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Mar 18, 2012

Loving to the Bitter End

Passage: John 13:1-17

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Road to the Cross

Category: New Testament

Keywords: foot washing, servant, love, origin, destiny, end of life


The last 24 hours of Jesus life he did and said some of the most important things of his life. This message looks at what Jesus' love to the bitter end looks like and the implications it has for our lives today in Christ.


Loving to the Bitter End

John 13:1-17

March 11, 2012


Get acquainted: 

Q:  If you knew you had only 24 hours to live, how would you want t spend it? 


That is precisely the situation Jesus found himself in on the way to the cross.  For the next few weeks leading up to Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, we’re going to be traveling a bit of Jesus’ last 24 hours together with him through the eyes and ears of his closest Apostle and friend, John. 

John’s is a first-hand account.  From the Last Supper where they celebrated the Passover reclining at a low table in that upper room to Jesus’ last words whispered with his dying breath on the cross, the Apostle John was closest to Jesus.  He leaned against Jesus at the table.  They spoke in whispered voice to each other as the meal unfolded.  He saw every facial expression of Jesus.  He was close enough to smell his very breath.  He was nearest to Jesus when he cried out to the Father in that agonizing, wrestling prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

John watched the charade of a trial before the High Priest unfold  before his very eyes.  He heard the false accusations, the sanctimonious hypocrisy or their hate-filled inquiry.   He witnessed the horrible physical torture of a man he knew to be innocent, the One Man in all of human history who never deserved anyone’s hatred or abuse or scorn. 

He was there to share at close range the worst kind of grief any mother could possibly endure—watching others humiliate, torture, maim, mutilate and eventually kill your own son, your truly perfect son. John bore the load of that horrible day as much or more than any other friend or family of Jesus.  Being Jesus’ cousin, Mary, the mother of Jesus was his Aunt.  He apparently took full responsibility for her care after Jesus’ crucifixion (Jn. 19:27).   


So our journey begins in John 13:1ff

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” 


So what would you do if you knew you had less than 24 hours to live?  How would you want to spend it?  Who would you want to spend it with. 

[Solicit responses from people.]


Certainly the best way to live life itself would be to live, insofar as possible, as if every day was your last.  Jesus was the only one in the room that evening who knew what was coming up.  Though he had forewarned his disciples of his impending death, they really did not know nor believe they were down to their last 24 hours. 

            And in some way, what Jesus did that evening and the hours leading up to it looked to each of them like the normal pattern of Jesus’ life.  They were in Jerusalem.  Jesus had been teaching the people, visiting the Temple, spending time with his good friends, healing the sick, teaching some more.

            So when they got to this evening, this Thursday night of Passover, to them everything looked pretty normal.  They were sharing a special holiday meal together.  Jesus was leading and teaching them.  He was, as the text says, “lov[ing] them to the end.” 

            Isn’t that the right way to live?  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  Jesus just kept doing what he had been doing his entire time with the Apostles:  he kept on loving them.  That’s why none of this looked different to the disciples—not the meal, not the conversation, not the singing of a hymn, not the prayers, not the late-night walk in the Garden, not the extended late-night prayer time in Gethsemane… none of it looked strange or out of order because ALL of it had that same feel of the love of God in Christ around it. 


This past week I asked that same question of our Alpha Group around the dinner table:  If you knew it was your last day on earth, how would you spend it?  Their responses were pretty much the same as THE most frequent choice of responses from people on-line when asked the same question: “I’d spend it with the people I love, telling them what they mean to me, and enjoying their presence.”     


Don’t you think that is what Jesus was doing his last day of human life on earth?  He must have looked at everything with more intensity.  He must have stolen extra glimpses of his disciples, watching them relate to life and each other, knowing they were about to receive the jolt of their life

I doubt that Jesus wasted a single moment of that day worrying about bills he would not be paying, vacations he would not be taking or a “to do list” he wouldn’t get to.  He just kept loving the people he had been sent to love…loving them to the bitter end.  That phrase in Greek can be taken two ways:  1.) he loved them to the very end of life, and 2.) he loved them utterly, to the uttermost.  I think both are true of Jesus that day. 


So just what did Jesus plan for that last day of life that would truly express the depth and the duration of his love?  What kind of day would you plan?  What kinds of words and activities would express your love for people closest to you?

I don’t know what you would plan, but we do know what Jesus planned. 

  • He planned a meal, a special Passover meal, with those closest to him.
  • He planned some last-minute teaching both in word and deed. 
  • He planned an act of serving that would endure throughout human history as a supreme symbol of humility.
  • H planned a time of singing with a group of men who probably couldn’t all carry a tune in a bucket.
  • He planned a late-night walk under the starry heavens which he had spoken into existence by the word of his power.
  • He planned a late night prayer vigil in his favorite garden on a hillside facing his favorite city in the world. 
  • But he also scheduled in a bitter betrayal by one of those he had loved most directly at close range.
  • He planned his own unlawful arrest and gave his closest friends the means by which to prevent their arrest.
  • He scheduled a final miraculous “field surgery”, the reattachment of a severed ear on a man who had come to kill him.
  • He scheduled into those last 24 hours a rigged trial at the mercy of jealous, power-hungry hypocrites and liars.
  • He planned for a flogging of horrific proportions, physical abuse beyond comprehension, and public humiliation of the kind no man should ever have to endure. 

Jesus kept doing all that final day just what he had been doing his entire life: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”


Living like that, there will be NO dying regrets, will there? 

APP:  So what do you and I need to change in order to “love our own…to the bitter end?”  Loving those God has given us to love in life is THE highest calling we have.  Loving them to the bitter end IS also God’s calling on us. 

            We who are Christ-followers are called to do that just as Christ did, with the same power and Spirit of God doing that loving through us that Christ had. 

WHO is God asking you to love to the bitter end? 

  • It may be a friend, a loving soul-partner like John was to Jesus. 
  • It may be a treacherous, scheming and selfish co-worker like Judas Iscariot was with Jesus.
  •  It could be a spouse, a parent, a daughter or son, a cousin or uncle, coworker or neighbor

John is telling us something here:  the way we love every other day of life should be the way we want to love our last day of life.   


Let’s keep going in the text.  Vs. 2ff“ The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”


Why does John put vs. 2 in this passage?  What’s so important about knowing this hidden heart issue about Judas Iscariot before he tells us what Jesus did?

            One of the reasons, I think, has to do with the nature of loving people “to the bitter end.”  Jesus is showing all his followers, both then and now, that loving really doesn’t depend upon what other people have in their hearts; it depends on what we have in ours.

            Judas had the very promptings of the devil himself in his heart.  His mind was already working its plans for betrayal of Jesus.  His pocket was already full of the money.  His eyes were looking for just the right opportunity.  He had made room for Satan himself to attack God himself in human flesh.  He was, as we would say, already a lost cause. 

            BUT JESUS…treated him with as much respect, as much love, as much humility as he treated John the Beloved.  And Jesus was the only one besides Judas himself who walked into that room that night knowing what Judas’ evil plans were.  Yet Jesus shared just as much food with him, showed just as much attention for him, yearned just as much for Judas’ future as he did for anyone else in that room. 

APP:  God put a “Judas” in our life?  I’m betting most of us will never have someone this evil in our closest sphere of loved ones.  But if you do, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus for how to love them to the bitter end. 

            In Mark 13, Jesus tells us that in the last days some of his followers will be betrayed by their very own family members. 12 Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

            There is more likelihood today that you and I will experience that in our own lifetime than when Jesus spoke that

2,000 years ago.  There is a far greater likelihood that we will live to experience the fulfillment of this very passage in our families, our nation, this city.  KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS.  He showed us how to handle that worst of betrayals.  He showed us how to love the betrayer possessed by Satan himself, and how to “love him/her to the bitter end.” 


That kind of life of love must have its roots firmly embedded in some rock-solid realities.  It is those realities that enabled Jesus to love to the bitter end.  It is those realities that John tells us about in vs. 3—“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God….”

First, that little phrase here telling us that the Father “…had put all things under his power,” more literally means, “the Father gave all things into his hands.”  John tells us that this reality, known completely and fully by Jesus, is about to stand in stark contrast to the action Jesus is about to take at the meal.  Jesus, being God, had always had “all things” in his hands.  He who “stretched out the heavens like a tent” (Ps. 104:2) and holds in his hands the whole pulsating universe of a billion galaxies each with a billion starry suns, took the human hands he had assumed in the human flesh he had donned and put them to the most humble work of serving sinful men by washing their feet.  And when he was done with that, the most powerful man to ever walk this earth, embraced the torturers nails of crucifixion and allowed our sins to crush his body.  

            I don’t know about you but being powerful doesn’t naturally make me more gentle or humble or patient.

  • Are people with lots and lots of money usually very patient, thoughtful and humble…or do they usually see their wealth as reason to throw their weight around?

STORY:  That reminds me of an airport story I once heard.  A flight had been canceled due to bad weather and one solitary agent was trying to rebook all of the travelers whose schedules had gotten messed up on other flights. One of the passengers became particularly impatient.  He bypassed the long line of other passengers waiting their turn at the ticked counter and marched right to the front. 

Without waiting for the agent to even finish with the current customer he slammed down his ticket and said, “I have to be on this flight in the next hour, and it has to be first class!”

The agent politely responded, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll help as soon as I can, but I have to take care of these other people first.”

That just made the man more angry and he shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

Without hesitating, the agent picked up the loud speaker microphone and said to the several hundred people waiting in the terminal, “May I have your attention, please? We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 15.”

The waiting crowd of people burst into applause and laughter.


Power, whether by wealth or physical strength or mental genius or military might, usually does not produce people who set it all aside to serve others in the most menial of ways.  But it does with our God Jesus Christ!

This is what you get when you have the God who loves people to the bitter end.  We are SO unlike God so much of the time.  Ours is the only god who, having ALL power and authority in and beyond this universe, humbles himself to whatever degree necessary to love us to the bitter end. 


APP:  Having power, having wealth, having health, having strength, having influence, position, education…anything that can make us feel superior to or better than another person is NO REASON to not humble ourselves before and with people having far less of anything or everything.  That is why we need the poor, the poor in whatever category you choose to see someone as “poor.”  Without them, we will never have the opportunity to become like Christ in humility of heart.  The real character of a person is not proven or displayed in how they can throw their weight around when they have it; it is in how low they can stoop to serve others who need it. 

The second thing John tells us Jesus had clear in his mind as that evening unfolded was this:    “Jesus knew…that he had come from God….”  If you don’t know your origin, you’ll never figure out your destiny.

            Where does modern education and science tell us we came from?  Lots of time, pure chance, and a whole bunch of primordial slime. We’re told the “discovery” of evolution has made God unnecessary.  We’re just a mass of tissue, a randomly organized glob of cells.  We’re that one chance mutation on the cosmic stage of universal chaos.  We have no more significance than the chimpanzee in Africa or the wallaby in Australia. 

            You see, it really does make a difference to most people where they came from.  If your parents kept hammering into you as you grew up, “Johnny, you have got to be the biggest accident in the whole universe!” how does that make you feel?  If you never knew your parents…or never had good parents…how do you feel about yourself?  Do kids who grow up being told they are nothing but a piece of dirt (or worse) usually become the kind of people who end up lovingly serving the most needy in society?

            No, they usually end up angry, abused, vengeful, hostile, profane and combative. They don’t usually grow up to be model public servants. 

APP:  That’s why it is critical that God’s children stand in the gap and tell the world, “God hand-made you.  You weren’t an accident; you were a choice by God.  You aren’t a cosmic joke; you’re a divine jewel.”  No matter what anyone has said about you, God has said you are his handiwork, his craftsmanship, created for eternal purposes by the most loving Being imaginable. 

            Jesus knew his roots and that knowledge enabled him to love to the bitter end.


The final thing John tells us that Jesus had in mind that night was this, “Jesus knew that…he…was returning to God.”   

ILL:  Returning from Hong Kong with full-blown hepatitis-A. (Describe that horrible experience in the airport, on the airplane, passing customs, etc.)  If I had known that I was headed to another strange country with more strange food with people speaking a strange language and using strange medical practices, I would never have boarded that flight in Hong Kong.  But knowing that I was headed to people I knew loved me, to medical care I knew was competent, to food I knew I could stomach…that made the trip possible.  I knew I was going home. 


APP:  Brothers and sisters, we are the ONLY people in this world who know where we are going when this life is over.  Other people hope they know where they are going.  Some religions teach you are headed to some cosmic loss of identity in which you are totally absorbed into nothingness.  Others teach that you’ll probably come back over and over again, hopefully as a wealthier or healthier human being but, hey, in all likelihood as a beetle or a beef cow. 

            But Jesus told us very specifically what we’re headed to—the presence of God Almighty, eternal fellowship with the only God who loves you to the bitter end, a future kingdom where righteousness and holiness reign and where sin and death are no more. 

I can put up with a little discomfort on this temporary camping trip as long as I know there is a wonderfully warm, clean, dry and inviting home at the end of the trail. Believe God when he says that we’re headed to the best of everything from food to future to fellowship that you can imagine. Fact is, it’s so far beyond our wildest imagination that people who have even had a glimpse of it were at a loss for words to adequately describe it. 


Part of our problem today in contemporary Christianity is that we have done the pendulum swing away from a rock-solid theology of heaven and eternity to being preoccupied with a very temporary and transient preoccupation with the issues of this life.  Yes, this life IS important.  But without a clear conviction about what we are headed into in the next life, we will not be able to embrace the love of God which Jesus calls on us to live out humbly to everyone around us on earth. 


You know the rest of this story, don’t you.  The meal had already started and no one in the group had taken up the towel and basin to wash everyone’s feet.  Everyone was treating that towel and basin like you do when you eat out with a bunch of people and the check comes:  you just sort of let it sit there, hoping someone else will reach for it first and pay the bill.  J


Jesus waited just long enough to serve them all so that every one of them would be shocked by what he did to love them to the bitter end.  He took off his tunic and stripped to his underware.  Then he took that long servant’s towel, wrapped it around his waist, picked up the bowl and pitcher of water, and worked his way around that table—John, Peter (who would deny him with curses that night), Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas (the doubter), Matthew( the tax collector), James son of Alpheaus, Thaddaeus, Simon (the political anarchist and Zealot) and Judas Iscariot (the betrayer).  


John goes on to tell us about how Peter, opening his mouth to change feet, presumes to tell the Lord what to do (or not do).  Instead Jesus gives him a lesson about how those who have embraced and received His words are already cleansed (saved) but that they still need a continual work of purifying sanctification day to day. 


Then Jesus ends this whole rather uncomfortable scene of divine humility in the face of human pride with these words beginning in vss. 12—

 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


Some have asked why the church doesn’t practice foot washing as a sacrament like we do the Lord’s Table.  The answer is, I think, simply this:

1.)     We never see foot washing practiced by the early church as an act of worship anywhere else in the N.T.  Foot washing as a sign of hospitality is commended once in I Tim. 5:10, but not as a regular sacrament of the church. 

2.)    It is not the act of foot washing that Jesus wanted the disciples to constantly do; it was the life of humble service Jesus wants practiced among his children. 


The clear, simple message here is that if we are people who claim Jesus as our Lord, we will be presented with opportunity after opportunity in life where we can either embrace the experience of serving others around us or we will ignore those opportunities and wait for others to serve us.  Jesus truly is the master of “servant-leadership”—measuring the greatness of leadership by the frequency and level of serving to which we will humble ourselves.

ILL:  growing up during my formative teenage years in a large church where the Senior Pastor of the church could be found vacuuming carpets late at night or cleaning bathrooms in the bowels of the church basement on a Saturday.  He didn’t   do it because there was no janitor.  He did it because it was usually after a wedding or a late night function and the place needed to look presentable in the morning when it would be used again by a whole new group.  That said volumes to me as a young person and it still speaks volumes to me as a pastor today. 


Jesus didn’t say this was about knowing these truths; it’s about DOING them.  Being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, is about action plus thoughts and attitude.  And Jesus said the blessing is in the doing.

17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


APP:  So here’s what I’d like us to do this morning to let God speak to us about embracing the humility and servant-leadership of our Lord Jesus in our lives. 

1.)    I’d like us to take a little time of inventory.  Where are we currently meeting the daily needs of those around us in the regular flow of life?

2.)    What is our attitude in doing those “chores”?  Is it like Jesus’ heart—wanting to see others blessed, refreshed, cleansed?  Or am I doing those things with a martyrs’ attitude or worse, so I can make others feel guilty or indebted to me?

3.)    Where are others serving us regularly and how are we doing at expressing thanks and appreciation to them?

4.)    Where might God want us to lay aside our regular “garments” of status, position or authority, put on the towel of servanthood, and actually get dirty/wet/sore/in-touch with serving those who are in need (and may even be too proud to recognize it)?

NOTE:  This is why serving each other and the world we live in is SO important.  That’s why it is one of the 3 legs of ministry here at Mosaic—passionate, humble serving in our world. 

Suggestions for stepping it up in service

  • City Gate (we’d like to add another night a month and need at least 10-15 more people committed to serving regularly.
  • 1st Covenant’s “Street-Wise” ministry that feeds several hundred people each Sunday afternoon.  I’d really love for our church to have a team there once a quarter or once a month.  We already support it financially but it’s the actual serving that really makes the difference. 
  • Reserving a night a week or at least a meal a month to simply practice hospitality that blesses others in the Body of Christ and knits our hearts together. 
  • Taking someone in the body under your wing who needs some grace to help them wash off some sin, some dirt of their soul that, if  done will help them enjoy life better.  (Leading or participating in a small group that helps participants grow in Christ and overcome the sins that so easily entangle us.)



  • How have you been blessed of late by someone else’s humble service to you or other people?  (Share verbally.)
  • Any additional words of exhortation here?