Secure enough to serve – humility, holiness and happiness – john 13:1-17
We now move into the second major portion of John’s gospel. The first portion was the book of signs or miracles seen in chapters 1-12. This portion, chapters 13-21, is the book of Glory (Gary Burge – NIV Application Commentary), as “the hour has come” for Jesus to be glorified – on the cross. (See John 12:27-28; 13:1, 31, 32) We must understand that the cross was not a tragedy from God’s perspective but the very purpose for which Christ came, “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) to the glory of God (Phil. 2:5-11). The signs done in His public ministry all pointed to Him as the promised Messiah but the Jewish leaders and the nation as a whole did not believe in Him. (John 1:12; 12:37-41) This next section, especially chapters 13-17, is Jesus’ private ministry to the twelve. The content here is unique to John’s gospel and contains the essence of the Christian faith and the seeds for all the key doctrines which are developed in the epistles. In it are Jesus’ last words to His closest friends and thus to all of us as His disciples. Listen closely!
Humility – vv.1-5 – Jesus was always totally dependent upon the Father and submitted to His will, and He knew three important things that made Him secure enough to serve – to wash the feet of His disciples. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” (vv. 3, 4) He knew 1) His identity – where He had come from and whom He belonged to; “that he had come from God.” 2) His dignity – God’s purpose and God’s power for His life – “the Father had put all things under His power”; and 3) His destiny – where He was going – “returning to God” to “the right hand of the throne of God” (See Hebrews 12:2). Out of this fullness Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was empowered to do the most humble and lowest task among His servants – wash their dirty feet. It would be like Queen Elizabeth sweeping our kitchen or President Bush cleaning our toilets. The disciples were still jockeying for the top position in the kingdom, not about to lower themselves to this low and routine duty, (Luke 22:14-27) when Jesus got up, wrapped the towel around His waist and began to wash their feet.
Now in Christ, we as believers can be secure enough to serve. 1) Our identity has changed. We are no longer in Adam’s line (Rom. 5:18-19; 1 Peter 1:18) but are children of God. (See John 1:12; Romans 8:14-16; 1 John 3:1-2) We are born again, new creatures in Christ and have “come from God”; 2) Our dignity and purpose have changed. We were spiritually dead and the objects of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-3) but now we are chosen, forgiven, blessed with every spiritual blessing, holy and blameless, accepted in the Beloved, God’s workmanship (masterpiece) created in Christ Jesus for good works to the praise and glory of God Almighty. (Eph. 1:3- 6; 2:10) We have a purpose for living that goes far beyond this life and can make an eternal difference in the lives of others. 3) Our destiny has changed. We were destined for a Christ-less eternity, separated from God to go to a place of eternal, conscious torment (Luke 16:19-31) and now we are destined for glory in the presence of God and his perfected saints for an infinite eternity. And nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:35-39) In summary, we are God’s offspring with a significant meaning and purpose for everything we do in life (1 Corinthians 10:31) with God’s power to carry it out and with a glorious future that is guaranteed by the Lord Himself (1 Peter 1:3-7). Out of this fullness we too can be secure enough to serve.
Holiness – vv. 6-11 – “Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you (i.e., Judas)." (v.10) “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) As believers in Christ we have positional righteousness and holiness with God but we are also called to work out our salvation and live lives of holiness and righteousness among men. Thus we need regular and frequent “foot washings” as we sin and walk through a sinful world. John tells us in his first epistle that we need to regularly confess our sins, not for salvation (a “relationship” with God) but for cleansing and restoration of our “fellowship” with God. (See 1 John 1:5-9; and Psalm 66:18)
Happiness – vv. – 12- 17 – "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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. 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.” (vv.13-17) The Lord of Life not only washed the dirty feet of His disciples but He died a humiliating and shameful death for them and all of us. Now He calls us to the “order of the towel” – to humbly serve those He brings into our lives. As seen in many other Scriptures in the gospels and epistles, it is only when we actually obey the Word, not just hear and know the Word, that we are blessed – happy. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25) Yet Jesus never calls us to do anything He hasn’t done Himself and for which He doesn’t empower us to do through His life within us. (John 15:5) Serving others doesn’t mean only doing low, menial tasks. As our attitude is like our Lord’s we will become servants and meet the needs of those around us, their spiritual, relational and physical needs. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:3-5)
“Humility is the soil from which all Christian graces flow and the indispensable condition for true fellowship with Jesus.” (Andrew Murray) "The greatest among you will be your servant." (Matthew 23:11)
Questions for reflection/application:
Of the three, identity, dignity, and destiny, which have you most fully grasped and which makes you secure enough to humbly serve others?
See 1 John 1: 5-9 – Do you get regular “foot washings” by regularly confessing your sins?
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:3-5) “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17) Where can you be blessed and happy by putting these Scriptures into practice? With your spouse, children, co-workers, “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40)?
Yours for Jesus’ sake,
Len and Kristen