The Sovereign Servant
As a preacher, there are times when we have to deliver “farewell messages” to congregations we work with and it is not an easy thing to do. And, while a preacher may not have succeeded, the purpose is to always prepare them for the future. That is the issue with our Lord in Jn. 13-17 as he addresses his disciples.
Now, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Sunday, and on Monday had cleansed the temple. Tuesday was a day of conflict as the religious leaders sought to trip Him up and get evidence to arrest Him. These events are recorded in Matthew 21-25. Wednesday was probably a day of rest, but on Thursday He met in the Upper Room with His disciples in order to observe Passover. But, the emphasis in John 13:1-5 is on what our Lord knew and what he did. Jesus knew that “His hour was come.” What hour? It was the time when He would be glorified through His death, resurrection, and ascension. From the human point of view, it meant suffering; but from the divine point of view, it meant glory.
In vs. 2, the word translated “put” literally means “to throw.” It reminds us of the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph. 6:16). And so, Judas had succumbed to the wicked one’s attacks on the heart. But, Jesus knew that the Father had given Him all things (vs. 3). And, what Jesus knew helped determine what Jesus did (vs. 4-5). So, the disciples must have been shocked when they saw their Master rise from supper, lay aside His outer garments, wrap a towel around His waist, take a basin of water, and wash their feet. This was a special mark of affection. But, it was much more than that for as the disciples began to dispute who was to be the greatest (Lk. 22:24-30), he gave them an unforgettable lesson in humility, and by His actions rebuked their selfishness and pride.
But, as Peter watched the Lord wash his friends’ feet, he became more and more disturbed and could not understand what He was doing (vs. 6-17). We can admit that Peter was often impulsive out of ignorance and often had to be corrected by Jesus. Jesus here was trying to teach his disciples the importance of a holy walk and was washing, which meant “bathing all over” here showing how necessary it was to be cleansed, similar to the priest in the Old Testament (Ex. 29:4; 30:18-21). Of course, the Lord cleanses us through his blood (Rom. 6:3-4) and it is through his words that our hearts and minds can be kept clean so as to avoid the pollutions of the world. And, if a Christian does sin, we have a loving Advocate, which forgives (1 Jn. 2:1-2). But, Peter did not understand what his Lord was doing and when he discovered that to refuse the Lord would mean to lose the Lord’s fellowship, he went in the opposite direction of Judas (vs. 11) and asked for a complete bath! But, our Lord was teaching that real joy comes from serving, the mark of true Christianity (Jam. 1:25).
But in vs. 18-35, a dark shadow now fell across the scene as Jesus dealt with Judas, the traitor. It is important to note that Judas had become a hypocrite. It was told of him that he would not believe in Jesus (Jn. 6:64-71) and had not been completely clean (vs. 10-11) and was there to fulfill the Scriptures (vs. 10-11; Psa. 41:9). Still, Judas was responsible for his own decisions, and those decisions fulfilled God’s Word. Judas had been disloyal.
Now, the remarkable thing is that the others at the table with Jesus did not know that Judas was an unbeliever and a traitor. Up to the very hour of his treachery, Judas was protected by the Saviour whom he betrayed. Had Jesus openly revealed what He knew about Judas, it is likely that the men would have turned on him. Remember what Peter did to Malchus when soldiers came to take Jesus! Jesus knew what Judas would do, but He did not compel him to do it. Judas was exposed to the same spiritual privileges as the other disciples. Jesus had spoken before about a traitor (Jn. 6:70), but the disciples did not take it to heart. Now when He spoke openly about it at the table, His disciples were perplexed.
Peter signaled to John, who was the closest to Jesus at the table, and asked him to find out who the traitor was (vs. 22-24). But, the Lord’s reply to John was certainly not heard by all the men (Lk. 22:23). Now, when Jesus gave the bread to Judas, it was interpreted as an act of love and honor. But for John, no doubt he was stunned by this revelation, but before he could say or do anything, Jesus had sent Judas on his way (vs. 27). Keep in mind that Judas knew what he was doing and that he did it deliberately. He had already met with the Jewish religious leaders and agreed to lead them to Jesus without any public disturbance (Lk. 21:37-22:6). He heard Jesus say, “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born!” (Matt. 26:24). Yet, he persisted in his unbelief and treachery. In vs. 30, John mentions it was night. It is interesting here because Jesus is the Light of the world (Jn. 8:12), but Judas rejected Jesus and went out into darkness and those who do evil hate the light (Jn. 3:18-21). The Lord’s warnings go unheeded by Judas.
The instant Judas was gone, the atmosphere was cleared, and Jesus began to instruct His disciples and prepare them for His crucifixion and His ultimate return to heaven. In vs. 31-35 he speaks of the glory of God and how he would be glorified through the Son of Man. The Father was glorified when the Lord finished the work that he was given to do (Jn. 17:4). This is the way all of us glorify God, by faithfully doing what He calls us to do. In our Lord’s case, the Father’s will was that the Son die for lost sinners, be raised from the dead, and then ascend to heaven.
Now, one day the believing disciples would go to be with Him (Jn. 14:1-3), and they would also see Him after His resurrection. But during this time of His suffering and death, it was important that they not try to follow Him. Instead, the disciples’ responsibility was to love one another just as Christ had loved them. They would certainly need this love in the hours to follow, when their Master would be taken from them and their brave spokesman, Peter, would fail Him and them. In fact, all of them would fail, and the only thing that would bring them together would be their love for Christ and for each other. This bond is mentioned 44 times between Jn. 13-21. And this new command meant that this was a new experience in that this love would take on a new meaning and power because of the death of Christ on the cross (Jn. 15:13) and because of the power in the Gospel (Acts 2; Rom. 1). This section begins and ends with love: Jesus’ love for His own (vs. 1) and the disciples’ love for one another (vs. 35). It is love that is the true evidence that we belong to Jesus Christ. And how do we evidence that love? By doing what Jesus did: laying down our lives for the brethren (1 Jn. 3:16). And the way to start is by getting down and washing one another’s feet in sacrificial service.