It takes more than mere acquaintance to know someone, doesn't it? Often the phrase 'I wonder what is going on inside them?' indicates a desire to know someone's inner thoughts, what they're really thinking.
John, the writer of this gospel, knew Jesus, listened to his claims that he and God the Father were one; heard him speak with all authority and power over humanity, creation, evil and sin; saw the miraculous signs and works that he did. Here we have narrated for us an event in the life of Jesus, with just hours to go before his death. As we read this passage from the Bible we can know this Jesus too; who he was, what he came to do, how we should respond; may such knowledge be each of ours this night. By way of preparation:
It was just before the Passover Feast. (v1)
We are reading historical events. What we are about to read took place during the Jewish feast called the Passover. As we study this passage together then, note:
First, Jesus the Son of God
In these opening verses of our passage we are reminded who Jesus is;
i) Jesus the Son of God knew what was going to happen to him.
Look at the next part of verse 1;
Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. (v1)
Throughout Jesus' earthly ministry he had known why he had come and what it was he had come to do. More than that, he knew when he was to do it! Such was his power and control over all that happened, all that took place. He knew when his life would end, what it would achieve. In John chapter twelve and verse thirty one Jesus has spoken in this all knowing way:
'Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.' He said this to show what kind of death he was going to die.
To die is why Jesus came, he knew it and lived his life moving towards it. Next we see:
ii) Jesus the Son of God loved those who followed him
Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (v1b)
'He now showed them the full extent of his love' could be better translated; 'He loved them to the end'. To the completion of what he had come to do. This love of Jesus is an everlasting one and never fails. Let this be said to all gathered here who have trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their wrongs, and who have surrendered control of their lives to him. This love we read of here is the same love that he has for you. It is an amazing love, an eternal love for all who faithfully follow Jesus.
Yet what of those who do not know Jesus as the one who forgives wrongs and who have not surrendered control of their lives to him? Well know this, Jesus loves you and longs, yearns for you to trust in him, to ask him for forgiveness and submit all that you are to him. For this very reason he came.
Yet here in this passage, it is the love for his followers that we are told about. Knowing that he was about to leave this world and return to God the Father, knowing exactly what was before him, all that awaited him, what do we find burns in the heart of Jesus? It is this 'love for his own'. This is Jesus the Son of God.
Now if you could have seen my heart just hours ago, in fact these past days, all you would have found there is the thought of standing here tonight - in fear and trembling! That happens, doesn't it? When there is something looming large on the horizon of our lives it is all that we can think about, it consumes us, fills our every thought. It points to the selfishness of the sinful heart. Not so Jesus. With his death before him, it is his love and concern for those around him that fills his thoughts. Further note that:
iii) Jesus the Son of God knew that he had power over everything
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power (v2)
Jesus' betrayal had been agreed with the religious rulers and the plot to kill Jesus was reaching its conclusion. The devil's work was at a frenzy. Jesus knew this, he knew who his betrayer was and he knew that he had power over all things! He knew that there was nothing that he could not do. Think of the perfect control, the perfect love, the perfect obedience that marks the authority of Jesus here. Who is in charge? Jesus the Son of God. And note:
iv) Jesus the Son of God knew where he was going
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (v3)
Jesus knew who he was. He had come from God, and was returning to God. This is the self-knowledge of Jesus. He has always been - he came from God; and will always be - he returned to God. His is the glory of God, the place at God's side from which he came and to which he returned. Jesus was not trying to discover self identity or wonder what one day he might become during his time here on earth. He knew who he was.
This then is Jesus - the Son of God. It is the sure evidence that he was who he claimed to be. For those here this evening who have trusted in him and who follow him, it is a wonderful reminder that God became flesh and with all power, purpose and knowledge walked the way of the cross. What joy that truth brings us, what wonder at Jesus the Son of God who willingly did what we could not do for ourselves - reconcile us to God. Let us never fail to present this Jesus to a lost world. May we never change, diminish, water down the man Jesus Christ, Son of God become flesh.
And for those who do not know Jesus the Son of God, these truths present a question - how will you respond to Jesus? With the facts of who he was presented before you, there remains only two options. Do you believe the claims that Jesus made and what he came to do? Well you might ask, why did he come? Which brings us to our next point;
Secondly, Jesus the Son of God - the Serving Saviour
A few weeks ago there was a slot on the radio called 'Lost in Show Business'. Members of the public who worked with celebrities and stars were asked to phone in with incidents where fame and stardom had obviously gone to their heads. One celebrity, when finding that he was not able to jump a queue, shouted 'Don't you know who I am?' Another would frequently phone the hotel lobby and ask for a porter to fetch her something that was on the opposite side of the room in which she was sitting. I tried that one at home and didn't get very far.
Suffice to say that these are the ways of the famous, the powerful, those with status. It is almost expected of them, isn't it? It's what great people do. So what is it that Jesus the Son of God does?
i) Jesus the Son of God the Serving Saviour served a rebellious humanity
so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing , and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him. (v4)
Jesus washes the disciples feet. It was a job that even a Jewish slave could not be requested to do. That it had not yet taken place is not surprising, for the duty was the most menial of tasks. Jesus the Son of God clothes himself like that of a slave and does that which is regarded as for the lowliest of all. It show us the humility and love, which brought Jesus the Son of God to this earth. For Jesus himself had said;
even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10.45)
His whole life as God become flesh was to serve a humanity who had rebelled against God their creator and followed their own ways. So how was he to serve? ii) Jesus the Son of God the Serving Saviour cleanses all who will let him There is deeper significance still to what Jesus does. He comes to Peter who asks with emphatic disbelief;
'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' (verse 6)
Peter cannot understand what is happening, and the implications for him of seeing Jesus washing his own feet are mind-blowing. This is not the role of the Son of God, the Conquering Saviour who will rule over the world and deal with those who oppose him.
Jesus replied, 'You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.' (verse 7)
The final event that will take place later is the death and resurrection of Jesus. After this, says Jesus, you will understand. It will be after the accomplishment of what this foot washing signifies. Then Peter will grasp what Jesus was doing. Indeed the Holy Spirit who is promised to the disciples will enable them to understand. But even with such a gentle and tender response, Peter still thinks he knows best;
'No' said Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.' (verse 8)
Again Peter's reply is an emphatic one, but this time his statement goes further still. 'No,' states Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.' No no, not in this age or even in the age to come will this take place, Peter pronounces. This act of Jesus has no place in his thinking, and now the one he has just called Lord, he dismisses out of hand. Such actions of Jesus shall never be, Peter forbids it!
Peter's reaction shows the root of our rebellion and rejection of God. We decide. We know best. God is knocked off the throne of our lives and we make the decisions. We decide what is right and wrong. The irony is that it is just this root problem of rejecting God's rightful rule over our lives that Jesus has come to deal with. And Peter is unaware that this footwashing of Jesus symbolises it.
Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me'. (v8)
Now the reply of Jesus is as startling as the indignation of Peter we have just witnessed. We begin to see the symbolism of the footwashing even more clearly. Unless Jesus washes a person, they have no part with him. Unless an individual submits to Jesus and is cleansed by him they will never know him. The footwashing illustrates and looks forward to the cleansing work of the cross that Jesus provides for all who will submit to him and be made clean. This washing by Jesus of our rebellious actions and attitude towards God can alone make us clean in God's sight. If we never turn to this, then God cannot except us. For the dirt of sin is vile in the sight of a holy, perfect God. Not being with Jesus involves not only this short life but all of eternity. But if we do come to Jesus, in forgiveness asking for his cleansing power, clean we shall be, for;
iii) Jesus the Son of God the Serving Saviour makes us completely clean for ever when we submit to his cleansing
'Then, Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!' (v9)
Peter's response reveals him to be a true follower of Jesus. Now the thought of being apart from Jesus fills him with horror. And his logic runs something like; 'In that case Lord wash me completely, for the more I'm washed the closer I'll be.' It is the cry of faith.
Oh, that everyone here this evening would respond to Jesus as Peter does here. It is an all hoping, all submitting response. It bows the knee to the person and work of Jesus Christ. And is that not what we have been studying in this passage of the Bible? The person and work of Jesus? How shall we respond? Yet this reply of Peter causes Jesus to teach more about the cleansing work that his death will achieve for all who believe. Once we have come to Jesus and asked to be made clean we are clean indeed, and clean for ever.
'A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean,' (v10)
Let us remind one another of the work of Jesus upon the cross and what it accomplished. For all who trust in it, it is completely effective for ever. When we come to Jesus and are made clean, clean we are and we stay that way. Yes, we sin and fail in following Christ. We seek forgiveness for the wrong things that we do. But Jesus tells us that it is just like washing feet after bathing, for the whole of us is already clean. Rebellion against God is no more, we are accepted because of the cleansing work of Jesus. Let us be watchful of depending upon anything else other that the work of Jesus on the cross. For our standing before God depends on this alone. Jesus continues;
'though not every one of you.' For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (v10-11)
Here is a solemn reminder that there are those who are not clean. Mere ritual cleansing, taking part in a ceremony of belief, is useless if the heart of the individual is not right. Jesus would have washed Judas' feet and yet he was not clean. It is the greatest of warnings against outward religion that has not submitted to Jesus and asked him to cleanse us. Of this we must remind each other.
A young lad lived that way of outward show. He went regularly to church, morning and night. He would sometimes have the gumption to pray before the whole church. He would speak and act as though a faithful follower of Jesus. Yet without knowing and living it in his heart. That person was me! How I needed to come humbly and pleadingly before the cross of Jesus and submit to its cleansing power.
Such truths warn us clearly, and so we examine ourselves. And so;
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. (v12)
With the footwashing complete, Jesus now continues to use what he has done to teach them that;
Thirdly, Jesus the Son of God, the Serving Saviour is an example for all who follow him
Look at the second half of verse twelve;
'Do you understand what I have done for you?' he asked them. (v12)
It is an immensely pregnant question isn't it? This whole event now takes on one final application for all who would be a part with Jesus. He wants them to reflect on what he has done for them. This is why he questions them and why he begins to help them with the answer. i) The Reminder of Jesus the Son of God, the Serving Saviour - remember your Teacher and Lord
'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am.' (v13)
Jesus reminded them exactly of his relationship to them. He was the one who instructed them, who revealed to them the things of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, they believed that he was their entry into God's kingdom though they knew not how, and their understanding was clouded They trusted Jesus as Lord, a title that carried divine implications, that belonged to God alone. Yes, says Jesus, this is who I am. You are right in addressing me as such, you are right in following me as such. Consequently;
ii) The command of Jesus the Son of God, the Serving Saviour - do as I have done for you
'Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.' (v14-15)
This is what Jesus has done for them, and they must do the same for others. For if Jesus their Teacher and Lord has so served, how much more should they. It is his example that Jesus focuses their attention on, an attitude of the heart that Jesus has modelled before them.
'I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.' (v16-17)
The illustration that Jesus uses of master to servant and sender to messenger forces home the point. The servant plays a subservient role to the master and likewise the messenger to the sender. The very roles of servant and messenger are defined by those in authority over them, the person they serve. So also with Jesus. He serves, so must we. Think of the difficult church task that no one knows you do. It is laborious. It is tiresome, frankly you think it is a waste of time. Now think of Jesus. Can there be any better motivation for service amongst God's people, indeed in God's world, than the person and work of Jesus the Son of God? Take time, brothers and sisters, to consider Jesus and the way of the cross and serve in that light, in that love.
Hence the purpose and example of Jesus the Son of God, the serving Saviour become beautifully intertwined together. To provide a way of cleansing, a way of being made right with God, he was willing to humble himself and serve even to death. How much more we. This is what it means to follow Jesus, for it is the way of the cross. A few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God, a Christian leader would write to a church and exhort them to imitate Jesus their Saviour and Lord. The words sum up wonderfully what we have been considering. They are no less applicable now than they were then, for they are the very words of God:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus;
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death - even death on a cross. (Philippians 2.5-8)