If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
When was the last time we washed someone else’s feet? Not, of course, literally, although we might have opportunity to do that; but, when was the last time we stooped below our dignity and served for the good of the church?
Serving might involve something as mundane as opening a door for someone else, helping an elderly person with his walker, or picking up a piece of trash from the church grounds. Or it might involve greater sacrifices like spending hours with someone who is lonely, giving up family and friends to serve as a missionary in a faraway place, or even giving one’s life for the cause of Christ’s kingdom.
Sadly, sometimes even the smallest sacrifices seem like so much for us to make. Maybe we say to ourselves, “Why should I have to do that? Why can’t someone else do it?” We think we have already made great sacrifices and done enough.
But even the greatest sacrifice that we ever made, or that any of the prophets and apostles ever made, cannot compare to what Jesus did when He gave Himself on the cross for us. Though many saints gave their very lives in service to God, their sacrifices do not come close to the humiliation that Jesus willingly endured for our sakes.
Part of Jesus’ entire work of humiliation involved His washing His disciples’ feet. When Jesus, the King of kings, humbled Himself to perform that lowly task, He was teaching us about His greater work of humbling Himself unto death in order to wash away the guilt of our sins. When we consider that great sacrifice, the question becomes, How should we respond to it? Surely, we ought to humble ourselves and wash one another’s feet.
Jesus was about to reveal His great love for His people. But before humbling Himself to the death of the cross, Jesus would eat one last meal with His disciples. Prior to eating the last Passover meal and instituting the Lord’s supper, Jesus took off His outer garments, poured water in a basin, and washed His disciples’ feet.
Washing feet was common enough in those days of dirt roads and leather sandals. One can imagine how much filth would build up under the soles and between the toes of travelers walking through the countryside, not to mention the odor. It was a job for the lowest of servants.
Probably for that reason, in the absence of a servant, none of the disciples took it upon themselves to wash the feet of the others. The basin, the water, and the towel were all there; but no one moved. Significantly, on this very occasion the disciples had been disputing among themselves who should be counted the greatest (ff.). They all wanted greatness; but they didn’t know what true greatness was. Perhaps they imagined that washing the feet of others would show their smallness.
Whatever the disciples were thinking, the fact remains, none of them washed the feet of the others as they should have. Maybe they thought to themselves, “I’m more important than that.” Or, “I’ve done enough foot washing in my day; it’s someone else’s turn.” Or, “Foot washing is not really that necessary anyway; besides, I don’t want to get my dinner garments dirty.” Perhaps some of the disciples didn’t even think about washing feet.
We need to examine our own hearts as to why we have not washed the feet of others. How often do I draw back when I have opportunities to serve? No doubt we have our excuses lined up too. We say, “I’ve already done my fair share helping this way or that.” Or, “I’m just too tired.” Or, “I’ll do it if no one else does.” Or, “I’m not very good at that anyway.” Or, if we do wash the feet of others, we still complain in our hearts. To be sure, there are legitimate reasons why we are unable to help others. Some are already very busy helping the body of Christ in other areas. Nevertheless, we need to ask God to show us where we have been unwilling to wash the feet of others. And we need to ask Him to grant us repentance and forgiveness for our failures, and strength to step up and wash the feet of others.
Strikingly, the disciples were not even willing to wash Jesus’ feet. What a stark contrast to Jesus. First, He laid aside His garments so they would not get dirty; He even looked like a lowly servant as He washed the feet of His disciples.
How truly amazing it was that the Creator of the heavens and the earth would stoop down and wash the dirty, stinking feet of the disciples, who were but creatures of the dust! How astonishing that the righteous and holy God would wash the feet of sinful disciples! What earthly king would set aside his dignity and humble himself to that level? Would we ever expect the King of kings and Lord of lords to do that? Considering who Jesus is, the act of washing the dirty feet of His disciples was an amazing display of humility in and of itself.
Such was the disparity between Jesus’ dignity and His humbling Himself that Peter decided that he was not going to allow it: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” As if to say, “Lord, Thou who hast authority over the wind and waves, Thou who hast authority over me, Thou who art the Christ, the Son of the living God, Thou art washing my feet?” Peter understood how incongruous it was for the Master to be washing his feet.
In response, Jesus assured Peter that he would understand things later. Still Peter wouldn’t have it: “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” The same Peter had rebuked Jesus earlier when Jesus told His disciples about His coming death: “This shall not be unto thee.”
That’s when Jesus let Peter know the seriousness of what he was saying: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Finally, Peter relented: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”
Jesus’ response shows that washing the disciples’ feet was a symbolic act: “Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all” (). The literal idea is, if you have already washed your body, you do not need to wash your whole body again just because you got your feet dirty. But Jesus was speaking figuratively when He said, “and ye are clean, but not all.” That is to say, “You disciples are clean; but not all of you.” Not all of the disciples had been cleansed by the washing of regeneration. Not all of them had been born again and justified. Jesus knew who would betray Him; that is why He said not all of them were clean. Jesus knew that Judas was not spiritually clean.
In other words, Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet was a symbol of Jesus humbling Himself as a servant to wash us with His precious blood. As amazing as it was that Jesus would humble Himself and wash the feet of His disciples, how much more amazing is it that Jesus humbled Himself and poured out His blood on the cross to wash away the sins of filthy corrupt sinners while we were yet His enemies ()? “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” ( ). Now we can understand why Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” If Peter was not washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ, he could have no part with Christ.
That’s the kind of washing we need. We need the blood of Jesus Christ to be poured out on the cross for us. We also need the Spirit of Christ to regenerate us. Not only do we need that one-time washing at the beginning of our spiritual lives; we need to be washed over and over by the blood and Spirit of Christ daily, so that we seek forgiveness and cleansing from the pollution of sin.
Jesus knew how unworthy His disciples were when He washed their feet. He knew that Peter would deny Him three times; He knew the other disciples would forsake Him; and yet, He washed their feet and then went to the cross for them. Jesus also knows how unworthy we are. He knows the pride and selfishness that lies in our hearts. He knows how badly we need His cleansing. How wonderful that He would humble Himself for us!
Significantly, after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them to follow His example: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say 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. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” ().
Jesus could have simply rebuked His disciples and told one of them to wash everyone else’s feet. Instead, Jesus taught them by means of a powerful example.
What a lovely example to others, when someone performs a lowly task in the church expecting no recognition and no thanks in return! How beautiful when the saints wash one another’s feet! On the other hand, how ugly when we serve others only when we are forced to, or when we say, “I’ll do it, if I have to,” or require that others recognize our efforts. How opposite was Jesus’ example.
Just as Jesus humbled Himself for us undeserving sinners, we ought to humble ourselves for our neighbors, even when we think them unworthy. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” ().
Finally, Jesus told His disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (). Literally, “…blessed are ye if ye do them.” It is not enough simply to know these things; Jesus would also have us do them. Not, of course, to earn God’s blessing. But when we wash one another’s feet in obedience to Christ, with hearts that desire to give honor to Him, out of a true faith, this gives evidence that God has already given us great heavenly treasure in Christ Jesus. When we wash one another’s feet in love for the neighbor and in love for God, we have evidence of our blessedness.
When is the last time we washed the feet of a fellow disciple?