The Gospel of John — Part 15
Mar 1, 2010 1818
The Last Supper
JESUS WASHES HIS DISCIPLES’ FEET
Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
Now by the time of supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God. So he got up from supper, laid aside his robe, took a towel, and tied it around himself. Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who asked him, ‘Lord, are You going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I’m doing you don’t understand now, but afterwards you will know.’ ‘You will never wash my feet—ever!’ Peter said.
Jesus replied, ‘If I don’t wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’ ‘One who has bathed,’ Jesus told him, ‘doesn’t need to wash anything except his feet, but he is completely clean. You are clean, but not all of you.’ For he knew who would betray him. This is why he said, ‘You are not all clean.’
THE MEANING OF FOOTWASHING
When Jesus had washed their feet and put on his robe, he reclined again and said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.
I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I’m not speaking about all of you; I know those I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled: The one who eats My bread has raised his heel against Me.
I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am [He]. I assure you: The one who receives whomever I send receives me, and the one who receives me receives Him who sent me’ (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
The first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel cover more than three years of Jesus’ ministry; the last nine chapters (13-21) cover just three days—the last three days before Jesus was executed.
Jesus had sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to purchase a Passover lamb, slay it at the temple and roast the meat for the Passover meal, which they would eat in the upper room (Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). In the evening Jesus and the rest of the disciples arrived for the feast.
It was customary, upon entering a house, for a servant to wash the feet of the guests. On this occasion there were no servants there except Jesus’ disciples, but they, anticipating that Jesus was about to establish his kingdom and rule the world from Jerusalem, were in no mood to act as servants, for they were expecting to be shortly appointed to cabinet positions in Jesus’ government. They were still quite ignorant about the nature of Jesus’ future reign. Jesus was about to be made King, but the manner of his coronation was so vastly different from what they expected, they were totally confused and enervated by it when it took place.
The word ‘So’ in the following verses is a key to the understanding of Jesus’ actions. What he did was a parable of his whole life. Just as Jesus laid aside his glory when he took on human flesh, so he laid aside his robe and replaced it with a towel of service. At the conclusion of his ministry on Earth he put on his robe of glory again.
‘Jesus knew that … he had come from God, and that he was going back to God. So he got up from supper, laid aside his robe, took a towel, and tied it around himself … When Jesus had washed their feet and put on his robe, he reclined again …’
It is man’s glory to be served by others in the highest place possible. It is God’s glory, however, to serve others from the lowest place possible. It is man’s glory to be admired on a pedestal; it is God’s glory to be despised on a cross.
It’s easy to minister to others from a position of strength, wealth and honour, but the ministry that really glorifies God is the ministry that is done from a position of weakness, poverty and dishonour. Jesus ministered life and hope to us from the cross. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, ministered forgiveness to his angry executors as he lay dying. Joni Erickson ministers blessings from a wheel chair. Joan, who is dying of cancer, ministers grace to others as she answers the phones three days a week for a Christian charity organisation. And Fekret, who is reviled and rejected for his Christian faith by his Muslim country people, ministers kindness and loving service to his persecutors from his poverty of human acceptance.
To truly wash each other’s feet is to minister God’s blessings from low places. God is glorified by that. When you are physically weak and dying, minister life. When you are condemned unjustly, respond graciously. When others reject you for your faith, don’t respond in kind, instead, minister blessings from your low place. When you are treated with indignity and abuse, respond with positive blessings. That is truly washing the feet of your brethren.
In other words, when people come to you with dirt, your response, as Jesus’ disciple, is to cleanse them and leave them the better for having met you. That is the way of the Cross. That is true glory. ‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’ (John 13:17 NIV).
The cross was Jesus’ judgement throne. Crowned with the sufferings of mankind he divided the whole world into two—those, who like the repentant criminal who was crucified with him, put their faith in him, were promised a home in Paradise; those, who like the unrepentant criminal who was crucified with him, wanted life only in this world, also got their wish.
JUDAS’S BETRAYAL PREDICTED
Jesus … was troubled in his spirit and testified, ‘I assure you: One of you will betray Me!’ The disciples started looking at one another— uncertain which one he was speaking about. One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out who it was he was talking about. So he leaned back against Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus replied, ‘He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.’ When he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. After [Judas ate] the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Therefore Jesus told him, ‘What you’re doing, do quickly.’ None of those reclining at the table knew why he told him this. Since Judas kept the money-bag, some thought that Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival,’ or that he should give something to the poor. After receiving the piece of bread, he went out immediately. And it was night. (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Why did Jesus choose, as one of his disciples, a man who would betray him (John 6:70-71)? While there may be several correct answers to this question, we need to understand that Judas was not a robot programmed to betray Jesus. What he did was entirely his own choice—a choice that could be made only by rejecting the love of Jesus. While Jesus had predicted Judas’s betrayal a year earlier (John 6:70), his foresight was based on what Judas chose to do and not the other way around.
When asked to identify the betrayer, Jesus indicated that he would be the one to whom he would give the bread that he had dipped in the dish. The host who scooped a choice morsel from the main dish with a piece of flatbread, and then gave it to a guest, did so as a sign of favour and esteem for that person. When Judas received this offering from Jesus, he was compelled to either accept this as sign of Jesus’ love, or to reject that love. The Scriptures say: ‘As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him’ (John 13:27).
Two great decisions were made that night: Judas, for his own sake, put himself in the place where he would turn his back on God; Jesus, for our sakes, put himself in the place where God would turn his back on him.
For three years Judas had walked and talked with Jesus. He had the very privileged position of witnessing Jesus’ miracles, listening to his teachings, and observing his life. Judas was a man who had the gifts of the Spirit but not the fruits of the Spirit. He had a head full of knowledge, but an empty heart. He shows what length a man may go to in religious profession yet still turn out to be a hypocrite and traitor.
Judas stands as a warning to Christians in every age. We cannot automatically assume that a man is a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus just because he has a tertiary degree in religion, or occupies an important position in a religious hierarchy.
To betray the love of a true friend or supportive leader, and to reject the truth in order to exalt self, is as heinous a sin today as it was in Jesus’ time. Those who act this way turn their backs on ‘the Light of the world’ and go out into darkness.