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The God Who Serves (John 13:1-19)

Reading ancient mythology can be surprising as a Christian — the gods of Greece, Rome, and various cultures are often quite selfish and evil. They sleep around, scheme, break rules, and get revenge. But it really shouldn’t be that surprising, because Paul says the gods in idols temples aren’t gods at all, but demons. The gods of pagan mythology appear to often really be empowered by what we call demons. These pagan gods exist because rebellious sons of God don’t stay in their place: they want to hijack and replace us and God. So they deceive us and make us in their image: they want more now, and they allure us into the desire of more now. Demons hold out the promise of fame, fortune, knowledge, power, and sex, but when we reach to take these through the impatience and selfishness they teach us, we become as dark, irrational, and bestial as demons. And we become as powerless as idols. The gods of our age are disguised as angels of light — they appear impressive and flashy and innocent — but behind them are powers of darkness that want to commandeer the most honored creatures in all God’s creation: the sons and daughters of God.


How can we be set free from the demonic spirit of this age that makes us so selfish, so powerless, pitiful, impure? As others have put it, the Son of God became man that we might become sons and daughters of God. When we see the Son, we see the Father. When we worship the Son we become like him and the Father. Jesus is lifting us up to overcome demons and to share in the divine nature. And the humble self-sacrifice of the cross is one shocking difference between the divine nature and the satanic one — and it is how Jesus conquered Satan. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, the Satanic ruler of this world is cast out. Franklin has read Philippians 2 which takes this look at the selflessness of the cross. But I want us to look at John 13, because here Jesus gives us an image of what it looks like to make a fool of Satan in the mundane, everyday, cross-like humility and service of foot-washing.


Setting Up Jesus’ Service (John 13:1-4a)

John sets up the scene in verses 1-3.


Verse 1. Despite the fact that Jesus will soon depart from the world, despite the fact that he has already loved his own, John says Jesus “loved them to the end.” Jesus’ love for them was already enough that he set aside his heavenly glory, assumed human form, was tempted and tired, and he taught and healed, but his love did not stop short. Jesus’ rises from supper when he has already loved to the point of frustration and exhaustion.


Verse 2. Jesus rises from supper when the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. Note how John clearly calls out the dark spiritual behind Judas’ greed and betrayal. I reminded our daughters this week that when they scream at one another it is because they have let Satan’s spirit in them and that they are grieving the Holy Spirit. But Jesus washes feet when the betrayer is at the table. Have you been betrayed before? This is someone who takes your love, trust, and vulnerability toward them and selfishly uses it for their own benefit. He rose to serve even the soon to be Satanic enemy who sat at his table.


Verse 3. Jesus rose from supper when he knew the Father had already given all things into his hands and when he knew was going back to God. Jesus will soon be sitting with the Father on his throne. But that did not cause him to be selfishly important. It did not rob him of humility or the opportunity to love on and honor his own.


And remember, as we read on, that Jesus has said that when we see him, we are seeing the Father. Sometimes we might be tempted to pit their character against one another — good cop, bad cop. Now, notice verses 4-12.


Taking the Form of a Servant

After walking on the dusty roads, people commonly washed their own feet when they entered a home. But when Jesus stoops down to wash Peter’s feet, he refuses Jesus outright. We must understand what a humble service this was for Jesus to perform. Except on rare occasions, not even peers washed one another’s feet. In fact, I read about a Jewish document that said not even Jewish slaves should wash another Jews’ feet. This was a task reserved for the lowest of servants.


Notice again what Jesus does when he rises from the table in verse 4. He takes off his garment so that he is now only wearing a tunic. Then he wraps a towel around his waste and fills up a water basin. Do you see what Jesus looks like? He has just taken on the form of a servant. Jesus doesn’t have to change to wash their feet and John doesn’t have to tell us about this, but John appears to be at pains to show us something. Notice how John concludes the account in verse 12. Do we see what Jesus has just done? Jesus told Peter that later they would understand, and I wonder if this is one of those things they wouldn’t fully grasp until the months and years after the resurrection when they pondered it all.


Go back to verses 1 and 3 and note the three-fold picture of Jesus here:

  • He came from the Father into the world;
  • He loved those in the world to the end;
  • The Father put all things into his hands and he returned to the Father.


Knowing these things:

  • Jesus rose, laid aside his garment, tied a towel around his waist;
  • Poured water in a basin and washed his disciples’ feet;
  • Put on his garment and resumed his place.


This three-fold picture can be seen elsewhere in Scripture. Consider Philippians 2:

  • He was in the form of God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant;
  • He humbled himself, obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross;
  • God has highly exalted him with the highest name that all might bow before him.


In fact, we can even see this in John 17:4-5. ESV: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

  • He had glory with the Father before the world existed;
  • He glorified the Father on earth, did the Father’s work;
  • The Father would restore the glory he had before.


Jesus laid aside his garments and took the form of a servant just as left the Father’s throne, emptied himself, and took on humanity. He washed their feet as a servant just as he served throughout his life and especially in his death. Then put his garments back on and resumed his place just as the Father would soon exalt him to his throne, now as a divine human. Now consider his explanation in verses 13-17. The Lord washed their feet to give us all an example to follow, that we would do just as he has done. This is what Philippians teaches us — have the mind of Christ. Jesus is sparking a revolution of humble service. He’s leading many sons to his glory by the shocking path of humble servitude.


Washing Feet As Jesus Did

Demons have taught us only to take for ourselves and they have made us like shameful, ignorant, and powerless. But Jesus is trailblazing the path to perfect power and goodness. Let’s consider what Jesus calls us to in light of what he did.


He didn’t hold on for his own advantage. Jesus had a nice robe and a nice supper in front of him. He could have asked someone else to wash feet. He could have kept his robe on while washing feet. But Jesus adopted both the clothing and work of a servant. He was in the form of God, but he did not count his equality with God as a thing to be held onto for his own advantage, but he emptied himself and took the form of a servant (Philippians 2).


We all have something. God gives us abilities, gifts, positions, power, privileges, possessions, money. What has God given you? Even if we think we have little, we have time, strength, mouths, hands, and feet. If we will wash feet as Jesus did, it requires we consider not holding onto our gifts, power, position, time, routines — our hands and feet — for our own advantage, but rather empty ourselves for the good of others.


This is not what critical race proponents tells us to do — to renounce our privileges. It is rather recognizing that there is not a thing we have that we were not given (1 Cor. 4:7) and following Jesus by using what we have been given to serve others. If I am king, I shouldn’t wield that power for myself. If I am in control of the budget, I shouldn’t selfishly benefit from that. If we have disposable time or income, we shouldn’t go searching for some fruitless thing to waste it on. And I should be willing to use them or let them all go for the good of others. We loosen our grip — don’t hold on for personal advantage.


He became a servant. Jesus went from reclining at the table and being honorably clothed to kneeling before stinky feet as a lowly servant. He was surrounded by the praises of heaven, but he became lower than the angels. The Almighty, tireless God took on risk: he was enfleshed, he became weak, tired, sick, and killable. He didn’t send a text, picture, or video. He didn’t come as a virtual reality hologram. And he died the death of a criminal. In his love and humility, he served until it killed him.


When God’s death on the cross is our example, our humility can know no limits. Humility doesn’t mean we denigrate ourselves, but it means we have a modest view of ourselves and that we are willing to lower ourselves. If the Son of God became a servant, if the Son of God was killed as a criminal for us, nothing is beneath any of us. Not for elders or evangelists to sit with the sick or to become sick; not for deacons or any of us to weep with those who weep. Not for any of us to reorient our schedules to be there for one another. Not for fathers and mothers to wipe poopy diapers and clean dishes — or to attend to the concerns of a child. Not for those who are healthy to wear a mask to serve those who are at risk — or to set aside any liberty. None of us is too important to do something that appears menial. It is a glory for those who are first to become as the last.


This doesn’t mean we abandon our post. In Acts 6, the Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked. The apostles said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2 ESV) They were not arrogantly saying that serving tables was beneath them; rather, serving at tables would force them to leave behind prayer and preaching. But we have to ask ourselves with each opportunity — am I concerned I will fail at my God-given responsibility? Or is that I simply refuse to accept any risk, any loss, any tiredness, any change?


God has highly exalted him. When Jesus was done serving, he put on his garment and resumed his place at the table. After Jesus became human, served and died, God raised him from the dead. Later, he ascended to the right hand of God. He is still the Son of man, but mysteriously now with the glory he had with the Father before the world was created.


James 4:10 ESV, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Paul says in Rom. 2:6–8 ESV, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” We ought to seek exaltation. glory, honor, and immortality, but not directly and not now. The path to that is patience, humility, and good-doing.


What keeps us from humbly “washing feet?” Maybe there was something else we wanted to do with that time, energy, money. Maybe we fear that in selflessness we will end up alone and naked. But did God leave Jesus in the tomb? We will be restored and strengthened. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. Those who endure with Christ will reign with him.


Self-servers are Satanic fools. Remember who is sitting at the table when Jesus does this? Satan’s betrayer. Notice John 13:17-19. Judas’ betrayal was likely a shock to the disciples until they remembered Jesus’ words. But as they looked back, as we look back, do we see any glory in his selfishness? The glorious God removed his garments, took on the form of a servant, and washed Judas’ feet. He gave Judas bread and a seat at his table. Then, Judas served himself and betrayed Jesus for silver. What fool he looks like now. Doesn’t that suck all the power out of Satan’s selfish silver? No one wants to be like that. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, the ruler of this world really is cast out. The Lord moved heaven and earth to serve us, wash our feet — may God forbid that we, like Judas, walk away no different for it — still self-important. If we do, we’ll miss out on honor, glory, and exaltation with Jesus. We’ll miss out on the opportunity share in the glory of the path of the cross.



“Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 ESV) The past 2,000 years are full of people who have sacrificed much for others — most we will never know until the books are opened in the last day, and Satan’s side looks foolish all over again. The Son of God became man that men and women might, by the path of humility, become sons and daughter of God.

Discussion Questions for Group Meetings:


1. Take a second look at your life and your various circles - moment by moment, day by day - where do you see any new opportunities to serve people in more humble, servant-like capacities?


2. If you haven’t consistently served in these ways before, why not? What all keeps you from serving in these ways?

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