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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Servant King


“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.” John 13:1

It’s now the penultimate day of Jesus’ life, here in the 17th chapter of John’s record. Tonight, Jesus will be betrayed; tonight, he will be tried and sentenced, and tomorrow he will be crucified.

And Jesus knows that’s the case. We know that because John tells us he knew it in verse 1: ‘Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world’. The pinnacle hour of human history - past, present and future - was about to land on the shoulders of this man and he knew it, as he sat down to eat the Passover meal with his disciples.

That’s not all John wants us to know Jesus was aware of as he reclined at the table, verse 3: ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power’. John wants us to know for sure, who we’re encountering this morning – we’re encountering a man like no other man. We’re encountering a man whose power extends over everything.

The Jesus, John wants us to know

This is how John wants us to think of Jesus. He wants us to see him as the King of kings, high and lifted up, enthroned in the heavens.

He wants us to see him with his feet resting on a footstool made out of his enemies.

He wants us to see him like Hebrews 1 sees him; getting up from his throne one day and taking the heavens and the starry host off like robe; taking the universe in his hands and rolling them up like cloak.

He wants us to see Jesus like 1 Peter 3 sees him; with angels, and authorities and powers in submission to him.

He wants us to see Jesus like Colossians 2 sees him; disarming the powers and authorities and making a public display of them having triumphed over them.

He wants us to see Jesus like Romans 8 sees him; comprehensively powerful over death and life, angels and demons, present and future, height and depth and everything else in all creation, so that not one of them could separate his people from his love for them.

In other words, though all the forces of heaven and earth should try steel his people from him, not one could prevail because of his supreme power.

It’s that kind of Jesus John wants us to see this morning. Is that the kind of Jesus you know? Is that the Jesus you believe in? A Jesus subject to nothing else, but to whom all things are subjected.

So, John wants us to know that Jesus knew he was about to die, and he wants us to know that Jesus knew that everything was under his authority – everything including death. That means John has given us a problem. The problem is that Jesus is over everything – including death and yet he knew that he was going to die, tomorrow. Which would mean that death was over him, and not him over death. That’s a problem.

So, John introduces a third thing that Jesus knew, verse 11: ‘He knew who was going to betray him’. That’s Judas, we know that from verse 2: ‘the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus’. Jesus knew, as he ate with his disciples, that one of them – Judas - was going to betray him into the hands of his enemies, and that they would put him to death.

Why does John tell us these three things that Jesus knew? And why are they so contradictory?

Hopefully we’ll see soon.

Be clean

The overwhelming theme of the passage is cleanliness: Verse 5, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.

Verse 6, Peter objects to Jesus washing his feet.

Verse 8, Peter objects again to Jesus washing his feet.

Verse 9, Peter tells Jesus to wash his whole body, not just his feet.

Verse 10, Jesus mentions a bath, washing feet, a clean body, and the fact that not all of the disciples are clean.

Verse 11, John comments on why Jesus said not all of them were clean.

Verse 12, Jesus finishes washing their feet.

And, verse 14, Jesus tells the disciples to wash each other’s feet.

So nearly all the verses in the passage refer to cleansing in some way. That’s very significant.

And the way the disciples relate to the various kinds of washings reveals to us the purpose of this passage.

Let’s consider first how Judas relates to cleansing.

Judas hadn’t had a bath

In verse 10, Jesus said, ‘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. For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was whyhe said not every one was clean’. So, as Jesus is reclining at the table eating the Passover meal – a meal that’s pointing to his own imminent death – he’s telling his disciples that what people need to be clean is a bath, and that not all of them have had that bath.

And John is adding his commentary, that the reason for Jesus saying that, is that he knew Judas was going to betray him, and the reason he was about to betray him is because he is the one disciple who is notclean. Judas is the one who hasn’t had a bath.

What is Jesus talking about?

John 15:3 – Jesus speaking to his disciples says,

‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you’. So, there’s a word from Jesus that washes us clean; that cleanses us from sin; that sprinkles our consciences and makes them pure.

And if you believe that word from Jesus, you receive a once-for-all cleansing bath that makes you right with God. Listen to Hebrews 10:22, ‘Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water’.

Jesus is saying, Judas hadn’t received him in that way and as a result he hadn’t received the cleansing he required. Why hadn’t Judas received Jesus’ bath, but the others had?

Consider what Judas was like. John 12:4, ‘one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it’.

And Matthew 26:14, ‘Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Jesus over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver’.

The question about Judas is who is his Lord and master? If the answer is Jesus, then according to Jesus he would be clean, because Jesus would have made him clean. The answer isn’t Jesus, the answer is money; money is Judas’ Lord and master.

That’s why Jesus says Judas isn’t clean. Judas loves money more than he loves Jesus, and he is filthy dirty because of it.

Oh, how dangerous the love money is; ‘as soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him’ (v.27). You have no part with Jesus if you love money (or anything) more than him – you have a part with Satan!

So, Judas won’t have Jesus as his master and that takes him to the place where he belongs – to hell.

Peter’s problem with Jesus as servant

What about Peter? – he’s pretty outspoken in this passage – which is not unusual for Peter. The first question to ask is, has he had a bath? The answer is yes.

Verse 9, Jesus having just insisted that Peter have his feet washed, ‘Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and head as well!” And Jesus answered, those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet’. So Peter has bathed – he is clean. And yet Jesus makes this startling comment in verse 8, ‘unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me’. That’s stark.

‘Peter if I don’t wash your feet you’re like him over there who hasn’t had a bath – you’re like Judas; you’re like the one ‘doomed to destruction’(John 17:12)’.

Let’s back up for a minute and see what’s transpired. Verse 5, Jesus took a basin of water and began to wash the disciple’s feet. Verse 6, Jesus gets to Peter and Peter objects, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’Which makes sense. ‘You Lord are my master. You Lord are greater than me. Are you going to wash my feet? You’ll never wash my feet! (verse 8)’.

What Peter is saying makes sense. But Jesus is emphatic, ‘unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me’. In other words, Peter, ‘unless I serve you – unless I wash you – you are an outsider’.

Jesus is not talking about the bath, the absence of which in Judas’ life, makes him an outsider. He’s talking about another kind of washing. He’s talking about a washing that needs to happen more often. The bath happens once for all; the foot washing happens often and repeatedly. What’s he talking about?

Here’s John’s first letter to his believing friends to help us understand. Chapter 1 verse 8, ‘If we [christians] claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’. No follower of Jesus should think of themselves as without sin. But, ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’. That’s what Jesus is talking about with his foot washings.

There’s a bath without which none of us will see Jesus – it’s the once for all pouring out of his own blood on the cross of Calvary to wash away our sins.

And, there’s an ongoing washing without which none of us will see Jesus – it’s an ongoing application of the cross work of Jesus for the forgiveness of our ongoing sins. And Peter’s rejecting it. To which Jesus is saying, ‘be very careful here Peter, unless I continue to wash your feet, you are not what you think you are’.

So, make no mistake, you need not only your justifying bath, you need your ongoing foot-washing at the hands of Jesus. So, here’s the application, know and own your sin; confess it to Jesus, and he will forgive you by applying his once for all cleansing work. That’s a foot washing you can’t do without.

Peter’s problem is that he’s rejecting Jesus as his servant. In his mind he’s the servant and Jesus is the master. So now we’ve seen Judas rejecting Jesus as his personal Master and we’ve seen Peter rejecting Jesus as his personal Servant. Jesus is saying both are eternally perilous.

Jesus must be both, master and servant to us.

The magnitude of Jesus’ condescension

Now it’s obvious why John draws our attention to both the supremacy of Jesus over all powers and authorities and his subjection to his enemies and to death. What did it mean for Jesus to save us from sin and guilt and the wrath of God? It meant that he was willing to put aside the heights of verse 3 for the lowliness of verse 1. He put aside his high and lofty status and became an obedient servant – even obedient to death, and even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

That’s why John puts verses 3 & 4 next to each other. We’re meant to feel the magnitude of Jesus’ condescension. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything under his control and power; ‘so’ – what a word that is at the start of verse 4 - so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel round his waist, poured water into a basin and did just about the lowest – most servant like – thing anybody could do in that context, he washed the dirt off people’s feet.

You’re left stunned when you read it slowly and carefully. There is no greater accolade you can place on a person than ‘powerful over all things’. And there is no lower service a person in that room can perform than ‘washing feet’. Therefore, there is no greater transformation that can take place, than what Jesus just did. And all of it is serving as an illustration! It’s all pointing to something greater. It’s all pointing to what’s going to happen tomorrow, on a hill nearby, on a cross and in a tomb.

Now here’s the most important bit. What has all the foot washing really been about?

Verse 1, ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’. Jesus had loved his disciples from the beginning and now the end was approaching and he would not stop loving them – in fact he would love them up to the cross and he would love them onto the cross.

All this washing has been about love. All this lowly servanthood has been about love. John wrote in his first letter, chapter 3 and verse 18: ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth’. Jesus loved his disciples to the end and he showed it by taking the lowest most servile position in the room – he acted.

So, what is the cross of Jesus? It’s the King of glory humbling himself to the point of death for the sake of his people whom he loved.

Follow Jesus’ example

And the most natural thing to say, in light of Jesus’ example is, what does love look like in your life? But I’ll let Jesus do that, because that’s his summing up.

Verse 12, when he had finished washing their feet he put his clothes back on and returned to his place – that sounds like verse 3 - he knew he was about to return to his father. And he said, ‘do you understand what I have done for you?’ ‘Do you get this whole picture? I’ve gone lower than my position for your sake. There’s one here who’s going to try to advance his position – he’s in charge of the money bag; he wants more than that. That’s why he’s not with us. What about you? Are you going to follow his example and perish, or are you going to follow my example?’ Verse 15, ‘I’ve set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’.

How did they think of Jesus? They thought of him like Peter thought of him, as Lord and Teacher and that’s exactly how he wants them to regard him now that he’s finished his lesson in love.

He’s saying to us, ‘esteem me as your teacher and copy my example. Not only is the bath for you, not only is the foot washing for you (I have to do those things), the lesson is for you. Go, do as I have done – wash each other’s feet’.

In other words, ‘once I’ve gone, as you interact with each other, take the role of servant. Don’t elevate yourselves; be meek, be humble, lower yourselves. Love each other enough to be a servant to one another. Ask yourselves, how can I serve him, or how can I serve her?’

And if you think, ‘that doesn’t sound very attractive; that’s not what I think Christianity’s about’. Then Jesus gives you two prods. One’s a wakeup call, the other is an incentive.

First the wakeup call, verse 16: ‘the servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him’. Jesus is about to send these eleven out (verse 20) and Jesus is now speaking to them as master not servant.

If the master, in love, got down really low to meet the needs of the servants, how much more should the servants serve each other? So, let our approach be like 1 John 3:16, ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees their brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person’.

The second prod is an incentive, verse 17: ‘Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them’. The greatest joys to be had in the Christian life are not when people think highly of you; the greatest joys are to be had when people are being lifted up by you. When you’re going really low to raise them up. Jesus said, according to Acts 20:35, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.


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