A Serving Life


Sunday School Lesson for December 1, 2002


Background Passage: John 13:1-38


Focal Teaching Passage: John 13:1-17



Jesus Washes the Disciple Feet (13:1-11)


Verses 1-2

John sets the stage for this profoundly significant moment in the lives of the disciples by noting that this episode occurred “just before the Passover Feast” as Jesus gathered with His men one final time. John also informs us that Jesus was fully aware of the fact that the moment of His death and departure from “this world” was at hand.  In addition, Verse 1 provides us with a glimpse into the motive and meaning of this powerful demonstration—“Having loved his own. . . . he now showed them the full extent of his love.” In verse 2 we learn that it was at the time when the “evening meal was being served” and that Judas had already been “prompted” by Satan “to betray Jesus.” 



Verses 3-5

With the full understanding of His identity as the sovereign Lord—“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his authority”—Jesus “got up from the meal” and assumed the dress—He “wrapped a towel around his waist”—and position of a typical household servant—He “began to wash the disciple’s feet.”  Typically, foot washing was done before a meal. The custom of the day dictated that the hosts provide a slave at the door in order to wash the feet of the dinner guests as they arrived for the meal.  In situations where no servant was present, one of the early arriving guests would perform this function. In addition, it should be understood that people reclined at meals, leaning on one elbow as they lay on their side.  Since utensils were not normally used, people ate with their hands. The table on which the meal was served was probably a low rectangular block of wood. With guests so reclined at the table, the necessity of thorough foot washing becomes obvious!



Verses 6-9

These verses detail Jesus’ attempt to wash the feet of Simon Peter. When the Lord came to him, Peter quizzed Him rather bluntly—“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus responded that while Peter could not grasp the true significance of this action, he would “understand” later on. However, in his typically brash way, Peter declared “No!” and added,  you shall never wash my feet.”


In response to the direct protestation of Peter, Jesus informed him that “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Obviously, this explanation by Jesus indicated that His humble ministry on behalf of the disciples had a profoundly deeper meaning than Peter comprehended.  The cleansing of the feet pointed to a much different and vastly superior cleansing that only Christ could provide.  However, Peter did understand just enough to quickly change his attitude toward the notion of Christ washing his feet—“not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (v. 9).



Verses 10-11

At this stage, Jesus provided the disciples with a fuller explanation of His actions. He pointed out to them that the one who has already “had a bath” is in need only of the washing of his feet since “his whole body is clean.” Here Christ apparently means that the disciples had already been made spiritually clean and been fully reconciled to God by faith in Him. They had, as it were, received the bath of Christ’s cleansing power in salvation. Yet, there was still the need to regularly cleanse the feet (rather than the whole body). In other words, though they were saved (v. 8), they still required the mercy and forgiveness of God as they lived in this world. So at one level, this incident serves to prepare the disciples for what Christ was to experience in Jerusalem on the cross. Both the footwashing and the cross would be “supreme displays of Jesus’ love for his own (v. 1b). The footwashing was shocking to Jesus’ disciples, but not half as shocking as the notion of a Messiah who would die the hideous and shameful death of crucifixion, the death of the damned” [Carson, 467]. At another level, it displayed the necessity of living in the spirit of humble repentance, daily trusting in Christ’s abundant grace.


Note also in verse 10 that the Lord spoke rather pointedly of Judas—“And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  The betrayer, who was in full cooperation with the schemes of Satan himself, also received the benefit of Christ’s humble ministry.  Even though Jesus “knew who was going to betray him” (v. 11), He still washed his feet as well. Here we are brought face-to-face with the fact that proximity to Christ, discipleship, and the reception of His blessings is no guarantee of eternal salvation. 




Jesus Teaches About Service (13:12-17)


Verses 12-15

At this point in the evening, Jesus “put on his clothes and returned to his place.” He then posed a direct question to His men—“Do you understand what I have done for you?” (v. 12).  Before allowing them to reply Jesus provided a clear explanation.


Ø      First, He set the stage by reminding the men of His true identity as “Teacher” and “Lord” (v. 13).  Jesus, therefore, had every right to receive service. Yet, out of love for His own, He assumed the dress and ministry of a salve.



Ø      Secondly, having established His unique and exalted position as Lord of all, Jesus called upon His men to follow His “example” of self-sacrificial service—“you also should wash one another’s feet” (vv. 14-15).


The point, then, is quite apparent.  If Jesus, the Sovereign Lord and King of the universe, is willing to lay aside His rights and privileges to serve sinners in such a humble, self-giving way, how much more should his disciples be willing and ready to do the same.



Verses 16-17

Here Christ further amplifies His point by reminding the disciples that “no servant is greater than his master.”  That is, no servant or “messenger” of Christ is excluded from the moral obligation to carefully follow the example of his or her Lord.  As Carson explains, “no emissary has the right to think that he is exempt from tasks cheerfully undertaken by the one who sent him, and no slave has the right to judge any menial task beneath him after his master has already performed it” [468].


In verse 17 the lesson passage concludes with Christ’s announcement that blessings will be experienced by those who act in accordance with those truths which they have come to “know.”  Thus, the disciple’s greatest fulfillment in life will come in the context of full obedience to the words of the Lord—“you will be blessed if you do them.”




Major Themes for Application and Reflection


One:  The profound love of Jesus for His own.  Focus upon the words of verse 1—“having loved his own who were in the world.”  How does the assurance that we are enveloped in the everlasting love of Christ affect us? How are we challenged by this fact?





Two: Service, Jesus style. Notice how Christ served. Pay particular attention to what He did not do (Hint: He did not announce His service ahead of time; He did not wait until someone asked Him to serve; He did not selfishly call attention to what He had done). Compare this passage with Philippians 2:1-11.





Three: The secret of blessedness. What is the connection between obedience to Christ’s commands and personal fulfillment as His disciple?  In light of this, why are so many believers unhappy, bitter, and unfulfilled in life?




Thanksgiving Bonus: A Suggested Teaching Outline



What is Required to Serve Successfully?


One—Adopt the Role of a Servant (vv. 3-5)


Two—Develop the Ability to Receive (vv. 6-10)


Three—Follow the Example of Jesus (vv. 11-17)



Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!