Read: Ephesians 2:4; John 13:1-17
"Jesus ... having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them unto the end ... He ... riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and He took a towel, and girded Himself. Then He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded."
The Disciples - Personal Interests Dominating.
Here is the great object lesson of Divine love. We must get the setting of this scene in order to obtain something of its real effect. The atmosphere at this time was a high-tension atmosphere. It was charged with a sense of pending crisis. It was full of expectation mingled with wonder - wonder as to exactly what was going to happen. The kingdom was in everybody's thoughts; Jesus was being hailed by the multitudes as the Messiah, palm branches were being waved, people were shouting "Hosanna: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13). All the Messianic thoughts and expectations now for many centered in Him, and especially so in the case of His disciples. Some great event in relation to the kingdom was on the point of taking place, and this had given a great impetus to their personal expectations. They were, of course, very much in the grip of the Jewish expectations of the kingdom on this earth, the ousting of the Roman power, and the setting up of the Kingdom of the Messiah. All that was in the air and in their minds, and they were beginning to see their respective places in this kingdom. The mother of Zebedee's children had come to Jesus and, worshiping Him, had said, in reply to His interrogation of her, "Command that these my two sons may sit, one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left hand, in Thy kingdom." (Matthew 20:20). You see the expectation: and the two sons were not ignorant of the ambition and request of their mother: they were parties to it. The other disciples were terribly provoked that this thing should have taken place, and as they went on in the way, they talked about this and discussed who should be greatest in the kingdom.
Now that is a statement, but we cannot leave it with just the thought that they were saying to one another "I will be greater than you." They were clearly going into more detail than that, and saying, "In the kingdom, I am going to be so-and-so"; all thinking in terms of place and position, and vying with one another, each trying to go one better than the others. This is indicated in what is recorded as having taken place. It is also recorded that Jesus knew their thoughts, and understood what was going on. So in this wrangle about place, position, personal importance and advantage in this kingdom that was about to come, they were all jangled and on edge with one another, and out of temper. Such was the atmosphere.
So they come to the upper room which Jesus had taken. In every nicely appointed guest house or guest chamber in Jerusalem, just inside the door was a little table, and upon it a basin, with a jug of scented water and an apron and a towel. If it were the house of a wealthy or well-to-do person, there would be a servant in attendance. But when Jesus took the room He did not employ a servant, and only the things were there. And the disciples arrive in this spirit, with this mentality, in the upper room - annoyed, irritated, eyeing one another; and they pass in through the door. They look up at the ceiling, or somewhere else, but none of them sees the basin! They are not in a mood for that sort of thing at all. The supper is ready, and they sit down to supper with unwashen feet. Now when I was a young man, there were two cities which were said to be at that time the two dirtiest cities in the world, and one of them was Jerusalem; but even that had a semblance of sanitation. But there was no such thing in the days when the Lord was there. All the garbage and refuse was pitched out into the street. Think of a hot day in the east, the dust and the mess and the smell! They had come through that and gone in. That basin was not a thing that you could just pass by as though it did not mean anything - some quite unnecessary thing. There was a real need for it and for that scented water. But no, they had carefully not seen it!
That is the very strong setting of the whole scene. It is not exaggerated, it is only bringing out the details that are here, a matter of reading between the lines. They had all passed by and sat down to supper.
The Servant Spirit Lacking
Now, let us look at these men themselves. Their feelings had been irritated and accentuated; and you know, when we get like that, what excuses we make and how we argue and bring up all we can to support our position. Is that not human nature?
There was Matthew. Now Matthew had taken on service with the alien government in occupation and had made a lot of money out of it, so much so that when Jesus called him to discipleship, he made a great feast without having money, and he could not have had an expensive feast without having servants. So Matthew was doubtless a man who had always someone to wash his feet, and who thought of himself as the big man. No servant, he!
There were James and John. They were friends of the High Priest and had access to the High Priest's court; so they were somebody in the social world, in the world of public influence and importance.
And there was Peter; and Peter could, under these conditions, argue like this - "I am on of the inner three; I have always been privileged above the rest; I have been recognized as something more than the others. Whenever the Lord has wanted something special, I have been one of the three with Him; so it is not my place to wait on the others."
The Lord - Prompted By Love to Lowly Service
I am not saying all this merely to draw an entertaining or vivid picture. It is by way of getting the right setting for our Lord. In that atmosphere, in the presence of that mentality, that attitude: false, artificial, unworthy, and oh, so petty, so mean, so contemptible; "He riseth from supper" - to perform Himself the task they all avoided. What a significance there is in John's statement in that connection! - "knowing that the Father had given all tings into His hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God." This One it is Who rises from supper, and (following, no doubt, what was the usual custom) goes quietly over to the door and takes off His outer robe and lays it down, takes the apron (the servant's apron) and puts it on, ties the towel around His waist, pours water into the basin, and comes to wash His disciples' feet. "Having loved His own that were in the world (and just now, at any rate, so very much of the world), He loved them unto the end (unto the uttermost)."
The question immediately arises, and is answered here. What is love to the uttermost? What is the love of Christ? What is the love of God? It is not in sentimental words. No, this is it. It is not love for the lovely and the lovable only, for those whom you cannot help loving. This is the love to the uttermost.
(continued with # 6 - "Our Cleansing the Outcome of Selfless Love")