It is five weeks into the Easter season, and today we are flashing back to the night of Jesus’ arrest as he spent the
evening with his disciples. Today’s Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John, and I want you to imagine that
you are John. You are writing this Gospel years later. You have seen the resurrected Jesus. You witnessed his ascension,
but you are writing about the night Jesus was arrested. You have talked to people about it many times. Other Gospel
accounts have made the rounds through the Christian community. Now, you as an eyewitness, are writing about things
that maybe didn’t make sense at the time, but in retrospect you know that they were hugely significant. That’s kind of
what we are doing here. Several weeks after Easter, we are looking at these events from before his arrest and crucifixions
Jesus was trying to give final preparation to the disciples before things started getting really bad that night.
We will be reading chapter 13, which marks the beginning of what is known as the Farewell Discourse. I’ll be reading the
whole chapter because the concepts are so interwoven that to understand one part, it’s important to at least be aware of
the verses around it.
John 13 NIV
13 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave
this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon
Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he
had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing,
and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his
disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.
And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was
why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand
what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set
you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master,
nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do
18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He
19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very
truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus
loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of
bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought
Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken
the bread, he went out. And it was night.
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God
is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Judeans,
so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow
now, but you will follow later.”
37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
This chapter is about love and betrayal. Jesus shows and demonstrates his love for his disciples, all of them. It also
illustrates the response to that love by the people closest to him. That is betrayal, testing, and denial of who he is. Who
is he? He tells us in verse 19, but before we look at that we have to go way back to Exodus and Moses with the Burning
Bush. Moses is speaking with whom? God, and God has told Moses that he is to go to Egypt and bring out the Israelites.
Moses asks God’s name, and the reply is “I am who I am” (Ex 3:1-14). So, what do you think Jesus says in John 13 verse 19?
“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” [Emphasis mine.]
It is one of the times in John when Jesus is explicitly saying that he is God. When they look at him and watch what he is
doing, they are watching God. The disciples are going to have to remember that over the next 72 hours and for the rest of
their lives as they tell people that a crucified person achieved victory not failure.
This is very important because so much of what happens just in this chapter, not to mention the next 24 hours would
be considered shameful for the leader of a group. At this point, he has already done something shameful. He has washed
the disciples’ feet. It is such a degrading act that Peter cannot bear to have Jesus do it. “You’ll never wash my feet”
(John 13:8). You may have heard that this necessary service, when everyone wore sandals, was done by slaves or the
lowliest of servants. Now, Jesus, their leader, is doing it. Jesus tells us that he has provided an example of how the disciples
should treat each other.
These days foot washing has almost become cliché as a demonstration of servant leadership. There’s often something
missing there. Often it is someone in a position of church authority copying Jesus’ act. That’s good, but what Jesus was
doing is taking the role of a slave. Instead of putting ourselves into the place of Jesus, we should be doing what he did,
which is become the slave of others. Whoah! That’s a bit harder.
Moreover, when we look at this foot washing, it is not merely this simple act. That just scratches the surface. It is a metaphor
of what Jesus has been doing throughout his whole ministry. This is God made flesh. God fully participating in the human
experience, all the pain, suffering, anguish, and doubt that goes with it, and this God takes care of our personal needs in the
most caring and intimate way.
Then the Scripture says that Jesus is troubled. This person who healed the sick, turned water into wine, healed the blind,
and raised Lazarus to life, he is troubled, distressed. Is your idea of God big enough to allow that?
And why is he troubled? Because one of this group of people who have followed, traveled, and ministered with him for
the past three years is going to betray him. Though the disciples are confused which one it is, Jesus speaks directly to
Judas and tells him to get on with it.
What is Jesus’ response to this? He emphasizes that everything that he’s done, is doing, and will do is God glorifying.
In fact, we can get lost in all those glories in those verses, five in all. It can help to understand that when John uses a
form of the word “glory,” he is referring to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (Osvaldo Vena, WorkingPreacher.org).
But, why would Jesus throw this in here. It seems strange. They’re having dinner. Jesus gives a practical demonstration of
servant leadership. Jesus makes the startling announcement that one of the group will betray him, and then Judas departs.
The glory would be hard for the disciples to see.
This is here to reassure the disciples and remind us, the readers, that despite the shame that betrayal and the cross would
seem to bring, it all actually brings glory to God. Jesus is the instrument of that glory, and it’s going to happen soon. These
events are specifically designed to show and demonstrate God’s love for the world.
Because of this, Jesus will have to go away, will have to die, will have to go to a place they cannot follow, and he doesn’t
want them to, at least not yet. He tells them this, and then he gives them a new commandment: Love one another.
Wait! Stop the bus! Back up! A new commandment? Love is a new commandment? That doesn’t sound right. Love the
Lord Your God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Practical examples of all of these abound in the Gospels. The
next 24 hours in the life of Jesus are examples of all of these. There is nothing new about the command to love, so what is
Jesus getting at here?
One thing is that it is not coming out of the blue. It is right after he tells them that he is going away, and he does not simply
say love one another. He says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” As I have loved you.
Jesus knows how difficult it will be for the disciples in the next 72 hours and beyond. The command that is new is to continue
to feel the love that Jesus has for them. It is to remember and be sustained in that love through the most difficult trials. As
Karoline Lewis puts it, “They need to practice the love toward one another that they themselves experienced from Jesus.”
(Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries: John, Karoline Lewis, pg 184)
They have just been told that one of the group will betray Jesus, and by extension them too. He is about to predict Peter’s
denial. In the end they will all flee. How easy it would be for them to turn on each other with accusations and hate. No, they
are to love one another, as he has loved them, as he will love them all the way to the cross and beyond.
Two weeks ago, we heard about Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road, In Damascus, Ananias brings Paul into
the group, this person who was arresting people who followed Jesus and even getting them killed. What must have been their
first thought? Has Ananias betrayed us? No, not this time, but it could happen. And yet, we are still to love one another, as
Jesus loves us. Knowing what Judas did what he was about to do, Jesus washed his feet, also. Think about that. Love your
With all of that, with all of the risks involved, as Jesus loves them, they are to love one another. The connotation of the Greek
word translated “as,” is more than imitating the love of Jesus. Rather that this love from Jesus fills the heart and overflows to
others. Like living water, it runs over, and Jesus’ actual love interacts with the ones around. This love is so unique, so different
from human love that it is only something that anyone could get through the grace of God as a gift.
So, if Jesus is telling the disciples, and by extension us, to love one another. What does that mean? It does not mean that we
don’t have disagreements, even strong ones. People who are serious about following God, following Jesus, are going to give
considerable thought about how that looks like, considerable study of the Scriptures and what they mean. We are going to come
to different conclusions. If we truly love God, we are going to be passionate about those conclusions. Do I think that there is one
absolute truth? Absolutely. Do I think that any of us in our flawed state can know with complete certainty what that absolute
truth is? No. God knows the absolute truth, and God’s perspective is so much higher, bigger, further reaching, I cannot possibly
grasp it as a human. Do I feel that my interpretation is closer than others to being accurate? Of course, or it would not be my
interpretation. Is that a bit prideful? Of course, but even with all that I am to love my fellow Christian … as Jesus loves … even
if I think they have it totally wrong. They are still my brother or sister in Christ. Challenging? You bet. However, even in the midst
of that we are to love one another.
So, this isn’t about some sentimentalist kind of love where we feel one way one day and another way the next. It means being
there for each other day after day. Sometimes it means doing the mundane because it needs to be done. It’s not beneath your
dignity or position. Jesus washes our feet. People who are care givers understand this on a practical level better than others.
And, what about the people who receive the care? No, Jesus, I don’t want you to lower yourself to wash my feet, and Jesus
says, yes I will, and you’re going to let me. Sometimes it means the larger sacrifice of great risk, even in the most extreme case
of giving your life. Later in this Farewell discourse Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for
one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Here at Joseph United Methodist Church, we have a very friendly church. There’s no denying it. Sometimes that friendliness
can be overwhelming even, but the love that Jesus is talking about here is more than “warm fuzzies.” Are we immersed in the
kind of love for one another that Jesus is talking about here? Are we aware of the kind of love that Jesus has for us, all the time,
every minute of every day? That’s how we are to love one another. Are we doing that? Are we giving the free reign of the Holy
Spirit to do that for us and to us? I don’t think we are. We can even try, but we can’t try hard enough in our broken state. We
have this pride or this self-righteousness of the certainly of our conclusions. We have to let it go, and pray, “God, I want you to
do a mighty work in me. I want you to change my heart and allow me to love this person that annoys the living daylights out of
me, this person who I think has it so wrong, this person who has betrayed me, and I think has betrayed you, this person who is so
wonderful, and I never want to let down. In your mercy, Lord, hear my prayer.”
Can we love like that?
Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about an interesting neurological issue, Tourette’s syndrome. This disorder can cause people
to have a variety of physical and verbal tics. Some people have facial twitches, eye-blinking, or other strange body movements.
Other people will blurt out strange noises or words. Sometimes those words can be less than polite, but they have no relation to
the context around them. They are not editorial commentary to the situations they are in. There was one man with Tourette’s
whom Dr. Sacks described as giving deep, lunging bows toward the ground, a few verbal shouts, and also an obsessive-compulsive
adjusting and readjusting of his glasses. This is daily life for a person with Tourette’s.
Here’s the thing. This last man is a skilled surgeon! You would think that with his odd mannerisms that would be impossible.
However, once he steps into his surgical scrubs and mask and goes into the operating room, all of his tics disappear for the
duration of the surgery. “He loses himself in that role and he does so totally. When the surgery is finished, he returns to his
odd quirks of glasses adjustment, shouts, and bows” (Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching).
Dr. Sacks was not writing about spiritual matters, but this case of the surgeon is an interesting case of losing yourself, immersing
yourself, in a role. What kind of transformation can happen when we are focused on one thing to the point where our naturally
occurring traits disappear. With that focus, the completion of normal tasks becomes all the more meaningful and remarkable.
That is what Jesus calls us to do as we journey with him. To be so immersed in Jesus that our overwhelming desire is to love
one another and to love the whole world as Jesus loves us. We are not exposed to that kind of love in the world and in our
natural selves. We can only do it by losing ourselves in Jesus and being his disciples, his students. When we do that every day,
not just on Sunday mornings, or when we volunteer at a community group, as important as those things are too. If we going to
love as Jesus loves us, this is our reality every single day if and only when the love of Jesus fills us to the tippy-tippy top.
Let me pray for you. Lord, when I take a moment and contemplate the love that you have for us, that you have for the
world, I am overwhelmed. How your heart must ache over the ways that we hurt, kill, and destroy each other in your
good world. I pray that as we see all of that we ache with you, but that your love fills us, so that we do not return hate
for hate. Let us be beacons of your love and reflectors of your glory. In the mundane of the every day to the extraordinary,
let your love shine through us. Help us to immerse ourselves in you all the time in prayer, in your word, in the people you
have around us. Help us to encourage and lift up one another in your love. I pray all of this in the love of Christ our Lord.