Perils of Pride #12: Humility of Service

John 13:1-17

1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 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.”
11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

The last three posts in this series, “The Perils of Pride”, will be devoted to topics which deal with the subject of humility, particularly the example of humility given to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The topic for today’s post centers on the passage in John chapter 13 where we read about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the lessons that they were to learn from this act of humility of Jesus Christ.

In John chapter 13 we come to the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. But before we get to those events, we have what is known as the “Upper Room Discourse”, which covers chapters 13-17. This first section of chapter 13 covers an act performed by Jesus and teaching given by Jesus just before the Passover meal is served.

These verses tell us of the event of Jesus washing the disciples feet before the meal is served. A basin of water was customarily provided for people to wash their feet on entering a house, and sometimes a servant would perform the service in a more wealthy household. But here Jesus becomes the servant of all. None of the disciples would undertake the work, so the only person in the room worthy to be served becomes the servant of all.

In verse 1, the KJV reads “having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (KJV) The meaning of “loved them to the end” is not related to an end in time, but is better translated “loved them to the uttermost.” The phrase is better rendered in the NIV as “he now showed them the full extent of his love.” (NIV) How did the act of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet show the disciples the full extent of his love? I think that this act was a foreshadowing of the cross. Jesus was demonstrating that the strength of his love knew no boundaries. Just as Jesus was willing to humble himself as a servant, he would likewise willingly humble himself as a sacrifice.

In verses 6-10, Jesus comes to Peter. What is Peter’s response? “You shall never wash my feet.” By the way, I admire Peter’s answer. Tyndale’s original English translation read this way: “You shall not wash my feet as long as the world stands.” That’s pretty strong. But what is Jesus’ reply? “If I don’t wash your feet, you will have no part of me.” So then, what is Peter’s response? “Wash my head and hands as well.” By the way, I admire Peter’s response. In for a penny, in for a pound. But how does Jesus respond? “You’re already clean, just your feet are dirty.”

The distinction between the washing of the feet and taking a bath is much easier to make in the Greek. Everywhere in this passage where you see the word “wash”, except for one place, you have the Greek word “nipto”, meaning to wash a part of the body. The exception is in verse 10 “Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.” (KJV) The first “washed” in this verse is the Greek word “lavo”, meaning to bathe all over, the second “wash” is the Greek word “nipto”, to wash a part of the body. This same picture is given us in the Old Testament, regarding the priesthood. When a priest was consecrated, he was ceremonially washed all over. But in his daily ministrations, he ceremonially only washed his hands and feet before going into the Sanctuary.

There are two primary lessons going on in these verses. The first and foremost is a lesson in service. We will get to that in a minute. But the second lesson is here in verses 6-11. Here are some of the spiritual truths we can glean from these verses:

We all need to be washed all over one time and one time only.

Unless we allow Jesus to wash us completely we can have no part with him.

But even the most devout follower gets somewhat dirty on a daily basis.

And unless we allow Jesus to wash away this daily dirt, we have no place with him.

Verse 12 introduces a point-blank question from Jesus to his disciples: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.” (NIV) He doesn’t give them a chance to reply. He answers his own question in verses 13-14 “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.” (NIV). Let’s look at Jesus’ answer in parts.

Who do the disciples say Jesus is? They have recognized Jesus as teacher and Lord. Are they correct? Jesus confirms that these honors are indeed his. Then Jesus gives them the teaching. “If I am teacher and I am Lord, and I have served you, then none of you is too good to serve others in a like manner.” In verse 15, Jesus then tells his disciples that what he has just done should be an example to them.

We see something very interesting in verse 17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Some of your versions read “happy are ye if you do them.” What does this verse teach is the path we must follow to find blessing, or happiness, as a Christian? The world teaches that the pathway to happiness is getting other people to serve us, but this verse teaches that the true pathway to happiness is in serving others. And that brings me to the primary point of this lesson.

The primary thing that Jesus teaches in these verses is the concept of a servant-leader. Let’s compare and contrast leadership as the world knows it with a leader that Jesus gives us the vision of here:

Worldly leader – people work for, servant-leader – works for people

Worldly leader – for his honor, servant-leader – for Jesus’ honor

Worldly leader – to gain recognition, servant-leader – to evangelize for Jesus

Worldly leader – to gain worldly treasures, servant-leader – to store up treasures in heaven

Worldly leader – proud of his accomplishments, servant-leader – humbled by God’s accomplishments

Now, of course, we have to take this analysis one step farther. How is Jesus the perfect model of the servant-leader? He is of course the perfect example of the servant-leader. He had every right to command the disciples to serve him, but instead he chose to serve them.

We cannot leave this topic without asking ourselves this question – how am I – today – demonstrating this type of sacrificial service to others which Jesus gave us an example to follow? Do you think to measure your service against the ruler that Jesus set forth in this passage?

By Berean Husband


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