Love On Display

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

John 13:1-17 | February 4 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
February 4
Love On Display | John 13:1-17
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Let’s turn together in our Bibles to John 13, John chapter 13. We’ll be reading together verses 1 through 17. John chapter 13, verses 1 through 17.

Let’s read together now from God’s Word.

“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. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, “Not all of you are clean.””

“When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Let’s pray now for God to open our hearts to His Word.

Father, we do pray this simple prayer that the Scriptures give us. Open our eyes, Lord, that we may behold wondrous things from Your law. Reveal to us, O God, the glory of Your salvation. Give us ears to hear and give us hearts that are ready to believe and to obey. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Well, dear people of God, there are certain places in the life and ministry of Jesus that we might call sacred spaces, places where Jesus ministered that stand out because of what He said or did, places where you get to see the pathos of Christ, which help us understand His person and His work.

Think about places like that. We might say the wilderness was one of those places. Jesus had fasted for 40 days, encounters the devil, the devil tempting Him. Jesus combats the temptation with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. It is written, it is written, it is written, and the devil left Him.

Or we might think about the Mount of Transfiguration as one of those sacred spaces or places. Jesus was there with His inner circle, just three disciples, Peter, James, and John, and the glory of Jesus is revealed. There’s the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Jesus is made known as the beloved Son of God, who is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

Gethsemane, of course, is one of those spots. Again, Peter, James, and John with Jesus, into this dark garden, just hours before His crucifixion. We see the anguish of Christ there, wrestling over the cup that Jesus is going to have to drink. And the disciples are called to pray and to watch, but instead of praying and watching, there they are sleeping as Jesus goes through this suffering.

Of course there’s Calvary, there’s the garden tomb, but people of God, another one of those sacred places or spaces I think is the upper room. So we’re reading about that here in John chapter 13. Jesus alone with the 12. It’s the night before His crucifixion. His final hours, the last time that Jesus and the disciples are together before the disciples scatter, before Jesus is crucified.

The upper room is not only the place that we’re going to be in this morning, but actually for the next eight weeks, the next Sunday evenings. So we’re there this morning, but we’re going to come back again tonight, and then for the next eight weeks each Sunday evening we are going to gather with Christ in the upper room. It’s just five chapters in John’s Gospel but as you probably know, John dives deeper into what happened in the upper room more than any of the other Gospel writers. 155 verses, less than 4000 words, but a sacred place.

James Montgomery Boice said this about the upper room. He said to enter the upper room is to enter, as it were, the holy of holies, because nowhere in the entire Bible does the child of God feel that he is walking on more holy ground.

The Puritan Thomas Goodwin said this about the upper room. He said it’s in the upper room that we get a window into Christ’s heart.

Hear that again. In the upper room we get a window into Christ’s heart.

So as we go with Jesus into the upper room, we are going to watch Him serve. We’re going to listen to Him pray. We’re going to observe Him teach. And this morning, we are going to witness His love.

Verse 1 of chapter 13: Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

He loved them to the uttermost. He loved them to the full extent of His love.

There are three scenes. If this were kind of a play, there are three scenes that I want us to notice her out of John 13, verses 1 to 17.

The first scene is simply this. First of all, a drama. This is not a play, this is not theater, this is real life, a dramatic display of Christ’s love and the drama is due to the stage that Jesus’ foot washing was unfolding on.

I want you to see four subpoints here. Four indications from the Apostle John of what was taking place surrounding the upper room. You see the first phrase in the very first verse. John says, “Now before the feast of the Passover.”

The Passover, you’ll recall, was that great historical event in the life of Israel that captured more than anything else the deliverance that God had given to His people, how God had saved His people. For 400 years, Israel had been in Egypt, in bondage to slavery, and the night of the Passover was the night just before Israel was finally released from their bondage. They were delivered.

God said to His people that night, “I want you to take a lamb and you’re to kill that lamb, you’re to slay the lamb. Take the blood of the lamb and you’re to wipe it on the doorposts, around the door of your house. And when the Angel of Death passes over this night, and he sees the blood, everyone in your family will be spared. But for everyone who does not wipe blood along the doorposts of the house, their firstborn will die.”

God is saying to His people you need to be under the blood, you need to be behind the blood. It’s that blood that is going to save your lives.

Passover, of course, was to be an annual celebration for God’s people. Every single year when the calendar came around, celebrate this again, celebrate it again. Remember what God has done for you, how God has saved you, how God has delivered you, and what do we find here in the upper room is Jesus gathering with His disciples to celebrate the Passover. The Lamb who had come to take away the sin of the world met with His disciples that night in the context of this Passover celebration.

The second statement we see out of John in verse 1 is that the hour of Jesus had come. This was something that John talks about often in his gospel, Jesus’ hour. It’s the hour of His death, the hour of His resurrection. So the hour of these climactic events at the end of Jesus’ life that spell our salvation.

Earlier on in John’s Gospel in the seventh chapter, chapter 7 verse 30, as the authorities are coming to arrest Jesus, John tells us that no one laid a hand on Christ even though they were seeking His arrest because His hour had not yet come. It wasn’t the hour, it wasn’t the time, it wasn’t the appointed moment in God’s divine plan for Christ to be delivered up.

Then you come to chapter 13 and John tells us Jesus knew that His hour had come. It was now the hour. It was the time. It was His hour to depart out of this world to go to be with the Father. John tells us Jesus knew this. Jesus was not caught off guard by what was about to happen. Everything was in motion for Him to suffer and to die. Jesus knew it was unfolding. It was His hour. The time had come.

It was also a dark hour, this third thing that John tells us, because John says that it was during the supper when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him.

We think about 13 men, persons, gathered in the upper room. Right? There’s Jesus. There’s the 12. But friends, there was really 14. Because it wasn’t just Jesus and the 12 that were in the upper room. The devil was there. The devil had already put into the heart of Judas to betray Christ. There was spiritual, deep spiritual darkness and evil in the upper room with Jesus and the 12. The devil was already at work to turn the heart of Judas against Christ, scheming, plotting, devising a diabolical plan to turn Jesus over to the authorities and in just a matter of minutes, Judas would be sent away to do what he was determined to do, to hand Christ over undo death.

Then here’s the fourth thing that John tells us about what was going on in the greater context of the upper room. Verse 3 he tells us that Jesus knew. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, that He had come from God and that He was going back to God. In other words, Jesus was not a casualty of what was about to happen. Jesus was not a victim on this night. No one took His life from Him but He laid it down of His own accord. Jesus was on a mission. He had come from God, John says. He had been sent by the Father and now was soon to return to God. Neither Judas nor the authorities nor the devil dictated what Christ was about to face.

Here’s the question this morning: Why does John belabor what was going on around the upper room not just in the upper room? Why does John go to such lengths to tell us here’s the context, here’s the scene, here’s the drama that was taking place.

People of God, I think the answer is this, that we can only understand the full degree of love in what Christ was about to do when we see what was unfolding around Him. There was no party in the upper room. It was a gathering to celebrate deliverance by death. The Lamb’s hour had come, the devil was scheming to strike the heel of Jesus. The upper room was the gateway to betrayal, denial, arrest, trial, and death.

What does Jesus do in the middle of all of this? He doesn’t panic. Jesus is not obsessed with what is about to happen to Him. He’s not saying to the disciples, “Do you guys know what’s coming up?” What does He do? He’s about to die and He kneels. He shows the disciples the extent of His love.

So this is first of all not just a drama. Secondly, this is a demonstration.

To wash feet was common in Jesus’ day. It was normal when a guest would arrive at somebody else’s house for a servant to wash the feet of the guests, especially before something like a Passover feast. Palestine, wearing open sandals perhaps, dirty and dusty roads, a hot climate, your feet get dirty, they get grimy, they need to be washed. So this was not unusual. Of course, what was unusual is who is doing the foot washing.

So the disciples and Jesus, they come up into the upper room. The water is there. The basin is there. There is a towel there. All the essentials that are needed to wash feet are already there. Simply speaking to how common it was to wash feet, all of the stuff is ready to go. But what a surprise when the Master rose from the table to kneel before the disciples.

This was a demonstration of Jesus’ humility, of his humble service.

I love the way that John writes about this event. It seems like John wants us to linger at this scene because he takes us step by step and detail by detail so that we’ll stand in awe of what was happening.

It’s as it were John saying to us, “Watch Jesus. Just watch Him. See what He does.”

So John says He rose from His place at the supper as the host. He laid aside His garments. He took them off and began to wear the clothing of a menial slave. He took a towel and He wrapped it around His waist. He filled the basin with water and then He began to wash the feet of His disciples. Then wiped them down with a towel that had been around His waist.

Friends, here’s the spotless Son of God washing dirty feet. John reminds us He had come from God, He was going back to God. It reminds us, it should stand out to us, who Jesus is. This is the deity of Christ on display, face-to-face with God, the God-man, One with the Father.

As we’ve been learning on Sunday evenings over the month of January, this was God of God, light of light, very God of very God, the One who was begotten, not made, the One who is of one substance with the Father.

That’s who’s on stage here and John draws from the prologue of his Gospel to give us a glimpse of the glory of Jesus. That phrase, back to John 1:1, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He was with God. It’s exactly the same phrase that John uses here when it says He had come from God. Look it up in the Greek. Same words. Exactly the same.

It’s John’s way of saying to us, as you observe Jesus, as you see Him washing the feet of the disciples, do you understand who this is? Do you realize who’s kneeling before His disciples? This is the only begotten Son, the One who was with God, God Himself.

Friends, this is the supreme display of humility.

When you read about the event in the upper room from Luke’s Gospel, Luke reminds us of something else that was going on the upper room that John doesn’t choose to capture. Luke says there was an argument in the upper room. Did you know that? That there was an argument that was taking place between the disciples in the upper room and the argument was this. They go to Jesus and they said, “Jesus, who is the greatest? Which one of us is the greatest?”

Friends, can you believe that? They are in the upper room, it is the night before Christ is going to give His life, and the disciples are arguing together about which one of them is the greatest. What does Jesus do? Kind of in the middle of the argument, maybe, He gets down on His knees, kneels before them, and He washes their feet and He says to them, “I am among you as one who serves.” The disciples with heads this big and rather than rebuking them on the spot, Jesus says, “Let me serve you.”

The humility of Christ, love that stoops. At the incarnation of Christ, we can say love came down, and here is love that knelt down, in humility before His own.

But this is also a demonstration not just of His humble service but of His saving sacrifice.

So Peter responds to this, typical Peter, impulsive, resistant, the same Peter who of course said to Christ, “You’re never going to suffer and die. Jesus, that is never going to happen to You.” And now here Peter is emphatic again. “Lord, do You wash my feet? You are going to wash my feet?” Peter understood things were out of order about that. Right? Again, Jesus, you will never wash my feet. Then finally, kind of going the whole other side of things, right? Not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well.

One author said Peter was saying to Jesus, “Jesus, You just don’t get it, do You? This is not appropriate. Of all the inappropriate things you’ve done, this is the most inappropriate thing you could do.”

The problem is Peter didn’t understand what the foot washing was pointing to. Did he? This was an act of humble service, but this was also a demonstration of His sacrificial love because what Jesus was saying to Peter is, “Peter, what you see happening here is just pointing forward to what’s going to happen in just a few hours. It’s not going to be washing with water, there’s going to be a washing that happens with blood.”

This is what Jesus was saying when He said to Peter, “Peter, you don’t understand now but afterward you will.” Peter, you’re going to be able to look back on this and you’re going to understand what this is about and afterward Jesus isn’t meaning when the foot washing is just done, then you’ll understand, but Jesus is actually speaking about a little bit down the road. When you see Me die, when I’m raised again, then you’re going to understand, then you’re going to look back and realize what this was a picture of, what I was pointing to. Went the Spirit of truth guides you into all truth, then you’re going to be able to see what was being demonstrated before you.

That’s why Jesus can go on to say to him, “Peter, if I do not wash you, then you have no share in Me.” In other words, Peter, if you refuse the sign of what I’ve come to do, then you cannot share in the reality to which that sign points.

Let me say that again. If you, Peter, refuse this sign that I’ve come to give you, you cannot share in the reality that that sign points to. Peter, you need a washing that only I can give you. You have to be washed by Jesus. A washing that would come through His blood, a washing of heart and life. You must be washed or you do not share in what Christ has come to accomplish.

Friends, it’s a remarkable thing when you think about the foot washing that Jesus did here and contrast that, or compare it, to what Paul talked about in Philippians chapter 2 when he describes the humility of Jesus, emptying Himself. You know that passage? That famous passage.

You compare what happened here in the foot washing to what Paul describes theologically in Philippians chapter 2 and you see that there’s more than just foot washing going on here. This is a forecast. This is a foretaste, as it were, of the washing Christ is going to do at Calvary through His blood.

You have Jesus knowing that He had come from God as John tells us. Paul reminds us that Jesus was in the very form of God. Jesus rose from the supper, from His place as host, and Paul tells us that Jesus did not count equality with God something to be grasped. Jesus laid aside His garments and Paul says He emptied Himself. He put on a towel and Paul says He took the very nature of a servant. He poured water into a basin. He humbled Himself. He washed their feet. He became obedient to death, even death on the cross, and then Jesus got up and returned to His place and Paul says God exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name.

You see what’s being demonstrated? In this act of foot washing? That Jesus is unfolding for us, Jesus is picturing for us, He is revealing to us, He’s showing to us the great humility of Christ that would bring Him to the cross by which we would be washed and saved. Peter, that’s why I have to wash you. Not just your feet, but to wash your heart. In fact, Jesus did it. That’s why He could say to Peter, “You’re clean. You’ve been cleansed.”

I was thinking this last week about some of those great old hymns. Are you washed in the blood, in the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are thy white as snow? Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb? You have to be washed by Jesus if you are to be forgiven and have life.

Well, finally, this is a directive as well. Because what Jesus is teaching us here, what He’s teaching the disciples, is what happens when you’re washed? How are you changed when you’re washed? What kind of transformation is to occur in your life when you’ve been washed by Jesus?

Jesus simply puts it like this. Verse 15. He says, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done. You are to become like Me, the result of being washed by Christ.” We’re to believe and receive the Gospel, is that your life is to be a copy, your life is to be a look-alike of Jesus’. He washed feet, Jesus says I’ve given you example to do as I have done. We are to be conformed to His image.

There’s three questions I think that capture what Jesus says here at the end.

The first question is why should we become like Him, or why should we humbly serve? And Jesus gives us the answer. He says, “Because I am your Lord and I am your teacher.”

This is what Jesus was saying to the disciples, wasn’t He? I’m your teacher, I’m your Lord. That’s what you have called Me, Jesus says to them. You are right. That is what I am. I am your teacher, I am your Lord.

Well, as teacher, Jesus was teaching and demonstrating a lesson. Giving us, as every good teacher does, sometimes a good visual aid. Showing them, putting it on display, for how they were to live.

But He’s also the Lord, right? He declares to us what submission to His lordship looks like and here it is. You just serve as I have served. Jesus’ point was simply this – if I am your teacher and Lord, and I wash your feet, then don’t you think that you should wash the feet of others? Right? It’s an argument from the greater to the lesser. If I am Lord, if I am teacher, and you are servant, then if I wash feet, don’t you think that you should wash the feet of others? He’s showing us His place and He’s putting us in our place. He reminds us, He says, no servant is greater than his master.

Friends, if you struggle with pride or humility, if those are issues that you spiritually wrestle with, then it is very likely that you have lost perspective on who Jesus is and who you are. Pride and humility. If those things are not in the right place, those things aren’t working as they ought to be in your life, the humility piece, then it is probably true that you do not have a good perspective on who Jesus is and who you are in relation to him.

Jesus is trying to correct that here. Remember who the teacher is. Remember who the Lord is. Remember who you are. If He washes feet, so also we should wash feet. That’s the “why” question.

He also gives us a “who” question. Whose feet are we to wash?

It’s very easy to come up with a list of people that we would love to serve. Right? Whose feet should I wash? Well, family members, friends, people who are kind to us, people who cheer for the same team that we cheer for. But friends, what about those who are difficult? What about those who sin against us? People who make our life difficult? How about the people that are rude or self-centered or critical or malicious? Should we wash their feet?

Besides Jesus, who are the only other two humans named in this scene? Besides Jesus, who are the only two human beings who are named in the scene? It is Judas and it’s Peter. The two disciples who committed the most notorious public sins are the only two other disciples in John’s account here that are named.

Judas was within minutes of going out and betraying Christ, willing to sell Him for a commodity, for 30 pieces of silver, and yet Jesus washes his feet. Can you imagine the awkward look on Judas’ part as Jesus is going down, one by one by one by one, and suddenly He is face-to-face with Judas. If we were writing the script, we might say, well, He just kind of hops over Judas, on to the next one. Of course, that’s not what Jesus does. He stoops and He kneels before Judas and He washes the feet of his betrayer.

Then there’s Peter the denier. Within hours three times he’ll deny Christ – I’m not one of His disciples, I haven’t been with Jesus, I don’t know this man. And yet Jesus washes his feet.

John could have told us about himself. John could have written about Thomas the doubter. He’s going to in John 14. He could have written about him here. He could have written about Levi the tax collector. There’s only two disciples that he chooses to write about, the two that most notoriously sinned.

I think it’s almost as if John wants to ask us this morning, “Is there anyone that you would be unwilling to serve? Is there anyone that you would be unwilling to wash the feet of? Are there any exceptions to whom you’d be willing to get down before and kneel?”

Then the last question is the “how” question. How are we to do this? Is Jesus calling us to literally wash feet? Was He institutionalizing this for the Church?

Some churches have this as another ordinance. Baptism, Lord’s Supper, they have foot washing. Is that what Jesus was saying when He said, “I’ve left you an example to do as I have done”? I think probably almost all of us know the answer to this, and the answer is no. We may, but that’s not what Jesus is getting at.

This may be something sort of like the Lord’s Prayer. When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray and He says, “This is then how you should pray.” We understand Jesus isn’t saying, well, this is the way that you have to pray every time you pray. Right? He’s giving us an example. He’s giving us a pattern. He’s giving us a model that ought to shape all of our prayers.

I think that is what Jesus is exactly doing here. He’s giving us a model for how we ought to humbly serve. It’s an example. We’re to follow the intent, the contours. We don’t have to follow necessarily every single detail of this.

So how, how are we to go about serving? Well, friends, it’s interesting. We’ll come back to Peter one last time. It’s interesting that the lesson that Jesus gave here was not lost on Peter what happened.

In his letter 1 Peter 5:5, here’s what Peter says. He says, listen to the words in light of what we’ve been studying. He says this. He says, “Clothe yourselves therefore, all of you, with humility toward one another.” Clothe yourselves all of you with humility toward one another. God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble.

The word that Peter uses there for “clothes” is the picture of a slave tying a towel around himself. Peter learned something, didn’t he, in the upper room, that we are to clothe ourselves, we’re to put on the towel of humility. We are to put on the towel of a slave in being willing to serve other people.

I think about this for the marriages that are here this morning. Husbands, you willing to put the towel of a slave around you and to kneel before your wife in humility, to serve her, to love her? Wives, are you willing to put on the towel of a slave and to kneel before your husbands to serve them, to love them? This is what Jesus is calling us to do. If the teacher and our Lord will do this, can we not do this?

I think about it within the body of Christ, within the Church, this humble spirit of giving to other members, with nothing in return were willing to put on the towel of a slave, to wrap it around us and to kneel before brother and sister with great needs. They need us to listen, they need us to love, they need us to give, they need us to sacrifice.

Here’s Jesus in the last word of our text. He says if you know these things then you will be blessed if you do them. In other words, Jesus is saying don’t just hear what I’m saying this morning, but will you do what I’m saying? You’ll be blessed not if you just hear these words but you do them. What is significant is not just to learn from Christ, but to give ourselves to Him and to give ourselves to others as He has done.

His foot washing, you see, a drama, a demonstration of His sacrificial love for us, that we’re about to partake of here at the supper, in order that we may be transformed. Maybe even look around this morning as you’re walking out of the sanctuary. Who needs you to stop? Who needs you to encourage? Who needs you to help?

Let’s pray together. Father in heaven, as we with these words of Jesus on our minds as we now come to celebrate the Lord’s supper, our prayer, Lord, is that You would feed us, that You would help us to see Christ, that we would be nourished by Him, and that ultimately then You would transform us to become like Jesus. We pray this in His name. Amen.