29 August 2021
John 13:1-7 begins with the washing of the feet of the disciples by the Lord Jesus and many scholars consider this as an “acted parable”. The setting is one day before the passover and Jesus spoke of the ‘hour’, the time for Him to go to the cross and then to leave the world, and He would be the final ‘lamb of God’ in the final passover for God’s people when He would be crucified on the day of the passover. The footwashing is an illustration of the truth of Jesus’ metaphor about the grain of wheat in John 12:24; it applies the principles, taught there universally, to the individual disciples. Without the footwashing, the explanation of the achievements of Jesus’ ‘hour’ in chapter 12 remains on a grand, universal scale; with it, we see the need for the cross to be appropriated by every believer, individually. In addition, we see the importance of Jesus’ example for the life of the believer.
The washing of the feet of the disciples is an act of love (vv. 4-5) – it anticipated the offering of Hs life on the cross as complete cleansing for our sin (vv6-11), His action anticipates the greater love and the act of cleansing that is to come through His sacrifice – laying aside His eternal rights, taking on human flesh, He will go to the cross and give His life in death (see Philip. 2:6-11). Like the disciples, we sinners are cleansed through the work of Jesus on the cross, and continue to draw cleansing via confession and the atoning sacrifice of Christ (see 1 John 1:8-2:2).
What did Christ’s sacrifice on the cross accomplish? The answers to this question are at the heart of Christianity, and so you can be sure that the doctrine of Christ’s sacrificial atonement is the number one target for the devil; all sorts of controversies will surround the meaning of this central event in Christianity as the enemy sows deceptions and distortions of the truth in this understanding. To understand the cross, we need to understand the Bible’s story of sacrifice. Though Christ’s sacrifice was and is the most important sacrifice ever made, it was not the first in the Bible. And the sacrifices that came before were given so that we would understand what happened at Calvary. The story of sacrifices with the giving of the Law and the details in the book of Leviticus involved the taking of life and the shedding of a blameless victim’s blood; it also introduced the idea of a substitution (seen in the first passover) and the pinnacle of this entire system of sacrifice was the Day of Atonement. Through the prophets, God denounced the rote and superficial performance of these sacrifices. Repentance, not ritual, is what God desires.
God will not accept a sacrifice from the hands of His sinful people, and so He provides one instead. He sends His Son, who takes on flesh, and then offers His own life and blood as an acceptable sacrifice, as a substitute for His people – a people who belong not just to one nation, but to all the nations.
At Calvary, Christ fulfilled everything the Old Testament sacrifices meant, and accomplished what they were unable to do. Through His blood, He made atonement of the sins of His people and reconciled them to God. And to demonstrate that God accepted this sacrifice, He raised Jesus from the dead, so that – starting now and continuing on into eternity – whoever repents of their sins and places their faith in Christ’s sacrifice is redeemed from slavery to sin and is free to live a life of tribute and praise to God.
And this brings us back to John 13:1-17. The footwashing which symbolises the cross accomplishes the once-for-all washing away of the believers’s sin, which brings that person within the scope of Jesus’ work. Without this washing no person can belong to Jesus. This explains why Jesus told Peter that if He did not wash him, he (Peter) has no part in Him. However, once washed, the believer does not need to keep going back to the beginning again. There is no room for complacency, however; that person must continue to rely on the cross for forgiveness. The cross, like the footwashing, provides the model for genuine Christian discipleship. If Jesus has lowered HImself to the point of death on a cross, His disciples must follow HIs example, however hard they may find it to love their brother or sister. Faith is only seen to be genuine if it is matched with obedient action – this is the proof that a person has understood the gospel. Jesus displays His unflagging love for His own in the cross immediately ahead, and in the act of self-abasing love, the foot-washing, that anticipates the cross. ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (John 154:13). We need to grasp how strongly this episode attests the loving character of Jesus. The disciples whose feet He was about to wash include Judas Isacariot, the one who would betray Him. But Judas did not benefit from this loving act of Jesus, for this shows that no rite, even if performed by Jesus Himself, ensures spiritual cleansing – Judas may have been washed but he was not cleansed.
The foot-washing and the crucifixion are truly of a piece: the revered and exalted Messiah assumes the role of the despised servant for the good of others.That, plus the notion of cleansing, explains why the foot-washing can point so effectively to the cross. If the footwashing and cross are prompted by Jesus’ daunting love (v.1), the fellowship of the cleansed that He is creating is to be characterised by the same love (vv34-35), and therefore by the same self- abnegation for the sake of serving others. Jesus has set the example and the pattern for His disciples.
We can learn about humility, servanthood, and love for the brethren from the footwashing in John 13; we must not however miss the cross and the gospel illustrated in this ‘parable’. Only when we are united with Christ in regeneration and salvation, cleansed thoroughly once and for all by Christ, having a part in HIm – we in Christ and Christ is us – only then are we able and enabled to truly be true servants of God (bond-slave of Christ as stated by Apostle Paul), and to shared the life, the love and the light of Christ to a spiritually dying world.
The heart of most religions is good advice, good techniques, good programs, good ideas, and good support system. These drive us deeper into ourselves, to find our inner light, inner goodness, inner voice, or inner resources. Nothing new can be found inside of us. There is no inner rescuer deep down in our souls. The heart of Christianity is the Gospel (the Good News) and the cross is central in the gospel. It comes not as a task for us to fulfil, a mission for us to accomplish, a plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us. Good advice may help us in daily direction; the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ saves us from sin’s guilt and tyranny over our lives and the fear of death. It is Good News because it does not depend on us. It is about God and His faithfulness to His own purposes and promises.Trusting in Christ as He is clothed in His gospel, we are guided by God’s law without any fear of our failures provoking its judgement. Religious programs and outreach strategies might create social centres but the gospel creates a genuine “cross-cultural” community that gathers the generations, races, rich and poor around Christ and His feast of grace. We need to stop and listen to God’s surprise announcement about what He has done to save sinners like us. The only thing that the church can provide to the world that is truly unique is the gospel. Only the gospel with its centrality on the cross of Jesus can bring a new creation into this present age of sin and death.