John 13: December 8—Serve humbly
Dec 1, 2013
By MARK A. RATHEL

Mark Rathel is a professor of theology at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
Beginning in chapter thirteen, John described the events of the last night of Jesus’ life. This chapter contains reminiscences of chapter one. Jesus came to His own people and they did not receive Him (John 1:11). The events of the last night occurred because of Jesus’ love for His own disciples (John 13:1), yet the disciples had difficulty receiving the ministry of Jesus. Furthermore, the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God (1: 29). The next day Jesus humbly died as the Passover Lamb to take away our sins.

What does this John 13 teach believers about Jesus and service?

First, serving humbly necessitates knowing the mission (John 13:1-3). The early verses of this chapter provide a beautiful fourfold summary of the mission of Jesus. First, Jesus knew His identity. He came from God and would depart this world to return to God. The language in the Fourth Gospel about Jesus as sent from God expresses one of the strongest NT affirmations of the deity of Jesus. In addition, Jesus knew His purpose as marked by the arrival of His “hour” (13:1). The “hour” of Jesus was His glorification through sacrificial death (2:4; 7:30; 8:20: 12:23). Moreover, love to the end—ultimate, complete, fully—characterized Jesus’ ministry. Finally, the mission of Jesus occurred in the context of Satanic opposition through the person of Judas.

Following Jesus means that the life of every believer should parallel the mission of Jesus. We should know our identity; we are children of God on a mission. Our mission may entail sacrifice. Love should characterize our service. We should expect Satanic opposition.

Second, serving humbly means becoming a servant. Palestinian roads were dusty. Common courtesy of a hosts meant providing a servant to wash the feet of the guests. On this night, Jesus the host of the Passover meal exercised the lowest form of service by washing the feet of the disciples. In John 12, Mary washed Jesus’ feet; now He washed the feet of His disciples. Any of the disciples would have willingly washed Jesus’ feet. Peter, ever the spokesperson, refused the simple act because of pride. British theologian William Temple chastised all of us Peters:  ‘humility does not begin with providing service but with the readiness to receive it.”

Jesus appealed to His role as Teacher and Lord to encourage disciples to follow His example and wash feet (13:14-15). Some Christians view footwashing as an ordinance, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In Act and the letters of the NT, no description occurs of the church observing footwashing. Paul provided theological explanations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper but the apostle did not provide a theological explanation of footwashing. The act of footwashing is not an ordinance. Footwashing symbolizes authentic, lowly service within the family of God.

Third, love provides the motivation of serving humbly (13:33-35). The Old Testament expressed two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. The newness of this command of Jesus flows from a Jesus-type of love. Jews limited love to people like them. Jesus loved unconditionally, humbly, sacrificially, and completely (to the end). The newness of the command is the responsibility of Christians to love as Jesus loved—unconditionally, sacrificially, humbly, and completely (v. 34). 

The Jews of Jesus’ day talked about “badges of Judaism”—identifying markers that defined their identity to non-Jews. The badges of Judaism were circumcision, Sabbath, and kosher food. Jesus identified the one “badge” of the Christian faith as love for the community of faith. The Lord gave the right to all people (believers and unbelievers) to evaluate the reality of an individual’s relation to Jesus on the basis of love for other Christians. Are your displaying your Christian badge of love?

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