Alastair Hayward, Guest Author
A few years ago, on the London Underground there was a sign that asked, ‘If History could be folded, where would you put the crease?’ I think that what the sign was getting at is where is the pivotal or most important point in History for us. That betrays what is most important to us. Is it an Economic view? In which case, you might put the crease during the industrial revolution during the 18th Century. Or, if you take a very self-centered world view, you might put it at the date that you were born. And if you are sports obsessed, you might put it at 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years. But look at verse 1, Jesus puts it at his crucifixion, “Jesus knew that the hour had come.”
So we need to listen very carefully to what Jesus has to say as he knows that he will be killed the next day, and these are his parting words to his disciples. John, in fact, takes five chapters to record what Jesus said that Thursday evening in what is sometimes called the “Farewell Discourse.” Jesus is briefing his disciples on two key topics:
- To enable them to make sense of his death
- And to prepare them for a world in which he is no longer physically present with them
In v 2, “The evening meal was in progress and the devil has already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took of his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
Do you take your shoes off at home when you come in? Excellent! That’s probably what your guests do, too, right? Imagine you have invited some friends over. They arrive and your father opens the door. Whose father here would kneel down, take a shoe horn and help your friends take their shoes off? And would any of your fathers not just take your friend’s shoes off, but also wash their cheesy feet as well?
The idea is laughable, isn’t it!? But the situation in our text today is even more shocking! It’s not about our fathers, it’s about Jesus. And instead of taking shoes off with a shoe horn, Jesus is topless, washing your friends’ feet with soap, and then drying them with the towel he is wearing.
It’s almost too much to imagine? Such humility! And what Jesus was doing was even more amazing. Back then, everyone wore sandals. So their feet weren’t just sweaty and dusty (there was no tarmac in those days), but also covered in bits of camel and donkey poo. So when you arrived at a wealthy household, the second lowest slave would untie your sandals, and then it was the job of the lowest slave to wash the guests feet. And Jesus isn’t just any old guy washing their feet. Jesus is God born as a man.
Look at verse 3: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Or look at verse 13: “You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so, for that is what I am.” Jesus is Lord. And yet here he is washing his disciples’ feet and doing the job of the lowliest slave in the household. This is the complete opposite of the world’s model of leadership.
Why? Why does Jesus humiliate himself like this?
This brings us to our first point:
1.You only share in Jesus, if you let him wash you.
I can understand Peter in verse 8 pretty well, what about you? Look at verse 8. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet and Peter butts in, “No, you shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answers him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Crazy!? What Jesus is saying, is that unless he washes you, you have nothing to do with him. Or, to put it positively, you can only share in Jesus, if Jesus washes you clean.
To share in Jesus is to receive him and all his goodness. We only receive him, if he cleanses us.
Imagine your Dad again. Imagine your Dad always demanding that he take your guests’ shoes off and wash their feet every time they come over. That would be totally crazy!
So what does Jesus mean? Jesus surely doesn’t want me to go get a pedicure or a foot treatment once a week. Jesus is speaking symbolically.
To understand what Jesus means, look at what has just happened and what will happen. Look at verse 1 with me. “It was just before the passover festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own, who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
In Verse 1 we see that the passover festival is about to happen. We see too that Jesus knows that His hour has come to leave the world. That is, Jesus knows He will soon be nailed to the cross. And Jesus knows that it His death on the cross, that washes us clean of our sin.
Through Jesus’ death and his shed blood, we are made clean. Washed from head to toe. God forgives us our guilt and cleanses us through Jesus death in our place. Being clean means being forgiven: to be forgiven is to be clean.
So this foot washing is a symbolical act that Jesus uses to show us that He washes us clean of sin. We come to Jesus dirty with our sin and Jesus washes us clean through his death on the cross.
What does this mean for us?
1. No washing, no fellowship.
Read verses 8-9: “You shall never wash my feet” Peter said. Jesus answered “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” If we do not let Jesus wash us clean, we can not have any fellowship with Him. If we reject Jesus’ death, we remain unclean and unforgiven, separated from him.
Serving as a Christian is very important but first we need to be washed by Jesus by repenting and turning around and trusting in his death upon the cross.
I am reminded of a story from the Rwanda Mission when there was a big revival in East Africa in the 1930, 40 and 50s and the preacher said ‘You must be washed by Jesus. You can even be the Archdeacon over there and if you have not been washed by Jesus it will do you no good.’ And the Archdeacon was convicted by the Holy Spirit because although he had been doing Christian work for many years he had never come to Jesus and trusted him. Shortly after the Archdeacon came to a living faith in Jesus.
And this is point 2.
2. To be washed is to have fellowship: If we trust Jesus and His death, ask for His forgiveness then we are clean and have fellowship with Jesus!
In verses 9 and 10 it says ‘then Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean though not every one of you.’
This is a picture of forgiveness. When we put our trust in Jesus we are made totally clean and are forgiven – all our sins are dealt with. We do not need to repeat this one off act of repentance and faith that leads to total forgiveness. It is the equivalent of having a bath.
However as we go through life we do and think things that tarnish our friendship with God . Our relationship is always secure but our friendship is strained by the dirt that we pick up on the way so we need to regularly confess our sins to God. So once we have turned to Jesus we are clean but we need daily washing by confessing our sins which is why in the Lord’s Prayer we say, ‘Forgive us our sins’
3. And lastly: the washing is the pattern. If Jesus has forgiven us, that means we will lead a changed life. Read verses 14-15 with me: “Now that, I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Jesus wants us to live out this picture of washing each other’s feet. We are to help each other and serve each other. That can be somewhat humiliating. It may cost us our dignity. We don’t like it if our dignity is impacted. The American Dream is about being upwardly mobile and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps but Jesus was the exact opposite he was very downwardly mobile from Heaven to washing his disciples feet to his death on the cross the next day. Serving can mean helping other Christians, when we really can’t be bothered. Helping our friends, when we won’t get anything in return, maybe even when helping them will cost us. We don’t ask ourselves anymore, “What can you do for me?” Instead, we should ask “How can I serve you, as Jesus has served me?”
We should ask ourselves challenging questions like ‘What ministry am I not willing to do?’ or perhaps even more challenging, ‘What do I want for my children?’ Do we most want them to be successful or do we want them to be following Jesus in perhaps s lower status job?
- Jesus has washed us if we have turned to him.
- We need regular feet washing by confessing our sins.
- Jesus has given us an example to follow, that we should live a changed life.
So, as cleansed people, we should live serving our brothers and sisters. Go follow Jesus, live for other Christians, even when it costs us.
Photo credit: Mike Page @KaltenbergMike