Most readers of the Gospel of John can agree that chapter 13 begins a new part in the book. I follow others in thinking “that verse I should be separated from the incident which immediately follows it, and regarded as an introduction to the whole of the remaining chapters” (Tasker 154), including the Upper Room Discourse. Christ public ministry is over and now He has a short time to prepare His disciples for the following events. Betrayal, deception, injustice, abuse, and murder would soon follow. Threats would prowl on every side. How could the Lord prepare them for this? What would He do? What could He say? That is what we learn in what’s called the Upper Room Discourse which is found in John chapters 13-17.
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The Extent of Love and Betrayal [verses 1-2]
We can see that right up-front the Apostle John is contrasting the extent of Jesus’ love and the extent of Judas’ betrayal. Verse 1 tells us that Jesus had loved His disciples all along. These were the men that He had chosen. These were the men who followed Him night and day, though many had withdrawn from Him because of a hard saying, political pressure, a certain miracle, etc.
John says that Jesus loved them all along and He loved them to the end. “To the end” can be interpreted in two different ways. The phrase could mean that Jesus loved them to the full extent, the uttermost or it could mean that He loved them to the end of His life, the end of the Father’s plan. I don’t think we would be wrong if we moved forward with both interpretations.
This introductory verse tells us of the full extent of His love, and it is begun to be unveiled even in the event of the footwashing. The rest of the book describes the extent of Jesus’ love. Christ is willing to go as far as it takes to bring to fruition His Father’s plans. He is willing to go to the full extent to show God’s love to His disciples. We will pick up more on it in next week’s sermon, but in verse 2 we can already see the extent of Judas’ betrayal as well. This is a satanic origination. A scheme derived in the heart of Satan is proposed to the heart of Judas and he accepts. He is willing to go as far as betray a friend. He is willing to betray an innocent man.
Jesus’ Full Awareness [verse 3]
Judas may have has some awareness of the situation. At least, he thought that he had everything under control, but contrast his awareness with that of Jesus. John was quick to point out, as Jesus is later in the discourse, that the Lord was fully aware of the entire situation and much more. Christ knew someone would betray Him, He knew who the betrayer was, He knew He was going to die (that was the Father’s plan), and most importantly He knew “that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God…” (verse 3).
Connective: You will notice that in John’s Upper Room Discourse, Jesus does not institute the Lord’s Supper like He does in the other Gospels. John’s readers would have known well that account (probably said it every week), so he instead gives them the account of the footwashing, which is also very vivid of the sacrifice Christ would make.
The Footwashing [verses 4-5]
The footwashing provides us with at least three pictures:
(1) The first picture that these verses invoke is of the incarnation. We know that this is a subject that John has thoroughly covered in the Gospel. The Apostle begins his Gospel account with statements about the incarnation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). Later in that first chapter he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (1:14). The divinity of Christ is stressed throughout John’s writing and is no less seen in the footwashing event. It would be very difficult for any Christian to read this text and not think of its similarities with the Apostle Paul’s poetic writing in Philippians 2. There the Scripture says that Christ “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (2:7). He literally emptied Himself. It is almost impossible to miss this picture in the footwashing narrative. In the incarnation Christ laid aside the “independent use of His divine attributes” (J. Barber) and lowered Himself to the position of a man.
(2) The second picture that I will mention is of the crucifixion. This is the main thrust of what Jesus is doing. It is the night before his death and we know that He is preparing His disciples for that horrific event. The sheep will be scattered because the Shepherd will be betrayed, unjustly condemned, and crucified. Yet, if they cannot accept that Jesus is willing to assume the position of a slave and wash their feet, they will never accept that He is willing to be murdered and suffer the penalty for sin. As one person said, “The footwashing was an acted parable…” (Tasker 154). It was to foreshadow what would immediately follow. In the crucifixion Christ laid aside His life “and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8).
(3) The final picture that this occasion must provide is of humility. There is no doubt that it was unthinkable for a rabbi to wash his disciples’ feet. It would be rare for a disciple to wash his rabbi’s feet. For both Jews and Gentiles this was viewed as the lowest of jobs, reserved for the most inferior slave of the house. Yet Christ, their “Lord and Teacher,” washed their feet. The description in verses 4-5 is the exact form of a slave: no top garments, girded with a towel, and a basin in hand. This is humility! In the footwashing Christ laid aside His garments and lowered Himself to the position of a slave.
I could easily preach a sermon on each of these three pictures. The footwashing event is rich with substance from which to learn. The first picture that I have stated is an idea pulled from the Apostolic teaching of the New Testament. The last two pictures are pulled from the immediate context of the Upper Room. Because the last two come from the immediate context, this next comment will only be about them. Both are applications that Jesus Himself points out to His disciples, yet neither should be confused. The footwashing may be viewed from either of the two perspectives, but not both at the same time. Christ is not telling His disciples that they must each die a unique, sacrificial, atoning death for one another. Only Christ could do that. So, yes, Christ is our example and even in the crucifixion He exemplifies godly lessons, but more than that He was able to do for us far more than any mere man would have ever been able to do. The footwashing was a show of the atoning sacrifice to come which could also show that the disciples must love/serve one another.
The Interaction with Peter [verses 6-11]
Peter’s Question - Jesus’ Response - Peter’s Rebuke - Jesus’ Response - Peter’s Response
Peter, as loud and challenging as ever, is flabbergasted at the thought of his Master washing his feet. He asks in utter bafflement, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” If only Peter understood what Jesus meant with the footwashing, he would hush up and let the Lord work. If only we would understand what Jesus is doing, we would hush up and allow Him to work. The footwashing was all about the crucifixion. Thus, Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Jesus had to die that sacrificial death on the cross, the disciples had to allow it, they had to understand it, they had to accept it, they had to believe in it…
It is interesting that Jesus did not wash the disciples’ feet when they first arrived. That was the custom. It would have been shocking then and it was even more outrageous that after the meal had begun, Jesus got up to do this. It tells me that He wanted their full attention. He wanted them to see Him lay aside His garments, gird Himself with a towel, and fill a basin with water. He wanted this to be a graphic pointer to His cross which would be the most scandalous and outrageous event in all of history! God would become flesh and blood to be crucified by men!
Here, Peter is out of line once again and Jesus corrects Him. He makes sure that Peter knows who is the Master is and who is the disciple. Others have acknowledged that Peter appears to represent so much of humanity. Here, he represents resistant men and women to the grace of God. He was only thinking of what was socially appropriate. He was humiliated by Christ’s humility. He was put in a vulnerable position, a place where he was not in control, and he did not like it at all. He was willing to wash Jesus’ feet, but not let Jesus wash his. He would rather work than submit. But this is the Gospel: there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace except submit to the work of Christ. Stop fighting it and allow Christ to pay for your sins… Humanity wants to be independent…independent of God… I will take care of our own feet, thank you very much! I would have to humble myself to allow you to do something for me. I will help you, but you will never help me. I am above that. You see, this attitude will bring about the wrath of God because you can not save yourself. You can never do enough or pay enough for your own self. God is holy perfection and requires that of us. We have already fallen short of that before we even think of it. Allow Christ to be your means of salvation. The work is done, simply believe and you will have eternal life!
Notice in verse 11 that Jesus points out that not all of the disciples were clean. He knew that His betrayer was in the room. In fact, it would be hard to deny that Judas’ feet weren’t washed with the rest. Not only did Jesus take the form of a slave, but he even went as far as washing the feet of His betrayer! What does this tell you? Yes, love has no bounds. Yes, Jesus led by example the things that He taught (love your enemies). But I see something else jumping off of the page: association does not allegiance. Outward works do not ensure someone’s inward transformation.
The Explanation of the Footwashing [verses 12-17]
Jesus promises a blessing if His disciples will follow His example. Remember, this is an important application of what Jesus had just done. The footwashing was primarily to show the cross, but also to teach servanthood/humility. It was John in the third chapter who wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” and it was John in the third chapter of His first epistle who wrote, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This is the Way: Christ’s death and sacrificial love of the brethren. This is the mark of Christianity. Not that we sacrifice others, but that we sacrifice ourselves. Our Master has done this and as His servants we are no greater. He stoops to this level and we stoop to this level. He dies in order to pay for our sins, and we live in order to tell others that He paid for their sins as well.
There are at least three pictures that come to mind from the footwashing with the primary being that of the crucifixion. Christ laid aside His life for you and me. He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. This is surely the full extent of His love…surely the end of the Father’s plan. True cleansing comes from the blood of the sinless Christ who shed it on that cross. The footwashing points directly to that!