John chapter 13 commences a new section in this Gospel. So far, the Lord has been confronted by the world - religious, political, and social; now He is with His own. It is fitting that the section commences with cleansing, and we may see how the Lord teaches His lesson from it
The cleansing mentioned here is not specifically that from the world with all its rejection of the Christ, nor is it that from the flesh alone, to which each one of us is always prone. Here it would seem to be that need for cleansing from the influences of Satan himself. No doubt, the two former conditions - the world and the flesh - are to be included, but as we read the first twenty verses it becomes clear that two principal persons are at work - the Lord Jesus with His own, and Satan with his own.
John specifically reminds us that the movements of the Lord were according to a pre-planned course - He came from God, He went to God. In the intuitive knowledge of this, when the supper had come, and in that calm dignity which always marked Him, He rises from the supper table to lay aside His garments, to take a linen towel and gird Himself in readiness to perform the role of the most menial bondslave of the household. Girded, He then pours some water into the washhand basin. He then works His way from one to another of His own, until He came to Peter.
Peter must have been watching the silent movements of the Lord with more than casual interest. He has noted that his Master has taken the place of the Slave among them, so that when it is his turn to receive his Master’s service he strongly resists it, recognizing who the Lord is and also who he (Peter) is. To some degree this is commendable in Peter, yet as on other occasions, it was out of keeping with the Lord’s intentions, and therefore must be reproved. Hearing this reproving, he swings to the other extreme; not realizing the significance of the hand basin (not large enough for bathing), he desires to be completely washed by such an One as his Lord Note how gently the Lord brings all this into perspective with His own intentions. and the submission of Peter is accomplished.
This action of the Lord among His own, undertaken as it was without introduction or explanation, must have puzzled each of them, possibly with the exception of Judas who, by now, must have found himself out of harmony with the rest. In fact, it seems possible that the Lord had excluded him from the washing. If so. He passed by Judas so unobtrusively, that the incident had gone completely unnoticed by the remainder.
The purpose of this action is now to be made clear to this bewildered little group so much in His affections, and at such a time. But first let us look at His preparation for it. He laid aside His garments, and taking a linen towel. He quietly fastened it around Himself. This first action was without ostentation, as would be every attitude of the Lord that followed. He poured water into a hand basin. Then He performed the object lesson which has been handed down so beautifully to us.
For us to be in Christ (salvation) the cleansing has to be complete washing - the loosing and removal of all that is contrary to Him.
For us to be with Christ (communion) the cleansing requires the removal of contracted defilement during the daily walk. It is this second condition which the Lord is bringing to the attention of His own at this time, perhaps including removing them from the one who had turned his allegiance to another master and who must bear the guilt of it.
Clean, here, means free from impure admixture; without blemish, spotless; pure; blameless; innocent; free from guilty desires (W. E. Vine); and so the Lord was shepherding His own away from the contamination which was then present in their midst.
Having completed His object lesson, He again takes His garments and as the Teacher and Lord explains the meaning of what He has done. He then brings home the lesson by emphasizing the example He has just given. Wonderful Teacherl
Having done this He then turns the titles round which they gave to Him: If I then your Lord and Teacher, v.14. He has completed the lesson as Teacher; He has equipped them with the knowledge of what to do, backed up with the demonstration of howto do it, and now He says. As I have done to you, ye should do also. He is going to send them on the same service as that which He has just performed upon them. How does He do so? The slave is not above his Lord. What position has He taken? That of a slave. Who is He? The Lord! How could they do other than follow Him who were His disciples so beautifully brought into the slavery of love. Glorious Lord!
Many have been the exhortations given about loving service between believers. They should be borne in mind; how much we stand in need of them and should take note of them as given from the Lord. Yet there seems to be another dimension to add to these exhortations. When Paul was exhorting the Philippian believers he says, “if (there be) any comfort of love . . . Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”, Phil. 2. 1-5. On to loving service, Paul builds the lowliness of mind which the Lord exhibited so beautifully in our chapter. And the Lord says, As I have done to you, ye should do also Let us consider how this is to be implemented.
We live in a day when the activities of Satan are very marked and very subtle. These activities can intrude into the lives of the believers in many and varied ways. Some of these intrusions appear so slight that it may be thought that to point them out would be to “strain out the gnat”, Matt. 23. 24 R.V. Yet in their ultimate they are designed by the adversary to reduce the savour of the salt.
Perhaps an example is the relinquishing (because of time or circumstance) of the family breakfast, or at least one meal in the day, where loving converse between each member is held, followed by the family altar at which the family’s problems are brought before the Father by the family’s head. The result may be family difficulties and family sorrows as the years pass. There are of course many other ways, some more subtle, by which intrusion can take place.
How can believers be preserved by this service of feet washing? We look again to our Lord and note firstly, He knew whence He came. Whilst ours is from a different position, yet it is good to know whence we come if we are to engage in such service to fellowbelievers. The Psalmist says, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings”. Psa. 40. 2. When we realize this, we shall be very careful in our corrective ministry. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”, Gal. 6. 1, 2.
The second thing to note is that He knew where He was going. In like manner we know where we are going, for He is our Forerunner. Each one purchased with the precious blood is destined for the Father’s house. How careful, then, we should be to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”, and not “as being lords over God’s heritage”, however unintentionally, “but being ensamples to the flock”, Eph. 4. 3; Phil. 1. 27; 1 Pet. 5. 3.
The third thing is that He laid aside His garments, took a linen towel and girded Himself, demonstrating that He “made himself of no reputation … he humbled himself”, Phil. 2. 7, 8. We too should be stripped for such service, and girded in righteousness (the fine linen is the righteousness of saints) and humility. Peter says, “Yea, all of you … be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble”, 1 Pet. 5. 5.
Fourthly, He poured water into a hand basin. Surely the water speaks of the Word of God, cf Eph. 5. 26. The humble and girded servant must have an adequate supply of this Water from which to pour! This is costly work: in time, in prayer, in meditation, and in gathering. It cannot be done lightly, nor yet without the enabling of the Spirit. How many a well-intentioned service has been abortive, where this has not been remembered!
There are two other features to be seen from the hand basin These are, (i) it is not purgative cleansing that is involved, and (ii) it is a measured amount which is to be administered.
The cleansing work here is that of fellowship in the Word in such a way that the outcome will be to shepherd the believers - for each of us stands in need of it - by making much of the Lord: Himself, most importantly: His character; and His work. The measure is each man according to his eating, and may it substantially increase.
Making much of Him will surely stimulate the hearts of the believers, and they will then respond to His love which is “unto the end” - of time? Yes! Of sacrifice? Yes! Of depth of condescension? Yes! To the uttermost! Wondrous Bondslave!
The Lord regarded as abomination what many were supposedly doing in His Name; hence “they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened. and heard it. and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts”, Mal. 3. 16, 17.
Separated to God they were - in this dark day may He find more thinking upon His name!