God is in Heaven, and that’s good for us.
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God thou art very great; thou are clothed with honour and majesty.
– Psalm 104:1
Like the Bible in Genesis 1, Psalm 104 starts with the reality of God. There is no proof, defense, explanation, or justification–God is. He revealed himself to Moses as the “I am” (Exodus 3:14). He explained himself as “I am that I am”–unlike any other. He is self-existent, uncreated, and unending.
He revealed himself to the prophet Isaiah as unlike any other (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). The Book of Isaiah reveals a God of majesty and power. He is the one who stretched out the heavens like a curtain and measured the oceans in His hand. His judgments are fierce and His wisdom silences all. Though He thunders, He also gathers His people as little lambs and carries them in His arms. He comforts them as a mother comforts her small child. He also atones for the sins of His people through the offering of His suffering servant and He pardons and washes as white as snow.
God is revealing himself and inviting us to know Him. God is there and He is not silent.
How does God reveal himself?
He reveals himself in His creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and in His word (Psalm 19:7-11). Psalm 104:1-35 shows how the order and constancy of life and the world testify of God. All of His works reflect His glory. He reveals himself specially in His word and in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:1-18). Only through His Son, Jesus, can we know God savingly (Matthew 11:27).
What is revealed of God?
God reveals himself to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. He reveals that He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is supremely sovereign. He is supremely holy. He is supremely knowing and wise. He is supremely righteous. He is supremely just. He is supremely true. He is supremely loving.
God is God. He is self-existent. He is alone worthy of praise and worship. He is greater and higher than all His creation.
How do we get it wrong?
God is the greatest reality. He is ultimate reality. He has revealed himself but we fail when we don’t acknowledge Him or we distort His reality. The Bible identifies at least six worldviews that fail because they are wrong about God.
- The fool thinks there is no God (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). He makes man the highest being and survival-of-the-fittest is his ethos. The fool thinks that whatever he has the power to do, he can do. There is no fearful looking for judgment with him, because there is no one to judge.
- The rich, worldly man doesn’t think of God (James 4:13-17). God may be there, or He may not be there to the worldly minded. It doesn’t matter to him, because he takes no account of God in his daily life.
- Pharaoh thinks God has no right or authority over him (Exodus 5:2). He judges the truth of God’s claims and can receive or refuse at his own discretion. He is deluded into thinking he can mediate his own reality. He was postmodern before it was cool. The man-on-the-street way of saying it is, “That may be true or right for you, but it is not true for me.”
- The wicked think that God is like them or like a man (Psalm 50:16-23). God may object to their thoughts and ways, but He can do nothing but thunder in the distance. If He objected to them, He should have spoken or forever hold His peace.
- Nebuchadnezzar thought that God was beside him (Daniel 4:29-37). He thought he could make his own way and maybe even that God owed him prosperity. He was an early prosperity preacher who made God a means to an end in order to get a little more comfort during his vaporous appearance on earth.
- False professors think God is their imaginary god (Matthew 7:21-23). They live their lives using God’s name, but they have actually put God’s name on the craft of their own minds and ultimately do not know Him at all.
We don’t overstate the case to say that knowing God is a life-and-death reality. God’s existence is the greatest truth, greatest reality there is. We come now to our last question.
How is God’s existence good for us?
If God is who He says He is and who He shows himself to be, how is that good for us? Or, what are we profited by it? God’s existence is good for believers and unbelievers. Let me explain.
Good for believers
God being there for believers means that daily you have answers to the questions of life. It doesn’t mean that you know everything, but you can know some things for certain. Being a believer means that God has specially revealed himself to you and you know truth that the greatest human mind cannot find out on its own.
God’s existence means you have purpose and meaning to life. You’re not left to drift and wander aimlessly. You have no need to question why you exist or futilely pursue fulfillment.You are set to pursue His righteousness and His kingdom. You have a purpose.
You can make some sense of suffering because God is there. You don’t know how it all works together or why one thing comes to one and not another. You know suffering isn’t pointless.
You have comfort for the sorrow of death. Death is a painful separation and a reminder of frailty. In death, you do have hope, though it is washed with tears.
You have forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Apart from God there is no atonement and no covering righteousness. Though you fail everyday, the blood of Jesus Christ washes your sins white as snow.
You have help. You are not alone, though there be no human beside you. You do not have to live and do of your own strength or wisdom.
You have guidance. Life can be a confusing maze at times and our way is one of the easiest things to lose. You have sure counsel from God.
You have hope. Everyday you live a life filled with hope. You have something to live for and something to die for. You have something to look forward to that outweighs all grief and pain now.
Good for unbelievers
It might seem odd to suggest that God’s existence is good for unbelievers because that means their condemnation is sure. Many deny His existence rather than face such reality. However, if you are not a believer, I’m glad you are reading this and I assure you God’s existence is good for you.
God’s existence means there is ultimate meaning to life. If there is no God, then all is random, chaotic, and meaningless. I know you are taught that continually but no one lives their life consistently with that view. You probably show kindness to others and care deeply about social justice. You likely want to help the hurting and relieve as much suffering as you can. If life was truly random and meaningless, why would you do any of those things? God’s existence is the foundation for all good things and makes life meaningful.
God’s existence assures you of personal worth and dignity because you are created in the image of God. The questions: Who am I? Why am I here?, have answers because God exists. You are a living soul worth more than the whole world (Matthew 16:26). You are not a waste nor an accident. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made by a wise and loving creator.
God’s existence means that God himself and truth can be known. You are not left to wander in a void. You are not left to doubt and fear with no comfort or sure knowledge. God can be known because He has given you witness of himself.
God’s existence means you can have eternal life. You can live forever in a new heaven and a new earth where sin will never enter and all is true, good, and beautiful.
God is there. God is not silent. God is good for us. Look to His creation. Look to His word. Look to His Son.
Part 1 here
In the first part, we considered some reasons why this passage is not about instituting a foot-washing service, nor is it a general teaching on humility and service. We considered reasons internal and external to the text. One of the reasons comes from the very start of the passage (John 13:1-3) that reveals some thoughts in the mind of Jesus that were moving Him to take the towel and wash. Whatever this act means, it must be consistent with His thoughts.
We certainly don’t want to stop at saying what the passage doesn’t mean. We want to know what it does mean. The thoughts on Jesus’ mind are one contextual piece to help us discern that. Another important contextual piece must also be considered. We must look at what was on the minds of the disciples before Jesus took the towel and started to wash.
The broader context
Jesus knew His time was at hand. In fact, He was hours away from being arrested. He also knew He was moments away from instituting the memorial supper. Jesus also knew what was on the mind of the disciples.
The Gospels tell us there was an ongoing strife between the disciples. They were arguing which one of them was the greatest disciple (Matthew 20:20-28). On the way to this very supper, they were arguing about this (Luke 22:24-27). This was not an isolated incident, but rather an ongoing problem. They were striving over this at least a year earlier while going with Jesus from Galilee to Capernaum (Mark 9:30-37). They were so preoccupied with this that they did not understand Jesus when He spoke about His death.
So, about to partake of the Lord’s Supper and hours away from Jesus’ arrest, they were striving with one another about which of them was the greatest. Their minds were fixed on exaltation and reward. Each thought their standing was better than the others’ around them.
It’s easy here to chide the disciples and even wonder how they could be thinking about this at a time like this. However, let’s not be too quick to condemn them. Have you ever thought yourself better than, i.e. looked down on, some other Christian because they weren’t a member of the church you’re a member of? Have you perhaps looked down on someone because maybe they didn’t understand some of the truth you understand from God’s Word? So how are we any better than the disciples here when we are fixed on rewards or position. Remember that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for thinking themselves better and that they wouldn’t have done what others before them did (Matthew 23:29-30).
In the midst of all this, Jesus arose, took a towel, poured water in a basin, and then washed the disciples’ feet. The disciples wouldn’t have thought anything out of place if one of the disciples had risen up and washed Jesus’ feet. But while each was thinking himself better than the other, they wouldn’t have stooped to wash their brother’s feet. Yet Jesus did the unthinkable when He washed their feet. What did it mean?
The application and the new command
After He finished, Jesus did give the imperative to His disciples.
12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord:and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
– John 13:12-17
Verse 14 does say, “Ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Obviously, this act is not excluded from the service we should do. There really is no service that we should see as too low or beneath us to do. If you are in a circumstance where your brother’s feet need washed, you shouldn’t hesitate to do it. However, that is quite different from washing feet in a ceremonial display.
I assert again that if this is all that is meant, Peter and the disciples would have readily understood it without explanation and without need for revelation through the cross. Verse 15 gives us reason to look for more. It sounds very similar to something Jesus said a little while afterward.
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
– John 13:34-35 (Emphasis added)
In verse 15, Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (Emphasis added). And He went on to say a couple of chapters later:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
– John 15:12 (Emphasis added)
Jesus gave a new commandment and, in some way, the act of washing the disciples’ feet is connected. The new command was to love one another, but that doesn’t sound very new. All the way back in Leviticus 19:18, the law commanded to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus perhaps expanded that a bit, or corrected a false notion of it, in Luke 6:31-36 to include loving your enemies, but He doesn’t call that new.
The new command involves brotherly love and sacrifice (John 13:34-35; 15:12-17). That is new and it is also new that we have not only a command but also a perfect example in life with Jesus Christ. Great love is expressed ultimately in life-sacrifice (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16), but it is also expressed in the lowest service. John made that link in his first epistle when he immediately talked about giving your brother what he needs right after laying down you life for him.
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us:and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
– 1 John 3:16-18
Part of John’s point is about truly having God’s love in us. If we have the Father’s love, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren and we also should have compassion and give to our brother who has need. You can’t have one without the other. It is all the same love.
John calls this the “perfect” love of God. The word underlying perfect here doesn’t mean perfect in the sense of flawless, but rather it is complete or fulfilled. God’s love is perfected in us, or fulfilled in us, not only when we have received it, but when we have shown it to others.
That brings us back to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He said what He did was an example and linked it with the command to love one another. What He did here was complete the example of God’s love. He expressed it in the ultimate way by laying down His life, but He also expressed it in the lowest, most humiliating service, by washing their feet. The love that took the beating, mocking, and crucifixion, is the same love that took the towel, basin, and feet of the disciples. This is how we are to love one another, from the least service to the greatest sacrifice. And “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Thoughts from John 13:1-17
A few days after the triumphal entry, Jesus was in Jerusalem in the upper room with His disciples. They had prepared to eat the Passover meal there. This night was an exception to His usual routine. At that time, He was spending His days teaching in the temple and His nights were spent on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37). This night He came into the city, with His disciples, to eat the Passover and do what He needed to do before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion.
Washing His disciples’ feet was one of the things He needed to do. Foot washing was a common occurrence in that day, for obvious practical reasons. It was a task most typically performed by the lowest, menial slaves. Washing the feet of one’s peers was humbling. Washing the feet of one’s inferiors was unthinkable.
Jesus was the superior in the room. What He did in washing the disciple’s feet was culturally unthinkable. This is likely the reason Peter said what he did when Jesus came to him (John 13:6, 8). Peter had a knack for saying what everyone else was probably thinking. The account does raise some questions we need to answer.
Why did Jesus do this? What is this all about? Why is it in the Bible?
Some would say that it simply means we should wash each others’ feet and many have special services where they do just that. Others would say that it is just an object lesson and so it is a general teaching on humility and serving one another. I don’t believe either of those interpretations is entirely correct and there are good reasons internally and externally to dismiss them.
By external, I mean outside the text of John 13:1-17. The external are not equally significant with the internal reasons, but they are more compelling when taken together with the internal.
- The general humility and service interpretation. If the text means nothing more, then Jesus is here presented as an humble teacher in group with others, such as Ghandi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, or Confucius. If the text means nothing more, there is nothing distinctly Christian about it. It’s an act any humanist philosopher could perform and endorse.
- The public foot-washing service/ordinance/practice interpretation. Foot washing was a common occurrence that was much more pragmatic than ceremonial. I’m sure there was a ceremonial aspect when dignitaries were at some high function, but normally it was inglorious.It is not common today precisely because we don’t have the contextual conditions to make it necessary. So, whenever it is practiced by Christians today, it is preeminently ceremonial. There seems to be an inconsistency, or even a contradiction, in having a public ceremony where a person can display their humility.The general trend of biblical teaching on service is for it to be more secret than open.
1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:4 That thine alms may be in secret:and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret:and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
– Matthew 6:1, 3-4, 5-6, 16-18
- One more lesser objection to the public service interpretation. I say it is lesser because it is the argument from silence. I know the argument from silence is a dangerous one. I know it usually evokes the sophomoric retort, “The Bible doesn’t say they didn’t either.”The argument from silence can never stand alone, but that doesn’t mean it cannot contribute when weighed together with other things. So here it is. There is not a single reference in the New Testament where the church practiced this. Though there are later references to the Lord’s Supper, there is no mention of foot washing. I’m also unaware of any references in church history before the third or fourth centuries to the practice.
The internal reasons to discern more in this text come from the text itself. These are the most compelling and give the external reasons more weight. I see three primary pointers to greater meaning in the text.
- The first three verses explain what was on Jesus’ mind and therefore moving Him as He took the towel to wash the disciples’ feet.
1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put 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 was come from God, and went to God
– John 13:1-3 (Emphasis added)
These verses point to more than a lesson on humility. He had His death on His mind and His love for His own. Jesus knew it was time to lay down His life in ultimate expression of love for His own (John 15:13).
- Peter’s reaction and Jesus’ response to the foot washing point to more going on.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter:and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet.
– John 13:6-8 (Emphasis added)
Peter’s objection seems reasonable, but Jesus tells him that he does not understand what is being done. He said Peter would understand it “hereafter,” which means after His death. If Jesus was just washing Peter’s feet and thereby teaching Peter to wash the other disciples’ feet, then Peter would easily have understood that without need to look upon it through the lens of Jesus’ death on the cross. There is more going on than the foot washing.
- Jesus’ explanation to the disciples afterward points to more in meaning.
12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
– John 13:12
This question is in the same vein with His statement to Peter. They didn’t understand what He had done and wouldn’t until after His death and when He opened their understanding.
These are good reasons to see that Jesus did not institute a foot-washing service in these verses, but rather He did something that had to do with His death and His love for His own. In the next part, we want to consider what this is about and also what it means that He did tell His disciples to wash one another’s feet.
To be continued . . .