Flashback Episode — Washed by Jesus: John 13:1-17

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Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 42: When Jesus steps into the role of a servant on the night He was betrayed and arrested, discover some things we can learn from this event, and one noteworthy disciple’s response.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Read the transcript:

In our journey through Jesus’ life, we now come to the night Jesus was betrayed. However, before Jesus is betrayed and arrested, He shares a special meal with His disciples, and at this meal, Jesus does something profoundly unexpected – He takes the role of the lowest servant.

Let’s read about what happened, about why Jesus did this, and about the reaction that one of His disciples had when this happened. Our passage comes to us from the gospel of John, chapter 13, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Let’s pause reading here because two details I see already are profound and I don’t want us to miss them.

The first detail is that Satan had already prompted Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, and looking at the details that we will read in Jesus’ conversation with Peter tells us that Judas was still present. Knowing Judas was present would mean that Jesus washed Judas’ feet even though they both knew that Judas was plotting a betrayal. This act demonstrates an incredible level of love and humility on Jesus’ part, but it would not be enough to break through to Judas’ stubborn, hard heart.

The second detail is that when we read about Jesus knowing that the Father had put all things under His power, the first thing that Jesus does is get up from the meal, take off His outer robe, wrap a towel around His waist, and then proceed to do the lowest role that society had. Washing someone’s feet was the bottom role in that society and Jesus chose to step into this role at the very moment that He knew that God had placed everything under His power.

It is also interesting to note that in this second detail, when John tells us that all things were under Jesus’ power, nothing that happened after this point was without Jesus’ direct consent. While Jesus prays for another way in the garden, His prayer is always in the context of doing God’s will so that humanity can have the opportunity for salvation. Jesus could easily have called off the whole crucifixion event, brought in thousands of angels to defend Himself and all the disciples, or even come down from the cross, but any of these options would abandon humanity to the fate of sin, and that is something that God was unwilling to do. He loves us and He wants to save us for eternity!

While Jesus was moving through the room washing the disciples’ feet, we pick back up in verse 6 when:

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

Quick side-note: This is how we can see that Judas Iscariot was present. Jesus wouldn’t have needed to say that not everyone was clean if Judas Iscariot had already left.

Continuing in verse 12:

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

In this passage, and in Peter’s conversation with Jesus, we see an interesting idea present when we begin to look at what it means to leave sin and have our lives washed by Jesus.

On one extreme, we have Peter’s first remark that the Messiah, God’s Son on earth, would not ever wash His feet. While this is on one level a statement of humility, because Peter knows he is less than Jesus and doesn’t comprehend the idea of Jesus lowering Himself below him, the challenge here is one of pride. Peter doesn’t want to accept that Jesus is taking the role of the lowest servant or slave for him personally, because he feels the roles should be switched.

However, symbolically, we see another idea at work in this first extreme. When someone who has sinned humbly comes to God asking for forgiveness, the first mistake that can be made is thinking that God won’t affect or change their life. This is the trap of Peter’s first extreme. When we come asking God for forgiveness, expect to be touched by God, or as Jesus replied to Peter in verse 8, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” If we want to be adopted into God’s family through forgiveness and accepting His invitation, expect and welcome His desire to wash our lives.

But we also have a second extreme, which Peter immediately moves to when realizing that washing is necessary for being included with Jesus. After realizing his first position isn’t desirable, Peter then swings to the opposite extreme, asking Jesus to wash “not just [his] feet but [his] hands and [his] head as well”.

We can admire Peter for diving all in with his request. Peter is an all-in-or-all-out type of guy. However, in Jesus’ response, we see the opposite extreme being also a place where Jesus doesn’t want or need us to go.

When God has touched and washed our lives, we might think there will be nothing left of our former selves. We might even want this. However, the truth is that just like people aren’t 100% free from sin, no-one is 100% stained by sin. When God wants to wash our lives, He is more interested in cleaning the sin-stained parts, and not on dwelling the parts that are not affected by sin.

This means that when Jesus takes us and washes our lives, don’t be surprised if we have a new focus, a new outlook, a new perspective, but a similar personality, a similar color of hair, and a similar color of skin. God won’t turn us into His clone when we accept Him into our lives, but He will transform us into the people He created us to be. God was interested and involved in your entrance into this world, and because you and I are here, He has a plan and an ideal for our lives.

God wants to wash your life. He wants to clean the sin from it, and He is more than happy to do so. We must come to Him, seek His will, and ask Him to help change us into His ideal for our lives. He promises to bless us when we follow in His footsteps, and He challenges us to be happy in the place where He has placed us.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and focus intentionally on Him in your lives each day.

Be sure to regularly pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your connection with God strong.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

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