Stepping Into Greatness: John 13:1-17


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We’ve now come to the point in the gospels where all four writers slow down and describe the last supper Jesus shares with His disciples. Jesus knew that the next 12 hours would change everything and challenge much of what these disciples believed about the Messiah’s role.

However, Jesus does something interesting during this meal that catches the disciples off guard. Let’s read about what happened. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 13, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, John begins sharing about the Last Supper by saying:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Pausing really quickly, I find that last phrase amazing. John tells us that Jesus loved His own who were in the world to the end. While this could be simply saying that Jesus loved them enough to face death, I wonder if it also means that Jesus loves all of His people through to the end of the world.

When challenges and trials come to God’s people in this life, know that Jesus loves you, and He will keep loving you till the end!

Picking back up in verse 2, John continues by telling us that:

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Before continuing further, I want to draw your attention onto an amazing truth Jesus lives out through what John has just shared. After describing how Judas Iscariot was already on the path towards being the betrayer, John tells us that the Father had put all things under Jesus’ power and that Jesus was aware of this.

This statement has two huge implications. The first is that everything that happens following this moment in Jesus’ life is 100% within His control. This means that even though Jesus’ prayer in the garden was for God’s will to be done, God gave Jesus the freedom to choose whether or not to go through with the betrayal, arrest, abuse, rejection, and ultimate death on the cross. The idea that Jesus wanted to avoid the cross and that Judas Iscariot cut Jesus’ life short fails the simple reading of this verse.

If Jesus wanted to avoid the cross, there was dozens of ways He could have done so because God had put all things under His power!

The second amazing implication is that knowing or realizing that all things were put within His power, the first thing Jesus does is get up, take His outer robe off, wrap a towel around His waist, and step into the lowest possible role a person could have in that society. The role of a foot washer was the very bottom of the roles for servants, and Jesus, when He was at His greatest, steps into the lowest role to teach the disciples a powerful truth about humility and service.

As Jesus went around the room washing feet, He would have washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Him, and even this act of humility would not be enough to break Judas Iscariot off of the path he had chosen.

However, one disciple protests Jesus’ actions. Continuing in verse 6, we read that:

He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

In this passage and Jesus’ teaching, He sets a new bar for humility. After Jesus was finished washing the disciple’s feet, He tells them that no servant is greater than his master is. Jesus, the Master, has just stepped into the lowest role imaginable in the disciples’ minds, and now Jesus is challenging them, and us, to step into an even lower role.

While I don’t know about your experience, every time I have washed someone else’s feet as part of a communion ceremony, it is both a very humbling experience, and it is a little awkward. From the perspective Jesus shares after this illustration, we are challenged to serve others at the lowest levels of society, and to never think of ourselves as above any level of service.

Jesus never thought He was above any task that needed to be done, and He challenges His disciples in the same way. If Jesus was willing to do anything and everything to save God’s people from sin, we should be willing to step down and serve in any and every way God has called us to.

Jesus modeled stepping down through His life. He stepped down from heaven to come to earth as a baby. He steps down to humanity, specifically John the Baptist, by being baptized at the start of His ministry. He steps down into the lowest role of a servant after serving as a teacher, healer, and giver throughout his time on earth. And Jesus stepped down into death in the most painful, humiliating way that society has created, because that is how much God loves you and I!

While there is still plenty of details left to discover along the path leading to the cross, Jesus begins this night by demonstrating service in one of the most profound ways.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and accept His challenge to you in the areas of service, humility, and helping others. Never think of yourself as above a certain type of help or service. If Jesus ever thought He was above something or someone, He intentionally stepped under them, and He has called us to do the same. As followers of Jesus, we should focus on ways we can step down and serve instead of stepping up for status. If God wants to bless us with status, it should be only because we are serving others that well.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your personal connection to Jesus strong. A personal relationship with God is possible today, and a personal relationship leads us from this point forward into eternity. Never let your personal relationship rest or be dependent on someone else’s relationship with God. God loves you personally and He wants a personal relationship with you without anyone else getting in the way.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 22: While we might often think the greatest person is the one with the most status, Jesus challenges this idea through one of the things He modeled during the Last Supper with the disciples. Discover how Jesus uses this personal illustration to challenge all of His followers throughout history.

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