Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…
Let us look at this act —
I. AS REQUIRING THE CROSS FOR ITS INTERPRETATION. Short as this evening was, it was the most memorable on which the sun ever went down, and the eve of the most memorable day that ever dawned. First came the feet washing, then the holy supper, then the discourse, then the prayer. But all that passed within that ante-chamber of the passion had reference to the morrow.
1. "Thou shalt know hereafter" intimated that the mystery of the whole strange scene would be explained when the Servant of God, and the Minister of man's redemption, would reach the lowest point of His submission, and offer His final oblation of humility. "He riseth and laid aside His garments," etc.; even so He left the Father's bosom, and emptied Himself. "He poured water into a basin" — but this water is once again changed, not now into wine, but into blood — and washed His disciples' feet.
2. Notice some of the specific points of this exhibition.
(1) It was voluntary service rendered in the consciousness of Divine power (ver. 3). To the ransom of His life He Himself freely gave. "I have power to lay down My life," etc. Had it not been so, His death could not have been redemption.
(2) It was as our Lord that He bought us with His blood. "Ye call me," etc. The submission to death was a Divine victory over the cause of death.
(3) The redeeming act is fully available only for "His own." The symbol did, indeed, teach that that Christ washed away the sins of the race; that He made atonement for John and Judas alike. So effectual has been that washing that no one is condemned eternally for his original stain or contracted defilement, and baptism is the pledge of that. But as we look at our Great Servant going round with the basin, and washing each one, and saying, "Ye are clean, but not all"; when we hear Him telling Simon, "If I wash thee not," etc., we cannot help seeing that Christ may wash in vain, or man may refuse the benefit of His washing. We may hope that these are as few in comparison of the innumerable multitude as Judas in comparison of the eleven. But the saved are personally saved, and none have fellowship with Christ whose souls have not been cleansed in His blood.
II. AS ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE BELIEVERS' FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST, the bond of union between Christ and His cleansed people.
1. Our Minister in heaven makes provision for the forgiveness of our sins and the renewal of our nature. He came to give His life a ransom for many; He is gone to give His spirit for His people's redemption. Thus we are washed by pardon and the bestowal of the renewing Spirit. The two washings, distinguished as acts, are united in their effect; and He who "came by water and blood" makes both symbols one in those who have "part in Him."
2. Christ makes provision for the cleansing of that defilement which may be daily contracted by a renewed believer save to wash His feet. Two opposite perversions of this gracious act must be guarded against.
(1) It gives us the perfect ideal of the Christian life; but it may be exhibited so as to throw many into despondency. Christ does not say more than that He who is once washed needeth not that washing again. He does not go on to say, "Nor shall he who has lost his first washing ever be washed anew." Our heavenly Minister fainteth not, neither is weary.
(2) But this saying must not be perverted in the interests of a nature only too tolerant of evil. It does not say that those whom Christ has once washed He will and must wash unto the end. Those who make it say so forget the terrible denunciation uttered on those who "sin that grace may abound."
III. AS OUR EXAMPLE. "If I, your Lord," etc.
1. The mind of Christ in His self-renunciation is the standard of the true Christian spirit. Between the Pattern and the imitators there is infinite disparity; but of the Spirit we are all commanded to partake. This was the solitary principle in Himself, that He or His apostles proposed for our imitation. To know no self apart from the will of God and the service of man is Christ's example and the perfection of the Christian spirit.
2. In some sense, also, He gives us here the pattern of our act as well as of our spirit. His service left no ministry incomplete, whether to our bodies or our souls. He chose here an emblem that was well adapted to illustrate those deeds which minister to our brethren's needs of every kind. Conclusion: Our Lord closes the scene by a warning and a benediction (ver. 17).
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
WEB: Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.