Jesus Teaches Humility - John 13:1-17

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Memory Verse — Galatians 6:1

Some are inclined to emphasize the literal act of Jesus in washing the disciples' feet and to forget the message 'which He taught through that act. We should believe our Bible literally, but we should give to every part of it that place which God intended it to have. A few of the instructions to the disciples given in the New Testament had a very limited, local application from the literal standpoint, but universal teaching in their spiritual significance. This story contains one of the instructions of limited, literal application. The act of foot-washing was, in that time and vicinity, the ministry of a servant. It has no such connection in our own time and country, therefore, the repetition of the literal act cannot have the meaning for us which it possessed for the disciples. It is significant that nowhere in the Church writings (Romans to Philemon) is the injunction for believers to wash one another's feet repeated. It is mentioned therein only once, and then only to show that those who observed the practice at that time were worthy of praise. From these facts we may scripturally conclude that the foot-washing injunction is not obligatory upon us.

But greater than the act is the message which that act conveys to all believers. It speaks to us of the unfailing love of Jesus. It is typical of the power of the Cross. It indicates the necessity of participating in that power if one is to be saved. It indicates God's verdict of judgment passed upon those who abide in unbelief, and it furnishes an eloquent example for the believer.


John 13:1-3

Jesus' unfailing love for His people was clearly manifested during this evening. It is definitely stated in the words, "Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end." Jesus' love knows no discouragement. He knew that the hour of His departure was at hand. He realized that He was about to leave His disciples alone, and that their faith was to receive a severe shock. He understood the treachery in Judas' heart, and the enmity of the Jews. But in the midst of this situation which would greatly have discouraged a mere man, Jesus' love never wavered. He did not bewail the suffering He must endure, nor did He upbraid the traitor. He thought only of the welfare of His disciples and in one of the most tender scenes of His whole earthly life He sought to prepare them for the separation by teaching them its meaning and purpose.

Jesus' love is not limited to His earthly life. It is true that the depths of His love were discovered on the cross, but what was said of Him in His earthly life applies also to the present. He loved His own unto the end of His earthly ministry, and that same unspeakable love will follow and shield them to the end of eternity. Rom. 8:38-39; I Cor. 13:8; I Jno. 4:8-10.


John 13:4-5

Jesus' ministration to the disciples prefigured the Cross. In that evening He showed His willingness to serve that others might benefit. In the act of foot-washing we see not only His love for His people, but we see the humiliation and the power of His service. Matt. 2o:z8; Jno. 3:16.

Jesus' humbled Himself in order that He might die on the CROSS. The record is that "He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death." The Lord of heaven's glory, the object of angelic worship and the theme of heaven's songs was willing to humble Himself and assume the form of man. This He did when He came into the world in His incarnation. But the depths of His humiliation were reached on the cross. There He took the sinner's place. There He stooped to the place of a criminal. There He Who was without sin was made to be sin for us. There He bowed beneath the scorn of men and the wrath of God. All this He sought to teach the disciples in assuming the place and performing the office of a servant. Heb. 2:9; Phil. 2:5-10; Isa. 53:4-9.

But Jesus also sought to teach them the purpose and power of His coming humiliation. He died on the cross that He might save the sinner. The power of that death is such that it cleanses instantly the soul which trusts Him. And by the blood of the cross He keeps cleansing His people from the defilement of their daily lives. His death, while effective only for believers, made provision for all. This is seen in Jesus' washing the feet even of the traitor unbeliever who was to betray Him. This is the message presented in Jesus' ministry that night. It is a message of unspeakable love. II Cor. 8:9; Heb. 2:9; I Jno. 4:9.


John 13:6-10

Without receiving the ministration 'which 'was typified in Jesus' act it is impossible for a soul to be saved. God, in His holiness cannot tolerate sin and its defilement. He has already rejected man's righteousness and labeled it filthily rags. He cannot receive into His holy and glorious presence any soul which has not been cleansed from sin. And it means hell, — it means the judgment and wrath of God, — for a soul not to be admitted into His presence. So Jesus, doubtless speaking of the real meaning of His act, said to Peter, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter * * *. If I wash thee not thou hast no part with me." Isa. 64:6; Hab. 1:13; Rev. 1:5; Heb. 9:22.

Many like Peter are loath to accept Jesus' ministration but there is no other way of cleansing provided for them. Reform, good resolutions, change of environment, education, civilization, and all purely human expedients, cannot cleanse from a single sin. God gives men no part in this work. He does it all Himself. And He alone is able to do it. "There is none other name under heaven given among; men whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:12; Isa. 1:18; Heb. 10:4; Heb. 9:26.

But is there not here a suggestion of Jesus' ministry in the believer's life, as well? Was He not teaching in washing the disciples' feet His faithfulness in, cleansing the child of God from the contamination of His daily walk? This does not mean that unless a believer experiences full victory over sin He cannot be saved, but it does mean that the sins into which any believer unfortunately may slip are provided for in the blood of the cross. And it suggests that victory over sin may be obtained by looking unto Him. Jude 24; I Jno. 1:9; Heb. 12:1-3; I Jno. 2:1-2.


John 13:11

How Jesus must have suffered as He pronounced those dreadful words, "But not all." He was willing to wash the feet of Judas, for He loved Him, wonderful as it may seem to us. He was willing to die for Him on the Cross. But He saw the unbelief which was rankling in his heart, and saw that though Judas was in their company he was not truly one of them. He had known Jesus after the flesh, but I he would not trust Him as his Saviour. Therefore, He had no part in the benefit of the Cross. Men may be church members. They may even hold responsible positions in the church. They may intimately know the story of Jesus' life. But these are not enough to save them. They must trust Jesus as Saviour. Otherwise God must one day pronounce the verdict, "Unclean!" upon them. He has provided for all men in His death but none can benefit thereby who will not trust Him. Jno. 3:18; I Jno. 5:12; Titus 3:5.


John 13:12-17

As has already been stated the spiritual meaning of Jesus' act is far more important than the act itself. Without question He did intend that it should literally be followed as long as it held the significance which it had in His time, but He spoke primarily of the typical significance of His act when He said, "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you." He is calling believers into fellowship in the work of the Cross. He wishes His children to share in the humble service which He rendered there. Matt. 4:19; Phil. 3:10; I Pet. 3:21-24.

We may do this in two ways. We may carry the message of His redeeming love, and of the cleansing power of His shed blood, to lost and sin-defiled souls. As they believe our message and trust Him they will share in the benefits of His ministrations. They will be cleansed from their sins and will be made children of God. We may and should also deal tenderly with backsliding Christians, seeking to lead them back to Him Who loved them and washed them from their sins in His own blood. We should point them to the victory which may be theirs through trusting Him. As they respond to our testimony we are sharing in Jesus' ministry to them, for "If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." This is what it means for us to follow His example. In order to do this we must be willing to take the servant's place. Gal. 3:26; Gal. 6:1; Jno. 5:24; Rom. 1:16-18.