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Humble Service


John 13:1. 3-10a, 12-17
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, April 15


Jesus was about to share the Passover meal with His disciples in the Upper Room. The Passover recalled the last plague that God sent upon Egypt as the firstborn of all the Egyptians were stricken and smote during the night.

It also recalled that the firstborn of the Israelites were spared because the Jews obeyed God’s command to spread the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorposts of their homes. When God saw the blood, He mercifully passed over those homes and no harm came to anyone inside.

Jesus knew the cross was His destiny. In dying on the cross Jesus became our Passover Lamb. Because of His blood, those of us who place our faith in Christ will not experience the awful wrath of God. In His mercy God will pass over us.


The Perfect Example, John 13:1, 3-5

Throughout His ministry Jesus had emphasized the importance of serving others for the glory of God. On more than one occasion His disciples argued as to which one of them was the greatest and Jesus had responded by saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). As Jesus and His disciples gathered for the Passover meal, He decided to teach His disciples one final lesson on servanthood.

Jesus and His disciples had walked many miles to reach the Upper Room where they were to share in the Passover meal. Their sandaled feet were tired, dirty, and irritated. It was customary for the host of a meal to provide a servant who would wash the feet of his guests.

Since there was no servant present to fulfill this courtesy, Jesus took it upon Himself to do this unpleasant task. He went from disciple to disciple, kneeling to wash their feet using a basin filled with cool water. After washing their feet, He dried them with a towel.

Three years earlier, John the Baptist had said of Christ, “The One who is coming after me is more powerful than I; I am not worthy to take off His sandals” (Matthew 3:11). Now the One whose sandal John the Baptist felt unworthy to remove was washing the feet of His own disciples, disciples who had earlier argued among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. Oh, what an amazing and patient Savior we serve!

Sadly, in today’s churches it seems we haven’t learned much from the disciples’ struggle with pride. We compete for “bragging rights” in attendance, budgets, and facilities. Our ministers, longing for recognition, often insist on being called “senior pastor” or “doctor.”

Our staff members struggle for power and influence. And many of our deacons prefer managing money and policy over visiting the sick and the lonely. From pastor to layman, we all seem to be consumed with our own importance and ambitions. Yet Christ has called us to a life of self-denial and service.


The Natural Response, John 13:6-10a

Peter was perplexed when Jesus came to wash his feet and he scolded Him for doing so. Peter was missing the point. Jesus reminded Peter that the guest who bathes and then travels to the home of his host needs only to have his feet washed. Peter had already put his faith in Jesus; he was saved. He did not need to be saved again and again. But Peter did need to regularly confess his sins so that his fellowship with God might remain strong and vibrant.

R. Kent Hughes writes, “As justified believers, the disciples did not need a radical new cleansing, but rather a daily cleansing from the contaminating effects of sin.” In Christ we are justified only once, but as we confess our day-to-day struggle with sin we experience the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit’s continuous cleansing and renewal.

Peter also needed to realize a second thing. We are to glorify God and express our love for Him through service to others. If Jesus was fulfilled in serving others, should we not follow His example in doing the same?


The Divine Blessing, John 13:12-17

Jesus told His disciples that He had set an example for them that they might learn to wash the feet of one another. He told them that in denying themselves to serve one another they would experience a great blessing.

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage ... [but] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5 ff).

John Calvin once wrote, “It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” When the disciples looked down to see their Master washing their feet surely they must have been humbled.

Certainly they must have reasoned that if the Lord would do such a thing for them, He must have loved them very much.

And if the Lord would do such a thing for them, how could they possibly not do the same for each other?

True humility is a simple matter of recognition. When we begin to see Christ for who He is, we cannot help but see ourselves for who we really are. As a result, a cleansing and refreshing stream begins to flow from our churches into the communities surrounding us so that lives are changed and God is glorified.