It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love …
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (verses 1-4)
I love this chapter. I love its physicality. I love the way basin and towel are forever transformed. I love the Lord for stooping down, tenderly serving, tenderly saving.
And, oh the surprise – twice over in these opening verses. The first surprise comes because we know the whole story. We know what’s coming. We know that the Saviour of the world is going to the cross. As the Passover Lamb, he will lay down his life to take away the sin of the world. We know. Indeed John has been setting up the story all the way through, leading us to the cross.
So now, when John pointedly tells us that Jesus will show his disciples “the full extent of his love”, we expect the cross.
But that’s not what we get. Instead, we get the foot-washing. It’s a real act of service, meeting a real physical need. But more than that, it intentionally shows us something greater – it’s an acted parable. It’s a window into what will indeed come shortly on the cross. He strips away his rights. He humbles himself to serve. He cleanses away dirt. He does what he alone can do, without which his disciples can have no part with him. All of it is true of foot-washing and cross together. The one is a picture of the other.
The second surprise flows out of Jesus’ self-awareness. He knows exactly who he is, where he’s come from and where he’s going. John sets the scene much like Paul does, years, later, when he states: “Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God” (Phil 2:5). What we expect in both instances is some act on Jesus’ part that would fully embrace his exalted status. But, no. Surprise. He comes down. He strips off his rights with his clothing. He wraps the towel around his waist, looking every bit like a common slave. He serves. He washes. He cleanses.
I love this chapter.
O Lord Jesus, thank you that the full extent of your love holds nothing back. You give yourself away, for my sake. You provide full cleansing, full salvation, full life. At full cost to yourself. Thank you.
And praise your name that you are indeed the fully exalted one. Praise you – you are in very nature God. Praise you that at the end of time, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that you are Lord! Yes. And praise you that in the meantime, you have bent your majesty toward service. Praise your name.
Reflect: Consider that the Lord of the Universe has expressed the full extent of his love toward you, personally. Not only that, but he’s done so at the point of your greatest need, weakness, and failing – he’s met you in the very place you need cleansing.
Reflect. Meditate on the reality. Receive his grace.