The Dealings of God With Peter: 5. In the Gospels

John 13:1‑11  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 7
What I hope to present to you tonight I may characterize in two or three words, the instruction and the warning. Here we have the instruction—the most weighty, practically, that the Lord had as yet set before Simon Peter. Undoubtedly there was that which was needed previously. His personal glory had been dawning more and more upon his heart. Correction, too, there had been before now, but here it is more the positive instruction that a saint wants as such upon the earth, and Simon Peter gave occasion for the Lord's bringing it out just because he was so ready to give his opinion. Now, our opinions are always wrong. We never rightly can give an opinion, especially when we think to Whom, as in this case, we are giving it. Giving an opinion to Christ! Yet it was really that. No doubt it flowed out of a human sense of what seemed to him the incongruity of the Lord's stooping down to wash his feet; but the truth is that it was always a question of the Lord's stooping down. That was no new thing. That was just what characterized all His work here below. His appearance in the world, His coming here, His presence, His whole action—what was it? It was the service of love. No doubt it was here being brought out in a very distinct and evident manner. The service of love is always in action. It is not always so manifest; and it was the manifesting of it to Peter. Little did he know that he needed it, but. the Lord brought this all out—the depth of the need, and also the character of the need, for there is exceeding instruction in these few words of our Lord Jesus. But then we must have it settled in our souls as the first great lesson that comes out in this instruction of the Lord, and that is, that all our blessing flows from distrusting our thoughts, our words, our notions of what is suitable to Christ. All our blessing, I may say, is in appropriating Christ's words. There is spirit, and there life; and what we are just learning now is to value them principally, to have perfect confidence in them, and to judge, therefore, all that rises from ourselves, all that comes from another, by this only standard.
Well, it is introduced in a way that is exceedingly striking. We see at once that it shows that it is the character of what belonged to the whole ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world. “Before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper” —not “being ended,” for it was not begun. We must remember that this is not the thought. I daresay some of you are familiar already with it, but it is well to state it now, for no doubt there are a great many here that have never thought about it or its importance. It is really, “Supper time being come.” That is the true force of the word. Their feet were not washed after supper, but before it. Any one can see that upon the very face of it. It was always the custom, and the Lord did not depart from that. The only thing that was so singular on our Lord's part was not that the feet were washed, but that He was the washer. That, indeed, was singular—that it should be He. If He had been only the master and they the disciples, it would have been different; but we learn who He was: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God and went to God” —Himself the Holy One, as holy when He went back from a world of sin as when He came into it from God.
And this was just exactly what filled His heart—the last resort of the devil, the last depth into which man's heart could be drawn by sin, being before His eyes. “The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him.” There was what Satan was goading on the hapless man to do. But here was what filled Christ at that very time. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He was going, but He was going in the same unspotted holiness that belonged to His nature as divine, and which was suitable to the One to whom the Father gave all things; for we have both His intrinsic glory and His conferred. “He riseth from supper and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin.” For you must remember that what is referred to here is the washing of water by the word, and only this. Washing by blood is a most important truth, but it is not here. It is supposed at the end of the chapter at least the work is supposed on which the washing with blood is founded. But in the early part of the chapter there is no allusion to any washing whatever but the washing of water.
Now I dare say that it may, perhaps, have not occurred to all, because we have been too apt to think that there is just a distinction between being washed with blood at the beginning and being washed with water afterward, but that is only part of the truth, for the fact is we are born of water just as much as we are washed with water. When we are first brought to God we are born of water and of the Spirit, and this is alluded to as the groundwork of what the Lord was doing now. Of course, it was not a question for the disciples to be born of water. They were already clean, as the Lord tells them, but not all. There was one that was not born of water; the very one of whom Satan, therefore, took advantage, and the more so because he was so near Christ. For there is nothing that so precipitates man's destruction, who has not got life from God, as being near Christ; for when one ventures into the presence of Christ not to receive life, but to prosecute one's own will, one's own plans, one only becomes the prey of Satan, and in the form too of direct antagonism to the Son of God. That was the case with Judas Iscariot. He had no such intention, but the truth is—man is never master. The very time that man seeks to be his own master is when he is most of all a slave of Satan. It is simply a question of whether God is master of me, or Satan is, but I am never master, never, nor intended to be. Contrary this is, of course, to all truth before a man is converted, but still more that which one's soul abhors when one is converted; because, if I am converted, what is it to do? It is to serve the living and true God. It is to be a servant, no doubt, to be a child, to be a son, but only the better to serve. There is no such service as the service of the child. Here we have it in all its perfection in our Lord Jesus Christ; and so now, out of this intimacy of love and this height of glory, He takes the basin and begins to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
Well, Simon Peter was astonished, but why? Simon Peter, will you never learn? Will you never learn to be quiet? Will you never learn to distrust yourself? Now is not that one of the great things, beloved friends, that we have got to learn? Is it not a thing in which we have constantly to challenge ourselves, because this is the very thing in which we have been so often wrong? Yes, just because we so little know what it is to walk in the consciousness of the presence of God. We are in the presence of God; we are brought there; we are walking in the light; but it does not follow that we are consciously there. And there is just the very difference, and there is where spiritual power depends upon it, because levity in the thought of our being brought into the presence of God to me is much worse than the case of the poor Christian who does not know that he is brought into the presence of God. For a man to take up the idea that to be brought into God's presence and to be walking in the light is just a mere sound, a mere privilege, a mere thing about which to say, “How near I am, and how blest I am!” —what a wretched state! No, it is meant to exercise the soul before God. It is meant to be a thing to recall us to what we are doing, what we are saying, nay, what we think, what we feel, because God necessarily notices all, and God will have us to take notice of all. It is the effect of the light of God consciously felt that we take up for the Lord, in desire for His glory what passes within us.
Was this so with Peter? He had no thought of it. No doubt he is much more excusable than we, because he had no such knowledge, and, as yet, no one had. The fact is that it is redemption that brings to God in the way of which I have been speaking, and it is the Holy Ghost given since redemption that gives us the consciousness of it. “At that time ye shall know,” as the Lord says, “that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” And so it is as to this consciously walking in the light of which I have been speaking.
So Peter, then, turns to the Lord with this word, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” It did seem such an inversion of all that Peter thought natural. To be sure it is. It is super-natural, and we should get that settled, beloved friends, in our souls; that we are brought into what is supernatural every day, that it is not merely for a little moment on the Lord's day morning, if even then it is realized, but that we are brought into this atmosphere habitually, and that we are intended to be acting upon it when others, perhaps, only know that it is a Christian man acting righteously. But it is not that. A Christian man will not act righteously by merely intending to act righteously. A Christian man only acts according to God when he is acting upon His holy principles. Now it is not merely a question, therefore, of righteousness; it is a question of Christ. A Jew was bound to act righteously, but we—we have Christ, and, more than that, we have the Holy Ghost, now that Christ has died and risen, to give us the consciousness of this association with Him. But Peter did not know this, only it was certainly a forgetfulness. I am bound always to assume that whatever the Lord does, whatever the Lord says, is the only right thing, the only thing that is worthy of Himself, and there was where Peter was wrong. It was not a mere question of intelligence, but surely there ought to have been this, just as in ourselves who are still more inexcusable if we fail. But even Peter ought to have started with this. I do not say it proudly, and God forbid that we should speak disrespectfully of Peter, because you must remember that we are just as much called upon to have respectful feelings and language about the dead as the living. I have not the smallest sympathy with persons that talk slightingly of those that the Lord has put honor upon, no matter where or who they are.
Well now Peter ought to have said, “If the Lord stoops down to wash my feet, it must be because His love is concerned, His glory is concerned, the will of His God and Father is concerned, and, more than that, it is needful for me"; because all our wants only give occasion to bring out the Lord's grace and to manifest His glory, and who, then, would wish to be without that? It is not, therefore, a question of whether it suits me. I am sure I need it, but it is not a question of whether it suits me, but whether it suits Him. “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered, and said to him, What I do, thou knowest not now.” Peter had not learned his lesson. The Lord was instructing him. “What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” But still he is dull, and he is guilty of what is even worse now, for he could not wait. There is where we fail most of all as Christians—that impatience, that haste, and yet, beloved friends, it is not for want of God's telling us. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” This is not merely a New Testament truth, but an old one that ought to have been very familiar to Peter. It was familiar enough in the scripture, but it was not familiar to his soul. He did not apply it to himself. He forgot it where he ought most to have remembered it; where it was Christ that had him in His presence. He therefore says, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Rash man! Christ—Christ bend down to wash his feet! And Peter say to Christ, “Thou shalt never wash my feet"! Did not the Lord know better? Why should Peter hinder? Did Peter know? Clearly not. The Lord had just told him, “Thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” As a humble man he surely ought to have bowed.
But that is where we fail too, and I do not believe that we judge sufficiently our failure to take in the light of the word of God. For God constantly speaks to us, speaks to us every day it is to be supposed, and we read His word, and what is that but that He is speaking to us in His word, and are we not brought sometimes to this very thing? No doubt it is so, without out uttering words, for we would not say that we find any fault in the word of God, but still, we constantly show our want of reverence for the word by turning away from that which we do not enjoy, instead of looking up and remembering that what we do not know now we shall know hereafter. The Lord is teaching, and the very portions too that we turn from sometimes in our stupidity and want of deference to the Lord—want of confidence and thorough faith in the value of every word He has written—may be the very thing I most want in conflict with Satan. Certainly, it was what Peter wanted, and wanted very soon, as we shall see. He says, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I wash thee not thou hast no part with me.” At once he turns round, and from having wished that his feet should not be touched by our Lord, should not be washed by Him, Peter now says, in a kind of despair at what he had said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” But the Lord puts everything in its place in the next few words. “He that is washed” —and He changes the word. This washing is not exactly the same thing as washing his feet. “He that is bathed” (as it is familiarly known), “He that is bathed” (washed all over—the whole person). Now that is when we are born of water and the Spirit: that is the mighty work of God. But when we are converted it is not merely that we receive Christ, or rest upon His blood—that is perfectly true—but the word of God enters our souls and deals with us as altogether unclean before God, and consequently there is a new life that is given that judges the old.
Now that is the bathing that is referred to here. The old man is dead. It is not merely dealing with a particular sin, but it is the whole life of sin; nay, more, it is the whole state of sin. The man is born again. He has got a new life, and this is so true that the old one he is in due time taught to regard not as himself at all. That was himself, but now, “Not I, but Christ.” He is born anew, born afresh, and this so completely that he is entitled to treat the other as a thing only to be dealt with, to be mortified, indeed, to treat himself as dead to it; for you see this word that enters is a quickening word. It is Christ Himself, and not merely Christ's blood. It is Christ Himself judging whatever is of Adam, whatever is of man. It is Christ Himself therefore giving a life that is according to God; that can appreciate, that can understand, God; that can feel according to God. Consequently, it is the root of all that is according to God, on which the Holy Ghost acts afterward in the Christian; that new nature which is begotten of God.
This then is what the Lord refers to here, “He that is washed.” But then He goes farther, “Needeth not save to wash his feet,” and whether it be the bathing of the person, or the washing of the feet, you must remember carefully, and it never was of greater moment than now to remember it, that it is water and not blood. The blood is most true and absolutely necessary, for “this is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood.” The two are most true, but here you have only the bathing on first being brought to God, and next the application of water afterward by the word to deal with whatever impurity there may be acquired in our walking through the world.
Hence this is what our Lord was insisting upon with Peter. Peter took the ground that, because he was of God, he did not need to have his feet washed by Christ. Christ, on the contrary, insisted that unless He washed him—washed his feet, that is, even as a believer, as a disciple, as one that had new life, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” I refer not to the original washing, but to that which is done day by day in our passage through this world; that is, it is not merely a question of life, but of having a portion with Christ. It is not merely a question of having it by and by, but of having it now. He was going on high, and there is one of the wonders of Christianity: it gives the believer a present part with Christ. No doubt that is just the token and loving pledge of an eternal part with Christ; but I do not think that it is merely the eternal that is referred to here. Rather it is the letting us in now, and the making good now of what is eternal in its own character and consequence. And that again is another truth that characterizes Christianity very much more largely than this particular part of it—that is, that we are even now, according to its own nature, associated with Christ before God. He has gone there, but He would not go there till our sins could be forgiven by virtue of His blood.
But more than this, He would secure our having a present enjoyment, a present fellowship and communion with Himself where He is gone into the presence of God. And I do not believe that we ever have the proper measure for our walking, the standard of what we are to cultivate, unless we enter into this, that it is not merely a cleansing for our heart—the Jewish people will have that by and by in the millennium, and will have such a cleansing as will suit them as God's people on the earth; but that is not what characterizes the Christian—it is the practical cleansing, to have communion with Him where He is gone, suitably to God and His presence while we are here on the earth. That is the meaning of the washing of the feet, and the object of it. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” It is not exactly “a part in me,” for that he had. Life is, as far as that goes, a part in Christ; but the Lord will give us more than that. In virtue of our having life, or along with it at any rate, He will also give us this proof of His own perfect love and desire. For there is nothing that shows the perfection of love more than this—the One that loves us entering the highest and most glorious place that is conceivable, and fitting us for present association with that place where He is gone; and this is what Christ would give us the sense of while we are passing through this world. No wonder Peter could not understand it then. His fault was impatience, not his want of intelligence, but his want of confidence in the Lord and of waiting to learn.
[W. K.]
(To be continued)