The end of the movie Gallipoli is incredibly DEPRESSING – makes me FURIOUS. But at the same time it’s UPLIFTING AND INSPIRING. It’s GLORY mixed with . There’s COURAGE combined with tragedy. SACRIFICIAL SERVICE combined with FUTILITY.
The hour approaches. Aussie diggers in the trenches of Turkey in WW1 prepare for certain . Watches and wedding rings are removed, farewell letters are written. They’re in the trenches doing their bit. Defending the Empire. Obeying orders.
Their English commanders have decided they’re to be SACRIFICED. Slaughtered before the machine guns of the Turks simply as A DIVERSION/ so that British ships can land on the beaches.
THE HOUR ARRIVES. The signal sounds. And thousands of Australian men bravely follow orders, climb out of the trenches, and fall within inches / in a hail of bullets.
It’s INSPIRING because of their honour and bravery. But it’s DEPRESSING because of the futility and pointlessness of the whole thing.
And as we take up the story in Jn 13. For Jesus too/ THE HOUR ARRIVES. The bell tolls. The whistle sounds. All the way through John’s Gospel, he’s known this hour was coming. The hour of his betrayal, arrest and trial. The hour of his , of his sacrifice, of his GLORY.
In 12:23, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, with opposition growing – we’ve just found out the Jews are plotting to kill him – and he declares,
23 Jesus replied, “THE HOUR HAS COME for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and DIES, it remains only a single seed. But if it DIES, it produces MANY SEEDS.
Glory and .
And here at the start of Ch 13, he pulls his disciples aside for some final words of preparation before he leaves them, v1.
13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast. JESUS KNEW THAT THE TIME HAD COME (literally his HOUR had come) for him to leave this world and go to the Father.
This is it. The last few moments before his . How will he spend them? What’s his ATTITUDE in the face of ? It’s a time when ONLY THE HIGHEST PRIORITIES MATTER. All life’s SMALL details suddenly seem unimportant and irrelevant. It’s a time for getting your affairs in order.
Like those diggers in the trenches, it’s a time for PEOPLE, not things. A time for final, crucial messages to those he loves most. And that’s just what Jesus is going to spend this evening doing. It’ll take up the next 5 chapters. See the rest of v1?
Having LOVED HIS OWN who were in the world, he now showed them THE FULL EXTENT OF HIS LOVE.
His last evening with the people he loved most in the whole world. Up ‘til now, he’d shown his love by teaching, in miracles, in parables. Three years of living with the disciples. But now he’s going to show them the FULL EXTENT of his love.
It literally says he showed them his love TO THE END. Which has a double meaning. And it’s quite likely John INTENDS it to mean two things. He’s going to show love TO THE MAX. EXTREME love. But he’s also going to show love TO THE BITTER END, THE FINAL CONCLUSION. The CULMINATION.
It’s love that’s going to be shown in the simple act of washing feet. But it’s also EXTREME love/ Love that’s going to be seen ULTIMATELY on a cross. His life SACRIFICIED for those he LOVES.
Three things Jesus knew
And as we witness the demonstration of love, we’re also given a window into what Jesus was THINKING. What he KNEW. Because they were thoughts that could EASILY have lead him down ANOTHER PATH. Thoughts that brought with them temptations AWAY from love. Temptations, instead, to choose an EASIER, SAFER, more HUMAN option.
And what the thoughts do/ is demonstrate EVEN MORE CLEARLY the extent of the love Jesus is showing for those who are his.
Three things Jesus knew.
- First, v1, Jesus KNEW his hour had come. That he was LEAVING THE WORLD AND RETURNING TO THE FATHER.
His time was up. And something BETTER was just around the corner. He COULD HAVE turned his thoughts to THAT glorious homecoming. And FORGOTTEN about those he was leaving behind.
But instead, it was the MOTIVATION to make sure he COMPLETED THE TASK. That EVERYTHING was finished, just as his Father had planned it. He knew he was RETURNING HOME, so he showed his disciples WHO REMAINED the full extent of his love. Making sure they were ready for life without his physical presence.
Nearness to God didn’t SEPARATE him from men, it DREW HIM NEARER.
- The SECOND thing we’re told Jesus knew is there in v3.
3 Jesus KNEW/ that THE FATHER HAD PUT ALL THINGS UNDER HIS POWER, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
He’d been given all authority. Rulers and priests and soldiers and disciples should before HIM. Spirits and sickness and seas and sin did as HE commanded. It literally says all POWER had been given into his HAND.
Jesus could EASILY have caused all the trouble to go away. Escaped all the pain and suffering. But INSTEAD, he CHOSE it.
And here’s where Jesus’ sacrifice differs from that of the Gallipoli diggers. They had no choice. They HAD to obey. Or face a firing squad. But Jesus was no POWERLESS PAWN. No victim of political and religious forces.
He had all that power at his fingertips. But he chose sacrifice and service instead. He puts DOWN the power he’d been given. And fills his hands instead with a servant’s tools. A towel and washbasin.
That’s the CHARACTER of Jesus. Power AND humility. Majesty AND gentle love. Not contradictory, but two colours in the same painting.
And John’s TELLING us what Jesus knew to show THE DEPTH OF HIS LOVE.
3. That’s the SECOND fact Jesus knew. The third is down in v11.
11 For he KNEW who was GOING TO BETRAY HIM, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
Despite knowing how the evening would finish. Despite knowing BY WHOSE HAND he’d be betrayed, Jesus showed them the DEPTH OF HIS LOVE. Even his love FOR TRAITORS. There was no bitterness or retribution. Only love. No pointing the finger, no avoiding God’s plan. Only obedience.
He even washed JUDAS’ feet. Imagine that! KNOWING what thoughts were going through Judas’ head, but washing his feet anyway.
And it seems likely he even sat Judas beside him at the meal. A bit further down in v26, everyone’s reclining at the table. Like a big coffee table. No chairs, so everyone’s leaning on ONE elbow, using their OTHER hand to eat with. John’s on ONE side, Jesus dips some bread in the wine, A sign of intimacy and friendship. then gives it to Judas. Who is most likely on the OTHER side. AS A GUEST OF HONOUR.
DESPITE Jesus knowing what he was planning! He showed his love for Judas to the END. To the MAX.
Incredible, isn’t it, that Jesus could show such love to Judas? But if you think THAT’S incredible, don’t think it’s any different FOR YOU. Are we any more deserving of Jesus’ love than Judas? No! He died for you WHEN YOU WERE HIS ENEMIES. Rom 5:8 says.
God DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
That’s LOVE. To die for AN ENEMY. Which is what YOU WERE when God put his plan into effect.
So don’t ever doubt whether Jesus LOVES you. That your not good enough for him. That he only loves GOOD people. It’s easy to do when you know the darkness of your own heart.
Jesus SEES IT ALL, but LOVES YOU ANYWAY.
So Jesus knew ALL THESE THINGS as he began to wash the disciples’ feet (v4).
– As he got up from the table, took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist. He KNEW that he was returning to the Father.
– As he poured water into a basin, took off their smelly, dusty sandals, he KNEW all power had been put into his hand.
– And as he washed their feet clean, drying them with the towel around his waist, he KNEW that Judas was going to betray him.
It was normally the job of the household slave. But there was no slave to do it. So Jesus did it. DESPITE knowing all those things. Or perhaps BECAUSE he knew all those things.
“Do you understand what I’ve done for you?”
It’s easy to imagine AN EMBARRASSED SILENCE as Jesus works his way around the room. The disciples awkwardly looking around at each other. Except for Peter of course. He sees Jesus getting closer, and blurts out (v6), “Lord, are YOU going to wash MY feet?” It’s just not RIGHT.
Jesus replies, “You don’t understand NOW what I’m doing. But LATER you will.”
We’ll finish looking at Peter in a moment. But when Jesus finishes washing everyone – including Judas – he takes off the wet towel, empties the muddy water, puts his robe back on. And then sits back down at the table (v12). Every eye glued to him. “Do you UNDERSTAND what I’ve done for you?” What’s it MEAN? What’s the POINT?
My guess is the looks on their faces give them away. They had NO IDEA. So Jesus continues with, I suggest, one of the THREE LESSONS we can learn from his actions.
a) a display of love (1)
We’ve already seen the FIRST lesson. V1. John tells us Jesus did it to DISPLAY his LOVE for them. Great displays of love are seen in doing the UN-lovely things. The difficult and smelly things.
We were challenged about this yesterday at men’s convention. Love is seen in the Unlovely things. SERVING your wife. Husbands, it may be a greater display of love for your wife to change that pooey nappy, or wash the dog, or clean the bathroom, than taking her to a nice restaurant, or buying her a bunch of flowers. The restaurant and flowers are EASY. But doing the YUCKY things shows her LOVE.
Jesus washed feet as a display of his love.
- a symbol of saving cleansing (6-11)
Jesus’ SECOND lesson is back up in his conversation with Peter. There in v6. His washing feet is also a symbol of SAVING cleansing.
Remember, Peter’s seen Jesus working his way around the table, and reckons it’s not right for Jesus to be washing HIS feet. V8. No way! NEVER!
But look at Jesus’ reply. “Unless I WASH you, you have no part of me.”
Now, what he’s NOT saying is that unless Peter lets him wash his feet, he’s out of the group.
There’s a conversation going on at TWO LEVELS here. Something Jesus has done in other places. Like talking about being born again, or drinking living water. The words mean TWO things. One OBVIOUS and . And one NOT so obvious and SPIRITUAL.
He’s talking about MORE than just foot-washing. “Unless I WASH you, you have no part of me.” He’s talking about the cleansing he brings when he DIES. When he’s put to as a sacrifice bearing the punishment for sin. It’s the cleansing of FORGIVENESS that really matters. The forgiveness won when Jesus, the LAMB OF GOD, dies.
Peter didn’t think it was right that the MASTER should wash the FOLLOWER. After all, that’s a servant’s job. But Jesus’ point is/ that’s the ONLY way it can happen. “Unless I WASH you clean of your sin, you have no part of me. You can’t be one of my followers.”
You HAVE to be clean. And you CAN’T DO IT YOURSELF.
It’s a connection the writer’s already HINTED at. V1 The Passover Feast was near. The feast where was sprinkled on doorposts so that God’s wrath would pass over them. The feast where the Passover lamb was slain, the guilt of sin first laid on its head.
And just like Passover, Jesus’ FOOT WASHING points to the cross as well.
And he’s saying that Peter can only be part of Jesus if he’s WASHED clean. NO ONE can be a follower of Jesus simply by following his example.
Doesn’t matter how many foot washings you do, how many good deeds, how much money you give away, unless Jesus washes you clean, you don’t belong to him. Can’t EARN it, BUY it, or DESERVE it.
Have YOU been washed clean by Jesus? Jesus LOVES you no matter WHAT you’ve done. And he WANTS to wash you clean, but you’ve got to ASK HIM.
Peter thinks he’s going to miss out, so he now flops from wanting NO WASHING to a WHOLE BATH. V9.
9 “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
But Peter’s misunderstood again. He reckons that if a foot-washing is GOOD, then getting an EXTRA wash must be even BETTER.
But he’s missed the point. Jesus’ washing isn’t a METHOD of cleansing him. It’s only a SYMBOL. A picture of what Jesus’ in our place achieves.
Jesus says because Peter’s already been cleansed on the inside, he doesn’t need to be washed (v9). Once Jesus forgives someone, they’re CLEAN. You can’t improve on the original verdict. Extra symbols, or good works doesn’t matter. New methods or techniques won’t make a difference. Reading the Bible cover to cover won’t work. Praying for hours a day won’t do it EITHER.
Might all be good things to do, but you can’t improve on a verdict of . There’s no EXTRA . It’s like being half-pregnant. No such thing. You either ARE, or you’re NOT.
When you turn from your sin and rebellion against him, God forgives your sin on the basis of Jesus’ in your place. He washes you clean. THEN, because you belong to him, you FOLLOW his EXAMPLE, and serve others.
You can’t get them the wrong way around. And that’s the crucial point. Footwashing is what we do BECAUSE we follow Jesus, not what we do to MAKE us followers of Jesus.
And that’s the CONTEXT for Jesus’ THIRD purpose in the footwashing.
c) a of Christian conduct
It’s the one Jesus himself mentions. There in v13. He’s offering them A OF CHRISTIAN CONDUCT. The IDEAL for how all those who follow Jesus should treat others. V13.
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, YOU ALSO SHOULD WASH ONE ANOTHER’S FEET. 15 I have SET YOU AN EXAMPLE that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If the BOSS does the dirty jobs, then who are the SERVANTS to think it’s beneath them? If the Managing Director is willing to get his hands dirty, then what right does the courier have to go out on strike?
Humbly serve those around you, following the example of Jesus, who had all power given into his hand, but put it aside.
Jesus had to DEMONSTRATE it/ because it’s such an UN thing to do. The world is built around hierarchies. Every society has them. Built on systems of honour, and dignity, and power. On climbing various ladders of age or education or money or strength, so that you have more and more CHOICE about what you WILL and WON’T do.
We’ve seen the perfect example in the retrenchment of the BONDS workers. The EXECUTIVES give themselves millions of dollars in bonuses, then sack thousands of blue-collar workers to FUND it. Why? Because they CAN. Because they’ve EARNED it. Because they’re WORTH it. Because that’s the way the WORLD works.
Listen to a quote from William Barclay.
The world is full of people who are standing on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of their brothers. In every sphere of life this desire for PROMINENCE, and this unwillingness to take a subordinate place/ WRECKS THE SCHEME OF THINGS. A player in a team is for one day omitted from the team and he will not play anymore. An aspirant for political office is passed over for some office to which he thought he had a right and he refuses to accept any subordinate office… In any society it may happen that someone is given a quite unintentional slight and he either explodes in anger or broods in sulkiness for days afterwards.
That’s the way of the WORLD. It’s what you see in politics, in workplaces, in sporting teams… But too often, it’s the way things are IN THE CHURCH TOO.
An admirer once asked the great orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein what was the most difficult instrument to play. He responded :
“Second fiddle. I can get plenty of FIRST violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second french horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
What sort of people do we need in churches? The church needs LEADERS. And TEACHERS. Sure. But above anything else the church needs people WILLING TO PLAY SECOND FIDDLE. Willing to SERVE, and do it humbly and lovingly. That’s the way to get HARMONY in God’s people.
In some churches ministers spend their whole time putting out little spot fires of hurt, bitter, upset people. People who feel they DESERVE to be treated a certain way, who’ve EARNED it. But feel they’re not respected as they should.
It’s the ugliness of PRIDE. Someone in the choir doesn’t get a solo, and refuses to sing. Someone folds their arms, saying if it doesn’t happen MY WAY, then it won’t happen AT ALL. Someone is slighted – doesn’t get some thanks or recognition, and decides, “Fine, see if I ever serve again.” Someone demands recognition for a job, rather than resting content in it as service for God’s eyes.
They’re more concerned with our own REPUTATION, or FEELINGS, or what they feel they’ve EARNED / than they are with following Jesus.
But it shouldn’t BE like that with God’s people. It’s NOT THE EXAMPLE JESUS LEFT.
I heard about a minister who was listening to one of these types of people complaining about something or other. Finally he blurted out, “Hey, friend. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!”
Church. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU! Perhaps it should be our new motto. Probably won’t be very popular though. But isn’t that basically what Jesus is saying here? It’s not all about you!
William Barclay concludes
When we are tempted to think of our dignity, our prestige, our place, our rights, let us see again the picture of the Son of God, girt with a towel, and kneeling at His disciples’ feet.
But what does that MEAN? To follow Jesus’ example? To wash each others feet?
What it DOESN’T mean is that we should have foot-washing ceremonies. It’s hard to imagine a BIGGER example of missing the point. There is always a temptation to reduce A PRINCIPLE down to A RITUAL.
Jesus says (v15) “I have set you an example that you should do just as I have done for you. (not what I have done for you) ” He’s not saying, “Follow my example – see how I start with the big toe and work out…” He’s telling them to do THE TYPE OF THING he’d just done – humble loving service.
Down in v17 you can see he’s thinking about more than one ACT. “Now that you know THESE THINGS, you will be blessed if you do THEM.”
Whatever is about SOMEONE ELSE, and not about YOU. Whatever is about humble, loving SERVICE. Perhaps yucky, perhaps lonely and un-noticed. Perhaps ridiculed, ignored, overlooked, taken advantage of, and sometimes even ABUSED. That’s what following Jesus’ example is about.
But notice Jesus’ promise? You’ll be BLESSED if you do them. BLESSED. You WON’T MISS OUT. You’ll be BLESSED. God’s good things will rain down on you when you’re following Jesus’ example like this. You’ll be part of God’s purposes. An instrument for his love and blessings to flow to others. Part of his plans for ing the influence of his kingdom in the world. That’s BLESSING.
Nobody else may see you, or notice, or praise you. But GOD SEES. Don’t work for an audience of anyone but HIM. Do your work for AN AUDIENCE of ONE. And you’ll receive his reward ONE DAY – Well done good and faithful servant. That’s BLESSING!
WHERE CAN YOU BE WASHING FEET? HOW CAN YOU DO THAT IN YOUR FAMILY? IN YOUR WORKPLACE? IN YOUR STREET? IS THERE SOME WAY YOU CAN DO THAT THROUGH THE SCHOOL?
HOW CAN we be doing it AS A CHURCH?
When I was at college I went to church at Central Sydney Presbyterian with a guy called Warren. He was a medical doctor, and he had a theology degree. He was well-educated, young, successful, well-off. He was married with a lovely family. Lived in a nice part of Sydney. He could have been setting himself up for life.
But he had a heart for the schizophrenics around Surrey Hills. Many of them homeless. He set up a ministry called Ezekiel. Every week, Warren would take off all his successes and credits, his suit and tie, his upbringing, his expensive consultations. And instead, put on an apron, and a pair of thongs. He’d cook a meal and run a Bible study for 20-30 people the REST of society had NO TIME for. He and a few helpers would sit around, and talk, occasionally help in practical ways, but mainly just chat. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, they’d say inappropriate things, behave in ways that you didn’t know how to deal with. They’d often smell, or offend your senses in other ways.
That’s what washing feet looked like for Warren. That’s what following the example of his Master looked like. What’s it look like for YOU?