John 13:12-17 and 34-35 – Belief and Obedience

Last week we saw how Jesus serves us, dispenses grace to us, with both his words (spoken service) and action (enacted word).
• And in these we experience the love of Christ just as the disciples did.

We also discussed the implications of this as it pertains to a proper view of church.
• As Jesus served the disciples via the foot washing, Jesus seeks to serve us (dispense grace to us) through His word (spoken service) and sacraments (enacted word) in church.
• Therefore, church is to be more a place of receiving than doing.
• This concept is fundamental to the Gospel – Christ acting in history, dispensing grace, on our behalf.
• Today’s text, however, does concern something we are to be doing.
    o The horizontal aspect of our faith.
• We will figure out exactly what He is asking of the disciples and explore its theological implications.


John 13:12 (ESV) — 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?

Apparently, as we saw last week, they didn’t.
• If you remember, Jesus told them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.
• And as we discussed last week Jesus words, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me”, clearly are best understood from the resurrection side of the cross.
• It is from that side of the cross that one can finally get that Jesus’ death/burial/resurrection was creating the “fellowship of the cleansed” – D.A. Carson.

Yet, interestingly, we learn that there is another meaning behind Jesus foot washing.
• And he wants the disciples to understand this meaning before the cross.
• So he proceeds to explain it to them.
• The “fellowship of the cleansed” Jesus is creating is to be “characterized by the same love” as Jesus and “therefore by the same self-abnegation for the sake of serving others” – D.A. Carson.

Let’s take a look at how Jesus spells this out for them.

Jesus’ Object Lesson on Humility and Service:
John 13:13-17 (ESV) 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed [some say happy] are you if you do them.

Jesus makes it pretty clear.
• He tells them that the reason He humbled Himself and washed their feet was to give them “an example” to follow.
• The example to follow was “to wash one another’s feet”.
• And for added emphasis, Jesus says, “you also should do just as I have done to you”.

Before we go any farther, we have to answer an obvious question.
Why isn’t foot washing a sacrament like baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

Between D.A. Carson and John MacArthur I found at least three reasons why.
• (1) MacArthur simply says Jesus’ words are clear in the Greek that He means we are to do “as” He did not “what” He did.
• (2) D.A. Carson points out that “nowhere else in the New Testament, or in the earliest extra-biblical documents of the church, is footwashing treated as an ecclesiastical rite, an ordinance, a sacrament” – D.A. Carson.
    o In other words, the NT writers and early church didn’t see it as such.
• (3) “The heart of Jesus’ command is humility” – D.A. Carson.
    o In other words, “The Lord gave an example of humility, not of foot washing” – MacArthur.

Why the Love and Service?
• Not only does Jesus call the disciples to follow His example, but He also gives them the reason why.
• (1) “a servant is not greater than his master
• (2) “nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him
• Jesus, sent by the Father, submitted to the will and example of the Father.
    o Philippians 2:6–7 (ESV) — 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

So, likewise, the disciples are to submit in the style of Jesus.
• Jesus’ example removed any “conceivable reason for refusing to do so” – D.A. Carson.
• “What is proper for him is proper also for us” – James Boice.
• And Jesus’ style is servitude and humiliation.

And we have already seen, from Peter’s response to Jesus’ foot washing, this is not something that comes naturally.
• We just can’t get away from the fact that Jesus and the imperatives He gives to us are offensive to the self-serving pride we all struggle with.
• It was obviously no different for the disciples.
• In fact, in the Hellenized Greek culture in which Judaism was operating, there was:
    o (1) “no use for humility” – Wiersbe.
    o (2) and manual labor was despised – Wiersbe.
• Jesus example to the disciples and us contained both of these things!

Disheartening Imperative:
• Quite honestly, Jesus’ example of self-denial, humility and self-abnegation can be seen as disheartening if viewed incorrectly.
• I think there are at least two reasons for this.

(1) One reason is that the imperative to live like this is plain enough; it can’t be ignored.
• John 12:25 (ESV) — 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
• 2 Corinthians 5:15 (ESV) — 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
• 1 Peter 4:2 (ESV) — 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

And we need to also include Jesus’ words just a few verses down from our text today.
• John 13:34–35 (ESV) — 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

(2) The second reason is that, as equally plain as the call, is our limited success in living up to Jesus’ example.
• This is problematic because of the verses that teach us, that “obedience to the will of God demonstrates the reality of a person’s faith in Jesus Christ” – M.H. Manser.
• Romans 1:5 (ESV) — 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
• Hebrews 11:8 (ESV) — 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
• John 8:31 (ESV) — 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
• Mark 3:35 (ESV) — 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
• 1 John 3:24 (ESV) — 24a Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

I will come back to this relationship of faith and obedience shortly.
• For now, I think most of us agree we fall short.
• Right now let’s move on to verse 17.

Benefit of Obedience:
• Jesus then pronounces a blessing for obedience to His call to humiliation and service.
• He says, “blessed are you if you do them” (vs. 17).
• The NIV makes it plain, “you will be blessed if you do them”.
• To be blessed in our context is to be a “privileged recipient of divine favor” in a transcendent sense – BDAG.
What is Jesus talking about here?
• This almost sounds like Jesus is saying, “I’ll usher you in to heaven, the ultimate divine favor, if you do what I tell you to do.”

To understand what Jesus is saying here, we have to begin with what He is not saying.
• It must be emphasized, that this is not a call to pietism – righteousness and justification earned through good works.
• This is not the Gospel of moral improvement.
    o This would be the white-washed tombs of the Pharisees.
• Jesus is not saying that He will give them more righteousness through obedience and works.
• As we know, our works are of no help at all.
• We even talked last week about Jesus’ pronouncement that the “flesh is not help at all”.

Scripture makes clear that we are only justified and made righteous by faith in Jesus.
• Galatians 2:16 (ESV) — 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
• Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

We also have to understand something else extremely important here.
• Jesus had already blessed the disciples even prior to these demands.
• For starters he already recognized them as being called by the Father – they followed Him.
• He entrusted Himself to them.
    o In other words, He saved them.
• He taught them the truth of God’s word and how He fulfilled OT prophecy.
    o Something only “heard” and “seen” by those the Father has given Him.
• He brought them into the light.
• And in our immediate context, He humiliated Himself for them and washed their feet!

I think all of this is all plain enough.
• But we haven’t answered our question and we have raised another.

(1) If we are saved by faith, what is the relationship of obedience to faith?
Another way to put this is what is the relationship between law and Gospel?
• I said we would come back to this relationship.
• After all, Jesus isn’t supposed to be so religious.
    o As in making demands on our behavior.

(2) And what is the blessing in verse 17 if we are already blessed with salvation?
What exactly was he talking about?

To get at the answers, we have to take a theological rabbit trail.


Answering the first question:
We need to know –
• “God’s Word has two parts: the law and the gospel. The law commands and the gospel gives. The law says, “Do,” and the gospel says, “Done;” the law issues imperatives (commands), while the gospel announces indicatives (a state of affairs)” – Michael Horton.

Jesus changed things:
We have to understand that Jesus completely changed the relationship between the “Do” and the “Done” – the Law and Gospel.
• In the OT, God delivered His chosen people, the Hebrews, out of Egypt.
• This action of God obligated the Hebrews to a specific relationship with Him.
    o Exodus 20:2–3 (ESV) — 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
• To formalize this relationship, God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai and covenanted with them.
• He then constantly reminded them that if they follow the Law He would bless them.
• The covenant was conditional on obedience.
    o Deuteronomy 15:4–5 (ESV) — 4 But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— 5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.
    o One of many examples.

And then enter Jesus Christ and the new covenant alluded to in Jeremiah 31.
• God delivered His Son to the cross and delivered Him from death.
• God’s elect (the born again, the called and drawn, the sheep) are blessed through the “Done” of Jesus; through the obedience of Jesus.
    o Matthew 5:2–3 (ESV) — 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
• And then Jesus calls the blessed to obedience (the “Do”).
    o Matthew 5:44 (ESV) — 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Do you see the difference?
• The OT covenant was “DO” to get the “DONE”.
    o Obey and be blessed.
• Jesus reversed this.
    o As seen at the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus pronounced blessing first.
    o And as seen in our text, Jesus blessed with foot washing first.
    o He pronounced “Done” and then the “Do”.
    o He served and then asked for service.
    o Being blessed leads to obedience.

OK, so how does this help us answer the first question about faith and obedience?
Why did Jesus get so “religious” by placing demands on us?
If Jesus’ commands are not about a Gospel of moral improvement, what are they?
• Obedience to Jesus’ commands, the Law, is the “instrument for enabling them [believers] daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge…” – Calvin.
    o The 3rd use of the law.
• In other words, the law (the “Do”) that comes after blessing serves to guide us.
• It is one answer to the question, “what is God’s will for my life?”

But there is more.
• The final piece of the puzzle that helps answer question one is what Michael Horton calls the relationship between Guilt, Grace and Gratitude.

Obedience is an act of Gratitude for the blessing God has bestowed on us through the Grace of the Gospel.
• It is not a “doing” in the legalistic sense.
• Again, Jesus is not teaching a Gospel of moral improvement.
    o It is no secret to God and us that we can’t keep God’s law.
    o This is why it is the means God uses to drive us to Christ in the first place.
        * 1st use of the law.
    o Once saved, He doesn’t continuously condemn us over and over.
• We simply have such Gratitude that God’s Grace has provided salvation from our Guilt that we desire to know what Jesus wants and desire to do it (even if with limited success).
• There simply can’t be true belief without obedience!
• There is no relief of Guilt through Grace without Gratitude.
• Just as the living breath, the justified obey.

BTW – this is why it is important for the believer to routinely hear the Gospel.
• We too often downplay the extent of our Guilt and depravity.
• We too often take for granted that Jesus “died for our sins”.
• So, we too often quench our Gratitude.
• We acknowledged earlier that both Jesus’ demands and our failures are plain enough.
• This itself is a blessing because it is a loving reminder of our Guilt and our need for the Grace we have been given.
• This should fill us with Gratitude not self-loathing!

Answering the second question:
What is the blessing that comes from obedience?
• (1) A desire to know and obey Jesus and God’s word is a confirmation of our belief.
    o It is assurance of our salvation.
• (2) Obedience itself is a blessing because it is what is best for us.
    o It answers the question about God’s will.
• (3) The call to obey reminds us of our need for Grace.
    o Guilt-Grace-Gratitude
• (4) And there is another angle to Jesus’ words, “blessed are you if you do them” (vs. 17).
    o The angle is simply this – the blessed ARE the ones that “do them”.
    o As we have just seen, we are blessed first and then we are fit to obey.
    o If Jesus is guiding you with the law, you are His!

Back to our text:
• I think we can now have a clear understanding why Jesus makes demands on us.
• The law has not been overturned.
• In fact, just as Jesus did with so many other things in the Kingdom, He redefined it.
    o He took it up a notch for our benefit and His glory.
• Mark 12:30–31 (ESV) — 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”