by Pastor Jim Jester
August 13, 2023
SCRIPTURE READING: John 13:1-11
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” 8 Peter saith unto him, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” 10 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.” 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, “Ye are not all clean."
In my last sermon, People of Light, I concluded at one point that, “Forgiveness is one thing, but cleansing is quite another.” But I did not explain the difference between the two concepts, as that was a lesson for another time. Well, this is that time; but I do think that most hearing this sermon have some grasp of understanding on the difference between forgiveness and cleansing. First John 1:9 clearly reveals the two concepts:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.(I Jn. 1:9)
For the most part, forgiveness usually has to do with an outward action or sin against God; while cleansing usually has to do with an inward condition. These two distinctions are necessarily made simply because the nature of sin is two-fold: 1) it is an action or deed committed against the Law; 2) it is an inborn condition or corruption of the heart, resulting from the fall of Adam (also known as original sin). Under the first, we have the responsibility of repentance and correction; under the second, we must avail of every grace God has provided to prevent us from falling into outright deliberate sin, and disappointing our heavenly Father.
You may have noticed that the Gospel of John has quite a different view of Jesus’ ministry compared to the other three Gospels. The institution of the Lord’s Supper is not expressly mentioned by John, but it is implied (Jn. 13:2&4). The Evangelist did not repeat what had already been made known in the other Gospels. But, the Gospel of John has unique differences, and gives us the only account of the washing of the disciple’s feet.
William Finck had this to say about the Gospels of John and Luke:
…From a historical perspective the Gospel of Luke is our favorite since it contains many of the best witnesses illuminating the truth of Covenant Theology. But from a theological perspective, the Gospel of John is our favorite because it boldly asserts many truths which can be validated both scripturally and historically, concerning the Deity of Christ, and concerning the spurious identity of His adversaries. This is true even though Luke’s Gospel certainly has some valuable theological insight, and John’s Gospel some valuable historical information. Both Gospels are often quite poetic in their construction, and it is my opinion that the uneducated John rivals the well-educated Luke in his ability to draw pictures with words. However while much of Luke’ s grammar is eloquent and complex, we find John’s to be plain and simple.
Matthew and Mark give us a very brief account of the Passover event, and both are quite similar. Luke’s account is the most complete and diverse of the four Gospels. When we combine John’s account with Luke’s, we can get a complete picture of what took place just before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion; but of course, there are various opinions as to the order. Following the narrative of Luke, and inserting John, we can deduce the likely order of events thusly:
- The Passover meal — (Lk. 22:14-18)
- The institution of the Lord’s Supper — (Lk. 22:19-20)
- The dispute among the Disciples — (Lk. 22:24-27)
- The foot washing — (from John’s Gospel; Jn. 13:3-17)
- The betrayal by Judas — (Lk. 22:47-48)
- The denial by Peter — (Lk. 22:54-62)
It is the incident recorded in these verses from John’s account that we consider. What is the significance of foot washing today?
If I were to take one verse from our Scripture reading to represent the tone of the narrative, it would be the words of verse four, “He[Jesus]riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” This ought to remind us of the words from Peter, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 1:13) To “gird up” means: to watch, to prepare your minds for action, to keep a clear head.
This ought to be a clue to the position our Lord was placing himself — here he was, the King of all the universe, lowering himself to the level of a Servant for those he loved. This ought to be the same position that we can place ourselves. And where does revival begin? It begins in a humble heart. And truly, this humility has been demonstrated in this church. We help each other whenever the need arises.
JESUS, LORD AND SERVANT
This event is a great example of humility and service to our brethren. In ancient times the washing of feet became a matter of necessity where they traveled without shoes, and where they reclined on couches at meal time. Possibly, some households were too poor to maintain servants. However, it was the office of a servant to wash the feet of the guests.
At this passover event we should note that the disciples were not sitting at the table, as we do today, but were lying with their feet extended from the table so that Jesus could have easy access to them. None of the disciples had offered to undertake this duty. You may recall that about this time there was a dispute among them of who should be the greatest in the kingdom (Matt. 18:1-4; Lk. 9:46-48). Perhaps all of them thought they were too important to fill the needed service.
So Jesus took advantage of this circumstance to teach a much-needed lesson. It was one of the chief lessons of his life. He took upon Himself the form of a servant (wrapping the towel around his waist), and in this act, he became the Servant of all. True greatness, as Christ taught his disciples, is found in service to the will of God. If we do the divine will from the heart, it must be because we love Him. And if we love Him, then we must love the brethren; and love will find expression in even the smallest service. This is what the Savior showed forth in this act of humility.
THE DISCIPLES’ NEED
Our Lord’s action revealed to the disciples a sense of their spiritual need. The impulsiveness of Peter furnished Jesus with an opportunity of teaching the symbolic meaning of this action. You may recall, that at one point in Peter’s life, he protested against the will of God when Jesus foretold the disciples about His coming suffering and death (see Matt. 16:21-23). Peter rejected such a thought; and our Lord said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” It seems Peter had the same problem that many have today; that of caring more about what others think of them than what God thinks. You may also recall that Peter exhibited this same attitude soon after Jesus was arrested by the chief priests, captains of the temple and the elders; and denied three times that he knew Jesus. He cared more about what men thought, than the things of God. Did Peter ever find victory over this? I believe he did; or we would not have seen the great church leader he became for the diocese of Jerusalem.
So Peter here, on this Passover evening, observed the action of Jesus, and then wondered why no one intervened. His Master, whom multitudes had hailed as king, who was yet to reign over the kingdom of God, that He should stoop to this act! He forgot that the humiliation of Jesus had already taken place by the simple fact that He was in the world! So Peter decided he would act. When, therefore, Jesus came to him, Peter cried out, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?”(Jn. 13:6) The answer of Jesus should have sufficed, “You don’t understand now, but you will later.” (Jn. 13:7). But not for self-willed Peter. And when Jesus said, If I wash thee not…” (Jn. 13:8), then Peter showed that his resistance was due to his self-confidence. Seeing now the spiritual meaning our Lord conveyed in his action, the disciple went to the other extreme, and cried out, “Not my feet only, but also my hands and head.” (Jn. 13:9) The Lord’s reply set him straight. He that is washed only needs to wash his feet.” (Jn. 13:10) The traveler over the dusty paths might have bathed in the morning; but in the evening the dusty feet needed washing again. Likewise, Christ’s disciples daily need sanctifying grace. They who are cleansed, washed, in the fountain open for sin, are cleansed once for all. But they still come in contact with sin, the world ’s evil, and need daily cleansing of the feet.
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn. 13:14-15, RSV)
This action of Jesus teaches us a lesson of self-sacrificing love. “I have given you an example…” There have been churches that consider this to mean that our Lord meant that those who represent him should do what he did. No interpretation of His words could be more naive. If the scene here is to be taken literally, then a Judas should always be among us. Christ said, “Do as I have done unto you,” standing in the place of a minister. Jesus performed an actual service which had been omitted, and from which He drew a spiritual lesson. But times and customs change in dress and habits; and what was in that land and in those days might be necessary, it is not so now. But the lesson of ministering love remains for all men and all times.
One commentary explains this with the Greek grammar:
“I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (Jn. 13:15) Καθώς [G2531 kathos]“as,”“like as,” was used by our Lord rather than ὅ, “that which.” The ὑπόδειγμα [G5262 hupodeigma] shows that he had set before his disciples a parallel, an “example,” a symbolic type of the service they were to render to one another, and was not establishing a custom or exact ordinance. The washing of the feet was an Oriental custom of great antiquity as a mark of hospitality (Gen. 18:4; Gen. 19:2; Abigail, I Sa. 25:41; see also Lk. 7:38, Lk. 7:44). In I Timothy 5:10 there is trace of such a custom of Christian hospitality. (Pulpit Commentary)
Also, if the intention of this verse was to mean “exactly like,” then the Greek word should have been ὥσπερ (G5618hōsper), “from G5613 and G4007; just as, that is, exactly like (even, like) as.” (Strong’s Lexicon) For so it appears 42 times in the New Testament.
As a side note here, it seems likely that Jesus even washed the feet of Judas, for in verse 22, “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.” And in verse 28, “Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.” So the disciples did not appear to notice any different treatment of Judas over themselves; or if there was, they missed it. Yet, Jesus knew who would betray him, for he had said in verse 11, “You are not all clean.” Jesus must have felt it unnecessary to reveal Judas’ intentions to the others until the final moment. Nothing would be accomplished by embarrassing Judas in front of all the disciples. There was no need to berate Judas in front of them all. The kindness of Jesus is expressed in the old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
This chapter of the Gospel of John ends with the words, “So, after receiving the morsel, he [Judas]immediately went out; and it was night.”(Jn. 13:30) May I suggest that it was “night” in more ways than just the physical celestial event known as nighttime; but that it was also the spiritual darkness for Judas and all who reject the Christ. Judas’ mind and heart was darkened and depraved to a greater level as he fulfilled the prophecy Jesus spoke of in verse 18, “…That the scripture may be fulfilled;” a reference to Psalm 35:19, “Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.”
Jesus had shown a supreme love toward his disciples during the course of his public life; and so, our feasting today is a remembrance of that love, not the ritual of “foot washing.” He instituted the memorial supper in part to be an example to the disciples, that they should love each other with the same love with which He loved them. Since that time, Christians have shown this love in partaking at the table of the Lord’s Supper. The Christian life is to be a life of service in imitation of our Lord.
Our opening Scripture said “…He loved them to the end.”
It is no wonder that John, the beloved disciple, made mention of this foot-washing event at Passover, while the other three Gospel writers did not. They simply reported on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John only hints at it. What struck John was the amount of love the Savior expressed in serving the disciples. Literal foot washing is not the point — we are not running around without shoes — the point is that we serve with a sacrificial love.
Jesus, in essence, is saying, “Look, no task is beneath you. Take the attitude of a servant, even though you might have a position of authority. Be willing to give yourself to serve another person. Don ’t put yourself on a pedestal. I ’ve set an example for you to be a servant. This is what love is about.”
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (Jn. 13:14, RSV) This verse could be translated, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have kept you clean, you also ought to keep one another clean.” (Jim’s Practical Translation)
“Washing feet” means helping each other along the narrow path that leads to eternal life in the kingdom. As a group of Christians, it means we act to keep each other “clean,” that is, to guide one another in holy living so that we aren’t contaminated with sin. Washing feet means “covering” one another; it means I got your back, “I got your six.”
All four Gospels have reminded us of how weak Peter was at this time, and that he would deny knowing Jesus three times when confronted. Our Lord said:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Lk. 22:31-32)
This verse also confirms what “washing feet” really means, that of assisting each other by strengthening and confirming each other in the Lord.
And I believe this church fulfills that service. It is beautiful and precious, when in the midst of ordinary life, we can be helpful to one another in counsel and in deed, supporting each other in the effort of cleansing our Christian walk. This binds our folk together; and we can minister spiritually to one another, that each may seek to do so in love toward all who bear the name of Christ, as our Lord has shown us.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.(Gal. 6:1)