WASHING DIRTY FEET
We have one of
the most intriguing scenes in the life of Jesus pictured in John
13:1-17. The scene takes place in "an upper room" at an
undisclosed location in Jerusalem. The time is the evening before
Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world. After the
observance of the Passover meal Jesus arises; lays aside His
garments; girds Himself with a towel and proceeds to wash His
AN AMAZING ACT
This is the
One of Whom Paul wrote that in eternity past He "...did not
consider it robbery to be equal with God..." Philippians
2:6. This is the One Who Isaiah saw and described as sitting upon
a throne high and lifted up wearing royal apparel that filled the
temple. Seraphim hovered around Him:" each one had six wings:
with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and
with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy,
holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory."
Isaiah 6; John 12:41
This is the One of Whom John wrote that "All things were made
through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."
John 1:3. And of Whom Paul wrote, "For by Him all things were
created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or
powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He
is before all things, and in Him all things consist."
Colossians 1:16, 17.
This the One Whom John would see many years later in vision on the
Isle of Patmos Who would identify Himself as the Alpha and Omega,
and John would record, "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet
as dead." Revelation 1:17.
This is truly God incarnate in human flesh Who takes the place of
a common household slave washing His disciples' feet. This is
unparallel anywhere else in all the Word of God because it appears
that washing dirty feet was a menial chore to be done only by a
household slave and was just not done by anyone else. In the 18th
chapter of Genesis the Lord and two angels appeared to Abraham in
the form of three men, but even godly Abraham didn't wash their
feet. He had a servant fetch them water so they could wash their
THE MEN WHOSE
FEET JESUS WASHED
Here is Peter whom Jesus has already found it necessary to rebuke
with the words, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to
Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things
of men." Matthew 16:23. And before the night is over, Peter
will be denying Him with cursing and will later crumble under the
peer pressure of the Judaizers at Antioch and, by his actions,
nullify the New Testament of Jesus Christ in favor of going back
to the Mosaic Covenant. (See Galatians 2:11-18).
After the resurrection he hears many testify, "We have seen and
heard the Lord", and yet he adamantly asserted "Unless I see in
His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print
of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
JAMES AND JOHN
Up to this point, Jesus has labeled these two, "Songs of Thunder"
- who after three years with Jesus Christ still doesn't understand
that "he who has seen Jesus has seen God". (John 14:6-11).
- The one who betrayed Him is present.
And of the
whole crowd Luke records that during the Passover meal: "Now
there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be
considered the greatest." Luke 22:24. And, of whom Matthew
would write that in the garden of Gethsemane, "...Then all the
disciples forsook Him and fled."
Do we even
need to add that this was a most unworthy bunch for the Son of God
to be washing their feet? All of this brings us to the
WASHED THE DISCIPLES' FEET
IT WAS NOT TO
START A NEW CHURCH ORDINANCE
Supper and Baptism are ordinances the Lord gave the church. If we
looked at our Lord's example of washing the disciples' feet as a
new ceremony for the church we will lose some of the greatest
teaching in the New Testament on the right attitudes and actions
God's servants are to have in their ministry to other believers.
There is no record of the Apostolic church observing foot-washing
as an ordinance. It did come much later in church history. Jesus
is not addressing the church corporate, but individuals.
TEACHING LOVE AND HUMILITY
In verse one
we read, "...having loved His own who were in the world, He
loved them to the end." The word for love is agape,
the love of unconditional commitment, deeds and actions. It was
in this same upper room that Jesus gave His new commandment found
in John 13:34-35. We are to have an active love for our brethren
like the Lord Jesus has for His people.
This love is to be coupled with humility. It would be difficult
to take a lower place than performing the menial work of a
household slave in washing the disciples' feet. The disciples had
been in a great strife debating which one would be greatest in the
kingdom of God, and we get the impression that each one was
nominating themselves for the position. It was in response to
this that Jesus made this statement in Luke 22:25-27;"...The
kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who
exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so
among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him
be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who
is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not
he who sits at the table? Yet, I am among you as the One who
The washing of
the disciples' feet was an example of the humble attitude with
which agape love should be practiced. We so easily slip into the
attitude that certain tasks are below our dignity.
HIS PEOPLE NEED TO HAVE THEIR FEET WASHED
truth is brought out in verses 10, 11, and 18. In verse 10 the
first time we read "washed" it is louō and refers to the
ceremonial bath in preparation for the Passover. The second time
the word "wash" comes from nipto and refers to washing only
that place on us that has become defiled. It is not difficult to
see the picture that in salvation we are washed from our sins that
bring condemnation, but as we walk through the world we gather the
dust of contamination that defiles us to the point that our
fellowship with God is hindered. We need cleansing to be restored
to unhindered fellowship. In verses 11 and 18 Jesus refers to
Judas and indicates that even though Judas received ceremonial
cleansing for the Passover by total immersion in water he never
received the initial spiritual cleansing of salvation of which the
cleansing by water was only a picture.
It is clear
that Jesus was using a literal example to teach a spiritual
reality. As believers we get spiritually dirty feet that need to
be cleansed through confession. See 1st John 1:3, 4, 6, 7, 8-2:1.
ARE TO WASH THE FEET OF ONE ANOTHER
Jesus said "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your
feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given
you an example, that you should do as I have done to you."
John 13:14, 15. This means I wash the spiritually dirty feet of
my brethren and I allow them to wash my spiritually dirty feet. I
have found that as hard as it is for me to humble myself and wash
my brother's feet, that like Peter, it is even harder to let my
brother wash my feet. I have also found that there were times
when a brother has washed my spiritually dirty feet and my
sensation was that he has used ice water. My feet were cleaned up
from defilement but I was having a hard time appreciating it.
Other times if felt like my feet had been spiritually washed in
scalding water. That is even harder to appreciate, and so I ask
myself, Have I done the same thing? We can assume that as Jesus
washed the disciples' feet He lovingly and tenderly used
comfortable water communicating His love in the tender way He did
it. Note that Peter would shortly need his feet washed from
cursing and denying Jesus and Thomas would need to be washed from
BE SPIRITUALLY CLEAN TO HAVE A PART IN HIM
In John 13:8
Jesus said, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with me."
Note that if the primary lesson Jesus taught was physical
foot-washing, He never again washed His disciples' feet, nor has
He washed the feet of anyone else with literal water. That means
that after this one time there would never be anyone else who
would be able to have a part in Jesus Christ. But, if Jesus was
giving a physical cleansing that was a picture of spiritual
cleansing then every believer can be cleansed and have part in
One of the
greatest desires in the heart of every believer should be to have
a part in Jesus Christ.
sacrificial death for our sins (Galatians
In His shed blood that washes us from our sins. (1st John 1:7)
In His Word that washes us like water in His sanctifying work.
resurrection and its power. (Philippians 3:10, 11).
In His ascension to sit with Him in heavenly places. (Ephesians
In His pleadings of intercessory prayer as our Great High Priest
In the peace He gives the mind and heart. (John 14:27)
In the comfort He gives in sorrow. (John 14:1, 18)
In His spiritual body. (Romans 12:4,5; 1st Corinthians 12:12...).
In His bride the church. (Revelation 21:2).
In Him as branches connected to the vine. (John 15:1-7).
In His coming again. (1st Thessalonians 4:14-18).
In His kingdom. (Colossians 1:12-14).
In His eternal glory. (Romans 8:18).
To have a part in Jesus we must be washed.
We qualify by admitting that we are a sinner and need to be
washed, then by letting Jesus do the washing, and not ourselves.
This gives us a part in His saving work that can never be taken
away. The priests were set apart for the priesthood by
sacrificial blood. They never needed to be set apart for the
priesthood again. See Revelation 1:5b. But the priest needed
repeated cleansing by water as he went about his work. At this
very Passover the officiating priests would be ceremonially
cleansed by total immersion in water. As they went from task to
task they would wash their hands and feet from defilement.
It is the
blood of Christ that cleanses us from the condemnation of sin
before God's Judgment bar. It is the water of His word that
cleanses us from the defilement of sin so that we can enjoy
fellowship with our God and be fit for service that ministers to
the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we also be
aware there filth and our feet tend to get dirtier.
WAY OF HAPPINESS FOR BELIEVERS
Jesus said in John 13:17, "If you know these things, blessed
are you of you do them." When Jesus washed the feet of the
disciples it went beyond picturing His cleansing from sin and
includes ministering to the needs of believers, whatever they
are. The disciples got their feet dirty by walking from the place
where they had washed all over. As they walked, the dust gathered
on their feet. They were ceremonially defiled, and had a need of
cleansing in order to not be ceremonially defiled. I believe
Jesus was saying in verse 17 that when our brothers and sisters in
Christ have a need we can meet, then we are to humble ourselves
and lovingly minister to that need. He is also teaching that when
we have a need, we allow our brothers and sisters in Christ
minister to us.
place the night before Jesus died. In less than 24 hours Jesus is
going to experience the agony and sweat His blood in
the trial before the high priest; appear before Pilate and Herod
and then Pilate again. He will experience the abuse of the
soldiers including the Roman whip. He will falter beneath the
cross on the Via Dolorosa. He will suffer physically and
spiritually on the cross and will die and be buried. I believe
Jesus knew all this. We could excuse Him for being consumed with
His own needs, but He is consumed with the needs of His
disciples. Hebrews 12:2 tells us how He did it. It was
"...for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the
throne of God." I think His eyes beheld an innumerable host
of saints washed in His blood and in the water of God's word.
As we minister
to the needs of God's saints let us also behold by faith the
spiritual results that will bring great joy in future days. As
others minister to us, let us allow their ministry to increase our
fellowship with our Lord and better fit us to minister.
example of such ministering is in the lives of our friends, Frank
and Earlene Comfort of Mineral, Virginia. They lived near our
friends, Karl and Mary Fretcher. Karl was in a nursing home with
Parkinson's disease, leaving Mary living alone. For as long as I
can remember Frank went by to haul away the Fretcher's garbage.
When the driveway needed the snow plowed, Frank would be there to
do it. Earlene would call Mary every morning to see if she was
all right and if she had any needs. If Mary needed to go to the
doctor, the grocery store or whatever, Earlene arranged to take
her. The most amazing thing is, their sweet attitude that these
were just things they ought to do and they counted it a joy to do
love, we need to minister to the needs of our fellow Christians
with a true servant's heart.
© 2002 Thomas E Berry
Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted
Copyright © 2002
Thomas E Berry
Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted
Copyright © 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.