Harry Ironside Collection: Ironside, Harry A. - Notes on the Gospel of John: 42-Cleansing by Water -- Joh_13:1-17

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Harry Ironside Collection: Ironside, Harry A. - Notes on the Gospel of John: 42-Cleansing by Water -- Joh_13:1-17



TOPIC: Ironside, Harry A. - Notes on the Gospel of John (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 42-Cleansing by Water -- Joh_13:1-17

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Cleansing by Water -- Joh_13:1-17



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. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.



We begin, with this thirteenth chapter, the study of the second part of John’s gospel. We have seen how in the first twelve chapters the Lord Jesus presented Himself to the world in every possible aspect that the Holy Spirit could portray Him to men and women, in order that they might be convicted of their sin and brought to know Him as their Savior. Now as we enter upon the second great division of the Gospel, we see our Lord manifesting Himself to His disciples and to those who have received His testimony and accepted Him as Lord and Savior. It is they who are referred to in this verse as “his own.”



We read, “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come” (Joh_13:1 a). All the way through He has been looking forward to this hour-the hour when He was to go to the cross to be made sin for us, and when He was to pass on from the cross and the tomb up yonder to the glory. Jesus, knowing that the set time had arrived when He was to go to the Father, “having loved His own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Joh_13:1 b). We have seen how in chapter 1 that expression, “his own,” is found. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Joh_1:11), that is, He came to His own country, His own city, His own temple where everything spoke of His glory, but His own covenant people, the majority of Israel, received Him not. “But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God” (Joh_1:12). And these are the ones spoken of now as “his own.” “Having loved His own which were in the world.” They are His own in a fivefold sense:



1. They are His own by creation. He brought them into being. The very life we have comes from Him.



2. But then more than that, they are His own by redemption. He went to the cross to purchase them. Of course, He had not yet died on the cross when He contemplated this little group in the Upper Room, but He looks at the cross as though it were in the past. He had come for that purpose.



3. They are His own by the Father’s gift. In the seventeenth chapter of this book, seven times over Jesus speaks to the Father of the “men that thou gavest me out of the world.” We who are saved have been given to the Son by the Father. In that sense we are His own.



4. More than that, we are His own by right. He had to work in our hearts and consciences convicting us of sin, and that led to repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So we were born of the Spirit and made the children of God.



5. Then we are His own by subjugation. It was His own grace that ended our rebellion and brought us in chains of love to His feet. So we belong to Him in this fivefold sense.



All believers are included in this number of whom the Spirit says, “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” Someone has translated that last expression, “He loved them all the way through.” Through what? Through everything. He loved Peter all the way through his boasting and failure, and He loved him back to victory and faithfulness. And, thank God, when once He takes up a poor sinner in grace, He loves him all the way through. It can be said of every Christian, “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” “[For] he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php_1:6).



And now we learn from this chapter something of how He cares for His own. After His grace has saved us from judgment, we see how He watches over His saints and keeps their feet clean as they go through a defiling world. In other words, we have here an acted parable. He is picturing that service with which He has been occupied now for nineteen hundred years since going back to the glory.



“And supper being ended” (Joh_13:2 a). That word ended might be left out, for it is clear that the translators have placed it there without authority. The supper was not ended. It should read, “And supper being,” or “during supper.” “The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (Joh_13:2 b). Oh, the pity of it! Judas, who had walked with Him for three-and-a-half years, had heard His words of grace, seen His works of power, beheld His wonderful life, and yet his heart was never won for Christ. Jesus knew all about him. He was not deceived. The Lord said of him, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (Joh_6:70). Judas had never been regenerated. His hard heart had never glowed with love for Christ. He was one of the Twelve, but he was not one who actually had been born again. It shows how one may be temporarily religious, be under the best of instruction, and see the most marvelous evidences of the working of divine power and yet, after all, never truly turn to God as a repentant sinner and own Christ as Lord. The ways of Judas might well speak to everyone of us, warning us to examine ourselves to see whether we be in the faith or not.



Judas is about to betray Him. In the light of this, we read, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God” (Joh_13:3). Let those words sink into the heart. Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. Later on we hear Him saying, “All authority is given to me in heaven and earth.” He says, “Go … and [disciple] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway” (Mat_28:19).



You remember of old, in Genesis, the servant who went down to get a bride for Isaac, said to the parents of Rebecca, “My master has given all that he has unto Isaac,” and so God has put everything into the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now Jesus knew that He had “come from God, and went to God.” In His great high-priestly prayer He said, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I lad with thee before the world was” (Joh_17:5). He came from the Father. As Micah puts it, “[His] goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic_5:2). He came from God’s fullest glory to the cross of Calvary, then back to God He went, and there He sits at the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us.



In view of all this, He takes the servant’s place. “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded” (Joh_13:4-5). Our blessed Lord, He who is sovereign of the universe, takes the place of a slave. He went to one after another to wash the defiled feet of His disciples. It was customary in homes in those days to do that when a guest was entertained. A servant would come and wash his feet. But there was no one to do that for the disciples or for Jesus, and so Jesus takes the servant’s place. He who had deigned to take upon Him the form of a poor man girds Himself with a towel and goes from one to the other and washes their feet.



As He does this, Simon Peter is watching Him. He sees Him go first to one and then another of his fellow disciples, washing and wiping their feet. Peter’s heart is filled with indignation. “Why, will John allow Him to do anything so lowly as that. And Thomas, and Matthew! Wait until He comes to me. I will never let the Lord humiliate Himself like that at my feet.” Finally, He came to Simon Peter, and Peter said, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” (Joh_13:6). In the original, he uses two emphatic pronouns here, “Dost thou wash my feet?” And in those two words Peter puts himself in vivid contrast with the Lord Jesus Christ.



But listen to the answer of Jesus. He uses two emphatic pronouns also. “Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (Joh_13:7). “Peter, I am doing something that you do not understand now.” If it was simply a matter of washing the disciples’ feet in literal water- that was clear to Peter. He was doing the work of a servant, cleansing their feet. But Jesus says, “No, Peter, there is a picture here. You do not yet comprehend.” “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” When was that “hereafter” to be? When would Peter really enter into the meaning of this and understand what it meant for Jesus to wash his feet? It was after he fell into the muck and mire of sin, after he, because of cowardice, denied his Lord and declared that he never knew the Man. Then it was that Jesus sought him and applied the water of the Word to Peter’s denied feet, and made him fit once more to walk in fellowship with the Lord.



But right now Peter did not understand, and Jesus indicates that the understanding is to be in the future. Peter, not realizing, said to Him again with greater emphasis, “Thou shalt never wash my feet” (Joh_13:8 a). You know it does not do to be too positive. “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” But Jesus answered, and I think there was wonderful tenderness in His voice as He met Peter’s loud affirmation in His own quiet tender way, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (Joh_13:8 b). Shall we not take those words home to ourselves? For they are not only for Peter, they are for all believers to the end of time. Jesus says to you, my friend, to me, to everyone of us, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”



Now notice what Jesus did not say, and then notice what He did say. He did not say, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me.” He did say, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” What is the difference between “part in him,” and “part with him?” Well, “part in him,” is life, and Peter already had divine life. He was already “in him.” To be in Christ is just the opposite of being in Adam. We are in Christ by new birth. And Peter had been already born of God. He had already received Him as his Savior, and so he was in Him. But now Jesus says, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me,” and with Him is communion. With Him is fellowship. Every believer is linked up with the Lord Jesus Christ by two links. There is the link of union, and the link of union is so strong that the weight of a world could not break it. He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (Joh_10:27-28). It might be translated: “They shall never, by any means, perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand.” That is the link of union.



But there is also the link of communion. The link of communion is so fragile that the least unconfessed sin will break it in a moment, and the only way it can be reformed is by confessing and forsaking the sin that snapped it.



And so Jesus says, “If I wash thee not, thou [canst have] no part with me.” He means, “If I am not daily washing thee from the defilement that continually clings to one’s feet, you cannot have fellowship with Me.” Is there anything more precious than knowing that you can go to Him about everything? You can tell Him all your trials and difficulties, your joys, and so forth. You can go to Him with thanksgiving and praise. It is so easy to go to Him with our troubles and distress and spread our sorrows and worries before Him-and we should do that. He enters into them all with us. It is written, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isa_63:9). But He would have us share our joys with Him, too, when things are bright and glad, and tell Him all about those things that fill our hearts with cheer. But we can’t do this and have fellowship with Him if we are defiled by unconfessed sin. We must be clean to enjoy communion with Christ. “If I wash thee not, thou [canst have] no part with me.”



Now Peter goes to the other extreme. He says, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (Joh_13:9). As much as to say, “Oh, Lord, I did understand, but if having part with You means being washed by You, I won’t resist any more. You can give me a full bath if you want to.” But Jesus says, “No, Peter, you are wrong again. ‘He that is [bathed] needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean” (Joh_13:10-11). He knew who should betray Him, so He said, “Ye are not all clean.” Judas had never known that first cleansing of regeneration. What is it the Savior is telling us here? Why, this: when a Christian fails and becomes defiled in thought or deed or word, he does not thereby cease to be a Christian-he does not cease to be a child of God and have to begin all over again-but he simply needs to have his feet washed. He needs to have his walk cleansed.



So many dear Christians with sensitive consciences feel that if they sin, it is all over with them, and they are lost again. The enemy of our souls comes to us and says, “It’s all up with you now. You will have to start all over again.” Some dear people are always getting saved over and over again! I remember an incident that would have been almost amusing if it had not been so sad. A dear young fellow came out to the front of the church where I was preaching. He made a profession, and we thought we had a new convert and rejoiced over him as such. After we had prayed with him and given him encouraging and assuring Scripture passages, one of his friends came up to him and said, “Well, I am glad to see you out here at the front again. How many times have you been converted now?” “Oh,” he said, “this makes ninety-nine times.” Poor, dear fellow! He had such a tender conscience that he thought that every time he sinned that he had to get regenerated all over again. In other words, he was trying to get a full bath every time he became defiled! “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.”



You see, in those days, a rich householder had a large bath in the center court, and when he rose in the morning he would step down into the bath and have a complete cleansing. Then he went out with his open sandals. As the streets of those oriental cities were very filthy, when he came back to the house, one of his servants came and washed his feet. He did not have a bath every time he came in, but he did need to have his feet washed.



When we are cleansed by the precious blood of Christ we are washed all over, once for all. That does not have to take place again. “The blood of Jesus Christ his [God’s] Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jn_1:7). That is, it cleanses us continually. We are always clean in that sense.



But now, “he that is [bathed] needeth not save to wash his feet,” and feet speak of our walk. We read, “He will keep the feet of his saints” (1Sa_2:9), so every time we fail as believers we are to go to our blessed Lord, and say, “Cleanse [me now by] the washing of water by the word.” We read in Eph_5:25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” You see the Word of God is likened to water. In Psa_119:9 we read, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Suppose my hand becomes defiled and unclean. What do I do? Why, I go and apply the water, and after I apply the water, the uncleanness disappears. When my heart and conscience have become denied, what do I do? I let the blessed Lord apply the water of the Word. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn_1:9). The Word of God is the water that is applied to our hearts and consciences and cleanses us from all defilement.



Jesus recognized the fact that they had not all had the initial cleansing. Judas had not known that cleansing. “He knew who should betray him.” Judas had never been washed by Christ at all. Then after He had washed their feet and had taken His garments and sat down, He said, “Know ye what I have done to you?” (Joh_13:12). Well, of course they saw what He had done, but they had not learned the hidden lesson yet. So He said, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Joh_13:12-14).



Will you notice one thing here that I am afraid many Christians overlook? He says, “You call me Master and Lord, and ye say well; for so I am.” What do you call Him? He approved these disciples calling Him “Master” and “Lord.” Have you ever noticed this in reading the New Testament, that no lover of the Lord Jesus Christ is ever represented as addressing Him individually by His proper name? We never read that Peter said “Jesus” when addressing Him. We never read that John said it. You never read of anyone saying, “Lovely Jesus,” “Sweet Jesus,” and so forth. That is very significant, is it not? How do they speak of Him? “Master,” “Lord,” “My Lord,” “My God,” and so forth. And He commends them for that. “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” Whenever the Holy Spirit is guiding us in our prayers when we address Him, we will magnify Him. He will lead us to recognize Him as Lord. Some people address our Savior in a way that they would not address the President of the United States. If you were presented to the President you would not call him by his given name. You would not dare do that. You would use some expression of appreciation of the dignity of his office. You would be afraid to do otherwise. Well, when you address your Savior next time, just remember that, while His name is Jesus, He is our Master and our Lord, and the Holy Spirit loves to glorify Him.



“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Now what is He telling us here? Some dear people, some of the most godly people I have ever met, believe that the Lord was instituting a third Christian ordinance, and so they observe from time to time what they call the “Washing of Feet.” But I am afraid sometimes one forgets that Jesus said, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” If it was a matter of literally washing feet in water, they knew all about it. But it is easy to miss the real meaning of this act.



How do we wash one another’s feet? What was the water? The water was the Word. Of what do our feet speak? Our ways. We wash one another’s feet when we apply the Word of God to our ways. When a Christian slips a bit you say, perhaps, “He was a wonderfully fine out-and-out Christian, but now he is getting a bit worldly.” But what are you going to do about it? You can just ignore it and pass it by, or you can criticize and say very unkind things, but neither of these methods will help very much. You can go to the dear brother or sister and tenderly point out from the Word of God the mistake they are making, the sin into which they are falling. You can show them how their lives are becoming defiled. Thus you wash their feet.



Did you every try to wash your brother’s feet? There is a Scripture passage that reads, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev_19:17). It takes grace to be kindly faithful. Some say to me, “Oh, well, I have tried it, but it doesn’t do any good.” We need much grace ourselves to wash another’s feet. If you are going to wash your neighbor’s feet, you ought to be careful about the temperature of the water. You would not go to anyone and say, “Put your feet into this bucket of scalding water, and I will wash them for you.” Ice water is just as bad. Some people go at you in such a way that you just shrink back from them. Some are so hot, and some are so cold and icy and formal. You don’t appreciate either, do you?



The proper thing is this, when you see your brother going wrong, get into the presence of the Lord about it. Then remember the word that tells us, as recorded in Gal_6:1 : “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” When you go to your brother go like this, seeking to apply the Word of God faithfully. He must be in a very bad state indeed if he will not listen. If he is not ready, you can continue to pray and wait for the time when God may permit you to help him.



Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (Joh_13:16-17)