In between the end of His public ministry and His death at Calvary, the Lord Jesus used the emphatic "Verily, verily" seven times. The first four of those occasions are recorded in John 13 where events in the upper room are in view. Scarcely could we find a section of the Scriptures in which there is a fuller, richer insight into the self-humbling compassion, grace and love of the Son of God!
The first fifteen verses of John 13 are some of the best known and beloved amongst the Lord's people, standing alongside Philippians 2.5-8 as eternal testimony to the humble character of the Lord Jesus. Whilst we must never lose sight of the nature of true humility as demonstrated by the perfect Exemplar, neither must we overlook His teaching on the need for personal cleansing. In washing the feet of the disciples, the Lord was not doing something that was a token of His humility alone. It was also a practical, necessary act of cleansing that would leave them free of defilement as well as refreshed.
By means of washing the feet of the disciples, the Lord showed so simply the very important difference between the once-for-all bathing that would deal with the penalty of sins, and the repeated spiritual feet-washing necessary for dealing with the pollution of sins. Hence He said to Peter, "He that is washed [bathed thoroughly] needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean" (13.10-11). Judas never knew regeneration and salvation of his soul, in spite of walking for so long in the company of the Saviour.
"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done unto you?" (13.12). Well might we consider these words in relation to our own experience of the Lord's saving grace. Through Him we have been delivered from the pit, brought into the blessedness of eternal life, made accepted in the Beloved, constituted priests unto our God, received the spirit of adoption, set as members in the spiritual body of Christ, and granted myriad other blessings besides. Ponder a while the Saviour's words, "Know ye what I have done unto you?". One result of such a meditation will be a willingness to obey the Lord and "wash one another's feet" (v.14).
We come now to the four uses of "Verily, verily" in this chapter, the first two of which are set in a pair. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (v.16). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (v.20). In these emphatic statements the Lord Jesus speaks of the importance of the servant in his own eyes and the importance attached to his service by others. In this way the Lord Jesus is warning His own of their inherent tendency to self-importance. It is Luke who tells us, in his Spirit-inspired description of the events in the upper room, that at the very time the Lord was sharing with His disciples His own heaviness of soul, "there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Lk 22.24). Their minds were so fixed on the idea that the kingdom glory was imminent that they failed to notice or comprehend the significance of the Saviour breaking bread with them for the last time. If the kingdom was about to be ushered in, which of them would occupy particular places of authority?
They first had to learn that spiritual greatness is linked with humility, not position. Not only that, but when they were engaged in service for the Master, and their ministry was well received, it would not be because of them but on account of the One who had sent them. What crucial yet difficult lessons to learn! The Saviour's example of humbleness in service must instruct both the teacher and the one who is taught, both the servant and those who are served. There is a great tendency amongst the Lord's people to set certain men on pedestals, and there is that within the hearts of all such men that would tend to enjoy such status. A constant desire to emulate, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the example of the Lord Jesus in His humility is the only antidote to self-importance in the servant. Whilst it is proper that the Lord's servants should be afforded due respect, it should only be the respect that is given to all the Lord's people, whatever their sphere of service for the Master. In public ministry and preaching, the one who is sent has been sent by One infinitely greater and, in receiving the word given, those who hear are not receiving the messenger but the One who sent him.
Amongst the Lord's people there is a great need for genuine humility on the part of speaker and hearer alike, so that all the glory is ascribed to the Lord Jesus and none other. We must not shrink from the fact that colossal damage has been done to local testimony in the past, and is yet being done, by men who are jostling for position and power because of their self-importance. Humility is foreign to a fallen nature and, in these days of admiration for assertiveness in an ungodly world, increasingly despised. Contemplation of the Saviour's question, "Know ye what I have done unto you?", will yield a fresh examination of our self-importance, and should challenge us as to our desire for true humility.
"When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me" (Jn 13.21). Having shown the disciples so much of what was in His own heart, and having spoken to them about the self-importance that was manifest in theirs, the Lord now addresses, with a troubled spirit, the matter of self-interest. That Judas would betray, for a paltry sum of money, the one he professed to be Lord and Master is shocking to us all. The dreadful slide to perdition of that wretched man began with self-interest and, uncomfortable thought though it is, self-interest is another feature of the fallen nature that is within us all.
Self-interest allows us to criticise the efforts and service of others whilst failing to do what we should be doing. Self-interest allows us to excuse our refusal to submit to some particular aspect of truth or practice that we know to be required of us. It allows us to shirk responsibility in the assembly and contribution to the work of the Lord. It is a symptom of an unbroken will and unfaithfulness to the One who bought us with His own blood. Self-interest and unfaithfulness to Christ were at the root of the betrayal by Judas and, though he was unregenerate, the fallen nature in the believer is still capable of these things that can ultimately lead to a betrayal of the one we call Lord and Master.
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice" (Jn 13.38). Our dear brother Peter, to whom was spoken this solemn pronouncement by the Lord Jesus, was certainly not guilty of self-interest for he was willing to prove his allegiance to the Lord at the cost of his own life. Betrayal and denial are two very different things; Judas was guilty of the one and Peter of the other. Many of us, like Peter, have known what it is to have gone out "and wept bitterly" (Lk 22.62) as a result of failing to make a stand for the Lord at a crucial time. Betrayal can stem from self-interest, but denying the Lord can be the outcome of self-confidence. Peter was utterly sincere when he promised his allegiance to the Lord Jesus, but he had failed to apply the lesson given earlier by the Lord, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26.41). How much we also need to learn that lesson! The necessity of true humility, closeness to the Lord, and cleansing from the defilement of the way is being rejected by some today as being "too spiritual". However, learning these things and applying them to our lives could not be more important. Did not the Saviour say, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (Jn 13.17)?
To be continued.