What kind of God is it with whom we have to do?
Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet was not an accidental or exceptional event in His life. John 13 presents us with a parable that describes for us the very heart of the life of Jesus; something that is completely typical of who Jesus is. Ultimately, it tells us the character of God the Father. God the Father invested Himself fully in the Person of the Son.
I am confident that the Baby Jesus in the manger did not have a self-consciousness of Himself as God. Luke tells us that “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52) The life of Jesus on earth was a life of growing in His own self-understanding and in awareness of His unique relationship to God.
Jesus knew exactly who He was.
Jesus, in full consciousness of His identity as one into whose hands God has given all power and authority, in full consciousness of Himself as the very revelation of the character of God, in full consciousness of Himself as the one who is the very Presence of God in human experience, chose to wash His disciples’ travel-stained feet.
If you ask yourself “What is God like?” the New Testament answer is to look to Jesus Christ. Jesus, understanding as fully as He ever did that He is the Everlasting Son of God, girded Himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and washed the disciples’ feet. That is what God is like.
Pay attention to the way John uses the word know and related words in His account of the foot washing parable. Look at John 13:1, for example:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
The disciples didn’t understand the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship.
There is a contrast here between the knowing of Jesus and the lack of understanding on the part of the disciples. “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands…” (John 13:3) “….Do you know what I have done to you?” (John 13:7)
This does not come across in the New American Standard translation, which I normally use, but there are two instances of the word knowing in John 13:7. Jesus says, “What I do you do not know now but you shall know hereafter.”
Jesus acted out a parable when he washed His disciples’ feet because He wanted to help them understand His great, coming sacrifice on the cross and the nature of real leadership:
If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master… (John 13: 14-16)
Remember who Jesus is — don’t be distracted by false teaching.
There are those who act as if Christian experience means that, because Jesus has suffered for us, we no longer need to occupy a lowly place. You find this on the lips of too many popular preachers who act as if the way of the cross belonged exclusively to Jesus while for us there is only the resurrection life.
Too many preachers have used this as a means to raise money. They read Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), and they tell people, “That means The Lord has given us the gift of enjoying life to its fullest.” Nonsense! It means that He has come to richly offer us everlasting life. As one of my professors at Princeton used to say, “The Lord’s Prayer says, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. It does not say ‘Give us this day our daily cake’.”
Live according to this little-known beatitude.
The acted parable in John 13 ends with a Beatitude. When we think of the Beatitudes we normally think of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, but this verse also qualifies: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
No amount of book learning can ever constitute what Jesus means by knowing in these verses. When He says knowing He is not talking about education; He is talking about the knowing of personal experience, as in “Adam knew Eve.” (Genesis 4:1) It is the knowing of relationship, of intimacy.
I am utterly convinced that, although we can know facts about God, we can never hope to know Him unless we do His will. To know Christ Jesus deeply means to live the life of Christ Jesus. I could write scholarly tomes about biblical exegesis and theology and linguistics, but if I do not live a life of a servant, I will be nothing compared to the man or woman who lives a life in obedience to Jesus Christ.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on March 25, 1990.