Jesus Washing the Disciples' Feet

John 13  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
IN Chapter 12:1 the Lord had closed His public testimony. "He departed and did hide himself from them." From this chapter on to the end of chapter 17, we find Him alone with His disciples, free to make known to them the full depth of the place they had in His love, now that He was about to leave them and go back to the Father, and how that love would be in exercise about them. This is what makes these chapters so peculiarly precious to us, beloved; for we have all our part in what is unfolded in them, as surely as we are His.
Mark the opening words of the Holy Ghost, for they are the key to all that follows. They give us the new position of things on which depends the action of Jesus in this chapter, in all its full significance. "Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father"—such is the place He now takes anticipatively" having loved His own which were in the world He loves them to the end." He is gone to the Father; we are left in the world without Him! But this is just the moment that Jesus chooses to tell us what we are to Him. How sweet for us below to hear Him call us "His own!" Who does not know the delight of being able to call something one's (mil It is not so much the value of what is possessed, but the simple consciousness that it is mine! Thus the heart of Jesus speaks out in the term of His love. It is not with our poor estimation of Him, nor still less with ourselves, He would occupy us. He would have us to lose all thoughts of ourselves, and listen to His thoughts about us. Are you prepared for this, beloved? But listen-" having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end." It is not merely that we are His, but He cares for us. He loved us, and He loves us to the end. But look-"He loved them unto the end." The end of what? The end of the time we need the assurance of His love-the end of the path of His own in the world. We shall not need to be assured of His love when we see Him face to face, and know as we are known. We do need it now. What a resting place for our hearts in this desolated world-the bosom of Jesus! It is where John leant (v. 23), and it is open to each of its still to lean there. Nay, it is to secure and maintain us in unhindered enjoyment of our place there, that the Lord Jesus enters upon the loving service of this chapter for us. And His is not love that changes. That is what gives one. such rest in His love. He knows my whole path through to the end. He knows all my failure and coldness of heart. He knows it all beforehand. There was one in that loved circle round Him. He knew (v. 38) that before the night was out, he would, at the taunt of a girl, deny with cursings and oaths that he ever knew Him. And yet in spite of all, and through all, He loves us to the end. We can but feebly understand such love, but we must believe it.
Now, this love of Christ must be in exercise about its objects, and this is what we get in the action before us. If we delight to dwell upon the love that led Him to lay down His life for us in the past, we must not overlook its present deeply precious activities-those alone which can meet the very real present necessities of our condition.
Verse 3.-"Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God and went to God, He riseth from supper and laid aside His garments, and took a towel and girded Himself: after that He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet." Merely to gather from all this a lesson of humility is sadly to miss the instruction unfolded in the symbolic action. It is in type the Lord's present service for us. We see that it must have this deeper character by v. 7, and again by v. 8, which shows it is essential to having part with Christ, and v. 10, to which I would call special attention. What must be the need that can only be met by the Son of God girding Himself in the glory for the work, and stooping low, even to His people's feet? We shall see.
Water is the well-known symbol of the word of God applied by the Spirit. Here we find a double application of it, the force of which is much obscured in our translation, but which you will understand better if we read, observing a distinction of the Spirit of God, " He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit." What, then, is this first application of the water of the word that needs never to be repeated? It is that spoken of in John 3:55Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5), " Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It is the word of God brought home by the Spirit to the conscience in that moment when, for the first time, we have rested on a word from God for our salvation. Thus were we "born of God," "begotten of the incorruptible seed of the word," and made possessors of eternal life in Christ. All previous remedial measures have but revealed more fully the extent of man's fall and ruin. But now, what man could never do-that is, cleanse himself-God has done by His word received into the soul. We are clean in His sight-aye, clean every whit. Sins and the nature of sin within us have received their doom in the cross of Him in whom we have believed, and we have thus received a life beyond the reach of judgment and of death-eternal life in Christ. In the meanwhile, we are found in a sin-polluted world; One only ever passed through it without contamination. Temptation abounds on every side, and finds too ready an answer in the nature within us.
Just as the feet contract uncleanness in a dirty path, so are our consciences liable to contract defilement at every moment as we pass through this evil world. Sin never again can come upon us in judgment and wrath; but it can and must necessarily, if allowed, cloud enjoyment of the love of Jesus, break up communion, and keep us in a place of distance from Him. This is what He cannot allow. We must remember that there is nothing that the eye can rest on, or the imagination be occupied with in the things of nature, that has not this tendency. For all that is in the world is not of the Father, and all that is of the flesh-of the nature and life of the first Adam-is that that God has had to exterminate in the judgment of the cross of Christ.
How great and real, then, is our need, beloved! How sweetly the love of Jesus engages Him in this service for us suited to it! For this is what is symbolized in the washing of the feet. It is the second application of the word given us in v. 10. We find it again in Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26), "Christ loved the church and' gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word," preparatory to presenting it to Himself a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. As surely, then, as we have part with Jesus, He must apply the water of the word to detach us from all that would hinder communion with Himself. Note well, that it is not something He leaves us to do, or it would never be done. It is, "If I wash thee not, thou has no part with me." He discerns, as we could not, what is tending to keep us at a distance, or what has come in to hinder enjoyment of His presence, and He applies His word from the glory to us. Gradually He unfolds His mind to us in the truth-ever seeking to conform us to Himself, judging by it, and bringing us to judge in communion with Him, all that is unlike Him. If we will only yield ourselves to the power of the truth, Jesus ' will lead us on with wondrous patience and grace into a deeper knowledge of Himself. Thus, by attaching us more closely to Himself, He detaches us from all that enfeebles our joy in the fellowship that is at once precious to Him and necessary to us, now that we have once tasted of its joy! It is not that He would, as it were, tear from us all that is of present interest to us. He knows that nothing can satisfy our new nature now, at a distance from Him. He enables us to judge what would keep up and maintain this distance, and He does it in His own sweet way, i.e., by the truth of what He is in Himself for us, until our hearts get so taken up with Him, that easily and of necessity, we drop what was incompatible with His fellowship. But what sluggish hearts we have! He has only left it to us to bow to His Word, when He applies it to us. But how often, like Peter, we refuse to let the Lord wash our feet, by resisting the application of His truth to our consciences. Yet there is nothing that He teaches that will not have this cleansing and separating effect, introducing us into more full communion with Himself, if we will only bow to it. Thus it is that the clouds come-we refuse the word, and our consciences get defiled. Peter refused, for he had yet to learn his need of the Lord's loving service. How soon and terribly he made experience of it.! Before the night was out, he was tempted to deny his blessed Master, and he fell.
What a look was that, which fell on Peter, telling of the Lord's unchanged love. No wonder it broke his heart. He was forgiven and loved the same, and he knew it. But ah! distance had come in between Peter and the Lord. " I go a-fishing," was the witness that his poor heart was trying, by a return to his old interests, to fill up the void, that nothing could fill up but restored communion. Forgiveness is one thing beloved, but communion is altogether another. Many a one knows that they are forgiven, and are so far happy, but they have never known (or if they have, they are not now enjoying) communion with Christ. But if Peter will try and get on as well as he can away from the Lord, Jesus will not suffer this to be, He proceeds to wash His feet. What a word for Peter's conscience, after all his boasting, was that, "Lovest thou me more than do these?”-that thrice repeated "Lovest Thou me," probing the root of his failure, his. self-confidence, and leading him to judge it, while at the same time it forced him. to confide in Christ as he could not in another beside. John and the rest could only know he had basely denied his Lord-" Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee!" Now the cloud is dispelled-&Stance is gone-and in the power of communion with Christ, Peter is given the Lord's pathway of death as his own; one which he sought to take once in the energy of the flesh, but in which he so miserably failed.
Thus it is that so often when the heart is heavy, because of distance from Christ, some little word is borne to the heart or conscience. It just meets your need, and restores you to your joy in the Lord. You say how strange that I should have just thought of that word, when it was exactly what I needed.
Ah beloved, it was Jesus that stooped thus to wash thy feet: and you perhaps discerned not that it was He!
How terrible the character of the carelessness, failures and sin of his own that needs such a stoop of the Son of God, to succor the soul! Do we not loathe ourselves for it? Oh to cultivate the tenderness of heart and conscience, that will yield to each slightest pressure of His truth, that we may spare His loving heart and ourselves the sorrow and darkness of getting away from Him!
But perhaps you say "John's place on the bosom of the Lord never could be mine. He was a special favorite. Such nearness is not given to all." You are wronging Christ's love by such thoughts as these, beloved. Partiality is a defect of human love. There is none in divine love. Jesus gives us in chap. xv., the one measure of His love for each of us and for all. "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." There is no room for degrees here, for the love of each is infinite and cannot be exceeded. Truly the love of Christ passeth knowledge. Besides, if He loves one more than another, it is to say that. He has found something in that one to love. Whereas there was nothing in any of us to draw forth His love. Human love is called forth by something worthy of love in its object, but this is the bright distinguishing characteristic of divine love, that its objects are alike unworthy. The source of Jesus' love is in itself-deep, deep in the secrets of His own heart. Nothing is so sad than if, after all, you will insist on maintaining the place of distance. Love is gratified by having its object near to itself. It delights in the confidence it has begotten, that will quietly take the place of nearness-nor fear that it should be counted intrusion. It is the response His love looks for from us. John knew it, and took the place that Jesus gave him, and, all of us alike. So he writes himself down, " the disciple whom Jesus loved!" It is but the style and signature o' faith, that makes nothing of self, but everything of the love of Christ! Will you not adopt it, excluding as it does all human merit and worthiness?
Do you think you cannot be so near now that Jesus has gone back to the Father. Ah beloved, He has sent down the Holy Ghost that you may be brought into far deeper intimacy with Himself, than ever they could have enjoyed while He was still on earth. "At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in ME, and I in you." What could be nearer than this? And it is just the object of Jesus in His Service, that we have been considering to maintain us in the enjoyment of this deeper intimacy, without a cloud of moral distance to mar it.
I can only note further that the Lord commits to us a very-sweet participation in this service of love. Ver. 34 gives us His new commandment, " that ye love one another as I have loved you," and we have had both the measure and sample of the exercise of his love. So he says in verse 15, "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you." If you only love me my brother, as Jesus commands, you will not be able to bear that there should be ought upon. me to keep me at a distance from the Lord, but you will never rest until you have, by the ministry of some word from Christ, washed my feet (having first borne it on your heart before Him), and led me into the place of my privilege and joy, and this, notwithstanding my pride that may resent your interference.
The Lord give us the needed grace for this, as we see it-so preciously illustrated in Him; and, above all, give us sensitive hearts to discover the first declining of heart from fellowship with Him and enjoyment of His presence, so that we may be brought to confession and self-judgment, and be maintained where only our heart can rest, in nearness to Him. Amen:-J. A. T.