Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 51. Learning to Serve Chap 13v1-20. Presentation 51. Introduction.
“Actions speak louder than words.” This expression is not always true, but it is sometimes true. And in some instances it is only actions that arrest the attention of those we are seeking to communicate with.
This use of action is illustrated in the story of
a farmer who was stuck in the middle of the
road with his donkey. The donkey had
planted his feet firmly on the ground
and would not move no matter what
the farmer said. So the farmer stood
there shouting at the donkey, getting
angrier and angrier all the time.
Then another farmer came along
and offered his help.
The first farmer answered. " I don't think it will do any good. I've been shouting at this stupid donkey for an hour, and he won't budge."
"I can fix that," the second man answered. He went to the side of the road, picked up a club, returned and hit the donkey between the eyes. Then he stood back and said "Gee haw!" in a calm, normal tone of voice, and the donkey started moving off.
"I don't understand it," said the owner.
"I yelled at him, and he acted as if he didn't
even hear me. You spoke in a normal tone
of voice, and he moved off."
"That's true," said the second man,
“but first I got his attention.”
Jesus needed to get his disciples’ attention. There was a power struggle taking place in the disciple band. In Lk. 22v24 we read that on their way up to Jerusalem the disciples had been arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest. The effects of that argument were on-going in the upper room.
It was customary to have one’s feet washed after a long journey. Now foot washing was the most menial of tasks - a job for the lowest of the servants.
If one of the disciples had washed
the feet of the others that would
have been a public admission that
he no longer considered he had
a legitimate claim to be the
greatest. No one moved the
atmosphere was electric.
The disciple’s pride not only paralysed them into inactivity, it caused them to be totally insensitive to Jesus’ need. We read in v1 that Jesus’ ‘hour had come’, the cloud of awful anticipation of what it would mean to be a God-forsaken man upon the cross was beginning to envelop Jesus. He received no support and no encouragement from his disciples.
After his birth, men of distinction from
the East had humbled themselves
before him. In the hour of his
death, the pride of his disciples
caused them to withhold
This was the situation which Jesus addressed. He did not complain that there was no hope for these disciples and allow them to spiral into despair. Nor did he encourage false optimism, shrug his shoulders and say they would surely change for the better one day. Nor did he dilute the standards of behaviour that God looks for in man. How then did Jesus respond?
We read in v1 that ‘he loved them to the end’.
The word ‘end’ used here is rich in meaning. It
means ‘utterly, completely and wholly’. Satan
may have been active stirring up pride and
resentment in the disciples’ hearts but over
against that harmful activity Jesus loved his own
utterly and unconditionally. This incident reveals
the outworking of that love.
For some time there had clearly been a communication problem with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had addressed the issue of pride and prominence on previous occasions. He had taught, ‘the last would be first’ Mk.9.35. But his instruction does not seem to have penetrated their darkened minds.
And so in v3 with a complete awareness
of the dignity and majesty of his person,
the Lord of Glory laid aside his outer
garments, took a basin and a towel
and stooped before his disciples in
order to wash their feet.
What had previously been an electric atmosphere now became supercharged! Can you imagine the incredulity and shame of the disciples as they watched Jesus preparing to perform the menial task that they themselves had refused to perform?
Jesus’ previous verbal instruction had failed.
This action was like the crack on the head
which the donkey in our story received.
It is the condescending goodness of God
that shakes and shatters us to the point
of comprehension. Does God need to go
to extreme lengths to gain our attention?
Now Jesus’ behaviour also had the effect of exposing the pride in Peter’s heart, ‘Lord you are not going to wash my feet?’ v6. Is Peter being modest? No! Read the words that follow in v8 ‘No…you shall never wash my feet’.
Can you picture Peter drawing his feet away, squaring his
shoulders and challenging Jesus’ action? You see pride is
often two edged; not only will it not stoop to serve
others it considers inferior to itself but it is also too
stubborn to accept the service of a superior.
Pride is one of the strongest repellents known to man. Pride more than anything else keeps God at a distance. It glories in its independence. It doesn’t want any help. It is often totally caught up in itself. It pulls up the drawbridge to prevent the invasion of its privacy and erects a barbed wire fence on which it hangs a sign which says, “Keep out”.
This is a stout barrier to the transformation
of grace. It is a barrier that Jesus needs
to penetrate. This was true not only two
thousand years ago, it is equally true today.
Jesus begins by unmasking Peter’s logic. What did Jesus have to say to the man who thought himself Jesus’ No.1 disciple? “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me” v8b. Jesus was implying the following, ‘Peter if you allow your pride to reject this lowly act of service, how can you avoid
continuing to do so, when I stoop even lower in my service
for you and become your sin-bearer upon the cross?’
If Peter would not accept Jesus as a
foot-washer how could he accept him
as a sin-bearer? Clearly if, Peter
failed to submit to Christ’s work of
redemption then, he could not boast
of any relationship with him.
Often people think that they can spurn Christ’s salvation and his transforming power. They boast that they will stand on their own feet and trust in their own best efforts. ‘Very well’, says Jesus, ‘But you can have no part of me or of my kingdom. Your pride will be the cause of your estrangement.’
When people review their lives, and discover their sinful failure, what is it that influences them to choose self-pity and despair rather than Christ? Or, what is it that causes them to choose a false optimism
rather than Christ? Or, what is it that
causes them to choose self-
justification rather than Christ?
It is pride. And pride forces them to
choose another path other than the
one that leads to Christ’s salvation.
Man is too proud to admit his life is in a mess and beyond his power to repair. Man is too proud to admit his need of help from outside. He is too proud to admit that his best efforts cannot secure him forgiveness and acceptance with God. Do you find yourself holding Jesus at a distance? Do you proudly square up to him and say, ‘I will not have this service you offer; I will
not have you washing away my sins’?
Do you find it hard to drop on your knees
and cry to God for deliverance and help?
Is stooping a problem for your proud
Jesus responds, ‘You will never stoop as
low as I have stooped for you upon
Think of the whole course of Jesus’ humiliation. The Lord of Glory laid aside his majesty in order to become a man. He became an impoverished man who had nowhere to lay his head. He was falsely accused and sentenced to the death of a common criminal upon a cross. There he exhausted, in his own person, the punishment of our sin. He experienced unimaginable alienation in relation to his Father as though he were cast into the very depths of hell.
‘That is how low I am bending for you,’ says Jesus, ‘in the light of that do you continue to find it hard bend your knee
and ask for my help?’
This passage does not only address those who proudly seek to keep Jesus the Saviour at a distance. It also has something to say to Christians who balk at what they consider to be unglamorous Christian service. Confronted with a task they know needs doing they will ask, ‘Why should I?’
Well, the evidence that we have truly appreciated the cost to
Jesus of washing away our sin will be found in our willingness
to stoop low in the service of others. The humiliation
of Jesus on our behalf should make us increasingly
sensitive to the need around us. Does it do that?
Have you washed anyone’s feet recently? Not literally of course. But what of the person who needs a word of encouragement. What about the person whom nobody seems to talk to or, the shy person who always appears to be on the fringe of things. What about the crabbit old man or the pompous know-it-all, might you consider inviting
them round for a coffee?
There is no shortage of feet
to be washed only of foot-washers.
Pride, more than anything else, keeps people from entering Christ’s kingdom. Once we have entered it then again it is pride that will seek to keep us from fruitful Christian service. This gives particular significance to Jesus’ concluding words to his disciples in v17. ‘Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them’. Blessing does not become ours by merely knowing certain truths but by applying that knowledge to our conduct and daily walk. Only when Jesus begins to transform our lives will others be drawn towards him and to his gospel.