Rx for your heart trouble

A Prescription for Heart Trouble (John 14:1-14)

Which of God’s commandments would you say is the most difficult for you to obey? Perhaps you would say, “The commandment, ‘Do not lie’ is most difficult because when I’m in a tight spot and I can twist the truth just a little, it seems harmless.” You might say, “The commandment not to covet is really difficult to obey in a materialistic society. If somebody I know gets richer or they achieve a status that I want for myself, it’s hard not to be jealous of them.” Perhaps you might point to Jesus’ command not to lust as one being very difficult to obey in a sensual society. Or what about Paul’s commandment: “Do all things without grumbling?” Maybe you have thought complaining is your spiritual gift. There’s no way you could obey that commandment, right?

Indeed, there are many difficult commandments. I think one of the hardest commandments to obey is: “Do not let your heart be troubled” (John 14:1a). There’s so much to be troubled about: potential war and terrorist attack, political corruption, crime and violence, and economic pressure. If you weren’t feeling troubled, you probably are now. On top of the various national and international troubles, there are many “what if?” scenarios. What if I get cancer? What if I’m in an accident? What if my spouse leaves me? What if one of my children dies? What if I lose my job? What if I lose my friends and am rejected at work? All this and much more can bring on heart trouble. That’s why some pundits have said that we live in “The Cardiac Age.” Everyone seems to have heart trouble.

However, your heart trouble may not be based upon national or international concerns or “what if” scenarios. Your worry and fear may be intensely personal. You may be a single mother wondering how to be a good parent and provider. You may be a parent or grandparent agonizing over the rebellion of your children and grandchildren. Perhaps you’re recently divorced and facing life with one income, twice the obligation, and a lot of loneliness and rejection. You may be barely making ends meet and are feeling overwhelmed with your financial obligations. You may be a student standing on the horizon of the future wondering what direction to go. Or perhaps you’re dealing with chronic health problems and you’re weighing the myriad of options for treatment.

Today, if your heart is troubled and you’re feeling confused, concerned, and overwhelmed, you’re in good company. In John 14, Jesus’ disciples felt the very same way. At the ripe young age of thirty-three, their Lord is leaving them. The disciples were not expecting this. They were counting on Jesus being around for a very long time. They were anticipating Jesus to set them free from Roman oppression, and they were preparing to rule and reign with Him. Now it finally begins to dawn on them that Jesus is going to die, and their hearts are heavy and deeply troubled. Fortunately, Jesus addresses His disciples’ heart trouble with some heart-to-heart words. He says to them and to us: “Believing leads to seeing.”

In 14:1a, just a few hours before Jesus goes to the cross, He issues a difficult command to His disciples: “Do not let your heart be troubled.” This phrase is a present tense imperative that can be translated: “Stop being troubled!” This implies that the disciples are already anxious. This command also suggests that heart trouble is something to be conquered. Of course, if you’re like me, you’re expecting Jesus to give a “silver bullet” solution to overcome heart trouble. Jesus gives the cure for heart trouble in 14:1b: “believe in God, believe also in Me.” Yep, that’s it, belief … no more, no less. The grammatically balanced structure shows that Jesus is claiming equality with God. He is also commanding His disciples who are already believers to believe. Jesus knows that many disciples who believe in Him for salvation struggle to believe in Him in the course of their day-to-day lives. As a result, many disciples suffer unnecessarily with heart trouble. So Jesus says: You must believe that I will never leave you. You must believe I will never stop praying for you. You must believe in My sympathy. You must believe in the comfort of the Holy Spirit that I will give you. When (not if) you have heart trouble, it is simple belief in the right object, Jesus Christ, that will sustain you. Believing leads to seeing.

Jesus knows that His followers will be controlled by what they gaze at. So He turns their attention to the glories of heaven. In 14:2, Jesus declares, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” Many people who read these verses have assumed that Jesus has been working for 2,000 years getting heaven ready for us. It has been facetiously suggested that since Christ was a carpenter on earth, He’s been exercising the same skill in glory and He’s working to finish the rooms in time for our arrival. As magical as this notion may sound, this type of thinking is completely erroneous. Jesus clearly says that there already “are many dwelling places” in heaven (14:2a). There is no more need for further construction—the Father’s house is prepared. Jesus is simply saying that through His death, resurrection, and ascension the way to these “dwelling places” will be prepared completely for us.

The reality of our heavenly home can help guard us from heart trouble. No matter how badly things may be going in your life today, Jesus has promised you a glorious eternity. Do you frequently dwell on Jesus’ your eternal dwelling? When we plan family vacations, do we just drive off with no prior preparation? No way! We obtain brochures, we talk to our friends, and we examine maps and pack our bags. How much more we should prepare for eternity, for our heavenly home will be wonderful beyond words. This week, when you think about your weekend, your upcoming vacation, or your holiday schedule, think about your heavenly home. Discipline your mind to ponder the wonder of heaven. Although this is difficult to do, it will help you with earthly heart trouble.

The guarantee of heaven is confirmed by Jesus’ promise: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” In the Old Testament there are over 1,800 references to the return of Christ. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to the Lord’s return—one out of every thirty verses. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books give prominence to this subject. For every prophecy in Scripture concerning Christ’s first coming, there are eight prophecies about Christ’s second coming. In our fallen world, we can gain relief for our troubled hearts from the fact that Jesus is going to take us to be with Him. Often, this may be the only thing that will carry you through.

Christ’s words reveal that our destiny involves both a place and a person. The place is the Father’s house, a place which will contribute to happiness; but being there comes from knowing a person—Christ Himself. Today, if you are uncertain of your eternal destiny, trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior. He is the right person, who will take you to the right place. Believing leads to seeing.

In 14:4, Jesus assures His disciples: “And you know the way where I am going.” Having revealed the beneficial importance of His departure, Jesus uses a mysterious statement to “bait the hook” and draw the disciples into further discussion. He basically says: Men, after all the time I have spent with you, surely you know that I’m going to the cross. I’ve repeatedly spoken of being lifted up, of being betrayed, of dying so you must come to grips with the fact that although I now speak of going to My Father, I am going via the cross.

Almost before Jesus could get the words out of His mouth, Thomas blurts out: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (14:5). The one who would become “Doubting Thomas” is uncertain here as well. He contradicts Jesus’ statement that the disciples know where He is going and wants to know how they should know the way. Yet, Thomas did know these facts, but he was unconscious of it and never utilized the information. This is a great example of the educational principle of the law of use and disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it. This is why so many people can attend church all their lives and never grow in Christ. Such individuals have knowledge in the deep recesses of their minds, but have not been able to effectively articulate it or translate it into obedience. But before we’re too hard on Thomas, to his credit, he’s not afraid to admit his ignorance and take it to the light. This is impressive, and the church needs to welcome those who have spiritual questions.

Jesus doesn’t hesitate to enlighten Thomas. In 14:6 He declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus’ response reveals once again that heaven is not so much a place, but a Person (the Father), and the way to that place is another Person (the Son). Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus is the truth of all we find in the Father. Jesus is the life that is given to us by virtue of our access to God. Put simply, Jesus is the only way a person can have a relationship with God and spend eternity in heaven. This is an exclusive claim that goes against the grain of our society. Hence, John 14:6 has been called, “The Scandal of Christianity.” So controversial and so significant is this statement that my next lesson will focus on the ramifications of this verse. But for now, please understand that Jesus insists that He is the only way to God. Believing leads to seeing.

In 14:7, Jesus continues His response to Thomas; however, His words are not directed to Thomas alone. John uses plural verbs to show that Jesus is speaking to all of the disciples. After all, Thomas is the courageous spokesman for all the disciples. Jesus says, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Three times in this one verse, Jesus uses the verb “know” (ginosko). The word is used in the Old Testament sense, which speaks of intimate personal relationship, not cognitive knowledge (cf. Gen 4:1; Jer 1:5). Jesus is saying to His saved disciples: You’ve never come to really know Me. Since you lack intimate knowledge of Me, you don’t really know the Father. However, in the prologue of this book John writes, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [exegeted] Him” (1:18). This is why Jesus can confidently say, “from now on you know Him [the Father], and have seen Him.” Jesus is God! Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus claims this again and again and again.

Amusingly, at this point, the disciples use a tag-team approach. In 14:8, Philip chimes in, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Can you say open mouth and insert foot? Jesus just finished saying that He has shown the disciples the Father (cf. 14:7). But Philip is not yet satisfied. Here we see the longing and need in men to get a glimpse of God and experience His reality. “Show us God and we will believe” is what Philip is saying. Philip is a materialist who wants something more tangible than metaphysical distinctions or theological abstractions. He wants to see some concrete evidence. Philip does not understand that no one has seen God. It is beyond the human capacity. Even Moses’ request on Mount Sinai was refused (Exod 33:18-23). This desire in man to see God is why humankind is so prone to various forms of idolatry and the pursuit of things we can see and touch and hold (cf. Rom 1:18-32).

Yet Jesus, always the patient and gracious God, answers Philip’s request with some impassioned words: “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (14:9-11). Jesus is the perfect image, the exact replica, of the Father. To see the Lord Jesus is to see and experience God the Father. Thus, Jesus urges His disciples to believe in Him because of His words. But if they cannot believe because of His words alone, He urges them to believe because of the works He does. Believing leads to seeing.

John closes this section in a very surprising way. If I had been writing this gospel, I would have been tempted to tell my readers to identify their personal heart trouble and assure them that Jesus will provide a cure. But John records words from Jesus that deal with fruitful ministry and Christ’s kingdom agenda as a means to comfort disciples who are struggling with heart trouble. This is a brilliant approach! In 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he [she or anyone] who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” Jesus proclaims that His disciples will perform even “greater works” then He has. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? I don’t recall the disciples turning water into wine, feeding thousands, or raising anyone from the dead. Hence, the “greater works” here do not refer to greater in degree, but greater in the sense of extent and effect.

As to extent, Christ’s ministry was limited to Palestine, but through the church, His work went forth not just in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, but to the farthest parts of the known world (Acts 1:8). As to effect, multitudes from all over the world would come to believe in Christ and be placed into the church. When we examine the early chapters of Acts we find that from a numerical standpoint, the works of Peter and the other disciples surpass those of Jesus in a single day. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon and 3,000 people believed in Christ (Acts 2). On that day more are added to the church than had become followers of Jesus during the entire three years of His earthly ministry. All of this occurs through Jesus’ power because He goes to the Father. Jesus releases the Holy Spirit to accomplish great exploits in and through the church.

What I love most about this verse in the midst of a discussion of heart trouble and anxiety is that John and Jesus are saying: As difficult as your troubles and trials are right now, please know that the church is going to accomplish God’s eternal purposes. If you’re feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, observe the kingdom work of the church. The church is touching lives not only in this county, but in our country, and throughout the world. When everything that could go wrong seems to be going wrong and your heart is hurting, please know that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church and God’s kingdom will advance. As difficult as your individual heart troubles are, they are momentary (2 Cor 4:16-18). God assures you that as you take your eyes off of your own troubles and focus on Christ’s work in His church, you will be strengthened. Believing leads to seeing, specifically seeing God work in and through you and His people.

Jesus concludes in 14:13-14 with these words: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will doit.” After reading these verses, you may be wondering if the TV preachers are right after all. Like Aladdin’s lamp, these verses have suffered centuries of misuse. All too often, Christ has been looked on as a magic genie; and prayer, the fervent rub of the lamp. So many times, our prayers are like a stanza from “Old MacDonald’s Farm”: “a gimme gimme here and a gimme there … here a gimme … there a gimme … everywhere a gimme gimme.” But the verse is not a carte blanche to gratify our every desire.

So what are we to make of these verses, which appear to be a promise to grant any request so long as it is asked in Jesus’ name? Two observations are very important. First, the key to understanding these verses is context, context, context. The pronouns “whatever” (14:13) and “anything” (14:14) you ask Jesus for are specifically related to ministry and the works of Christ. There is no promise for your individual desires to be met. Second, this apparently blank check type promise has a condition that we often overlook: “in My name.” We overlook this condition because many Christians think it means simply making our request and then adding the phrase “in Jesus’ name” at the end. Yet, to ask in Jesus’ name is to ask in His will, because it is to be in union with Him. This further develops the union between Jesus and God the Father in 14:10-11. Jesus is saying that every request you and I make should be attuned to His will with a desire to see Him glorified. That means the request must be consistent with the character of Christ. To do something in the name of another is to act as his representative. As an ambassador speaks in the name of the king, so we must be subject to the will and purposes of Christ.

The main purpose of prayer is not to get us out of bankruptcy or to lessen the pain of an inflated tumor. God is interested in these problems and often does do just as we ask. But His primary purpose goes beyond our immediate needs. It is His glory that is of primary importance. Jesus is promising His disciples that their requests concerning fruit bearing would be answered because this would bring glory to God. Jesus is not promising that every request made in His name would be fulfilled.

What do you want God to accomplish in and through you and your church for the sake of His kingdom? What are the “greater works” you want God to bring about? Do you have vision to dream big dreams for Him? Do you have faith to pursue God sized goals? If so, God is yearning to answer your prayers because they are about His kingdom and His glory.

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The Power of Love

I am working on getting my second book published. I did a little research on book titles. Here’s what I discovered: Amazon.com lists 507,878 book titles about heaven, 547,195 about sex, 766,921 about God, and 884,737 about money. Isn’t this astounding? Even more staggering is the fact that one topic beats out all of these—love. There are 922,816 that contain love in their title.

Love is a popular word in our society. Our world is desperately seeking true love. There are all kinds of dating services, escort services, personal classifieds, bars, clubs, and social organizations. There are illicit websites and chat rooms where you can pursue love without leaving your own home. You may also get emails encouraging you to try an affair. All of these opportunities promise “true love” or “real love.” But this is an example of the classic country song by Johnny Lee, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…looking for love in too many faces.” I’ll stop there. The point is: Our world craves love, but they can’t find fulfilling and lasting love.

Love is also a frequent word in the Bible. The Bible uses the root word “love” over 500 times from Genesis through Revelation. Interestingly, for our purposes, the word love is used only twelve times in John 1–12, but in John 13–21 it is used forty–five times! Hence, in the last twenty–four hours of his life, Jesus uses the word love repeatedly. The closer He travels toward the cross, the more love is on His heart and mind. In John 13:31–38, Jesus suggests that the key to impacting the world is for Christians to love each other. So why is the church having so little impact on society? We’re not giving the world what it so desperately craves—love. Yet, the church ought to be Jesus’ solution to the lack of true love in this world. We ought to be able to say, “Look for love in the right place.”

Our passage begins in John 13:31–32 with an important footnote and Jesus’ ultimate prediction of love. The footnote is simply: “Therefore when he [Judas] had gone out” (13:31a). One can almost hear Jesus heave a sigh of relief when Judas closes the door behind him. Once Judas departs, Jesus hunkers down with His believing disciples and articulates the cross and the importance of love. Jesus declares, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately” (13:31b–32). What is the key word in 13:31b–32? It doesn’t take a Greek scholar to discern this. Five times in two verses Jesus uses a form of the verb “glorify” (doxazo). Notice as well the past tense verb “glorified.” The cross is as good as done in Jesus’ mind. For Him death is not a mournful tragedy, but a magnificent triumph. It is glorious not gruesome. At this very moment which seems to spell defeat, dishonor, and disaster for Him, the Son of Man is in reality glorified! Later in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus explains that He glorified His Father by finishing the work the Father gave Him to do (17:4). This is also how we glorify the Father. What has God called you to today? How does He want you to sacrificially express your love to others? Will you finish the work He has given you?

Jesus explains in 13:33 that His purposes for the disciples are not complete. He says, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Many people long to go to heaven to escape their present trials and tribulations. Others talk about how they just want to get away from the evils of our world. While I understand this type of thinking, Jesus explains to His disciples, whom He dearly loves, that they cannot come with Him to heaven just yet because their work on earth is not done. It is a wonderful thing to anxiously anticipate Jesus return. This is a critical element of the Christian life. Paul promises the crown of righteousness for all who love Jesus appearing (2 Tim 4:8). Yet, we also need to relish the privilege of fulfilling God’s call upon our lives while we still have breath. His purposes for you are not complete.

One of the clear-cut purposes that God has for Christians is found in 13:34–35. Jesus declares, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (13:34). Jesus issues a command for you and me to love one another. Of course, the primary question that must be answered in this verse is: Why does Jesus call the commandment to love one another “a new commandment?” Love itself is not a new commandment; it is an old commandment found in Lev 19:8 and Deut 6:5. The Greek word translated “new” (kainos) speaks of what is new in the sense of unused or fresh, rather than something recent or different. It is not so much that the commandment hasn’t been given before as that it has a different quality about it, a quality of freshness that differentiates it from any other. To put it simply, this new commandment has a new object and a new measure. The object is now “one another.” In the Old Testament the command was “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The Jews had watered down the Mosaic teaching so they could love whom they wanted and hate whom they wanted. But Christ changes the object from “neighbor” to “one another.” This leads to the question: Why does Jesus command disciples to love other disciples? Why not exhort disciples to love the world? For Jesus, it is a matter of priorities. Jesus is first concerned about believers that have a unique and special relationship with Him. God loves His kids more than He loves children of the world. Jesus also realizes that we can’t truly love the world until we first love fellow believers. Finally, as we shall see in John 13:35, Jesus knows that when believers love one another as God intends the world will sit up and take notice. This can result in many being drawn to Christ.

The commandment is new because of its object, but also because of its measure. The measure of this love is, “as I have loved you.” Earlier in chapter 13, Jesus gave His disciples a new standard of love. He did this by washing their feet (13:4–17). In doing so, He humbled Himself and served His disciples in an intentional and tangible way. Jesus is calling us to love others as He did. This sacrificial love also reaches out to Judas as he’s about to betray Christ. Jesus wants you and me to sacrificially love other believers to death if necessary. It is a vastly greater love that gives up one’s own life for another, that sacrifices self-interest to promote the interests of another (15:13). The sacrificial work of Christ on the cross is the “new” standard for the Christian’s love for fellow-believers. In 13:34–35, the word Jesus uses for love is the Greek verb agapao and its noun form agape. Of the four words for love in the Greek language, this one is the capstone. 

Essentially, it means to seek the highest good of another. Agape love sacrifices for others. It is an act of the will. It is a decision, a commitment. Love is not about your needs or my needs; it’s about God’s will. When Jesus says “as I have loved you,” He sets Himself up as the standard by which His disciples are to forever measure their love for one another. He is telling them, “I left the splendors and comforts of heaven because I loved you. I called you to be Mine, knowing full well your faults. I taught you, even when you were stubborn and closed-minded. I corrected you when you stepped out of line. I washed your feet on the way to my death. When you denied me and betrayed me, I loved you with an everlasting love. All this was for your highest good. My interest was not in myself, but in you. Like Jesus, we can say: Look for love in the right place.

It is interesting to note the obvious—the command to love other believers is called a “commandment.” This is not an elective class. We understand the difference between required and elective classes. Jesus is making it clear that love is a required 101 class; it is not an elective. Without specifically commanding His disciples to love one another, there existed the very real possibility that this essential activity would be neglected. It seems that we are much better at and much more apt to deal with love as a noun or an abstract concept than as a verb. We prefer talking about love to demonstrating it. When it comes to love, “When all is said and done, there is far more said than done.”

Yet Jesus wants you to love with this kind of supernatural agape love. This means you can love your spouse regardless of how he or she treats you. You may say, “I don’t like my wife.” Well, you don’t have to. There’s a difference between like and love. You are not commanded to like your spouse; you are commanded to love your spouse. There may be some people in our church you can’t stand. That’s okay. However, Jesus is commanding us to love one another.

In 13:35, Jesus declares that when we love each other we will become a magnet to the world. He says, “By this all men [people] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is giving the world the right to examine our credibility. The world can see if we’re for real. If you and I love one another everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. The word translated “know” (ginosko) does not refer to a theoretical knowledge but to a knowledge gained by first-hand, rub-of-the-shoulders observation. How can you reveal to the world that you are Jesus’ disciple? By demonstrating love for fellow believers! When people see this kind of uncommon love exemplified in the Church they are naturally curious. They begin to wonder if the gospel could be true. They begin to believe that Christ DOES bring transformation. On the flip side, when we fail to show love we invalidate the message. People don’t believe there is real transformation in Christ. We make the idea of Christian community very unappealing. People ask, “Why would I want more stress and conflict in my life?” I don’t need Christ or His church!

It is important to notice that there is an “if” (ei) involved in 13:35. Believers can violate the love command. Failure to love does not mean I am not a Christian, but it means the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian.

Therefore, if we expect unbelievers to know that we are Christ’s disciples, we must show the mark. The early church displayed the mark. Tertullian, a church father who wrote a century after the gospel of John was written said that unbelievers saw Christians loving one another and commented, “Behold, how they love one another.” Even today, nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. There are many places you can go and find communities of shared interest. There are many places you can go to find people just like yourself, who live for sports or music or gardening or politics. But true agape love is hard to find. Ultimately, it can only be found in the church. Look for love in the right place. So how can we grow in our love for one another? Here are some practical suggestions.

  • Speak well of the church. Strive to always speak well of your church without using “but language.” “I really like my church, butmy pastor isn’t very friendly.” “I appreciate the worship at my church, but I don’t like a lot of the songs the worship team picks.” “I like the children’s ministries, but the adult ministries don’t meet my needs.” The simple conjunction “but” cancels out everything positive you’ve said. This is also relevant when discussing other churches in your county. Don’t say, “I really appreciate the church on the west side of town, but they are too charismatic.” “I like the pastor of the church on the east side, but the rest of the other staff pastors are jerks.” If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all. The truth is: Every church has its own unique strengths. You and I can always find positive things to say about any evangelical church. So today, commit to only speaking well of the church.
  • Learn to express your love to believers.Speak loving and encouraging words to another believer. Look a fellow believer in the eyes and say, “I love you.” Say to a brother or sister, “I care about you,” or “I believe in you.” Reach out and touch someone through appropriate physical touch. Instead of just a handshake, high-five, or chest bump; touch someone’s shoulder, give a half-hug or a full hug. Do a loving action toward someone who has hurt or offended you. This will help free you from the bondage of bitterness. This is the Jesus factor, choosing to bless instead of blister someone who has wounded you.
  • Strive to serve other believers.Would you pray that God would burden your heart to serve a brother or sister in your life? What does this person need? Could he or she use free babysitting? Does this person need a piece of furniture that you could provide? Perhaps this person needs a skill-set that you can meet (e.g., home repair, automotive care). Today, will you offer to meet this person’s needs? Will you be Christ’s face, hands, and feet?

Chapter 13 concludes with three verses that seem a bit misplaced. In fact, many commentators include these verses with chapter 14. Yet, I see these verses fitting rather nicely with 13:31–35. John’s concern is that you and I don’t assume that we can pull off agape in our own strength. Naturally, John brings up another episode with Peter. Look at 13:36a:“Simon Peter said to Him [Jesus], ‘Lord, where are You going?’” I want you to notice that Jesus spoke some of the most profound words about Christians loving each other, and Peter did not hear a word of it. He asks a question that skips over that whole subject entirely (13:34–35), and he goes back to what Jesus had said about going away for a while (13:31–33). That was what got his attention, and he heard nothing else. You’ve got to love Peter! He’s so much like you and me. “Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later’” (13:36b). In other words, “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Jesus acknowledges that Peter will eventually go the route of suffering. Church history tells us that Peter was crucified upside down. Regardless, Jesus makes it clear that Peter’s time has not yet come. But Peter responds to Jesus with some audacious words: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You” (13:37). Peter assures Jesus, “I’m your main man. When everyone else leaves you, I’ll be by your side. I’m not a flaky disciple. You can count on me, Jesus.”

Now before we come down too hard on Peter, we need to remember Peter was an example of faith. He was often a spiritual stud.

  • He was one of the “inner three” with James and John.
  • He was the one who said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man” after the miraculous catch of fish.
  • It was Peter who answered the Lord’s question: “Who do you say I am?” with “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
  • It was of Peter’s confession that the Lord said, “On this rock I will build my church.”
  • It was Peter who stood up to defend Jesus in the Garden.
  • It was Peter who followed Jesus (with John) into the court after His arrest.
  • It was Peter who ran with John to the empty tomb.
  • It was Peter who jumped in the water after the resurrection to swim to shore to see Jesus.

However, in this particular instance, Peter inadvertently expresses his impatience and self-reliance. As a result, Jesus follows up Pete’s claim with some sobering words: “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (13:38). This is brutal! Jesus takes a spiritual 2×4 upside Peter’s head. His point is: Peter you can’t be faithful to me in your own strength. You can’t acknowledge Me publicly or live what I have taught you unless you abide in Me.

This word is so relevant for you and me as well. After reading this lesson, you will most likely get into some “intense fellowship” (i.e., a fight) with your spouse. Instead of exhibiting agape, you will pour out your wrath. This evening, your children will push your buttons and you will likely become angry instead of exercising patience. This week, you may learn that someone in your church has been gossiping about you or even slandering you. Your temptation will be to respond in kind and give this individual a piece of your Christian mind. These are all natural fleshly impulses that we all feel. Yet God is calling us to live a supernatural life that is dependent upon His strength. John is informing you and me that we can’t live the Christian life on our own for even an hour. We are weak and susceptible to sin. The only way that we can exude agape love is by constantly abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, will you make a commitment of your will that you will obey Jesus’ new commandment and display agape? If you do, you will be able to say to others: “Look for love in the right place. You can look at my marriage, my family, and my church. My passion is to glorify Jesus by showcasing the love that He has instilled in me. Look for love right here, right now…in me.”

Quality Inn & Suites has a large sign with the words, “Free Hot Breakfast.” Now I must tell you, I am a huge breakfast lover. Well, every time our family drives by this Quality Inn, I want to drop in and say, “Yes, I would like a ‘free hot breakfast.’” Unfortunately, I would have to pay between $70–110 a night to enjoy their hot breakfast.

The church should have a proverbial sign that reads “Free Agape.” The difference is—there should be no charge for our services. You don’t have to put money into the offering. You don’t have to promise to serve. You don’t have to be particularly lovable. You just have to be a person created in God’s image with dignity, value, and worth. If the church is to make a difference in its culture, we need to love one another and then extend love to a world that desperately needs Christ. Then, and only then, can we honestly say: Look for love in the right place.

Upper Room #2 – The Judas Syndrome

Our skin is soft, like tightly woven fabric. It appears porous from the outside with millions of tiny openings that ooze sweat. But our skin is a surprisingly effective barrier. For decades medicine makers have tried to develop drugs that can be administered through the skin. Doctors call them transdermal drugs—like some pain-relieving sprays and nicotine and hormone patches. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to perfect a way to manufacture drugs that can be painlessly administered through the skin. But for all their efforts, scientists have only found a handful of compounds that go through our skin. However, if our skin is properly prepared, medicines can permeate it. Scientists have developed ointments that make the skin able to transmit drugs. They’ve used very low electrical currents to propel drugs through the skin. They’ve even invented little patches about the size of a band-aid with tiny micro needles that pierce the top layers of the skin enough to get drugs in but not deep enough to be felt by our nerves. This has all been done in an attempt to overcome the barrier of our skin.

Spiritually, we’re the same. Our hearts have barriers. We can be immersed in God’s grace, but at times none of it permeates into our hearts. We need God to prepare our hearts so that He can administer His grace. Throughout America, many people attend church on a weekly basis and are even involved in various small groups or ministries, yet have never personally trusted in Christ. This is why it’s been said there are three kinds of believers in every church: believers, unbelievers, and make-believers. Because the reception of faith in Christ is an invisible transaction that takes place between God and an individual, it’s often difficult to know who is a believer. Some might object, “Well, that’s easy, just look at a person’s works to determine whether one is genuine or counterfeit.” Yet, the problem with this suggestion is that many unbelievers and make-believers have more quality and quantity to their works than true believers. They have the external reality (works), but not the internal reality (faith). This is what I call, “The Judas Syndrome.” Judas spent over three years up-close with Jesus Himself. Judas exorcised demons, healed people, and even preached the gospel. But Jesus calls him “a devil” (John 6:70) and “the son of perdition” (17:12). In the end, Judas handed Jesus over to be murdered for thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:14–16). Judas was both an unbeliever and a make-believer. In John 13:18–30, we’ll study an account that exemplifies Christ’s amazing grace in the face of Judas’ own unbelief and hardness of heart. This account should compel us to be certain that we’ve believed in Christ as Savior. It should also motivate us to love and forgive unbelievers who reject Christ and us.

In 13:18a, in the midst of the Last Supper, Jesus says: “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen.” Jesus tells His disciples that what He is saying doesn’t apply to all of them; His words apply to those whom He has chosen. The inference is clear: There is an impostor in their midst—Judas. But what has Jesus been saying that doesn’t apply to Judas? Most likely it is Jesus’ definitive statement in 13:17: “If you understand these things [i.e., serving others], you will be blessed if you do them.” Jesus’ point is good works are of great benefit to the believer. They express gratitude to God, provide visible confirmation of salvation, and serve as the basis for eternal rewards. However, good works don’t benefit the unbeliever. When good works are done apart from faith in Christ, they are of no eternal value. The reason is simple: God only honors works that are empowered by Him and performed for Him.

In 13:8b–19, Jesus provides two reasons He alludes to Judas’ betrayal, First, Jesus wants His disciples to trust in the veracity of the Scriptures. Jesus speaks of Judas “…that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’” Jesus quotes Ps 41:9, which is about David who endured the painful experience of being rejected by a one-time friend. Someone who had often eaten with David and enjoyed his hospitality turned on him and became his enemy. To eat bread is a cultural symbol that refers to personal intimacy, and to lift up the heel is a symbol of personal contempt that likely symbolizes that one had walked out on his friend. Jesus informs His disciples about Judas so that they understand that his betrayal was all a part of God’s perfect plan.

The second reason Jesus alludes to Judas’ betrayal is He wants His disciples to trust that He’s the Christ. In 13:19 Jesus declares, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” The phrase “I am” (ego eimi) is used throughout John’s gospel to affirm Jesus’ deity. The phrase echoes God’s Old Testament name YHWH. The name YHWH points to God’s self-sufficiency. This is especially clear in Exod 3:14 when God reveals Himself to Moses as “I am.” By using this Old Testament language, Jesus is claiming that He is God. Thus, it is erroneous when cynics and critics argue that Jesus never claimed to be God. As C.S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity, Jesus did indeed claim to be God. Consequently, there are only three possibilities: Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord. There is no fourth option.

Jesus knows that soon the disciples are going to know that there’s a betrayer in their midst. Jesus considers it important to tell them before it happens, lest Peter look at John and say: “Jesus really blew it. I mean, He chose twelve, and one of them was a bad choice. If He made that big a mistake, then He may not be who He said He was, or who we think He is.” Jesus is saying, in effect: “I just want you to know that I know what I’m doing.” Nothing takes Jesus by surprise. He is the sovereign Son of God. After His death and resurrection, He wants His disciples to have further evidence that He is who He claimed to be—God Himself.

In 13:20, Jesus refers to the “chain of connection”: Father-Son-Apostles: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” The one who receives the apostles receives Christ; the one who receives Christ receives God the Father. It is a logical, inevitable chain reaction. John typically uses the verb “believe” (pisteuo), “believe in” (pisteuo eis) or “believe that” (pisteuo hoti) to designate Christians, but he also uses the term “receive” (lambano) in three instances (1:12; 5:43; 13:20). This is simply a synonym for “believe,” and emphasizes receiving the gift of salvation. Today, have you received God’s free gift of Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead to demonstrate that He is God? If you haven’t, I urge you to receive Christ today. Please don’t miss an opportunity to receive the gift of salvation that Jesus offers. Tomorrow holds no guarantees. Now, if you’re looking for something to contribute to salvation (like most Americans), give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. He will then transform you from the inside out.

After previously only alluding to Judas’ betrayal (cf. John 6:70; 13:10, 18–19), Jesus becomes more explicit in 13:21. John writes, “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.’” If you’re familiar with the Gospels, it’s easy to diminish Jesus’ grief over Judas’ betrayal. However, the verb “troubled” (tarasso) is the same word used in John 11:33 as Jesus stood by Lazarus’ grave and wept. It’s also the same term used in 12:27 as Jesus thought about the coming dread of the cross and said, “Now my heart is troubled.” As these instances demonstrate, Jesus is heavy-hearted and grieving over one of His own disciples betraying Him. John 13:21 demonstrates one of the most remarkable truths about Jesus’ heart. On the eve of the cross, just a few hours before He is going to be crucified, our Lord’s heart is troubled, not for Himself, but for Judas—the one who is going to deliver Him to death.

In the midst of your declining physical health, who are you concerned about? When you suffer through physical symptoms, does your heart ache for someone else? Do you sense a heart of compassion that draws you into prayer? When you are in the midst of a personal trial, do you become absorbed in yourself or do you attempt to focus on someone else who is struggling as well? As you wage war with sin, do you feel a sense of humility that burdens you to be concerned for others who are living for the flesh or being devoured by the enemy? Are you aware of those who are hurting because they are experiencing trials, tests, or temptations? Could you name such people today? Will you take the time to lift these believers up in prayer? Will you pray, God increase my heart for my church family? Please give me a burden for others. When we take our eyes off of ourselves, our perspective frequently improves.

Surprisingly, in 13:22, “The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking.” It is rather astonishing, there is no mention in the New Testament that the disciples suspect Judas or are even suspicious of him. This indicates that he “covered his duplicity very well.” In the other three gospels, the disciples (including Judas) ask Jesus, “Surely not I? The eleven do not know who the betrayer is. Yet, it is likely that they are not threatened by Jesus’ prediction. After all, Jesus could calm storms, raise the dead, feed the hungry, and heal the sick. They likely assume that there isn’t any potential disaster that He can’t handle. The possibility of personal failure is their concern, especially when they are vying with one another for a higher position in the coming kingdom.

Naturally, in the wake of the betrayal revelation, Peter intervenes. John provides the play-by-play in 13:23–25: “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, ‘Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.’ He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” The disciple “whom Jesus loved” is a reference to John, who chooses to write from a third person perspective. Evidently, Peter was somewhere across the table from Jesus. He is unable to ask Jesus privately to identify the betrayer. John must have reclined on his left elbow immediately to Jesus’ right. By leaning back against Jesus’ chest John could have whispered his request quietly.

In 13:26, we have one of the most beautiful verses in the New Testament. John writes, “Jesus then answered, ‘That [the one who will betray Me] is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.’ So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the sonof Simon Iscariot.” In the culture of Jesus’ time, to take a morsel from the table, dip it in the common dish, and offer it to someone else was a gesture of special friendship. Interestingly, Judas must have sat near enough to Jesus for Jesus to do this conveniently (cf. Matt 26:25). Possibly, Judas reclined to Jesus’ immediate left. If he did, this would have put him in the place of the honored guest immediately to the host’s left. Regardless, the morsel Jesus prepares for Judas was a piece of the Passover lamb wrapped in flour and rolled together. It would be dipped in sauce made of bitter herbs and eaten. Why did Jesus prepare a morsel and offer it to Judas? In the greatest act of grace ever recorded, Jesus offers Judas one more chance. Jesus offers Judas a piece of the sacrificial lamb. Jesus, the Lamb of God to be sacrificed to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), is offering Judas Himself. He is saying, “Judas, here I am. Do you want Me?”

How far are you to go in expressing love and forgiveness toward others? As far as Jesus who gave His life even for those who rejected and betrayed Him. Have you ever experienced betrayal? Have you been abused sexually or physically by a relative? Has your spouse ever had a physical or emotional affair? Have your children ever shared confidential information with others? Has a coworker ever run you into the ground with your boss or a fellow coworker? Has anyone from your church gossiped about you? Has a classmate spread slander about you throughout the school? Jesus’ example of unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace reminds us that we must model the same kind of compassion for those who sin against us.

Tragically, there are instances when Jesus displays magnificent grace, and humans harden their hearts. John writes, “After the morsel, Satan then entered into him [Judas]. Therefore Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly’” (13:27). Judas rejects Jesus’ love, which opens him up to Satan in the greatest way imaginable. Hence, Jesus commands Judas to quickly depart, secure his silver, and betray Him. In other words, get this dastardly deed over with! Jesus recognizes that Judas has reached the point of no return. After all, you can reject the Light only so many times. If you have rejected Christ over the course of your lifetime, you may be getting dangerously close to hardening your heart to such an extent that you will not ever believe in Him. So do not make the horrible mistake that Judas did. Instead, believe in Christ today.

After Jesus commanded Judas to take care of his business, John writes, “Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, ‘Buy the things we have need of for the feast’; or else, that he should give something to the poor” (13:28–29). Again, no one suspects Judas. Perhaps, since Judas managed the money, the disciples assume that he is the least likely person to betray Jesus. After all, he is trustworthy, right? Jesus gave Judas this position of authority. Interestingly, Peter and John don’t jump up from supper and run after Judas. Somehow, Jesus’ explicit visual aid didn’t register in their minds. Maybe they thought the betrayal would happen much later and they would have time to talk some sense into Judas. Perhaps, the Lord didn’t allow them to comprehend everything that He said and did. Only God knows completely what happened on that evening.

John’s account concludes in 13:30 on the following note: “So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.” “And it was night” is a peculiar parenthetical note by the author. There is no need to mention that it is night. The setting is the Last Supper. Supper occurs at night! Obviously, the comment is more than just a time indicator; it is laden with theology. With the departure of Judas to set in motion the betrayal, arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus, daytime is over and night has come (see 9:5; 11:9–10; 12:35–36). Judas became one of those who walked by night and stumbled because the light was not in him (11:10). Instead of receiving the light, Judas chose to walk in darkness. As a result, he sealed his eternal fate. Don’t make the mistake of Judas!

What do you think of when you hear the name Benedict Arnold? Now, you may have to dust off your mental archives and reflect back on your grammar school history class, but undoubtedly you remember Benedict’s claim to fame. You likely think of treason and betrayal. Assuredly, you remember little else about him.

What do you think of when you hear the name Robert Hanssen? You may recall, Hanssen was a brilliant FBI agent (1976–2001). He also was a seemingly devout Catholic, happily married husband, and father of six kids. He seemed to be successful in every area of his life. Yet, Hanseen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for more than twenty years. He was found guilty of selling American secrets to Moscow for more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a twenty-two year period. Hanssen is serving a life sentence at a “Supermax” federal prison in Florence, CO, in which Hanssen spends twenty-three hours a day in solitary confinement. Hanssen’s story is chronicled in the made for television movie Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story (2002). A more recent movie about Hanssen’s life is entitled Breach (2007). His activities have been described as possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history. Robert Hanssen will always be remembered as a man with incredible privilege and opportunity who ended in absolute failure.

What do you think of when you hear the name Judas? Obviously, you probably have not named any of your children Judas, nor do you know anyone who has done so (I hope). Like Arnold and Hanssen, Judas is linked in biblical history with treason and betrayal. He is remembered solely for how his relationship with Jesus ended. He was a miserable failure in every sense of the word.

You see, you can have tons of religion without one ounce of salvation. It is imperative, therefore, that you and I ensure that we are not trusting in religion. Instead, we must trust in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Will you do so today?

Just Do it! Upper Room Discourse #1

Just Do it! (John 13:1-17)

One day an airline flight was canceled due to bad weather. One solitary agent was trying to rebook all of the travelers whose schedules had gotten messed up. One passenger became impatient and pushed his way to the front and slammed his ticket down on the counter. He said, “I have to be on this flight, and it has to be first class!” The agent politely said, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll help as soon as I can, but I have to take care of these other people first.” The man became angry and shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Without hesitating, the agent picked up the loud speaker microphone and said to the hundreds of people in the terminal, “May I have your attention, please? We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.” The man backed off, and the crowd of people burst into applause. Regardless of whom that man was—whether he was rich or famous or a little bit of both—he certainly didn’t have the respect of the people at the terminal that day. It’s hard to respect someone who considers themselves the most important person in the room and who puts his or her needs ahead of everyone else.

Perhaps you think I’m talking about your spouse, your teenager, your neighbor, or your mother-in-law. (I might be.) But maybe I am actually talking about you. Have you ever said, “I’m not going to do that.” “No one’s going to tell me what to do!” “I don’t have to put up with this.” “They don’t realize who I am.” “They don’t appreciate all I do around here!” “I don’t get any respect.” If you have said these things or thought these things, I am talking directly to you…and, I’m afraid, to me as well. If the truth be known, we’ve all thought these things, and most likely, even said these things out loud. Thus, we need to be reminded that there is no job beneath us. In case you question this remark, in John 13:1-17 the apostle John shares an account from Christ’s life that reveals our need to study this passage.

In 13:1-3 John writes, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.” Before we get too deep into this great episode, it is important to set the context. John asserts that it is the day before the Feast of Passover—a meal that commemorated Israel’s release from Egypt. (Exodus 12) It is Thursday evening, less than twenty-four hours away from Jesus’ death on the cross. What would you be doing if you knew that you had less than twenty-four hours to live? Perhaps, you would be praying to be spared from death. Or maybe you would be doing some last-minute confession of sin. Not Jesus. His mind is set on preparing His disciples for His imminent departure. In fact, all of Jesus’ teaching in John 13-17 takes place on the eve of His death. Thus, this series is entitled, “Focus on Your Family: What Matters Most to Jesus.” Our goal is to discover how to truly be Jesus’ disciples and do church as He desires.

As we begin this account, it is critical to observe that John emphasizes twice what Jesus knows. In 13:1, Jesus knows that He is going to die and return to His Father. In 13:3, Jesus knows that the Father has given all things into His hands, and that He has come forth from God, and is going back to God. These statements reveal that Jesus knows His origin and His destiny. It is my conviction that true humility grows out of our relationship with God the Father. When you know that your needs are met in Christ, when you know who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going, you’ll be able to freely serve others. If you don’t know who you are, where you came from and where you’re going, you’ll not be secure enough to serve. Instead, you’ll be tempted to manipulate people to get your needs met. But as a follower of Jesus you ought to approach relationships out of a sense of fullness. You know who you are and you have nothing to prove. You no longer have to manipulate people or be paranoid about other people’s expectations and opinions. As you meditate on biblical truths that emphasize your security and significance in Christ, you’ll be more prone to serve rather than seek to be served.

Before we move on, it is critical to grasp 13:1b, which may be the key to the Upper Room Discourse. Regardless, this phrase has had a tremendous impact on my pastoral ministry. Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The theme of this section is service founded and grounded in love. Twice John emphasizes Jesus’ great love for His disciples. His life and ministry were characterized by a commitment to “having loved

His own.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested all His time, energy, and teaching into His disciples. But John also makes the startling point that Jesus “loved them to the end.” There is a double meaning here: Jesus persisted in faithful love toward His disciples in going to the cross and He persevered in unconditional love for them. Despite their ignorance, unbelief, disobedience, and eventual apostasy, Jesus persevered in His love for His disciples. One of the greatest incentives to serve others is to recognize that Jesus Christ has a vast, unconditional love for you. If you begin to grasp this love, it will motivate you to want to serve others as an expression of gratitude to Jesus. Today, you may struggle loving unlovely and unlovable Christians. We all struggle here. However, there is hope: When you feel you cannot love a brother or sister, immediately call out to God and acknowledge, “I can’t love this person, but I know you can. Will you love this believer through me?” You may have to pray this prayer (silently) several times whenever you see this person. But since this is God’s will for you (cf. 13:34-35), He will give you the supernatural strength to love your brother or sister. This Christ-like love will also take your ministry to the next level.

John has disclosed what Jesus knows about Himself and His future (13:1-3). Now he reveals what Jesus does in response to His knowledge. In 13:4-5, John describes Jesus’ actions in seven slow-motion scenes: “He [Jesus] got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” Don’t miss the fact that according to 13:4 (cf. 13:2) the meal is already underway when Jesus begins washing the disciples’ feet. This may strike you as odd, and rightly so. Foot washing normally occurred before the meal when guests entered a home. Foot washing was needed in every home in Palestine. Not only were the streets dusty and dirty, but they usually contained garbage and the waste from the animals that traveled up and down the same streets. Furthermore, the people didn’t wear socks, much less Nike Air. Instead, they wore open-toed sandals and their feet became very grimy, grungy, sweaty, and smelly. Needless to say filthy, smelly feet could make the meal and the fellowship rather uninviting. Thus, in Jesus’ day, foot washing was mandatory! Typically, a guest normally washed his or her own feet after the host offered a basin of water. You knelt down, removed your sandals, washed your feet, and then dried them with a towel. If a host had servants, they might be delegated to do the job for you. This was a mark of a high achievement in biblical times. A host that could provide this luxury had arrived! But under no circumstances would the host wash the feet of his guests. The master would never stoop so low as to wash the feet of those beneath him. Slaves washed feet. Masters never did.

So why in the world is Jesus, the Master, washing His disciples’ feet? Why hadn’t the disciples washed each other’s feet? Why hadn’t someone washed Jesus’ feet? After all, this was the evening before his crucifixion. If there was any night the disciples should have served Jesus, it was the Last Supper. Why did they start the meal with dirty feet? No doubt the events of the final few days had distracted them. But we get a greater clue from Luke 22:24 (cf. 9:46). On the way to the Last Supper, the ambitious disciples had been quarreling over who should be the greatest and who would have precedence in Christ’s kingdom. They were like Muhammad Ali claiming, “I am the greatest!” When they entered the Upper Room, there was apparently no slave to perform the customary washing of the feet of the guests. The disciples probably took turns when there was no slave, but on this occasion none would condescend to do the menial task. Their minds were full of the subject of their bitter contention, and none was willing to be servant of all. Each feigned unconsciousness of the neglected duty. The disciples were jealous of one another and were competing for the best place. They were all looking out for number one. No wonder they didn’t wash each other’s feet. No wonder it was left to Jesus. “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”

The attitude of the disciples is what makes John’s deliberate slow-motion account all the more powerful. By delaying the foot washing into the meal, Jesus escalated the level of suspense. Have you ever been at a restaurant with some friends, and that awkward moment arrives when the check is placed on the table? The question that likely runs through your mind is: Whose turn is it to pay? Of course you likely assume it is your friends’ turn to pay for the meal. So you wait and wait hoping that they will pick up the bill on the table. Finally, it dawns on you that your friends are not going to pay. So you slowly reach for the bill, hoping that they will beat you to it. It may seem that this is what Jesus is doing. After all, His disciples attended Jesus Christ Biblical Seminary. After three years with the world’s greatest theologian, you would hope that they would be willing to serve Him. But this is not the case.

However, before we are too hard on the disciples, we must understand that Jesus is a detail oriented administrator. It seems that the lack of a servant to wash the disciples’ feet was deliberate. First of all, it was the host’s responsibility to provide this (see Luke 7), and Jesus was the host. Furthermore, throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus very carefully arranging things in advance (e.g., procuring the donkey and its colt, securing a place in which to celebrate Passover). It is unlikely, then, that the omniscient Jesus would forget to provide for the foot washing. Finally, all the things that were necessary for the foot washing were present (i.e., the basin, the water, the towel). Therefore, it is likely that Jesus purposefully arranged for a servant not to be present, so that He could wash the disciples’ feet, knowing (as He did) all that would take place during this meal. Jesus was and is the quintessential servant.

Now, if you are familiar with the Gospels, you are probably anticipating what is about to happen. Peter and Jesus have some legendary dialogue. In 13:6-11, John records Peter’s apprehension over Jesus washing his feet. John writes, “So He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter’” (13:6-7). Although Peter can be slow of mind and heart, he finally recognizes that his Creator, the very Lord of glory should not be washing his feet. However, Jesus explains that this act will make sense “hereafter.” Jesus is referring to the explanation that he will share with His disciples in 13:12-17. A question remains though: Will Peter truly understand the purpose and intent of Jesus’ words? The answer is: Absolutely yes. After Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter understood fully. It is worth noting that Peter almost certainly had this episode in mind when he commanded his readers in 1 Pet 5:5: “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The verb translated “clothe yourself” is reminiscent of Jesus putting on the garb of a slave. Eventually Peter did indeed catch the point of Jesus example.

At the moment, however, Peter is fighting Jesus tooth and nail. In 13:8, Peter responds to Jesus’ offer by saying: “Never shall You wash my feet.” The Greek is even more forceful: “You will never wash my feet forever.” In other words, Peter uses eternal language to say: “Jesus you will never, ever wash my feet, not now or anytime in the future.” You’ve got to love Peter here! When he gets it wrong, he gets it spectacularly wrong.

Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’” (13:8b). Jesus is not threatening Peter with a loss of salvation. This would contradict God’s Word and His very character. Rather, the purpose of foot washing is to illustrate Jesus’ philosophy of ministry, which is servant leadership. For Peter to reject Jesus’ offer to wash his feet is to reject His entire approach to ministry. The implication here is that Jesus wants Peter to tend His sheep (cf. John 21:16-17), but the only way that this can occur is by adopting Christ-like servant leadership. Furthermore, the only way to truly enjoy intimate fellowship with Jesus is to serve Him and keep short accounts. This is the challenge that Jesus issues to Peter.

Of course, Peter is a man of extremes. Good, ole’ Peter. Sometimes the only time he opens his mouth is to change feet! In 13:9, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Peter says, “Jesus, just give me a bath! I’m ready to jump into the tub.” Naturally, he is overcompensating, so Jesus says to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” There’s a great lesson here: We walk in a dirty world every day, and some of the dirt rubs off on us. We need to let Jesus get close enough to us so He can keep our lives clean. Again, the issue is intimate fellowship with Jesus. This is subsequent to salvation and is explained in 1 John 1:9. Yet, in the midst of a discussion of intimate fellowship, Jesus also brings up the topic of salvation, knowing full well that Judas is an unbeliever. His point is: Peter needs to have his feet washed, while Judas needs to be immersed in a tub! What a great picture of the distinction between salvation and fellowship.

Again, Jesus Christ, not only died on the cross for the sins of the world, He lived a life of servanthood. During this last supper, Jesus washed all the feet of his disciples, including Judas, the one who would betray him in a matter of hours. To visualize this it is important to remember that Jesus and His disciples are not sitting in chairs around a dining room table. Rather, they are reclining on their left elbows, eating with their right hand, and have their feet behind them. The stench from their feet must have been horrendous. How could they really have enjoyed their meal? Nevertheless, Jesus went from disciple to disciple and washed their feet. In His love, He was able to endure the ingrown nails, corns, calluses, cracked heels, and fungi. What a great, sacrificial love!

In 13:12-17, John’s account becomes rather pointed. “So when He [Jesus] had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?” (13:12) Jesus, the master teacher, poses a question because He knows His disciples are slow of mind and heart. He wants to make sure that they have really caught this truth. He then follows up His question with a powerful declaration: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.’ If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:13-14). Twice in these verses, Jesus calls Himself “Teacher and Lord.” It is worth noticing that no disciple ever addressed Jesus casually. No one ever called Him “Jesus” and they certainly never used expressions like “Sweet Jesus” or “Dear Jesus.” They called Him “Master” or “Lord.”

Often, I think we make a mistake in being too familiar with the Lord Jesus Christ. We envision Him as a cosmic Santa Claus or a Mr. Rogers with a nice zip-up polyester sweater. We rarely ponder the fact that He came as the Lamb of God but is now the Lion of God. If we had a holy sense of awe at the power and sovereignty of Jesus and recognized that He willingly served humankind, we would not hesitate to do so as well. It is when we have a great view of Jesus and a small view of ourselves that we get things done.

It is worth noting that some Christians understand 13:14b to proscribe foot washing as the third ordinance, along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, most Christian groups have said that this is not the case because, (1) there is never a record of it being done by any church in Acts; (2) it is never advocated in the New Testament letters; and (3) it is never specifically said to be an ongoing ordinance as are baptism (cf. Matt 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). This is not meant to imply that this might not be an important worship event. But it is more appropriate to look for other creative ways to wash people’s feet.

John’s account concludes in 13:1517 with a powerful punch line: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” The command is: Do as I have done. Apparently, Nike copied Jesus when they trademarked the slogan, “Just do it!” Jesus is simply saying, “See what needs to be done and do it.” Therefore, if I could boil down this lesson into one statement, it would be: Actions speak louder than words. If Jesus asked the disciples (even on the road to the upper room), “Do you love Me?” they would have responded, “We love You with all our hearts.” If He had asked them, “Do you love one another?” His disciples would have replied, “We love each other and all of God’s children.” Jesus’ disciples knew the right things, but they did not do the right things. Yet, James, the half-brother of Jesus said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Actions speak louder than words.

Many cathedrals in Europe suffered damage as a result of bombing raids during World War II. The explosion of a bomb in one great cathedral blew the hands off a statue of Christ. Though the cathedral was repaired, the statue of Christ stands there today with His hands missing. An inscription on the pedestal reads, “Christ hath no hands but yours.” Today will you be Jesus’ hands and feet?

Today, will you pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you a single person He wants you to serve? Don’t think about a list of twenty, just one single person that the Lord will lay upon your heart. Ask Him for the grace to love this person unconditionally and to serve him or her with your whole being. This is a prayer that God will answer. Remember, actions speak louder than words. May you and I follow in the sandals of Jesus and become foot washers.