Knowing Jesus: "Getting to the Sharp Point" – John 13

sharp-point-closeWhen I get tired, I can’t seem to communicate as clearly as I want to. I was recently on tour with two groups, and taught all day, every day – an activity that I have come to love over the years. In spite of my passion, there are times when I understand anew the saying of Jesus about His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane when He exclaimed: “…the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” When my body gets worn out, I cannot seem to put a “sharp point” on my words. People ask questions, and the answer is in my mind, but won’t move easily to my tongue. Does that happen to you? I have found that one of the things that can snap me back into focused speech is recognizing the clock is ticking and the site closure is coming up fast. Let me illustrate what I am saying…

On a site in Jerusalem last week, I was teaching about “Jesus before Annas and the High Priest Caiaphas” at a home thought by its excavators to have been the house of Joseph Caiaphas. I was tired, and the second program was nearly completed – but I confess that I was running out of steam. I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t get it there. As we began, I breathed a prayer and sipped the last of my espresso – there is an excellent espresso machine at the shop beside the excavation – and I jumped into the site and the story. As I unfolded the story, I immediately became sharper. Some will credit the espresso “kicking in” – but I don’t believe that was all there was to it. I recognized that our time was slipping and this was my only chance to get through the story and make it clear. The impending closing time clarified my thinking and my speech.

I mention that story because that situation seems to be a noticeable element of Jesus’ speaking in the passage we will examine in this lesson, found in the Gospel of John, chapters 13. The Lord was in the last night of teaching His disciples in the Upper Room as He was facing His impending arrest by Temple authorities – in short, time was running out to convey essential truths. There really seemed much left to say by the Servant King – since the disciples were arguing about their own importance on the way into the room! Yet, the words of Jesus seemed even sharper – more penetrating – than usual. John recorded that Jesus knew the time was almost gone. I have to believe it helped Him to choose His words and clarify His presentation even more than usual. His sharp and crisp communication will help us see Jesus and His message with even more acute clarity today – and that is a real need.

You see, the longer I spend teaching Jesus’ life and words, the more I realize that many people have only a fuzzy grasp of Jesus and His ministry. They have a blurred focus of His purpose, a softened and muffled sound of His voice in their ears. These “last night” sayings have a clarity that can snap us into understanding of what Jesus wanted us to know of Him and His Father.

Key Principle: The closer you examine the record of Jesus in the Gospels, the clearer the purposes of God become.

To set up our story, let me mention from the first three verses of chapter 13, four important truths about the setting of Jesus’ sayings that we should keep in mind (13:1-3):

1) First, it was a time of high Messianic Expectation. John 13:1 “Now before the Feast of the Passover…” Passover always brought out the redemption hopes of the Jewish people. John 6 reflected that when Jesus fed thousands in Galilee “they wanted to make Him king”. Why? It was not just the food – it was the fact that Passover was near and national redemption hopes were high.

2) It was time for His departure – and He knew it. 13:1b: “…Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father…” As I mentioned a moment ago, Jesus knew time was short. Look carefully at each teaching, because Jesus isn’t adding any extras to the message. This is meat with no sauce, salad with no dressing.

3) It was a time of deep emotional sensitivity for Jesus. 13:1b: “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…and later in verse ”3 [Jesus], knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God…” Jesus was leaving the boys, but He was also heading HOME to His Father. These times bring a tear to us, even when the Cross isn’t in view. Departures are hard, and Jesus LOVED the men – John makes that clear.

4) It was a time when the spiritual conflict was about to become apparent. 13:2: “… During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, [the son] of Simon, to betray Him…” (compare the event in John 13:21). The setting of Jesus’ last interchange with Judas as a disciple take place on that night. The next kiss from Judas won’t be a friendly one. There is a battle for the redemption of men to be fought, and Jesus looked into Judas’ eyes and saw what He saw long before in the serpent in the Garden – the face of His creation empowered by His enemy.

The rest of the passage unfolds three essential teachings of Jesus in the face of the closing moments of His teaching time. Look at each of the three and I think you will marvel at how CLEAR Jesus was about God’s plan and purpose in and through Him:

Lesson One: Jesus explained cleansing to His men as the basis of our relationship to God (13:4-20).

The gulf fixed between God and man – the guilt of sin – needed to be cared for in a Divinely prepared cleansing. Jesus knew His death would provide that. His disciples didn’t see it. Here’s the truth: You cannot understand the basis of entering and remaining in the family of God without knowing how we get in, and why God allows us to stay. Recognizing what washed us clean and what keeps us in God’s grace is essential. Jesus started with a living parable – a “show” to His disciples to teach the truth of how our guilt and sin is washed away by His atoning blood.

The Example – a Living Parable:

John 13:4 …got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. 5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

Washing feet wasn’t an uncommon practice – but Jesus wasn’t doing it for the normal reason at the normal time. Jesus didn’t wash them to PREPARE them for a supper together, but rather to prepare them for what awaited them AFTER supper. The simple act of washing became the platform for the powerful truth Jesus wanted them to understand – their relationship to God was dependent upon cleansing – and it wasn’t something they could provide themselves or do on their own.

The Exchange – a Learning Partner:

6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, [then wash] not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all [of you].” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.

Peter objected to Jesus serving him – but that wasn’t what Jesus was trying to get him to understand. Pete thought the exchange was about SERVANTHOOD and VALUE – but it wasn’t. Jesus made it clear that Pete and the boys wouldn’t really understand the whole symbolic value of the lesson that day – it would happen in the FUTURE. Jesus made clear several things about the symbol:

First, cleansing was required if Peter would be a part of the future ministry of Jesus.

Second, there were two kinds of cleansing – a BATH (Greek: lou-o) and a WASH (Greek: nipto). This simple FOOT WASHING was not the same as the full cleansing BATH that made them initially clean, but was a smaller venue with some of the same effects.

The English translation signals the two were different words in the original language as well. I believe on close inspection that we can discern that the GREAT CLEANSING of Jesus occurs when we fall before His Cross and ask Him for salvation from our sins. In the case of the disciples, their choice was initially made to follow Jesus.

At the same time, there is ANOTHER CLEANSING that all who follow Jesus know they need. This is part of understanding the need for Jesus’ cleaning work as our intercessor and advocate before the Father. 1 John 1 says it this way:

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

Third, you could tell which were cleansed by the ACTIONS of the men, not their proximity to Jesus. Judas wasn’t clean, but he had spent a long time with Jesus.

The Explanation – A Lesson Presented:

He began with a query: Jesus wanted to be sure they recognized that what He was doing was more than just a common custom, so John recorded His words:

13:12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined [at the table] again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?

He moved to a concern: The Master wanted to be sure the disciples would not think what He was teaching was an unimportant optional gesture – but something He intended them to mark, follow and remember.

13:13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for [so] I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor [is] one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Here is where the symbol can become confusing. Jesus’ symbol of cleansing was something they would do for ONE ANOTHER. How can that be? We cannot cleanse sin from each other, can we? If the teaching was about the SPIRITUAL TRUTH OF TWO KINDS OF CLEANSING, how could believers do this for each other?

To grasp the truth, you have to slow down and take the whole thing apart.

First, symbolic teachings have two levels – the physical and the spiritual. The physical level is what a believer can practice with another believer. The spiritual level is the truth the physical picture displays. For example, one of us can baptize you as a symbol of your coming into a new identity in Christ by acknowledging the Father, Son and Spirit’s work in making you a new creation. We can get in the pool or tank and do that with you, but we cannot do anything to aid the SPIRITUAL REALITY of the symbol. Believers can do the physical part, but the SYMBOL depicts a ‘GOD THING”. In the passage, followers of Jesus were told to do this FOR EACH OTHER in the physical sense (washing each other’s feet), but the cleansing depicted happens in HEAVENLY PLACES by the work of our Savior.

Second, don’t overlook that Jesus ended by making an overt statement about our nature to be too uppity to serve one another by completing the symbol He gave us. You and I are not to think of ourselves too highly to follow through on the physical symbol – since Jesus Himself did it for them.

Remember that believers were not only told to confess their sins to God, but were commanded to “confess your sins one to another” in James 5:16. Though we don’t forgive sins on God’s behalf, but we do help each other come to Him – and we mustn’t think we are too good to do it! Confessing faults to one another in a Biblical way requires both “confessor” and “listener” to humble themselves beneath the Cross. No one is perfect except the Lord Himself.

He added exclusion: Jesus didn’t desire all to follow the command – but those who intended to follow Him. Those who did not follow Jesus were not to be included, for the betrayer’s work was about to become clear.

18 “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but [it is] that the Scripture may be fulfilled, HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ 19 “From now on I am telling you before [it] comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am [He]. 20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.

Following Jesus requires a choice. We cannot live in rejection to His Mastery over our lives and yet act like His cleansing ignores our rebellion. We have to understand the His cleansing is for those who CHOOSE to follow Him. Salvation is for the SAVED, and intercession is for the WILLING. No one gets to Heaven by passivity – it is ALWAYS a choice to repent, and a choice to follow Jesus.

Let’s be clear: Jesus is the reason I am in the family of God. His blood cleansed me from my sin, and my belief in His work at Calvary was the energizing faith that God accepted. Yet, He is more than that. He is the reason I am allowed to REMAIN in the family. Though SIN is my constant problem, He is my constant advocate.

Lesson Two: Jesus removed the cloak over the battle with His enemy (13:22-30).

We live in the physical world, often unaware of the place of the real battle. We get disgusted with our government, or argue with our neighbor and forget that much of what we see is only the surface – the real battle is fought in Heavenly realms. The men who knew Jesus certainly saw Him as One with great power, but they had little understanding of the enormity of the battle field Jesus was operating on. At His birth, the Heavenly Army stood guard over Bethlehem – but we make them into Christmas card decorations. We don’t really focus as much on the spiritual warfare that is at the heart of the redemption story. Neither did the men in the upper room.

It occurs to me that you and I can follow Jesus through confusion of troubles and pains of the battle with sure confidence – if we recognize His knowledge of and power over events surrounding us. Confidence grows as we see His power and control over circumstances. Look back into the room with His disciples, and we can see an example of that:

John 13:21 When Jesus had said this; He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” 22 The disciples [began] looking at one another, at a loss [to know] of which one He was speaking. 23 There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell [us] who it is of whom He is speaking.” 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus then answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, [the son] of Simon Iscariot. 27 After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one of those reclining [at the table] knew for what purpose He had said this to him. 29 For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.

When Hollywood tries to depict the scene of the Upper Room, there is a great HUMAN DRAMA, as the embittered and conniving Judas whispers with the distraught and wounded Savior. What a great point of conflict to pull the hearts of any audience in a drama. Sadly, that falls far short of the true understanding of what was going on in the room. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. The betrayal wasn’t even something that started with Judas, or the Pharisees, or the Sanhedrin. The scene was physical, but the mammoth battle had been building since the Garden of the Fall. This wasn’t just a struggle between a teacher and a disaffected student. That doesn’t scratch the surface. This was the BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF MANKIND. Take another look:

• The troubled spirit of Jesus was about the MEANS of the betrayal – through a man He loved and cared for – just like Adam and Even in the Garden Long before.

• The confusion of the disciples over WHO exposed the small thinking of these men – that the issue was faithfulness to Jesus in their walking and talking with men. What was about to happen was far greater than a simple denial of Jesus (as in the case of Peter) or even the testimony of Judas against Jesus.

• Jesus made it clear to John who would be the vehicle of his arrest – and yet John didn’t really catch it at the time. There is no scene of John grabbing Judas by the tunic and forcing him to remain in the room – it simply didn’t happen. John got an idea that something bad was going to happen – but he simply didn’t grasp the size of the physical issue, let alone the spiritual one.

Before you write off John and Pete and the boys – some of us are still stuck in that mode. This very day there is a battle for the souls of men, women and children in our town, and perhaps even in the room where you are now sitting. It is easy to talk in THEORY about spiritual stakes and wars – but it is harder to visualize in OUR DAILY LIVES. Yet, the Bible is clear – that is where we live. The battle is joined. The enemy is warring to grab our nation, our education system, our public airwaves, our children’s hearts and our leader’s minds. For far too many believers, even now, we will only focus on the symptoms, the physical struggles, the human societal ills. We won’t see the battle for the soul of the man next door – but call him obstinate. We cannot see the teeth marks and paw scrapes of the enemy’s vicious attacks on our marriage partner – we just think they are in a bad mood. We are tuned to the physical when the far greater portion of the universe is the spiritual world.

Humanizing Jesus doesn’t tell the whole story. The Savior wasn’t a historical VICTIM of some mysterious plot that caught Him unawares. He knew exactly what was happening, and why. It wasn’t political intrigue that drove the story, but a battle for man’s redemption.

Lesson Three: Jesus explained His departure (13:31-14:6).

Jesus didn’t get kicked off the planet in the fight over man. He wasn’t defeated and dismissed. His exit was predicted, planned and even promised. He shared it beforehand to steady His followers, and help them learn to see His power and plan. We must recognize that we will not learn to anticipate His return if you don’t clearly identify all of the events as part of Jesus’ promised plan. Jesus opened an explanation with four truths:

First, He signaled the approaching time:

13:31 Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; 32 if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. 33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer…

Jesus wanted to prepare the men for the crushing blow that was coming to them as He was taken away, so He told them that He was aware the time was short. Perhaps they would listen more intensely if they thought they wouldn’t have more time together. What is DID was get them stirred up…

Second, He explained the coming confusion:

13:33b “…. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

What did He mean? They had followed Him for part of the last four years, journeying around the mountains of Galilee, back and forth from Jerusalem, and even to the reaches of the mountains of southern Lebanon. Where was He going? Why wouldn’t they be allowed to follow Him? He didn’t say. He just made it clear that what He told the others He was now telling THEM. I am leaving, and YOU cannot follow.

Stunned, they sat there. He kept going on – and this time He told them two things they would need to understand. The FIRST was what they would need for their journey without Him. The second was what they needed to recognize before they could take the journey…

He highlighted a need that would become essential for the days ahead – an identity marker:

13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus told the men that they needed to actively care for and watch over one another in the way that He had been doing. They were not to scatter. They were not to so embrace the priesthood of the individual believer that they didn’t see the need for the body in all things. They COULD NOT and WOULD NOT make it in the coming days if they didn’t stick together. Then Jesus said something that should rock our twenty-first century Christian world. He told them the BADGE of His followers would become their care for one another. He didn’t say the SIZE of their churches, the POPULARITY of their music, the DEPTH of their bankbook, the GAUDINESS of their Cathedrals, the SUCCESSFUL MARKETING of their publishing houses, the SLICKNESS of their literature would be their badge. He said the way they simply LOVED and CARED for each other would be their calling card. They would need each other, and they would recognize their need of each other.

Oh that we would see this as real in our time! That we who have been showered with prosperity would see with compassion those who have not had such abundance and we would share our love, our time, our resources – simply because we see them as valuable and precious! There is a special sweetness when God’s people see others through God’s eyes!

He exposed the disciple’s weakness – self confidence:

Here is the kicker. We are pretty self-sufficient. When you get right down to it, we can think our faith is about will power. We can quickly come to believe that if we just TRY HARDER we can walk with God. We make such proclamations and declarations. Listen to this:

13:36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.

Can you hear it?

• Peter thought Jesus needed to explain where He was going.

• Peter thought Jesus needed to share WHY Pete couldn’t join.

• Peter thought he could trust his WILL POWER to get him through the pummeling ahead.

Peter was wrong. We don’t have what it takes – so we need each other. We don’t have what is required – so we need humility. We don’t know what Jesus knows – so we need to trust Him and not expect answers NOW. What we have, is a TRUCK LOAD of distraction designed to get us to trust the PHYSICAL WORLD, and OUR OWN ABILITY.

Consider this story: Many years ago a preacher named John Greenlee wrote an article entitled, “Better Than Burning At the Stake.” The story is a satirical discussion between the powers of the wicked world.

A senior demon wrote, “I am truly amazed at you. Your methods are so antiquated that I can scarcely believe it. You and your ridiculous talk of torturing Christians. Can’t you see that those things don’t work anymore? It just makes them mad and then you can’t do a thing with them…“Catch up, you bungler. There’s a whole new approach to getting Christians to denounce the faith. And it does work! “It’s called TRIAL BY AFFLUENCE, for lack of a better name. The point is, it gets results. We’ve never seen anything like it down here around the ol’ Fire Lake. The Boss came up with the original idea and we’ve each adjusted it a little to suit our needs. It’s so simple you wouldn’t believe it! Here’s what you do. You take a good, solid Christian family so you can make the best example of them. Now start pouring on the ‘the good life.’ “Give him a boat, a camper, a good car, a decent house, several color TV’s, and an income that provides for more than what is needed in life. Add to this a couple of days a week he doesn’t have to work. Better yet, give him a three-day weekend. Pour on the goodies. Now watch him crack! And if you really want to get your laughs, listen to what he says. “Sooner or later you’ll hear him mention how God gave him all these good things. But while he is saying this, he’s hooking up the camper to be gone from worship again. Or turning on the TV to sit paralyzed instead of thinking or doing anything. We find that each week we give him a shot of play time, we’ve got him one step farther away from the tremendous power of our Enemy above. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before. Just goes to show you that our Boss down here can adjust to the times and the situation. He claims that the newest arrival on the scene, America, is almost completely in his grasp. And it’s almost solely through this new method of his. You’ve got to him credit, Lucie, old buddy. He’s never lost a country yet. So get going. This weekend should be perfect for us. Signed, Your Sinister Superior.” (Shared by Steve Shepherd, Sermon Central illustrations.)

I love looking back into the Upper Room. I have walked the streets of Jerusalem many times, and I never tire of picturing the events of the Passion Week. I love that God told us so much of the story.

The closer you examine the record of Jesus in the Gospels, the clearer the purposes of God become.