Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1-30) The hour has come. The feast of the Passover has been prepared. Jesus is aware that His Father has given all things to Him. He knows that He is ascending back to heaven from whence He came. He also knows that He is going to be betrayed by Judas (vs. 26-27), one of His own disciples. Tonight represents a culmination of thirty-three years of life on Earth, three of which have been spent in intensive ministry. More than that (if it can even be said that way), tonight represents thousands of years of planning and providence of God, as Christ is about to institute a new covenant to bring in the nations of the world into fellowship with God. This table, this last Passover, is bursting with significance and anticipation as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Messiah, takes His seat at the table that for the last fifteen hundred years represented His work He was about to do.
But then He gets back up. He lays aside his outer garments. He wraps a towel around His waist, so He could dry the feet of the disciples after He washes them. This is a story that has been dulled because we are so familiar with it, but this is truly shocking behavior. The job of foot washing was necessary because roads were made of dirt, and everyone wore sandals. This job was only done by the lowliest of slaves, a sort of glorified doormat. In fact, Jewish slaves weren’t even allowed to do this, as it was considered to be so lowly as to only be fit for Gentile slaves. The closest modern example of this would be like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company being found in stained scrubs plunging one of the clogged commodes in the bathroom right before a large presentation before the board. Yet even this example is more comprehensible than what we find in John 13. Here is Jesus, the King of the world, washing the disciple’s feet, doing the job of an outsider slave. Truly, He is taking the lowest of low positions.
It also bears notice that He is washing every disciple’s feet, including Judas’, the one Jesus knows is going to betray Him. He is rendering this level of service to the one who is mere hours away from delivering Him into the hands of the Romans to be crucified, the lowliest death imaginable. That is the level of service that Christ is calling us to in following after Him in verses 14 and 15. It’s not the act of washing feet specifically, as the need for that is past, but it is the depth of service that Jesus has in mind. It is one thing to serve people that you like and consider friends and brothers in deep and hard ways, but it is quite another to do the same level of service for the one who has hurt you and is trying to betray you. Obviously, there are people and situations in which it would be unwise and ultimately unhelpful to them to serve, but as a general rule, we cannot see ourselves as “above” any sort of service that God calls us to in our lives. The calling might be unpleasant, seemingly beyond your gifting, or outside your comfort zone, but God is not calling you to anything that He hasn’t already done Himself. He has led by example (v 15), and He gives us the power to serve in these radical ways. As one final motivator, in a certain way, this is not the only betrayer Christ would serve. He would go to the cross the next day for you and me. Whether we realize it or not, every time we sin we betray God. We act as though He is not in charge nor deserves our allegiance and devotion. By our disobedience, we commit the same sins that Christ had to die for in the first place. Yet Christ served us on the cross and continues to serve us in our daily lives. He gives us bread for our bellies, air for our lungs, and yes, even water to clean our feet. Christ still serves those who betrayed Him. He has forgiven and continues to forgive. Let us not take this for granted, but use the amazing display of grace to inspire in us greater service for Him. Thoughts for prayer: Thank God for the many ways that He has served you even today, then ask Him whom He has in mind for you to serve.