We have a solemn…I guess compared to some of our celebratory services…a bit of a solemn service today, but a solemn scene for us in Scripture today as we look at Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. And we find ourselves in John, chapter 13, at a scene that I think is often misunderstood in light of the greater context of what is going on. Sometimes we limit its application, and its teaching, and its understanding.
I simply entitle the message today Are You Able? drawing from another encounter that Jesus had with James and John and their mother, because I think that what Jesus is demonstrating for us in this scene today, it's really asking all of us that similar question…Are we able? Are we able to do and to serve and to be a servant as Jesus was?
And I put up on our graph a picture of the Cross because indeed that is the ultimate expression of Christ's service for us. The Scriptures tell us that, and it calls on all of us to have that same mindset to be willing to bear our cross, to be willing to humble ourselves to the point of being able to die if necessary in order to serve as Christ serves.
So as we look at the text today, I want us to draw some analysis to some other texts, and to look at that greater concept so that we can understand, I think, fully what illustration Jesus is showing us here, what greater picture He is teaching the disciples and teaching us as His disciples today that we might be able to follow.
In John, chapter 13, it begins by saying, "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." Now there is, as there always is in academic circles, some discussion on when this event is taking place, but the general understanding is that this is the night in which Jesus was betrayed, that this is the night when they are going to partake of the Passover meal, and through that introduce the Lord's Supper. And that it is during this process that Jesus will participate in and lead in the washing of the feet of the disciples.
Notice… it says, "When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father"…that Jesus is now focused on the coming crucifixion. He is focused on His purpose for coming. We just looked in the text, if you've been going with us through John, where Jesus said that His hour had come. And that He asked rhetorically the question, "What should I do? Ask the Father to take Me out of this situation? No, because it is for this reason that I came."
And now He says…He's reflecting upon the fact that this very grave, very sober moment has arrived, and in so doing that the thought process of our Savior is…notice what he says in the rest of the verse, "Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." In other words, in the Greek, it is that He loved them to the uttermost, and He is going to demonstrate that love. The washing of the feet is to be…as John introduces it for us in verse 1…an illustration of the extent, the uttermost level, the ends to which Christ loved His disciples.
It says in verse 2, "And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him." John wants to let us know, he wants to be very clear, that we who will read this for years to come, don't forget that among those whose feet Jesus washed was Judas Iscariot. The one who had already had in his heart, who already had made plans to have Jesus arrested, to have Jesus betrayed to the authorities, that Jesus knew this, and that Jesus is expressing His love even to one who is not going to love Him back! He is showing His love to the uttermost. This uttermost expression of His love for His people even though among them is one who doesn't care for what Jesus is doing…one who is there to betray Him.
In verse 3 it says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God." Now that is kind of a strange introduction of words there. We're getting ready to set the scene for the washing of the feet, but John reminds us of something that Jesus knows as He prepares to do this. And I want us to look at this verse for just a moment.
It says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God." What is he saying? What he is saying is that Jesus knows that He has all power. God has given all things into His hands. Jesus is all-powerful. Jesus knows He is from God. He knows His home is in heaven. He knows the power, the royalty, the majesty, the authority that He has. He has the authority to destroy the devil right then!
He has the authority to execute divine wrath on Judas Iscariot. He has all power to bring an end to all of the evil plans of the world against Him. But instead He is going to set that power aside. John wants to paint the picture that this One who is going to gird Himself and wash the disciples' feet is not just any servant, that He is Almighty God, that He knowing His power…knowing His power…is going to give it up.
It says, "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. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded."
He performed a menial servant's task. A task so menial that the rabbis' teaching of the day was that if you had Jewish servants and Gentile servants, you would never ask a Jewish servant to wash the feet because it was beneath even the Jewish servant's role that you would get the lowest person in your mind to be the one to perform this basic, menial task. So you can just imagine the reaction and the shock of the disciples.
Now the disciples have not offered to wash each others' feet. They would not think to wash the feet of one of their peers. Alright, this was something the servant in your household would do for your guests, but you wouldn't do it. The disciples would never think to lower themselves so low as to take on the role of a servant and to wash each others' feet. After all they need their own feet washed! "I need my feet washed. Am I supposed to wash your feet when I need my feet? Well we need to get somebody, a servant, who can just take care of both of us." So imagine the shock. Here is the Messiah, the One who up to this moment they are intending to take over as King of Israel. And now He dresses Himself as a servant and begins to serve them.
Paul explains that to us a bit, I think. A very familiar text, and one that we have encountered several times in our study of John, but in light of this scene that is before us and to get to what I think Jesus is trying to show us, we need to look at it again. In Philippians 2, verse 5: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ." In other words, have the same mindset of Jesus in what Paul is about to say. This is how you ought to think. You ought to think as Jesus thought. And we already know a little bit about how Jesus was thinking. John has already told us that. And Paul tells us that. He tells the Philippians that. In other words, he says the same things, and it's in verse 6.
Notice: "Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God." In other words, Jesus did not consider it a wrong thing to lay hold of equality with God, that Jesus did not misunderstand that He was God. Jesus didn't see the title of God as being something that if He held onto that He'd be stealing it…He'd be stealing the authority. No, Jesus fully knew that He was God! And to be called equal with God, Jesus knew that!
But notice, even knowing that, verse 7 says, "But made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Jesus knew at every step that He was all-powerful. He knew at every step that He had all authority. And what He is showing the disciples…I want you to get this…is that though He has all authority and though He has all power, He is going to set that aside.
And what the washing of the feet is there to do is to illustrate and demonstrate what Jesus was going to do in just a few hours. It was an illustration of Jesus setting aside His power, His role, and His authority, not taking on and girding Himself in a towel this time, but taking on and girding Himself in crucifixion, suffering as a common criminal to serve you and me. He was going to take off His kingly role, take off His messianic title, send back and hold off the angels who would have come to help Him, and is going to wrap Himself in the form of One who dies, and be a Servant obedient even to the point of death.
And so what Jesus is showing them…Luke tells us this. Luke says normally it's the servant who washes the feet, not the owner of the home. "But I am showing you what ministry looks like. I am showing you what you have to be willing to do yourself to follow Me." Well the disciples are in shock.
Let me continue in John, chapter 13, verse 5. "After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded." Verse 6: "Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, 'Lord, are You washing my feet?'" "Are You…the Messiah, the King of Israel, the One whom I've declared to everybody as the Son of God…are You going to wash my feet?"
"Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.'" Jesus says, "If I'm not able to fulfill this servant role with you, Peter, then you have no part in My ministry. My ministry is all about service, and if I can't minister to you, you can't be part of My ministry. You can't be part of Me. You have no part with Me." And notice what Peter says in response to that. He puts in his own superlative here. Peter said in verse 9: "Simon Peter said to Him, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!'"
In other words, "If being with You involves a cleansing, then just clean me all over! Just pour water all over me so that I'll be even closer to You, that I'll even be more a part." In other words, Peter's heart was he wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to have a part with Him. He was socially trying to keep himself from having His Messiah lower Himself before him. Socially, he was driven. Humanly, by human standards, he saw this as wrong. And when Jesus is correcting it, he says, "Well then, Lord, just give me a complete bath. Just hose me down. If it'll make me closer to You, then wash me thoroughly."
And then Jesus shares with him a very familiar text. In verse 10, He says, "'He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.' For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, 'You are not all clean.'" Jesus says, "Well the complete cleansing is something you've experienced. Not all of you have experienced, but most of you have experienced that. What I'm doing is I'm simply illustrating to you, I'm showing you the need for continual service. I'm showing you the need that you're going to have to meet the needs of one another. It's not always a complete cleansing, but you do have these continual daily, day in day out, week in week out needs that need to be met, and you need to demonstrate to each other."
Look at what He says in verse 12. "So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you?'" In other words, do you know what this was about? Do you understand? This has nothing to do with washing your feet. I'm trying to teach you something. "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am." Now Teacher and Lord…in other words, that is high ranking. That is One who is greater. That is One who would be looked up to.
Here is the picture in verse 14: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet…" Have done this servant's role, "…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. 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."
Jesus said a similar thing back in Matthew. When James and John, the sons of Zebedee came to Him, and their mother was their spokesman. And she said, "Jesus, I know You're getting ready to set up the kingdom." She is thinking, I'm sure, it's going to be an earthly kingdom. "And since no one has claimed it yet, I think my two boys would look good on Your right hand and Your left hand. If you need somebody to be Your right hand man, if You need somebody to be there on Your left, You need some people to be in the group shot there right next to You, James and John would do very well. I think they're good boys. They're good at heart. They've got a temper, but they're good at heart. And they should be there."
In verse 20 of Matthew 20, it says, "Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him…" from Christ, "…And He said to her, 'What do you wish?' She said to Him, 'Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.' But Jesus answered and said, 'You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?' They said to Him…" ignorantly, "…'We are able.'" Yes, we're able.
Jesus says, "You understand what I'm about to go through? You want to be next to Me? You want to have a part with Me? You understand that I'm about to be crucified? You understand the baptism of fire I'm about to go through? Do you understand the ordeal I'm about to go through? Are you able to continue that way?" And they say, "We are able."
Verse 23: "So He said to them, 'You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.' And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.'"
In other words, we know the model the world presents when it comes to authority and position. The Gentiles, who are the lords over their servants, they lord it over them. They exercise authority over them. They consider themselves, in other words, greater than them. That is the role of the world. That is how the world sees the right hand and the left. He is actually telling the ten, "Don't be too upset at the desire of these two to be at My right hand and My left because I'm going to tell you that it is a very high cost to do so."
And He goes on in Matthew, and He says in verse 26, "Yet it shall not be so among you;" There is a different paradigm when it comes to greatness in the kingdom of God. "But whoever desires to become great among you…" That's okay. That is an okay desire, but to desire that, here is how you do it: "…let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man…" Just as exactly as I'm modeling it, in other words. "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Jesus there on the floor of the upper room washing the disciples' feet is showing them in picture form exactly what service in the kingdom of God looks like. Greatness is in service. The greater the servant, the one who wants to sit at the right and the left, the one who wants to be the greatest in the kingdom has to be the greatest servant here on earth. Wanting to pursue greatness in the kingdom is not a bad thing! It's a good thing, but you need to know the career path of that. You need to know how it is you become great in the kingdom.
I hope that all of us are desiring to do great things for God. I hope that that is in the heart of every believer, that we didn't sign on to the kingdom in order to just slack off. I hope you didn't sign on to the kingdom to just try to barely make your way through. I hope you're intending to do great things for God. And here is how you do it…you serve. You serve. Greatness is in doing the most menial of things.
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