A (Not So) Secret Society
The definition of a secret society is a club or an organization whose activities, events, inner functioning, or membership are concealed from non-members. The society may or may not attempt to conceal its existence, but beliefs or practices are concealed from the public and require an oath of secrecy to learn. The exact qualifications for labeling a group a secret society rely on the degree to which the organization insists on secrecy, and might involve the retention and transmission of secret knowledge, the denial about membership or knowledge of the group, the creation of personal bonds between members of the organization, and the use of secret rites or rituals which solidify members of the group. The group's membership is in some way restrictive, such as by race, sex, religious affiliation, or invitation only.
We’ve all heard of secret societies. One of the most famous ones are the Freemasons. 13 of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution were Masons. Founding Fathers like George Washington, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere all counted themselves as members of the fraternal order. The rituals around becoming a freemason are shrouded in secrecy. Another secret society is the Order of Skull and Bones that was founded at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut in 1832. Each year, 15 seniors at Yale are tapped to join Skull and Bones. Their names are published in the Yale newspaper, though what happens behind the closed doors of their windowless meeting space, called the Tombs, where Bonesmen gather twice a week, is under wraps: Members take an oath of secrecy. Graduate members are referred to as “patriarchs,” while those undergoing initiation are called “knights.” Outsiders of the group are “barbarians.” Famous Skull and Bones members include Presidents William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush; founder of Time magazine Henry Luce; former secretary of state, John Kerry, and members of the CIA.
Of course, pop culture has brought secret societies to light, such as in the movie, the Da Vinci Code and has even made fun of them in different TV shows such as the Simpsons. As I was researching for my introduction I remembered one of these secret societies on a TV show growing up and when I looked it up I found these others societies in popular shows I had not remembered. Maybe you remember some of these and can guess which TV show they were from: The Fraternal Order of the Bass. That was from Laverne and Shirley. At the lodge, Lenny and Squiggy perform the secret greeting — puckering your lips in a fishy manner while wiggling your fingers beside your face like gills. The Knights of the Scimitar. That was on Cheers. The Leopard Lodge. That was on Happy Days, where Howard Cunningham is the Grand Poobah of Leopard Lodge No. 462 in Milwaukee. The Loyal Order of Raccoon Lodge. That was on the Honeymooners. The Regal Order of the Golden Door to Good Fellowship. That was on the Andy Griffith Show. Of course, Goober is the Keeper of the Door and the secret password is "Geronimo!" The Royal Order of Camels. That was on Petticoat Junction. And finally, the one that got me started researching these others is the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo, which was on the Flintstones. A lot of these secret societies whether in real life or in fiction had secret oaths, secret handshakes and secret rituals.
This morning we are going to be studying God’s Word in John chapter 13 verses 1-17. We are going to see Jesus do something that shocks and probably embarrasses his disciples. It is just before the Passover feast and Jesus is going to show how much he loves his disciples. We see that the devil prompts Judas to betray Jesus which makes what he is about to do even more shocking to us. A lot of us know the story. Jesus gets up from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water in a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. We see that Peter objects and Jesus tells Peter he doesn’t realize what’s is going on now but he will later on. Then Peter, in typical Peter fashion, tells Jesus to give him a bath. Then after washing their feet, Jesus explains why he washed their feet and what they were to do about it.
I want to put forth to you all this morning that in the three years Jesus was with his disciples teaching them and showing them how they were to advance the kingdom once he was gone, he started his own “society.” Not a secret society with a secret oath, secret rites and a secret handshake but a “not so” secret society called the Order of the Towel and Basin. Of course I am jesting but in looking at this passage and knowing the Gospels, I can see elements of a society, such as, in an oath of “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and love your neighbor as yourself.” And rituals such as communion and baptism which remind us of what Jesus did for us and of course the handshake, which we are going to study this morning, which is the washing of each other’s feet.
That evening, when Jesus established the Order of the Towel and Basin, he demonstrated a great humility. He challenged his followers to think about what he had done, and to consider it in the light of their understanding of his identity. That brings us to the big idea that John wants us to understand this morning which is they Will Know We are Christians by our Serve.
Before we begin to unpack what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples and us today, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, as you prepare our hearts to hear your Word this morning, I pray that they would be open and receptive to what you want to say to us and to what you want us to learn. Thank you for the opportunity to share what I have learned from your Word with others. Give us all boldness to share the insights from your Word with others this week. We thank you for the power of your Word in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Chapter 13 is the beginning of another section of the book of John that shifts our focus to the last week of Jesus’ life and to the hour of his glorification on the cross which has been promised in the first twelve chapters. His public ministry is over and he turns from the people who have rejected him, even after urging them to believe in the “Light” while the “Light” was still among them. He now turns his attention to a more “private” ministry focusing on the twelve disciples who have followed his for three years and have truly believed in him. Jesus knows he is getting ready to go back to his Father and he needs to give some final instructions to them. He needs to say goodbye to “his own” whom he loves, and give a practical demonstration of his continuing love for them. Chapter 13 begins a lengthy teaching of Jesus that explains the final miraculous “sign” that he will do, which is his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Whereas we saw in the first 12 chapters, light and life, were the keywords, now love, agape love, the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, becomes the key word for the next five chapters.
Our first point this morning is Love Exemplified and we see this in John chapter 13 verses 1-5. This is what God’s Word says: 1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. 2 During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. 5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
The first thing we can notice is that the events that follow are described as happening “before the feast of the Passover.” The Feast of the Passover was the annual Jewish festival commemorating God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt and the angel of death passing over the houses of the Hebrews and killing the firstborn of the Egyptians. This would be the last Passover Jesus would celebrate. This would be important to John who will go on to describe Jesus as the Passover Lamb who will be slaughtered for the sins of the world at the same time the lambs are being slaughtered in the temple on Passover. The second thing we notice is that John does not record the details of the last Supper as the other gospels do. He doesn’t show us the meal where Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup signifying his body that was to be broken and his blood that was to be shed.
This section also reveals that Jesus is all-knowing. He had full knowledge and was in full control of everything that was happening to him. He was never a victim of circumstances or the evil schemes of the devil or of man. The first thing Jesus knew was that his “hour” was near and John records it as the hour he would be leaving this world and returning to his Father in heaven. John also talks about Jesus loving “his own” which are the twelve disciples and how he would love them to the very end while he was on the earth. Even though Jesus was very much looking forward to returning to his Father he never forgot his own and how much he loved them. “To the very end” means Jesus loved his own completely and perfectly. Nothing would come between the disciples and his love for them.
Paul in Romans 8:38-39 says, 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love and in our passage this morning even the imminent arrival of his own death could not separate the disciples from his love.
The second thing that Jesus knew was that he was going to be betrayed and he knew who was going to betray him. The third thing Jesus knew was that God the Father had given all things into his hands. Lastly, Jesus knew who he was. He knew he was the Son of God and that he had come from God and was now going back to God to sit in his rightful place at the right hand of the Father.
In these verses, we can imagine Jesus looking at his disciples, as they are talking about who is the greatest among them. He must have felt like haven’t they heard a single word he’s said for the past three years. Then his eyes land on Judas, who the devil had already put into his heart to betray him. “Put” literally means “cast” which accurately describes Satan’s way of operating. He uses suggestion as one of his chief tools, as he did with Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the heart of the unbeliever is the ground where he sows (or casts) his evil seed. Judas was infected by the devil to betray Jesus.
The thing is all the disciples were infected by the devil, they were all infected with sin, but only Judas was going to betray Jesus. Likewise, all of us have been infected by the devil and sin as well. In essence we all have betrayed Jesus and caused him to be crucified on the cross because of our sin. The question is what will we do with that infection? Will we confess our sin, seek God’s help, and strive to become more like Jesus? Or will we do what Judas did and give in completely to the devil?
We can also see Jesus thinking about his Father, who had given all things into his hands. This meant that the cross was the plan the Father had put into place to redeem his people to himself. God was not an idle spectator in the crucifixion of Jesus. It is where the Father’s plan and will would be worked out. It also signified the way that Jesus, who came from the Father would return to the Father. By reiterating and stressing that Jesus is going back to God, John reveals the depth of Jesus’ humility in what he was to do next.
The Creator and Ruler of the universe was about to wash the disciples’ dirty feet – a menial task reserved for only the lowest of slaves. Even Jewish slaves were not required to wash feet, only Gentile slaves. Jesus is about to do something that will take him to the lowest place, but he never forgets that the highest possible place, at the Father’s right hand, is his by right. But he was also going to wash the feet of the one who would betray him. Jesus was going to meet the greatest injury and insult with the humblest expression of love he could show. He was going to personify Matthew 5:44, which says, 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus showed the same love for Judas, his enemy, that he showed to his friends.
Tragically, even after Jesus showed Judas how much he loved him, he still betrayed him. The same act that drew the other disciples to Christ repelled Judas and showed his heart. We can only wonder what opened Judas’ heart to the devil’s influence. Maybe it was greed or ambition or the fact that Jesus didn’t fit into the box Judas had for him. Anders says, “Jesus knew Judas’ true nature from the beginning but yet gave him every opportunity to repent and follow Jesus wholeheartedly. John pulls no punches in his description of Judas the betrayer and his evil master. Judas was a willing perpetrator whose assassination plot originated with supernatural sources.” Carson quotes Schlatter as saying, “Judas is responsible for his betrayal because “a heart incited by Satan, actually wills what the devil wills”. Carson goes on to say, “The devil and Judas are now in a conspiracy of evil to bring Jesus to the cross.”
So, why did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? It seems that it had not been done when they first came into the upper room for the Last Supper. If you remember Jesus sent two disciples ahead of the group to secure the place for them where they would spend their final night together. There was no servant assigned to the room. One of the disciples should have taken it upon themselves to do it even though it would not have been acceptable for peers to wash each other’s feet. But instead of humbling themselves they were debating about who was the greatest among them.
We see this in Luke 22:24-27. 24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. We can only wonder if the disciples were all thinking that it needed to be done but “let someone else do it, I am not going to do it.”
In a stunning display of humility and possibly a rebuke of the disciples, Jesus takes on the posture of a slave and starts to wash their feet. If it was unacceptable for peers to wash each other’s feet it was even more unacceptable in that culture for a superior to wash the feet of those under them. The disciples would have been embarrassed and shocked and probably sat in awkward silence as Jesus started to wash their feet. Burge says, “Jesus’ decision to wash the disciples’ feet is anchored in his assurance of his relationship with God. He knows his origins and his destiny and understands the authority he has been given. This gives him the courage to do something his followers never expected.”
But this action of love and humility was more than a rebuke in that it foreshadowed the cross. The fact that Jesus washes their feet during the meal and not when they first arrived, which was when it was normally done, shows that it was a deliberate action taken by Jesus and not just the usual act of courtesy. It is was parable in action, showing the disciples the principle of humble service and was to be an example of what his followers were to do for others. Philippians speaks to us about this in chapter 2:5-8. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
That brings us to our second point this morning which is Love Explained. I will be reading verses 6-11. Follow along as I read God’s Word, 6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
We don’t know exactly when he approached Peter. He may have been first or last or anywhere in between. If he wasn’t first can you imagine the silence and embarrassment as Jesus knelt at the feet of the disciples one by one washing their feet and drying them with the towel wrapped around his waist? We knew that if anyone was going to speak up it would be Peter and true to form he does. Peter’s objection is probably well-intentioned as he asks Jesus if he was really going to wash his feet. We don’t want to think about Jesus stooping down to wash our feet. He is the Almighty God. We don’t mind being humble before an Almighty God but we don’t want him to humble himself before us. It’s embarrassing to us. But Temple says, “man’s humility does not begin with the giving of service; it begins with the readiness to receive it. For there can be much pride and condescension in our giving of service.” We need to be serving others but at times we also need to let ourselves be served as well.
Peter never stopped to consider that Jesus was doing something more important that just washing his feet. Tasker says, “Peter resists the attempt of Jesus to wash his feet, precisely because he failed to associate what his master was doing with his death, but regarded it merely as an act which any slave might perform before a banquet.”
Jesus knowing what is going through Peter’s mind tells him that right now he won’t understand what is happening but later on he will. This is where it gets interesting. Peter’s objection seems to get louder and more insistent now. We can see his devotion to Jesus by the strength of his objection. He emphatically tells Jesus “NO, that he will never wash his feet.” Peter is too humble to have Jesus wash his feet but not too humble to tell Jesus what to do. We have seen this before where Peter rashly presumes to tell Jesus what to do. In Matthew 16:21-23 we see these words, 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Peter may have thought he was just doing his part as a follower of Jesus, who was his teacher and more importantly his Lord. But again Peter seemed more concerned with human concerns instead of the concerns of God. Jesus again patiently answers Peter. He simply says that if he doesn’t wash Peter’s feet then Peter will have no part with him. It was not a question of washing, but a question of “who” was doing the washing. Peter, the disciples and all of us lack the cleansing that only Jesus can supply.
Jesus’ reply served two purposes. One, it corrected all the disciples misunderstanding of his messianic mission. They needed to accept the reality of Jesus’ humiliation not only in the Upper Room as he washed their feet but more so as he went to the cross in a most humiliating way to die. Second, he was telling them that only those who have been cleansed by Jesus can be in relationship with him. Washing is a common metaphor in the Bible for spiritual cleansing. Only those who by faith confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God has raised him from the dead will be saved. The challenge is personal with us, as it was with Peter – “unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” The question this morning is “have you been washed by Jesus?” If not, then this first next step is for you, which is to be “washed” by Jesus and be saved. If you’ve made that decision for the first time this morning, let Pastor Stuart and I know and if you are on Facebook, let people know it in the comments, so they can rejoice with you.
When Jesus said that Peter needed to be washed or he would have no “part” with him, the Greek word he used for “part” would have conjured up this idea of tribal land that the Israelites would inherit when they got to the Promised Land. The land that was promised to Abraham and his descendants. This land was one of the principal gifts of the covenant. But the gift of God was no longer land but abundant life with Jesus. Peter answers Jesus by wanting him to give him a bath. Again, Peter misunderstands but on some level he must have realized that what Jesus was talking about was more than just the washing of feet. He wanted whatever Jesus was offering. He concluded that if a foot washing gained him an inheritance with Jesus, then what would a washing of his whole body gain him? Jesus answers Peter by saying he didn’t need a bath because he had already had one. Physically speaking, his body was clean, now he just needed to have his feet washed. In Palestine, guests at a feast would bathe before leaving their house and when they got to the feast they would only need to have their feet washed.
Spiritually speaking, the once-for-all and complete cleansing Jesus did at the cross never needs to be repeated, only the daily cleansing of sin through confession needs to happen. I John 1:9 says, 9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Greene says, “We do not need to be saved or born again everyday, but our feet get dirty as we travel this earth and they need to be cleaned by confessing our sin daily.” This was the significance of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. They were already clean because of their faith in and fellowship with Jesus, they just needed the daily cleansing from their sins.
But it was not true that all of the disciples were clean. Jesus knew who was going to betray him and knew that that person was not clean. By mentioning Judas again, John indicates that even with Jesus washing Judas’ feet it did not change his heart. Judas had not by faith accepted Jesus as his Lord and Messiah. Imagine what it took for Jesus to wash Judas’ feet. I think Jesus was hoping that that act of pure love might change his heart. It was a last appeal to Judas to come to him and give his life over to Jesus. It showed Jesus’ patience and love for his followers even to the one who would betray him. But Judas was in the grip of Satan’s darkness and would not be persuaded from betraying Jesus.
As I said earlier we all have been infected by sin and at times have betrayed Jesus. Jesus wants to wash our feet and cleanse us of those sins that fracture our relationship with a holy God. That brings us to our next step which is to “confess the times that I have been like Judas and betrayed my Savior and repent of my sins.” This is something we should do daily. We don’t want to wait to confess our sins. We don’t want to give the devil a foothold to overtaking our heart from Jesus. I encourage everyone myself included to take that next step today.
Our third point this morning is Love Exhorted and we see this in verses 12-17. This is what God’s Word says, 12 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? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 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. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
After Jesus had showed them the example of how much he loved them by washing their feet and had explained why he had washed their feet he challenges them to understand the significance of it. He wanted them to learn an important lesson about how they were to treat others. How they were to humbly be in service to others. There was no reason why they shouldn’t wash each other’s feet and every reason why they should. There was no conceivable reason for refusing to do it. They were to imitate Jesus by showing the same love to others that he showed to them. Love is the defining mark of a Christian. They will know we are Christians by our love. They will know we are Christians by our serve.
They needed to learn this lesson now before he was gone as they were seemingly worried about who among them was going to be the greatest. They needed to follow Jesus’ example who was not only their teacher but their Lord. He was the Messiah sent from God to save the sins of the world and he had just washed their feet. To refuse to follow his example was to put themselves above Jesus.
He wanted them to learn that they should never refuse to do anything for others that Jesus their Lord and Savior had done for them. In fact, the Greek is emphatic meaning “it is your duty and debt, you are now under obligation to do it to one another.” There was now no task that was too low or too menial that they should not do for each other. Jesus had just set the standard for serving others and there was no room for pride in followers of Jesus. Hughes says, “The power, the impetus, and the grace to wash another’s feet is proportionate to how we see ourselves. Our Lord saw himself as King of Kings, and he washed their feet. Recovery of a consciousness that we serve Christ the King will also compel us to service.”
What does it mean to wash each other’s feet? First, it means humility. We need to live humbly with each other, not thinking we are better than anyone else or thinking too highly of ourselves. It means serving others, which can be praying for each other, bearing one another’s burdens, comforting each other and giving hope to each other especially during this season we are in. Honestly, there is nothing that is off the table. It’s about doing for others whatever they need. It means putting the needs of others in front of our own needs. And it also means serving others with the right motives. We can’t have selfish motives when we serve. We need to serve others because Jesus served us by sacrificing his life on the cross to cleanse us from our sin. They will know we are Christians by our serve. By the way we serve, humbly, putting others first and by being willing to do for others whatever they need done. That brings us to our last next step this morning which is to “follow the example of Jesus and wash the feet of others.”
Finally, after Jesus exhorted them to follow his example and do the same to each other, he ends this section of teaching by saying “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” “If you know these things” implies that they now know them. They can’t plead ignorance. But it is one thing to know what to do and it is another to do it. It is now imperative that they are to follow Jesus’ example just as we are today. Jesus also says we will be blessed if we do these things. We will have joy if we follow the example of Christ. We will be happy if we live our lives, as Christians, in a way that forgives, loves and serves one another.
I am going to conclude this morning with a story from The Preaching the Word Commentary series on John by R. Kent Hughes:
In 1878 when William Booth’s Salvation Army had just been so named, men from all over the world began to enlist. One man, who had once dreamed of himself as a bishop, crossed the Atlantic from America to England to enlist. He was a Methodist minister, Samuel Logan Brengle. And he now turned from a fine pastorate to join Booth’s Salvation Army. Brengle later became the Army’s first American-born commissioner. But at first Booth accepted his services reluctantly and grudgingly. Booth said to Brengle, “You’ve been your own boss for too long.” And in order to instill humility into Brengle, he set him to work cleaning the boots of the other trainees. And Brengle said to himself, “Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to polish boots?” And then as in a vision he saw Jesus bending over the feet of rough unlettered fishermen. “Lord,” he whispered, “You washed their feet: I will polish their boots.” Of course, there are many ways we can serve others and heed our Savior’s exhortation, we only have to be willing to pick up the towel and the basin.
As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn this morning, let’s pray: Dear Holy God, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who became a human being and dwelled your people. We thank you that he was willing to lower himself and become a servant and wash our feet and die on a cross for our sins. I pray that we would follow his example as we live our daily lives and be in humble service to all that we come in contact with. In Jesus’ name, Amen.