The Stooping Lord
John’s second supper is as full of the behaviour of the Lord Jesus Himself as his first is of the state and conduct of His disciples. John fills the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters with the record of it and divides the narrative at the thirtieth verse of chapter thirteen (not at 13. 38). What Jesus did at the supper fills the verses which precede this dividing mark and what He taught on that occasion the verses that follow.
Three natural paragraphs compose the former part, each of which provides a different picture of Christ: vv. 1 to 12, the Stooping Lord; vv. 13 to 20, the Divine Teacher and Prophet; vv. 21 to 30, the Grieved Host.
What John omits is as full of meaning as what he says. No mention of the room, nor of the man with the pitcher of water who guided them thither; not a syllable about its furnishings, nor a hint of the time is found. The old Passover, the taking of the loaf and the cup and the new manner of the Kingdom, though mentioned elsewhere, are not referred to here. With John the reflection of sixty years had allowed these matters to subside to the various levels of the more common-place. Though he recognises the symbols, yet he is above them, and his recorded thoughts of the supper shew that with him the supreme matter is Christ Himself. It is with this he wishes to impress the Ephesian believers who had left their first love. Proper and necessary matters engaged them, all of which they ought to have done, and not to have left this engagement of heart with their Lord Himself undeveloped. Back to this supremely important matter of the vital touch of Christ in all these things, and the pulsing love to Him of which He is so worthy does the apostle of love endeavour to woo them by describing the grace of Him on whose breast he had reclined.
The beauties of a picture owe much to their background. This is provided in the threefold reference to the knowledge of Jesus. Against this John paints in chosen words this charming picture of His love and grace.
The Lord knew that His hour had come, but no consciousness of impending suffering, however deep, could deter the expression of His love to them. The humble service of washing their feet became spontaneously the means of its manifestation. It is understood that nothing is too great for His love, but John saw, in the conduct of Jesus at the supper, that nothing was too small. Knowledge of the impending pain and shame of the ghastly portal of the cross through which He was about to pass to go to the Father created no preoccupation. His attention to them was perfect to the smallest detail. It was this selfless devotion perceived at the supper that taught John his Master’s love and moved him to adore. Surely, he records it not only to magnify His Lord and not only to express his own admiration of Him these years after, but also in the tenderest and perhaps most subtle way to warn us of preoccupation lest our devotion to Him be diverted. For us there is no foreknowledge of an impending cross, but it is possible that even the fairer things of the very blessings He has afforded us create preoccupation and we miss the Person, Whom we come to remember at the supper.
Jesus knew that all things were already in His hands. Yet the consciousness of such power produced no elevation. Fully aware of the wealth and supremacy which already were His, He laid aside His garments, and stooped to their feet. The pitcher, the basin and the towel part of the furnishings of that Eastern room, had lain untouched by the disciples who were absorbed to the point of complete neglect of them by thoughts of their own paltry greatness. John seems almost to make a confession as he records what he does. For he, as the others, had missed for ever, by such preoccupation, the opportunity of washing the feet of the Eternal One. The humility of his Lord moved John’s heart to worship Him Who had thus exhibited it so simply, and at the same time had reached his conscience and developed his spiritual education by another lesson of self-disdain and self-loathing. There is nothing so humbling as glory, and nothing so humbling as the glory of another’s humility which stoops to serve us when the reverse should be true. Has he here also a lesson that the supper is our opportunity to serve Christ? Does he overtly make his confession that we might avoid having to make the same one? Let us not be slow to minister to our Lord at the supper lest the grace of His heart, which will ever minister to us there, shame us as it did them.
Jesus knew well also that Judas had already planned the betrayal, and that the covenant to execute it was made. He knew how the moral process had developed from treacherous vein naturally present, through covetousness to theft, which produced a state like fertile soil for the seed the Devil cast therein; and He knew that now Satan was about to enter and to use the poor wretch that might have been warned earlier had he been ready to accept it. But though the whole process and its already ripened state was clear in the consciousness of Christ He did not become occupied with the evil any more than with foreboding sorrow or limitless power. Treachery was no magnet to His perfect holiness.
To an ordinary person as a magnet it would inevitably have proved successful in dragging thoughts from even the highest levels to occupation with evil. Nevertheless, He Who is ever good and doeth good bestowed goodness upon His betrayer. Jesus washed his feet also, and the wonder of the fact that He did so remained with John and steadied his thoughts to the end of his pilgrimage that he in a world of corruption and treachery and in all too imperfect churches should not become occupied with that above which His Master’s goodness shone.
As John reviewed and recorded the first supper at which he sat he shews himself to be absorbed with the selflessness of the Lord, the absence of all preoccupation with impending pain, the humility of Whose spirit could not be affected by the conscious ownership of worlds on worlds, and, with the holiness that whilst its stoops not to levels of occupation with evil, yet stoops at His betrayer’s feet. This banquet of rich graces in his Master had lasted to sustain his meditation for nigh sixty years, and were as potent as ever to move him to worship the Son and, simultaneously, the Father, Who is thus seen in Him. So writing to his beloved “little children,” he endeavours to enthuse them with his own admiration of Christ, and thus to attract them to the highest levels of experience at the Supper.
The Divine Teacher and Prophet.
Such was the character of the first supper that the disciples who were present at it were not allowed to escape the practical implications of the example of the Lord they had watched. To admire His grace, though it be the highest exercise of the human soul, is not enough of itself. It is natural therefore for John now to present to us the Lord in the fresh character of teacher and prophet.
The question “Know ye what I have done to you?” brought home to them more forcibly the truth of which they were already conscious – He had performed the task of a slave for the sake of their comfort. Lest there should be any evasion of the implications of this, in the plainest of terms, the conduct which will earn the congratulation of the first beatitude of John’s Gospel was stated. “if I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
The comforting, constructive attention to fellow-saints manifested in any little task humbly done for their refreshment was thus enjoined by the example and teaching of Christ at the supper. And who knows how much of the necessity of corrective ministry might be avoided, and how much failure might be circumvented by such ministry of care?
All our Suppers look back to the Cross. At this, the only one which looked forward to it, the Lord predicted the betrayal. But strikingly enough, He did so in a way which did not expose the betrayer, as verses 28 – 29 make clear. This at once provokes the question why He did so at all. The reason is given in v. 19, – “that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I AM!” Or, to put it in other words, that, in the hour when because of the betrayal and the Cross you will have gravest cause to doubt it, you might have unanswerable evidence of My Deity.
To foretell the future with precision and certainty is the prerogative of Deity alone. (Isa. 41. 22 – 23; 44. 7 – 8) This prerogative Jesus used in affectionate and wise forethought for the preservation in them of the faith He had nurtured. When they saw Him hanging upon a felon’s cross executed as a common criminal their strained faith might find some rest in the fact that He had predicted it. And beyond the trial of that faith, and the triumph of it to which He thus ministered, He envisaged their going forth for Him in universal evangelism (vv. 20).
The Pained Host.
The third picture makes us conscious of His true humanity as the former one has done of His real Deity. He Who serenely divested Himself of His garments and stooped to their feet, Who with calm dignity had impressed the lesson of His example and with sublime majesty foretold the future, was troubled. Again He said – “one of you shall betray me”; and, as if to emphasise the depth of His feelings prefaced His repeated prediction with the emphatic, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.”
As the result of this further reference to so ominous an event the whole company were moved to deep heart searching, and to consideration one of the other. The question was asked, the sign of the sop was indicated and was given, and, almost unbelievable as it is, save for the plain statement of vv. 28-29., yet was not the betrayer exposed.
The question formerly proposed as to why this should have been starts again. In all probability the answer is to be found in the result just noted: it set them all in a state of exercise. The questions, “Lord, is it I?”, shew that the fact that there existed the greatest gulf between the heart of the closest follower and the One he followed was brought home to their hearts. To His love there could be no break-down, no failure, no evasion of responsibility, no possibility of treachery. Loving, He loves to the uttermost. To our love, as theirs, what – an honest memory is so salutary that we are silenced as they were. The consciousness of our depravity, and the dread possibilities therein for failure come home to us for our good as we remember Him in the manner He instituted on the very night He was betrayed.
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