Serving, John 13:1-17, 5 May 2013

Big Idea: We are to serve others as Jesus has served us.


We’re in the middle of a series studying the Gospel of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends, John.

The first twelve chapters have presented Jesus’ public ministry and miracles, what some call the Book of Signs. Now everything shifts toward the cross and what follows.

The second half of the Gospel—or “good news”—is sometimes referred to as the Book of Glory.

Jesus gave four major discourses

Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 13, the Mystery Parable discourse
Matthew 24-25, the Olivet discourse

Now we come to the Upper Room discourse that covers John 13-17. It is the longest of the four.

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (13:1)

He knows He’s about to die. He prepares His final words to His followers.

If you knew one of your best friends was going to betray you, leading to the electric chair, what would you say or do?

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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. (13:2-5)

Jesus’ decision to wash his disciples’ feet flows from His assurance of His relationship with God (13:3). He knows both his origins and his destiny and, therefore, the authority He was given.

These four verses are actually one long sentence. He knows Judas is going to betray Him and He responds by washing the feet of His disciples. This is what He does on the cross—He washes and cleanses His enemies.

Some believe Jesus is washing feet today.

He set aside His robe and took a linen cloth. He takes on the role of a servant.

Feet Washing

This was a common practice in the day. Upon entering a home, either the slaves would do it for the guests or the basin would be provided for guests to wash their own feet. Servants did not wash the feet of others, only slaves. It was the lowest task in the society. Many Jews required Gentile slaves to wash feet rather than a Jewish slave. Rarely did a non-slave wash feet, but then always a servant or disciple washing their master’s feet.

Jesus not only washed the feet of His disciples, He knowingly washed the feet of His enemy, Judas Iscariot.

Prior to this account, the disciples were fighting about who was the greatest among them, a scene described in the other “synoptic” Gospels.

When we encounter others, do we pursue status or service?


He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (6)

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (7)

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

Jesus tells Peter He will have no fellowship with him. One of the primary gifts of the covenant dating back to Abraham is life with Jesus, life with God. Feet washing is not merely a gesture of fellowship. It is only the death of Jesus (and its acceptance by the believer) that brings eternal life.

Today we are cleansed by the Word of God.

If we are to have fellowship with Jesus, He must cleanse us.

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (9)

Only Peter would have the audacity to say this!

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (10-11)

Jesus’ cleansing work—feet twashing, symbolizing spiritual cleansing on the cross—is complete in itself. Peter does not need more.

“A person who has a bath needs only to wash feet; his whole body is clean” may be a secondary exhortation underscoring the importance of a believer’s baptism. We are washed completely at baptism but as our feet gather dirt and sin we need to frequently wash them. We need to be purified along the pilgrim pathway. We get dirty on our life journey.

As John will later write,

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

The account continues…

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (12-17)

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Although it is not so in the tradition of our tribe, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, there are other denominations and prominent church leaders that have considered feet washing an ordinance alongside baptism and communion. My ordination is through such a group, the Churches of God, General Conference. When I first heard feet washing had such significance, I was skeptical. After all, Jesus didn’t really mean for us to actually wash feet, right?

But what did He say?

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Feet washing is obviously not a recognized cultural expression as it was when people walked everywhere—in sandals. Theological, Leonard Sweet, has said that a modern-day equivalent might be shoe shines!

Regardless of the manner in which one serves, the point is clear: serve! Jesus reversed the cultural norms, the King of kings stooping down to serve His sinful subjects.

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Are you a servant?

Husbands, how do you serve your wife?
Wives, how do you serve your husband?
Students, how do you serve your parents?
Singles, how do you serve your friends and co-workers? Your boss?

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

It’s not about whether or not someone deserves it or not. Love your enemies. Serve your enemies. Pray prayers of blessing on them.

No love is deserved. Eventually everyone will wrong you...and you will wrong them, too.

What if you made it a private game to out-serve those around you?

What if we did as a Scio family? How can we reach out to the poor, the widow, the orphan? Maybe it means becoming a foster parent. Perhaps it means volunteering at Hope Clinic. It might involve devoting more of your finances to those less fortunate.

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

It will involve sacrifice.

If you are at all like me, you think, “I’ll serve when it’s convenient, when I have extra time or energy. I’ll serve when I feel like it, when I feel good about it, when I get appreciated, and when it’s convenient to do so.”

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.


Jesus’ love and service for us transform and empower us. Without His love, we cannot love others. Without His example of servanthood, we cannot serve others. We love because He first loved us.

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