“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” (John 13:1–5, ESV)
There are a lot of reasons that today’s passage is very special to me. There is the common reason shared by all who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior which is that He was faithful to the end to do that which He was sent to do. As His time was at an end John tells us that Jesus loved His own here in the world and that He did this to the end. His love did not quit when people quit on Him. He even knew who it was within their number who was going to betray Him, and still we see every indication that He loved Judas as well. He did this knowing that everything given to Him was given to Him by the Father, that He had come from the Father and that He was returning to the Father. There was no reason to resent or regret. He was totally faithful, and because of that we know His faithfulness today.
In order to demonstrate that love He got up from dinner, laying aside His own outer garments and tied a towel around His waist in order to bend down and wash His disciples’ feet. These men who had called Him master were now experiencing the deep love of their master as He personally humbled Himself to do something as seemingly demeaning as washing their feet like a servant. In this act Jesus demonstrated the power of the servant. As He humbled Himself in service He proved to be an incredible blessing while also demonstrating an important principle which is to mark all believers.
In Mark 10 when James and John approached Jesus with the request that one of them sit on His left and the other on His right in glory, Jesus told them that they did not know what they were asking. But even in this He also told them that this was not His decision to make. A lot was going to be demanded of them and they were going to suffer and even then be glorified with Him, but He could not grant this request. We also read that when the others heard this they became indignant. “Imagine the nerve of James and John asking such a thing” they must have thought (my words, not theirs). “What about us?” Responding to all of them Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45, ESV)
At this Passover meal it was their last time together before His arrest and crucifixion, and Jesus was demonstrating this teaching about becoming a servant for their benefit. It is this teaching that holds special meaning for me. In 2007 we were looking for a way to recognize people in the congregation at Crossroads for their faithful service over the long haul. The result was that we decided to give away a towel in remembrance of Jesus’ servant example for us. On the towel we had embroidered John 13:5. At our annual promotion Sunday in June that year we began giving away a few towels and continued doing so each year while I was on staff. In addition our Women’s Ministry started giving one towel each year to a special woman at their annual Ladies’ Tea. This past year I was overjoyed to see my wife, Robin, be gifted with one of those towels. As I looked back over the list of towels given away over those years I was greatly encouraged to remember each of them and their different ways of service. It was also a bit of a tug on my heart to know that several of them have left this place for the presence of our Lord where I know that they have received far more abundantly than we could ever give them. It also was a tug to realize how deep the relationships are that we built together, knowing that God is in the process of moving us elsewhere.
Jesus was washing His disciples’ feet as a last act of love and a last demonstration of humble service on the last night they had together. As I thought on this I could not help but think of the words from a simple song, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God.” The heart that led Jesus to wash our feet is the heart that led Him to give His life so that we could become adopted into the family of God, and the way we show our love toward one another is to model that love through our service.