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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:There's no love like that of Jesus!
Text:John 13:1-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 23

Psalm 143:1,4 (after God's law)

Psalm 147:1,6

Hymn 38:4

Hymn 66

Scripture readings:  2 Samuel 15:1-12; 2 Samuel 16:15-23

Text: John 13:1-20

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

What’s the greatest love you’ve ever seen or heard of between a man and a woman?  I often think of the relationship between the famous writer C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.  Davidman was a writer herself and a fan of C.S. Lewis.  As such, the two of them wrote letters back and forth, Lewis from England and Davidman from America.  Eventually, Joy Davidman moved to England and she became good friends with Lewis.  Such good friends that Lewis agreed to enter into a civil marriage contract with her marry her secretly so she could become a British citizen.  At that point, they were only good friends.

Eventually Joy was diagnosed with bone cancer.  It was then that Lewis fell in love with her, despite being afraid of losing her.  They were married in a church ceremony and spent four years together before she died.  After she died, Lewis wrote a memoir about the experience of losing her.  It’s called A Grief Observed.  In that book he struggles before God with his love for Joy and the pain of her loss.  He expresses doubt and rage, but above all, the depth of his love.  To my mind that’ll always be one of the greatest love stories.

But no love between a man and a woman will ever compare to the love of our Lord Jesus.  The depth of the love of Jesus for his disciples is unlike any other.  It has a unique and unsurpassed intensity.  The Holy Spirit draws our attention to this truth in verse 1 of John 13.  He says about Jesus, “…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  Christ never stopped loving his disciples, even up to the cross.  Everything he did, he did out of love for them – out of love for you too.

So this morning we’re going to focus our attention on this great love of our Saviour.  There’s no love like that of Jesus!  That’s the theme of the sermon for this morning.  We’ll see how:

  1. He showed his love
  2. We show his love
  3. His love was betrayed

This chapter begins a new section of John’s gospel.  From chapter 13 to chapter 18, we’re in the Upper Room with Jesus and his disciples.  This is his last Passover feast with them before going to the cross.  That’s why verse 1 speaks about Jesus’ hour having come – it’s the time for his suffering and death.  The next day Jesus is going to be on the cross.  There he’ll die and then he’ll go out of this world to the Father.

So you have to imagine the setting of our passage.  It’s Jesus and his 12 disciples in this upper room.  It was the last time Jesus would eat and drink with them before the cross.  So there’s a meal in front of them.  Now they’re not sitting on chairs around a table.  There would be a table, but it was really quite low to the ground.  And instead of chairs, Jesus and his disciples would be reclining on pillows.

Then at a certain moment, Jesus stood up.  Everyone else was still lying down, reclining around the table.  Jesus got up, removed his cloak and other outer garments.  He took a linen towel and wrapped it around his waist.  Then he took water and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  Our passage mentions one basin, but two would have been used for this.  The water wouldn’t just run onto the floor.  Jesus would pour out the water from the basin over their feet and then catch the water with the second basin.  Then he wiped them dry with the linen towel.  He did this with each of the disciples.  There are a couple of things we need to understand about this.

First, people didn’t wear shoes in those days.  They wore sandals.  Moreover, the streets weren’t paved, they were sandy and dusty.  Walking around through the dusty streets, your feet would get dirty.  So it was common practice when you’d come into a house to have your feet washed. 

Second thing you need to understand:  the task of washing feet was something for servants to do.  There’s some evidence that many Jews in Jesus’ day wouldn’t even allow a Jewish servant to do something so crude and menial as washing feet.  That was something best left for a dirty Gentile servant.  Washing filthy feet is a job for the lowest of the low. 

That’s why it’s so surprising that Jesus is doing it.  He’s the Lord and Teacher of these disciples.  Yet he’s doing this crude and menial work of washing their feet.  It’s astonishing. 

But Peter is the only one of the twelve to say something.  He’s resistant to the idea.  If you look at verse 6, he says, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  When he says that, there’s indignation and resistance.  Peter understands that he’s a disciple and Jesus is the Lord.  If you’re a disciple, having the Lord wash your feet is backwards.         

In verse 7 Jesus answered Peter and told him that he doesn’t understand now, but he will later on.  After Jesus has gone to the cross and risen from the dead, all of this will make sense.  It’ll make sense, not only to Peter, but also to the other disciples.

But at that moment it still doesn’t add up for Peter.  So in verse 8 he says, “You shall never wash my feet!”  He emphatically resists what Jesus wants to do.  To that Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  To have a share with Christ means you have a place with him.  To have a share with Christ means you have a portion in his benefits.  To have a share with Christ means you share in the inheritance he has a right to as the Son of God.  Basically, to have a share with Christ means to have salvation, to have eternal life and everything that comes with it.

The only way to have that is to have Jesus do something shocking with you.  You need the Lord to wash you.  You need him to make you clean.  That’s what the foot-washing was showing to the disciples and to us.  You can’t make yourself clean.  You need the Lord, your Master, to do it for you.  He has to stoop down low and do the shocking thing.  And this one shocking thing of foot-washing is meant to point to the far more shocking thing: the cross.  On the cross, Jesus would shed his blood, that precious blood which washes believers whiter than snow.  The cross is shocking – it’s an instrument for death.  It’s horrific and gory.  A naked man nailed to a wooden cross, bleeding and dying – how could such a person be your Lord?  That’s sinking lower than low.  A Jewish rabbi washing the feet of his disciples is one thing, but being put to death like a criminal with everyone watching? 

Why would he do it?  The answer is love.  He loved them to the end.  He loved you to the end, to the cross.  This foot-washing was all about the humble love of our Saviour.  It pointed to the cross, where we see that humble love even more vividly portrayed.  He loved us and gave himself for us.  Jesus knew the price that needed to be paid to save us and he was willing to pay it.  He was willing to take the hell you deserve for your sins.  Brothers and sisters, there’s no greater love than this.  None.

When Peter hears Jesus tell him that he needs washing in order to have a share with him, Peter then exclaims that he wants to be washed all over.  The answer Jesus gives to this is really interesting.  He refers to having taken a bath.  In our day, just about everyone has a bathtub at home.  You can have a bath in the privacy of your own home whenever.  But in those days, most people used public baths.  Every town or city would have a central building where most people would bathe.  So you’d leave your home and walk to the public bath, get cleaned up, and then walk back to your home.  But remember what I mentioned earlier about walking the dusty streets.  You’re going back home and your body might be clean for the most part, but your feet are going to be dirty again from walking.  That’s what Christ is talking about here in verse 10.

This too is about the gospel and the love of Christ.  What Jesus is saying is that if he has washed you through his blood shed on the cross, you are clean in the sight of God.  Yet as you walk through this world, you still get dirty.  Sin surrounds us and clings to our feet, so to speak.  If we’ve been bathed in the blood of Christ, sin can no longer make us completely dirty before God, but it does still get on us.  And you notice that.  You notice the dirt and it bothers you.  There’s guilt and a wounded conscience.  Thus the washing with Christ’s blood is something we don’t only need once, but continually.  Daily we have to seek forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  To put it a different way, we have full and complete justification through what Jesus has done for us.  That means we’ve been declared righteous once and for all.  You can never be more justified than you are right now.  You are God’s child.  But repentance is an ongoing daily thing for all God’s children on this earth.  Every day we sin, we get “dirty feet,” and every day we confess our sins and ask our Father for forgiveness. 

Brothers and sisters, the gospel promises us that Jesus loves us so much that he will wash our feet every day and cleanse us from all sin.  In his great love, he’ll wash us from the dirty guilt we feel, he’ll wash us from the filthy shame we carry.  In his love, Jesus will wash us from all the foul grime which still sticks to us in this age.  Christ promises to do that every day as you seek it from him.  You see, there’s no love like that of Jesus.  Who else will love you so much as to do this for you? 

After washing the feet of all the disciples, our Lord put on his cloak and then reclined with them around the table again.  Then he taught them something more about what he’d just done.  He wanted them to understand:  it wasn’t only meant to show Jesus’ love for them directly, but also so that his disciples would show his love in them for one another.  

Jesus was their Teacher and Lord.  If we’re Christians, he’s ours too.  It’s important to understand the significance of that.  If Jesus is your Teacher and Lord, then you’re his disciple.  You have a relationship with him and one of the ways of describing that relationship is as a Master with his disciple.  You’re his apprentice.  When you’re a disciple, you want to be like your Master.  You want to imitate him and follow in his ways. 

Now look to Jesus.  He’s our Teacher and our Lord.  Jesus stooped down and did the dirtiest job, one normally left for non-Jewish servants.  His willingness to go down to this level was shocking.  But, as we noted a few minutes ago, not nearly as shocking as the cross.  There Jesus humbled himself for us to the very deepest shame and anguish of hell.  If Jesus shows his love with that kind of humble service, shouldn’t his disciples go and do likewise?

So Jesus says in verse 14, “…you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  Then in verse 15 he says that he intended to give an example for his disciples to follow.  To drive it home, he says in verse 16 that servants and messengers are not greater than those over them.  If your Master or the one who sent you does this, who are you to think yourself better or of a higher status? 

Jesus wasn’t saying that his disciples ought to practice foot-washing with each other literally.  It wasn’t like he was instituting some new sacrament or ordinance here.  In fact, this is just about the only place in the New Testament where we read about foot-washing.  The only other instance is in 1 Timothy 5:10, where widows can be enrolled if they have, among other things, “washed the feet of the saints.”  That’s probably referring to showing hospitality to traveling preachers.  As Sinclair Ferguson has pointed out, if foot-washing was an ordinance in which the whole church participated, it couldn’t have been something that distinguished some widows from others.  Look, there’s no indication in Scripture or early church history to suggest that Jesus intended to introduce a ceremony of foot-washing into the church.  Nobody understood it that way. 

Instead, we have to look at what’s behind it.  What does it mean when a Master like Jesus stoops down and does this menial servant work?  It’s about loving and humble service.  It’s about loving someone so much that you’re willing to wash them clean.  So, in the same way, Christians are to show loving and humble service to one another.  That’s the love of Christ shining through us.  There are so many possibilities for this.  Whether it’s visiting the elderly or other lonely brothers and sisters, whether it’s helping out with the youth, or volunteering for child care during the worship services, we’re to show the love of Christ by being willing to serve.  When there’s an opportunity, we’ll serve, no matter the task.  That’s how we “wash one another’s feet” today.

But we also need to think of this in terms of washing.  Jesus loved his disciples so much that he was willing to shed his blood to wash them clean for the forgiveness of their sins.  It was the ultimate act of humility.  We can’t imitate it, nor should we try.  Nevertheless we reflect the love and humility of our Saviour when we’re willing to forgive one another.  That’s not an easy thing to do, especially if the hurt is a serious one.  Ideally, we’d always reflect our loving Saviour and have a heart that’s willing to forgive, to clean the slate so to speak.  But there are some hurts that go deep into our souls.  I know and God does too.  With those, sometimes the best we can aim for is to want to be willing to forgive.  If you’re not there yet, pray for that.  God can grant it to you.  So pray and ask the Holy Spirit to make you want to be willing to forgive.  That would be another way we “wash one another’s feet” today – be willing to show love by offering forgiveness and then actually giving it if the opportunity arises.           

Sadly, the love that Christ displayed in our passage wasn’t reciprocated by all of his disciples.  There was one in particular who wickedly betrayed his love.  Up till this point, I’ve skipped over those parts of vv.1-20 that speak of this.  Verse 2 already spoke of Satan having put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus.  Satan thought he could destroy Jesus by manipulating Judas.  But verse 3 reminds us that Jesus knew exactly what was going on.  The betrayal of Judas didn’t catch him by surprise. 

The same thing is emphasized in verses 10 and 11.  Like all the other disciples, Judas had his feet washed, but he remained unclean.  Why?  Because he remained in unbelief.  This is important to note.  He was one of the twelve disciples.  Judas was in the inner circle.  He’d heard Jesus preach and teach so many times over the three years he was with him.  Yet Judas didn’t believe and he was responsible for that.  It goes to show that someone can outwardly be seen as a disciple of Christ, and yet inwardly be anything but.  Someone can make a show of being a believer, but in reality they’re far from the Lord.  Someone can make it look like they’ve been outwardly washed, but their heart can be filled with filth.  It happened then, it still happens today.

But when it happened back then in the Upper Room, it happened with the full awareness of Jesus.  His Word had prophesied that it would happen.  In verse 18, Christ quotes from Psalm 41:9.  That Psalm was written by David, probably during the time of Absalom’s rebellion.  We read about that rebellion in 2 Samuel 15 and 16.  Psalm 41:9 speaks about the treachery of a close acquaintance, someone so close that they shared meals together.  In its original setting, David was likely speaking of Ahithophel – a close advisor who betrayed him during the rebellion of Absalom.  But now the great Son of David says that it was ultimately fulfilled with what Judas Iscariot did.  Just like David had shown so much love to Ahithophel, Jesus had shown so much love to Judas.  But in both cases, love was rewarded with betrayal.  Jesus says that his disciples should know that when it takes place, it takes place with his full awareness.  He’s going down this path willingly, facing this terrible betrayal because he loves them.  All betrayal hurts and that of Judas hurt our Lord Jesus too, but he experienced it out of love for us, so we’d never be forsaken.

Now at first glance, verse 20 may seem out of place here.  Jesus suddenly says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  But this connects to what Jesus was just saying about betrayal.  Elsewhere Christ refers to the fact that his disciples are going to face betrayal from those closest to them.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:21, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death…”  And he said in Matthew 24:10, “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”  If you’re united to Christ, if you’re one of his disciples, you’re bound to face what he did.  You’re bound to have your love betrayed by those closest to you.  But verse 20 speaks of the flip side.  Those who receive the disciples whom Christ sends, it’s like they receive him.  If you receive or welcome Christ, you’re also welcoming the Father, the one who sent him into the world.  So, the opposite of betrayal is a warm, hospitable welcome, one which leads to blessing and life.

So how do we take that into our lives concretely?  There are a couple of things to take away.  First, if you’ve experienced a profound betrayal, you have someone who understands in the person of Jesus.  He is uniquely sympathetic towards your experience.  In his love for you, he understands like no one else does.  He can love you and support you.  Bring your hurt and sorrow to him and ask him to heal it with his love.

But second, Christ speaks in verse 20 of those whom he sends and the reception they receive.  He’s talking about his disciples whom he sends out as apostles, as preachers of the gospel.  They should be prepared to face betrayal.  But, as God’s people, we should be committed to it being otherwise.  God’s people should receive preachers and preaching with a warm hospitable reception.  When Christ’s love is brought to you through the preaching of the gospel, receive it with warmth and eagerness.  For as you do, you’re welcoming and receiving not only Christ, but also the Father who sent him.  That leads to blessing, to flourishing, to life. 

Loved ones, truly no one can compare to our Saviour Jesus.  There’s no love like his.  Christ’s love is uniquely humble and self-sacrificial.  Christ’s love is uniquely displayed in his death at the cross.  Christ’s love is uniquely eternal, having no beginning or end.  Christ’s love is uniquely comprehensive, embracing all his chosen ones.  Christ’s love has an incomparable depth and passion.  No, try as you might, you’ll never find anyone who loves you like him.  As our Belgic Confession says in article 26, “There is no creature in heaven or on earth who loves us more than Jesus Christ.”  AMEN. 


Our loving Lord Jesus,

How we praise you for your love!  You loved your own to the end, right to the cross.  You continue to love all those who are yours.  We’re thankful to be the objects of your love.  We worship you for your uniquely humble and self-sacrificial love, especially as we see it at the cross.  While we were still sinners, you died for us.  How can we ever repay you?  We know we can’t.  But we do want to love you and we do want to live as your disciples.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit so that we’re also humble and loving with others are around us.  Please guide us to reflect who you are, also when it comes to forgiveness and being willing to forgive others who’ve hurt us or betrayed us.  We thank you for how you understand betrayal like no one else.  So we commend to your loving care those among us who’ve experienced profound hurt and betrayal.  Please give them peace and healing.  We pray for all of us that you would help us with your Holy Spirit to always receive your love in faith, also when we hear it in the preaching of the gospel.  Lord Jesus, we worship and adore you for your great love today and always.  Praise be to your Name.                                                                  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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