As Jesus talked with His disciples the night before He died on the cross (John 13–16), He spoke to them about who He was, their relationship with God, and their work as His disciples. He reassured them of His con- tinuing presence and care in His sending of the Holy Spirit even as He told them what the world would do to them because they were His disciples.
He also spoke with them about how they were to live with each other and gave them two commands—only two—and each is significant. He began by washing their feet—an act that was the work of a slave.
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”John 13:12–17
Don Carson writes:
A quick reading of John 13:1–13 (some prefer to think of John 13:1–20 as the basic unit) shows that the episode of the foot washing is turned in two directions. On the one hand, it is symbolic of spiritual cleansing (cf. especially vv. 8–10); on the other, it serves as a standard of humble service and therefore as a call to all of Jesus’ disciples to ‘wash one another’s feet’ (vv. 12-17).1
Humble service is the first command, taught by example and then explained though His words. The second command He taught by His words, and the next day His disciples would those words explained by His example.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35
Jesus later repeats this command and sets the standard for their love for each other:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.”John 15:12-14
That same evening He prayed:
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”John 17:20-23
In “The Mark of a Christian” I tell the story of how a kind and loving Christian gave me the fish pendant above. I also write about the sad reality of those times when Christian love is as broken and cracked as the ἰχθύς wheel symbol on the left. You would think that the last two things Jesus commanded on the night before He died would be taken soberly and seriously by His disciples and obeyed. Alas, they are not.
We have lived in different cities and in very different regions, but everywhere we have seen church after church marred by a lack of service—remember that Jesus did the service of a slave—and a lack of love: unkindness, jealousy, arrogance, coldness and apathy to the needs of others. Not just the people, but the leaders within the Christian church have had same ideas about being great and being first that the disciples had when they squabbled about prestige and power in the kingdom of God. Rather than take the Scripture seriously about how to live and care for one another, far too many in the church draw their template from the surrounding culture. The ironic thing is that some within the business community recognize the importance of authenticity, generosity and kindness, while Christians seem to have never heard of them, much less be on terms with the fruit of the Spirit. We should not be churches of the ‘be warm, be filled’ that are rife with favoritism, but we are.
If the church is in any doubt as to what it means to love one another, Jesus gave us His example, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 described the attitudes and actions of love as he gave us characteristics we can see and recognize—characteristics that obviously flow from within—from a changed mind and heart.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13
Maundy Thursday is named for the New Commandment:
Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”)…2
The name of this day bears the mark of His command. Isn’t it time our lives were marked by it as well? Many churches have a Good Friday service during which they remember our Lord’s crucifixion. Perhaps a Maundy Thursday service should be considered as a time during which Christians in a local church would commit themselves to humble service to one another and laying-down-life love for one another.
Giovanni Giuliani, Christus wäscht dem heiligen Petrus die Füße (Christ washing the feet of saint Peter). Cropped from a photograph by Wolfgang Sauber. GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
Ichthus (the ΙΧΘΥΣ) Wheel in Ephesus: public domain via Wikipedia.
The wheel is an overlay of the uppercase letters, ΙΧΘΥΣ. The fish has been a Christian symbol since the early years of the church. The Greek word for fish is an acrostic; each letter is the first letter of one of the five words of the phrase: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior: ͑Ιησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ ͑Υιός Σωτήρ.
1D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 458.
2Wikipedia, Maundy Thursday.
Original content: Copyright ©2014 Iwana Carpenter