1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Glory is a category that we all operate with all the time, even though it is not a word we use much outside of the church. In its most basic sense, glory is synonymous with praiseworthy. Again, even if the word never pops into our head, we consider something glorious if we are impressed by it, look up to it, or honor it, and we do that all the time.
When considering glory in those terms, it’s probably pretty easy to name a few things you consider glorious—the greatest athlete in your favorite sport or win from your favorite team, someone exceptionally creative, someone particularly knowledgeable and accomplished, someone with extraordinary wealth, beautiful sunsets or rugged mountains, the pageantry of the Olympics, an act of significant bravery and self-sacrifice, a decisive military victory, or a full orchestra performing a significant piece of music.
Typically, we equate glory with excellence, accomplishment, victory, size, strength, beauty, knowledge, and the like.
So, let me ask you, what do you consider glorious? Who/what would you describe as particularly admirable or worthy of praise and esteem? And to be clear, this though experiment works best if you think about the things you are impressed by in the normal course of your life, not the things you know you should be impressed by.
I ended last week’s sermon by mentioning that the end of John 12 marks the end of the first major section of the Gospel—the Book of Signs—and that chapter 13 marks the beginning of the second major section—the Book of Glory. With a name like that, we might expect something excellent, victorious, powerful, praiseworthy—glorious—right out of the gate. Indeed, our passage, the beginning of the Book of Glory, has at its heart a description of the glory of Jesus. And yet, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, it is not the usual kind of glory. As we’ve seen over and over in John, Jesus’ glory is different than the kind the world craved and expected from the Christ.
To be sure, Jesus is glorious in excellence, accomplishment, victory, size, strength, beauty, and knowledge. But His glory is also praiseworthy in other ways as well—ways entirely unexpected by the world and even His own disciples. The big idea of this passage is that Jesus’ glory includes a love-to-the-end, foot-washing kind of glory. And the main takeaways for us are to learn to love true glory, to listen to and obey Jesus in all things, and to follow Jesus’ example in expressing, condescending, servant love wherever we go.
JESUS LOVED HIS OWN TO THE END (1)
As I mentioned in the introduction, this is a passage primarily about the servant-glory of Jesus and His followers. In the first two verses, however, John—almost in passing—introduces Jesus’ servant-glory with two extremely significant statements. One concerns the nature of Jesus’ love and the other concerns the reach of the devil.
Since they’re not the main point of the passage, I don’t want to spend too much time on them, but because they are so significant, they deserve more than a passing mention. Let’s begin with v.1 and John’s statement on the love of Jesus.
1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The events of our passage took place on Thursday evening (Jesus was arrested that night and crucified the next day). More specifically, they took place, just prior to what we’ve come to call “the Last Supper”.
John spoke of this time as a kind of finish line for Jesus. His earthly ministry was almost done. In a matter of mere hours Jesus would be crucified. Within a matter of mere days, Jesus would rise from the dead. And in a matter of mere weeks, Jesus would return to the Father. What really stands out, however, is how John described the nature of Jesus’ finish. His hour had come with Jesus “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
It is good for us to fix our minds and hearts on the two ways in which that is particularly true. Jesus loved to the end of His life and to the end of our sin.
Jesus Loved to the End of His Life
The primary thrust of John’s meaning is that Jesus loved the world from before its beginning until the end of His life. He was sent in love (3:13) and He never wavered in His love for those given to Him by the Father. In spite of all the trials, persecutions, rejections, denials, confusion, and unbelief, Jesus remained steadfastly filled with love for “his own who were in the world.”
For all kinds of lesser reasons, all kinds of men and women have left love. Discouragement, criticism, pride, loneliness, unmet expectations, etc. have caused people leave churches, ministries, and even the faith. But Jesus not only persevered until the end, but He persevered in love. More than limping to the cross, frustrated and discouraged, He loved all the way.
Grace, let us look to Jesus and learn this kind of love. Let us fight in the Spirit’s power to love sacrificially (gladly laying our lives down for one another), selflessly (willingly setting aside our own preferences and “rights”), and persistently (over time, through any amount of rejection). That’s how Jesus loves you. How can you love like that today?
Jesus Loves to the End of Our Sin
Jesus loved His people to the end of His life and, the second aspect of the meaning of John’s words, is that Jesus loves to the end of our sin. I remember being particularly moved by this idea in the book Gentle and Lowly.
“Perhaps, as believers today, we know God loves us. We really believe that. But if we were to more closely examine how we actually relate to the Father moment by moment—which reveals our actual theology, whatever we say we believe on paper—many of us tend to believe it is a love infected with disappointment. He loves us; but it’s a flustered love. We see him looking down on us with personal affection but slightly raised eyebrows…”.Gentle and Lowly, Ortlund, 189-190
But that is not how the love of God works for those who are in Christ. Instead, just a few pages later, Ortlund, quoting Spurgeon, helps us to see the truth concerning God’s love for us, “Christ loved you before all worlds; long ere the day star flung his ray across the darkness, before the wing of angel had flapped the unnavigated ether, before aught of creation had struggled from the womb of nothingness, God, even our God, has set his heart upon all his children. Since that time, has he once swerved, has he once turned aside, once changed? … No, children of God, it is our solemn duty to say ‘No,’ and bear witness to his faithfulness” (195).
Grace, find deep and abiding comfort in the fact that if your hope is in Jesus, Jesus loves you fully and completely, at all times, and through all your sin. Your next sin might be a surprise to you, but it most certainly will not be to Jesus. He already knew of it (more deeply even than you ever will) when He lovingly chose to take the full measure of the Father’s wrath for it upon Himself, and so He loves you fully then.
Oh that we would truly know the meaning of John’s simple introductory words, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Would you dare to combine a growing hatred of your own sin (on account of the fact that it required the death of the innocent, Son of God) with a growing receiving of Jesus’ love (on account of the fact that He has promised it to the very end of your sin)?
THE DEVIL PUT EVIL IN JUDAS’S HEART (2)
That leads to the second verse and the second profound statement John made on His way to the servant-glory of Jesus. I’m going to spend even less time on this one since it’s the main focus of the next section. Nevertheless, I do want to your attention to something that I’ll unpack next week: there is a sense in which the devil has malevolent access to hearts.
2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,
We live in a world that is functionally materialistic. Even within the Church, we’re often skeptical of any truly supernatural claims. While there’s certainly some merit to our skepticism, there’s also no way to be a Christian and deny that God Himself, Father and Spirit, along with much of God’s creation, is spiritual (non-material, has no body). There really are angels and demons. There really are cherubim and seraphim. And there really is a devil named Satan, Lucifer, the evil one (along with several other names).
What’s more, in ways we don’t totally understand, there is interaction between us and the spiritual beings God made. And more to the point, there is a battle between the spiritual forces of evil and the people of God. God’s word is clear that Satan and the demons who fell with him are active in the world seeking to tempt (), deceive (), and destroy () those who do and would hope in Jesus.
Again, I’ll come back to this next week when Jesus speaks directly to this, but for now, I’d like to invite you to take some time this week to carefully and prayerfully consider the fact that “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas…to betray [Jesus].” Although v.18 makes it clear that God is ultimately sovereign, at times at least, in Job-like fashion, the devil has access to hearts. He is able to temp people (even Jesus) with sin. Let us pray, therefore, that we would stand firm in the power of the Spirit, no matter the enemy’s tactics, because of Jesus’ victory.
JESUS’ LOVE AND GLORY WASHED THE DISCIPLES’ FEET (3-17)
Now to the heart of the passage and the servant-glory of Jesus. The passage is somewhat neatly divided between foot-washing glory displayed, misunderstood, explained, and commanded.
Foot-Washing Glory Displayed (3-5)
Imagine for a moment that you had unlimited power for one hour. What would you use it for? Get rich? Fix problems? Crush evil? Save souls? Get a promotion? Win the Superbowl? Rescue babies? Catch a lot of fish? Get the guy/girl? There’s a lot of options (good and bad), aren’t there? Where would you start? Let me be a bit more specific, though. How far down your list would foot-washing be during your hour of omnipotence?
Grace, don’t miss the fact that all things had been given to Jesus so…He washed feet. That is, don’t miss the reality that Jesus’ first act in the Book of Glory was to serve in the most humble possible way. Look at v.3.
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
In Jesus’ day, people mainly wore sandals and the roads were mainly dirt and animal droppings. For that reason, it was a normal, several-times-a-day thing to have your feet washed when entering someone’s home or a religious service. And for reasons you can probably imagine, it was the job of the lowest servant. In fact, it was such a lowly job that Jewish servants were usually prohibited from foot-washing; it was a job reserved for gentile servants.
Even in some rare act of exceptional devotion (child to father or student to teacher), foot-washing was always, always the lower washing the feet of the higher.
What Jesus did, therefore, was in every way truly preposterous (we’ll see that momentarily in Peter’s response). This just wasn’t how it was done on any level. And in the mind of every Jew, this certainly wasn’t how it would be done when the Christ came.
Foot-Washing Glory Misunderstood (6-9)
Recognizing this, Peter was appalled. According to the cultural standards of his day, Peter was right to respond as he did when Jesus came to him. Astonished, he questioned Jesus.
6 [Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
Peter definitely didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. Therefore, he continued his forceful reply, “8 Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’”
Again, Peter responded according to all he’d seen and been taught. His response was, in his mind, a sign of reverence and humility. He did exactly what was expected of him. To not resist this would have been prideful in a significant way. But, as is always the case when we receive a command from the Lord, whether we understand it or not, it is another, more significant kind of pride to question or refuse. Therefore…
8 Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
To paraphrase, Jesus said, “Peter, if you do not let me do what I have set out to do, you cannot have fellowship with me. Am I your Lord or are your customs? You will either acknowledge my right to command or you cannot be my follower. Moreover, I’m talking about more than merely washing your feet. I’m offering a kind of washing you do not yet understand (v.7) and apart from that, no one can come to me” (more on that one in a minute).
Not yet grasping the deeper meaning, Peter at least quickly recognized the surface significance—He needed to do what Jesus said. Jesus is (as we’ll see), both teacher and Lord. And so…
9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Again to paraphrase, Peter said, “OK, Jesus, I don’t understand, but you are my master and fellowship with you is more important to me than cultural conformity. If allowing you to fulfill a servant’s role is what you want from me, wash me thoroughly. I’ll not only allow you to wash my feet, but the rest of me as well.”
There is much to learn from this response. This is how it ought to be for us as well, Grace. Understanding Jesus’ reasoning behind His commands is not a prerequisite to obeying them. More to the point, not fully grasping Jesus’ logic is in no way an excuse to disobey. Indeed, as any who have followed Jesus for any length of time can attest, and as Jesus promised Peter (v.7), understanding often, only comes after obedience.
We must be a people who carefully study God’s Word and who quickly obey it. We cannot honor God if we don’t know what He’s said, but we also cannot honor God if there are large gaps between what we know and what we do. God has designed our obedience to work in virtual lockstep with our understanding.
To be exceedingly practical, when you come across a command in Scripture, two things ought to happen immediately. First, you ought to do your best to make sure you rightly understand the command. Turn to the Spirit in prayer (for wisdom, conviction, and power) and to another Christian for confirmation (that the text means what you think it means). And second, you ought to seek to obey as quickly as possible. There are ways that will take the rest of your life to learn and apply, but there are also almost always simple ways to obey now.
For instance, if you were reading through 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, you’d find three straight-forward commands in rapid succession, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances .” It is good to take basic steps (in prayer and fellowship) to make sure you understand what Paul meant by “rejoice,” “pray,” “give thanks,” and “all circumstances”. After a brief inspection, you’ll likely find that these words mainly mean what you think they mean. There will be some lingering questions, like how do I rejoice when a loved one dies, or how do I pray when I’m sleeping, or what does it look like to give thanks when someone sins against me? But you do not need to have every one of those questions answered before you can obey in the ways you already do understand.
Therefore, while acknowledging that fully obeying any of these requires a lifetime, you must also acknowledge that you can and must start now. Take a moment, pray that the Spirit would draw to mind a gracious promise of God, imagine its certain fulfillment in your life, and turn that back to God in joy. Pray that the Spirit would draw to mind a need of someone you love and pray for God’s mercy. And, right now, consider one of the countless, present blessings of God in your life and thank Him for it. And because each of these are meant to be obeyed perpetually, immediately ask the Spirit to remind you of them throughout your day.
Peter understood this much, even though he didn’t understand everything, and so he offered himself to Jesus in surrendered obedience.
Foot-Washing Glory Explained (8, 10-11)
Jesus saw that Peter was gaining understanding on the surface matters, while simultaneously recognizing his lingering confusion. Consequently, Jesus continued to explain the simple significance of foot-washing, but He did so as a means of introducing the deeper meaning of His words…
10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
There’s debate as to what exactly Jesus was getting at here. But again, at the very least, He was pointing out that Peter was still confused even on basic foot-washing matters and that there is more going on than meets the eye.
In all of this, we must not miss the fact that Jesus was weaving a few threads in and out of His words and actions. On the surface, He was showing the disciples that an essential part of true love and glory is humility and sacrificial service. That is why Jesus actually washed their feet.
Likewise, on the surface, Jesus was establishing the fact that being His disciple meant acknowledging Him as highest authority—over all other earthly rulers and customs. That is why He demanded that His disciples allow Him to break custom and wash their feet.
Below the surface, however, Jesus was really talking about a different kind of washing and a different kind of cleanliness all together. When He said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me (v.8),” Jesus was ultimately talking about the spiritual washing He would accomplish on the cross for all who believed. That is why He said that not everyone among them was clean, knowing that Judas would soon demonstrate his lack of genuine faith. And it is also why He declared of the rest of the disciples, “You are clean” “completely clean,” for He knew their faith in Him was from the Father.
Again, in ways that are not always entirely clear, Jesus was using foot-washing both to teach the virtue of humble, sacrificial, service and to teach about His imminent and ultimate act of humble, sacrificial service (the cross). That is, He was using His washing of their feet as way of explaining His washing of their sins.
Like most of what Jesus taught during His time on earth, this too went over the disciple’s heads in large measure, but John wrote this passage in such a way that we understand. Serve, Grace Church, obey in all ways, at all times, and in all places, and look to Jesus alone for the inner cleaning you need and He alone can provide. That’s the heart of this passage, Jesus’ love-to-the-end, all-authority, foot-washing, cross-going, glory.
Foot-Washing Glory Commanded (12-17)
From there, with the object lesson complete, Jesus, “12 … put on his outer garments and resumed his place, [and] he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?
Clearly, to this point, the answer was “Sort of, but not really.” Therefore, Jesus explained…
13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.
I am the One to whom you turn to for instruction and direction. I am the One from whom you receive truth. And I am the One to whom you owe allegiance. You are right to think of me in these ways. I am your Teacher and Lord.
14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Coming back to the simplest and most straightforward thread, Jesus commanded His disciples to imitate Him in displaying the unique glory of God in serving across and down, rather than up. Worldly logic and priorities are such that some will sometimes serve those who are above them; those who have power over them or the means to reward them (see Luke 14:12-14). But heavenly logic is different. It eagerly serves those who are equal, and even more significantly those who are lesser in human terms. And it does so as a living picture of what God does for those who will trust in His Son. God is above all, so His love is always a condescending love. Outside of Himself, He can only love those below Him. And to help the world know the nature of God’s love, Jesus commanded His followers to love that way as well.
On a practical level, as you know, foot-washing doesn’t mean quite the same thing in our culture as it meant in Jesus’ day. The practical applications for us, therefore, are going to be different. The heart of the matter, however, is still the same—love-to-the-end, humble, sacrificial, service; loving across and down, even more than up.
Do you want to reflect the glory of God, Grace? Do you want to obey Jesus? Hope in Jesus and serve like Jesus.
Older kids, let your younger brothers and sisters go first. Help them get a snack. Play games they enjoy. Parents, joyfully set aside your comfort when you don’t need to, when it would be culturally acceptable not to, and read a book to your kids, get down on the ground with them, take them fishing or shopping when it would be more peaceful not to. Everyone, sit next to someone who is alone instead of one of your friends, greet someone new, listen with genuine interest instead of talking about yourself, have a new family over for lunch, volunteer to give a ride, host a kid for an exhausted mom with TFG or for a struggling family through foster care, do the dishes when it’s not your night, bring coats in for the inmates, help Chuck and Jennifer next weekend, volunteer for a lowly job that no one will likely ever know about, help out with Jericho Road ministries, let Naomi know you’ll help with nursery or Steven with Grace for Kids, work with the city to find ways to serve our neighbors.
Consider again the unique foot-washing glory of Jesus, consider what it ultimately pointed to, and hear again the simple instructions of our Lord, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
The big idea of this passage is that Jesus’ glory includes a love-to-the-end, foot-washing kind of glory. And the main takeaways for us are to learn to love true glory, to listen to and obey Jesus in all things, and to follow Jesus’ example in expressing humble, servant-love wherever we go. Failing to do these things as we ought is why Jesus came. But His love is such that as we hope in Him He will forgive us entirely and love us unwaveringly. May we behold His glory and receive His forgiveness and love, and then share those things with the world.