As we move into John 13 there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, chapter 12 formally closes Jesus’ public ministry. He’s come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover even though a bounty has been placed on His head by the religious establishment. From this point forward Jesus will now retreat and withdraw Himself from the multitudes.
Secondly, John 13 will immediately transition us to a scene with Jesus in an upper room enjoying a final meal with His twelve disciples. In fact, chapters 13-17 will record the events and conversations of this fateful night. Jesus’ public ministry turns both private and personal.
Thirdly, the context for everything Jesus does and shares on this night centers upon the reality that within the next 24 hours He will be betrayed by Judas, arrested in the Garden, abandoned by the 10, denied 3 times by Peter, illegally tried, brutally scourged, humiliated, crucified at Golgotha, and ultimately laid in the tomb of a man named Joseph of Arimathea.
With all of this in mind, John 13:1 transitions us to the remaining chapters of this Gospel of Grace… John 13:1, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
As we dive into the events of these final 24 hours the Apostle John wants his reader to know something very important… He begins, “When Jesus knew that His hour had come.”
Though it would be easy to see the way this night unfolds as being a tragedy, you would be wrong with such an assessment. Not only was Jesus not caught off-guard — fully knowing what awaited Him, but the truth is that this was all part of the plan — “His hour had come!”
While there would be many aspects to the larger work Jesus had come to accomplish, He knew — in the end — these things would result in His “departure from this world.” Jesus would finish His work, ascend to heaven, and take His place at the righthand of the Father.
Again, the context for Jesus’ final moments with His twelve closest disciples is the knowledge He’s going to be leaving them. In reality, Jesus knew He had only a few remaining hours. Time was short and the moments He had left with them quickly fleeting.
There is no question Jesus had much He needed to share with these men during these final moments. He needed to prepare them for what was coming knowing they were oblivious.
As John thinks back to this important evening writing so many years later he describes Jesus as “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” Before John recounts any event or records any of the things Jesus shared he remembered His love! Jesus “loved” these men with an agape love. It wasn’t superficial, but deep and sincere.
This phrase “He loved them to the end” doesn’t mean Jesus loved them to the point in which He died. No! Instead, a better translation would be that He loved them to the outermost! Jesus’ love for them — and for you and I — knows no limitations! To quote modern scholar Buzz Lightyear, Jesus loves you “to infinity and beyond!”
John 13:2-4, “And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.”
John starts his account, “And supper being ended…” The “supper” in reference was the formal Passover Seder. What’s interesting about John’s account is what he excludes. Unlike the other Gospel authors John doesn’t mention Jesus’ instituting of communion.
The reason this is the case is because these things had already been well documented. By the time John pens his Gospel, not only had Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22 written about them, but even Paul discussed communion in 1 Corinthians 11. Instead, John focuses our attention to several aspects of this evening that were not previously recorded.
I should also mention this phrase “supper being ended” is misleading at best. This word “being ended” in the Greek is “ginomai” meaning “to come into existence” or literally “to come to pass.” A better translation into English would be “in the midst of supper.”
Before John recounts a specific event whereby Jesus abruptly “rose” from the table, “laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself” he wants us to know of two deeper dynamics at play everyone of these men were all ignorant of in the moment.
First, John finds it important we understand “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus.” Following the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus’ growing popularity, John 11 closes, “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.”
While these men wanted to arrest Jesus the challenge was finding a specific time and place where He would be isolated and removed from the multitudes who’d likely riot to protect Him.
Well, following Jesus’ rebuke of Judas to his suggestion the offering of precious ointment Mary gave would have been better utilized if it had been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, Matthew and Luke record this as the moment Judas formally joins the conspiracy.
Directly after this exchange we read in John 12, Matthew 26:14-15 records, “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Jesus to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.”
John’s point is that going into this final meal Judas had already hatched a plan with the religious leaders. He knew that following supper Jesus would likely take the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The hour would be late, much of the city asleep, and Jesus completely vulnerable. The plan was in motion. All that was needed was Judas’ signal.
Over the millennia much has been written about Judas’ core motivation for betraying Jesus. Some have theorized that Judas was simply trying to prompt a revolution — that his betrayal was an ill-advised attempt to force Jesus’ hand. It’s agued that when Judas realized his planned backfired he gave back the money and killed himself in shame.
Matthew 27:3-5, “Then Judas, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
On the flip side to this theory, others remove the free-will component to Judas’ betrayal altogether by claiming he was born to commit such a dastardly deed. Advocates for such a position will claim that in the end Judas Iscariot really had no choice in the matter.
Those who make this particular argument will point to John 6:70-71 where Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” John adds, “Jesus spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.”
The problem with both theories is that neither considers the entirety of Judas’ profile. First, in John 6 Jesus does not call Judas “the devil,” but “a devil.” The Greek word Jesus uses in this passage is an adjective “diabolos” describing a serious flaw in his character.
And yet, “diabolos” doesn’t mean in this particular moment Judas was in someway the devil incarnate or for that matter possessed by Satan. In fact, we’re going to see in this chapter that Jesus will go to great lengths to give Judas an opportunity to abandon his evil plan. Then, when he finally doesn’t, we’ll read in verse 27 how then “Satan entered him.”
Though Judas was a free moral participant in betraying Jesus and “the devil didn’t make him do it,” in the verse we just read, John is clear Judas’ motivations were far from noble. While we again find this adjective “diabolos” used for “devil” the definite article “the” indicates Satan — the accuser — had originally given Judas the idea for his betrayal.
Though we can’t say with any certainty what his motivation really was, we can say Judas cared not for Jesus’ well-being or the Kingdom. He was both vengeful and vindictive.
Regardless, Judas’ premeditation is not the only thing John wants us to be aware of… While Judas had a plan afoot, Jesus “knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God!” John’s point is to make it known Jesus wasn’t at the mercy of events, but was in complete control of everything taking place.
Jesus wouldn’t end up the victim of a heinous crime. Instead, He’d emerge as the Victor! Jesus not only maintained total power and authority as He approached the cross, but He was secure and confident in who He was, what would result, and where He was going.
It’s with all of this in mind John remembers how Jesus abruptly “rose” from the table at some point during this meal, “laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” He continues… John 13:5, “After that, Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
The first thing John recounts about this moment is how Jesus “rose” from the table they were all sitting around. Jesus not only got up from a place of comfort and honor, but He then “laid aside His garments.” In the Greek “garments” implies Jesus removed his outer tunic or coat.
Not to deviate to far from the scene, but this was not the first time Jesus “laid aside His garments.” In the incarnation the King of Heaven “laid aside” His heavenly glory to dawn human flesh when He came to Bethlehem as a babe. Also note the next time these “garments” would be removed was when they were ripped from Jesus during the scourging.
As you imagine the scene this moment Jesus “rose” only to then “take a towel, gird Himself, pour water into a basin, and begin washing the disciples feet” would have left these men with a ghastly horror. Recently I went to Cuba and when our bus arrived in Sandino for the conference we were greeted by members of the church who proceeded to wash our feet.
Though humbled and honored by the kind gesture, I’m not going to lie that I felt really awkward. And the reason for this is cultural. Typically, no one other than me washes my feet!
And yet, the same can’t be said for the disciples. In this culture they were accustomed to foot-washing. That said, what Jesus was doing was shocking if not down right taboo!
Washing the feet of guests who entered a home was reserved for the lowliest of servants. In fact, according to religious traditions, Jewish slaves were forbidden from washing feet. The act itself was seen as being so degrading the job was left to only Gentile servants.
There is no question Jesus is illustrating for these men what real humility and servitude looks like. Jesus was willing to rise from a position of honor and get on His hands and knees to wash their feet. He laid aside His garments and girded Himself to humbly care for their needs. Once more, Jesus was willing to touch the dirtiest parts of their being!
Frankly, our ability to grasp what’s taking place in this scene ends up hampered by the fact we are Westerners. At best our cultural context presents foot-washing as a token of respect and honor akin to removing your shoes before entering someone’s home. And yet, tragically, such a perspective fails to even scratch the surface to what’s actually occurring.
In Eastern Culture feet were seen as the dirtiest part of the human body — and for good reason. Because ancient streets doubled as sewage canals and most wore a sandal-like shoe open to the elements, washing feet when you entered a home was standard practice. In fact it would be uncouth not to have the feet of a guest washed when they were visiting.
Case in point, in an exchange with a Pharisee named Simon who took issue with a women who interrupted his dinner with Jesus, in Luke 7:44 Jesus “turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.’” Clearly Jesus felt slighted by the fact skeptical Simon had not offered for His feet to be washed.
Beyond this reality, in the East feet were seen as being so unclean that even after being washed they weren’t allowed to face a meal. Now in our Western context where we sit at a table this seems like a non-issue, but not so in their culture or during Jesus’ day.
As with this Seder meal it was standard to share a meal with friends at a u-shaped table called a Triclinium. Since the Triclinium was only a foot or so off the ground, you’d lay down on a pillow with your feet facing away from the table. Then, while bracing on your left arm you’d eat with your right hand. If by accident one’s feet were to ever face the table, the entire meal would be declared unclean, the dishes removed, and more food prepared.
My point is that the focus of Jesus’ activity is just as important as His act of service. You see there were all kinds of ways Jesus could have taught these men about servanthood and humility, but He specifically decided to wash their feet for a much larger reason.
Before we unpack this reason, I can’t help but point out that — even knowing what was in his heart — Jesus still washed the feet of Judas Iscariot! What must that moment have been like? Friend, this morning if you take away anything from this message, I want you to know that Jesus is constantly demonstrating acts of love to even his greatest enemies!
As you imagine the scene Jesus is making His way around the table… John 13:6-8, “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’”
In this interaction with Peter it becomes clear Jesus was illustrating something much deeper than they knew. Jesus even makes the point, “What I am doing you do not understand now.”
And yet, notice in response to Peter’s emphatic declaration, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus makes the interesting statement, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Peter is focused on his feet, but Jesus is more interested in something else entirely.
There is no question the act of washing their feet intended to illustrate a much larger idea. In fact it was an idea so important Jesus tells Peter if he refused he could go ahead and leave.
Let’s finish this exchange… John 13:9-15, “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For Jesus knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’
So when Jesus had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, 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 should do as I have done to you.”
There are some who extrapolate out this particular illustration to imply that Jesus was teaching them about the essential cleansing necessary for salvation. And yet, the problem with this supposition is that it fails to take into account the totality of what Jesus said.
First, Jesus knows He’s about to leave these men and everything He’s going to do and say intends to prepare them for this moment. With this context in mind, it’s obvious Jesus is giving them a lesson with a future application. To this point He even says to them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
In the original language Jesus is contrasting their inability to “understand now” with the reality they will come to know what He’s talking about later on or literally afterwards.
Secondly, in light of the future application of this particular illustration, Jesus says to the disciples, “You are clean” before then adding a caveat that this statement didn’t apply to Judas who wasn’t clean. What makes this declaration so fascinating is that this word “clean” in the Greek (“katharos”) was a Levitical term that spoke of the purification of sin and guilt.
It would appear in the context of these first two points the lesson Jesus was illustrating through the washing of the disciple’s feet would actually be applicable after their salvation and ultimate cleansing through His atoning work on the cross.
Thirdly — and this seems consistent with this reality, Jesus’ ultimate exhortation that they “ought to wash one another’s feet” just as He had washed theirs simply could not apply to salvation for that cleansing can only come through Jesus’ direct involvement and not ours.
Keep in mind, there is a reason foot-washing is not a sanctioned church ordinance. Unlike baptism and communion, though Jesus demonstrated this in the Gospels, we don’t find a record of this practiced in the books of Acts nor expounded upon in the Epistles. Washing feet was simply a one time illustration aimed at articulating a larger application.
So… What washing is Jesus illustrating in this moment if it’s not salvation? There seems to be two clues presented in these verses: The first clue is found in Jesus’ statement to Peter specifically in response to his request that Jesus wash his whole body. In the first part of verse 13 Jesus says, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet.”
The second clue is found in the two different terms Jesus uses in this text: “wash” and “clean.” The way Jesus uses the word “clean” implies permanence and position — status. He never mentioned being cleaned, but washed. In fact Jesus seems to be presenting the notion that “you are clean” with washing simply being a return to that original state.
In light of these two clues is appears Jesus is talking about a washing that’s needed for those who are already clean. You could read this as “you are clean, but your feet get dirty!” Again, this would explain why the entire application of the lesson didn’t relate to Judas.
Isn’t it true that while you and I have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, made righteous before God, and enjoy a sinless position in heaven, in a practical sense there is still a worldly residue we naturally pick up simply because we have to walk around a fallen planet?
In a way while clean positionally, practically our feet get dirty as we make our way through this sinful world. Aside from the natural grime and muck we pick up from living in the midst of a culture in rebellion to God, isn’t it also just a reality our feet get the dirtiest when they end up traveling into areas they shouldn’t have — or get soiled those moments we step in it?
While none of us need a bath because Jesus has permanently cleansed us through His work on the cross (something Peter will learn), practically our feet do need to be washed off from time to time. You see in these moments when we “step in it” what we need is a brother or sister to remind us we’re cleansed by lovingly washing off our feet!
Again, while only Jesus can cleanse us from all ungodliness, He’s intentionally left the washing of feet to His disciples because He’s in heaven. The fact is we all play a pivotal role in the process of forgiveness and restoration. In verse 15 Jesus was crystal clear… “For I have given you an example, that you should do (to one another) as I have done to you.”
The truth is the reality of this dynamic is two-fold… First, we must be willing to wash one another’s feet. And two, you must be willing to allow someone to wash your feet.
And let’s be real — both aspects of this are challenging. First, to wash someone else’s feet requires a real, sincere, and selfless love. To wash another’s feet requires a willingness to get your hands dirty with the crap caked on someone else’s soul. Such an act demands you step down from some high position and assume the posture of a lowly servant.
Here’s the truth… The only way you can ever do such a thing in the life of someone else is to first experience the cleansing power of Jesus when He originally washes you white as snow.
As with all aspects of the Christian life, such an act is reciprocal. We can wash the feet of others, because we’ve experienced the cleansing touch of Jesus. When Jesus says to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” this is what He’s articulating. It’s impossible to treat others like Jesus if we haven’t first encountered Jesus personally.
Jesus continues by saying such an act is blessed… John 13:16-17, “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
And yet, in order for this blessed work to happen in your life, in order for you to be washed by another and reminded you’ve been cleansed by Jesus, you have to be willing to expose your dirt to someone else and allow them to be Jesus’ hands in your life.
Friend, as with a literal foot-washing, allowing someone else access to such a part of your life will be incredibly awkward. We like to keep the dirt hidden. If necessary we’ll double sock that area of our lives and lace it up tightly behind a new set of Jordans. And yet, the problem with dirty feet is that at some point they will begin hindering your walk!
How interesting that of all the lessons Jesus needed to teach His disciples before He departed this was the first! And you know why? They were all about to royally step in it and they would ultimately need each other to endure the challenges to come.
Brothers and sisters, we all have dirty feet — worldly residue we pick up during our walk. Sometimes it’s just the natural result of living in this messed up place. Other times we get dirty because we went someplace we had no business going. The truth is that it’s virtually impossible to walk through this cow pasture called life and not step in it at some point.
When that happens may we not judge one another or go to lengths in our pride to conceal our messiness, but may we be willing to come and wash one another’s feet just as Jesus has cleansed ours! In James 5:16 the leader of the first church in Jerusalem exhorted believers, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
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