ve seen in Jesus for the last three years: He’s the Messiah. Jesus has come in the name of the Lord and finally everyone else can see it. Maybe any lingering doubts that were festering in your mind are finally silenced in the cheers of the crowd. Maybe the humiliation that you’ve endured at the hands of the Pharisees turns into a slight smugness as now all they can do is look cross in the face of Jesus’ obvious success. Maybe your years of service are finally going to pay off, and perhaps there is a seat of power waiting for you (if John and James don’t take them!). For a disciple, it seems as if the golden years are all in front of them.
Now imagine being a member of the crowd. Here, you are thinking that the deliverer of all Israel is riding in. The educated members of the crowd might remember the prophecy that said the coming King of Israel would ride in on a colt (Zech. 9:9). Finally those Romans were on their way out. Israel could finally get some power back as they looked forward to their kingdom reaching to the ends of the earth! After a whole history of oppression, the people can finally see their deliverer. Is it any wonder that the cloaks are spread out on the dusty road, palm branches are torn from their trees, and the chorus “Hosanna” meaning “save now” fills the ancient streets?
But what is going through Jesus’ mind? It is completely different from what is happening in everyone else’s mind. The people are celebrating Him now, but this celebration isn’t going to last. The people of this city are going to be turned to despising Him. Jesus is going to go from having cloaks spread out before Him to having His own cloak spread out to be gambled away (Matthew 27:35). The people have joyfully shouted to Him “Save us now,” but that will turn to derisive jeering of “Save yourself” (Matthew 27:39). The disciples who are with him in this moment will all flee when the soldiers come (Matthew 26:56). There is hardly anyone in the sight of Jesus at this moment who will not abandon or outright betray Him within the week.
Yet He rode on. He arranged to enter the city in just this way. He had to fulfill the word He gave the prophet Zechariah centuries ago. Nothing that is going to happen to Him this week is unexpected or unplanned. It’s been the plan from the beginning (Acts 2:23). Christ has been about His Father’s business His whole life, and it has now all led up to this week. Now Christ is riding through a crowd of future betrayers and cowards who all at the moment profess love and admiration of Him.
Oh, wouldn’t it be simpler to just be their political ruler? Wouldn’t it be easier to just let the cup of the Father’s wrath pass Him by? Wouldn’t it be easier to dismiss the crowds with a word so at the very least He wouldn’t have to endure the hypocrisy? But the prophecy had to be fulfilled. The work had to be done. Salvation had to be bought. He rode on.
What could motivate such action? How does one find the strength to go on? Even divine patience hates lying or those with plans to do evil (Proverbs 6:16-19). He does it because the Son loves the Father (John 17:1-5). It doesn’t matter what these people do, the Father has called Him to this work. Jesus will not turn and abandon. Jesus will not be distracted by the temporary advantages of political power. His mind strives on in love for His Father and the people He gave Him, and because of that our salvation is as secure as God’s perfect love.
Thoughts for prayer: Take a moment to rest in the fact that salvation rests on the mutual love of the Father and the Son. Thank God for your salvation acquired at great cost yet with great love