Pit to Pinnacle; Prisoner to Prime Minister (Gen 41:1-57)


Genesis 41:1-57; Key Verse: Gen 41:28

"God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do."

Do you sense that God is actively yet silently working in you when your life seems to be "getting worse"? Joseph's life clearly got worse and worse for 13 years from Genesis 37-40. Yet, our God--the God of mystery and sovereignty--displays his perfect providence in the evolving story of Joseph's life. The theme of "The Hidden God" seems quite appropriate, as God allowed Joseph's life to go from bad to worse, even though he is "innocent." So far we have considered:
We can consider Gen 41:1-57 in the following parts:
  1. The Problem (Gen 41:1-8): Pharaoh is troubled by his dreams.
  2. The Plan (Gen 41:9-24): Have Joseph interpret the dreams.
  3. The Providence of God; the Point (Gen 41:25-32): God will do what only God does.
  4. The Proposal (Gen 41:33-36): Look for a discerning and wise man.
  5. The Promotion (Gen 41:37-45): From prisoner to prime minister, from pit to pinnacle, from the dungeon of despair to the height of glory.
  6. The Program (Gen 41:46-49): Joseph collected food during the seven years of abundance.
  7. The Profession (Gen 41:50-52): God has made me forget; God has made me fruitful.
  8. The Provision (Gen 41:53-57): Through Joseph, God fed the world.

The sovereignty and providence of God is the overarching theme. God always does what pleases God Himself (Ps 115:3; 135:6; Jn 3:8). God is fulling his preordained purpose to save not only Joseph, but also Joseph's family, as well as all of Egypt and the surrounding nations including Canaan, where Joseph's family resided. The key verse of Joseph's story is best expressed in Gen 50:20. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." God would save Joseph and his family not only from the immediate famine, but also save them in far more profound ways that reveals the glory of God, and that delivers them from their own evil and dysfunction.

Theme: The sovereign God exalts his suffering servant to kingship in order to save the world.

Goal: To encourage God's people to entrust themselves to their sovereign God's good providence.

I. The Problem (Gen 41:1-8): Pharaoh is troubled by his dreams

Forgotten by man, but not by God. The last verse of the previous chapter says, "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him" (Gen 40:23). As a result, Joseph, when his hopes of being released from prison was high, continues to languish in prison for two more years (Gen 41:1). Having one's high hopes dashed, might be more unbearable than a resignation to a situation with no hope at all. But though the cupbearer forgot Joseph for two years, God did not forget Joseph. After two more years in prison, at just the right time, God causes the forgetful cupbearer to remember Joseph. God accomplishes this by giving Pharaoh two dreams (Gen 41:1-7). "As it turns out, even the cupbearer's forgetfulness worked in Joseph's favor since, just at the opportune moment, he remembered Joseph and recounted his wisdom before the king." (Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology. 297).

Troubled and with no one who can help. In the morning, Pharaoh was troubled by his dreams (Gen 41:8a). He does not understand its meaning. He probably guesses that they forecast something ominous because it has something to do with the Nile, which is the source of fertility and prosperity for the nation (cf. Eze 29:3). Pharaoh sends for all the wise men and magicians to tell them his dreams. They were the wisest, best educated men of Pharaoh’s kingdom, schooled in the art of interpreting dreams, but none could interpret them (Gen 41:8b). Why not? The things of God can only be grasped and understood by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:10-16). The king's court grinds to a halt. Pharaoh is troubled because he does not know the meaning of the dreams God has given him, and not one of all his wise men can help him understand God's message.

II. The Plan (Gen 41:9-14): Have Joseph interpret the dreams

The rapidity of Joseph's change of status from slave to courtier. This predicament in the court finally jogs the cupbearer's memory of Joseph, who had interpreted his dream two years earlier. He tells Pharaoh what happened. Pharaoh had put him and the chief baker in prison. Each had a dream that same night. "A young Hebrew...a servant of the captain of the guard" (Gen 41:12) interpreted each dream for them, and it happened exactly as he had interpreted (Gen 41:9-13). "So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh" (Gen 41:14). The verbs in this verse expresses the urgency that Pharaoh felt and the rapidity of Joseph's metamorphosis from slave to courtier, from the "pit" or "dungeon" (Gen 37:20,22,24,28-29; 40:15) to Pharaoh's palace, and from humiliation to exaltation. This would not have happened if the cupbearer had remembered Joseph two years earlier when he was released from prison, for Joseph may have then been himself released from prison and forgotten. God is indeed sovereign as he fulfills all things exactly according to his preordained plan.

III. The Providence; the Point (Gen 41:15-32): God will do what only God does.

Only God gives a peace that quiets a troubled soul. When Joseph came before Pharaoh, Pharaoh said, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Gen 41:15). Imagine the proud king of a great nation asking a foreign slave and a convicted criminal for help and advise. Imagine Joseph a foreign slave and convict being the center of attention in a royal court. How would Joseph respond? "Oh yeah, sure I can do it." Instead, he corrects the great Pharaoh! He said, "I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires" (Gen 41:16). "With hasty brevity he points from himself to God as the sole revealer, disposer and benefector." (Altar) The KJV says, "God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace" (shalom). Joseph is insistent that it will not be his own skill but God who will interpret Pharaoh's dream. Joseph is not only being humble about himself. At the same time he is offering something far better: a divine interpretation of the dreams. For it is God who will give the answer to the troubled Pharaoh, which will give him peace (shalom).

No one can explain the dream. Pharaoh proceeds to tell his dream in Gen 41:17-21. In retelling his dream Pharaoh stresses especially the negative aspect of the cows being ugly (Gen 41:3,19), that is, evil. Pharaoh is not just exaggerating; at some level he knows that his dream intimates something really terrible. In telling his second dream (Gen 41:22-24), Pharaoh stresses the failure of his magicians to interpret the dream to his satisfaction: "I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me" (Gen 41:24). Can Joseph now do what no other wise man in all of Egypt could? Will God reveal to Joseph the meaning of these dreams?

God reveals what he will do. Joseph says to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same" (Gen 41:25a). Just as Joseph's two dreams about his brothers bowing down to him had a single meaning, Pharaoh's dreams also have a single meaning. Joseph continues, "God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do" (Gen 41:25b). In giving Pharaoh this dream, God has disclosed what he is going to do in the near future. Through his servant Joseph, God will make it clear to Pharaoh what God is about to do in Gen 41:26-28. Seven years of bountiful harvests will be followed by seven years of poor harvests -- that is the meaning of the dream. Seven years of plenty and seven years of famine -- that is what God is about to do.

What God will do is fixed and certain. Notice that Joseph stresses the years of famine. Joseph devotes but one statement to the years of plenty (Gen 41:29), but five statements to the years of famine (Gen 41:30-31). Joseph makes his case and loudly sounds the alarm by this bounty of dramatic sentences. Seven years of famine was almost unheard of in Egypt, while the Nile normally flooded the fields every year with moisture and fertile silt. Thus Joseph warns, "The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon" (Gen 41:32). This plan is set and fixed by the sovereign God. God's providence calls for seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. The ESV says, "And the doubling of Pharaoh's dream means that the thing is fixed by God" (Gen 41:32).

IV. The Proposal (Gen 41:33-38): Look for a discerning and wise man.

What God has determined calls not for resignation, but action. Instead of resigning to a sure thing, Joseph calls for action. "...the matter has been firmly decided by God... And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man..." (Gen 41:32-33). Joseph's emphasis on the certainty and imminence of what God will soon do, is not a call for resignation but action--exactly as in the preaching of the prophets. What is theologically noteworthy is the way in which the strong predestination content of the speech is combined with a strong summons to action. The fact that God has determined the matter, that God hastens to bring it to pass, is precisely the reason for responsible leaders to take measures. When Paul was planting the church in Corinth, he experienced much opposition. Perhaps he was discouraged. But Acts 18:9-10 says, "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.'” It could be reasoned that if God has many people in Corinth, Paul could leave or stop speaking. But it is because God has many people in Corinth, that Paul is to keep on speaking despite the persecution. The fact that God is sovereign and will fulfill his preordained purpose is never a biblical reason for resignation to God's sovereignty, since God will do whatever he has decided regardless of man's response. Rather, through out Scripture, God's preordained plan is always a call for responsible action.

God's wisdom brings peace. Joseph goes on to propose what Pharaoh can do to ease the dreadful effects of the coming famine in Gen 41:33-36. The gist of Joseph's proposal is to "look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt" (Gen 41:33). "The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials" (Gen 41:37). The news about the coming famine is horrible, but Joseph's proposal sounded good and sound to Pharaoh and his court. The prudent proposal of Joseph caused the troubled Pharaoh to be at peace. Joseph's proposal and practical call to action so pleased and moved Pharaoh that he asked a rhetorical question, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Gen 41:38) Even a proud pagan king was able to recognize the spirit of God in a lowly slave and prisoner.

V. The Promotion (Gen 41:39-45): From prisoner to prime minister, from pit to pinnacle, from the dungeon of despair to the height of glory.

From prisoner to prime minister? Joseph would have been happy just to be set free from prison. But he is in for a surprise. Pharaoh said, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Gen 41:39-40). Joseph was likely shocked. He could not believe what he just heard. Will Pharaoh actually do what he just said: Make him the prime minister of Egypt and the second in command only to the great Pharaoh?

Conferring honor, power, authority and blessing. Pharaoh repeats, confirms and finalizes what he had just said, “'I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.' Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck" (Gen 41:41-42). The signet ring gives Joseph the authority to validate documents in the king's name. Placing a gold chain around Joseph's neck is a well-known Egyptian symbol of investiture (conferring honor), one of the highest distinctions the king could bestow. "He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, 'Make way!' Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt" (Gen 41:43). "Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt'” (Gen 41:44). Pharaoh also gives Joseph a new, Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah -- probably meaning "God speaks and lives," and gives him a wife of nobility, Asenath, daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen 41:45). Overnight Joseph is transformed from an imprisoned Hebrew slave to an Egyptian nobleman; even more, he becomes prime minister of Egypt without having to climb up the ranks.

VI. The Program (Gen 41:46-49): Joseph collected food during the seven years of abundance.

Diligent stewardship after a momentous promotion. After this miraculous promotion from prisoner to prime minister at age 30, Joseph does not retreat to recover from his recent travails. Instead, as he was entrusted with stewardship by Pharaoh, he travels throughout the land of Egypt and gathers up 20% of each harvest during the years of plenty and stores it in granaries in the cities (Gen 41:46-48). "Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure" (Gen 41:49). At first careful records were kept of the amount of grain put into storage. But as the volume increased, keeping careful records became impossible and finally was abandoned.

VII. The Profession (Gen 41:50-52)

Joy in the midst of sorrow; fruitfulness in spite of suffering. In addition to making the harvests fruitful, God also makes Joseph's marriage fruitful, giving him two sons (Gen 51:50). Joseph names the firstborn Manasseh ("making to forget"), for he says, "God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household" (Gen 41:51). The second son he names Ephraim ("twice fruitful"), for he says, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Gen 41:52). Often we think that we experience joy by avoiding sorrow and suffering. But Joseph experienced and tasted God's victory and fruitfulness through much trouble and suffering, especially in his family. Surely, he missed his father Jacob who loved him more than his own life. Surely, he could never really forget being ruthlessly thrown into a pit and heartlessly sold as a slave by his very own dear blood brothers. Likely, he himself could not overcome such unbearable agony of soul. But he confessed and acknowledged that it was God who helped him to overcome himself, for he said, "God has made me forget" and "God has made me fruitful" (Gen 41:51-52).

VIII. The Provision (Gen 41:53-57)

After the seven years of abundance ended, the seven evil years of famine come. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. As the famine was increasingly felt throughout Egypt, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the hungry Egyptians as well as to those from all the surrounding countries (Gen 41:53-57).

From this dramatic story, we learn numerous things. We shall comment on several things (A-F):

  1. Always take responsibility. Joseph was not fatalistic. He did not give in to despair. He honored God by always being responsible. Knowing that God is sovereign did not cause him to surrender to blind resignation, but spurred him toward decisive action.
  2. Boldly speak up without fear before God. Joseph was not self-conscious or fearful when he spoke to the most powerful man in the world.
  3. Changes should not change you. Joseph's life changed drastically for the worse. The clothing motif spells a change in Joseph's status. Jacob's gift of the robe to Joseph elevated him among his brothers. When his brothers stripped him, he descended from a favored son to a slave (Gen 37:23). When Potiphar's wife disrobed him, it sealed his transition from trusted slave to prisoner (Gen 39:12). His change of clothing in order to come before Pharaoh (Gen 41:14) suggests that the clothing motif has now come full circle. Despite all these changes, Joseph was not changed by his situation, because the Lord was with him (Gen 39:2-3, 21,23).
  4. Delight always in the welfare of others. Joseph's concern was primarily for others: his father, his brothers, his master Potiphar, the prison warden, the king's cupbearer, and now even the great Pharaoh. Because Joseph truly cared for others, his heart was free to give his best when he advised Pharaoh the best course to take in view of the upcoming famine.
  5. Entrust your life and future to God. Joseph's life has been at the mercy of his brothers, of his master Pothiphar and his wife, the chief cupbearer, and now Pharaoh. Yet, Joseph entrusted his life and future to the hand of God.
  6. Focus on God always. Joseph's speech referenced God at every opportunity without coming across as pushy or overbearing (Gen 41:16,25,28,32).
Jesus is the ultimate Joseph:
  1. Jesus took full responsibility for our sins and paid the highest price for it.
  2. Jesus boldly spoke up without fear before his murderer's accusers.
  3. Jesus never changed his mercy and grace toward us no matter how much we broke his heart (Heb 13:8).
  4. Jesus' love for us for our welfare and benefit never ever ceased (Jn 13:1; Jer 31:3).
  5. Jesus entrusted his entire life and death to God (Ps 31:5; Lk 23:46).
  6. Jesus focused on God always, and lived in the very bosom of his Father (Jn 1:18).

Though there are similarities between Joseph and Jesus, there are also significant differences. Joseph took responsibility that eventually benefited himself. But when Jesus took responsibility for us, he only stood to lose everything and he did. Joseph spoke up to Pharoah who needed his help. But Jesus spoke up to the religious leaders who were determined to kill him, no matter what he said.

Do you know Jesus, the ultimate Joseph, who had everything but gave it all up, so that we who have nothing can gain everything?

  1. Greidanus, Sidney, Preaching Christ from Genesis. Chap. 21. Joseph's Rise to Power in Egypt (Gen 41:1-57). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmas Publishing Co. 2007, 394-409.
  2. Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP. 1967, 194-198.
  3. Altar, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York: W W Norton & Company. 1996, 234-243.
  4. Duncan, Ligon. Pharaoh's Dream (Gen 41:1-37). Ruler in Egypt (Gen 41:38-57).
  5. Johnson, S. Lewis. From Prison to Prime Minister (Gen 41:1-57).
  6. Deffinbaugh, Deffin. From the Pit to the Palace (Gen 41:1-57).
  7. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary.
  8. Commentary on Genesis, Vol 2, by John Calvin.
  9. Exposition of Genesis by Herbert Carl Leupold.

Deleted Sermon

God is sovereign; God does whatever pleases Himself. Ps 115:3 says, "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." Ps 135:6 says, "The Lord does whatever pleases him." Jn 3:8 says, "The wind blows wherever it pleases." The wind represents the Spirit of God. The story of Joseph clearly reveals the God who does whatever pleases God Himself.

  • God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery by his own jealous brothers.
  • God allowed Joseph to be falsely accused of rape and thrown into a foreign prison with no human hope of ever being released.
  • God also gave specific dreams to the chief cupbearer and to Pharaoh at exactly the right time, and provided Joseph as the only one in all the land who is able to interpret those dreams.
  • Despite Joseph's life getting from bad to worse, God was doing whatever pleased Himself in order to elevate Joseph to prime minister of Egypt, so that through him, God would fulfill his own purpose of fulfilling Joseph's dreams and saving his family and Egypt from a famine. More than that, God would save all parties involved in profound ways that they could never ever have saved themselves.
How do I live in light of the God who is sovereign? Like Joseph in prison, like his brothers in the prison of their own darkness, and like ourselves in the confines of our own predicament, we cannot ever truly save ourselves. How do I reconcile the God who is sovereign and live my life in a way that acknowledges his sovereignty? There is no short and simple answer. But an answer would be to always humbly submit ourselves to his sovereignty no matter what difficulties I am facing in my own life.

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What is God's Love? (John 13:1-38)


John 13:1-38; Key Verse: Jn 13:15

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

What is God's love? The theme of my sermon is: "God's love is to show you what you should do." God's love is not just a romantic good feeling in our heart. Rather, God's love through Christ has real practical expression in our life. The five parts of this sermon are:
  1. The Manner of Love (Jn 13:1-5)...is foot washing. How Jesus showed us his love.
  2. The Necessity of Love (Jn 13:6-11)...is cleansing. Why Jesus has to "wash" us.
  3. The Imperative of Love (Jn 13:12-17)...is to do as Jesus did. What Jesus wants us to do.
  4. The Pain of Love (Jn 13:18-30)...is to love a betrayer. When love cuts to the heart.
  5. The Glory of Love (Jn 13:31-38)...is to love God. Who love is ultimately directed toward.

All you need is love. Love is the biggest theme and topic of all time and through out human history, as the Beatles sang, "All You Need Is Love" written by John Lennon in 1967. Paul McCartney sang "Silly Love Songs": "You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs. But I look around me and I see it isn't so. Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. And what's wrong with that?" We humans can never get enough of love. But what is love like?

The closest approximation of God's love is parental love. Perhaps, the closest approximation of God's love is a parent's love for their child. When my daughter gave birth to her first son, Timothy Lewis Herman, on Thanksgiving day 2012, I witnessed the sheer joy and love of motherhood. Holding her son and looking at him, she said, "I am so happy just to take care of him all day and do nothing else." When he grows up she surely wants nothing but the very best for him, and she would teach and show him all that she can because of her love for him. I am simply expressing what all moms and dads want for their kids: to grow healthy, to be successful, to have good friends, to marry well, and to make their parents so proud of them. God's love for us is all of this and more.

What was Jesus' last practical display of love before he died? On his very last night before he died, what could Jesus do to show most clearly to his disciples whom he loved just how much he loved them? If you knew the last day of your life, what would be the most important thing that you do or tell someone you love? Give them some money? Promise them a happy and successful life? Hug and kiss them tightly with tears? In Jn 13:1ff, Jesus would show his disciples whom he loved "the full extent of his love" (Jn 13:1b; NIV 1984). The 2011 NIV says, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." How would you love someone to the end with the full extent of your love? This sermon is not a comprehensive verse by verse/word by word exegesis, but an overview of how Jesus showed his full extent of love for those he loved.

I. The Manner of Love (Jn 13:1-5)

God is love. Jn 13:1. "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." What does "to the end" mean? It means that Jesus loved them to the very end of his life. It presupposes that they way Jesus displays his unflagging love for his own disciples is in the cross immediately ahead, and in the act of self-abasing love, the foot washing, that anticipates the cross. The primary attribute of God is that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). All that God expresses to us, and allows to happen to us--even some horrible things that we do not comprehend--comes from the unchanging attribute that God is love. Jesus could show his friends no greater love than to lay down his life for them (Jn 15:13). Thus, one who does not know or understand that Jesus died for them, would not know or understand the full extent of love.

The manifold expression of love. This passage clearly shows the love of Jesus. But it also shows other matchless attributes of Jesus:

  • The humility of Jesus (see below), for he served others in spite of who he was by condescending himself more than anyone else ever did.
  • The endurance of Jesus, for he served others in spite of what he was going through by genuinely thinking of and considering the needs and comforts of others.
What do you do with knowledge? Jn 1:3. "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God." Knowledge puffs up (1 Cor 8:1). Absolute power corrupts absolutely. With such power, status and knowledge at his disposal, we might expect Jesus to defeat the devil in an immediate confrontation, and to devastate Judas who had already prompted him (Jn 1:2) with an unstoppable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples' feet (Jn 13:4-5), including the feet of the betrayer.

Foot washing is seemingly unnecessary, stunning and shocking. Doubtless the disciples would have been happy to wash Jesus' feet. But they could not conceive of washing one another's feet. Some Jews reserved foot washing only to Gentile slaves, or women and children and pupils. The reluctance of Jesus' disciples to volunteer for such a task is culturally understandable. Also, there is no instance in either Jewish or Greco-Roman sources of a superior washing the feet of an inferior. But here Jesus reverses the roles. His act of humility is as unnecessary as it is stunning, and is simultaneously a display of love (Jn 13:1b), a symbol of saving clensing (Jn 13:6-9), and a model of Christian conduct (Jn 1:12-17).

The humility of God. When Jesus "took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist" (Jn 13:4), he adopted the dress of a menial slave, dress that was looked down upon in both Jewish and Gentile circles. As Jesus "poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him" (Jn 13:5), he demonstrated his claim that "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk 22:27; cf. Mk 10:45). Jesus who was "in very nature God...made himself nothing" (Phil 2:6-7). Indeed, Jesus "became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Phip 2:8) The matchless self-emptying of the eternal Son, the eternal Word exchanges the form of God for the form of a servant. Jesus dons our flesh and goes open-eyed to the cross so that his deity is revealed in our flesh, supremely at the moment of greatest weakness and greatest service.

What does foot washing mean practically? Why does God want to wash our feet? There are many things to say. But there are two things that God's love expressed as foot washing clearly are not:

  • It is not tolerance. Modern people think of love as accepting all the practices and beliefs of everyone. It is to not get angry with others in the name of tolerance. But real love is engagement; it is washing feet. In Jesus' day, people's feet were dirty, infected and cut. Loving them would involve washing them, which would hurt. Rebecca Pippert, Christian speaker and author, said,
    • “We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry. How can a deity who is perfect and loving ever be angry?...We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God's problem?... But love detests what destroys the beloved. Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys. Nearly a century ago the theologian E.H. Glifford wrote: 'Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.'... Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference... How can a good God forgive bad people without compromising himself? Does he just play fast and loose with the facts? 'Oh, never mind...boys will be boys'. Try telling that to a survivor of the Cambodian 'killing fields' or to someone who lost an entire family in the Holocaust. No. To be truly good one has to be outraged by evil and implacably hostile to injustice.” If God loves you, He will hate the evil in you. The more God loves you, the angrier He may get with you.
  • It is not just romance. We think of love as being attracted. Attraction may not just be toward physical attributes. We are also attracted to someone for their success, intellect, brilliance, abilities. But the essence of love is foot washing and service, not a feeling of attraction. Today, "I love you," means "You make me feel good." But love as foot washing is to serve others in spite of their lack of attractiveness.
II. The Necessity of Love (Jn 13:6-11)

The disciples do not understand that the foot washing refers to the cross. Doubtless all the disciples were extremely embarrassed by what Jesus was doing. For most of them, their embarrassment bred beleaguered uncomfortable silence. But for Peter, he had to object indignantly, spluttering in astonishment and incomprehension, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" (Jn 13:6) But Jesus expects him to submit to the washing in faith, even though the disciples cannot yet understand that the one whom they venerate as the Messiah must go to the cross (Jn 13:7). What they will later understand does not refer to the foot washing, but to the passion to which the foot washing points. After Jesus' death/exaltation, and certainly after the descent of the Spirit, they will understand.

To have a part with Jesus absolutely requires washing, which symbolizes Christ's atoning, cleansing death. When Peter understandably and emphatically protests (Jn 13:8a), Jesus responds, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (Jn 13:8b). This means that unless the Lamb of God has taken away a person's sin (Jn 1:29), has washed that person, he or she can have "no part" with Jesus, which in Jewish thought can refer to participation in eschatological blessings (Mt 24:51; Rev 20:6, 22:19). Peter surely wanted to be linked with Jesus, even if he had not himself grasped that the basis of the cleansing foreshadowed by the washing of his feet lay ahead in the hideous ignominy of the barbarous cross. Thus, his unrestrained rejoinder: not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn 13:9)

Though already saved once and for all through Christ, confession of sin is still necessary. The thought of Jn 13:10 is not dissimilar to John's first epistle addressed to Christians who have already believed (1 Jn 5:13) and received eternal life (1 Jn 2:25), where John insists that continuing confession of sin is necessary (1 Jn 1:9), as is continued dependence upon Jesus, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 2:1,2).

The supreme display of Jesus' love for his own. The disciples were not yet aware that the foot washing points, in various ways, to spiritual cleansing based on Christ's death, and that the foot washing and Jesus' atoning death are the supreme displays of Jesus' love for his own (Jn 13:1b). The foot washing was shocking to the disciples, but not half as shocking as the notion of a Messiah who would die the hideous and shameful death of crucifixion, the death of the damned. But the two events -- the foot washing and the crucifixion -- are truly of a piece: the revered and exalted Messiah assumes the role of the despised servant for the good of others. This plus the notion of cleansing, explains why the foot washing can point so effectively to the cross.

III. The Imperative of Love (Jn 13:12-17)

Jesus wanted two things from his disciples through his foot washing. By asking, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (Jn 13:12) what did Jesus want for his disciples through his shocking foot washing? Two things:

  1. He wanted them to know that the foot washing points to his impending crucifixion and death that would cleanse them (Jn 1:29).
  2. He wanted a fellowship of the cleansed that he is creating to be characterized by the same love (Jn 13:34-35).
After pointing to his atoning sacrifice through foot washing (Jn 13:6-8), Jesus proceeds to the exemplary nature of the foot washing in this part. By remembering Jesus' washing of them, he wanted the same self-abnegation for the sake of serving others. That means that the foot washing is almost bound to have exemplary significance, just as Christ's death, however unique, has exemplary force (Mk 10:35-45; Jn 12:24-26)

"Do as I have done for you." Whether or not his disciples understood, Jesus proceeds to explain what he has done by answering the question he asked in Jn 13:12. Jesus was indeed what they called him: "Teacher" and "Lord" (Jn 13:13). But now that Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, has washed his disciples' feet - an unthinkable act! - there is every reason why they "also should wash one another's feet" (Jn 13:14), and have no conceivable reason for refusing to do so. Jesus says, "I have set you an example" (Jn 13:15a). The word hypodeigma suggests both "example" and "pattern" (Heb 4:11, 8:5, 9:25; Jas 5:10; 2 Pet 2:6). "...that you should do as I have done for you" (Jn 13:15b).

Humility requires the lowering of oneself before another. To do what Jesus said requires humility - the lowering of oneself before another. But human pride always manifests itself in a stratified society by refusing to take the lower role. But Jesus did so. Now his disciples are told to follow his clear example and pattern. Any Christian zeal divorced from transparent humility sounds hollow, even pathetic.

Jesus did so, can you refuse? Jn 13:16 has often been poorly understood and explained (Mt 10:24; Lk 6:40; Jn 15:20). Here Jesus deepens the teacher/pupil contrast by introducing two other pairs: master/servant (slave) and superior (one who sends)/messenger (apostolos). The point of the aphorism in this context is painfully clear: no emissary has the right to think he is exempt from tasks cheerfully undertaken by the one who sent him, and no slave has the right to judge any menial task beneath him after his master has already performed it.

Do we just say "amen" and not do anything? "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" (Jn 13:17). "These things" refer to Jn 13:14-15,16. There is a form of religious piety that utters a hearty "Amen!" to the most stringent demands of discipleship, but which rarely does anything about them. Jesus has already condemned those who hear his words but who fail to keep them (Jn 12:47-48; cf. 8:31). Now he emphasizes the truth, in line with a repeated stress in the Gospels (Mt 7:21-27; Mk 3:35; Lk 6:47-48) and elsewhere (Heb 12:14; Jas 1:22-25).

How can we obey? We can only when we realize what Jesus has done for us.

IV. The Pain of Love (Jn 13:18-30)

The best Christian experience without becoming a Christian. The story of Judas is always painful to recount. Doubtless when Jesus washed the disciples' feet he included the feet of Judas (Jn 13:5). It is easy to demonize Judas (Jn 13:2,10-11,27,30) without trying to learn from him. We say that Satan entered Judas (Jn 13:27). But Jesus had also rebuked Peter, "Get behind me, Satan" (Mt 16:23). What can we learn about Judas? Washed by Jesus Judas may have been; cleansed he was not (Jn 6:63-64). Clearly no rite, even if performed by Jesus himself, ensures spiritual cleansing. Judas had the best small group experience, the best preacher, the best moral example, the most incredible training anyone has ever had. All the disciples went out evangelizing, preaching and casting out demons. The Spirit of God used Judas' talents for the benefit of people around him. He had the most incredible input and output as a follower of Jesus, but he never became a Christian; he never became a child of God. What does this mean? The gospel never clicked with him. He never understood it. He did not perceive the full extent of Jesus' love for him (Jn 13:1b).

Rejecting God's love invites the devil. Without touching on Jesus prediction of his betrayal (Jn 13:18-26), let us proceed to Jesus giving Judas a piece of bread (Jn 13:26). What does this mean? It was Jesus' final gesture of supreme love for Judas (Jn 13:1b). How did Judas respond? Newbigin writes, "So the final gesture of affection precipitates the final surrender of Judas to the power of darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has neither understood it nor mastered it." (The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel, p. 173, 1982.) Judas received the bread but not the love. Instead of breaking him and urging him to contrition, it hardened his resolve. "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him" (Jn 13:27).

V. The Glory of Love (Jn 13:31-38)

Glory means the visible manifestation of God's self-disclosure. After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once" (Jn 13:31-32). What is glory? Glory (doxa) is a word used to denote the visible manifestation of God's self-disclosure in a theophany (Ex 33:22; Dt 5:22), or even of the "glorious" status of God's people when He rises to save them (Isa 60:1). Thus, when God's people are aware of God's presence, they cry "Glory" (Ps 29:9), which shows how the word almost means "praise" (Jn 5:41). In the prologue of John's Gospel, glory or God's self-disclosure began not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence with the incarnation (Jn 1:14). Now Jesus brings to a climax this theme of glory. To John, it is clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross. "God is glorified in" (Jn 13:31,32) Jesus' temporal obedience, sacrifice, death, resurrection and exaltation -- one event; Jesus, "the Son of Man is glorified" in the same event, partly because by this event Jesus re-enters the glory he had with the Father before the Word became incarnate (Jn 1:14), before the world began (Jn 17:5, 24). The entire event displays the saving sovereignty of God, God's dawning kingdom.

Why is the new command? What should we do when we realize God's glory and self-disclosure? Jesus lays out what he expects of his disciples while he is away (Jn 13:33): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

Why is this command "new"?

  1. The key to this "new command," which is immediately related to Jesus' foot washing, is "As I have loved you" (Jn 13:34) and "as I have done for you" (Jn 13:15). This command is new because the standard of comparison is Jesus' love (Jn 13:1b), which was just exemplified in the foot washing (Jn 13:4-5, 12-17). But since the foot washing points to his death (Jn 13:5-10), these disciples would in a few days begin to experience a standard of love they would explore throughout their pilgrimage.
  2. It is a command designed to reflect the relationship of love that exists between the Father and the Son (Jn 8:29, 10:18, 12:49-50, 14:31, 15:10), designed to bring about amongst the members of the nascent messianic community the kind of unity that characterizes Jesus and his Father (Jn 17:21-23). The new command is threfore not only the obligation of the new covenant community to respond to the God who has loved them and redeemed them by the oblation of his Son, and their response to his gracious election which constituted them as his people, it is a privilege which, rightly loved out, proclaims the true God before a watching world (Jn 13:35). Orthodoxy without principial/elementary obedience to this characteristic/basic command of the new covenant is merely so much humbug.
Can we obey this new command? The more we recognize the depth of our own sin, the more we recognize the love of the Savior; the more we appreciate the love of the Savior, the higher his standard appears; the higher his standard appears, the more we recognize in our selfishness, our innate self-centeredness, the depth of our own sin. With a standard like this, no thoughtful believer can ever say, this side of the parousia, "I am perfectly keeping the basic stipulation of the new covenant."

How will others know that we are Christians? It is "by this" foot washing love (Jn 13:35). There is a remarkable testimony of Tertullian, writing about a century later than John. The pagans of his day marvelled at the love of the Christian fellowship, especially as it faced sometimes ferocious persecution: "See how they love one another!...how they are ready even to die for one another!"

Despite Peter's insistence on his undying loyalty, he would soon disown Jesus not once but three times (Jn 13:36-38). Despite his inability to do what he said, Peter should not be harshly judged, for he speaks out of confused devotion and a lack of self-knowledge. At this point in his pilgrimage, Peter's intentions and self-assessment vastly outstrip his strength. Nonetheless, three decades later, Peter would lay down his life and glorify God (Jn 21:18-19).

In summation, let us repeat that:

  1. The Manner of Love (Jn 13:1-5)...is foot washing. This is how Jesus shows us his love.
  2. The Necessity of Love (Jn 13:6-11)...is cleansing. This is why Jesus has to die in order to "wash" us.
  3. The Imperative of Love (Jn 13:12-17)...is to do as Jesus did. This is what Jesus wants us to do as his disciples.
  4. The Pain of Love (Jn 13:18-30)...is to love a betrayer. This is when love cuts us to the heart.
  5. The Glory of Love (Jn 13:31-38)...is to love God. This is who love is ultimately directed toward.
No one just does what they are told. Even if they seemingly do so, they may do so for all the wrong reasons. We may love others, serve others, teach them the Bible, etc, to prove to ourselves that we can, and to show others that we are good Christians.


1. What did Jesus know (Jn 13:1,3,11,18,38)? Knowing all this, what did he do, and why? (Jn 13:1b, 4-5)? What does this show about him?

2. How was the devil working (Jn 13:2, 27, 30)? What do you learn?

3. How did Peter respond to what Jesus did and why? (Jn 6,8a,9) What did Jesus teach him and the disciples in response (Jn 13:7,8b,10)? What do you learn from this (Jn 1:29; 15:3)?

4. What did Jesus want his disciples to understand and do (Jn 13:12-17; Php 2:5-8)?

5. What did Jesus want his disciples to know and why (Jn 13:18-30)? How did Jesus continue to love Judas (Jn 13:26)?

6. What is glory and why did Jesus talk about glory (Jn 13:31-33; 1:14, 12:23,28,31-32)? How is Jesus’ command a new command (Jn 13:34-35, 4-5, 12-17; 17:21-23; Dt 6:5; Lev 19:8)? What did Jesus know about Peter (Jn 13:36-38)?

*** Why is love the sign of Jesus’ disciples (Jn 13:35)? What can you learn about Jesus’ love for you (and others)?

  1. Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1991. IV. Jesus' Self-Disclosure in His Cross and Exaltation (Jn 13:1-20:31), 455-487.
  2. Keller, Timothy. The Love of Jesus (Jn 13:1-21). Sermon. Apr 26, 1998.

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