John 13:1-17 The Footwashing WC McCarter
As we move into the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the scene changes, the ministry of Christ changes, and the overall tone changes. Christ and His disciples are no longer out in the public performing miracles and preaching to the masses. Jesus is now in an Upper Room with His closest disciples, the twelve, eating a meal and speaking plainly to them about His departure. What He will say to them on the eve of His betrayal, arrest, and death will be crucial. The Lord will prepare them as much as possible for what lies ahead. He is leaving, but it is not the end of the world or mission. As they sat in the Upper Room, Christ’s glorification was only beginning.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
He Loved Them to the End (1)
The first verse marks a transition in the Gospel of John. This verse, which is one, long sentence in Greek, is an introductory statement to the rest of the book. Christ’s love is about to be put on display. When human history comes to its darkest moment, Christ will shine all the more brightly.
We are told that this sequence takes place before the feast of the Passover, that is, we have now come to a moment just before the Passover celebration. Jesus knew that His hour had come. Christ has been aware of His coming “hour” from the beginning of His earthly ministry. All the way back in John 2, when Jesus performed His first recorded miracle, He said to Mary, “My hour has not yet come.” In chapter 7, the reader is told that the Lord’s opponents tried to take Him away, but He miraculously escaped, “because His hour had not yet come.” The same things happens in John 8. As His hour neared, Jesus was fully aware. In chapter 12, Jesus is somewhat signaled that the time has come. When the Jewish authorities are at the height of their hatred toward Jesus, there are many Gentiles who are wanting to see Him. Jesus says, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” The “hour” is the appointed time of Christ’s death, resurrection, and crucifixion. Picking up on Jesus’ reference to all of this, John lumps these events together and calls them Christ’s “glorification.” Jesus then says in chapter 12, “For this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
So, when we come to chapter 13, John reminds us that Jesus’ hour has come, and Jesus is fully aware of that fact. He will leave this world and go to the Father. He will go back to His place in glory at the right hand of the Father. Remember, this is the Word that we are talking about. Chapter 1 told us that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The eternal Word, who descended from heaven and put on flesh, would be returning to heaven after completing His mission. He is the Creator of this world and stands above it, but for a time entered into it in order that He may redeem it by His own blood.
Although Jesus would be leaving the world, He had loved His own who were in the world all along. Jesus was invested in the men and women who were gathered around Him. He loved the men whom He had chosen. Not only had He loved them during His time with them, but He loved them to the end. This word, “end,” refers to more than what may meet the eye. It refers to completion, fullness, and to the uttermost. When Jesus cried out on the cross in John 19, “It is finished,” He was using the same word as here. The full extent of His love would be shown on the cross by His sacrificial death. He loved them to the end of His time on earth with them. He loved them to the completion of the mission and fulfillment of the promises of Scripture. He loved them to the uttermost in humbling Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, when John says He loved them to the end, He is not referring to only what happens in the next few paragraphs, but to what happens in the remainder of the Gospel story (which is why I think that 13:1 is an introductory statement to the remainder of John’s Gospel account).
The Betrayer’s Heart and the Lord’s Mind (2-3)
After getting the big picture of what is now going on, verse two takes us into a particular scene. Jesus is gathered in the Upper Room with His closest disciples, and they are eating the Passover meal together. The NKJV says that supper has ended, but a better translation would be that supper had just been served, and thus, the evening meal was actually still in progress at this point in the narrative. Of course, food is not the only thing present at the table, there is wickedness in the betrayer’s heart and there is awareness in the Lord’s mind. The opening scene presents Jesus and Judas juxtaposed.
Although Satan himself has not entered into the heart of Judas at this point (which happens not long after this), the plan is already in the works. The devil has already put the thought into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray the Lord. The devil had been working on Judas for some time now. Judas has been shown to be a lying, thieving, and greedy previous to this occasion, and now the devil has Judas just where he wants the man. Although Judas had spent three years with the Lord, close by His side, and even carrying the money bag, he was weak and vulnerable to the wiles of the devil. As Jesus had previously taught in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
The devil was doing things that the men around the table could not be aware of, but Jesus was fully aware of what was going on. Not only do I firmly believe that Jesus knew what was in Judas’ heart, we also read that Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. What can this phrase mean, but that all authority was His? Although Judas would hand Christ over, Christ had all things in His hands. John wants us to know, and later we will see that Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was fully aware of what was about to happen.
“Jesus knew” . . . “that His hour had come”
“that He should depart from this world to the Father”
“that the Father had given all things into His hands”
“and that He had come from God and was going to God.”
Let me assure you of something, JESUS KNEW!
And He always knows! Christ knows your heart, and, not only that, He knows what you are going through. He has experienced this life for Himself.
The Footwashing (4-5)
Verse four makes clear that supper was still ongoing. In the midst of a celebration and meal, the Lord stands up, takes off His clothes, and heads to the water basin near the entranceway. Notice that the word “garments” is plural. He took off more than His outer cloak. Apparently, He stripped down to only a loin cloth like a slave. He then wrapped a towel around His waist. Jesus was doing the unthinkable! In the homes of that day, there would have been a basin of water by the door and a servant to meet you whenever you came into the house. It would not be just any servant, but it would be the lowliest slave who had footwashing duty. The roads were dusty and trashy, and the people only wore sandals. Thus, although they may have had a bath that morning, after walking the roads during the day, their feet would need to be washed upon entering a house.
It is obvious that none of the disciples decided to humble themselves to wash their colleagues’ feet and not even their Lord’s. Of course, this is not unexpected. The disciples had been arguing for some time now who would be the greatest in the Lord’s coming kingdom. All of the men gathered in that Upper Room to celebrate the Passover and eat the meal, but there was no servant there to wash their feet and none of the disciples volunteered for the lowly task. Therefore, Jesus saw an opening and decided to act out a lesson.
Peter’s Disapproval (6-11)
Do you know anyone who has a foot-shaped mouth? Well, the leader of the apostles did! Peter was always the one to speak up. While the other few that Jesus washed before getting around the table to Peter remained in stunned silence, Peter speaks up. He cannot allow the Lord to wash his feet. Peter is the one who somewhat doubted the Lord when he first met Him, but soon learned to humble himself in obedience to the Lord. He was blown away by the majesty of Christ in one of those early encounters and fell down on his knees saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Since that time, Peter, to some degree, made it his mission to defend the Lord. He self-appointed himself as the Lord’s bodyguard. So, when Jesus says that He would suffer, die, and be raised again, Peter says, “Far be it from You, Lord.” Even after they leave the Upper Room and head to the Garden, Peter pulls his sword and is ready to fight for the Lord against the Temple guards who come to arrest Him. If no one else would speak up about the Lord humiliating Himself, then Peter would!
So, Peter asks the question in utter bewilderment, “Are you washing my feet?” And the Lord responds, “You don’t understand this now, but you will.” This is the first signal that points me to something more being taught than simply humility. Peter then rebukes the Lord, “You will never wash my feet.” To which Jesus responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” So, Peter quickly changes his story, “Give me a bath then!” Jesus responds by teaching a lesson based on common practice. If you had a bath that morning, you didn’t need a whole bath again after walking the streets, you would only need your feet washed. Spiritually speaking, once you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, you do not have to be regenerated again every time you fall into sin; you only need to be forgiven. John, the apostle, learned this lesson and said in his first epistle, “If anyone sins, they must confess their sin and Christ is faithful and just to forgive him and cleanse him from all unrighteousness.” Jesus, then signals that not all of them were clean. Not all of them belonged to Him.
Do You Know What I Have Done to You? (12-17)
And, so, we come to the last paragraph. Because Jesus says, “I have given you an example,” many have come to this passage wanting to interpret that Jesus is simply teaching us how to be humble. He is obviously doing that, but I think it is beside the main point. There is something far greater going on in this passage. Something far greater is going on in the washing of these feet, and we have seen some signals in the passage to this truth. First of all, the whole setting somewhat sets the pace for this. This is the last night that Jesus is with His disciples. They’re in private. These are the men who are going to carry on the mission. And we have already been told in verse one that the time has come for Jesus to depart and return to the Father. Whatever preparation these guys still need they are going to have to get right now.
I think a major part of the preparation that is lacking is that they are going to have to understand what Jesus does the very next day by willing laying down His life and being crucified. This is a man who had large crowds surrounding Him who wanted to kill Him . . . stones in hand . . . and all eyes on Him. Yet, He slips away without a scratch. This is not a man who can be taken if He does not want to be taken. But, He willingly allows Himself to be arrested in the Garden. He willingly allows Himself to be dragged from one court/official to the next. He willingly lays down on a cross to have nails driven into His flesh so that He may take the sins of the world upon His sinless soul to pay our penalty as our substitute.
Jesus is fully aware of what’s going on, but the disciples are not, and as Jesus will later say, You are going to be scattered, and, Peter, you are going to betray Me three times. . . . You need to know what’s going on, and you need to know that I know ahead of time what is going to happen. Those two things are vital to this evening in the Upper Room. So, by way of preparation, I believe, Jesus acts out a prophecy; He acts out a lesson. If they could not accept Him taken off His clothes down to a loin cloth, putting a towel around His waist, picking up the water basin, and washing their feet, then they will NEVER understand nor accept what He does on the cross. When He extends it past that to this being an example that believers should do for one another, He is saying much more than, You need to wash one another’s feet on a regular basis. He is saying, You need to lay down your lives for one another. Another signal that I have this interpretation right is that the apostle John learned this lesson and later said in his first epistle, “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.” The apostle John, who was sitting there in the room with Jesus, who was reclining into His bosom because he was sitting right beside the Lord, who had his feet washed by Jesus, and who was the only apostle to follow Jesus to the cross – this apostle learned this lesson, and we do well to learn this lesson too.
This is the Gospel. We worship a God, the one, true, and living God, who put on flesh and blood in the Christmas story, who humbled Himself in the first place to become a man, and then humble Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross to pay for our sins. You see, there is no atonement if the Son of God does not offer Himself as a sacrifice. There is no atonement for sin if this story is not true. If it is not true, what is your hope? What is your trust? What is going to save you? If this book is not true, then we have no hope. If this book is dead, then we are also dead. But, I believe this book is true and living, and I live because of what it tells me. He has laid down His life for us, and He has taken it up again. He has shown us that this is the way.
This is the Way: Christ’s death and sacrificial love. 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, so 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. We offer our bodies as a living sacrifice that by some means people may hear the Gospel and come to a thorough knowledge of the truth and to saving faith.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Let us make something clear: Christ knows your heart. He knows what is in you. He can see to the depths of you. Does He find brokenness over sin? Does He find a contrite heart? Does He find an admission of spiritual bankruptcy? Does He see a heart that is after the things of God? Or does He find pride, arrogance, selfishness, worldliness, and the like? What is your treasure?
Not only does Jesus know your heart, but He knows what you are going through. Whatever you find yourself in the midst of, whether it be a lack of necessities, relationship problems, pain, suffering, the loss of a loved one, and the like, Jesus can sympathize. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our hurts. He was betrayed by one who was close to Him for three years, a man who spent every day with Him.
(2) You must be willing to humble yourself in behalf of others. You are probably willing to do that for your kids or your family, but what about others? Are you willing to put yourself in the lowliest of places to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you even willing to show the love of Christ by humbling yourself to serve your adversaries and betrayers? Christ did and commands us to do the same for one another.