John: The Humble Slave
Exegetical Point: Jesus leads by example, showing his followers how to humbly serve one another.
Homiletic Point: Be Humble like Jesus was humble.
Kids: What’s the worst job you could think of?
What’s the chore you hate most around the home?
Why don’t you like it?
When Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago, one of the worst jobs was cleaning people’s feet. You see, people only had sandals, no nice boots or joggers for getting around.
They also didn’t have nice tidy concrete footpaths or sealed bitumen roads. They had dusty, dirty, grimy tracks. SO even if you wanted to go out to a nice party, and you washed, combed your hair and put on your best clothes, you would essentially have to walk through the dusty streets with flip-flops and get dirty feet on the way!
So that meant that good hosts would always have water and towels ready so that when the guests arrived, they could wash their feet on the way in. The more well-to-do people would even have “staff” (i.e. slaves) who could wash your feet for you.
They would also usually recline at low tables for eating, so it was all the more important to wash feet given that other people will probably be near them during dinner!
This kind of foot cleaning work was reserved for the lowest class of people who were around, like slaves or servants. No well-to-do person of any prestige would even consider lowering them-self to such degrading work! It was beneath them, literally.
Many of us want to live lives that lift us above the menial and grubby jobs we hate. It’s almost a measure of success, the wealthier you are the more people you can employ to wash your clothes, cook your food, trim your trees, clean your house, do your grocery shopping.
How quick we are to think that something is beneath us when we have either people or machines that can do the work for us.
I will admit to even getting a little offended by a cashier at the hardware shop the other day, who did the barest minimum to help me while I was wrangling a 2 year old. I didn’t say anything in the moment, but I sure complained to Laura about the bad service. I have grown accustomed to being served and honored as a customer (and there is something right about that order), but I was unrighteously offended that I hadn’t got what I wanted or expected in my “prestigious” position, even in a few simple moments at a cash register.
Our passage today tells us about a guy who flips the order on it’s head. Our natural human tendency is to elevate ourselves away from the inconvenient and filthy. As our reputation and prestige grows, we are incensed by the idea we’d have to stoop so low. Do you think the Prime-minister cleans the toilets in the Lodge? How would he respond if it was part of the job?
Yet in our passage, here is a man who is the King of the universe, who deserves to be enthroned in Glory with the praises of 100,000 legions of angels, he is found at the feet of some Jewish fishermen, cleaning off the dust and grime from the streets like a domestic slave.
This is different.
This is paradigm shifting.
This is the power of love and humility.
We’re going to look at this passage in 5 sections. It is picking up where we left off last time, continuing the unfolding story of Jesus Christ in the Book of John. This book was written so you could believe in Jesus and have Life - Eternal life.
5 sections to unpack this passage.
Jesus’ School of Discipleship (v1)
Jesus’ School of Discipleship (v1)
We’re entering into a new section of John here. It comes at the end of the years Jesus has spent with is disciples.
Really, the three or so years that Jesus had been conducting his earthly ministry was a discipleship course for the 12 disciples, and any who joined them along the way.
This would beat any 3 year degree you could have got from a university!
But, with the critical “hour” of Jesus mission fast approaching, he needs to instruct the disciples about what is coming, and how they must live when Jesus has departed.
Our opening verse sets the scene for this, as a kind of title for this section of John, which will go all the way through to the arrest of Jesus in ch 18.
SO how does this section start?
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
This is a summarizing statement of where we’re up to. Let’s break it down into the phrases:
Before the Passover, Jesus knew his hour had come - this is what we’ve been looking at these last few weeks, triggered by the arrival of outsiders seeking Jesus.
Knew the hour had come- he was on mission, after which he would return to the heavenly realms. He knew what he was doing. Everything was deliberate, and on track.
Leave the world - his earthly incarnation (present in body) was coming to an end, and he was going back to God the Father, from whence he came.
Loved his own - those who were chosen and given to him the 12. But maybe more like 11… we’ll see.
He loved them to the end. Jesus never failed to love his disciples, he never abandionded them, but led them to the end.
With the “hour” Like a switch has been flicked, everything is coming to a head. From here in Ch13 Jesus is using his final hours with his disciples, to teach them about discipleship after he has gone. He answers: how do we live in light of what Jesus has done? What should we expect to face in the world? How will we be able to carry on Jesus mission?
We will get to those questions in future weeks. But now we go straight into Jesus giving an object lesson of Christian humility.
Humble Jesus (v2-5)
Humble Jesus (v2-5)
Now we turn to the story at hand. When is this happening?
It’s says it is “during supper”, while the evening meal was happening. Which supper? Context seems to indicate this is the Last Supper, where Jesus famously instituted the Lord’s Supper/Communion. That would put this on Thursday night, the day before Jesus death.
This is probably the Passover meal, but some people think that it may have been the day before Passover. Was Jesus celebrating early because he knew what was coming? Or was it the “official” Passover? I’m not going to spend the time teasing out the arguments around this, but just know that there is a little confusion around the timing of the supper, and how it sits against the backdrop of the Jewish festival of Passover.
Nevertheless, during this supper, Jesus does something interesting:
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had 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.
Judas Iscariot - not the other Judas.
The Devil was at work - Judas was responsible, but he was doing the devil’s bidding. He was like a “spy” on the inside.
See here, Jesus knew The father had the father had put all things under his power!
This prompted him to act in this way to do this amazing thing:
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.
Would the knowledge that you have all things under your power mean you would go and do the menial grubby work? I’m sure most of us have fantasied about getting great power, what would I do if I were made PM tomorrow? What would I do if I had $1b tomorrow? I’m near 100% sure you did not dream of the lowest form of work to serve your brothers & sisters in Christ! Yet that is what Jesus does.
Now, Jesus washes during the supper - he stoops down and does one of the lowliest jobs in society. He took on the role of a slave to serve his people,
This means either the wash hadn’t happened, perhaps because there was no one of low enough status to do the work, so they just skipped it.
OR, Jesus washed their feet a second time for the evening.
IMO it is the first one - If they had skipped the wash because it was to debasing for the disciples, this would highlight all the more how prideful they were, when it fell to their master to do the work.
This wash was something poignant, meaningful and symbolic.
Deliberate actions - taking on the form of a servant, nay a slave.
Intriguingly like Mary just before, who washed his feet with perfume. Jesus is humbly serving those around him.
This was a prelude to an even greater abasement that was to come, where Jesus didn’t just lay aside social custom or personal dignity in order to wash feet. He set His glory of living in heaven aside to come to the earth as a child and live, so that he could die!
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus came to show this great love that he had for the Father, and by extension for us, by being humbled, even to death on a roman cross.
It was a greater condescension to come from heaven to earth, than it was for Master to wash the feet of his disciples.
He was humbled this way for our benefit. His humility leads to our exaltation as Children of God, if we trust in him.
Even though Jesus was doing this amazingly humble service, Peter’s pride got in the way.
Prideful Peter (v6-11)
Prideful Peter (v6-11)
Let’s see how Peter’s pride gets in the way of what Jesus is doing.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Peter knows this is upside down and he thinks it’s his opportunity to shine. I know better! I know you’re the master, and it just doesn’t feel right. I know we should be serving you.
While on the surface this seems like an appropriate response, it is a Holier-than-thou attitude - he is saying that he knows better that his master!
How does your pride get stirred up like peter’s? Do you put a holy veneer on it?
“I know better”, do you look down on those who don’t have the same convictions as you?
Are you unwilling to forgive yourself? as if you were holier than God?
Do you think that you are too far gone, and not good enough for God? Well’ you’re not good enough! But God’s love overcomes even the biggest crimes and greatest sins.
Jesus explains that this washing signifies a share on Jesus Christ. It is non-negotiable if you want to have anything to do with the savior.
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
Even this is Pete’s pride at play again! When his first argument is dismantled, he tries to go overboard with “holiness” on the other end.
Peter goes from - Not me, I’m too lowly for you, to I’m so spiritual I want everything you got. But he’s missing the point.
We do this too, in our zealousness, pride seeps in and we seek out holiness/spirituality in places where it does not exist - traditions, novel teaching etc.
William Barclay helpfully explains the custom behind Jesus words:
The point is this. It was the custom that before people went to a feast they bathed themselves. When they came to the house of their host, they did not need to be bathed again; all they needed was to have their feet washed. The washing of the feet was the ceremony which preceded entry into the house where they were to be guests. It was what we might call the washing of entry into the house.
So the symbolic meaning that Jesus is getting at seems to be that Peter needs the “washing of entry” - you already had a shower at home so to speak - but when you want to enter into a house you need to have that cleansing. Peter needed the “washing of entry” - the other guff of hands and head was to miss the point.
A Lived Example (v12-17)
A Lived Example (v12-17)
Jesus explains that this is a symbolic act his followers are to mimic.
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. “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. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Jesus says that just as the master has done for the students, so you should do for one another. It’s and argument from the great to the smaller - If I can abase myself like this, from higher class to lower class, you can do it too. It’s a smaller gap for you!
It is entirely appropriate to have orders of honour, like between Jesus and his disciples, but if the person of highest honour can do this in love, how much more should we abase ourselves to serve one-another.
Is this a sacrament? No - it is not instituted in the same way sacraments are, and if we were to turn this into a sacrament, we would probably end up undermining the meaning, because then it would become a source of religious pride that we had done the
Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Blessed if you do - We need to be not hearers only, but doers of the Word. The best thing you can do this week is gather with God’s people to worship and hear from God, but this is not isolated from everything else in your life.
There’s a saying from the hey-day of motor racing in Australia, back when the cars you saw screaming around Bathurst were modified versions of what you could buy on the showroom floor. The saying went “Wins on Sunday, sales on Monday.” If your car won the race, it meant that there would be aspiring car owners ready to put down money at showrooms the next day on the same model of car that won. The Victory seen on Sunday, would turn into action on Monday from people who wanted the best and wanted to engage, if only vicariously, with the winning glory.
This should be us, but with spiritual matters! The Victory of Christ, seen & celebrated on Sunday should lead to us going out in light of that win, to actively seek out some share in it. But we are not vicariously living out someone else’s glory, Jesus actually invites us to follow him in his example, and to receive a share of the winnings in the life to come!
Spiritual knowledge leads to blessing, only when it is put into action!
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them!
Follow Jesus’ lived example of humility so that you may be blessed.
Traitor Judas (v18-20)
Traitor Judas (v18-20)
Not all would be blessed…a betrayer lived among them and deceived them all. All except Jesus! He knew the betrayal that would come from one who would be cursed, rather than blessed:
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.
Jesus chose his 12. He knew what he was getting. Just as when he saves individuals like you and me, he is not surprised at the mess you are!
Jesus here is not talking about choosing them for salvation, but rather to fulfill the role of disciple. He chose Judas, knowing that he would betray. Even so, he loved and taught Judas, just like the others. Holding out salvation that he would reject.
With such power and status at his disposal, we might have expected him to defeat the devil in an immediate and flashy confrontation, and to devastate Judas with an unstoppable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples’ feet, including the feet of the betrayer.
D. A. Carson
Judas metaphorically, and a few verse down literally, shared Jesus bread, and then turned against Jesus, fitting the image of Psalm 41.
He received the symbolic washing, but was not changed in heart. Like those who come to the Lord’s table, like we will shortly. These elements won’t change your hard heart, but they are spiritual food for God’s people. It is only effective for the one who partakes in faith.
Judas partook, but he was never clean. So also coming to the table without faith will not make you holy. In fact, you could be eating and drinking judgement on yourself!
Jesus ends with this:
Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
Chain of reception - Accept Christ’s messenger, and you accept Jesus, which in turn means you receive God the Father. Could mean HS.
Let Jesus teach you how to be a disciple in this interim before his return
Jesus was the humble servant of God, who debased himself to the point of death on a cross.
Pride, even if you’re on the right side, has no place among God’s people. Put away Pride.
Follow the Example of Jesus
Traitors be warned!
Carson’s Pillar Commentary on John.
Hutcheson’s commentary on John
Hendrickson’s commentary on John
Sermons by Richard D. Philips,
Sproul, R. C., ed. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version. Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005.
Phillips, Richard D. John. Edited by Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani. 1st ed. Vol. 1 & 2 of Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014.