John Bible Study (That You May Believe)

John 13:12-20, People of the Towel


Jesus has washed the apostles’ feet. Jesus reveals himself as the God who serves and the God who cleanses. He loves his own to the end and is going to serve them by giving his life for the world so that the world could be saved from their sins. These are the messages from the first 11 verses of chapter 13. Jesus finishes washing the feet of his disciples, puts back on his outer garments and resumes his place. Jesus then asks an important question to his disciples: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” The question shows that what Jesus has done is far more than mere foot washing. The washing of feet is not the issue at all in this text. If foot washing was the point, then this question is absurd. The disciples know what Jesus just did. But Jesus is reaching for a greater meaning that is found in what he has just done. What we observed in our first lesson from this text is that Jesus has gone low. Jesus has shown humble service. What Jesus did in this foot washing scene represented what Jesus did for the world: taking off the outer garments (leaving the spiritual glory of heaven), tying a towel around his waist (coming to earth and taking on the form of a human), washing the disciples’ feet (dying for the sins of his people), putting back on his outer garments and returning to his place (raising from the dead, ascending to the Father, and being crowned with glory and honor). Extraordinary humble service is the picture. A complete disregard for who one is, one’s power, one’s position, or what one deserves is the picture. So let us not miss the picture and be caught by the physical act alone. The physical act of foot washing represents so much more!

The Proper Response To Christ’s Love (13:13-17)

Now Jesus is going to teach the disciples what they are to learn from this amazing act of serving love. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (13:13). Jesus does not deny who he is. He is the Great Teacher. He is the Lord. Jesus is the master. If Jesus is the master, then there are great consequences to what Jesus has done. This is the point Jesus makes in verses 14-15. If the Lord and Teacher has washed the disciples’ feet, then at minimum the disciples ought to wash each other’s feet. Verse 15 emphasizes this truth all the more. Jesus has left an example that they should do just as Jesus has done. What has Jesus done? What were the disciples supposed to see? Were they supposed to merely see the washing of feet? No! They were to see the ridiculous humility of Jesus. Think about it: God has no need for humility! He is everything. Listen to the apostle Paul concerning Jesus.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:16–18 ESV)

I want us to see the great humility in Jesus, one who did not have to show humility because he is everything. But Jesus shows humility. Humility is seen in Jesus taking the lower role. Godly love is sacrificing self. Being a disciple of Jesus means having the mind of humility like Jesus and practicing humility like Jesus. What Jesus is displaying is the humble, self-giving treatment of others without regard for shame, status, or honor codes. What Jesus has done is become a servant of all even though everyone else is lesser than him. We are not disciples of Jesus unless we show and practice this humility.

Look at verse 16. We are not greater than Jesus. But we are saying that we are greater than Jesus when we refuse to give ourselves and serve. Who are we unwilling to serve? Who do we think is beneath us? Humble thinking means we will give ourselves up for another. Humble action gives up self to all people because we are not greater than our Master and that is exactly what our master did.

Practicing humility like Jesus means is that overlook the offenses that may be committed against us. It means we desire reconciliation with each other. It means that we have a heart of forgiveness, not a heart of bitterness. It means that we look for the opportunity to give of ourselves to each other. This means that we do not take account of what we deserve or if something is beneath our time or action. Humility means more than swallowing our pride. Humility means that we destroy our pride. Pride is what blocks humble service. Pride is what blocks godly, right thinking. Listen to verse 17. You know these things. You are blessed if you do them. We know that we are not to think about ourselves. We know that we are taught that we are to be defrauded rather than make calculations about ourselves. Do not discard Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ example. We give and give and give some more. Then, we think we cannot give anymore, we give again. Give ourselves. Give completely. Give to the undeserving. Notice that this is what John wants us to see.

Humbly Serve The Undeserving (13:18-20)

Jesus makes the point at this moment that there is a betrayer among them. Why does Jesus do this right now? Why does he make the point that he knows who he has chosen? One of them is not a servant but a betrayer. The point of quoting Psalm 41:9 is to show that this is a painful betrayal. Why point all this out? Jesus humbly served the betrayer, even knowing that he was the betrayer. There is no loophole to our acts of humble service. Jesus does not send out the betrayer then wash the disciples’ feet. Rather, he washes even Judas’ feet and then send out the betrayer. No one gets the label of “undeserving of service” in our minds. No one is exempt. Jesus served the one who he knew would harm him. We do not serve the people that we like. We do not give ourselves only to the people who are nice to us or treat us well. We are to give ourselves to those who hurt us. We must serve the one who lifts his heel against us.


Jesus washed your feet. He gave his life for you. You were a rebel against God, undeserving of any blessing or goodness that God has to offer. But he served you anyway. No one is greater than Jesus. He is the master and we are the servants. We must follow his example.

Do not waver from your mission of glorifying God through humble service even when you are hurt or betrayed. Even when another hurts us and harms us, we do not have the right to stop doing what Jesus did by giving ourselves and doing what is in that person’s best interest. Jesus knew what he was doing when he washed the feet of Judas and then told us to follow his example.

To serve Jesus means that we take the way of the cross. The way of the cross is the way of humility. There is no room for pride. There is no room for thinking about ourselves. We will cut down the opportunity to think about ourselves and enjoy the thought and act of doing good for others. This was so expected of Christians that when Paul wrote to Timothy about who were godly widows that could be cared by the church, one of the characteristics was that the widow “washed the feet of the disciples” (1 Timothy 5:10). They showed humble service in their lives. This is what God expects of his followers.

We need to remember who we are. Look at verse 16. It is a term we use all the time but sometimes forget the meaning. We are servants of Christ. What does it mean to be a servant? We serve. Life is not about us. Relationships are not about us. Actions are not about us. We do not act for our well-being but for Jesus and for others. Be a servant. Humbly serve one another. Yield to one another. Give to one another. This is what it means to love Jesus and love one another.

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