“And it was night.”
These four words from John 13:30 comprise one of the most ominous sentences in all of Scripture.
It is the night before Jesus was to die, after the main course of the Passover meal. Jesus has predicted betrayal by one of the disciples; the twelve are now nervously nibbling at the bread that remains on the table. Jesus dips a morsel of bread, and hands it to Judas. At this point, Satan enters spiritually into Judas, and he leaves the dinner to go gather the Roman guards and Temple police.
And it was night.
This is a spiritual declaration. Yes, the sun had set a few hours before; but darker still, one of Jesus’ closest companions was ready, willing, and seemingly able to derail the mission of God. Darker still was the truth that Judas, the guards, Pilate, and the temple rulers were all simply Satan’s pawns – all the forces of Satan were being marshalled against the Son of God, and their victory seemed inevitable. And it was night.
With the ready qualifiers that 1) our problems are probably not actually cosmic in scope and 2) we know Jesus was and is victorious, I do think we are familiar with the ‘night’ John is telling us about.
Our kid calls us from jail – And it was night.
We’ve taken refuge in alcohol or pornography – and it was night.
We lost the baby, again – and it was night.
Our best friend broke a confidence – and it was night.
We’re failing in our career – and it was night.
We’re praying our guts out and God seems utterly silent – and it was night.
Through the despair of a million other scenarios – and it was night.
Yet, thankfully, this harrowing sentence is bookended by hopeful and healing grace.
Early in chapter 13, John tells us that God the Father has already given Jesus “all things into his hands” (v.3). With this incredible power and authority, he does not incinerate his would-be accusers, or even vindicate himself. He simply gets up, grabs a towel, and washes his disciples’ feet. He serves those who were about to cause his ‘night,’ even Judas. This is the gracious and humble servant ministry of Jesus to sinners, then and now. The weekend’s Cross and Resurrection declare that he’s washing your feet too.
If you are carrying around the guilt of some egregious transgression, burdened with the reality that you too have caused Jesus’ ‘night,’ he is washing your feet.
If you’ve been sidelined by sad circumstances, or victimized by the sin of another, he is washing your feet.
If you’re in a dark night of the soul, an ‘and-it-was-night’ season of spiritual barrenness, he is washing your feet. This is true, because “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Whether it feels like it right now or not, friend, Jesus is in fact washing your feet.
At the other end of the chapter, Jesus gives his disciples the “New Commandment.” He says, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (13:34). Consider how risky, how vulnerable, and how gracious this is! He commands the ‘night’-causers to carry on his saving work!
To continue Jesus’ ministry, we are to love one another with love that reflects and radiates the love with which Jesus has already loved us: a love not characterized by emotion, but by self-sacrifice; a love that insists on using power to serve and to bless, rather than to hoard and to self-promote; a love that is patient, kind, keeps no record of wrongs, always forgives, and always perseveres – even, and especially, to the undeserving. This is a love that finds its greatest manifestation, not in the symbolic washing of feet, but hours later in the atoning Cross. This is a love that is not only forgiving, cleansing, and healing, but which is animating and multiplying. This is a love that is not sourced inside of us, but in Christ himself.
To the disciples, to the ‘night’-causers, to you and me, Jesus washes our feet, and bids us carry on his ministry as light to the world. He does all this knowingly and unblinkingly in the angry face of his darkest night, because he knows what Satan and his pawns can’t know: There’s a New Day coming.
Tune in tomorrow on rootedministry.com to read Day 4 of Holy Week Meditations.