Monday, October 06, 2014

The Gospel in Pictures (John 13:3-12)

The human imagination is an amazing thing. It is able to create images in our minds even as we think or read about something. Some of us have experienced this as we have read stories about far away places in the real world or the world of fantasy. I recall reading about Narnia in C. S. Lewis’s wonderful books, and in my mind I could see the place. When the major motion pictures based on these books came out some years ago, the settings portrayed on the screen looked remarkably similar to the places I had envisioned in my mind. In some cases, the images in our imagination are even more vivid than those that we see on the movie screen or in real life.

As we read the story of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples, in our minds’ eye, we can almost go there and find ourselves in the room. In our imagination, we can watch the Lord Jesus humbly condescending to the role of the servant in washing the feet of His disciples. We’ve just mentioned the foot washing in passing in the two other messages that have come from this great chapter of Scripture, so I want to take a moment to explain the background of what Jesus is doing here. For many of you who have travelled abroad on mission trips, it will be easy to understand. In that day and time, a meal like this would be taken at a low table, and you would be reclined on mats, leaning on the left elbow so as to take the food with your right hand. As it still is in most cultures, you would remove your shoes when you entered in. In that day, the most common shoes were sandals. Because you walked on dirty streets and paths in those sandals, and because your feet would be positioned so near the head of others, it was necessary to wash one’s feet before eating. The task of footwashing was considered a humble and lowly service. In fact, it was even too demeaning even for most servants, and would only be done by the servants of lowest rank. In the first-century Jewish world, this task was typically reserved for Gentile servants. So, with that in mind, you can understand how alarming it would be for the Lord Jesus Christ to take this task upon Himself. In all of the literature of the ancient world, Jewish or Greco-Roman, this is the only example of the greater serving the lesser in this way.

So, we may wonder, why did Jesus do this? Well, there is a practical matter. It had to be done! Anyone could have done it, but no one did it. So rather than leaving it undone, the Lord Jesus did it Himself. There is even a lesson for us in this. If you see a need that is not being met, do not waste time contemplating why no one else is doing it, or criticizing others for not doing it, or complaining that someone else is not doing it. In the words of the famous Nike advertisements, “Just do it!” I imagine that we are seldom more like Jesus than when we meet a need – not because we have to or should, but because we can. So, there’s this practical matter, but I believe that Jesus had a deeper motive for doing this. Everything Jesus said and did had a revelatory value – it was showing or telling some truth about Himself and His mission to redeem humanity and reconcile us to God. This act of footwashing is no exception.

Just as our imaginations are able to take words and create images in our minds, so the very actions of others can impart unspoken messages onto our hearts. On this last night with His disciples, just hours before His crucifixion, Jesus desired to teach them many things, and He did so at length. But before He spoke a word to them, He was teaching them by this very significant action. What Jesus was doing was a symbolic re-enactment and pre-enactment by which He was dramatizing for them the character of his entire ministry. “He was showing them … what He had come into the world to do.”[1] He was giving them, as it were, the Gospel in pictures. Here in this act of washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus is showing us all two Gospel pictures: the picture of the Savior, and the picture of our Salvation.

Let’s look at the first one:

I. See the picture of our Savior!

I find it interesting that when God planned to impart the revelation of Himself to humanity, He did not inspire artists to draw pictures. He inspired men to write words. Pictures may show us what someone looks like, but words convey far more significant truths. The images of who Christ is and what He has done for us which are formed in our minds as we read the Word of God are far more important than any visual representation of His likeness. So, what picture of our Savior do these words that we read here in this text form? The various pixels of this image come into focus through the movements of Christ in our text. As we see Jesus going through the activity of washing feet, we see another image, a grander image, of our Savior coming into sharper focus.

Verse 3 sets the tone for all that follows it. It says that Jesus knew three things: He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands; He knew that He had come forth from God; and He knew He was going back to God. And the wording indicates that what He did next was because He knew these things. His actions following verse 3 are a visual demonstration of how He came forth from God, how He was going back to God, and how all things came to be in His hands.

We see Jesus as the one who got up from where He was seated (v4). The text says simply that He got up from supper. He had been seated, but now there was a task to complete and a need to meet. So He got up from where He had been seated. In a far greater way, the Lord Jesus, prior to His incarnation, was seated in eternal glory with His Father in heaven. John 1:1 told us that He existed “in the beginning,” and the He was “God.” In John 3:13, Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” In John 17, as He prays to His Father, He will speak of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. But in obedience to His Father’s plan to rescue humanity from sin, the Lord Jesus got up from that place of heavenly glory where He had been seated for eternity past.

Secondly we see Jesus as the one who “laid aside His garments” (v4). The plural indicates that He did not merely take off His outer garment, but that He disrobed down to the loincloth.[2] That which had covered Him, He removed and made Himself all but bare. But long before that night, Jesus had done this same thing in an even more meaningful way. Prior to His incarnation, He had been enrobed in divine glory. As Paul says in Philippians 2:6 that Jesus “existed in the form of God.” But Paul says there that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,” that is He did not cling to this or hold onto it, “but emptied Himself” (Php 2:6-7). In the words of one of our favorite Christmas hymns, “He lays His glory by.” He disrobed Himself of His eternal heavenly glory to come and dwell among us.

Next in our text we see that Jesus took a towel and “girded Himself” (v4). This would be a long towel that would wrap around his waist, with enough left to hang freely in order to dry off the feet of His disciples after He had washed them. This would be the regular attire of a lowly servant. But long before this evening with this towel, Jesus had taken on the form of a servant. This is what is said of Him in Philippians 2:7. He “emptied Himself” and took “the form of a bond-servant … being made in the likeness of men.” In the words of John 1:14, He “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here is God, who has become a man. He became a man in the fullest sense. He experienced everything from birth to death, and all things in between, in the fullness of humanity. But in the humble condescension of His incarnation, He says that He did not come to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45). A servant exists to meet needs. Jesus served His disciples at the table by washing their feet, but He served the entire human race by giving up His life as a ransom to rescue us from our sins. This is what we most desperately need. And He met this need by becoming one of us, so that He could live for us the life that we cannot live, and so that He could die for us the death that we deserve. His taking up of the towel parallels His taking up of a human nature, that He might serve us and save us.

That brings us to the next pixel of the image here. John says that “He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (v5).  Here were these disciples with their dirty feet, and Jesus poured out what was needed to make them clean and washed them that they would be clean. Just as these men had dirty feet, so we all have dirty souls – dirty lives, if you will – covered in the stains of sin. Just as He had poured out the water, so He would pour out His life’s blood. It is what was needed. From the very first sin ever committed, God had taught His people that the wages of sin is death, and that forgiveness could only come through the shed blood of a sacrificial substitute. Rivers of blood had flowed from bulls, and lambs, and goats on the altars of Israel through the centuries, all pointing forward to the ultimate sacrifice that God Himself would provide: the Lord Jesus Christ. And within hours of washing away the dirt of His disciples’ feet, Jesus would pour out His blood to wash away the stains of our sin. He would make us clean by taking our sins upon Himself and receiving in His own body the penalty of divine judgment as He died in our place on the cross. As 1 John 1:7 says, “the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin.”

Now we move forward to verse 12, where we read “when He had washed their feet ….” The NIV reads, “When he had finished washing their feet.” The task was completed. Their feet were dirty, and Jesus set out to wash them and He finished the task. In a far greater way, on the following day, He would complete the task for which His Father had sent Him into the world. As Jesus died upon the cross, He uttered seven statements. According to John 19:30, the final one was this: “It is finished!” Then, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. When He uttered these words, He was declaring that His mission to redeem humanity from the curse of sin was completed. Nothing more is needed, nothing more can be added to it. His death is sufficient to overcome the breach between us and God which has been created by our sin, and He has done it! It is finished!

Next John says in verse 12, that Jesus took His garments, that is, He put His clothing back on. He had undressed Himself from His normal attire, and took on the garment of a servant, and now He clothed Himself again. And in a most spectacular way, He did a similar thing on the third day following His death. When His followers visited the tomb where His body had been placed, they did not find Him there. Soon enough, Jesus began to appear to His disciples. He was alive, walking and talking among them again. But something was different about Him. At times, they did not even recognize Him. He could appear from nowhere and then vanish from sight again. But He had a real body – they could see Him; they could touch Him; He ate with them. But He had been raised in a glorified body. The glory that He had laid aside when He left heaven for earth, He had taken up and clothed Himself again.

Then finally, we see that John says that Jesus reclined at the table again (v12). Having completed the task at hand, Jesus returned to the seat He formerly occupied. And so He did on a far grander scale following His resurrection from the dead. Having completed the task for which He came into the world, and having conquered sin death for all who trust in Him, Jesus remained with His disciples to continue teaching them for forty days (Ac 1:3). Then, the Bible says that “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Ac 1:9). Where did He go? Let me answer that with a bit of Bible trivia: Do you know what the most frequently quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament is? It is Psalm 110:1. There, in this Messianic Psalm, David writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” It is either quoted or alluded to at least 18 times in the New Testament. And it tells us where the Lord Jesus went when He ascended. God the Son returned to His rightful and eternal place of honor at the right hand of God the Father. In Ephesians 1:20, Paul writes that the Father “raised Him (Jesus) from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet.” That is where Jesus went. He knew that was where He was going. In verse 3 of our text, John writes that Jesus knew “that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.”

So, in the movements and actions of the Lord Jesus here at the table, washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was enacting a visual parable, as it were, creating for us a picture of His entire mission of redemption. He left His place in heaven, set aside His glory, took on the form of a man, became a servant, poured out His blood to cleanse us from sin, finished the task in His death on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended back into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father in the glory that He has shared for all eternity. Hallelujah! What a Savior! And what a picture of Him we have here in these verses.

But this is not the only picture we see. We must also …

II. See the picture of our salvation!

This weekend, on the Jewish Calendar, it was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This day was set aside by the Lord as a day of sacrifice for the sins of the nation, and on this day and this day only, the high priest was permitted to enter into the holy of holies and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, the covering of the ark of the covenant, so that the sins of the people could be forgiven. When God gave the instructions for the building of the tabernacle and its furnishings, He specified how the ark of the covenant was supposed to be made. This box would be considered the very throne of God in the tabernacle and temple. There on the top of it, the mercy seat where the blood was applied, the Lord commanded that two golden cherubim (angels) were to be placed with their faces “turned toward the mercy seat” (Ex 25:20). Those angels were to be positioned as if they were unflinchingly focused on the blood that was shed for the salvation of the people. And so when Peter wrote of our great salvation in the first chapter of 1 Peter, he said that these were things “into which angels long to look.” They want to see what this salvation of God’s grace and mercy looks like. And we would like to see it as well. Here Jesus gives us a picture in His dialog with Peter. Just as He washes the disciples’ feet, so in our salvation He washes us clean from sin.

As Jesus went around the table washing the feet of His disciples, He came to Simon Peter, who first questioned and then protested. He said in verse 6, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” And then in verse 8, “Never shall You wash my feet!” These two statements from Peter tell us something significant about our salvation in Jesus Christ. First, Peter’s question reminds us that salvation is something we do not deserve and cannot earn. Peter understood that it was entirely inappropriate for Jesus to do this for Him. Peter does not deserve to be treated this way by Jesus. And we do not deserve to be washed of our sins. But Jesus was not washing Peter’s feet because he deserved it; He was washing him because he needed it. It was a gracious act, undeserved and unearned, but greatly needed. And so it is for our salvation. We do not deserve it, and we cannot earn it, but we desperately need it! And so it is by grace that we are saved. Jesus is giving us something we do not deserve and cannot earn because He desires to meet this great need in our lives.

But in Peter’s protest, we see something else: salvation must be received in humble faith. Peter initially refused to allow Jesus to do this. He was too proud to allow Jesus to serve Him in this way. Friends, there are so many in the world, and maybe a few here, who are too proud to be washed clean of their sins by Jesus. Maybe they do not think they need it. They may think that they are good, nice, clean folks who do not need to be washed. But they do! We are all sinners by nature and by choice, and you can only protest that so long before you catch yourself in the lie! We know that we do not do what we should, and we often do what we should not. We need to be made clean, and there is no other alternative besides Jesus! So rather than protesting the salvation that He offers us freely in His grace, we must receive this salvation in humble faith. It is by grace we are saved, through faith, the Bible says (Eph 2:8-9). Stop protesting. Stop questioning. Humble yourself, and trust in Him.

You say, “I don’t understand it all.” Jesus says, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” This week I attended a meeting at Fort Caswell, where I came to know the Lord 22 years ago. I stood outside the house where I professed my faith in Christ and thought about that night so long ago. I didn’t even know the words to say or what it all meant, but I knew I needed Jesus! And for 22 years, I have been growing in my understanding of this great salvation that is incapable of full comprehension until we see the Lord face to face in heaven.

Then, notice how the dialog progresses. Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” To have part with Him is to be united to Him. He is saying to Peter, “You are dirty and you need to be clean. I can wash you if you will let Me, but if you do not let Me, then there is no other way for you to be made clean.” And the same is true for us. You might say, “Well, there are so many opinions and views on matters of religion. Why should I trust in Jesus, rather than in some other way?” Friend, listen, there is no other way! There is no system of belief in the world that even attempts to answer the question of how you can be cleansed of your sin and reconciled to a holy God. You are dirty. You need to be clean. Only Jesus can wash you. And if He doesn’t wash you, then you have no part with Him. You are hopelessly and eternally separated from God in your sins.

Now at this point, Peter seems to be understanding, and so he says, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” In other words, “All of me!” Peter understands that if Jesus must make him clean, then he needs to be clean from head to toe. We must also come to this point. We must understand that we are radically corrupted in sin. There is nothing good within us in our natural born condition. We must be made completely clean, not partially clean, to be acceptable before God.

But Jesus tells Peter, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean.” This sentence expresses what I call the “twin towers” of salvation: justification and sanctification. When a person comes to faith in Jesus, the Bible says that we are “justified.” That is, our sins are washed away, and we are declared righteous before God on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ which is imparted to us by faith. God views us and declares us to be “completely clean.” And Jesus tells Peter that he has already become “completely clean.” When did this happen? It happened when Peter declared his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. When Jesus asked His disciples at Caesarea Philippi, “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:15-16). Jesus affirmed that Peter had made this statement of faith in response to the revelation that God had given to him. Peter was, from that moment on, a saved man. He had been justified. And so it is for us. We each come to that moment when, by faith, we must declare who we believe Jesus to be. When the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces us of the truth of who Jesus is, and we respond in faith to Him as Savior and Lord, we are born-again, justified, cleansed of sin and made righteous before God. But we are saved men and women at that point; saved, but not perfect. For that, we need the work of sanctification.

Once we are saved, God begins a work in our lives to shape us practically into what He has declared us positionally to be: namely, as righteous as Jesus. Saved people still sin, right? Please tell me I’m not the only one! No, it is true for us all, and will be for the rest of our lives. This is why Jesus says, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.” Peter was completely clean positionally because of justification, but he needed to be cleansed practically through the ongoing work of sanctification. Just as his bath had made him clean, only his feet, that part of his body that had become dirty as he walked, needed to be washed.

I thought of this verse a few weeks ago as we vacationed at the beach. My wife and kids love the sand! They can go out for hours and lay in it, play in it, bury each other in it, and roll around in it. I really don’t like being covered in sand. So, when we come in from the beach, the first thing I do is take a shower. Then we eat dinner, and after dinner we go back out for a late night walk on the beach. When we come back, I don’t need to take another shower; I just need to wash my feet. This is how it is for us as Christians. We still sin, but when we do, we do not need to be saved all over again. Our position in Christ is secure for all eternity because we have been justified. But as the Spirit works out sanctification in us, we need to continually come before the Lord in repentance and confession to be cleansed repeatedly from the sins we commit. John will say in his first epistle, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:8-9). And so it goes, on and on, throughout our lives. We’ve been made completely clean because we have been washed in Christ through justification. But as we continue to sin, we need to regularly come before the Lord in confession and repentance, allowing Him to “wash our feet” as it were, to cleanse us from those sins that we have committed.

And so we have this great picture of our salvation. It is undeserved and unearned, offered to us entirely by His grace. We must recognize our need for it and receive it in humble faith. We must realize that we need to be made completely clean before God, and that Jesus alone can do this. And once He does, we are completely clean, covered with His righteousness by the divine act of justification. But as we continue living in these fallen corruptible bodies in this fallen world, we continue to sin. And we come back to Him time and time again in repentance, confessing our sins before Him, and He is faithful to continue washing those sins away, strengthening us against them, and shaping us in sanctification to live more and more in the righteousness that He has given to us.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you know what I have done for you?” I imagine some of the more spiritually dense ones among them might have thought to themselves, “Well, yeah, You washed our feet.” But He was doing so much more than this. He was doing for them something that they could not understand then, but would grow to understand thereafter. He was giving them a picture – and thanks be to God the picture has been shown to us as well. It is a picture of our Savior and a picture of our salvation in Him. My friends, if you are a Christian, this is your Redeemer and Lord, and this is what He has done, and continues to do for you. Come into the art gallery here and gaze upon this Gospel  picture. Get lost in the details of it all. Mediate on these truths as you would stare at a masterpiece of art. As you view these Gospel pictures, let them inspire you to live every day humbled and awestruck by this grace that He has demonstrated to us. What a Savior! What a great salvation we have in Him! And if you are not a Christian, friends, I hope that you can see the picture of this Savior and the salvation He offers you, and I pray that you will turn to Him and trust in Him by faith. He is the one who has come from heaven to earth to die for you and wash you clean. He is the one who declares, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

[1] Ray Stedman, quoted in James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John (Vol 4; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 1010.
[2] Robert H. Mounce, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Revised ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 10:546. 

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