Sorting by

Skip to main content

Jesus asked good questions.
This is the final installment of Questions Jesus Asked.

Do You Understand What I Have Done for You?

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. – John 13:12 [John 13:1-17]

After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus asks if they understand what he has done for them. Although it seems simple, I’m not sure his disciples understand what Jesus has done, even today.

Jesus “loved them to the end.” Christ’s servant-love washing us and making us clean. Christ stooping to serve and to wash. Echoes of baptism. The language reminds us of Jesus dying and rising, and our dying and rising with him. We get that.

What we may not understand is the explanation Jesus gives about what he has done. Jesus, their “Teacher” and “Lord,” has set them an example “that you should do as I have done for you.” Judging by our actions and values, we’re still trying to make sense of it.

We prize leadership. We offer degrees in Christian Leadership. We expect pastors to lead.

By contrast, the Bible spends little time teaching leadership. Jesus expects his disciples to serve.

Do we understand what Jesus has done for us?

Henri Nouwen writes in In the Name of Jesus, “The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints.”

In Luke’s account of this meal when Jesus washed their feet, the disciples argue about who was the greatest among them. Jesus tells them that’s what the leaders in the world do. They exercise authority. They want to be in charge.

“But you are not to be like that,” Jesus says. You’re not to be like the leaders in politics and business. “Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” [Luke 22:24-30]

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Why? “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:41-45]

Do we understand what Jesus has done for us?

Though he is God, Jesus didn’t use that to his advantage. He became a servant. He humbled himself, even to the point of death on the cross. [Philippians 2:5-11] Dying and rising. Messiah. Teacher. Lord. He took a basin and towel and washed the disciples’ feet. The Holy One tenderly washing feet. Serving.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Do we understand what Jesus has done for us?

In his exposition of John, Lesslie Newbigin points out how countercultural this was then and is now. “If Jesus had said: ‘Since I have washed your feet, you must wash my feet,’ then we would be fighting with one another for the privilege of being first with the basin and towel. Then the old order of preeminence would have been restored, thinly disguised under the name of ‘service.’ The ‘Chief Minister’ would have become the old ruler under a new name.”

We want hierarchy. We want authority. We want to be leaders. We want to be great in the kingdom of heaven. Servanthood? Yeah, sure. We’ll call it “servant leadership.”

Jesus says, “You are not to be like that. Here’s a basin and towel. Wash each other’s feet.”

Washing each other’s feet removes hierarchy. Newbigin observes that you can’t have an organizational chart where A is subject to B, and B is subject to A. This isn’t about servant leadership. It’s about being a servant. Serving each other.

Paul tells us what this means: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” [Philippians 2:1-4]

This is how Jesus showed his love. Giving up everything to become a servant who washes the disciples feet, even dying for them. He says, “Do you know what I have done for you? Here’s a towel and basin. Do what I have done.”

Do you know what Jesus has done for you?

Jeff Sajdak

Jeff Sajdak has pastored congregations in Iowa and Michigan, and currently serves as Dean of Students at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He delights in his wife and family, including three grandkids, as well as the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team and the Arsenal and Minnesota United football clubs.


Leave a Reply