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…
I. IN OUR LORD'S DOINGS THERE IS MUCH WHICH WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND. We may know the external part of what He does, but there is more in His actions than any of us can conceive. The work of Jesus is lower than thy fall, higher than thy desire. Even His acts of loving condescension we do not fully understand; how can we (vers. 3, 4)?
1. Was anything that Jesus did understood while He was doing it! He is born a babe in Bethlehem, but to the mass of mankind He was unknown. He lived the life of a mechanic's son; a life the most august in all human history, but "the world knew Him not." He came forward to preach; did they know who it was that spake as never man spake? or comprehend what He spake? At last He laid aside the life He had so strangely taken; who knew the reasons of His death upon the cross? He could say even to His own disciples, of all that He had done, "What I do thou knowest not now."
2. This is true too of every separate gift which our Lord's love has given to His people. You have been justified, but do you fully know the wondrous righteousness with which justification has endowed you? You are accepted in the beloved, but did any one of you ever realize the full sweetness of its meaning? You are one with Christ, and joint heirs with Him. He is betrothed unto you in an everlasting marriage, know you what all that means?
3. Our Lord is doing great things by way of preparing us for a higher state of existence. We know that they are being done, but we cannot as yet see their course and ultimate issues. The instrument does not comprehend the tuner; the tuner fetches harsh sounds from those disordered strings, but all those jarring notes are necessary to the harmonious condition which he is aiming to produce. If the discords were not discovered now, the music of the future would be marred.
II. OUR WANT OF UNDERSTANDING DOES NOT PREVENT THE EFFICACY OF OUR LORD'S WORK. The Master washes just as clean whether Peter understands it or not. A mother is washing her little child's face: the child does not like the water, and it cries, but it is washed all the same; the mother waits not for the child to know what she is doing, but completes her work of love. So is the Lord often exercising Divine arts upon us, and we do not appreciate them; perhaps we even strive against them, but for all that He perseveres. Does the tree understand pruning, the land comprehend ploughing? yet pruning and ploughing produce their good results. The physician gives medicine which is unpalatable, and which causes the patient to feel worse; this the sufferer cannot understand, and therefore he draws unhappy conclusions; but the power of the medicine does not depend upon the patient's understanding. If a fool eats his dinner, it will satisfy his hunger as much as if he were a philosopher, and understood the processes of digestion. It is not necessary for a man to be learned in the nature of caloric in order to be warmed. A man may be ignorant of the laws of light, and yet be able to see; he may know nothing of acoustics, and yet be quick of hearing. A passenger who does not know a valve from a wheel, enters a carriage at the station, and he will be drawn to his journey's end by the engine as well as if he were learned in mechanics. It is the same in the spiritual world. We think it so essential that we should form a judgment of what the Lord is doing. It is better to trust, to submit, to obey, to love, than to know. Let the Lord alone; He is doing rightly enough, be sure of that.
III. OUR NOT BEING ABLE TO KNOW WHAT THE LORD DOETH SHOULD NEVER SHAKE OUR CONFIDENCE IN HIM. Some things which the Lord has done bear upon their very forefront the impress of His love, but I hope you know enough of Him to be able to believe that where there are no traces of love apparent His love is as surely there. This washing of the feet was the act of the Lord Himself. Now, when the Master and Lord is the actor, who wants to raise a question or to suggest inquiry? Do you know Christ? Then you are sure that He will never act unkindly, unbecomingly, or unwisely.
IV. OUR WANT OF UNDERSTANDING AS TO WHAT OUR LORD DOES GENERALLY SHOWS ITSELF MOST IN REFERENCE TO HIS PERSONAL DEALINGS WITH OURSELVES. We are too close home to see clearly. The looker-on sees more than the player. We generally form a better opinion of another than we do concerning ourselves. So we must not expect when Christ is personally dealing with us that we should be able to understand. Besides, if He be afflicting us we are generally in an unfavourable state of mind for forming a judgment. When a patient is under the knife he is a poor judge of the necessity of the operation or the skill of the surgeon. In after days, when the wound has healed, he will judge better. Judge nothing before the time.
1. I do not wonder that Peter could not understand, for it is always a hard thing for an active and energetic mind to see the wisdom of being compelled to do nothing. It is hard to be put on the shelf among the cracked crockery, while yet you feel you could be useful if you had but strength to leave your chamber.
2. Then, what is worse, Peter not only cannot do anything, but must be waited on by his Master, whom he loved to serve. He would say, "Cannot I do it myself? I am not used to be waited on." It is very unpleasant to an active man to be dependent upon others. To stand in need of anxious prayers, and to arouse pitying thoughts, seems strange to those who have been accustomed to do rather than to suffer. We become inquisitive, but the Saviour says, "What I do thou knowest not now."
3. All the while there is in our mind a sense of insignificance and unworthiness, which makes our receipt of favours the more perplexing. "What," says Peter, "Shall I be washed by the Lord Jesus Christ?" So it seems to us unworthy sinners.
4. Yet, if our eyes are opened, the Lord's afflicting dealings are not so wonderfully mysterious after all, for we need purging and cleansing even as Peter needed foot washing.
5. There was a needs be of fellowship. "If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me." You cannot have fellowship with Christ except He does this or that for you, nay, especially except He tries you; for how shall you know the suffering Saviour except you suffer yourself?
6. There was a needs be yet again to learn the lesson of washing their brethren's feet by seeing the Lord wash theirs. No man can rightly wash another's feet till his own feet have been washed by his Saviour.
V. UPON THIS POINT AND MANY OTHERS WE SHALL ONE DAY BE INFORMED.
1. That "hereafter" may be very soon. Peter knew within a few minutes what Jesus meant. A child is in an ill temper because there has been a rule made by the father and not explained, and so it thinks of some unkind motive on the father's part. In a minute or two after it understands it all, and has to eat its own words.
2. Peter understood his Master's washing His feet better after his sad fall and threefold denial. When he perceived how sadly he needed washing, he would prize the token which his Lord had given him. At a certain point of your experience you will possibly discover the explanation of your present adversity.
3. After the Lord had said to him, "Feed My sheep," and "Feed My lambs," another method of explanation was open to him. Often does our work for Jesus unfold the work of Jesus.
4. Yonder in heaven, best of all, Peter understands, for he sings, "Unto Him that loved us," etc. All things will be clear when we once pass into the region of light.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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.