Have you ever caught the significance of Christ’s exchange with Peter regarding washing Peter’s feet? In reading the thirteenth chapter of John, we find Peter refusing to be served by his master in this way. That’s the job of the lowest servant! How could someone let his better – the Messiah no less – undertake this task? It reads this way:
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (vs. 6-8)
Jesus's words often had a double meaning. So much of what Jesus did and said was not immediately understood by those who watched and listened. Imagine Jesus holding a wet cloth when saying those words: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” I can only imagine that Peter was somewhat startled to think that he might not be a part of the Messiah’s kingdom if Jesus didn’t bathe him. Peter’s response seems only natural:
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (vs. 9)
If I need to be scrubbed down by the master to be with him, then let’s get this done! Wash me! Peter did not yet understand the significance of what Jesus was telling him; of course we know that he was referring to his coming sacrificial death on the cross. Christ must wash us in his cleansing blood. It’s amazing to gain the cultural perspective of the type of embarrassment or awe that we – those of lower status, the created – should sense when our better – God, the creator – would humble himself to the point of a death for the lowest of the low in order to serve us.
Peter reoriented pretty quickly when he realized that the only way to belong to Jesus was to allow himself to be served by Jesus. Yet Jesus had another point to make:
Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” (vs. 10a)
What a stunning statement! Christ has already alluded to the redemption that he is about to purchase with his blood on the cross, and now he essentially states that the work is already done. It’s a done deal. You don’t need your whole body cleaned because I’ve as good as cleaned you by the work that I am about to undertake. You are “completely clean.” What then of the foot washing? Consider Romans 5:10:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
We come to recognize that we stand clean and justified before the Father because of the blood of Jesus, but we are not abandoned or left alone to finish the race. I’ve heard the above verse explained this way: in God’s willingness to put his own Son to death to save us, he has already proven that he will go to the greatest extreme. That is to say, the hardest part has already been done. Therefore, we can trust with certainty “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6) If Christ’s sacrifice for us made us clean, then in his resurrection we find that the cleansing of our feet is our sanctification.
Let me draw your attention to the first verse in John chapter 13:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The profoundness of this verse causes me to stop every time I read it. On its face, his “loving them to the end” introduces a scene where Jesus is loving his disciples, serving them in a meaningful way one last time before his death. More than that, though, is the deeper meaning of the true service that Christ was preparing to perform. It takes my breath away to try and understand “loving to the end” in the sense of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
Remember, though, the washing of feet. Christ has made us, dirty and pitiful as we were, clean before almighty God. He “loved us to the end” to the point of death. The hardest part is over. God allowed the blood of his own Son to be shed. How much weightier now is the promise of completing his good work in us? The hardest part is over! Not only did he make us clean, but it is he who continues to clean us and make us perfect and holy before God.
Do you feel the weight of the love he has bestowed on us?
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when it appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
Can you see how heavy and how real his love is? If so, what Jesus said after washing his disciples’ feet should profoundly affect you:
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for I am. 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 also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (vs. 12-17)
Look at what Jesus said: “do you understand what I did to you?” This was no mere act of service; Jesus did something significant to them. The King humbled himself for the sake of his inferiors. He showed his disciples and us that as he was about to serve “to the end” and love “to the end” for those who are not his equal – how much more are we to serve and prefer and love others “to the end.”
It turns out that a part of our ongoing cleansing – our continued sanctification process – includes imitation of Christ to no small extent:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:1-2)
There are no shortages of applicable, real-life situations to which this can be applied or practiced. Yet, I have found myself thinking about the washing of the feet in relation to missions work. There are times when it’s difficult to work at a mission hospital. Sometimes I get called in to the hospital at night or on a weekend. I am being called to wash feet. Maybe it was supposed to be my day off. I am being called to wash feet. Perhaps I find out that I was called to take care of someone else’s work. Christ is washing my feet. I can’t remotely accomplish anything like what Christ has done in service to us, but I can imitate him in loving and serving “to the end,” to the end of myself.
What’s even more amazing in the above account is that Christ washed the feet of Judas along with the other disciples. Judas had no share in Christ, but Christ served him anyway. Who then can I pass over? This causes me to ponder, what act of service is God calling me to today? I have been finding that the more I adopt this attitude, a Christ-like attitude of service toward other people, the more often I have been blessed with unique opportunities to share the gospel with individuals.
Here’s some food for thought. In this context of Christ continuing to wash our feet, how much more significant are the “shoes for your feet,” which are “the readiness given by the gospel of peace?” (Eph 6:15) How much more beautiful are “the feet of those who preach the good news?” (Rom 10:15) The harvest is ripe. How is the Lord calling you to wash feet? How would he have you love unto the end?