The Series - Jesus, Unique & Unequaled Teacher (44/TBD)

Focus Text: John 13.12-17

“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13.12-17).

“Do you know what I have done to you?” What kind of question was that? Surely His disciples knew what He had done; it was patently obvious to anyone of average intelligence. They had probably been involved in hundreds or even thousands of occasions when a host washed her guests’ feet, or when a servant was commanded to wash his master’s feet. In fact, the washing of feet was such a common thing among people of the first century that the phrase itself came to mean service in general to another. As evidence of that, certain widows were considered appropriate for a particular honor if they had “washed the saints’ feet” (1 Timothy 5.10). Given that this was such a common event, and given that the disciples had personally participated in the washing of feet many, many times, why ask such a question?

The key to understanding why is in seeing that Jesus was not talking about the washing of feet when He asked if they knew what He had done to them, He was talking about the act of submitting oneself to another in service to God. That is what He had done in washing their feet. That is what He had done in coming to this earth to begin with. Throughout His entire ministry, He had continually and habitually subjected Himself to the needs of others; this was true in teaching, preaching, healing, encouraging, rebuking, and every other act in which He was involved. He gave, and gave, and gave again. He spent Himself in service to others and in service to God. Only when it was necessary for His own survival did He go aside to refresh Himself and recuperate from the rigors of serving others. That was what He did! Did they, the apostles, understand it? Not at the time! They would understand, but only when they had matured sufficiently to see behind the obvious and see the real reasons for His existence here.

It was this same failure to understand that led Peter to rebuke Jesus on one occasion and to challenge the necessity of His death in Jerusalem (see Matthew 16.21-23). Jesus’ response was that Peter was mindful of the things of men and not the things of God. Sometimes the obvious answer is not the right answer. Even doing or thinking what seems “natural” is not what God wants of us. As followers of Christ, we are called to look beyond the obvious and to see the real meaning of life, and service, and worship, and scores of other things in which He led the way!

The Master Teacher challenged His students to go beyond the surface and to seek the “upward call,” a calling from God, to God (see Philippians 3.14). We “wash the feet” of others when we serve selflessly in a way that honors our Teacher and Lord, Jesus Christ!


1. Was it the mere act of washing of feet that was commanded, or was it service through subjection that was commanded?

2. If it was merely the act of washing feet, why would Jesus have asked if they knew what He was doing?

3. What is accomplished in a teacher/student relationship by asking questions that challenge the status quo and encourage thinking beyond the obvious?

4. Can you think of other occasions when Jesus challenged His audiences to think beyond the norm and see things that they had not seen before? (Hint - Read the Sermon on the Mount and count the times that He challenged His hearers in this manner)?