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…
Christ taught humility by precept — "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted;" by metaphor, as in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican; by illustration, as when he set a little child in the midst; and, as here, by his own most blessed example. Note —
I. HUMILITY IN ITS CHARACTERISTIC UNSELFISHNESS. Pride is essentially selfish; humility "seeketh not its own, but another's good." Where shall we find a more beautiful or touching example than that introduced by ver. 1?
II. THE DEEPEST HUMILITY IS CONSISTENT WITH THE HIGHEST STAGE OF CHRISTIAN ASSURANCE. Many Christians regard full assurance of salvation as having a tendency to spiritual pride. They are afraid to say "Jesus is mine, and I am His," lest it should savour of presumption. There is a false assurance which founds itself upon feeling, or imagined revelations, rather than upon the testimony of the word of God, and which by its blatant self-assertion has tended to bring assurance into contempt. But where assurance is the result of a simple faith in the promises, it produces in the soul the fruits of genuine humility. Just when Jesus was at the zenith of spiritual exaltation (ver. 3), He bowed Himself to His lowly task.
III. TRUE HUMILITY EXPRESSES ITSELF NOT IN WORDS, BUT IN DEEDS. Our Lord uses no words of self-abasement. In majestic silence He proceeds with His lowly but loving task. There is a form of so-called humility which expends itself in words of idle self-depreciation. This never becomes so clamorous as when any humble service is to be rendered or any modest testimony borne. They are not presumptuous enough to make a public confession of Christ, to teach a Sabbath school class, to visit a family in poverty, etc. It is easy to see that this is a thin veil for self-indulgence and pride. True humility expresses itself not in unfavourable comparisons of ourselves with others, but in whole-hearted devotion to the interests of others. This was the humility of Him who, "though He was in the form of God," etc.
IV. THE SERVICE WHICH TRUE HUMILITY RENDERS IS NOT SPECTACULAR AND SCENIC, BUT UNOBTRUSIVE AND HELPFUL. The simple rite of hospitality observed by our Lord became the occasion of many a splendid pageant in later days. But let him who would follow our Lord's example not imagine that he can do so by a literal observance of a rite that, through change of customs, has lost its utility and therefore its significance. He now truly "washes the disciples' feet" whose own feet are swift to bear to them messages of kindness, and whose hands are ready for any humble service.
V. THE PARTICULAR SERVICE RENDERED BY OUR LORD, THOUGH NOT SPECTACULAR, WAS SYMBOLIC of inward purification, and distinguishes between the first and radical purification which takes place once for all in regeneration, and that daily purging from the infirmities that cling to us as we pass through the world (ver. 10). As one coming up fresh from the bath needs only to wash off the dust" that clings to his feet and does not affect the purity of his person, so the believer by the bath of his first regeneration is kept pure till he enters his Father's house on high, whilst a daily application of the Spirit in sanctification is needed to remove the impurities that come from daily contact with earth and earthly things.
(T. D. Witherspoon, 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.