The Self-Giving Love of Jesus – John 13:1-17

The Self-Giving Love of Jesus

Nick Esch, 1/14/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

The famous Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth lived from 1886-1968. He was a learned man who took the Bible very seriously. He wrote numerous books on deep theological truths… But in 1962, just 6 years before he died, upon being asked how he would summarize all of his great works on theology, and all of the deep truths of Scripture that he had marveled at over the years, he said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Such a simple truth, yet there is nothing more profound and beautiful… That’s why Barth was truly captivated by it…

John likewise seems to be captivated by this beautiful truth. In fact over and over again in the Gospel of John he is referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. John was amazed by Jesus’ love for him, and so it’s no wonder that the great love that Jesus has for His people is a reoccurring theme in his Gospel. And this profound truth is exactly the point of our passage today. Jesus’ public ministry has come to an end, and now He takes the short time He has left before He goes to the cross to minister to His disciples by pointing them to this glorious truth. So in our passage today that’s what we see: we see the meaning of Jesus’ love, we see a demonstration of Jesus’ love, and we see the implications of Jesus’ love… It’s one thing to know the lyrics, “Jesus loves me this I know…” But it is quite another thing to be captivated by this in the depths of your heart; to truly know the love of Jesus is to be gripped and transformed by it. So with that in mind, let’s look at John 13:1-17.

John 13:1-17

Through the first twelve chapters of John we have looked at roughly three years of ministry; but now we have reached the final night of Jesus’ life. It’s almost time for Jesus to be captured, to be convicted, and to be crucified for His people. This is what John is telling us in the opening of our passage. In verse 1 we read, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father…” Stop there for a moment… The hour referred to here is the hour of Jesus’ death. And not just His death: His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. Jesus will soon depart out of this world to the Father, but by way of the cross…

God’s Word sets the stage for what Jesus is about to say and do by drawing our focus to the cross. He wants our hearts and minds to be cross-centered, always, but especially as we look at the rest of this passage. As I look at this the words of an old hymn come to my mind, “Down at the cross where my Savior died, down where from cleansing from sin I cried, there to my sin was the blood applied; glory to His name!” Jesus goes to glory by way of the cross, and the cross is where this passage points us.

In the last part of verse 1 we read, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” First let’s consider who it is that is loved here. First and foremost, given the context, it’s clear that He means His disciples who are there with Him. But I think we’re on good ground to understand this to also mean all of His true disciples—all who have been, are, or ever will be true believers. I think it’s safe to assume this because of how the whole Bible speaks about Jesus’ love for His people; but even Jesus Himself—in John 17—will pray to the Father for His people, and when He does He says, “I do not ask for these only (as in those who were in the world with Him at that time), but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). He could be speaking of all who come to faith after hearing the gospel word from another Christian, or He could be speaking of the word of the apostles, which is likewise the word of the New Testament… Either way He’s referring to everyone who will become a Christian from that time on…

This goes with our passage perfectly, because in this life, every Christian is in the world, though not of the world… And we can see it’s not the world that is loved to the end here, as in all men without exception, but instead it says, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” No doubt, Jesus loves the world in a general sense, having compassion on the world and giving common grace… But it is not the world without exception He loves to the end, but His own… His own people who are in the world, as in people from every tribe, tongue, and nation…

Jesus loved His own to the end: every nation and every generation… People from all walks of life, and from all ethnicities… He loves His people… And understand, the type of love that is found here is ἀγάπη love—gospel-love—divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good… Jesus loves the world in a general sense, but He loves His people with a gospel-love… Christ loved us and gave Himself for us… Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… Jesus dies in the place of sinners, the unrighteous… He sacrifices Himself to save all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him… He loved His own to the very end of His life. Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross… Jesus poured Himself out in love for His people, to the very end… Our sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—our sin, not in part, but the whole, was nailed to the cross, to our cross, because Jesus was nailed to our cross… And now we bear our sin no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Do you believe that church?! Jesus has loved you to the end…

That word end is an interesting word. You see, the word used in the Greek for end here is τέλος… And τέλος means more than just something stopping or coming to a close, it means to completion, or to perfection. So we could say Jesus loved His own perfectly; or Jesus loves His people completely… As in His love for His people is a holistic love, a forever love… It’s like what Paul said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why? Because He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion… Jesus’ love for His people is an ἀγάπη τέλος love; it’s a sacrificial love that is perfect and complete… God, in His love, elects, regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies… The God who loved us enough to die for us will make sure that we make it safely home to Him. He will hold us fast… Because He has loved us to the end He will love us to the end… He will keep us in His love, by His love…

Now after we’re given a glimpse into the meaning of Jesus’ love, we see a demonstration of Jesus’ love… Starting in verse 2 we read, 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.’”

Here we see Jesus, the God of the universe in the flesh humbling Himself to the posture of a servant, and not just a servant, but the lowliest of servants… You see, while foot washing was a normal thing that took place in ancient Israel, it was something that only the lowliest of servants were required to do. In fact, most slaves even had rights that said they did not have to stoop to this level… But Jesus foregoes any and all rights… Jesus is a teacher, He’s the disciples respected rabbi, He’s the Lord… They would’ve never expected such a thing to happen… That’s why Peter’s response is completely understandable: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” This was a degrading task… And frankly, a disgusting task…

Imagine some high ranking official, like the President, or imagine the Queen of England, or someone to that effect, not only sitting down to eat with you, but also serving you in the most unimaginable ways. Imagine them coming into your home for dinner, and then getting up and not only washing your dishes, but cleaning all of your toilets, showers, and bathroom floors. It seems no area is too filthy for them… They are happy to serve, even in the most lowly of positions… Can you imagine that? Probably not… There’s no way something like that would ever happen… Well, what Jesus does here is even more unimaginable… Again, that’s why Peter responds the way He does. Feet are disgusting, but they were especially disgusting in ancient Israel… Only the lowest of the low were expected to clean feet… And Jesus is the highest of the high… That’s why John the Baptist said he wasn’t even worthy to touch the strap on Jesus’ sandal… He was saying he wasn’t worthy of even the lowliest of things when it comes to Jesus… Yet here is Jesus gladly serving His disciples in this way… This is humility beyond comprehension…

Jesus sacrifices His rights, His position and platform, His reputation and serves humbly… C. S. Lewis said it so well when he said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less…” Well here Jesus is clearly not thinking of Himself at all… He’s pouring Himself out in service to those around Him… And as amazing as all of this is, it’s really just a picture, or a living illustration of how He is going to pour Himself out in love for His people on the cross…

Jesus says in response to Peter in verse 10, “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 humbling Himself and washing the filth from His disciples feet is a picture of Jesus humbling Himself and washing the filth from our hearts and souls… In Isaiah God’s Word says, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18)… In Revelation we’re told that there are those who have, “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14)… And this is not new to us… We sing this all the time… “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh! Precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow; no other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus…” “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains…” Jesus loves His own to the end, and His end washes us clean… The sight of Jesus on His knees washing His disciples feet is meant to turn our eyes to Jesus on the cross, where to our sin was His blood applied… It’s His blood that makes us clean… His death, His atonement, His sacrifice…

But notice also that there is an ongoing contrast here. Jesus washed all of His disciples feet, but not all of His disciples were truly clean, because not all of His disciples were really His disciples. Judas already knows in his heart what he’s going to do: that he’s going to give up Jesus for thirty pieces of silver… Even though Jesus has allowed him to see miracle after miracle, even though Jesus has given him love and grace over and over again, and even though Jesus just washed his feet—which is an amazing picture of what it looks like to love our enemies—Judas is still set against Him, because unlike Jesus, he seems to only care about himself. And that’s the contrast: on the one hand we see a self-giving Jesus, and on the other hand we see a self-serving Judas… Sure, he went through the motions of what it looked like to be a disciple of Jesus, but at the end of the day, everything he did was for himself… He was not clean and would not be cleaned because he didn’t really believe, he didn’t turn from his sin and trust in Jesus, he simply saw Jesus as a means to his own ends…

Friends this is something that we are all in danger of doing, because by nature we are glory-hungry, and typically live for ourselves above all… We can even do good things like go to church, serve the church, read our Bible, pray, feed the homeless, or whatever… We can do all these good things in a wicked way if we are only in it for ourselves… Let me show you what I mean; look at what Jesus tells Peter in verse 8. He says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” That literally means that if you’re not cleansed from sin by Jesus then you don’t belong to Him… And if you don’t belong to Him, He doesn’t belong to you…

If we are not saved by the blood of Jesus we will not be with Jesus… And Peter seems to get what Jesus’ is saying because He says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Peter wants whatever needs to happen to enable him to be with Jesus forever, to happen… At first he’s astonished that Jesus would do something like this, but if this is what needs to happen in order for him to be with Jesus, he’s all for it… You see for Peter, Jesus was not a means to his own ends, Jesus was the end, Jesus was everything to Him… And that should be true of every Christian…

We are to love Jesus above everything, even ourselves… We are to count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus… Our hearts will never cry, “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” unless we truly love Jesus… But just as Judas sought to use Jesus for his own self-serving purposes, when we look to Jesus as just a way to get to heaven, or a way to get a better life, or whatever… If we do that then whatever good we may do is all for nothing… If we’re not living for the glory of Christ out of love for Christ, then we may have yet to be cleansed by Christ…

Now don’t get me wrong, Christians are sinners; in this life we will never follow Jesus perfectly. That’s why Jesus says that even the person who is clean already still needs to have his feet washed. By that He means, even if we are Christians who truly believe in Jesus, we must still fight sin and pursue holiness, we must confess our sin and repent again and again. We must look to Jesus daily, asking for forgiveness for our shortcomings, and asking for strength to put our sin to death. Beloved we are sinners still… As John says in 1 John 1:8-9, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive 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.” Though He has washed us clean, we must continually go to Him in confession and repentance to have our feet cleaned, as it were… But we will only do that if we love Jesus more than ourselves and more than our sin…

Christians are disciples of Jesus because of His great love for them and their great love for Him… Anything less than that is self-serving… But if we would see the self-giving love of Jesus rightly, we would joyfully give ourselves to Jesus wholeheartedly… But Judas didn’t see it… I wonder if you do… Do you see how much Jesus loves you? He loved you and gave Himself for you… Do you get that? Do you feel that? That’s what this passage is all about… It starts by telling us of the love of Jesus, and then showing us the love of Jesus, and now it closes out by telling us of the implications of the love of Jesus…

We begin see some of the implications of Jesus’ love in the contrast between Jesus and Judas, but also in Jesus’ words at the end of our passage… Starting in verse 12 we read, “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.’”

We must love and trust Jesus if we would be saved from our sin, but in order to do that we must marvel at His great love for us. His washing of the disciples feet was an illustration of His love for them, pointing them and us to the cross, but it’s also an example for them and for us of what the life lived in light of the love of Jesus looks like. Though Peter is kind of all over the place in our passage, and in many places in the New Testament, later he seems to really get what Jesus was laying out here. In 1 Peter 5:5 he says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” And you see, that’s where the love of Jesus takes us… In His great love Jesus humbled Himself in the lowliest of ways to save His people so that they could be with Him forever… His love shows us what humility looks like, and it demands that we humble ourselves as well. We must realize that we bring nothing to the table, and that only Jesus can save us… And we must be willing to laydown all of our self-serving desires and plans, and follow the example of our self-giving Savior.

Jesus gave all in service to God and His people, and here He calls us to do the same. We must die to self and live for Him. And we can die to self, we can be self-giving instead of self-serving, because Jesus gives us Himself… And He is far better than anything. But just as Jesus poured Himself out in service to God and His people, so must we… Remember, gospel-love is love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good… That’s how Jesus has loved us… And instead of that puffing us up, it should lead to us to pouring ourselves out. But if we will give ourselves to this, to loving Jesus and His people with great reckless abandon, Jesus says that we will be blessed—as in happy and joyful… Joy comes as we give of ourselves, not as we serve ourselves. He says, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” So you aren’t blessed if you just know… It’s more than that… As I said in my introduction, it’s one thing to know the lyrics, “Jesus loves me this I know…” But it is quite another thing to be captivated by this in the depths of your heart; to truly know the love of Jesus is to be gripped and transformed by it. And when you are, then you are truly blessed…