You Aren't Too Good For Any Service: John 13:1-20



Imagine the most menial and humiliating work you can do for others. In the Western world we often use maids as the stereotypical, lowly servant. Other occupations that come to mind are waiters, sewage workers and trash collectors. These are the tasks no one wants to do, because everyone would like to think they are above them. These tasks are not glamorous in any way, but they may be hard, dirty or demanding work positions. 
In Jesus’ day, washing feet was a task reserved for the servant. People did not have neatly paved roads, sweeper trucks and covered shoes that kept their feet relatively clean. When someone entered a house, the servant would wash their feet. This was one of the lowliest and most humiliating jobs anyone could have had. Yet, Jesus did this- and with effort and willingness. 

John 13:1-20 contains the account of Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet. This is a very significant moment in the ministry of Jesus that not only gives us insights into Jesus' nature, but has very practical implications for all believers. 


Jesus Humility, In Midst of Supremacy

This is how this account begins: 
“Jesus having known that his hour that he would depart out of this world to the father had come, having already been loving his own whom (were) in the world, he loved them to completion”- John 13:1 (My literal translation)
And it goes on to say, 
“Jesus, [having] knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God...,” 13:3 (ESV and all forthcoming)
The final days of Jesus’ time on Earth were upon him, so it was time for him to prepare for his departure (this story preludes the farewell discourse, where he taught his Apostles everything they needed before he left- including promising the Holy Spirit). 
While Jesus already had been loving his followers, he was not done yet. In order for his love to be finalized (Gk: telos τελος), Jesus’ act of washing feet was necessary. Until this act occurred, his love was not yet complete.
Verse 1 and 3 both mention Jesus' knowledge of his soon-coming departure, ascension and glorification (being praised in Heaven). In both verses, the word “knowing” is in the perfect tense (describing past actions with present effects) and is connected to an action (his love and washing the Apostles’ feet in vs 4). This means, Jesus washed his Apostles’ feet specifically conscious of who he was. In other words, when Jesus washed their feet- he had in mind all the praise and honor due him in Heaven
This clearly portrays Phil 2:6 (see this post)- Jesus was fully aware of what he deserved, yet he did a task that was considered the bottom-of-the-barrel, reserved only for the lowest members of society. 


Be Washed

Based on the knowledge of his true position in the universe, Jesus washed his Apostles’ feet (John 13:4-11). As he washed each of their feet, he made his way to Peter who resisted Jesus’ feet-washing, 
“Lord, do you wash my feet”? -13:6b
In Greek, Peter’s protest uses “you” twice, meaning it is emphatic. Peter’s shock may have come from a sincere motivation, but nonetheless a wrong assertion (consistent with Peter’s false understanding of Jesus supremacy in general like in Matt 16:22). Peter did not want Jesus, who he rightly recognized as superior, to be doing the task of a servant for him. Jesus assured him that,
“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”- 13:7
Essentially, Jesus is telling Peter that he will explain what is he doing in a brief moment from now-- but first he has tell Peter,
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me… the one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet…”- v. 8b, 10a
As Peter wanted to deny Jesus the ability to wash his feet, so people must allow Jesus to wash them- otherwise they will not have a “portion” (a relationship) with him. Clearly, Jesus is using a double entendre- while he is talking to Peter about physical washing he is also talking about being spiritually washed. However, he tells Peter that he has been washed, so he doesn’t need a whole spiritual cleansing. The whole of commentaries helps us (me) out here, when they say that Jesus is talking about daily repentance. As a person who gets their feet dirty walking on the roads (but is otherwise clean) needs only their feet washed, so someone who has been cleaned by Jesus spiritually needs to be cleaned of the “dirt” (sin) in their daily life. 
Jesus also uses this as a pointed statement against the Apostle who would betray him- Judas Iscariot.  Peter and the other Apostles only need their feet clean, but Judas needs his whole body cleaned (John 13:11 says that explicitly)

You’re Not Above Anything- Nothing is Too Low

Then Jesus explains to everyone, why he was washing their feet, 
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, 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 to you.”
Jesus appeals to the disciples' recognition of his authority as Teacher- instructing and modeling a lifestyle and Lord- having absolute rule and dominion over their life; in order to instruct them to be humble. If the one who is supreme is doing the most menial task imaginable, so should his followers. Jesus makes it clear that this is an example, meaning the Apostles need to imitate the actions of Jesus.

In modern times, feet-washing is not something that is a regular occurrence. However, the concept is still the same- just as Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles, so should we be willing to do the most menial and dirty tasks for others- not considering ourselves above anything that someone else (especially a fellow Christian) needs.

The Humiliated Are Blessed

He goes on to say,
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them
Jesus says that without a shadow of a doubt (“truly, truly” emphasizes how important and accurate this is): 1. one that is less shouldn’t expect better than one who is more and 2. "feet-washers" will be blessed. The disciples were clearly less than Jesus, therefore, they should not think themselves above any task that their master did. If Jesus did humiliating things out love for others, so should those who follow him.
Not only should Christians serve others in humiliation out of necessity, but also out of desire for positive outcomes. The one who knows and models Jesus humility will be “blessed”. “Blessed” does mean a gushy feeling of happiness or wealth & health, but it means “a positive state of being for the soul”. We should be humble, because our soul will be enriched and we will be in God’s will- the best place to be (in the long-run). 

The Behavior of True Followers

Loyal vs Disloyal

Lastly Jesus said,
“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He [Judas Iscariot] who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.' ”
Jesus distinguishes his true followers from the fakes- true followers will serve each other humbly, while false ones will be disloyal. Not only does Jesus teach his Apostles’ humility as an example, but he uses this to prepare them for the betrayal of Judas Iscariot: he is the one who needs his whole body cleaned, the one who will betray Jesus, who will not wash the feet of others and the one who will cause Jesus to “leave” (hence his final acts of love and the following farewell discourse).

Conclusion- Application Summary


Jesus was the Lord of all Creation and came in the flesh of man. Yet, he chose to do the stereotype of the dirtiest task known at the time. He did this in order to give all Christians an example and to perform his final acts of love before his departure. Jesus' humble example was one of the final tools he left for believers to live a God-honoring life after he left Earth. Jesus did not leave us empty handed, as the entirety of Farewell Discourse (John 13-17) reveals how he set us up for "success". 

Be willing to do anything for a brother or sister or in need. This will not only mark you as a true follower of Christ, but it will bless your soul. Grow in humility- be like Jesus and be humiliated. 

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