At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth and on the night He was betrayed, Jesus took His disciples aside to show them the extent of His love. This is the context of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17). This act of ministry to His friends was an example also for us to go do likewise.
Was the Washing of Feet About Removing Sin?
For most of my Christian walk, I have been taught that Jesus washing the disciples feet was about the removal of sin. In this life it will be inevitable that you will still sin, so Jesus washes their feet that they may be restored.
We often like to reduce the Christian life down to living holy and removing sin. Jesus is not as focused on sin as we are. All of His anger at sin was taken to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14), and our acceptance of His sacrifice cleanses us of all our sin (1 John 1:9). He has so much more for us than to have us stay focused on sin.
What About Baptism Then?
We do this with baptism, as well. Most baptisms stress the cleansing of sin, the symbolic gesture of dying to sin and being brought back to like. I am not saying people are doing it wrong or need to get re-baptized, but I do think more is going on than just where we focus.
Focusing on the sin aspect of baptism is getting the baptism of John. He was the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. He baptized with water; Jesus baptized with fire (Luke 3:16). John’s baptism was a death to sin; Jesus’ baptism was a death to self. We are then raised to new life by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).
I hope I didn’t lose you with my thoughts on baptism. But I feel like it relates.
Why Was There Feet Washing in Jesus’ Time?
Peter misunderstood Jesus’ example. He first didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, then he requests his whole body. Washing their feet wasn’t only about Jesus showing His coming as a servant; it also wasn’t about the disciples getting clean. Jesus was giving a visible example of His love.
We have all been told that people those days wore sandals. The dirt and grit of the dirt roads would make the feet dirty. I would like to add that the sandals also didn’t have the support of today’s shoes. People’s feet took more of a beating going around town.
Have you seen those people who come home from a long day on their feet? The first thing they want to do is take off their shoes, sit down, air them out, and some go as far as getting a foot bath. This practice is more than just getting your feet clean; it cools them off and is relaxing. This act of the foot bath pulls out the stress of the day.
What Was Jesus Communicating By Washing the Disciples’ Feet?
Jesus wasn’t washing the disciples feet because of their wayward hearts. He told Peter that he was already clean (John 13:10). Jesus said He wanted to show them His love and give them an example of what was expected of them (John 13:15).
Each of us who have followed Jesus for some time know that there are times when we don’t feel as close to Him. We are not in sin; we are doing everything the same as we have in the past. However, our relationship with Jesus has gone stale.
Sometimes we are weighed down by the burdens of this world or our loved ones. Sometimes we just get lulled to sleep by just going through the routines of our faith. Jesus wanted to show His disciples His heart to be that refreshment to them.
How Can Jesus Wash Our Feet Now?
The example of washing feet is not only refreshing but intimate. Jesus was touching their feet. There was personal contact and closeness with Him. Jesus loves our diligence of regularly studying the Bible. He smiles at our commitment to daily prayer. The disciplines of our faith are necessary to our growth as Christians, but He wants us to have fresh encounters with Him.
Just as He instructs us that streams of living water will flow out of us who believe (John 7:38), He wants His water of refreshment to regularly remove the weariness of this life. The Holy Spirit was given to offer us a continual flow of life from heaven to us.
What is the Application to Us of Jesus Washing Feet?
To be powerful in the kingdom, we need a fresh, regular connection with Jesus (John 15:5). Just as those in Jesus’ time would wash their feet when coming in from daily life, we need to regularly refresh our souls with a connection to our Jesus.
Study Scripture to find how Jesus wants you to meet with Him. Pray to spend time with Him. Share your faith to renew your vision of God’s love and heart. Fast to remove anything that will hinder your connection with Him. Whatever you do, allow it to be a connection point with Jesus (Colossians 3:23).
The Call for Us to Wash Other People’s Feet
While each of us has an individual relationship with Jesus, He put us in the body of Christ to mutual encourage one another (1 Corinthians 12:7). We all have spiritual gifts for the purpose of building each other up. We need to give our gifts to others and let others give to us. We each have something to give as we stay refreshed from God. Those places where God is meeting you contain life for you and for others.
Have you noticed being with new Christians can energize your faith. Their theology isn’t orthodox, but their heart is pure. Their connection with Jesus is fresh and offers life to others.
Those of us who are elder statesmen/women, who have walked with Him over time, can quench the flow of the spirit by giving wise teaching. Our teaching may be completely accurate, but when given apart from a fresh connection with Jesus, it is about as useful as day-old manna.
Finally, whenever we gather together, whether at church services or just the fellowship of believers, let’s look to give refreshment to one another. It is to be our hearts that nobody leaves our company feeling worse than before our time together. Especially to other believers, we are to remind, encourage, fan to flame the hope of our connection with God. Just as God has comforted us, we are to comfort one another (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
We wash each others feet by taking from our own fresh encounter with God and offering them that same connection. The way God has met you contains life to those with whom you share.
Original photo by The Lumo Project