This chapter begins a remarkable section of the gospel of John known as the “Upper Room Discourse.” Spanning four chapters (five if you count the great prayer of Jesus in chapter 17), this extended section of teaching from Jesus occurred on the night before He went to the cross. Alone with the disciples in an upper room, the Lord spoke to them on a deep and intimate level. When I read it I feel as if I am on holy ground.
Before the teaching began, Jesus did something that caught everyone in the room off guard. The washing of guests’ feet was a task that normally fell to the lowest-ranking servant in the house. But Jesus, without a word, tied a towel around His waist, took a basin of water, and washed the feet of His disciples (even Judas!). This act of love, humility, and service is a most beautiful picture of servant-leadership and an unforgettable example for disciples of Jesus (v.15). The image of the Lord of All down on His knees, handling the dirty, smelly feet of mankind should forever remind us of this essential attitude of the church: we lower ourselves to meet another’s need whatever that need happens to be at a particular moment.
Once Judas Iscariot was out of the room (v.21-30), Jesus began to give instructions for how the disciples were to behave once He “went where they could not go” (the cross, the grave, the resurrection, and the ascension into heaven — v.31-33). The first and primary instruction was loving each other. A Christ-like love within the fellowship of believers was to be their distinguishing characteristic, the relational marker that would set them apart from the rest of the world. We have received the love of Jesus; to the measure that we share it we will be known as His disciples.
In verses 36-37, Peter may have missed what Jesus said about love. He was stuck on the fact that Jesus was going to leave him and the others. Peter boasted that if he could go with Jesus, he would have His back; he would defend Jesus with his life. Knowing that Peter did not have the spiritual fortitude to back up that promise, Jesus predicted his triple-denial. Sadly, the prediction came true (John 18:27).
Although Peter and the others would make their share of mistakes after that night, they would never forget the foot-washing. It was a powerful lesson on love, humility, and service. May those same traits define your life today, and may everyone around you know that you are a disciple of Jesus.