Jesus, Love Incarnate (John 13)

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We often think of 1 Corinthians 13 as the “Love Chapter” of the Bible because in that chapter, love is so beautifully and eloquently defined – love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, and so on. And while that is certainly a beautiful and thorough description of real love, not the mushy gushy feeling love that pervades our world today, but God’s pure biblical love – it is actually John 13 that should really be called the “love chapter.”
It begins…
John 13
1 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.
This is a powerful statement. John is pointing out as a lead-in to his next story that Jesus was fully aware of what was about to happen, every detail of it, and now that he was alone with his disciples (his own) for a few hours before he would be arrested, John is saying that Jesus spent this time loving them all the more.
In the phrase “he loved them to the end,” the Greek behind “end” is the word TELOS, which has both a meaning of “the end of something” but also a meaning of “completion” or “fullness” or “perfection.”  Some commentators suggest that John was saying more than just continuing to love them until he died, but rather he was now going to show them the full extent of his love. In fact, some bible versions translate it that way.
The point is this. Jesus had already been loving them this whole time, and now that his hour has come and the end of their time together is near, he spends the remaining hours of his life loving them to the fullest. Beginning with a demonstration of what love should really look like among believers.
Let’s pray and get into it.
Before we go further in John 13, let’s back up a little to set the context.
The previous chapter of John recorded the famous Triumphal Entry where Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the coming King to shouts of Hosanna to start His passion week. This passover meal Jesus is about to have with his disciples now in chapter 13 is actually a few days later and many things have happened that John skips over. Remember, he’s writing this 20 years after the other three gospels have been in circulation, so he’s being very intentional about what he’s writing – not just penning another biography.
If you read the other accounts, Jesus was pretty busy during those few days. He did a lot of teaching. Had showdowns with the Pharisees. Cleared out the temple of the marketers again. Gave his famous Olivet Discourse where he spelled out details of the end of the world. And repeatedly predicted that he would be crucified and rise again.
He rode into town on Monday, and now they are sitting down for their passover meal on Thursday night. By Friday afternoon, Jesus would be dead.
John doesn’t record the details of the passover meal that the other gospels do, such as the establishment of the New Covenant that Jesus does with the bread and wine – what we commonly call “communion.” He also doesn’t include the fact that the disciples were once again arguing about who would be the greatest in what they thought was soon to be the restored kingdom.
Remember they are probably in high hopes after that Triumphal Entry and all the other stuff Jesus did over the last few weeks. They think Jesus is about to set up his kingdom and they get to be in the inner circle, so their vying for position among themselves.
But Jesus rebukes them. Luke records Jesus saying…
Luke 22
25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
It’s unknown whether this statement came before the washing of the feet that John records or after. I suspect that it came before, but the disciples still didn’t get it, which is why he stepped the teaching up a notch with a visual demonstration.
Luke also records that it was before this, sometime during the previous few days that Judas went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus.
So, that’s the context of these next few chapters. The city is all a buzz with talk of Jesus. Many love Him. Many hate Him. Everyone is confused by Him. The Pharisees have their traitor and are just waiting for an opportune time to arrest Him. And His disciples still think Jesus is about to conquer the Romans and take the throne of Israel.
And so John writes…
John 13
1 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.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
John always has a unique way of writing. And here as his preface for what Jesus is about to do, he points out some rather important things.
He reminds the reader of just who Jesus was and just what He knew. He knew where He came from, He knew where he was going, and He knew what was about to happen. He knew that God, His father, had granted to him all authority and power. In other words, there was nothing about any of what was about to happen that was out of Christ’s full awareness and control. Even the actions and motives of the traitor in their midst.
And so, with that introduction, John describes the shocking thing that Jesus did with all that power and authority…
4 he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 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.
In most of our English translations it has a “so” at the beginning of verse 4 which would make you think these actions were because of his knowing…but that’s not in the Greek. The Greek simply says that Jesus did these things while knowing all of that. While knowing his own true status as the Son of God, equal with God Himself, and rightful ruler of the world, Jesus got up and started doing the job of a slave. Amazing!
I suspect he did this as there were still murmurs around the table about the coming Kingdom and what kind of crowns they would each get and such…
And honestly, who could blame them? In that same passage in Luke I shared a minute ago, just after Jesus rebuked and corrected them about jockeying for position, he also added…
Luke 22
28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
It’s almost unfair. Jesus slaps them on the wrist for their prideful arguments, and then proceeds to tell them they will each have thrones and be judging the twelve tribes of Israel in Christ’s kingdom. Yes, he told them that to be the greatest you have to be the least. And rulers are really servants…but, I’d imagine just like children, and just like you and I would be, they really only heard the last part about thrones and such and probably went right back to daydreaming about what kind of crown they would wear.
I think Jesus did that on purpose so he could repeat the lesson both for them, and for us.
And so, when words failed to impress, Jesus resorts to an object lesson in taking on the role of their slave even though he is by right their superior and king.
It seems that none objected until He came to Peter. Perhaps they were shocked. Perhaps they were scared to ask. Perhaps at least one felt he was finally getting the recognition he deserved. But not Peter…
John 13
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “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.
Aside from their feet getting clean and the object lesson on servanthood, there are actually some clear theological implications in the statements of Jesus.
When He said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” He wasn’t just talking about his feet. He was talking about Peter’s soul. He was talking about the washing away of Peter’s sins by the blood he was about to shed for him. He was talking about salvation by grace alone through faith. Basically, He was telling Peter and us that we cannot wash ourselves clean, our spirits that is. We cannot make up for our sins that have made us dirty. We must let Jesus wash us, or else we have no part in him. We can’t be with Him on our own merit. We must receive His forgiveness and allow Him to wash us clean.
And once you have done that, your whole body, or rather your whole soul, is clean, but may need a foot washing from time to time as we are still prone to sin.  That’s what His next statement implies.
“Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.”
In other words, those who have been cleaned, transformed, renewed, saved by Christ taking over and the Holy Spirit moving in do not need to be saved again and again, but we do need to confess our sins to God on a regular basis so He can be faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Unconfessed sin does not make us unsaved and going to hell, but it does cause a break in the close relationship you are to have with God. Just like in any relationship when one party offends or sins against the other – it causes a rift in the relationship until that wrong is cleared through confession and forgiveness.
Just as Jesus said, they wouldn’t realize what he was doing then, but later they would. And John actually writes extensively on what I just covered in his letters.
But aside from the theology lesson, Jesus was also giving them a very practical lesson on how we are to treat each other as His followers.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. 
No doubt the room was dead silent as the disciples sat there stunned and confused – they had just been arguing about which one of them was the greatest, and the One who truly was the greatest just silently got up from the table, undressed, and started washing their dirty feet.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
I imagine Jesus just calmly sitting back down and looking around the table directly into their eyes as he said this, but what his disciples heard was “now, shut up and listen.”
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.
He’s saying, look guys, how many times have I covered this? My kingdom is upside down from this world. In this world you have ranks, and those in the high ranks lord over those in the low ranks. And the low ranks are forced to serve and cater to the high ranks. NOT SO IN MY KINGDOM!
In fact, in MY KINGDOM, with ME AS KING, LORD, and TEACHER – I have just served you, my subjects and followers, as a common slave. I didn’t demand that one of you do this job as would have been my right. But I did this so you can see what you have thus far failed to hear. Each of you, instead of fighting over who is the greatest, you should race each other to the bottom and be the lowliest of servants toward each other. Then you will be great in my kingdom. And you will also be blessed in this life as you live this way.
What an important lesson for all of us. In the family of Christ there should be no vying for position. No politics. No sense of status or clout, but we are all to wash each other’s feet. We are all to serve each other in such a way that there is no job or task beneath any of us. That doesn’t mean we should all start fighting over who gets to clean the toilets. It’s an attitude of the heart that says, Lord – I will do for you and for your church anything you ask of me, and then let Him decide who does what.
But this only applies for those in the family. As Jesus is about to point out, even in his group of 12, not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is really part of the Kingdom.
18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
And of course, he’s referring to Judas – whose feet he had just washed along with the others. The man that we have known from the start would betray him, but the other disciples had no idea, despite Jesus referencing it a few times before this. Even now they will not perceive it. But Jesus knew it from day 0.
19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
These statements were designed to encourage the disciples after the betrayal happened. The first shows that he is in complete control of the situation and not being stabbed in the back unknowingly. His foreknowledge and self control in the matter show that he truly is who He says he is, so their faith in Him is proper. They have not been fooled.
The second statement assures them that the betrayal changes nothing of the plans of God to use them as future apostles for the gospel.
Neither of these are things they were thinking at the moment, but when they needed it most, the Holy Spirit would remind them of these things and give them strength.
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.
Clearly Judas had hidden his hypocrisy well. Imagine the hurt you would feel in a situation like that if you were one of the 11. The thought of betrayal was unimaginable at this moment – remember, they have no idea what is coming. They still think Jesus is just inches from the throne. Why would someone betray him now when hey were finally getting somewhere!?!
And so, Peter never one to remain silent, gets John to find out who it is…
 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
What happens next moves quickly and is totally lost on the disciples, despite what Jesus tells John. Perhaps he spoke quietly so no one else heard him.
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
This is one of the most amazing things about this story to me. What this shows emphatically is that there was never any part of these events or any moment in time when Jesus was not in complete control of the situation. As he stated at a different time, a couple chapters ago in talking about his being the Good Shepherd…
John 10
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
No part of this whole process was out of his control, even Judas the betrayer. Even Satan. When Jesus told him “What you are about to do, do quickly” I don’t wonder if Jesus was actually talking to Satan rather than Judas. Not even Satan is out of the power and control of Jesus. He has to obey. No doubt he was a willing party in the death of Christ because he didn’t know what it would accomplish. And so neither Satan or Judas are excused for their crimes, even though their evil intent was used by God for the ultimate good.
John continues that even now the disciples didn’t realize what was going on.
John 13
28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
That last statement of “And it was night.” Likely has a double meaning. It probably was dark out at that point, but remember what Jesus had said to them when they were heading to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead? He talked about night and day, with day being the time of Jesus’ ministry. Well, now it was night in that respect too. The events that would end in His death had been set in motion.
The next thing Jesus says is fascinating.
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
Why would Jesus speak of being glorified right now? It’s because obedience brings God glory. Jesus, remember, does nothing but what the Father instructs Him to do. Even laying down his own life. And what Jesus had just done was seal his fate, and it brought him and God great glory, both for the immediate obedience and for what would be the ultimate result of all this in His resurrection and the salvation of countless lives.
Talk about having perspective. Jesus is awesome!
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
Now that the traitor is gone and he’s with only his true followers, Jesus spends the next few hours giving them some serious and deep teaching that I will be covering over the next few weeks. But he begins it with a continuation of the object lesson he had already started before Judas left and issues them a new command.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The chapter ends with Jesus predicting that Peter would deny him, which I’ll talk about in a later message because I don’t want it to overshadow what Jesus just said.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Remember that John began this chapter and this scene by pointing out how Jesus had loved them and would love them to the end, to completion, to perfection. And remember that Jesus demonstrated in a physical way what that love looks like in the washing of feet. And not only that, but Jesus also demonstrated it in his interaction with Judas. He loved Judas too. He loved Judas and gave him every chance to change his mind, knowing that he never would. And instead of exposing him or destroying him, he encouraged him to go do what he had to do because it was all part of the plan that would become His ultimate expression of love on the cross.
Jesus expressed some serious love here in this chapter, and now he’s commanding – not suggesting, not recommending – commanding his followers to love each other in the same way.
And it’s really not that new of a command. The greatest commandment already instructs us to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second is like it – love your neighbor as yourself.
So, it’s not a totally new concept, but it does raise the bar quite a bit.
The second commandment tells us to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love others as much as you love yourself. But Jesus raises the bar and commands his disciples to love others as much as HE LOVES THEM.
This is bigger than the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. No, Jesus says to treat others the way God treats you.
This is a much higher calling. Because if it’s only love others as I love myself – what if I don’t really love myself that much? Jesus breaks through that and gives us a command that is no respecter of persons and does not depend on your experience or feelings. He tells us to love like He does.
Which is impossible.
Have you ever really paid attention to the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13?
1 Corinthians 13
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
Clearly that is not describing a human emotion, or even something that a human being is capable of for more than short spurts.
That’s because only God can love this way, because God IS love.
Which means the only way we can keep this command of Jesus – which we MUST – is to let God do it for us.
That’s because Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Not a fruit of the flesh. And the only way we bear fruit is by abiding in the vine. I’ll be getting to that in John 15.
John later writes about this love in the first of his three letters. He is basically expanding upon this command.
1 John 4
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
And he’s not talking about your blood brother or sister, but your spiritual brother and sister, your spiritual family, your church family.
Jesus never intended for the Christian life to be a solo effort. In fact, it’s not possible to do this alone. You can’t follow the second commandment or this new commandment by yourself. It requires others.
Following Christ puts you in a family that comes with great benefits and great responsibilities. And it out that the benefit and responsibility are the same thing: LOVE. Agape – sacrificial – others first – LOVE. Which is a wonderful thing when everyone is doing it.
Let me illustrate. I’m sure many of you have already seen this, but I think it’s worth repeating. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus would have used this analogy instead of the feet washing if they had plastic colored balls back then.
Anyway, I need three volunteers.
It all boils down to surrender again. To being like Jesus in not having a will of our own. But letting Christ live through us. Letting Christ LOVE through us.