Now comes the finale! (John 13.1-17)
We now move on to the great climax of the Gospel – the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13), the final passage of Jesus’ teaching (John 14-17) and the glorious purpose of it all in the cross and resurrection. In Chapters 1-12 Jesus’ signs plus the final event of the coming of the Greeks to Jesus are followed by Jesus’ teaching which explains the deeper significance of the visible sign. Now to show that we are moving into the glorious climax of it all, he adds to the normal structure. Now the sign comes in two parts with Jesus’ teaching in a large block between the two halves: sign + word + sign. The washing of the feet is the first part of the final cross and resurrection.
Some years ago Elizabeth and I had the great privilege of celebrating and remembering the Lord’s death together with a conference of Central Asian Christians who were the first believers in their country. They wondered how to do this. Reading John’s Gospel with this in mind, they came to the conclusion that biblically we ought to wash one another’s feet before sharing bread and wine together to celebrate his death. Jesus clearly teaches that “you also should wash one another’s feet” (13.14) and assures us of his blessing if we do so (13.17). It was humbling to wash feet which were hard and rough as well as others which were soft and well cared for. Knowing that these Christians actively witnessed locally, we found ourselves remembering “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 10.15) – including the rough feet of peasant farmers.
In his account of the foot washing John gets so involved in his memories of the event that he some times slips into dramatic present tenses – e.g. ‘he gets up from the meal’, ‘he pours (literally ‘throws’!) water into a basin’, ‘he comes to Simon Peter’. It is all so wonderfully exciting and richly significant. John almost sees it as if it were being re-enacted before his eyes. But there is also an overhanging shadow. John’s account starts with the fearful fact that the devil had already “prompted” (literally ‘thrown into the heart’) Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. What a contrast! The amazing love of Jesus for his followers (13.1) shown in his humility in washing their feet, the duty of a household slave, is put together with satanic evil. The death of Jesus on the cross is the supreme act of Jesus’ divine love, but is also the ultimate evil of the devil’s hatred of Jesus. The cross brings together for us as disciples of Jesus the glory of salvation with the call to follow the Suffering Servant. We are reminded of his command to take up our cross and follow him.
Just as Peter had previously objected to the idea of Jesus having to suffer and die, so now he objects to Jesus performing the work of a slave. Peter refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet. He doubtless felt that it was unworthy of Jesus as the Lord of glory and he will also have felt that it was too humbling for Peter himself. Still today it is deeply humbling to realise that we cannot save ourselves and that we depend utterly on his cleansing grace. So Jesus points out that “unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (13.8). With typical whole-hearted enthusiasm Peter responds “not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well”. Jesus then points out that if we have already had a bath, we only need our feet washed. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection is like a bath. He washes away everything that is unclean, sinful and shameful in our lives. But we still need Jesus to ‘wash our feet’, the regular cleansing and forgiveness of our on-going sin.
Lord Jesus, I thank you so much for the bath you have given me in your death on the cross. Please now also wash my feet.
P.S. On Thursday Elizabeth and I had a fascinating day which we thought you might all enjoy hearing about. The Bank of England Christian Union put on an Easter Celebration and graciously invited me to be their speaker. We so enjoyed the amazing historic building and their beautiful choir. Afterwards we visited the Bank’s very interesting museum. People responded warmly to my talk and we trust that the Holy Spirit will bring lasting fruit for the Lord’s glory. We had good chats with various people over the buffet lunch which had been provided for everyone. We felt very privileged to be allowed to share Jesus’ Good News in such a context. I spoke on Jesus’ assurance that he has come to bring life and indeed ‘life abundant’ (John 10.10) – the glorious message of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus.