Unless I Wash You
John 13:1 – 17
Unless I Wash You
Do you want more Hot Cross Buns?
Some of us, I’m sure, are wishing this week that we didn’t eat quite so many hot cross buns over Easter,
But some perhaps, feel that you didn’t quite do the buns justice last week, and are now quite keen to eat some more, so if you’re looking for an excuse to go and buy more buns and get back into the Easter spirit, well, today’s your day!
It was right on 12 months ago that we left John’s gospel at the end of chapter 12, and this morning we come back for the 4th time, picking up the story after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but before Easter, so we’re right in the middle of that Easter week.
Chapter 13 opens on what’s called “Maundy Thursday”, the day before Good Friday.
And so, although we are now post-Easter, in order to come to grips with John 13, we need to go back in our minds, and insert ourselves, back into that Easter week.
And so, if you’re looking for an excuse to eat Hot Cross Buns, that’s it, you can call it contextualisation for understanding John 13.
And if you eat buns for “Bible Study Purposes”, the calories don’t count!
What we need to know
But as we come back to John’s account of Jesus’ life, and those of you who have joined us in the last 12 months, this may be your first time in John’s gospel, we need to remember that we’re jumping in part-way through the story.
And I know that many of you like watching The West Wing,
“Wing Nuts”, you’re called, did you know that? West Wing fans?
If you’re a Wing Nut, you’ll know at the beginning of each episode, and in lots of other TV shows as well, the episode opens with a voice-over “Previously on The West Wing”, and then there’s a series of clips from previous episodes, to bring you up to speed, so you can make sense of what you’re about to watch.
And I was thinking that the Bible needed something like that, You know “Previously in John’s gospel”,
Jesus came from God,
He did some miracles,
He was deliberate about working towards his crucifixion,
He was the Lamb of God,
He was welcomed as king,
If every chapter opened like that, that would be good, wouldn’t it!
How much better would the Bible be if I’d written it?!
But then I realised, actually John does give us something very much like that.
Look with me again at the opening verses, and notice, which you may have when we read it, how John tells us the things that we need to know, in order to make sense of what we’re about to witness.
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.
2 The evening meal was in progress,
And the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, 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;
And then he launches into describing the story.
Let me highlight 2 of what we might say are the most significant foundations that he lays for us, and I’ll quickly mention some of those others on our way through.
We’ll spend what might seem like a disproportionate amount of time in these opening verses. That’s how significant they are in understanding not just the verses we’ve got before us this morning, but what we’ll be looking at in the coming weeks.
It was just before the Passover
So where does John begin?
Verse 1 It was just before the Passover Festival
The Passover was the celebration of Israel’s deliverance by God, from slavery in Egypt.
At Passover, every year, families would sacrifice a lamb, to remember that great rescue.
And earlier in the gospel, in chapter 1, John records another John, John the Baptist, identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And John, the author John, his goal as he records the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, is to show that Jesus is the ultimate Passover lamb.
He achieves a great rescue for his people, not from slavery to the Egyptians but from slavery to sin, he achieves that through his sacrificial death, at Passover, showing that the Passover celebrations, all along, pointed towards him.
And so right up front, John points out, what we need to know, if we’re to understand this episode.
Here, on Thursday night, is the Passover Lamb, who tomorrow will be killed. The Passover is the key that will unlock our understanding the events from this moment to the end of the gospel.
Jesus’ hour had come
The second major piece of the background that John gives us, is also there in verse 1,
Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father
“the hour”, for John, is a word loaded with theological significance. It’s a bit like a road sign, at different points all through the gospel, reminding us where this story is going.
And here our new NIV is more helpful than the old version, because the old version didn’t translate the word as hour, and so it wasn’t quite so obvious.
Because that term the hour, points towards Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension.
It doesn’t just mean the time, it means the time for this particular thing, to happen.
In the days of the 6 O’clock swill, the barman could call “Time, Gentlemen”, and he wasn’t asking if anyone knew what the time was, he was saying it’s this particular time.
That’s how John wants us to understand the hour.
And for the first 12 chapters of the gospel, the hour is always “not yet”.
So in John 2, for example, Jesus says to Mary, his mother, My hour has not yet come.
But in chapter 12, immediately before this section, something changes.
From verse 20, John records for us that there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”
And when Philip went to say to Jesus, “Hey, Jesus, there are some Greeks here, some non-Jews,
They want to find out the message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God that you bring”,
Jesus replies the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.
The “not yet” is the “now”
That decisive moment, that showed the truth of God’s plan to bring to himself people from all nations, and all languages, means that the time has come for the next part of Jesus’ mission.
The hour has come for his betrayal,
Jesus knew that the hour had come.
But I’m sure you noticed, that in his scene-setting introduction, John also tells us that the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus, verse 2.
And maybe you might think, “Well, who actually puts these events into motion?” Is it that Jesus is driving this?
Or is it Judas, or is it even the devil?
Who’s responsible, for what comes next?
John sees the human side, Judas, seeking to betray Jesus, and there’s no sense at all that Judas is innocent, or powerless against evil forces. He’s absolutely responsible,
Even though John can see the devil at work as well.
And yet overarching it all, is God’s perfect timing, and sovereign hand in these events.
Jesus knew that the hour had come, and God in his sovereignty, uses Judas’ betrayal, and the actions of the religious hierarchy, he even turns the tables on the devil’s plans, in order to bring about his purposes.
These opening verses show us how we need to understand and interpret not just the foot washing, but everything that follows, as “the hour” that Jesus expected unfolds.
There was an article in the New Yorker magazine just before Easter last year, titled “How Muslims View Easter.”
One of the things that Islam teaches about Jesus, alongside its teaching that Jesus didn’t really die,
He wasn’t God, that kind of thing,
Islam also teaches that Jesus didn’t expect to die.
And it’s not just Islam, there are even people who call themselves Christians, who believe that Jesus didn’t expect to die, but got kind of caught up in the fervour of a nationalistic movement that anointed him as its leader, and he was carried along, unwillingly, unknowingly, to his death, by the groundswell of that movement of the Jews, eager to throw off their Roman oppressors.
But these opening verses show us really clearly, don’t they, that Jesus understands,
What’s in store for him,
How things have got to this point,
How things are going to pan out from here:, betrayal, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification, all things under his power,
Jesus came as a servant
So Jesus understands exactly what’s coming next, and we now have the theological grid in place, that allows us to understand these events as John does, as he wants us to,
So let’s have a think about this act of incredible servanthood.
Verse 2, the evening meal was in progress,
Verse 4, Jesus 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.
Put out of your mind . images of 15th Century murals from Italian convents, the scene was probably very different from that famously pictured by Leonardo da Vinci,
They wouldn’t have been sitting up on chairs at a table, but most likely reclining around a low table, with their feet out behind them away from the table.
And as the meal begins, Jesus gets up, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet.
It’s very hard for us to grasp the earth shattering enormity, of this event.
It’s not too hard to imagine what the feet of your average 1st Century Middle Eastern wandering disciple were like at the end of each day!
Of course feet needed to be washed! But it was considered such a demeaning task, that in some parts of the Jewish world, it was a job that you couldn’t even force a Jewish slave to do, it was reserved for Gentile slaves.
When you can’t even get your slaves to do something, you know that’s a pretty lowly task!
There’s a famous story about an ancient rabbi whose mother wanted to wash his feet one day when he came home, a bit of a mummy’s boy, obviously!
But his mum wanted to do this as a sign of honour to her son the famous rabbi.
He refused, said it was too demeaning for her to do that.
So he took him to court!, for the right to honour him by washing his feet.
Do you see the cultural expectations tied up in this?
None of the disciples would have washed each other’s feet.
Can you imagine, the awkward silence, the raised eyebrows, and amazed glances, as Jesus begins to wash their feet.
One of the scholars I read this week commented that there isn’t a single instance in Jewish, or Greek, or Roman history, where a superior, a leader, washes the feet of someone under them, or one of their followers.
I mentioned da Vinci’s Last Supper a moment ago. The painting captures the moment, as he imagines it, when the disciples react to Jesus’ announcement that one of them is going to betray him.
And there are various expressions of shock and surprise and anger, on the different faces.
But equally, if da Vinci had wanted to capture a moment of drama, he could have painted this moment,
As the disciples’ expectations of who their leader is,
And what God’s king is really like,
And what will be required of them,
Are all blown out of the water.
The shock of this moment, is not just the the shame, of being caught out, “none of us were willing to do it, so Jesus had to!”,
But their understanding of what is right,
And their understanding of the pattern of what it’s like to live as one of God’s people is turned upside down.
Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustine, was a church leader in North Africa, in the 4th and 5th centuries, he talked about Christian sacraments as a “visible word”, a physical thing, that speaks to us.
And that’s not a bad way to think of what Jesus is doing here, not in the sense of it being a sacrament, like Holy Communion or baptism, but simply as a “visible word”, an action that speaks.
You know, a picture tells a thousand words,
A counter-cultural, expectation-crushing, act of extreme humility and degradation tells a billion words!
Foot washing is a shadow of the cross
And perhaps not surprisingly, Peter, the disciple known for speaking first and thinking later, has a problem with how this is all turning out!
Verse 6, Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Literally it’s something like “Lord will you wash my feet? No! Never for eternity!
That’s pretty strong!
But 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.”
This makes it plain, doesn’t it, that this episode is about more than just washing people’s feet.
Sure, it was paradigm-shifting for the disciples to witness Jesus washing their feet, but here Jesus makes it clear that he was doing more than just busting their cultural expectations.
Remember, it’s about the hour,
It’s about the Passover,
It’s about the king of heaven, who has everything under his power, dying a humiliating death,
“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”,
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Clearly Jesus understands his washing of the disciples’ feet to be a symbol, a shadow, of the cleansing that he offers in his crucifixion.
Over summer, sometimes I’d go walking with my kids in the evening, and as the sun got low in the sky, the kids would be fascinated by their very long shadows, “Look how tall I am, Daddy,”, as their shadow stretched all the way across the road and into someone’s front yard.
The cross of Christ casts a very long shadow across John’s gospel, and an event, as simple, at one level, as the washing of feet, is a shadow of what’s to come.
When Jesus says Peter would have no part with me, he’s using inheritance language. In the parable of the prodigal son, in Luke 15, the same word is used to speak of the younger son’s share of his father’s estate.
It means to share in the things of another person,
To have fellowship with them,
To enjoy the benefits of the things that they possess.
If all that was on view here was foot washing, that kind of response from Jesus would make no sense at all would it? Jesus will sack Peter, from the group of disciples, because he has stinky feet!
No, unless Peter is willing to accept the cleansing from sin that Jesus achieves on the cross, and to which the foot washing points, is a shadow, then Peter could have no relationship with Jesus,
No fellowship with him,
No benefit from all that Jesus has, and achieves, and offers.
Unless the Passover Lamb takes away a person’s sin, they can have no part with Jesus.
Which makes becoming one of Jesus’ people, very simple doesn’t it? Accept the cleansing from sin that Jesus achieves on the cross.
Accept that we need cleansing from our sin, our rebellion against God, and trust that Jesus death achieves the cleansing that we need!
It is very simple.
I know for some people, they find it too simple!
Something as significant as sharing in the blessings of Christ, having a right relationship with God must be more complicated, it must require more effort on my part.
And if that’s you, if you’re not a Christian, and it strikes you that the means of getting into a right relationship with God are too simple, requires too little, no effort or performance on your part, please don’t let the simplicity of Jesus’ offer distract you.
The washing from sin and rebellion against God that Jesus achieved on the cross, is all it takes.
This footwashing, sure it was an unprecedented humiliation and self-emptying on Jesus’ part,
But even this humiliation and self-emptying is surpassed.
As the Apostle Paul says about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, . Verse 6,
6 Who, being in very nature God,
, 7made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
and where did that life of service lead? he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
The staggering servant-act of Jesus here, reaches its climax at the cross.
Jesus offers a once-for-all washing
Significantly, Jesus goes on to explain that the washing, the cleansing he achieved on the cross is once and for all, no repeats necessary.
9 “Then, Lord,”, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 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.”
Peter’s still thinking it’s about the water and the towel.
“Well if you are going to wash me, Lord, if how I get into a relationship with you,
And a share in your spiritual inheritance,
And a right relationship with God, then don’t stop with my feet! Get out the hose and do the whole lot!
But Jesus, says “you don’t need to have a bath every time one part of you gets dirty.”
Over Easter I saw a few chocolate Easter eggs end up melted on various people’s hands and faces.
I’ve found that if you’re getting melted chocolate on you, you’re not eating quick enough!
But generally you don’t need a bath after eating an Easter egg! Not if you’re older than about 12 months old, anyway!
Bit of chocolate here and there, wash your hands, and you’re clean again!
It’s the same with the cleansing that Jesus’ disciples receive through trusting in his death. You are clean, he says,
Of course, Jesus hasn’t died yet, at this point in the story, and yet he can call them clean, already, present tense, did you notice that?
But they trust Jesus’ word, they have put their faith in him,
And so they are saved by faith, the same as we are,
Through faith they have received the cleansing that makes a relationship with God possible.
Therefore they don’t need any repeated cleansing.
They don’t need someone to come along and make them clean again and again.
Sure, people cleansed by Jesus will sin again!
The washing isn’t like some magic Teflon coating that stops you getting dirty again!
But once we’ve been washed clean by Jesus work on the cross, that work never needs to be repeated!
Foot washing is a pattern for disciples
So the foot washing is a shadow of the cross,
But also, in the last few verses, Jesus teaches that it’s also a pattern that his disciples should follow.
Look with me at verse 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.
And the same idea in verse 17, Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them
In Luke’s account of this event, he records, chapter 22 verse 24, that right when all of this is unfolding, A dispute, arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest!
Jesus is doing what no Jewish slave could be asked to do,
He’s giving them a little foretaste, of what’s about to happen tomorrow, when he goes to a criminal’s death to provide a cleansing from sin,
And the boys are arguing around the dinner table about who’s the most important!
It’s one thing for little kids to argue the whole, “My dad’s better than your dad” thing, but when it’s the dads themselves arguing!, you know something’s really gone wrong.
And in the midst of that argument, Jesus says, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
There is no room at all, Jesus says in verse 16, for any Christian to think that a life of humble, self-giving service, is beneath them.
Whether you’re one of the 12, handpicked, disciples, or a regular every day Christian in Littlehampton in 2013.
When it comes to costly, self-giving, status-costing service, of the kind that Jesus modelled here and modelled even more completely on the cross,
No Christian is exempt.
no servant is greater than his master,
Whether it’s some task in the life of our church,
Investing time in someone who, well, I’m not going to win any friends hanging out with that person,
When someone asks us to serve for the cause of the gospel in some particular way,
Is there a point where we draw the line?
Well, I’ll put chairs out, but I won’t empty the rubbish bins.
I’ll welcome people at the door, but I’m not going to invite those slightly odd Christian people to mix with my real friends.
Is there some service for the kingdom of God, that we decide not to do, because we think we’re above it?
Jesus served in costly, self-giving, status-costing service.
And when we’re faced with that temptation to look the other way, or avoid serving in that particular way, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I greater than Jesus?”
Let me check! Um no!
OK, so I have no excuse, for not serving in that way.
Humility and service are not just nice theories that go along with Christian life. They are integral parts of what it means to follow Jesus, literally, to follow Jesus.
And Jesus says it’s not just knowing this that’s important, but doing it.
I’ve never met a smoker who doesn’t know that smoking is bad for their health and that they need to quit. And yet I know lots of smokers, who aren’t trying to quit.
We mustn’t divorce the knowing this is true, from the doing of it,
But the model that Jesus is laying down for his disciples is not just a pattern of doing unpleasant jobs like washing people’s feet.
We’ve just seen that foot washing is a shadow of the cross.
To follow the foot washing example, is to follow the laying down your life example also,
And in fact, John, recording this for us, when he says that Jesus took off, his outer clothing, to wash the feet he cleverly uses a word that means to “lay down”, the very same word, that’s used to describe Jesus “laying down” his life at his crucifixion.
We cannot separate these 2 events.
For us to follow Jesus example, might mean something much more costly than just doing dirty jobs for people,
Our model is a dying Passover Lamb.
Our model, is the king of heaven, who made himself nothing, and went to his death on a cross.
Footwashing is easy!
If Jesus was simply commanding a ritual, something that I could do, to show how good a Christian I am, then bring me a bucket of water, and the stinkiest pair of feet you can find and I’ll do it right here!
But let me tell you, I could wash your feet, and still be proud, and self-centred, and think that I’m better than you.
And sometimes, serving in unpleasant ways can even add to our status can’t it?
“I hope somebody see me carrying all this stinky rubbish!
I hope people know I was here at 7:30 this morning!”
If you’re a Christian, the model that Jesus calls on you to follow this morning, may be a lot more costly, than simply involving a bucket, a towel, and some smelly feet.
And if you’re not a Christian, but you’re here this morning because you’re trying to work out if you want to be one,
Then you need to understand this too!
You need the full picture of what Jesus calls you to do.
But still the life of willing sacrifice demonstrated by the cross is the life to which we’re called.
I’ve been on Christian camps, conferences, retreats, in my long, 35 years!, and on a few of these, one or more of the leaders, have tried to put Jesus’ words here into practice, and rightly so, I want to commend them for that,
But the way they’ve put them into practice, is simply by washing people’s feet!
It’s a very Christian camp thing to do!
But they missed the point, didn’t they?
See even the word for example there in verse 12, it’s the Old Testament word for an exemplary death,
The shadow of the cross is cast long across this event.
The stakes are much higher, than stinky feet.
The humble service of the Christian life, will cost, A real cost, status, opinion, position, pride, and it might cost, even our lives.