The Washing of Water by the Word

John 13:1‑17  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Three things especially come out in this chapter: first, the completeness of the work which the Father had given the Lord Jesus to do; secondly, while that gives the full consciousness of the place we are in with God, there is the jealous care, and holy watchfulness in the path in which we are called to walk down here; and, thirdly, the love of the Lord Jesus. “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Hence He made Himself a servant in order to minister to us.
It is important for us as Christians to see our place with God in Christ, to know distinctly what that place is. Many sincere souls, not seizing it, do not know their relationship with God, nor even what the blessed Son of God has done in dying for them and bringing them to God, and at the same time how that bears upon holiness of walk. Yet the Lord here shows that no defilement can be allowed, and then adds its measure. Suitability of walk and of conduct flows from the place you are in. You cannot expect anyone who is not a child or a servant to behave as a child or a servant. Evidently then it is of all importance to know the place I am in, as all my duties flow from it. The moment the relationship is formed, the duties follow. But you cannot get the relationship by doing the duties. Such is the connection between the grace of God that brings salvation, and our practice. We must see what the relationship is, before we can have the consciousness of its duties. The Lord would bring, perhaps through painful exercises, to the consciousness of the place we are in, and the gracious provision there is for us in that place never to allow unholiness.
If it were only the being saved by His grace, this would be a blessed thing; but He brings us into positive relationship with Himself in love, as perfect as the righteousness. He came into a world of sinners for this end. We have the treasure in earthen vessels; but the relationship is settled. “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Therefore His first word to Mary after His resurrection is “Go tell my brethren, etc.” My Father is your Father too. He puts them into this place; He died to bring them into it, and tells them where He has brought them.
The moment I estimate the cross according to the word of God, I learn what the apostle says, “If one died for all, then were all dead.” I see One who came in unspeakable love to save me. God said “I have got one Son.” One thing remains—to see if upright thoughts and feelings can be awakened in these husbandmen. “But when they saw the Son, they cast Him out and slew Him.” In calling ourselves Christians, we are in a world which has cast out the Son of God, we are in a world of condemned sinners. God had long been dealing with man. He tested man, who had got out of the place where God had put him in Paradise, to see whether his heart could be reclaimed. Law was the test.
All ends in bringing out the condition in which man lay. The trial showed that he preferred anything to God—wealth, pleasure, rank, power, ease: no object too small to govern the heart and to shut out Christ. Take dress; is not that small enough? Take money; it is the same case with all our hearts. You never found a natural man thinking of Christ as the object of his soul: if alone in a room for two or three hours, he thinks of his sorrows, of his joys, but not of Christ. You never find a man ashamed of a false religion. A Mahometan, if you are making a bargain with him, will stop to say his prayers when the hour comes; and you may wait till he has done. But you find even true Christians ashamed of confessing Christ. The true God and eternal life people are ashamed of but of a false religion not so. Any and every object in the natural heart has displaced Christ. If I confess the Son of God has come and died for me, as do all the baptized, should I prefer a bit of dress to Him?
All this tells out that “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Every object is dominant on it; and even when we do love God, are we not oft ashamed of Him? It is not a question of trying to arrange ourselves a little and set things straight, but the Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost. My natural condition is that I am lost. When men gather for enjoyment, if you only bring Christ in, it is all spoiled. The natural man never enjoys Christ; and as Christians we have to watch lest we slip.
First comes the honest conviction that one is lost; then we find what God has done, which is another thing altogether. The law came to require from man; but Christ came to bring salvation because we are lost. Do I own myself a sinner? I cannot go into heaven as a sinner of course: so the question is, What has He done for me that I may be forgiven and cleansed? Supposing I have been brought thoroughly to confess that I am lost, I turn to Christ; and what is found there? That when I did not think of God, He was thinking of me in saving mercy. I have then (with no seeking of mine) what the spring of God's mind and heart was towards me. To spare me He spared not His Son. If I acknowledge myself as a sinner, I find what the Son of God has done for such. It is the gospel.
The true God cannot allow sin; He is perfect in holiness and righteousness. But I find Him doing what love always does, when it is real—considering the whole state and real need of its object. I was dead; and He comes into death. Judgment was against me, and He bears the judgment. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. I see One coming in love and goodness, in grace which astonishes me. As with the poor woman by the well, He must bring us into the light. He made her feel herself vile, not fit to show her face to a decent person. But there was also the revelation of God in love. The truth comes not as a claim upon me but as divine grace: else why should it come? Christ brings all this out to the soul. If the highest measure of grace is the cross of Christ, it is the very thing that shows me where and what I am. Why should He go down into that dreadful ditch, if there were not those in it to pull out? His death proved where all were.
And this infinite work is now done. “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Therefore is He set down at the right hand of God, accepted on high. God gave Him in love and accepted Him in righteousness. God is satisfied, and more than satisfied—glorified about sin. The cross is the place where good and evil met absolutely. All the evil of man was there shown out against Christ. He was going about doing good, healing all their diseases. Even Pilate had to ask, What do you kill Him for? It was enmity against good. But if all the wickedness of man's heart was there, what do you find on the other side? Absolute obedience and perfect love to His Father, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.” Where do I learn love? “Hereby know we love, because He laid down his life for us.” There is no such display of perfect righteousness any where as in Christ drinking that dreadful cup. There was unwavering righteousness, and the perfect love of God to the sinner too.
If we look at the moral glory of the cross, the whole question of sin was perfectly settled; and God has glorified Christ in consequence. For what did He die? For my sins according to the scriptures. If I come as a poor lost sinner to the cross, I see Him Who bore my sins in His own body on the tree, but now in glory. Has He got the sins there? I see Him standing here for me, made sin by God, drinking that cup, the very thought of which made Him sweat great drops of blood; then, having purged the sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, unlike the Jewish priests often offering the same sacrifices. He is forever sat down, because the work is perfect and finished. If the work is not done, it never will be. I am not speaking now of your appreciation of it, but of the work itself. If we live near to God, we shall appreciate it more every day; but the atoning work is done. How blessed the truth, that, coming to God by Him, I find that work which is proof of God's love to me when I was ungodly, done and accepted when I was without strength. Of course my heart is changed too, or I should not care about it in that way. He is waiting till His enemies be made His footstool, having brought me to God by His own work; and God is sedulous in His love to put it before us in every shape in which it can meet our need, as an actual fact of settled blessing.
Do you, believer, say you are guilty? But God has justified you. Defiled by sins? Yes, but God says, The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth you. Do you say, Ah, I have offended God dreadfully? Indeed you have; but God freely forgives you. Then the Holy Ghost, come down at Pentecost, is given to everyone who believes. “In whom, after ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” “Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost.” “If any man confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.” Oh! that those words rested in our hearts solidly. There is the place grace has brought us to; but we shall not personally enter the glory till the Lord Jesus comes again. “I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him.” “The glory Thou hast given me, I have given them.”
The purpose of God is to bring us believers into the same glory as His Son. Meanwhile may your hearts get firm hold that all of the first Adam is judged in the cross, that we might have all the blessing of the last Adam. He became a man that He might be the First-born among many brethren. The dignity of His person is always maintained; but He will never be satisfied, until He sees you there in the same glory with Himself and as Himself forever. If one pays a man's debts and leaves him without a farthing, he is a ruined man still; but Christ has paid our debts and given us an immense fortune besides. “As is the Heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” The scripture teems with pages, which show the way we are associated with Himself. As soon as Christ was gone up into heaven, the witness of divine righteousness, the Holy Ghost came down that we might know it. “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)).
How can I say “Father,” if I do not know I am a child? It would be hypocrisy. If the conscience is purged by the blood of Christ, relationship is known by His person, and then I have to walk as a child. But I must know I am child first. We cannot expect people to walk as children of God, if they are not His children. Something else has to come first: they have to confess their sins, calling on the Lord's name, and be saved. Can you then say, I know I am in Christ? At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you (John 14:2020At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)). I have to manifest the life of Jesus in my mortal body; but I must have His life first. For how can I manifest this, if I have not got it? Supposing I have listened in faith to the words, “My Father and your Father,” what follows? He has brought me into the same place as Himself, and I am waiting for Himself, God's Son, to take me there in person. Death has lost its sting. If I die, it is to be with the Lord, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” The full result will not be till He comes again, and the marriage of the Lamb takes place.
We might think that, when Christ went up into glory, all His service was over; but it is not so. Love never ceases to be itself and never gives up the happiness of those beloved. If a child goes wrong, the father's heart yearns over him: he may have to punish; but the heart goes after him. Christ's love is perfect, and it never gives up its service if it can make the loved one happy; and this is seen here. As He came from God, He was going back to God in all the blessed perfectness in which He came; and what does He then? His act was as He says; “I am among you as one that serveth.” Is there an end of His service now? No, He rises from supper, testifies He cannot stay with them here, but tells them He must have them with Him there. He could not stay as Messiah; He was going away as their Forerunner. “I go to prepare a place for you.”
This takes two forms. First He is as Priest serving. “He ever liveth (think of that!) to make intercession for us.” This is not exactly for sin, but that we may not sin: I a feeble soul upon the earth, and He always at God's right hand, occupied with me. But in this chapter is another thing. Supposing I do sin, how are my feet to be washed? It was as much as to say there must be holiness. “He that is washed (bathed) needeth not save to wash his feet;” he cannot be regenerate over again. The word used for washing the body and washing the feet is not the same in the original of this chapter. We are cleansed by water and by blood. But we are each exposed to danger here: I am walking through a world which is ready to defile me. There is this danger for my feet. When the Lord goes back to God, He takes heaven as the measure of our walk. He prays that we should be, not taken out of the world, but kept from the evil. And, looking up to the Lord in glory, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory. “Every man that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself even as He is pure.” I see Christ in glory, and knowing I am to be like Him, I want to walk like Him now. And this is what Paul meant in saying “That I may win Him.” He now tries in every possible way to walk like Christ here. But supposing we fail (there is no excuse for doing so: it is our own carelessness and neglect), He says, going up on high, I shall wash your feet. Outwardly He had washed them here. “Ye are clean, because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15).
Peter was ashamed to see the Lord stoop like a servant to wash his feet; but when he hears Him say it must be, he exclaims, “Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” No, the Lord replies, the feet are enough. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father “; and He is the propitiation for our sins. The propitiation is unchanged; but another service comes in. If one have sinned, he ought not to say, I am not under the blood of sprinkling, but can the Father have fellowship with an unworthy thing? No, scripture says, if “any one sin,” not even it he should repent. It is the advocacy that brings one to repentance. If I have let only an evil thought come in, do you think God has communion with that? It were blasphemy to say so. I have found my pleasure if only for a moment in what made Christ's agony on the cross. But if it were His agony, can it be imputed to me a believer? I am convicted, humbled like Peter, led to repentance. It was not because be repented that Christ prayed for him, but Peter repented because Christ prayed. In the present work of the Lord Jesus is this boon: if by anything I defile my feet, He takes away the taint because I belong to Him in heaven. He does not raise the question whether I belong to this place; He acts because I do belong to it. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” Holiness is maintained because I am in this relationship; God cannot have defiled people in His house. He chastens that we may be partakers of His holiness. He brings the word of God, which reveals what I am, to bear upon my conscience. “He restoreth my soul and leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.”
The Christian stands between the first coming of Christ (which accomplished redemption) and His second coming (which takes him to glory); and meanwhile the Holy Ghost is given to everyone that believes. He makes me cry, Abba Father. The witness that I am a child is the earnest of the inheritance. He gives me the certainty of the efficacy of Christ's work when He first came, and leads my heart on to the glory. But there must be holiness; and I get grace still working and giving me the measure of what I am. He tells me I am going to be like Christ; and he who has this hope purifies himself. The measure of my walk is “even as He (Christ) is pure” Not that I have attained, or ever shall, until I am with Christ; but I ought to be always going on, never to soil my feet, never to do anything inconsistent. There are three appeals: we are to walk worthy of God who has called us to His kingdom and glory; “worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing “; and “worthy of the vocation” wherewith we are called.” Worthiness is put before us in these three shapes.
We have first the settled consciousness of the relationship into which we are brought, and then the conduct which suits those who are in this place. Do your souls know this? supposing you profess it. Have your consciences got hold of the efficacy of His work? “Peace I leave with you “: can you say you have got this peace? Do you fear the judgment-seat? There is no place in which a Christian may be so bold, because he will be raised in glory as Christ is. Do you believe that your sins will be no more remembered? Many a one sees it in scripture and says it is true; but can you stand in thought before the judgment-seat, in the consciousness that it is so—that you are made divine righteousness before God? One more question, if you can thus stand, are you seeking to be in everything the epistle of Christ, and, whatever you do, to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus? We shall need watchfulness, and the word to search us (and it exercises, which makes good soldiers). The motive is the great thing. If I love my father, and he wishes a book to be laid this way instead of that, I put it so, because I love my father. The Lord give us to have His will as the one object of our lives, the motive of all we do, remembering that we are not our own, but bought with a price. May He give us to have our eyes upon Him, that we may know His love and seek His will. This is what Christ ever did, Who left us an example that we should follow His steps. But the example were vain for us, if Christ had not suffered for us, and we believed not in Him.
J. N. D.