“. . . having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. . . . and began to wash His disciple’s feet.” – John 13:1, 5
“Enough is enough!” Have you ever said or thought that? It’s a common response for those who actually are or feel as though they are being taken advantage of. It’s a response from the person who has bent over backwards to meet what they feel is someone’s unfair, unjust, or unreasonable expectations.
“Enough is enough!” Spouses say or think that. Parents say or think that. Grandparents say or think that. Children say or think that. Victims say or think that. Police, social workers, medical practitioners, politicians, citizens often come to a point where they say or think that. Christians in ministry, pastors, and/or disciples of Jesus sometimes say or think that. Those inclined to extend kindness or help to the needy sometimes come to a point of saying or thinking that. “Enough is enough!” is an expression of limitation.
There are legitimate times to say, “Enough is enough!” When protecting or coming to the aid of those who can’t defend themselves “enough is enough” is an appropriate response. That phrase is a line in the sand; an end of the line notice; or a declaration of a willingness to fight for what is right. The injustice and oppression must end. But I want to talk to you about a different perspective. I want to talk to you about Someone and something for which “Enough is enough!” is not appropriate. When it came to love and service Jesus never said, “Enough is enough!”
When we study scripture it is vitally important that we do so in context. We can dissect a portion of a passage, a single verse, a portion of a single verse or even a word as we study scripture. But we should always keep the context, the surrounding content of that study in mind. John 12-17 begins a section of the Gospel of John where we see the revelation of Jesus’ personality. In John 13 we see Jesus walk His talk. Jesus said He came to serve (e.g. Mark 10:45) and He actually served. Jesus didn’t merely teach or talk about doing something. Jesus actually did what He taught about. He lived out His teaching before His disciples and the people of His day.
The context of scripture gives us perspective and insight into God’s truth. For instance, the Gospel of John contains Jesus most detailed teaching on the Holy Spirit. John is inspired to record three whole chapters of Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit (John 14-16). Contextually Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit is preceded by Jesus teaching and ministry of service. In John 13 Jesus washes the disciples feet, defines discipleship and proclaims His “new commandment” (John 13:34-35). In this chapter Jesus speaks heart-fully of the sign of His disciples; “that you love one another; as I have loved you.” As we look at our passage in context as a whole, we learn to love and serve as Jesus loved and served is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In John 13 Jesus says, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). The way we are enabled and empowered to do what Jesus did in John 13 is explained in the subsequent chapters 14, 15, and 16. There Jesus points His disciples (and us) to life in the Spirit. John’s inspired Gospel depicts the abundant life Jesus incarnated to humanity (cf. John 10:10). And for Jesus abundant life is life in the Spirit. That raises a question: “How can we experience Jesus’ abundant life in the Spirit?” The answer to that pivotal question is that contextually, service is His means to introduce by our need His provision of the Spirit. We look at Jesus’ service and say “I can’t do that.” We see our need and therefore seek the empowering of the Holy Spirit and find, “He will do that through me.” If we want to learn about life in the Spirit we must be willing to take a step of faith and serve. Service and the Holy Spirit are inextricably linked.
This contextual view of the gospel (and really of any study in the Bible) is vitally important for the application of what we learn. For if we ever try to apply the example of Christ’s service in our own strength we will pass out from the pressure of the work. We are weak and powerless without the Spirit. But if we view Christ’s call to serve from a Spirit illuminating position we will learn the joy of serving side by side with our Savior and Lord Jesus.
The historical setting of John 13 is the final week leading up to the cross. It was the Holy week of Passover. Jesus was well aware of what lay ahead for Him; the cross. He knew the hardest part of His redemptive mission was fast approaching. But He also knew He would soon be back with the Father (John 13:1). That’s a sub-lesson for us. Whenever difficulty approaches, we can make it through with the assurance that He is there for us now and later (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).
If it were you or I and we knew we were about to go to the cross to pay a substitutionary atoning death for the sins of the world, we might be a little or even a lot righteously indignant. We may have turned to our disciples and remarked, “Hey, you know in a few short hours I’m going to pay the penalty for your sins and the sins of the world. You’re all going to forsake me and one will particularly betray me. You don’t deserve it. You couldn’t do it. Only I can do this. No act of history will be so sacrificially loving and costly. No act will be so humble. So why don’t you do me the pleasure of washing my feet in preparation of my task?” In the same situation we probably would have thought we deserved some service from others. We may have gotten fired up, a little lifted up and proud. We may have thought enough is enough; it’s their turn to do something for me! By worldly and fleshly standards such thinking would be reasonable and justified, but not by Jesus’ standards.
Jesus wasn’t proud in these final hours. Jesus didn’t emotionally manipulate His disciples. He didn’t try to make them pity Him. On that last night before being betrayed, sinfully and falsely accused, crucified and murdered Jesus did something completely and totally otherworldly. Jesus did something that night that would or should have, shook the world. It does shake the ones who think about it; who take it to heart. What Jesus did was in perfect harmony with the cross work He would soon complete. Jesus, in the hour of His greatest need began to do the heavy lifting of the divine. What did Jesus do? John’s inspired account of Jesus states, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus didn’t seek to be served. Jesus sought to serve. His service was an incredible demonstration of the extent of His love. Jesus didn’t say or think “Enough is enough!” Jesus simply, quietly, got into His work clothes, bent down as if to say, “I’ve only just begun.” Then He washed the disciples’ feet.
At the southern steps of the Temple Mount were ritual Micveh baths. Pilgrims in Jerusalem to worship God would physically wash themselves in these bathtubs hewn in the stone leading up to the Holy Mount. Their washing was a symbol of consecration and spiritual cleansing. The disciples of Jesus likely had bathed in these ritual bathes in preparation for the Passover. So when they made their way to the Upper Room to have their holy supper with Jesus their body was ritually clean but their feet no doubt were dirty. Feet dirty with refuse smell. Jesus didn’t embarrass the disciples. He simply waited to complete the meal and then used the situation to teach a valuable lesson.
The supper ended. The devil got a grip on Judas. Jesus would soon be betrayed (John 13:2). Jesus knew the Father had given Him full control. He knew He was from God. He would soon return to God (John 13:3). These circumstances were foreknown by God and a part of His plan. God is able to utilize the evil sinful decisions of people like Judas to fulfill His righteous redemptive plans. God can cause all things to work together for His good (Romans 8:28). When we look at the world today we see a great deal of betrayal and sin. Such evil and darkness tempts us to think that perhaps God isn’t working or even that God really isn’t in control. But God is working. He can bring good from evil intentions. This is another lesson to be learned from this night.
Jesus, “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself” (John 13:4). Maybe those who should have washed their feet had been delinquent to do so. Jesus didn’t make a fuss. Jesus peacefully prepared Himself to serve. In Jesus’ day people walked on dirt roads along with beasts of burden. There was dirt of all sorts on those roads. People walked everywhere. There were possibly millions crammed into the city of Jerusalem for the Passover. They came with their animals. They wore open sandals. Their feet got pretty filthy. The feet Jesus was to wash were unpedicured and rough. These were feet of burly men. These were ugly feet of working men not pretty feet of the privileged. It was the dirty black feet of His disciples that Jesus washed. Washing feet was usually reserved for the lowest of the servants. But Jesus assumed this lowest of positions and washed the disciple’s feet. For Jesus no low service is too low to do.
We clean diapers of cute little babies and remark how sweet their bowel movement smells. But as that child grows that sweetness disappears. Changing those diapers becomes more of a chore. And those diapers keep coming. Life goes on. Potty training comes. People grow. They grow old. And age has a way of bringing us full circle. Children become the caretakers of their parents. And parents sometimes grow incontinent. A child may be called upon to change a parent’s diaper. That’s a tough one. Sometimes we are led to get help in institutions. Sometimes that’s necessary. But when such decisions are made do we make them in light of Jesus’ washing feet?
Dirty feet take many forms. The dirt we wash many be in a bathroom or a yard that needs cleaning. We may need to clean up a classroom. We may be called upon by Jesus to be instrumental in cleaning up a dirty life. Sometimes those dirty feet are an unkempt or unclean person in church. Other times they’re a street person. Sometimes they’re a hard to get along with person, or a proud, unforgiving, unkind, unloving person. A lot of times those dirty feet are an unsaved person. There’s all kinds of dirt that needs washing. When we encounter the smell of the dirt from the street of the world there’s a question we need to ask. Are you willing to kneel down in the name of Jesus and wash some feet? Are you willing to be like Jesus?
Jesus is Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:15-18). Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). There could not be a greater extreme from the highest of high position to the lowest of low positions. And this Highest, Holiest, God-Man Jesus was going to the cross. That might have been enough for a man. But it wasn’t enough for Jesus. Jesus was going all the way in His love. He uses these precious last hours before the cross to teach His disciples a valuable lesson about service. First, there is no one above service. Jesus taught by example that the greatest is a servant of all (Mark 9:35). Second, there is no excuse not to serve; even when evil men attack and betray you; even when you are going to give your life on a cross; it’s always time to serve. Jesus modeled these truths for us when He washed the disciples’ feet. Are you willing to wash feet too?
“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:5). Water is a symbol of God’s word. Later in John Jesus will tell the disciples that they are clean because of the word He has shared with them (John 15:3). It is the water of the word that washes us from sin (Ephesians 5:26). God’s word exposes our dirt and shows us how to be washed clean. This is a picture of sanctification.
When we are born again we are forgiven our sins and have the righteousness of Jesus imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21). The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from our sin (1 Peter 1:18-19). As we walk with Him His blood is applied (1 John 1:7). That cleansing comes as we confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9). Our water baptism is an illustration of this initial cleansing. Jesus was sinless but was baptized in obedience to His Father’s word (Matthew 3:13-17). If Jesus was baptized its likely His disciples were too. We aren’t saved by baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. We are baptized in obedience to God.
As we walk on from our point of initial cleansing it becomes apparent our spiritual feet pick up dirt. We walk in a dirty world. Every day we need to wash our feet. Jesus makes provision for this ongoing sanctifying work through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). We need something regularly daily imparted to us by the Lord. The Holy Spirit provides what we need.
Before He ascended to heaven Jesus instructed His disciples to wait and be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This was a subsequent work of Jesus upon His disciples. This happened at Pentecost (Acts 2 ff.). It was something that would be repeated (Acts 4:31). It would later be described as the Spirit’s purifying work in the heart by faith (Acts 15:8-9). The Holy Spirit pours His Christ-like love into our heart (Romans 5:5).The love of Jesus is the compelling power of service (2 Corinthians 5:14-16).
The water that exposes and washes away the dirt of sin is the word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired human beings to write God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And it is that Spirit inspired word that speaks to us of our need spiritual washing. The word of God is the Spirit’s scrub brush. The word of God is the Spirit’s soap. We know where to go for the cleansing by the word of God. The word of God points us to Jesus and His cleansing blood.
Jesus served in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14-15). He gave us an example of love and service to live. He calls us to serve and experience the power of the Spirit. To follow Jesus is to lovingly serve. He has shown us no service is beneath us. He has promised to enable us through the Spirit to serve Him by serving others. Jesus demonstrated through His humble service that such service was what love is all about. Jesus loved His disciples to the end. That end meant washing feet. That end meant the cross. He calls us to love and serve. His Spirit enables us to do so. So I ask you, is enough really enough? When it comes to loving like Jesus and serving like Jesus enough is never enough. Jesus was willing to wash feet, dirty feet, are you?