Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord dost thou wash my feet? John 13:6
Christ washes the feet of His disciples.
How great the love He bears them. How firm His determination to offer Himself. How the zeal of God’s house consumes Him.
According to John, it is before the feast of the Passover. He knows that His hour has come that He shall depart out of this world unto the Father. He knows that the one way that leads out of this world will take Him into the company of strong bulls of Bashan, who will beset Him round, gape upon Him with their mouth, as a raving and roaring lion. He knows that on this way He will be the reproach of men, despised of the people, that all they that see Him will laugh Him to scorn, shoot out the lip, shake their head, and say, “He trusted on the Lord that He should deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighteth in Him.” He knows that in the abyss through which the way leads, all the waves and the billows of God’s wrath will go over Him. Yet He is resolved to go by this way—the way of Golgotha, with its terrible cross. Such is His resolve; for He knows that the way of the cross alone leads out of this world. And out of this world He will now pass. Out of this world! What a terrible and woeful reality this word world signifies. World stands for sin, for this earth, for corruption, misery, woe, suffering. Say world, and you say wrath, curse, damnation, death, endless hell. And there is such a world—where the curse of a righteous God must operate; a world of corrupt and guilty men over whose unrighteousness the wrath of God must be revealed. There is a hell where God’s wrath must burn eternally, and a grave that must constitute to this hell the corridor. Sin must have dominion; for man in Adam, his covenant head, transgressed the command of God.
Out of this world He will pass. But how will this be possible? Consider that He is united to a people, guilty and dead through trespasses and sin. How can He pass with these unto the Father? Know that He will bear the griefs of this people, carry their sorrows, be wounded for their transgressions, and be bruised for their iniquities. So will He deliver them from this world and go with them to the Father, because He takes the way of the cross. Loving His own, He will love them unto the end.
Such was His resolve. And to this resolve He gives expression, through His washing their feet. Through this act He declares to them, though they do not understand, that He will cleanse them from all their sin, and set them in heavenly places.
He washes their feet. The disciples are amazed. Peter is even provoked. But he keeps silence until the Lord comes to him, when he says, “Lord dost thou wash my feet?” “The others to their shame have permitted Thee to perform this labor upon them. But I will not. Do masters wash their servants’ feet? Nay, Lord: it shall not be.”
Peter’s remonstrance springs from a mixture of ignorance, pride, and love of Christ. But in replying Christ touches upon his ignorance only, upon his lack of understanding. “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Peter is not to be reasoned with. Taking little notice of what Jesus has said, he replies with vehemence and finality, as if he were the master and Christ the servant, “Thou shalt not wash my feet.” He has spoken. Let the Master here. Should Peter realize of a sudden what it would mean to him should Christ do as he bids Him, he would be struck with amazement at the foolishness and sinfulness of the resistance he now shows Christ. What he virtually has said to Christ is, “Thou shalt not cleanse me from my sin in Thy blood. I refuse to be saved by thee. I will perish in my sins.” Christ makes him feel something of this through His replying, “If I wash thee not thou hast no part in me.”
The full meaning of this reply, Peter at this time is unable to grasp. Yet the reply is sufficiently meaningful to Peter to break down all his resistance, and to cause him to yield his entire self to Christ. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” But if the matter stands thus, if to be washed by the Lord is to have part with Him, let the Lord then wash him, and not only his feet but also his hands and head. For, though he sees not the necessity of the cross, his soul cleaves unto Christ. The words of Christ have therefore pierced his heart. So he instantaneously replies, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” So does he go from one extreme to the other, because he loves and because, loving, he understands not and is carnal.
But he is also a man reborn. So they all are with the exception of Judas. He is therefore essentially clean. He thus feels himself greatly drawn to Christ. The love of Christ is in his heart. He is already washed in Christ’s blood. He needeth not “save to wash his feet, but is clean, every wit,” he hears Christ say this to him. So does the washing of the feet come to signify daily sanctification.
Having washed their feet, Christ explains to them the lesson of His doing. They must be willing to serve one another. Not so many hours ago, they had again been disputing among themselves who was to be the greatest in the kingdom. The ambition of each of them was to be raised to the highest place in His kingdom. The mother of two of their number had even put in a request in behalf of her two sons. Could her sons each sit on His right and on His left hand when He would come into His kingdom? Thus they are men with worldly ambitions. They are looking forward to ruling. They must look forward to serving. Their Lord and Master serves them. He washes them in the blood He will shed for them. He saves them from all their sins. He washes their feet. So He now says to them, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye do well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
It is, of course, a spiritual service to which Christ here alludes. It is a service that consists in the one working for the perfection of the other and for the edifying of the body of Christ, till they all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. It is a service that consists in the one restoring the other that has been overtaken by a fault, in considering one another to provoke unto love and good works, in the one warning the other, if he be unruly, in the one comforting the other, if he be feebleminded, in the one supporting the other if he be weak, in the one praying for the other, if he be spiritually sick.
So shall they serve one another, not as lords but as servants. The proud man will serve you too, but only as lord and not as servant of Christ. It means that he serves not in humility and love, but in the pride of his heart. He will wash your feet but not as one whose feet need washing. Hence, he has never been washed by Christ and therefore has no portion with Christ. But he will serve, providing those served will receive him as lord in Christ’s stead. In a word, he will serve but not as one who himself has need of being administered unto by Christ the Lord. What he gives is not what he had first received but what he possesses of himself.
Christ only serves as Lord. And Lord of His people he indeed is. As their Lord, He redeemed them by His blood from the power of Satan and from all sin. If He, the Lord, washed their feet, they who are not lords but servants ought to be willing to do likewise. For a servant, certainly, is no greater than his lord.
And the servants of Christ serve one another as poor in spirit, whose service is so much good fruit that they bear because they by a living faith abide in Christ, Who is their sanctification and justification.
Opposed to this service is that of the proud, of those who lord it over Christ’s heritage, the masters in the church, who usurp Christ’s place in His kingdom and carry on as though the flock were their property upon whom they may impose their own yoke. In serving, they seek self. They are haughty and vain. They will wash the feet of others but themselves will be washed by no one. They judge others but themselves will not be judged. They deem themselves fountains though they do not drink from the stream of grace that floweth from the throne of God.