“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.” (John 13:1-10 ESV)
We are going to take a look today at some very distinct ways that God calls us to be different from our culture… but let’s start by noticing how deeply we are loved by Jesus. John tells us that because Jesus knew what was about to happen at the cross, his love for “his own” was expressed right up to the very end. I find that to be an interesting insight that John makes. Jesus knew his death was at hand, but instead of focusing on himself his love remained focused on “his own.” Now we know that Jesus loves the entire world, John 3:16 tells us so. But, here John emphasizes the unique and purposeful love Jesus has for those who trust him, who follow him, who truly and deeply love him. His love for those who are uniquely His is the focus of his actions right up to the very end. Now, why is that important? Because Jesus is giving us an example of how he expects us to live and act.
But, how could Jesus focus on us when he knew he was going to die in the next few hours? Why would he focus on us if he knew he was going to die soon? Let me ask you a question… if you were diagnosed with stage four cancer and your doctor said nothing could be done, go home and get your affairs in order, spend these last few days with those you love. What would you do? Would you focus on your pain, fear or personal needs? Or, would you focus on getting things ready for your spouse and children? Would you run out and buy a new boat on credit, or would you spend every moment with your spouse and children telling them how much you love them? I suspect you would forget the boat and focus on those you most deeply love, and that’s precisely what Jesus does. He loves his own, right to the end. That’s how much he loves you. So, Jesus puts aside his own needs, fears and desires and focused on what the disciples needed in the next few hours.
But, notice where he focuses the disciples’ attention. Of all the issues that might need to be addressed before he dies, he focused on being a servant. John introduces Jesus actions of service by drawing attention to Jesus’ position, the one on whom God has placed ALL authority. There is absolutely NOBODY in a higher role than Jesus, but he stoops down to serve others. This is critical for us to understand… the ONLY one worthy of being served is the very one putting on an apron and washing feet. This is a hard lesson to learn, and an even harder one to live out.
Several years ago, I was taught this lesson in a simple but effective way. When I first came to OBU in January of 1986 as a student, one of the first people I met was Dr. Dick Rader the Dean of the School of Christian Service (it is now called the College of Theology and Ministry). Dr. Rader approved my admission, my transfer credits and helped me work out a schedule of classes. He was more than my Dean. He became my advisor, friend, mentor, professor and example. Not long after I graduated and began working at OBU, Dr. Rader organized a student group called “The Order of the Towel.” The entire purpose of this group was to teach ministry students the importance of being a servant. But, Dr. Rader didn’t just tell us what scripture said, or teach us theological concepts, he showed us by example. The Dean demonstrated serving by washing the students’ feet. He put on a towel and knelt down and served them.
Now to be honest, at this point he and I were friends and colleagues and coworkers, but this was my Dean and he would always be my Dean. A man for whom I had high respect and honor. So, when he knelt down to wash their feet I was a little taken back. This was a man who was very important in my life, and in the university, and he was kneeling before these students washing their feet. But his example pierced my heart as I remembered John’s words, knowing that God had given ALL THINGS into his hands Jesus removed his outer garment and placed a towel around his waist and began to wash the disciples’ feet. My respect for Dean Rader had increased dramatically, not because of his status but because of his humility and obedience.
For Dick Rader, the example of Christ was more than words on a page; they were a command to obey.
Now, my point is really quite simple. If Dick Rader, the Dean of a highly acclaimed and prestigious college, can model obedience and service by kneeling and washing students’ feet, but even more importantly, if Jesus, who has been given the HIGHEST position of honor in this world by God the Father, can kneel and wash his disciples’ feet then surely we can come down from our self-proclaimed positions of honor and with humility obediently serve one another.
The next thing we should notice in this passage is the fact of who was actually present during this act of humble service and the implications. You see, John makes the specific point of noting that Judas, who would betray Jesus, was still present during this scene. While some of us will struggle with humbling ourselves in obedient service to others, I think most of us, if not all of us, would balk at intentionally serving someone who would betray us. In fact, it may be that this very act of humble service drove Judas to actually carry out his betrayal.
Many scholars believe that Judas, like most Jews of his day, expected a Messiah who would provide military leadership to overthrow their Roman overlords. But, most of us really wonder why he would betray his friend. When Jesus failed to meet Judas’ expectations, he may have begun considering ways to “force” Jesus into action. When our expectations of or assumptions about God go unmet, instead of evaluating and changing our expectations or assumptions we often try and force God’s hand.
“”This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:8-9 ESV)
A friend of mine, Casey Curtis Merrifield, recently wrote an article on her struggle with pride, self-preservation and confessing sin (link to Casey’s article here). She shared three questions we must answer honestly if we are to experience the true power of God’s grace…
1. What am I afraid of?
2. What am I trying to hide?
3. What am I trying to prove? And to whom?
When we hide behind a facade of religious pride or personal achievement then we strip God’s grace of its power. Until we are ready to confess our sin and honestly admit the grip it has on us, we cannot know the true power of God’s GRACE and Jesus’ lesson to the disciples in this passage.
Why would Judas betray his friend? Why would he reject God’s plan of grace? Because his pride had blinded him to his own sin of self-righteousness and his need for God’s grace. He didn’t need someone to save him from sin, he only needed someone to remove the political oppression of Rome so he could show his true potential. God’s grace can only release us from the sin we expose to its power. When we keep sin hidden in our hearts, it retains its hold on us. It is only when sin is exposed to the light of God’s love and grace that it is stripped of its power and falls powerless at our feet.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9 ESV)
When Jesus removed his outer garment and donned a towel and assumed the role of servant, this was in direct contradiction to Judas’ expectations and assumptions regarding God and His Messiah. Judas didn’t perceive himself as needing a savior like the one Jesus was modeling because he simply failed to recognize his own sin. Too often, we are like Judas. Instead of coming to God on His terms, we want to define our own needs and how God should meet them. In many ways, our culture has also rejected Jesus and His authority just like Judas. If God won’t meet my demands and expectations, then he’s unworthy of my love and attention. I only want and will only love a god who does things my way, ignores my failures and gives me what I want in life. In that situation, you are god and God’s just your slave and that’s precisely what Judas was demanding.
Now, let’s wrap up by taking a look at a very distinct contrast that John shows us in this story. We’ve seen the portrait that John gives us of Judas, but there’s one more person in this story who begins reacting to Jesus in much the same way as Judas, but has a complete change of heart. Notice how John describes Peter’s interaction with Jesus regarding the whole servant model Jesus presented. At first, Peter’s reaction is much like what I expect Judas’ reaction was, “Jesus, you are not going to wash my feet. I’m not having any of this. Get up off your knees and be the Messiah, the Son of God we all thought you were. Stop this servant nonsense.” (My paraphrase)
But, Jesus responds and says, “if I don’t wash your feet, you don’t have a place, part or share in my plan.” Wow! If I don’t let you wash my feet then I don’t have a place in the kingdom? Before we consider Peter’s response, I’d like us to really consider Jesus’ statement. Why would a rejection of Jesus’ actions constitute a loss of participation in God’s kingdom? What does it matter whether Jesus was allowed to wash Peter’s feet or not? Isn’t that a bit of an overreaction and even overreach on Jesus’ part? I mean, really? Jesus can reject us just because we don’t want our feet washed?
There are really two things happening in this lesson that we must not miss. First, Jesus is giving us a model for serving. If we are obedient to His commands and submissive to His authority then we WILL follow His example and serve others. That’s what we talked about a few minutes ago. Go back and read the first few paragraphs if you require a reminder. But, the other thing that John shows us in Jesus’ actions and words is about why we MUST serve others. We must serve because we have experienced the power and transformation of sin’s redemption. Peter’s submission and Judas’ rejection are indicative of the transforming power or lack thereof of God’s grace in their respective lives.
Let me be very clear here… Judas is NOT a disciple who lost his way and, thus, lost his salvation through apostasy. Judas was never a true believer who experienced God’s transforming grace and forgiveness. He was ALWAYS a pseudo disciple, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a cultural Christian. What do I mean by “cultural” Christian? I mean someone who embraces a set of beliefs or propositions because they are “culturally beneficial.” I believe these things, or at least I claim to believe them, because they make life more comfortable or provide me some benefit(s).
For example, for many years I have been a member of the Shawnee Lions Club. I didn’t actively choose to be a member, I was told I would be a member as a part of my job responsibilities at OBU. I attended meetings and participated only at a minimal level. Just enough to satisfy expectations. I wasn’t serious about my membership or involvement. In fact, I even stopped attending meetings for a while a few years ago. I did it because it was expected, required and provided some level of benefit at work (it kept my boss happy). I was a member, but not in my heart.
That really describes Judas’ relationship with Jesus, too. He joined, but not his heart. He attended meetings, but only because it was expected or provided some cultural benefit. So, when Jesus began to lay down some expectations that didn’t fit Judas’ idea of a good time, he began to waver in his commitment. But, by contrast, Peter was a believer. His heart, soul, mind and strength had been transformed by God’s grace and when confronted by Jesus demands, Peter didn’t hesitate in his response… “then all of me. I’m all in. Nothing held back. Wash me from head to toe.”
Now, you might ask how I could know whether Judas was a true believer, or not? Couldn’t he have just stumbled, made a mistake and then regretted it? Notice Jesus’ response to Peter, “you’ve already had a bath. Just your feet are dirty. But not all of you (disciples) are clean.” Two quick observations and we’re done…
“Those who have been bathed are clean and only need their feet washed” refers to believers and our need for daily confession and cleansing of our sins and failures. While we are holy, we aren’t perfect. Holy means set apart for God’s purpose. We need daily cleansing from our sinful actions. Just as our feet get dirty through daily living, so our souls get dirty from living in a world of sin. Go back and read 1 John 1:9, above…
Next, notice Jesus specifically says that not all of the disciples were clean. Joining a church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than living in a garage makes you an automobile. Judas “joined” the disciples but he never became a true believer. His heart was never transformed. Why? Because he refused to confess his sin and need for a savior. He missed God’s grace by rejecting God’s Son. Don’t miss your chance to be clean… try praying this prayer: God, if there really is something in my life that you despise and I would need Jesus to cleanse and remove, will you show it to me? I truly want to know you. Amen.
Now, listen close to His Response…