Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
This scene is one of the most interesting in all the New Testament if you understand the cast of characters present at this most amazing event. At center stage you have the Lord and King of glory, the main character of not only this brief narrative but also the central focus of all of human history. His hour had now come, the purpose for which He came to this broken and fallen world filled with sin and rebellion against Him. Surrounding Him were a cast of characters chosen from before the foundation of the world (see John 15:16) who would make interesting reading in any Broadway playbill. In John’s Gospel, chapter 13 begins a very intimate section where Jesus would take time away from the crowds and focus exclusively on His own beloved disciples. It was important that they knew and understood what He was about to do on the cross—they needed a tangible lesson on the nature of love. But it was not a love that this world had ever known before—it was far deeper, far richer, and far more exquisite. “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?” And so, the scene He acted out for them was to do something reserved for the least among us—He washed the feet of His disciples. The Lord and King of glory humbled Himself and bowed down to wash away the grime and dirt from feet so used to walking in paths of rebellion against God. How could such a thing happen?
There is no length to which Christ’s self-sacrifice did not lead Him. These words are so dull and inexpressive; we cannot enter into thoughts so high. He Who was in the form of God took such thought for us, that he made no account of Himself. Into the immeasurable calm of the divine blessedness he permitted this thought to enter, “I will die for men!” And so mighty was His love, so colossal the divine purpose to save, that he thought nothing of His divine majesty, nothing of His unsullied blessedness, nothing of His equality with God, but absorbed in us,–our needs, our misery, our helplessness—He made no account of Himself. If this is to be our example, what limit can we set on our self-sacrifice? (BB Warfield, The Person And Work Of Christ, p. 573)
John gives us some indication of how such a thing could happen throughout this brief narrative. We read in verse 3 that Jesus knew His Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going to God. Here, John echoes the Apostle Paul when writing to the Philippian believers about the mind of Christ, he told them that “equality with God” was not something Jesus had to grasp and cling to—He was and is and forever will be eternal God. And so perhaps with this in mind John tells us that Jesus rose from the table and laid aside His garments, even as He was willing to lay aside His own glory as God to come in our flesh and to suffer and die in our place for our sins. His love for us is the motivation for this scene of stunning humility. So important was this act of Christ towards His disciples that when Peter initially refused (no doubt sensing the incongruity of the scene), Jesus told him that it was absolutely necessary for Peter and all who would have any part of Christ. There is no other cleansing for sinners than the cleansing that comes from the One Who alone is able to wash away our sins and to make us whole.
There is something else here that we should take note of in the first verse of this chapter where the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse into why Jesus did what He did on the night He was betrayed. John tells us that as Jesus loved His own who were in the world, so He was determined to “love them to the end.” The central theme of chapters 13-17 is love. Jesus would speak of His love for His disciples and all who would become part of His body through the grace of God. That love would culminate in an act of selflessness displayed on the cross of Calvary where He would bear the wrath and cruse of His Father for our sins. That act of supreme love would be the defining moment of redemptive history, together with His resurrection and ascension into glory. And so He loved them to the end. But, what the disciples needed to know was this: His great act of love was never to be repeated; but selfless love was to be the hallmark of the lives of all those who would follow Him. As the hymn-writer James Montgomery noted in the last stanza of that great hymn, Hail To The Lord’s Anointed, “O’er ev’ry foe victorious, He on his throne shall rest, from age to age more glorious, all-blessing and all-blessed; the tide of time shall never his covenant remove; His name shall stand forever—-that name to us is Love.” His name indeed to us is Love—so let everyone who finds their life in him be marked by such selfless, self-sacrificing love. And so He acted it out before them, girded Himself with a towel, and washed their feet.
Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs; it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies. It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours. It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home. It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men… the path of self-sacrifice is the path of glory… (Warfield, The Person And Work Of Christ, p. 574-5)
Love is the glue that binds us together as followers of Jesus Christ. Love for one another is what Jesus said would show the world that we are His disciples. The Supper that preceded the washing of His disciples’ feet was His Last Supper and the one we celebrate this coming Lord’s Day together. Beloved of God, as we gather together, let us examine ourselves, be quick to acknowledge and turn from our sins, and come with joy before the One Who has so loved us, resolved by His grace to love one another well to the glory and praise of our great Savior. Come to the Table, feed upon Him by faith, drink of the fountains of His everlasting love, and know that love so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all.
Rejoicing in our Gracious Savior, Who came not to be served but to serve,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar
Pastor Gary Englestad