Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to 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, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 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, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist (John 13:1–4, esv).
It was time.
John 13:1 tells us, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” The hour had come—the hour for suffering and atonement.
The feedings were over. No more miracles. No more healings. No more mountainside sermons. No more calming storms. All of that was in the past.
Just Jesus, in a room with twelve men who would change the world. The Upper Room Discourse was Jesus’ pregame speech, the final chalk talk. Amazingly, though, knowing His time had come, the first thing Jesus said was nothing. The first thing He communicated was through action.
He could have saved some premium miracle or an unforgettable sermon He’d kept tucked away for the occasion. He could have said something like, “You thought the Transfiguration was cool? Watch Judas’s face melt.” He could have done that. He didn’t.
What He did was the most supreme act of humility in all of God’s Word. He washed the disciples’ filthy feet.
Notice the timing (when He served). In John 13:1–2, the Holy Spirit inspired John to carefully denote the time signatures: now, before, when, hour, to the end, during. It’s not just that Jesus humbled Himself; it’s when He did it. He did it within 24 hours of the cross. Within three or four hours of the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing His arrest was imminent. Knowing what was coming: the mockery, the spit, the crown of thorns, the sign over His head, the dark sky, His sorrowing mother at His feet, the sword in His side. The greatest single act of humility came at the time of greatest pressure and pain. The lesson for us is this: When it’s hardest to love, humble yourself.
And notice the motivation (why He served). We aren’t often privy to Jesus’ thoughts, but here, we know exactly what He’s thinking: “that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (13:3). In Jesus’ mind was this: I know how this ends. I know this won’t last forever. I know this isn’t my ultimate, final fate. I came from the Father, and I’m going back home. These are thoughts of authority and identity. He knew who He was. He knew how all this would end. The lesson for us is this: The promises of God shape our present and are our future reality.
Like Jesus, look at the big picture and humble yourself. You know who you are. You know whose you are. You know how this will all end. You know where you’re going. That perspective enables you to do some difficult things—like humbling yourself.
And notice the actions (how He served). John 13:4–5 includes seven action verbs: rose, laid, took, tied, poured, wash, and wipe. Jesus worked. And this was such serious, dirty work that He changed into slave clothes. Can we dispense once and for all with the idyllic picture that washing the feet was a symbolic ceremony? He didn’t use all-purpose cleaning spray and wet wipes. He scrubbed the bottoms of their feet. He washed between their toes. Knowing Jesus, we can assume He did a really good job. This wasn’t a ceremony. It was grimy, sweaty, humbling, difficult, smelly, time-consuming work.
And that’s what we’re called to do. To humble ourselves and serve, as Jesus did.
Father God, teach me to serve as Jesus did. When it’s hardest to love, teach me to humble myself. I know who I am, whose I am, how all this will end, and where I’m going, and that secure sense of identity frees me to serve. Teach me to humble myself and serve as Jesus did—with love and in action. Thank You for the Servant-King, Jesus, and make me more like Him, I pray in His matchless name, amen.