“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
This is the beginning of the second section of John’s Gospel; there are no more scenes of Jesus teaching the crowds. The pattern of chapters 2-12 where there is a miracle or sign followed by Jesus giving an explanation are replaced by Jesus explaining the greatest sign of all, his death, burial and resurrection before it happens. These are called the “Farewell” or “Upper Room Discourses”. The scene opens just before the Passover meal on the night that Jesus would be betrayed. Jesus demonstrates an act of humility that would normally be done by a slave; the washing of the feet of the dinner guests.
John uses these verses to set the scene by placing the time at the very beginning of the meal. They had not yet begun to eat, Judas had already been prompted to go astray, and yet Jesus was confident in his destiny and had received all power from God. It is particularly pointed that John mentions this fact: Jesus had received all power, had had everything placed in his control and was about to return to God… when all of the sudden what did He do?
The Lord’s Supper
13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would 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, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
What was going through the minds of Jesus’ disciples as this scene unfolds? Over the last three-plus years, they had seen Him perform countless miracles, including turning water into wine, feeding multitudes with “sack-lunches“, healing so many people that they had lost track of how many, casting out demons, walking on water, calming a storm with a word, and even raising the dead. It wasn’t like they had never seen Him naked before, because, after all, He was still a “good-Jew” who followed the requirements of the Ceremonial Law, including all the prescribed washings, but they were totally-unprepared for THIS… Why THIS, and why NOW? Passover was the most solemn feast of the year…
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his clothes, grabs a towel and begins washing the feet of the disciples. It is important to note that even though the NIV adds the word “outer” to garments, there is no such indication in the Greek. Commentators rise to this and many describe Jesus as in his “undergarments”. Undergarments for men were invented around the time of George Washington and were not widely worn until the late 19th century; they did not exist in ancient times. If Jesus had indeed removed an outer garment, then it would have been a cloak, comparable to a modern-day coat, and obviously this is not likely. I do not join the NIV in protecting modern-day sensibilities here because it is vital that we get an accurate picture of exactly what was going on in order to get the full value of what Jesus is demonstrating in this act of humility, for it is in total and complete contradiction to what was stated in verse 3, and it actually becomes the whole point of this incident. Jesus was not only washing the feet of men who weren’t qualified to carry his briefcase (so to speak) but he had utterly and totally humbled himself in the process! (Can you imagine yourself doing this?) The NIV also states that he had a towel wrapped around him, while the KJV says he “girded” himself with the towel. Was the towel providing a modesty covering, and at the same time being used to dry their feet after washing? I seriously doubt it, because He was going to be far more “humiliated” when He was crucified.
Peter seems to have understood that he was not worthy to be treated in this way by Jesus who was so much greater than he. Jesus’ reply to him is also understood… sort of. Well, in that case, how about washing my hands and head too. Peter believed Jesus when he told him that he must be “cleaned” by him, but he still didn’t quite grasp the metaphor that was playing out in that room.
Jesus’ comments in verses 10-11 refer to the fact that a person attending a dinner would bathe before leaving their house, so that when they arrived at the dinner, only their feet would have gotten dirty on the walk to the dinner venue; thus the custom of having your feet washed by a slave prior to reclining at table, which their host had failed to provide for this dinner. Was this a “failure” on the part of their host, or was it “planned“? Remember that dinner tables were not like the ones we use today, and the “reclining” was literal. The comment that “not all were clean” gives us a hint that Jesus is not really concerned about hygiene, for he knew what was afoot with Judas; his concern was that they be spiritually clean. (I have yet to see an artist’s rendering of this scene which portrays it accurately.)
12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know 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, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ 19 From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
Jesus gets dressed and resumes his seat; then he explains what he has done. He has set for them an example, a twofold example. First, we as His servants must be willing to humble ourselves in His service. Do we dare humble ourselves as He has done? Second, our service must be to clean the filth of sin from one another, to help one another to obey all that he has commanded us, and to be willing to get our hands dirty in the process. We can never do this by glorifying ourselves; we can only accomplish this mission by humbling ourselves. We are to follow his example!
Jesus had even washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, knowing full-well that Judas had already made his dastardly-deal with the Jewish religious leaders. Talk about adding insult to injury; however it was totally in keeping with Jesus’s character and teachings. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48) The Christian walk and life ARE counterintuitive because we are called to be and live like Christ.
18 I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ We may wonder WHY Jesus called Judas Iscariot to be one of His disciples, because that also seems to be counterintuitive, however God’s master-plan for redemption required that there be a traitor in their midst. A wise military commander would never knowingly have a traitor in his unit, but Jesus was no ordinary “military-commander“. Talk about counterintuitive, He even picked me.
19 From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” Jesus was giving His disciples fair-warning about the events which were going to occur over the next twenty-four hours or so, but it would take until after Pentecost before many of these events actually “sunk-in“. They were STILL looking to Him to become their “conquering-king“.
Jesus Predicts His Betrayal
21 When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” 22 The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. 23 There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.” 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus then answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. 29 For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.
As Jesus sets the stage for sending Judas on his dastardly-errand, there is a battle raging within Him. His Humanity is screaming “DON’T DO IT!“, while His Divinity is whispering “This is why you came to earth. You were born to die.“ He knew that, within twenty-four hours, He would be dead and buried. The full impact of God’s eternal plan for redemption was bearing-down on Him. 21 When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.”
There was murmuring among His disciples, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.”
They had been together for over three years, and it was inconceivable that there was a traitor in their midst, but there was. Jesus then answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
27 After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” Even after Jesus dismissed Judas, His disciples still didn’t have a clue what was going on, but Judas did. He sold his soul to Satan when he accepted and ate the morsel. The die was cast; his plan was on-track. Judas may have even been thinking “Why did I tolerate Him this long?”
While the rest of the disciples were thinking that Judas had gone in some honorable-errand, he had gone to make final-arrangements to betray Jesus.
31 Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; 32 if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. 33 Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
31 Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; 32 if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. This statement seems counterintuitive to us, because we wonder how Jesus dying an ignominious-death can bring glory to God. The answer lies in God’s perfect character. Besides being a God of perfect love, grace and mercy, God is also a God of perfect-justice. His just-requirements are absolute, because He cannot allow anything or anyone unholy in His presence. If He is going to build a family out of sinful-humans, their sin and debt must be paid-in-full. That is what Jesus came to do, to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, to fully-pay the debt of sin that we owe, so that we can be brought into a right-relationship with God.
God’s forgiveness is costly. We owe a debt was cannot pay, so if we are going to be forgiven, the debt must be paid, one way or another. Either we pay it and suffer in Hell forever, which means that we can’t be part of God’s family, or someone else has to pay it, which is what Jesus Christ came to do. By way of example; suppose someone knocks an heirloom lamp off of a table in your home and breaks it, who is going to pay for that lamp? If you hold the person accountable for breaking your lamp, and require them to pay for another one, that isn’t forgiveness, it is justice. However, if you forgive the person for breaking your lamp, and replace it yourself, that is forgiveness, but YOU have to pay to replace the lamp. You are atoning for what they did out of your own pocket. That is what God’s plan for redemption was designed to do. God, through Jesus Christ, fully-paid our debt so that He can forgive us and restore us to a right-relationship with Him. His perfect-justice is fully-satisfied, we are redeemed, and that brings glory to Him.
33 Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus repeats here what he has previously told the Jews, that they cannot come where he is going, referring to the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is a statement that establishes His authority, and is followed by a new commandment: Love one another. As you might expect, the Greek word used here is agape, which is a godly, unselfish love. It is a commitment to serve and value one another with no expectation whatsoever of anything in return. It is just what the unbelieving world will notice, for it is seldom if ever found amongst them. By this sign all will recognize the difference between the Christian and everyone else. This is the most important lesson from today’s text: We must love one another. Imagine what the reaction of the rest of the world would be if they saw this kind of powerful love at work in the lives of millions of Christians! Would you like to ‘change the world’? Love one another!
36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times. (John 13)
Simon Peter STILL doesn’t “get-it“, and Jesus’ “New Commandment” goes in one ear and right out the other. Peter is boldly-confident that he will follow Christ even to his death. Jesus knows better, because He knows that Peter’s bold-confidence will turn to denial when the going gets tough. He will deny His Lord, not just once, not just twice, but three times. Peter has to fall, hard, VERY-HARD, which will set the stage for his three-fold restoration after Jesus’ resurrection.
How many of us have fallen hard, “splattered on the pavement” spiritually, before God picked us up and restored us to fellowship with Him. I have been there, done that, too many times, and it is only by God’s grace that I am where I am today.
The ultimate take-away from this lesson is that we are to love one another as He loves us, sacrificially. Jesus has led the way by coming to earth and dying on the Cross. He gave Himself for us so that we may live. Can we, as His followers, do any less?