Christ’s Selfless Love (John 13:1-20)
By Eld. Sim Chee Seng
This passage records one of the most touching incidents in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ while he was on earth. This incident occurred prior to the time he was to be brought before the authorities who falsely accused Him of treason and sentenced Him to death by crucifixion. Jesus was together with His disciples in the evening, just before dinner, when he did the most amazing thing – he washed the disciples’ feet. This passage opens the window of heaven and allows us to peep a little into the heart of God through the action of His begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus has told them that He always acts in obedience to His Father’s command. In washing His disciples’ feet, God’s glory is revealed in His Son who showed us the selfless love of God and later in His crucifixion, He reveals to us the sacrificial love of God.
Jesus has been with the disciples for about 3 years now. He knew that His hour of Crucifixion is coming when as the Lamb of God, he has to lay down His life for the sins of the whole world. He is going to demonstrate the same selfless and sacrificial love in the humble service of feet washing. In His example, we have, as someone said “an acted parable of the Lord’s humiliation unto death.” Three points to note here:
(A) Jesus washed the feet of all his disciples including that of Judas whom he knew was going to betray Him (v27). O what great love is this! that He even washed the feet of His enemy. This feet-washing is a sign to us. It tells us what God himself is like – He would even wash the feet of the one who would betray Him!
(B) Jesus took the place of a slave. The Master is washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” (v3) now takes His disciples’ dirty feet and washes them. God the Son became a servant to serve man. Recall Matt 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Slaves were looked down upon in ancient days. What Jesus did provoked Peter to speak out in love. Alas, his was a defective love, lacking in humility (the precise thing that Jesus was trying to teach in the feet washing). Why so? In Peter’s response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the Cross will atone and bring healing. Peter and the disciples did not understand most of what Jesus has said and done, but they did after the Cross, the resurrection and the descent of the Spirit. Peter has not fully grasped the lesson of humility. He has not discovered the depths of his brokenness and selfishness, for we know later he denied the Lord thrice. His denial of the Lord will tear away his pride and clear the way for genuine humility and transformation.
(3) Jesus identity with the disciples. Jesus affirms that “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” (v8) If the disciples are to have a share with Jesus in His community and the eternal life that comes through faith in Him, then they must be washed by Jesus. Further, Jesus says “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit;and ye are clean.” (v10) Those who are washed are clean and they belong to Him, implying that the bathing is the cleansing of sin on the Cross. What is then needed is daily cleaning of the feet which suggests the forgiveness of one’s daily sin.
After Jesus finished washing their feet, He asked “Know ye what I have done to you?” (v. 12). They would not completely understand until they have seen the Cross (v. 7), but they could at least grasp his act as an example of humility. The cleansing word that they received led them to recognize Jesus as both Master and Lord (v. 13). Jesus affirmed that this is indeed his identity.
If Jesus is both Master and Lord. Then what are the implications?
(A) We are to follow Jesus’ example. If Jesus takes the role of a servant, then His disciples is expected to do likewise. We are to express in both word and deed, the selfless love of God to others, friends or foes.
(B) We are to serve one another in humility and love. In the community of believers, we are to manifest the love of God through serving one another with no vestige of pride or position. Yes there are recognized positions of leadership within the Church, but the exercise of leadership is to follow this model of servanthood. The attitude of the world is centred on pride and selfishness, but not so for Christ’s followers. The life that pleases God is a life exemplified by the attitude of “feet washing” or humility of servanthood.
(C) We are to share the Gospel. As Jesus is sent by the Father, the disciples are sent by Jesus on a mission. As we have received the good news of salvation, we ought to share the Gospel everywhere and to everyone we meet about this great God whom we worship. We must tell others about Jesus and what He has done for us.
(D) We need to obey His commandments. Elder Khoo recently shared how one of his relatives like to boast to his mom how fortunate he was to have tasted the best satay and peanut sauce and went at great length to describe his culinary delight. This irritated the mom who gave this rebuke “If you love me, you could have brought some satay for me to eat. But you went on and on. You did nothing but talk.” Actions speak louder than words!
James is right when he says “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Jesus says cryptically, ”Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (v. 17). Let us obey and imitate our Lord Jesus Christ who has personally shown us “the way, the truth and the life.” Amen