The Drama of the Foot Washing
Text: John 13:1-20
God's Word is so rich and multi-layered that you can read it for a lifetime and never exhaust it. It is the Living Word of God, which means it cuts, pierces, and reveals in new ways all the time. It isn't static like a textbook on World War 2 or The Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings. While you can learn or see different things you didn't see in these books in prior readings, they are unlike God's Word in that they fail to communicate God's presence, will, wisdom, and ways to us as the Scriptures do.
And the reason I'm bringing this up to begin today's message is because we are looking at John 13, the story of Jesus' washing the disciples feet, and most of you have either read it, heard a sermon preached on it, or are at least familiar with the story. And you assume you know the sermon I'm about to preach before I preach it. The moral of the story is "be servants like Jesus." And this is partially correct, but what I want to show you is that this is a secondary point of the story. The primary point of the story is something far more incredible, far more awe-inspiring, and far more profound. That's what I want to show you today. Two things I want to promise you on the front end: 1. I will not ask anyone to come up and take their shoes off so I can wash their feet, and 2. You will leave today marveling at the wisdom of God, the glory of Christ, and the beauty of God's Word.
Exegesis: John 13:1-20
vs 1 -- Jesus knew his hour had come to depart from the world. Again, he's not blowing around according to the breeze that day or the whims of his heart. He is following an eternal plan for the saving of his people. The cross was drawing near, and having loved his own who were in the world (that is not only his disciples, but all who believed), he loved them to the end (meaning, he loved them all the way to Calvary's hill and on the cross). His love carried him to the fulfillment of the plan.
vs 2 -- As the disciples are sharing the Passover Meal together, the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. I don't believe that Judas was in some zombified state or trance. He was acting in accordance with his own thoughts and reasoning and desires, but those were directly influence and shaped by Satan's involvement. And this is a good place to just to remind us that we are not simply in a battle in this world against flesh and blood. The Scriptures make clear that despite our propensity to explain and reduce everything down to natural occurrences, we live in a universe charged with spiritual power and realities. There are angels, and their are demons. Satan is real, and Satan is active. That's not the main point of this passage, but its worth mentioning as we consider what is happening.
vs 3 -- Jesus knew that all power and authority had been given to him, and he had come from God and was going back to God rose from supper. I want you to notice a few things: 1. Jesus' awareness of his power and authority. 2. Jesus' awareness that he had come from God and was going back to God. John isn't randomly making this connection for us. He is about to explain with methodical details the actions of Jesus in the next few moments. And you're about to see why John makes these specific connections of coming from God and going back to God.
vs 4-12 -- I want you to see verses 4 through 12 as connecting to each other a picture. They are a mini-play of the ministry and work of the Second Person of the Trinity. They are a stage for the mini-drama of the real life purpose and coming of the Christ. Watch and see what I mean.
vs 4 tells us that Jesus rose from supper (the table) and his laid aside his outer garments. The picture here is of the incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh. This is a picture of the Second Person of the Trinity leaving the status, comfort, and glories of Heaven, to come into the world as a man. And he takes a towel around waist. He is positioning himself in the form of a servant. So quite literally, Jesus is in the attire of a servant. His outer garments are removed and he has a towel around him.
vs 5 tells us that he poured water into a basin and began washing the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. What is happening? Why is he doing this? This is a picture of his death on the cross for their sins. It is the cross that is going to cleanse the people of God from their sins, making them acceptable before God. Jesus' washing of their feet is a symbolizing of this event. How do we know that this is what Jesus is showcasing to them?
vs 6 says that when he got to Simon Peter, Peter refused to let him. "Do you wash my feet??!!?" "Are you serious?" could be another way to read this. Jesus responds in vs 7 that Peter doesn't understand what he is doing, but afterward he will. What does this mean? Why doesn't Peter understand? Is this such a hard concept to grasp -- washing his dirty feet? Of course not. This is a pretty simple thing to understand. What does Jesus mean that he will understand afterward? He doesn't mean immediately after, he means after his death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven. Afterward afterward. In vs 8 Peter says "You shall never wash my feet." Peter is doubling down. This isn't the proper order of affairs. Peter knows that Jesus is greater than him and it should be Peter washing his feet not the other way. But watch what Jesus says in response: "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." What does that mean? The word "share" is the Greek word "meros" which means inheritance. So when Jesus says unless I wash you, you have no "inheritance with me" or "no share/part with me" he is talking about salvation. That kind of inheritance.
We know this because John uses this same word in Revelation 21 and 22.
Revelation 21:8 -- But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Revelation 22:19 -- and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
In both cases, the share/inheritance/meros is referring to salvation. That is what Jesus is saying here in John 13. Unless I wash you, you have no inheritance with me. That's how we know this isn't some basic foot-washing going on here. This event is symbolizing something beyond itself -- the cleansing of sinners at the cross. That's why Peter responds the way he does in vs 9 "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" In other words, if this is what's on the line, then wash my whole body.
Before we look at Jesus' response, which I imagine is an eye-roll at Peter, I want you to take this in. This is no ordinary foot washing. The stakes have been raised sky high. And Jesus isn't saying literally that if he doesn't wash your feet you don't have salvation. He's saying if he doesn't wash you, which the foot washing is a picture of the cross, then you don't have salvation because you'll still be in your sins. This is what provokes Peter's response. At minimum, he understand that to not have a meros with Jesus was the worst thing possible. That's why he submitted for his whole body to be washed.
vs 10-11 Jesus tells us that it isn't necessary. He doesn't need a bath. This event isn't about the dirt on their feet. It's about the sin in their hearts. They need cleansing from that. Watch was Jesus' says, "And you are clean, but not every one of you." Guys, this is a profound statement. Jesus says "you" (which is a plural word in the Greek, meaning you all) are clean. He makes a definitive statement of their being clean, not of dirt, but of sin. He is pronouncing them clean, just like the angel announced Isaiah as clean. How can he do this? He will go to the cross in days and make them clean, just as he just washed their feet. But one of them (Judas) is not clean. Not only is he not clean in that moment, he will not be clean. He is a vessel of wrath. He knew Judas did not belong to him. He was a son of the devil.
vs 12 bookends this mini-drama with John's meticulous recounting of each step. Watch this, and then ask yourself why. After he washed their feet (which pictures his death on the cross for them) he "put on" his outer garments and "resumed his place." After he washed them he put on his outer garments and resumed his place. What do you think this is a picture of? After he washes them, he stands up and puts on his outer garment (a picture of his resurrection). And then he resumes his place ( a picture of his ascending back to Heaven at the right hand of God).
Watch this whole picture again: he gets up and leaves his place from the supper, removes his outer garment and washes their feet, if he doesn't wash them they have no inheritance with him, then he finishes, stands up and puts his outer garment back on, and resumes his place. It is a picture of the Second Person of the Trinity leaving the glories of Heaven, becoming flesh in the form of servant and dying a sinners death on a cross, if he doesn't wash you you have no inheritance with him, and after 3 days he rose from the dead, and resumed his place by ascending back to Heaven. Do you think this is a stretch? Then ask yourself this question: why does Jesus say this immediately after, "Do you understand what I have done to you?" The simple answer should be "yeah, you washed our feet." But he did more than that. They don't understand now, but afterward they will.
The entire foot washing scene is a portrayal of his coming, dying, raising, and ascending. This is what it means that he loved his own, and loved them to the end. He did all of this for us. He did this because of his great love for us. A love undeserved, unwarranted, and unmerited, yet given.
vs 13-17 -- Jesus acknowledges they are right when they call him Teacher and Lord. He is that. So if he is their Teacher and Lord, and yet he came so willingly, laid down his life in sacrifice for theirs, shouldn't they live the same way for each other, and others? He gave them an example, a pattern, not to copy, but to imitate. I'm fine if you do foot washing ceremonies, but the goal of Jesus' message here isn't that they will start a regular practice of washing each other's feet, but that they'll live as humble servants. And the reason why they should is that a servant is not greater than the master. So if the master did this, the servants must also. Our lives should be a reflection of Jesus' servanthood. And I love how vs 17 says, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." He doesn't say you are blessed if you know them, you are blessed if you do them. There are so many blessings in the kingdom of God that are not experienced until we do them. And I'll be honest, many Christians want to act as if simply believing certain things is what blesses them. No. It is doing them. Faith without works is dead.
vs 18-20 -- Not everyone is the recipient of this message. Judas does not belong to him. Jesus knows his people and who he has chosen. And all of this is so Scripture will be fulfilled. Jesus says that all of this is being said and done now, so that when it happens they will know Jesus is the One. That they'll have their faith strengthened and believe. Whoever receives the one Jesus sends (his messengers, his servants) receives him (Jesus), and whoever receives Jesus receives the one who sent him (the Father).
"What I'm doing right now you don't understand, but afterward you will." Jesus knows his disciples do not grasp what they are seeing in this moment, but they would later. John is showing us this incredible micro-picture of the work, ministry, and role of the Son of God. The ministry of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus, is being set to a music we can hear the tune of.
This is the God who came for us. This is our Creator come to rescue us. This is the Word from the beginning who became flesh to dwell among us, and for what reason? To make us clean. To give us an inheritance with him. What a Savior we have in Jesus. There is nobody else. There is no other one who came. There is no other redeemer of sinners who can cancel the legal demands stacked against us. Only Jesus.
He lowered himself and became a servant obedience to death, even death on a cross. All of this was to give us a share with him. If you say, "you can never wash me, Jesus" then like Peter, you will hear those words, "Unless I wash you, you can have no share with me." Be washed in the blood of the Lamb today. Be made clean. And believers, you who have been washed by the blood of Christ through his life laid down, are called to live your life in service to Christ and others. He has given us the example, the pattern, for our own lives.