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His Example (Jn 13.1-17)

J Coutts

Certain circumstances give character to certain actions. In the East, the sight of a slave washing his master’s feet would come as no surprise to the onlooker. But the master washing his slave’s feet at a time when his life was in jeopardy would call forth comment from the beholder. Both circumstances and actions are present and give character to the feet washing of John 13.

Before this, men tried to take Him but could not, "for his hour was not yet come" (Jn 8.20). When His hour of destiny struck it did not come upon Him unawares. He greeted it, knowing "that he should depart out of this world unto the Father" (Jn 13.1). His betrayal, sore amaze, and agony are not mentioned. Instead, as if His going was a triumphant march, it is thus described. John records that "Having loved his own which were in the world He loved them unto the end". It is blessed to know that the Lord had pledged His love to His own with the cross before Him, knowing that soon one would deny Him, another betray Him, and all forsake Him. He knew "that the Father had given all things into his hands…" - all things were given into the hands that were presently to be nailed to the tree - "…and that he was come from God and went to God" (Jn 13.3).

He knew that it was His last night on earth, and that this was His farewell meeting with His own. His soul overflowed in indescribable tenderness. The whole glory of His character shone out. Note eight things that He did.

1. While supper was proceeding…He riseth from supper

On another occasion he would not allow His preaching to be interrupted by the intrusion of His nearest relatives. But He permitted the interruption of His supper to give a practical illustration of sacrificial service. Then, after He had washed the disciples’ feet, He returned to the table.

2. And laid aside His garments

He would allow nothing of officialdom or condescension to mar His service. As a workman takes off his coat and rolls up his sleeves, so the Lord laid aside His garments.

3. And took a towel and girded Himself

The towel was not merely in His hands, but wrapped round Him as an apron is wrapped round.

4. After that He poureth water into a basin

There were twelve present who might have helped, but He did everything Himself. D. L. Moody remarked that that ark would never have been built had there been a committee overseeing its construction. Many things are left undone because of waiting upon and for one another, for any man’s work is no man’s work. It is good to have the fellowship of brethren in the work. There is, however, a work that is for the individual.

5. And began to wash the disciples’ feet

It would turn away many a squeamish stomach to wash dirty feet at suppertime. The Lord would teach us not to be over particular about rules of etiquette. We may have to do things that are repulsive to nature, and go into surroundings that are uncongenial, if we follow His example.

6. And to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded

It is easy to begin a work of kindness. It is difficult to complete it when there is no response. The lowly work of feet washing was enhanced when Jesus wiped them with the towel.

7. Then cometh He to Simon Peter

Some of us can only serve certain kinds of people - those we like. The Lord washed the feet of all the disciples and each of them was different. Think of Peter, boastful, self confident, but weak, soon to deny the Lord with oaths and curses. He exclaimed that he would never allow the Lord to wash his feet. Have we ever served anyone such as Peter; one who irritates us and seems to be riding for a fall?

8. The Lord also washed the feet of Judas

Here we have the betrayer, who did not go out until he had received the sop. Can we rise to this height? That one who has returned evil for good, falsely accused, slandered or betrayed us, and caused us bitter pain and sorrow, becomes the object of our service. The Lord gives an example that challenges!

There are two possible reactions to the Lord’s example. First, we may see what to do, but not do it. The emotions may be aroused and tears may come into the eyes as we read of the incident, yet we do nothing. Then it becomes manifest that that His love does not possess us. We will not gird to serve. Love is only love when it stirs into action. One has heard of Christians in the same assembly who have not shaken hands or spoken to each other for many months. That long overdue letter to a lonely saint has never been sent. The promised visit to the suffering has not been paid. To one carrying a burden that would crush us we have not whispered a word of comfort. The help that is within our power to give to some struggling saint has not been given. The example of the Lord is not a thing to admire, but rather to imitate.

Second, we may know and do. The only test of belief is practice. There is a rich heritage of devoted lives poured out as a drink offering. A noble band of men and women who, although often receiving abuse and misunderstanding, have worked effectively for the alleviation of suffering and disease and in so doing have displayed a powerful testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. C.F. Charrington is a remarkable example from a previous generation. Seeing a drunk man pitched out of a public house bearing the name of his family company he renounced a fortune and devoted his life to the service of the Master.

Those who do are not only happy but also blessed. "Doing" is the door of entrance into our Lord’s highest beatitude. Doing reacts in blessing to the doer. It saves us from the selfish life which is forever looking upon its own things. The selfish life contracts. The sacrificial life expands. Today the Lord challenges us, "Know ye what I have done to you?". "If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them" (Jn 13.17, JND).


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