Focal Passage: John 13:1-38
In John 13 Jesus washes His disciples’ dirty feet, dines with Judas, and predicts Peter’s denial. He is preparing His followers for servant leadership. Christ Himself demonstrates servant leadership by doing the task of an humble servant. How could He, the very Son of God, lower Himself to such a menial task? Why would He want to do such a thing? Verse 1 says “… He now showed them the full extent of His love.” Knowing He was about to be betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter, He shows us how and commands us to follow His example.
Jesus knew who He was, where He came from, where He was going, and what He had come to do. “And 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). This is the incarnate Son of God we are talking about here. He came to serve, to give His life for our sins so this humble act was second nature to Him. His first act of humility was His willingness to become flesh in the first place. “The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Dealing with dirty feet was nothing compared with His taking upon Himself our sin. Prior to the cross was the fact of Christ’s incarnation. His willingness to take on flesh and dwell among us with all the limitations of being human is hard for us to comprehend. And then for Him to love us and to love those who were about to betray and deny Him is the paramount of humble service.
Jesus and His disciples were gathered in a circle, reclining at a meal. They must have wondered what He was doing when He took the towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash their feet. Peter, as usual, objects to his Lord’s act of love and says, “No way. Not going to happen!” Jesus answered: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me (v. 8). Then Peter asks for a complete bath. Meanwhile, Judas is seated close by and is about to implement his plan to betray Christ. How could Jesus be kind to him and wash the feet of His betrayer? Because He knew who He was and what He had come to do.
So where do we stand? Are we like Peter, Judas, or Jesus Himself? Peter did not understand, Judas had already sold out the Savior, and Jesus loved them all, including you and me.
John 13:31 comes just after Judas has gone to betray Christ. Jesus has a strange reaction to this. “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.” As Jesus acts as the servant to His closest followers and demonstrates His love for them, “God will glorify the Son in Himself.” Christ is obedient to His Father. He demonstrates His love for His disciples. He asks all of us to follow His example of servant leadership. His followers must act like Him. We must allow the indwelling Christ to serve through us. We must be examples to the world of His kind of love!
In John 13:33 Jesus uses a very intimate term, “My children” to warn them of His departure, even adding, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Of course this does not mean they would never be with Him again. Rather, He is preparing them for the responsibility they have to demonstrate His kind of love to one another and to the world. “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He knew that Satan would sift them, some would deny Him, and others would fall away. So He warns them of the primary importance of their obeying this command. Why? Our love for Christ demonstrated by our love for one another proves our discipleship. “By this (love) all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Let us all ring the bell of love in humble obedience to Christ’s command. After all, “A bell is no bell ’til you ring it. A song is no song ’til you sing it. And love in your heart was not put there to stay. Love is not love ’til you give it away.”
— Dean lives in Orlinda. He is the retired executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association.