Thursday, February 07, 2008

John 13:12-20

12When 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. 13"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. 18I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.' [Psalm 41:9] 19I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts Me; and whoever accepts Me accepts the One who sent Me."

After finishing the washing, Jesus asks if they understand what He has done for them. He is about to argue from the greater to the lesser thereby making a penetrating application. If He, their Teacher and Lord (v13-16), had humbled Himself so deeply for the good of the disciples, then they also ought to humble themselves and serve their fellow-believers. After all, the slave is not greater than his master; and so we, the slaves of Jesus Christ, should not consider any task too lowly for us, when He considered nothing too lowly for Him. The apostles certainly learned this point well, as the letters that they wrote to the churches after Jesus had ascended are filled with admonitions to humility and service. Perhaps the best illustration of an exhortation to follow in the example of Christ’s humility is found in Philippians 2:5-11.

V14 is often taken so literally that people actually wash other people’s feet attempting to copy the Lord Jesus. But that’s not the requirement here. V15 states the principle that we need to follow. Foot washing was culturally appropriate, as the illustration from v10 depicts. These people walked around on dusty roads with bare feet and sandals. We don’t do that, and so foot washing isn’t the correlation here. Serving one another in love is the idea. V17, which is elsewhere translated, “Happy are you if do these things,” conveys the counter-cultural message that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He who exalts himself will be lost; the servant is the greatest.

John has already told us what Judas was about to do; but now, Jesus tells the rest of the disciples the same thing, so that when it actually happened, they would not stumble at the shocking reality of it (see also John 6:70). Jesus wants them to remember His words – which were an unmistakable claim to Deity (knowledge (I know) and authority (those I have chosen)) – after the fact and believe in Him (v19). Far from being a cause for doubt, it was in fact necessary that Judas should do what he was about to do – for the Scriptures prophesied that this would happen (v18). In Psalm 41, David, speaking as a prophet, lamented his betrayal by his close friend, who ate of his bread. This lament was ultimately over the betrayal of Jesus, the Son of David, and had to be fulfilled in His life.

The reason that John found it necessary to emphasize that Judas’ act of treachery was prophesied in the Scriptures was no doubt due to his understanding of the doctrine of the election and preservation of all believers. He has emphasized repeatedly, “All that the Father gives Jesus will come to Him; and the one who comes to Him, He will never drive away.” Jesus would lose none of those whom the Father had given Him (John 6:37-45). If God had chosen Judas, and Jesus lost him, then how could we be certain that He will never lose us? From the beginning, Jesus made it clear that the Scriptures predicted Judas’ apostasy (John 6:70), and that God had known and planned from the beginning what his end would be. In fact, when He prayed for all who should believe in Him, that God would bring them to His eternal glory, He intentionally excluded Judas (John 17:12). Above all, Jesus wanted His true followers to be sure of His unshakable intention to keep them forever, and so He taught them of the prophetic necessity for Judas’ betrayal before it happened, so that they would not be shaken in their own faith. Calvin concludes on this passage: “Let us learn that every part of our salvation depends on election.”

And then, in v20, Jesus reminds His disciples of a truth that He had taught them many times before: that anyone who received Him, was receiving the One who sent Him. In this way, He confirmed to them once again the security of their position. They belonged to the Father, as well as to Jesus, and they would never be lost. Only here, He also gives an additional element, namely, that anyone who should receive the one whom Jesus sent, would be receiving Jesus Himself. This was certainly to begin preparing them for the great commission that He would soon entrust to them, that they should evangelize the nations. Luke 10:16 says, “He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

John 13:4-11

4So He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. 5After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, "Lord, are You going to wash my feet?" 7Jesus 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." 9"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" 10Jesus 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." 11For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.

So what exactly was Jesus demonstrating in this act of humility and service? To answer this question, we must remember both the timing of this event and John’s pattern of joining to the accounts of Jesus’ great acts passages that draw out the true meaning and significance of those acts. If Jesus wanted to demonstrate just what He would be doing that next day by going to the cross, He could not have chosen a better example than this. He, their master, stooped to undeserving men, and humbled Himself in order that they might be cleansed. Tomorrow, He would stoop from His throne of glory to the gruesome and humiliating death on the cross, so that we might be cleansed. Of course, as we have noticed before, the disciples would not understand the depth of these truths until after Jesus had been raised from the dead. But Jesus, when he told Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (v7), was indicating that there was more to this act than first met the eye. It was not merely an example of humility – because that much was obvious, and Peter would have understood it immediately. But what he did not yet understand was how this event pictured what Jesus was about to do that next day, when He humbled Himself and so washed away the sins of His people forevermore.

In v8, Peter makes his famous objection, “You shall never wash my feet!” and so gives opportunity for a second point of instruction. Jesus responds to his objection, which may have seemed modest and humble if it were not disobedient, by saying that, unless He washes someone, that person will have no share with Him. By this, He is indicating that one must accept the humble cleansing work of Jesus if he would share in the gospel-inheritance. But when Peter responds in v9 with misdirected enthusiasm, “Then wash my hands and my head as well!” Understanding that he was ruined apart from this washing, Peter wanted as much washing as he could get. But he failed to trust that Jesus would give him exactly what was needed – not more and not less. Thus Jesus, in v10, takes the opportunity for further instruction, explaining that the disciples are already clean – except one of them, Judas, as John tells us in v11 – and must only wash their feet. There is the hint to examine yourself in this declaration.

When one has once been cleansed by the humble cross-work of Christ, he is fully and finally clean, and will never again need that cleansing to be repeated. And yet, Christians often stumble and fall into besetting sin, and dirty their feet, as it were, on their journey home. For these wayward but repentant believers, the promise has been given, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The true believer is positionally clean now and forevermore, and Jesus’ once-for-all act of cleansing may never be repeated – but Jesus is ever in the process of cleaning off the day-to-day grime of indwelling sin in His people, through His Spirit who indwells them. This was not the primary point that Christ was making on the occasion of His foot washing, but He took the opportunity that Peter’s ignorance provided to give His disciples added instruction, which they would understand later, after they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

Monday, February 04, 2008

John 13:1-3

This chapter begins the Upper Room Discourse with the washing of feet and the predictions of betrayal and denial. Throughout the first twelve chapters of John (The Signs), we noticed a pattern where Jesus performs a miracle and gives a discourse that brings out the spiritual significance of that miracle. In this second portion of John’s gospel (chapters 13-21; The Glory), the same basic pattern occurs, but in reverse, and on a larger scale. Here, the first segment (chapters 13-17) brings out the significance of the greatest act of all that Jesus performed – His substitutionary death on the cross, together with the corresponding resurrection and giving of the Holy Spirit. And the following chapters (18-21) relate those events in detail. And so, as we look closely at the text of chapters 13-17, we must keep in mind exactly what John is teaching us about the events to follow in chapters 18-21, Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and final acts before His ascension. John also wants us to see, in the tabernacle imagery, this portion of his gospel to be explaining how Jesus fulfills that Holiest of Holies place within the tabernacle.

1It 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. 2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God.

After emphasizing throughout the course of His ministry that His hour had not yet come, Jesus finally announced the opposite after His triumphal entry (John 12:23). Now, at the beginning of chapter 13, John makes the same point: the hour has come, and it is now time for Jesus to undertake that for which He had been sent to the world, namely, the redemption of men. Specifically, this is the night of Passover, and hence, the night when Jesus would celebrate His final supper with His disciples before going to the cross as the Passover Lamb on which they would feast.

The first point that John would have us understand, as he relates this account, is how poignantly it displays the love of Jesus for His disciples. Yes, He certainly loved them throughout His ministry, and was constantly expressing His love in always providing for them what was ultimately in their best interest. But now, Jesus’ soul is deeply troubled, and the weight of the impending trial and crucifixion, and, what must have been a thousand times more distressing, the unmitigated wrath of His own Father, which was soon to be poured out upon Him, must be unimaginably difficult to bear. So how does Jesus respond to this unspeakable trial? By selfishly, yet deservedly, demanding to be pampered? By forsaking all around Him and pouring out His broken heart in bitter solitude? No, at this very time, when Jesus’ hour of death has arrived, He is serving and ministering as never before. Truly, He loved His own to the very end, or, to the uttermost, or perfectly and completely. Love had never reached its ultimate expression, never once had love been poured out as intended, except in one time and at one place – and that was in this hour for which Jesus had come into the world, His death on the cross to bear our sins and the full wrath of God in our place – and the time leading up to it.

But we have not yet reached the end of the amazing love which Jesus displayed on this Passover night; for John explains that the foot-washing took place after the devil had already put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus! The humility and condescension that Jesus demonstrated when, as the Lord and Master, He stooped down to wash the feet of His servants, is certainly amazing; but that He also washed the feet of the man who was about to betray Him for thirty pieces of silver is, to John, virtually incomprehensible. So it is today, when he showers those who are imposters and reprobates with many gifts, graces, and tastes of the doctrine and power of the gospel. Let us be certain, if we have grown up with the privilege of hearing the gospel and seeing the power of truth and grace, that we do not despise our heritage, as Esau despised his birthright, and so put the Son of Man to an open shame (see Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:15-17; 6:4-6)! Great will be the final misery and punishment of such a man, even as it was with Judas Iscariot.

Finally, notice in v3 that Jesus is fully aware of His deity, conscious that His mission was nearly complete. Jesus was empowered to complete His present task by reflecting on the past and the future. And we gather from His understanding that all things were under His power combined with what He was about to do (wash His disciples’ feet), that this example of service depicts accurately one of the defining characteristics of God Himself. He is a humble, serving God. If One who holds all things under His power is a humble servant, how ought we be? If Jesus, holding all things under His power, was willing to love us to the end, what is keeping us from humbly serving others? And the answer, of course, is our sin. Our hearts are laid bare before us in understanding this passage.