He Took The Towel

By Marilyn Kettering Badger

April 3, 2017

Consider this invitation from an old book in the Maple Grove Church of the Brethren historic library, In His Presence, as you think about our upcoming Love Feast and Communion Service on Thursday, April 13.  All believers are welcome to come and remember the sacrifice that was made on our behalf.

“He riseth from supper, and layeth aside this garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself.” (John 13:4, R.V.)


The One who, looking down from transcendent glory upon abysmal darkness said, “Let there be light!” And light was.

 The One who, beholding the chaotic water said, “Be gathered together into seas! Let land appear!” And at His word it was done.

The One who measured the oceans in the hollow of His hand, who weighed the mountains in scales, and meted out the spangled fabric of the universe with His fingers.

 The One who speaks in the voice of thunder, who makes forked lightning His messengers and flames of fire His ministers.

 The One who uses the heavens for His throne and the earth for His footstool.

The One who leads the hearts of kings as brooks, and at whose bidding nations come and go.

 The great I AM-without beginning or end.  The Source of all things.  The one by whom and for whom all things consist.

 “He took a towel.”


A dozen obscure fishermen of Galilee, one of whom was a traitor, and all of whom were dull enough to go to sleep when He needed them most, cowardly deserters who turned their backs on His foes in the crisis hour.  Puny, small-souled men-even like you and me-who, insensible to the approaching hour of darkness and the look of Calvary settling on the Savior’s brow, “wrangled with high voices and hot faces, with the flashing eye and the clenched fist of the oriental” as to who should be first.  As if the great Enemy, not satisfied with the murderous intent of the world, now would mar the Lord’s parting moments with His own by inflicting the deepest of all wounds-the wounds of friends.  Through their heated arguments, the Master heard other words, derisive, fraught with hatred: “So this is all that Your training amounts to? So little did they understand You! So little did they learn!  Take Your ideal back with You. Men will never grasp it.”

 “He took a towel.”


The proceeding verse tells it: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself.  Then he poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.”

The supreme consciousness of the Lord Jesus in that moment was not the stable with its lowing oxen, its straw and its manger-not the lowly birth; not the hidden years; but as He looked back He saw only the radiance of the eternal throne that was His before sea or mountain or star.  And as He looked forward He hardly noticed the cross, the thorn and the spear, for within His reach He saw all the glory that Satan once so alluringly spread before Him, now given Him by the Father as His rightful heritage. So, “with the sense of Godhead quick on His soul,” He stooped to the menial task of a servant.

What is the measuring rod of greatness with Him who knoweth no difficulty of performance?  It is service.  “He that is great among you, let him serve.”

 “He took a towel.”


The task was necessary.  It was not a mere posture.  No servant had appeared to perform it, and none of the disciples in their contentious spirit would humble themselves and stoop to this lowly service.  So Jesus did it.  And in washing their feet, He washed their hearts as well.  Before His matchless humility all their bitterness, envy, unkindness, and wrath vanished, and their souls were cleansed from the ugly mood, and they were ready to listen to the marvelous message that was in His heart for them.  Without this cleansing, John 14, 15, 16, and 17 would have been lost on their ears.

And it was a pattern.  “For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.”


Is there a church that is not bruised, wounded, and bleeding because of pride and self-seeking among its own?  Is there a Christian of more mature years who does not carry about in his bosom sensitive scars that ever break open, because a fellow Christian—a loved one—inflicted the wound?  And the forgiveness asked and granted never went deep enough to pour in the oil that heals and erases the memory of the hurt?

And here we go, supersensitive to the slightest touch of real or fancied hurt, wrapped about with our dignified rights and our “righteous indignation” and our wounded pride.  And the stain remains, and the wound never heals, and the work of God is arrested, because no one is great enough to be small enough to get down on his bare knees on the floor and with the towel of humanity wipe the feet and heart of the offender. 

The pride of flesh—our heritage from beneath—cries out: “Not I! What would people think?  I am the one sinned against! I must uphold my position!  Who is the one sinned against?  The One who “rose from the throne, laid aside the garment of light which He had worn as His vesture, took up the poor towel of humanity, and wrapped it about His glorious Person; poured His own blood into the basin of the Cross, and set Himself to wash away the foul stains of human depravity and guilt.

 “He took a towel.”


From an old book in the Maple Grove Church of the Brethren historic library: Lindgren, Anna J., IN HIS PRESENCE.  Chicago, Illinois: The Moody Press, 1934.  Chapter II, “He Took a Towel.”

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