Jesus Teaches Footwashing

footwashing

During their last evening together, Jesus revealed deep truths to His disciples. They would understand and experience the importance and far-reaching impact of these teachings only much later. One of these priceless truths was the ordinance of footwashing.

Once again, the Jews gathered to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus and His disciples met in a large upstairs room to eat the Passover meal. Just as He had done so often in the past few days, Jesus spoke of His suffering and death. It was, after all, the last Passover Jesus would spend with His disciples. Jesus shared many warnings and much good advice with His disciples on this occasion. He particularly emphasized the relative positions of the disciples.

Jesus got up from the meal, wrapped a towel around His waist, and poured water into a basin. Bewildered, the disciples watched Jesus and wondered why He needed the water. Jesus saw their questioning looks and knew what troubled their hearts. He then knelt humbly before the first disciple and began to wash his feet. In this way, He went from one disciple to the next until He came to Peter.

Peter looked at Jesus with such a questioning expression that Jesus felt compelled to say to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." But Peter stopped Him, saying, "You shall never wash my feet!" He could not accept that his beloved Lord and Savior would so debase Himself as to wash his feet. However, Jesus simply looked lovingly into Peter’s eyes and said, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (John 13:7-8).

These words struck Peter. Should he have no part of his Master, whom he loved so dearly and for whom he would sacrifice his life? Impulsively, as always, he said to Jesus, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" (John 13:9) A brief smile may have flitted across Jesus’ face because He knew Simon Peter like no one else knew him, and He loved Peter because of his individuality. Jesus knew that Peter had a true heart, but He also knew his weaknesses. He therefore replied, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you" (John 13:10). Yes, Jesus knew His disciples, and He knew that there was a traitor in their midst. How much it must have hurt Jesus to know that Judas had turned away from Him and that he carried betrayal in his heart.

After this exchange, Jesus turned questioningly to His disciples and said, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so 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 should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:12-17).

The Gospel of John retells this incident in such a way that Christ's followers can learn a wonderful lesson from it! Christians have many different opinions as to whether footwashing is simply a symbol of humility or whether it should be faithfully observed.
There is no need for debate if we can confidently assert that both interpretations are important. We need to understand the spiritual meaning of footwashing – otherwise it is an empty ritual. On the other hand, we cannot leave out the practical exercise of washing each other’s feet.

Consider again these words of Jesus our Lord, "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so 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 should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:13-17).

We know that Jesus spoke deliberately to His disciples. For example, after He spoke to the people in parables, He explained them to His disciples. Even though footwashing has a spiritual meaning and illustrates the relationship between believers, when Jesus spoke about footwashing, He was giving the disciples an actual commandment and not just a parable. Similarly, communion and baptism are both commandments and symbols: baptism illustrates the believers’ relationship with the world, and communion illustrates the believers’ relationship with the Lord.

Does it not stand to reason then that the Lord created footwashing as an illustration and reminder to all believers about how they should relate to their brothers and sisters in Christ? Yes, on that solemn night, Jesus established this illustration so that His disciples would remember after He left them that they should serve their fellow believers in humility and selflessness. Moreover, the disciples were to listen to others and let others serve them so that they remembered that they needed their brothers and sisters in Christ.

However, we have not yet exhausted the full significance of footwashing. Those who are disciples of Jesus and have received the Holy Spirit will recognize the deep meaning of footwashing and receive great blessings when they observe footwashing in combination with communion. Through the Spirit, they will experience the seriousness of that hour, and they will not only see the brother or sister who is kneeling at their feet, but they will also see the Lamb, who for our sake humbled Himself to the point of death so that we could find rest and peace for our souls. They will then be overcome by love for the King of all Kings, and an increased desire to glorify God through acts of love will arise in their souls.

By sitting at the feet of your brothers or sisters, you will determine to not only wash their feet now, but to also be ready to serve them and be a blessing to them whenever the need arises. If you think such thoughts as you observe communion and footwashing, then you have celebrated them fully. However, if you are reluctant to let your brother or sister wash your feet, think about the words of the Savior, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (John 13:8).

We see how important it is to follow our Savior in true humility and to keep His commandments. Sadly, for many people, including some who call themselves Christians, it is easier to think about these ceremonies symbolically and to neglect to carry them out. But if we follow Christ’s example of footwashing, we will receive heavenly blessings.

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