Summary: This world is not our home,. However, the Lord is not taking His disciples immediately out of this world. Instead, He equips us with a model of love and humility for our continuing sojourn here.
WASHING THE DISCIPLES’ FEET
John concludes his account of Jesus’ public ministry with one last urgent appeal in which our Lord “cried out” (John 12:44) with a vehemence not unlike His cry at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:43). Jesus does not cease to call the spiritually dead to new life (John 5:24-25; John 11:25-26), nor those that dwell in darkness into the light (John 12:46). But from John 13-16 Jesus’ ministry is towards “His own” (John 13:1), gathered around the Communion table.
It is an incredible commentary on the humility of Christ that He loved His disciples even to the very end (John 13:1). This is not necessarily a temporal measurement, but rather a reference to the intensity of His love: He loved them to the uttermost. All that He did was with a selfless love, even when He knew that “His hour” had come (1 John 4:10).
We may also observe that the Lord was fully aware that He was about to leave the world and return to His Father. However, He was not taking His disciples immediately out of this world, but was rather equipping them with a model of love and humility for their continuing sojourn here. Jesus would later pray not that His Father would take us out of the world, but that He would keep us from evil (John 17:15).
It is also remarkable to recollect the men whom He thus loved. In the first instance it was the disciples whom He termed Apostles, a band of men most of whom would desert Him in His crisis hour. Even Judas Iscariot was being offered one last chance to retract from his impending betrayal (John 13:2) by the demonstration of our Lord’s love that would follow.
More than this, Jesus was fully aware of His position in relation to the Father. Jesus had come from God, and was going to God: and would one day offer up the kingdom to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). Yet knowing that the Father had committed all power into His hands (John 13:3), our Lord with loving condescension stooped down to wash the feet of His disciples.
The minute eyewitness details of this historic event provide us with a parabolic example of humility, the spirit of which we are to follow (John 13:15). It also provides an elucidation of the whole sacrificial ministry of Jesus: we must remember that this was the season of Passover, when the Paschal Lamb was sacrificed. Just as Jesus “laid aside” (John 13:4) His outer garments, so the Good Shepherd would “lay down” His life for the sheep (John 10:18).
It would appear that there had been a breach of etiquette in that no-one had taken it upon themselves to wash the feet of the little company. When the Lord took the initiative in the matter, impetuous Peter resisted: “What, you wash my feet? Never!” (John 13:6; John 13:8).
We may not understand everything just yet, but we must still submit ourselves to the work of the Lord: when we do so we will receive a better understanding hereafter (John 13:7). Meantime if we will not be washed by Jesus then perhaps we have no part with Him? (John 13:8). Hearing this, Peter characteristically went to the other extreme: “Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (John 13:9).
The person who has bathed, who has had their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb, has no need to repeat this action in their lives (John 13:10). However, it is necessary to have the dirt and grime of every day life, the daily sins which still so easily beset us, washed away in confession and prayer (1 John 1:9). Whilst the Lord pronounced that “not all” were clean Judas Iscariot was still capable of being pricked in his conscience, but to no avail (John 13:11).
After Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, presumably without further interruption, He sat down and explained His actions. “You call me the Teacher and the Lord, you say well: I am” (John 13:13). If the Master has condescended to do this menial task, then surely His followers, His “sent ones” (John 13:16) should do likewise.
We have before us an example of humility which we are exhorted to emulate. The Christian life, after all, is a life of selflessness and sacrifice (1 Peter 2:20-21). We must attire ourselves for service, and there will come a day when our Lord will stand while we sit, attire Himself, and serve us (Luke 12:35; Luke 12:37).
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).