Five Minute Devotions: John 13
John 13 transitions into the Last Supper. Unlike the relatively quick look that Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us, John goes into sprawling detail over four chapters about the conversations of Jesus here in the upper room and on their way to Gethsemane.
There is also an interesting connection with John 12. Not even a week earlier, Jesus’s feet had been extravagantly anointed with expensive perfume. It was a humbling and costly way to acknowledge him as king and Messiah. And now that king and Messiah stooped to wash the feet of his own disciples.
A Humble Messiah
John doesn’t say that Jesus indicated at all what he was going to do. Simply that he got up from the table, prepared the bowls, got his towel, and looked expectantly at them. Peter, of course, is the first to speak:
He came to Simon Peter, who asked him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I’m doing you don’t realize now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:6-7
It’s interesting that Jesus does not answer him directly. This looks like a yes or no question, but it isn’t to Jesus. Jesus answers in a way that goes beyond the physical action to its spiritual meaning. Right now, they will not understand his actions as a final act of human love and touch. They will not know how this act is a humble call into servant leadership. They cannot see that this stooping of Jesus to wash feet is but a precursor of him on his knees with a crown of thorns being pressed onto his head.
This action by Jesus expresses his love for his disciples in a clear and evident fashion. It’s more accessible imagery for them than the cross would be at this moment. Just as he is going to the cross to cleanse their sin inwardly, now he will illustrate that by washing the dirtiest part of them outwardly.
An Arrogant Disciple
Peter’s tone in his question seems arrogant. That’s confirmed by his response to Jesus’s answer.
“You will never wash my feet,” Peter said. – John 13:8a
Perhaps Peter thought this was some sort of test. More likely, he wasn’t thinking at all about Jesus’s motivations and only considering his. Foot washing should be beneath Jesus. If Jesus washed his feet, it would seem like his messiah was subservient to him. Peter felt the need to protect Jesus (see: a couple chapters later in Gethsemane). He would protect his position by not allowing him to do things that a disciple should do for his master—not the other way around.
But Jesus’s entire ministry had been about doing things that, socially speaking, he ought not to have done. He spoke with Gentiles and Samaritans and invited them into the Kingdom. He had table fellowship with corrupt government officials and sinners of all stripes. Peter should have known that Jesus’s ministry was all about stooping low to save the lost.
Peter’s arrogance lies in that, while his motivations were good, he was not listening to his savior. He tried to make Jesus be who he thought Jesus should be. Not a Messiah who serves, but a Messiah who is served. Not a Messiah who cleans the dirty parts, but a Messiah who should be the one being reverenced. Peter wasn’t seeing the whole person of Jesus.
A Repentant Heart
With Jesus’s response to this, Peter finally begins paying attention. His reaction is enough to give any reader whiplash.
Jesus replied, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” – John 13:8b-9
Peter doesn’t do anything by half measures. When Jesus proclaims that this washing is instrumental to fellowship, Peter is (quite literally) all in. If the basin had been bigger, Peter would have jumped in it. Jesus had told him he wouldn’t understand and Peter had scoffed at that. But now, understanding that washing leads to fellowship, he suddenly and unabashedly pivots.
Peter’s repentance is a light bulb moment. He doesn’t take time to consider it. He doesn’t mull it over. With the recognition of sin comes repentance. Peter is an excellent model for our own lives. As soon as he recognizes an activity or a message that puts him out of fellowship with God, he immediately and emphatically reverses course.
Like Peter, we make our declaration, “Not just our feet, but our heads and hands also.” With David we cry “Wash me and make me whiter than snow.” Pinpoint sin in our lives and convict us of it so that we might come to repentance.
Have you ever participated in a foot washing ceremony before? If so, what impact did it have on you?
What is the central theme of John 13? How do we live it out today?
Today’s header image is Duccio Di Buoninsegna’s 14 century painting The Washing of the Feet.
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