After rising from the table to wash His hands, Jesus takes on the task of a slave and washes His disciples' feet. In this beautiful scene from the Gospels, the disciples learn what true humility and greatness is - servanthood. This episode looks at Jesus' actions and words from this part of the Passover meal in the upper room.
Hey, I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 128 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since episode 125 I’ve been looking at the Passover meal Jesus eats with His disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem in April of 29AD, just before his crucifixion. I’ve developed the scene from the purchasing and sacrificing of the Lamb the previous day all the way to the point of the disciples entering the room and arguing about who should occupy the place of honor at the table. In the last episode, I talked about the symbolism of the Passover feast itself in terms of what it looked back at and what it looked forward to. According to Moses, the Prophets, and now Jesus, there is a yet future, final exodus for the nation of Israel, when God will bring them back to their land by His own strength. Those Israelites who deem God to be trustworthy and reliable, who bear the fruits of repentance, and who have confidence in Jesus as the Passover Lamb will inherit what God has promised. So let’s move on today and continue looking at the scene in the upper room. Traditionally, the next stage of the feast that came after the first cup of blessing and thanksgiving was for the head of the meal to rise up from the table and wash his hands. It was more than just a casual rinse, but there was order and liturgy associated with this particular act. Now think about how often Jesus during His ministry rebuked the Pharisees for their externalism, particularly their hand washing. Go back and watch episode 96 where I look at the scene of Jesus dining with a ruler of the Pharisees to see Him condemning the Jewish regulations about hand washing. Jesus in this scene is not washing His hands in obedience to the Pharisees’ traditions, but simply keeping with the pattern of the feast. But this act of ceremonial purity is transformed by Jesus into something so deeply meaningful, something that the apostles would forever remember and cherish. Let’s read today from John 13: "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 13:3–5 ESV) Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps Himself in a towel, pours some water into a basin, then takes up the posture of a slave. Foot washing in the first century would have been the task of a servant at a meal and was certainly not something that the head would do himself. Their feet were caked with dirt and dust from their travels on the winding, rocky roads, and this task would probably not have been something anyone would voluntarily do for another. There were no formal servants in the upper room, and here we see Jesus taking that place. Now remember back to episode 126 where we looked at Luke chapter 22 and Jesus exhorting His disciples to humility after they had been arguing about who the greatest was. I said to mark the words of verse 27 there, because they would be important later. There, Jesus said: "Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves." (Luke 22:26–27 ESV) Jesus said “I am among you as the one who serves”. The washing of the feet is Him actually doing what He said. We have to stop right here for a second. Do we really understand what’s going on here? I don’t think we are even beginning to see the grandeur of who Jesus is. Even with all that we see of Him in the Scriptures - not just in the Gospels, but in what Isaiah says of Him, what John says of Him in the book of Revelation, what Moses says about Him in the Law, what David says about Him in the Psalms - our hearts are just still so dull. We can scarcely fathom the beginnings of the majesty of Jesus as the creator of everything, the One who sovereignly rules over all and who upholds everything by His very breath, the one who makes the sun rise and the grass grow and actively says to our hearts “beat, beat, beat”. But even with our profoundly dull view of His glory, meditating on this scene right here is just so powerful. Jesus, the maker of all, the one who will rule all the nations, the one to whom they all will pledge their allegiance and worship as the living God - that guy - He took on flesh and made Himself a slave. Paul says in Philippians 2: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5–8 ESV) When we really consider Jesus in this way, it militates against every bit of selfish ambition and pride in our hearts. Think about it. Anything that we insist upon, anything we demand, anything we seek from others to bolster ourselves is all just so insane in light of who Jesus is and what He should have insisted upon but He didn’t. In light of Him, we have absolutely no right to insist upon honor at all, yet we do so all the time. But Jesus had the right to insist upon honor, and yet at His first coming He did not at all. He went to the place of total abasement, He was the head and became the slave. Oh I think this has just become so trite and so overfamiliar to us that we don’t feel how devastatingly real it is. We complain when we get overlooked and when we’re unrecognized. We say “I have so many things to offer, why I am I doing this task? Why did they put me here? Why am I doing this job? Why am I not up there in front of people? I have so much more potential to really make an impact, I have so much I can offer!” But what could Jesus offer? What power did He possess? What job could He do? Yet He did not insist upon anything and took this place of abasement and made Himself a slave. Oh, let’s not lose sight of Jesus, friends. When we look at Him first, we should be content with whatever stage or station of life we found ourselves in, no matter how humiliating we perceive it to be. Nothing will ever surpass the abasement and humiliation that Jesus voluntarily chose. Well, there’s so much more that could be said, but let’s look back at the Gospels. If you remember back to Episode 126, I talked about the seating arrangement at the table in the upper room. The disciples would not be flanking Jesus on the left and right like the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting, but they would be reclining around the table on cushions, leaning on their left elbow and having their legs and feet pointing away from the table. Those details are extremely important to understand as we see Jesus beginning to wash His disciples’ feet. It’s not like Jesus crawled under a table where the disciples’ feet were dangling from tall chairs. He simply went around the edge where the disciples’ feet already were. Does that make sense? Now the other detail I mentioned in Episode 126 was that after the dispute about who the greatest was and after Jesus’ exhortation to humility and lowliness, Peter had taken the last place at the table, and Judas had taken the place of honor. Look again at the seating arrangement. Peter had taken the last place at the table, over here, at the opposite end of Jesus and John, and we know that because he was the first one to whom the Lord came to wash the feet of. This is how Jesus would have begun. Peter had heard Jesus’ words when He said that if you want to be great, make yourself the least, and that’s exactly what He did. Let’s read what Peter does from John 13: "He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”" (John 13:6–9 ESV) Peter being the zealous, passionate man that he is, demands Jesus wash all of him and not just his feet so that he would be with Him. Oh, what an expression of love and devotion. This is the same man who has endured so much testing over the last two years. He’s had his views of Jesus challenged, He’s seen the crowds swell and wane, and He’s been rebuked by Jesus on numerous occasions. But His faith and His loyalty remained strong. Yet there was one final test ahead that would cause him to finally fail. Yet even with Peter’s zeal and intimate familiarity with Jesus perhaps more than some of the other disciples, all of them could not have conceived what was happening here. Jesus is exemplifying the very thing He has called Israel to for the past two years, and the very thing Moses and the Prophets have called Israel to since their beginning as a nation. Be humble, go low, be a servant. This is what Jesus says to the Twelve from John’s Gospel: "When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “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. 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." (John 13:12–17 ESV) Well, I hope this episode today stirred you to look at this scene and ask the Lord to make you more like Him. For me, this is truly one of the most precious scenes from the Gospels that has often provoked me to humility. I pray the Lord does the same for you. In the next episode, I’ll continue looking at the Gospels’ record of the Last Supper. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, come back next time.