Topic: English Passage: John 13:1-20
John chapter 13 is where we are this morning. John’s gospel skips the earlier days of the week, and it is now Thursday night. By now, the religious leaders are enraged with Jesus, and one particular disciple has taken notice, that is Judas Iscariot.
Judas wasn’t a real follower of Jesus; he was in it for himself. He was the treasurer, and he used to steal from the moneybox. Once Judas sees that Jesus isn’t who the crowd expects Him to be, he realizes there’s no money to be made by staying with Jesus. So he decides to make a deal. He sneaks off to the chief priests, and asks them, “How much will you give me if I give you Jesus?”
They don’t want to arrest Jesus publicly because the people love Him. That’ll risk their status with the crowd. What they need is someone inside Jesus’ circle who can lead them to Him when He’s not out in public. And so, for thirty pieces of silver, Judas agrees to lead them to Jesus.
It’s important that you understand the story of Jesus’ death, and it’s also important that you recognize that Jesus knows that it’s all happening. Jesus knows what’s in the heart of man, and He knows the plan of God. He knows that He’s going to die. He knows HOW He’s going to die. And He knows all the details about how that death will come about.
And with all that on His mind, Jesus arranges for one final evening with His disciples before He’s arrested and beaten and killed. It is now Thursday night, after sundown, and it’s their Passover meal. It’s taking place in what the Bible calls an upper room.
This would be a furnished second-story room in someone’s home. It might even have been on the roof, which was flat. An upper room was a common thing to have back then. And people could use it for their extended family, or rent it out for those who were travelling to Jerusalem for a feast.
But besides the logistics of the night, I want you to think about how emotional this time is for Jesus. His death is hanging over him. His disciples don’t really have a clue. One of them is going to betray Him. The rest are going to abandon Him. He is going to be brutally beaten and then hanged on cross to die. And beyond all that, Jesus will, for the first time in eternity, face the abandonment of His Father—such a lonely, lonely time for our Lord. But He gets this last night with the disciples.
The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus said to His disciples: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” For Jesus, this is the final, brief rest with His closest friends. He has been looking forward to this moment.
I’m sure a lot of you have been to some kind of special event when someone is going to be leaving. We’ve seen it with people who are going away to go to a new school or a new job, or to the military. Those are very meaningful times. And usually, the focus of the event is the person who’s leaving, right? We want to minister to that person in a significant way.
If we were aware of what this night meant, it would have been a going away party for Jesus. But that’s not what this is. For Jesus, it’s not a night for Him. It’s not about Him. It’s about His disciples. This is for them. This is a final night to minister and to equip and to love to His disciples.
That’s the vibe I want you to get as we dedicate the next 3 months or so to Jesus’ time in the Upper Room. He’s going to teach. He’s going to instruct. And it is all an outflow of His love for His disciples.
Today, we’re going to be looking at the first 20 verses of chapter 13. Here’s what it says:
1Now 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.
2During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then 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.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
8Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12When 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
The opening verse of chapter 13 isn’t just an introduction to this story. It’s an introduction to the entire night, which basically goes through to chapter 18.
John wants us to know what Jesus knows. He know His death was coming soon. He knows He’s leaving this world to be reunited with the Father. And this time for Him is marked, not by self-pity, but by love. Love. John says it twice. He loved His own, and He loved them to the end.
You know, John uses the word “love” more than any other writer in the Bible. A lot of you know the Greek word mostly associated with it—agápe. There’s also the verb form of that, which means “to love” and there’s the personal form, which means “beloved.”
The gospel of John uses those words 31 times. The little letter we call First John uses them 30 times. The next closest book is Romans, which uses it 21 times. I say that just so you realize how important this topic is for John. Maybe you’ve heard people call him the Apostle of love.
Next week, we’ll see that John refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He just couldn’t get over the fact that Jesus loved him. That struck him. That stayed with him for the rest of his life, and it’ll stay with him for all eternity. Jesus loves His own. He loves them “to the end.”
That means that Jesus never stops loving His own. It’s a complete love, it’s an unending love, and it’s a distinct love for those who belong to Him, those whom the Father has given Him. And that’s what we’re going to see put on display during Jesus’ final night with His disciples.
If you have genuinely turned away from the sin in your life and turned toward Jesus Christ in faith, it’s the kind of love He has for you too. Nothing can separate us from this love.
If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus, He loves you too. But it’s not the same. It’s a patient love. It’s a love that desires you to come into His family. If you refuse, though, it’s a love that will one day end, and give way to judgment. But if you come to Him on His terms, there’s an eternal love. You become a child of God. You are united to the only Son of God. You become part of the family forever.
The passage we have today is the first expression, in John’s gospel, of Christ’ love for His disciples that night. And very simply, we can divide it into three sections. First, there’s the action. Jesus is going to DO something. Second, there’s the discussion. And that’ll be between Peter and Jesus And last of all, there’s the instruction. Jesus continues to teach His disciples.
Let’s start, first of all, with the action. But before the action itself, verse 2 reminds us, one more time, that Judas has already agreed to betray Him, and Jesus knows it. Verse 3 tells us what’s on Jesus’ mind. He knows He’s God. He knows He came from heaven. And He knows He’s going back to heaven. He is going to be exalted to the Father’s right hand, and to be given the name above every name. He knows that. He’s fully aware of His eternal glory.
But with all that in mind, look at verse 4. [He] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then 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 that culture, people didn’t eat at a table with chairs. It didn’t look like Da Vinci’s painting. They ate lying down on cushions on the floor. And they would prop themselves up with one hand, and use the other hand to eat.
The Passover meal was a long meal. Today, the Jewish celebration is called a Passover Seder meal. And it’s very elaborate. And by design, it’s long. It’s supposed to be a reminder that they are no longer slaves—they are free—so they can take as long as they want to eat.
Well, in the times of Jesus, if you’re going to be lying down next to a group of people, you wanted to make sure people had clean feet. At a minimum, it’s common decency.
People walked around on dusty streets either barefoot or in sandals. And their feet got dirty. So, when you walked into a house, there was a basin so that everyone could wash their feet. Or, there might be a slave who did it, and it was given to the lowest ranking slave. Another option would be to have someone from the group do it for the rest of the people, but again, that was reserved for the lowest ranking person.
When the disciples show up, nobody volunteered to do it. Nobody wanted to admit that he was the lowest ranking person in that group.
So they’re there, with pride and arrogance blossoming in their hearts. “Why doesn’t someone else do it? I’m not going to do it. ” And pretty soon, once dinner is ready, it’s almost like they forgot about it.
Well, once dinner is ready to be served, and I’m sure all those young men are ready to start eating, Jesus stands up. That would have got their attention. And then He begins to take off His cloak. Some That’s the outermost layer of clothing. And it could have been a Rabbi’s cloak, which identifies Him as their leader.
And Jesus swaps His cloak for a towel. Like the servants of that day, Jesus ties the towel around His waist. He fills up the bowl there with water. And one by one, He goes to the disciples and washes their feet, and wipes them dry. This was an unforgettable moment.
And as He’s doing this, John doesn’t tell us anything about what the disciples are saying. Maybe they are in a stupor. Do you know that feeling when Mom or Dad, or your boss, does some chore that you’re supposed to do? It’s a combination of shock and fear and guilt. You’re not really sure what to think.
But this is Jesus’ action. He just gets up and does it. This is intended to leave an impression on the disciples. They would not forget this moment.
And eventually, Jesus comes to Peter. This brings us to the discussion, the second part of the story. It’s a discussion with Peter, who can’t take it anymore. Verse 6—He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”
In other words, “Lord, this isn’t supposed to happen!” You’re not supposed to wash my feet. We’re supposed to be serving you, not the other way around! Stop, Jesus! You can’t do this!”
Verse 7—Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” … “This is important, Peter. You don’t get it now, but you will.”
8Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
This is Peter, right? He wasn’t always headed in the right direction, but he went full speed wherever he went. So any course correction is very dramatic. He goes from “You’ll never wash my feet” to “Lord, give me the bath. If you’re saying that this is mandatory for being with you, if you say this has significance, then I want the whole deal. Give me the bath.”
And again, Jesus corrects him. Verse 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.”
What is Jesus talking about? The statement here means that Jesus washing His disciples’ feet is not intended to be a picture of our initial salvation. It’s not a picture of someone being pardoned for and cleansed from their sin by a Holy God.
Jesus is saying to Peter, “Look, you’re already Mine. You’ve already been cleansed from the stain and the punishment of sin. You already got the bath.”
What Peter needs, though, since He belongs to Jesus, is a foot washing. “You’ve been out there in a corrupted world pulling at the sin within you. And you’ve gotten a little dirty again. So, I’m going to wash your feet. You just need a touch up, Peter. You don’t need a bath. Your sins are forgiven. And so are the sins of everyone who believes in Me.”
And to that statement, Jesus immediately adds, “One of you in here, though, is not clean. Verse 11—For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
And with that, Jesus goes on to wash the feet of every disciple in the room, including Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Him.
And when that’s all done, Jesus begins to teach. He gives them an explanation of why He did what He did. This is the final section for today. This is His instruction.
Look with me at verse 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Jesus was setting the example for them. If He, as their Master and Teacher, was willing to humble Himself to such an extent that He washed their feet—the lowliest, most menial everyday task—then shouldn’t they be willing to wash one another’s feet?
They’re no better than Jesus, so what makes them think they’re exempt from having to serve others? That’s what Jesus is saying in verse 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.
Apart from Judas, these are the guys who will become Apostles. They are the ones sent by the Christ. And this lesson on, and example of, humility is not a complicated lesson. It’s a memorable lesson, and yet, at the same time, it’s forgotten so easily, isn’t it?
This isn’t the first time Jesus had given them a lesson like this. Not long ago, before they entered the city of Jerusalem, Matthew’s gospel tells us in chapter 20, that James and John were hoping to get the two most prominent seats next to Jesus in the kingdom. And so they sent their mom to ask for it.
And the rest of the disciples, it says, became indignant. They were bothered. Not just because of the brothers’ audacity, but because they wanted that position. And here’s what Jesus told them (Matthew 20:25):
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
That conversation wasn’t very long ago, but they didn’t get it. It didn’t stick.
In fact, that very night, on the same night that Jesus washed their feet, Jesus had to tell them the same thing again. This is what it tells us in Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
That lesson didn’t last the night. And to be honest, many times in our own lives, it doesn’t last very long either, right? Do you agree with that?
Pride, if not clearly visible, is sitting there just under the surface. Pride is a crocodile, just beneath the surface. It’s waiting to jump on something. It’s waiting to claim something as its own. It doesn’t want to give in to others. Whether it’s time or sleep or respect or attention, pride says: “Mine! Mine! Me! Me!” Isn’t that right?
You don’t naturally want to clean up a mess that somebody else made. You don’t want to change a diaper. You don’t want to wash the dishes. You don’t want to give someone a ride when they’re out of your way. You don’t want to help mom bring the groceries into the house. You don’t want to unclog a toilet. You don’t want to hold the flashlight for dad. You don’t want to give up your spot in line. You don’t want to miss the service to help with little kids in the kids ministry. The list could go on forever.
And apart from the grace of Christ, we would be condemned for our sin. We do not want to love others as ourselves.
But what’s the gospel? Jesus did what we could never do? He lived that perfect life. He granted us forgiveness from our sin by paying the price of His perfect life. He washed us by His sacrifice.
And then, by that same grace, He calls and empowers us to live out that salvation in obedience to Him. And doing that will mean washing one another’s feet. Now, washing someone’s feet when they enter a home isn’t a normal part of our culture, but there are plenty of modern-day parallels, right? I’ve already mentioned a few.
These are the menial, ordinary, low level tasks. Jesus isn’t saying: “Just do those things.” He’s using the most extreme and practical example, to say: “Do all of it!”
If we’re honest, that’s not our natural thought. Our normal thought toward another person is: “You know, if you had done your part, I wouldn’t have to do this! Now, I have to take time out of MY day, to help YOU!” That’s what we think!
Doing work that serves someone else, with no immediate reward for yourself, isn’t easy. But listen—what if that had been Jesus’ response? Not just in washing the disciples’ feet, but in salvation. If Jesus had that attitude, we all go to hell, right!?
But that wasn’t Jesus’ attitude. And for His twelve disciples, even when He’s less than a day away from the greatest sacrifice He will make for them, He still wants to serve them. That’s the attitude and the example Christ calls us to follow. Lay down your life to serve one another.
How do you do that? How do you fight against that selfish sinfulness? How do you confront it? The feelings of selfishness may not completely go away, but we can take action if we’re thinking clearly.
And that’s what Jesus helps us with in the last few verses for today. Let me give you three truths that can help us all obey this command of Jesus to serve others with humble love. This is from God’s word. So it’s the sword of the Spirit to kill selfishness in your life. Three truths.
Truth number 1: Acts of loving humility bring a blessing from Christ. Acts of loving humility bring a blessing from Christ.
This is what verse 17 says—If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Knowing what you’re supposed to do isn’t enough. You have to do it. And if you do, there is a blessing. Hebrews 11 says God is a rewarder. Matthew 6 says God rewards us, even for what we do in secret.
Well, what kind of blessing is there? There’s the blessing of pleasing Christ, of knowing He takes pleasure in Your obedience. And there’s the blessing of a future exaltation. You humble yourself now, and God will lift you up later.
We don’t have time to turn to it today, but let me read from Philippians 2. A lot of you are familiar with this passage. This is a perfect parallel passage. Speaking of Christ, it says in verse 6:
6though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
That’s not just some theology lesson about the eternal, glorious king coming to be born as a baby and then dying as a common criminal. This is practical. Listen to what it says right before that.
3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
God is calling us to walk in Jesus’ steps, to follow His example. And what happened after Jesus gave Himself to death?
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
After Christ’s humiliation came His exaltation. That’s the pattern. We will never humble ourselves to the extent Christ did, and we will never be exalted as He is, but that’s the pattern we follow—humility then glory. So it’s an act of faith to humbly and lovingly serve someone. I believe God will reward me.
The next two truths are also part of the blessing. Truth number 2: Acts of loving humility bring assurance from Christ. Acts of loving humility bring assurance from Christ. They bring blessing, and they bring assurance.
Living this kind of life helps confirm that you are really a Christian. It brings assurance.
Look at verse 18—I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.
The disciples were going to see Judas betray Jesus, and it would have caused them to question their own faith, as well as Jesus’ ability to preserve them. But Jesus tells them about Judas’ defection ahead of time, so they’re not caught off-guard when it happens.
And the connection to the previous command, I think, is like Jesus is saying: “This command to love one another with humility isn’t for all of you. It’s for those who are genuinely Mine.” Which means that if they obey it, they gain assurance. They gain confidence that they belong to Christ. Later in the chapter, He’s going to tell them: “This is how everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another.”
That’s part of the blessing of humble, loving acts. It connects you to Christ, and it strengthens your assurance. And as you mature, and you see your love grow, and you’re also growing in assurance.
So, acts of loving humility bring a blessing from Christ. They bring assurance from Christ, and thirdly, they bring effectiveness for Christ. Effectiveness for Christ.
Look at verse 20. This is how the section ends—Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Jesus is highlighting the connection from God the Father, to Jesus the Son, and to those whom Jesus sends. They’re all connected. When someone goes out, in Jesus’ name, with Jesus’ message, and with Jesus’ heart, they go with the authority of God. They’re on the same team.
And in the context of a call to humility, the message then is: Live like this, and you will be part of God’s mission. You will be accurately representing God.
Jesus said it Himself: “I am not of this world.” And if we come with a message that is not of this world, then we should come with a life that is not of this world, a life that has no worldly explanation. That’s part of the effectiveness.
In 2 Peter 1, we’re commanded to diligently put on self-control and brotherly kindness and love. Why? Because that brings assurance, and it brings fruitfulness. It makes us effective.
The power of the gospel is not on display when you vote a certain way, although that can honor God. The power of the gospel is not fully on dispaly when you post a Bible verse on social media. The power of the gospel is gloriously on display when sinners like you and me, remember that Christ laid down His life for us, and we, in turn, lay down our lives for others. Even in the mundane, trivial, lowly ways.
The power of the gospel is on display when we respond to our enemies, not with retaliation, but with love.
Think about this, and we’re gonna wrap up right now. Jesus didn’t just wash the feet of men who loved Him. He washed Judas’ feet! He responded to the one who rejected Him with love.
Here’s the principle: Personal humility flows out of the humility of Christ. And that means that I don’t serve people because they deserve it. I serve others because Jesus deserves it. He deserves my obedience. And He will use my obedience, He will use your loving, humble, ordinary-looking acts of service to grow your faith, to grant you assurance, and to make us effective for the sake of Christ.
I don’t know all the ways this gets expressed in your life, but let’s take a moment and let this truth sink into our hearts. And let’s ask Christ for the grace to be obedient to Him.
Let’s pray. I’ll give you a few moments to pray alone or with someone around you, and then I’ll lead us in prayer. Let’s pray.