Reformed Baptist Church - Providence Baptist Church

How Low Can You Go? (John 13:1-20)

By Pastor Eric Johnson

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Introduction The Love of Christ Rejected The Love of Christ Revealed The Love of Christ’s Proper Response

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Focus Text: John 13:1-20 (ESV)

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him,

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God,

4 rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.

5 Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”

11 For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?

13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.

14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am He.

20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Beginning in John 13:1, notice the scriptures say that Jesus had already loved His disciples.

John 13:1 (ESV):

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

In John 13 we are going to see an example of Biblical love, and Jesus is going to demonstrate and exemplify what this type of love looks like.

On April 15, 1965, a pop song by Jackie DeShannon made its chart debut. It was entitled, “What the World Needs Now is Love”. So what kind of love does she sing about aside from “sweet love”?

We hear the word “love” used in English and we can infer most times by what the speaker is saying whether he’s talking about loving his dog, a steak, or his wife. However, when a Christian uses the word “love” and a non-Christian uses the word “love” are they talking about the same thing? Yes, they are. Here’s the ultimate question, though: Can a non-Christian love the same way that a Christian does? No, it’s impossible.

A non-Christian does not have the capacity to love in that manner. Why? Who puts love in us? Jesus Christ. Therefore, if Christ is not reigning in someone’s heart, he or she cannot love. The love described in that 1965 song refers to sex and self-serving acts. In that song, and even today, the word “love” is spoken and given out like candy. Only to be washed away by the next pretty girl or handsome guy.

How do we know if we truly love someone? Is love an attitude? Is love a response to the flesh? Many will say that in order to know this, we need to learn to love ourselves first.

Matthew 19:19 (ESV):

19 “Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Is this a command to love ourselves? No, we don’t need a command to love ourselves because we already do it. That is already who we are. We do what we do because we love ourselves and we love ourselves more than anybody else.

True love is a self-sacrificing love - a love for the highest benefit of others. In fact, all the times that the word “love” is used in John chapters 13-18 (over 30), it is translated from the Greek word “agape” - love that is for the other person’s highest benefit at all cost and sacrifice. This is humble love. Only a humble person can love like this.

The less interested in ourselves we are, the greater our capacity will be to love others. The lower we go in self-concern, the higher we will go in concern for others. The less self-sacrificing we are, the more we will be willing to sacrifice for others.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 describes what love is.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV):

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant

5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

You may say, “I can’t love like that.” You are correct, you can’t.

2 Corinthians 12:15 (ESV):

15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

Notice that Paul says to the Corinthians that he will “most gladly spend and be spent” for their souls. This is a complete commitment to the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment of others at any cost, at any point, and at any sacrifice. This is what love is.

Love is a complete commitment to the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment of others at any cost, at any point, and at any sacrifice. Sacrifice in and of itself is an expression of love.

John MacArthur, in his sermon, “The Humble Love of Christ” (https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-68/the-humble-love-of-christ), questions what does loving someone in this manner show? When we love like this, it assures us that we are one of the Lord’s. We know this because we have a love that’s been deposited by God which means we belong to Him. God is love and those who love belong to God.

Not only does the world know us by our love, we know our own condition before God by our love. If we say we are believers, and we hate our brothers in the Lord, we are liars. However, if say we are believers and love our brothers in the Lord, then the truth is in us. When we love one another, it becomes a testimony to the world.

John 13:34-35 (ESV):

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is how we put Christianity on display. The most devout Christians don’t murder people, but love them. They love the world in the way that God does. They especially love the brotherhood and manifest that love in a humble expression like what is found in Jesus’ teachings.

Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV):

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

8 And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus is the most humble among most and He loves us greater.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (ESV):

17 …so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

James Montgomery Boice says that the height, breadth, depth and length of His love is beyond - outside, our capacity to conceive.

When we begin applying these truths, we run into passages like Ephesians 5:25.

Ephesians 5:25 (ESV):

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

Our demonstration of love should be at any cost, at any time, and at any expense. As believers, we have a capacity to love and are called to love one another. We have been transformed and now have the capacity to love everyone in a way that the world does not love. It’s this kind of love that separates us from the world. So what does this kind of love look like? What is it manifested as?

In John 13:1, Jesus had loved His disciples to the end. He had loved them to perfection. This was the infinite capacity of divine love. This was fully and forever with all the love with which God could love them. Now Jesus is about to demonstrate that love.


John 13:2 (ESV):

2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him…

One of the themes we see in this chapter is that God is contrasting Judas and Jesus. This even becomes a contrast between Satan and Jesus. Jesus met the worst attack by Satan from Judas with humble love.

Matthew 5:44 (ESV):

44 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

Judas was unmoved by the Lord’s manifestation of His love for him. Jesus even washed his feet. This was a demonstration of Jesus’ love for sinners - even to the worst of sinners.

This manifestation of the Lord’s love, which drew the other disciples to Him, repelled Judas. This is one of the main facts about the Gospel - What one person will receive with open arms and a joyful heart another person will reject.

John 12:4-6 (ESV):

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray Him), said,

5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Judas’ greed and ambition overtook him and Satan inspired his betrayal, but Judas was fully responsible for his actions. His evil heart desired the same things that Satan desired making Judas and Satan co-conspirators in the first-degree murder of our Savior.

John 12:27 (ESV):

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

Even in the midst of being troubled, Jesus is still in full control.


John 13:3-4 (ESV):

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God,

4 rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.

In John 13:3-4, we notice several statements about the theology of who Jesus is:

  1. God had given Jesus all things - this is Jesus’ authority.
  2. Jesus has divine origin - Jesus came from His father.
  3. Jesus has a divine and future glory - He is going back to His father.

“With such power and status at His disposal, we might have expected Him to defeat the devil in an immediate and flashy confrontation, and to devastate Judas with an unstoppable blast of divine wrath. Instead, He washes His disciples’ feet, including the feet of the betrayer.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 462).

The custom in those days was that most people wore sandals and their feet would get dirty and dusty from walking about. When they would go to someone’s house, typically there was either 1) a wash basin available for guests to wash their feet off before entering the house, or 2) a servant present who would wash the guests’ feet. Washing guests’ feet is where most servants would start and was considered the lowliest of positions and tasks.

Here in John 13, there was no servant present. So, this begs the question, why didn’t one of the disciples volunteer to do it? No one was willing to take the initiative to wash one another’s feet.

Matthew 23:11 (ESV):

11 “The greatest among you shall be your servant.”

This was Jesus’ teaching to them, yet when it came time to put it into practice, they avoided it. However, not only did they have dirty feet, they also had dirty desires.

Luke 22:24 (ESV):

24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

In this parallel passage from Luke, we see that they were busy arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom instead of being servants.

In this world we strive for the top position; however, no one strives for the lowest position. This is also the case in our churches. We like being served, but very few like doing the serving.

In other passages, when this same topic of who would be the greatest came up, Jesus would sharply rebuke the disciples, but He didn’t here. Instead He kept silent. He got up, wrapped a towel around Himself, grabbed a basin, and began washing their feet. Did He need to say anything at this point? Many times, no words can be harsher than words when it comes to rebuking someone. Here, the Lord, clad as a lowly servant, knelt before each of them and washed their filthy feet.

John 13:6 (ESV):

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

In the back of their minds, the disciples were looking for who? The messiah - a conquering king. Even into the first part of the book of Acts, they had this mindset.

Acts 1:6 (ESV):

6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They were not expecting a suffering servant savior. Especially one who is a lowly slave.

John 13:7 (ESV):

7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

Did Peter ever come to understand the Lord’s statement? Yes he did.

1 Peter 1:18-19 (ESV):

18 …knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,

19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

1 Peter 2:24 (ESV):

24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 3:18 (ESV):

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…

Though Peter seemed adamant that washing their feet was beneath the Lord, even to the point of rebuking Him, we don’t see Peter trying to take His place either. Peter rebuked the Lord once before.

Matthew 16:21-23 (ESV):

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Though Peter’s modesty is admirable, the Lord requires obedience.

John 13:8 (ESV):

8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Here, Jesus corrects their misunderstanding of His mission. He was coming as that selfless sacrifice foretold in Isaiah 53. Peter needed to accept the reality of the Lord’s humiliation. Jesus needed them to understand that only those cleansed by Him could have a relationship with Him.

The word “washing” or “washed” is a metaphor for spiritual cleansing throughout the New Testament.

1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV):

11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV):

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,

26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

27 so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Titus 3:4-6 (ESV):

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,

5 He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

6 whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…

Hebrews 10:19-22 (ESV):

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,

20 by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh,

21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and confess their sins can be cleansed by Him and united with Him in eternal life.

Then in John 13:9, we see Peter’s overreaction.

John 13:9 (ESV):

9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

Here, Peter seemed to miss the Lord’s point altogether. However, he also seemed to want it all which was characteristic of Peter’s nature - He was all-in on whatever he did.

John 13:10 (ESV):

10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”

Jesus’ comment was just not hearkening back to the custom at that time, but was an affirmation of eternal security. He’s basically saying that once He cleanses you, you never have to shower again, you only need to wash your feet. Jesus imputes righteousness so that we can have complete forgiveness of sins.

The redeeming work of Christ was done once, but we get dirty feet. We need daily cleansing for sanctification. Being in the world, we are redeemed and imputed righteousness positionally, but we’re not perfect yet. The person we were from our past life still makes a daily appearance.

Notice what Jesus says in the later part of John 13:10, “And you are clean…” Meaning Peter was saved from the foundation of the world and his name was written in the Lambs Book of Life - he was one of Jesus’ elect.

But then Jesus ends His statement with, “…but not every one of you.” This was His last appeal and warning to Judas. Jesus knew about Judas from the beginning. In fact, he was chosen for the very purpose of betraying Jesus.

John 6:64 (ESV):

64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.)

Acts 2:23 (ESV):

23 “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Matthew 26:24-25 (ESV):

24 “The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

25 Judas, who would betray Him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Remember, however, in spite of being chosen, Judas was still responsible.


John 13:12-17 (ESV):

12 When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?

13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.

14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

There are many theological gems in John 13:12-17, but what is the main gem to be found? What is the point of this text? The point of it is to teach humble, loving service. In other words, how low can you go?

Serving people can get messy. Your hands will get dirty and you’ll be called on to serve at all hours of the night.

There’s a rebuke found in these passages, also. What’s the driving force behind your church? If it’s to have a different church than any other church because all the members believe the Bible, then you have the wrong driving force. Our driving force should be of this mindset: If the Lord of Glory, the Great I Am, the Creator of the World, the Sustainer of All Life, the Life Giver, the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sovereign King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was willing to humble Himself and take on the role of the lowliest of slaves, then how could His disciples do anything less?

Luke 6:46 (ESV):

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Why do we say we follow Him and not follow His example? Jesus was not establishing another church ordinance by washing the disciples feet, He was simply displaying for them an example of humility. This should be our inner attitude, to be willing to wash someone else’s feet.

What keeps us from sacrificial service? The answer can be found in John 13:16.

John 13:16 (ESV):

16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

It’s thinking that we are greater than our Master. And the source of this mindset is pride. It’s the prideful elevation of oneself above others. No servant dares regard any task as beneath him if his master has performed it. But notice what Jesus says in John 13:17.

John 3:17 (ESV):

17 “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

There are blessings that follow our obedience to the Lord.

Psalms 1:1-3 (ESV):

1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalms 119:1 (ESV):

1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!

Luke 11:28 (ESV):

28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV):

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

It has been said that we must be “people of the towel.” We must get our hands dirty if we are to be involved in the ministry of cleansing.

To paraphrase James Montgomery Boice, in these verses we find out that Jesus is Lord, but He took on the servant role. We are not greater than Jesus. What was proper for Him is proper for His people as well. We should be servants. We are sent to be servants. You will be blessed if you do them.

We must begin by knowing that we need to be obedient, but knowing is not enough. Knowledge has become a club. We all like to prove our worth to others by our knowledge. In this same way, we judge others by how they measure up by their knowledge.

Husbands know what their wives need to do to make them happy. In contrast, wives know what’s wrong with their husbands. However, husbands should be the greatest servants of all. The greatest act of submission in the home is not to be done by the wife but by the husband. Because his example is to love her like Christ loved the church. He placed the need of His bride to be redeemed above His own needs.

We serve others to show the love of Christ. And this even to the worst of sinners and undeserving people for the purpose that Jesus Christ will be seen.

John 13:35 (ESV):

35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What kind of love is Jesus talking about here? Is it an emotional, romantic love? No. He’s talking about a serving love. Even to the point of taking on the worst task. Are we going to follow the Lord’s example?


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