Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 13

Preparations for the Wash

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary, sister of Lazarus, had anointed Jesus with 300 denarii worth of perfume. Judas had been remonstrated, and had cut the deal with the chief priests and Pharisees to betray Jesus. The Lord had ridden into Jerusalem on the donkey, had been teaching in the temple by day, and had been secreting Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane by night. Now all was prepared for the Passover meal in which Jesus would participate with the twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot.

Thoughts of the big picture flooded Jesus’ mind: He knew that the hour of His departure out of the world had come, He knew that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, He knew that God had given all things into His hands, He knew that He loved “His own” and that He would have to press on through to “the end,” and He knew that Satan was working on Judas to betray Him. So what was the Lord’s priority in the midst of all the universe-shaking events? To wash the disciples’ feet! Maybe there’s a lesson for the saints here.



“If I Do Not Wash You …”

Picture it! A low table, with all the appurtenances and food items necessary for the Passover. Thirteen couches, set up around the table, for “reclining” as was the first century custom. Thirteen men, laying on their left sides so that they could eat with their right hands. Eleven men, arguing over who is to be greatest. One man, harboring in his heart his plan for betraying the Lord. And one Man, rising, taking a towel, pouring water into a basin, and washing the other twelve’s feet.

The spiritual significance of Jesus’ statement to Peter cannot be overlooked. At Peter’s first balk at Jesus’ washing his feet, the Lord simply stated, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). Not only did this move Peter along so that he would cooperate with the Lord in getting his feet washed, but it also stated a timeless truth: unless a person is washed by the Lord, he has no part with Him! He who used basin and towel in physical cleansing used the “laver of regeneration” and sprinkling of spiritual blood to accomplish remission of sins for those who obey His gospel. He who humbly girded the towel is also He who humbly bore the sins of the world in His body on the tree.



“I Gave You An Example”

The great Teacher taught by example as well as by word. And His teaching was not for the moment only; He was willing to lay down some principles that would only be recognized later by His apostles, lessons that would apply from the Day of Pentecost, 30 AD, onward. As He washed the disciples feet, in conversing with Peter, He said, “What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter” (John 13:7). The lesson was recorded, then, by the apostle John so that not only would the precept be inculcated in the minds of the apostles, but also so that all disciples to follow would learn and govern themselves accordingly.

The natural selfishness of man has to be set aside in order for the church to function. The Lord Christ Himself, the great Lord and Teacher, provided the great example, stooping to the level of foot-washing. This He did in order to instill the atmosphere of loving service that He wanted always to pervade the church.



Trouble on His Mind

This side of glory, everyone has troubles. There are physical problems such as house maintenance and bills to pay. And there are emotional and personal problems, stemming from the continuing challenges of interpersonal relationships. Our Lord Himself, tempted in all things as we, was not exempt from these. At the very time, then, when He was trying to communicate an important foundational truth and practice for the church to the apostles, He was also having to deal with the betrayal of Judas. Betrayal, of course, is one of most difficult challenges to the emotions because its effect is roughly equivalent to being kicked in the stomach by a horse. The human side of Jesus, recorded by the Holy Spirit for our benefit and encouragement, expressed His angst after serving all the apostles, including Judas.

The challenges for Jesus at this moment were great. Knowing of His betrayal and crucifixion, He still had to maintain His focus and communicate to the other apostles the foundation for His long term plan. While trouble was on His mind, He still had to keep victory in sight. May we go and do likewise.



Satan Entered Judas

It is a basic axiom of human existence: thought gives rise to action. The human being, then, in order to control his action, must first control his thoughts. The prince of darkness, therefore, goes to work on the minds of men, attempting to herd them deeper into the corrals of depravity, while the Father in heaven is appealing for men to look upward into the realm of faith as revealed in His written word. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” was the exposition of Paul, “in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1,2).

Satan thus was working in Judas Iscariot, driving his mind step by step into the betrayal of Jesus. It all started with a simple sin; Judas just couldn’t keep his fingers out of the common treasury. But instead of dealing with the sin, Judas hid it. His guilty conscience now started an inner agitation, and thoughts of self-justification, as is common among men, arose. When Jesus rebuked him for his greed at the Lord’s anointing by Mary, then his anger at himself was redirected toward Jesus, and Judas cut the deal to betray his Master. At the Passover, all things were ready for the final stages of betrayal, and the Lord knew it.

The lesson of the downfall of Judas is one that should be impressed upon the mind of every Christian. Failure to maintain a clean conscience before the Lord will result in what the apostle Paul called “shipwreck of faith.” If a believer does not guard his heart and his mind, he can go down the same destructive trail.




Awareness of Circumstances

The disciples of the Lord participated in Jesus’ final Passover meal without understanding the ambiance of their circumstances. They knew it was a time of danger and that plots lurked afoot to arrest Jesus in order to shut His mouth. But they were unaware of the bigger plans in motion, both from the side of the darkness and from the overarching will of God. Even though Jesus had earlier explained that He would be arrested in Jerusalem and delivered to the Gentiles for scourging and crucifixion, this “was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said” (Luke 18:34). At the meal itself, when Peter had specifically requested information as to who was betraying the Lord, and Jesus responded by dipping the morsel and giving it to Judas, their minds were still not comprehending. Such is the nature of the human race; it generally is blinded by self-interest or just cannot comprehend the depths to which others will sink in order to accomplish their agendas.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ serves as a great example for us in disciplining our minds. He was consummately aware of the ambiance of the moment, conscious of the traitorous undercurrents of Judas’ mind and the confusion that existed for the other apostles. But rather than letting His own thoughts go down the trail of disappointment and despair, He immediately shifted to the glories to follow. May we learn the lesson, and so discipline our thoughts to look to the heavenly reward regardless of external circumstances!



Focus on Glory

“For the joy set before Him,” said the writer of Hebrews, Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). All of those who accomplished major feats, even of this world, used the principle of the reward in front of them to power through challenges and difficulties. Of great men of faith in the Old Testament, it was written, “Others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35). Jesus Himself, on the human side, had to have faith that the Father was able to bring Him safely forth from death; hence the inspired record duly notes His statements of faith, listed as examples from which the modern disciple might draw strength.

The Christian, then, can learn much from the inspired record as he notes the way the Lord Jesus Christ approached His own death. If he is indwelt by the Spirit, and walks according to that Spirit, then he has his guarantee of his own resurrection from the dead. Biblically assured of his victory over death, then the child of God can use the same motivational techniques to overcome his fears and challenges that Jesus did in overcoming the weight of the cross.



A New Commandment

God’s greatest attribute is His love. In fact, as the apostle John stated in his first epistle, “God is love” (I John 4:8). In the grand scheme of things, then, God’s purpose is to show that He is loving and righteous so that when He puts the final crush on Satan, the hosts of heaven and men of earth will know that it is an act of love. To accomplish this, He not only needs to demonstrate His love, but also to reproduce His love in the ranks of the redeemed. Hence it is that the core of the covenants — new and old — is love.

God’s plan is not only carried out in the sight of man, but also under the scrutiny of the angels. When the great God can take the “untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful” from the pagan societies of the world, and transform them into disciples who love one another as Christ loved them, then His attributes of righteousness and love are clearly presented as Exhibit A before the awestruck audience of eternal beings.



Peter’s Braggadocio

Without a lot of consideration and knowledge, it is easy to misjudge how much effort or perseverance a situation is going to require. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands,” warned the apostle Paul, “take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). One of the pithy statements recorded in the history section of the Old Testament affirmed, “Let not him who girds his armor on boast like him who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11). Or, as the American proverb says, “Easier said than done.” The apostle Peter, bless his heart, was one of those men who was eager to jump in but who sometimes did not clearly understand or analyze the challenges he was letting himself in for.

The weakness of Peter serves as a great teaching moment for the lives of Christians. It is easy to say upcoming circumstances would not cause us to deny the Lord. But how we will actually do may be different. The scripture is replete with warnings about proper preparation for suffering to come. Peter himself, in his first epistle to the brethren, stated, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose” (I Peter 4:1). The implication is that the Christian needs to be spiritually prepared ahead of time, so that when the blindsided challenges come, he is not knocked off his spiritual pins but continues to move forward in the faith of Christ. “And He came and found them sleeping,” recorded Mark, “and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not fall into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ ” (Mark 14:37,38). The message for the Christian is clear: keep watching and praying!