A Saviour who serves - John 13:1-17

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from 14th March 2021.

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Passion 2 John 13v1-17 “A Saviour who Serves”

Intro: When people in the UK look back on World War 1, it is always the trenches and the horror of walking into no-man’s land that are the most sobering. Because of the thousands and thousands of healthy young men who were ordered to their deaths in those vain attempts to make progress, the generals of World War 1 aren’t held in great esteem by many today. It is hard to have huge respect for a leader who steps into the trench, tells the men what to do, shows the men what to do, but then steps back out of the trench on the safe side to go and sit in a dug-out underground waiting for the outcome of the battle. This was not the practice of the greatest leader in the history of the world.

By the time we get to the day of Jesus’ life that we have just heard in our reading from John’s gospel, God in human flesh has stepped into the trench and has spent most of the last 3 years telling his disciples and the world around what they need to do to follow him and be saved. Now that Jesus knows his time is almost up as he is about to go to the cross (twice near the beginning of this chapter we read that) what happens in these verses is all the more serious and vital to understand. In these last few hours of freedom, Jesus goes from telling his disciples to showing them what it means to follow him and be saved. It is going to mean difficult and dirty service.  Jesus is a saviour who serves and the greatest service ever in the universe was rendered when he stepped out of the trench on the battle side and walked into no-man’s land to win a war against sin and death on behalf of his people.   

        1) Jesus the Loving Saviour (v 1-5)


Jesus, the servant saviour is a loving saviour in verses 1-5. “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.” Jesus loves his disciples, really loves them. This is the creator God looking at weak and fallible little creatures and loving them passionately. When you like a person, you will do things that they like you doing to impress them because you want them to like you too. But when you love someone, you will do whatever is right and good for them even if it costs you a lot and even if they like you less as a result. Love wants the best for the loved.


Jesus has sacrificially loved his disciples for several years; that has often meant challenging them, correcting them, even rebuking them sometimes. What he is about to do now, demonstrates to them both the holy quality of God’s love, and the amazing standard that it sets for them to follow. But before we get to Jesus putting the apron on and filling the foot-washing basin up, we read 2 verses that really shine a spotlight on the depth of Jesus’ love; the deep love that will drive him to the cross to provide a rescue for sinful people who deserve anything but love.




Firstly, verse 2; “the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.” We saw last week that Judas’ heart was so cold and hard towards Jesus that he went to the religious leaders and agreed to help them arrest Jesus sometime when the crowds weren’t around. Jesus knows that reclining at the table eating this meal with him, is one who without cause hates him and who will betray him to a cursed death. One who pretends to be a friend and is in fact an enemy.


And then verse 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.” So Jesus knows who Judas is (full of sin and filth and betrayal) and he knows who He is – he is the Son of God, He is the one through whom the universe was created, he is God in flesh. Given both of these facts, I don’t know how you would follow the “so” at the beginning of verse 4, but be clear on this – no religious, spiritual, mystical, moral system in the world would follow it like this; “The devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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.”



That is love. It is amazing enough to think of the Saviour of the world acting like the lowest servant to wash the stench off his loyal disciple’s feet, but picture the moment when he gets to Judas. A filthy job done by the person of highest importance to benefit someone who was about to help kill him. That is glorious humiliating love. You can see clearly how this loving deed points to the cross – the dirtiest job in existence (dealing with the appalling sins of the whole world), done by the Holy God himself (tasting the sourness of sin and death), and finished for the benefit of hate-filled enemies (so that rebellious people can be given the chance to be turned into loved family members).   


Paul describes this serving, humiliating, glorious love of God in his letter to the church in Philippi as he speaks of Jesus; “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Jesus is the loving saviour and the depth of his love is revealed by the size of the cost he paid.





        2) Jesus the Preparing Saviour (v 6-11)

In verses 6-11 the servant saviour is also the preparing saviour. All of the disciples must have felt so embarrassed and awkward as Jesus stooped down to deal with their stained feet. Think about the last time someone offered to pay a bill for you at a restaurant (cast your minds back a long time!) or did something costly for you for nothing in return.  We aren’t very good at allowing others to do something for us and it certainly has something to do with our pride. Peter, though, is the only disciple who voices these feelings to Jesus; ‘you aren’t going to wash my feet, never should YOU have to wash MY feet.” Peter had lots of failings but he really did love Jesus and he always said the thing that others left unsaid – in this way he was the most humble of all of the disciples because it takes humility to be honest and to risk getting corrected.

But despite some humility, Jesus as the servant was too much for Peter. ‘You will understand this later Peter – unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” At this point Peter is given a choice by Jesus, the same choice that each one of us are given by the gospel – forget all of your pride and accept what Jesus must do for you that you couldn’t do for yourself, or else you can’t follow Jesus, you can’t belong to Jesus, you can’t benefit from Jesus. That is the simple, humbling message of the gospel that so offends us proud little people.

Do any of you employ a cleaner? You would probably be too embarrassed to admit it anyway, but if you did, I bet you would still be tempted to clean up a little before they came.

‘I don’t want the cleaner to see the mess of that carpet. And I don’t want the cleaner to see that much dust on the mantelpiece.’ That would be a crazy thing to do. Or maybe a different picture will be more applicable to us. Do any of you ever try to clean yourself up a little before you get into the shower? Have a little wash in the sink so that you can be clean before you have a shower? Of course not. But unfortunately, though we wouldn’t treat our bodies this way, we do treat our whole lives like this.

We want to be self-sufficient, we want our own goodness to be enough, we don’t want Jesus to come along and see the mess we are in and stoop down to wash us - but Jesus says to every one of us, “unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Unless you have your sins forgiven by Jesus, you have no hope at all for relationship with God, no eternal hope. Peter will get to the other side of the cross and will look back on his feet being washed by Jesus and will understand that this is exactly what Jesus means. Only he can make us clean following the stain of sin. And praise God, Peter’s love for Jesus and need of Jesus overcomes his pride, v9; ‘wash all of me then’.

That is the wonderful response to Jesus that many of us in this church have already made ourselves – to allow Jesus to take our sin and wash it away; that is the response we want all of you listening to this to make today, right now, that is what Easter and the cross and the empty tomb are all about. In fact, that is what the whole bible points to – back in the Old Testament God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and offers sinful Israel the cleaning that the cross is going to bring;

“Come now, let us settle the matter, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Jesus is the preparing saviour and in verse 10 he explains to Peter then and to us now that the way to full forgiveness, the way to be absolutely clean from sin and guilt, the way to a certain loving relationship with God, the way to wonderful eternal life in the new creation, is to have the bath that is coming to Jesus and following him. Peter has had that bath already! Only God in flesh can prepare us for this, only Jesus dying on the cross can make this true.


        3) Jesus the Lord and Saviour (v12-17)


Jesus as a loving saviour and preparing saviour is such great news for us. But in verses 12-17 there is a massive challenge for his people. As he steps out of the trench and walks across no man’s land towards the cross to pay for sin and crush death, these are the words that will be left ringing in the ears of the disciples; “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” In other words, Jesus’ followers are to follow Jesus along the same path he is walking. The servants are to go the way of the master, the way of the cross – Having Jesus as our saviour means having him as our Lord.


Jesus lived his whole earthly life in obedience and service to His Father, and we are to live our whole earthly lives in obedience and service too. As Jesus’ life was marked out by deep sacrificial love and all the suffering that it brings, so our lives must be as well; Jesus is our saviour and our Lord. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier here if Jesus had demanded that the disciples wash his feet? We would be happy to follow that example because it would mean a life of others serving us and giving us respect. But instead, like the woman last week who poured her expensive perfume out in service of Jesus, we are to bear the cost of real Jesus-like love.

Following the Saviour who went to the cross is so costly and yet it is the blessed life, it is the life we have been made for, verse 17 says; “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” The testimony of the Christians in CC Riverside would be this – living for yourself might be more comfortable, but living with Jesus as Lord and Saviour is right, brings hope and peace, and is a life filled with the joy of knowing that we are His, we belong to the God who loved us to the cross and back. 

And it is to the cross and back, the passage I read in Philippians earlier talking about Jesus finishes like this;”

“he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus walked out of the trench, won the war and now reigns in the place of honour. What a privilege that he invites us to follow him there.

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