READ : John 13:6-10
Some things we have to do for ourselves. No one else can manage them for us or even compel us to do them. Think about smiling, swallowing or speaking. If we don’t initiate those actions ourselves, they won’t happen, will they? But there are other things that we do need help in, that we can’t manage on our own. And one of them is the cleansing of our lives from sin. Listen to this remarkable passage of Scripture. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 13, verse 3:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over.”
The theme that comes to me from this passage is: Let Jesus cleanse you.
LET JESUS TEACH YOU
For starters, we need to let Jesus teach us.
Let’s try to imagine ourselves in that Upper Room on the last night Jesus had with His disciples. He was sharing a meal with them before His crucifixion. There was tension within the group as they gathered. Luke’s Gospel tells us the disciples had been quarreling about who would be the greatest, the chief, the Number One in God’s new kingdom. Some were ready to claim that place of eminence for themselves. Others were indignant at the thought of such presumption. Maybe that’s why no one bothered about the footwashing.
In those days, the washing of feet was an important form of courtesy. Travelers didn’t wear shoes as we know them today but simple, flat soles held on with thongs. It didn’t take long, walking on dirt roads, for a person’s feet to become dusty, sweaty, uncomfortable. When you were a guest in someone’s house, reclining at table with your legs stretched out behind you, a servant was usually assigned to pour cool water over your feet and wash them. That must have felt good. Today we show little courtesies like taking the coat of a guest or offering a beverage but this was a much more personal and needed service.
When no servants were present, the disciples probably were accustomed to doing such things for each other. But on this night, apparently, no one cared to do it. “Why should I serve the rest?” each man thought. “They’re no better than I am. I’m nobody’s slave. Let someone else take care of it.” Imagine it: this was the Lord’s last night with them, and they were consumed with pettiness. They were hardly ready to hear what He had to say to them, and how much He had to share! His mind was burdened with grave concerns. Jesus knew that His hour had come; the climax of His ministry was at hand. Death and departure from this world were very near for Him.
If ever a man had reason to be preoccupied with his own thoughts, Jesus surely did at a time like this. But strangely, His heart was altogether with His disciples. John puts it this way: “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1). Remember, one was soon to betray Him. Others would forsake Him and run away. All of them seemed at this moment anything but lovable. Yet Jesus loved them utterly.
Silence falls over the group. All you can hear is the tinkle and splash of the water in the basin as Jesus moves about the circle. No one knows what to say. No one, that is, except Peter. When His turn comes, He’s puzzled and uneasy: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” What, he wonders, could be more incongruous, more unseemly than that! The Master at the feet of His followers! Jesus answers, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.”
This wasn’t the only time when Peter felt he knew better than the Lord. When Jesus spoke once of His sufferings yet to come, Peter began to remonstrate with Him: “God forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to You!” Later on, after Jesus’ resurrection, when the apostle was instructed in a heavenly vision to “rise, kill, and eat,” Peter said, “No, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth” (Acts 10:14). Isn’t that an interesting combination of words: “No, Lord”? If we truly call Him Lord, how can we say no? Young Samuel had a better way: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9). The Lord, as Wisdom personified, says in one of the Proverbs, “Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors” (Prov. 8:34). The Father’s voice from heaven said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
I was reading recently the biography of an outstanding missionary who told about a spiritual crisis in his life. Listen to his words, “A battle raged in my soul for quite a long time until at last I made a great leap. In my heart of hearts, I committed myself to live in the world-view that Jesus lived in until He made it clear to me that I should change.” That’s it. Living in Jesus’ world view, looking at things as He saw them. That’s an important part of what it means to be a disciple. Let Jesus teach you.
LET HIM WASH YOU
Next, let Him wash you. Peter’s well-meaning impulsiveness is getting him in even deeper. “You shall never wash my feet!” he says indignantly. It sounds like humility, doesn’t it? It sounds like the noble spirit of a man who won’t submit to something unseemly. But it’s really a kind of pride and rebellion. Jesus says in response, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” The Lord had said earlier that Peter would understand all this later. That was a word about what Jesus would yet do for him and for all the rest. The apostles would only understand the footwashing in the light of the cross. Jesus was pointing to a deeper washing, a far greater humiliation on His part. His blood would be poured out for them. His death would cleanse them from sin. That’s what the footwashing symbolized: His supreme service of love on their behalf.
What Jesus was saying to Peter and to us is that we must be cleansed by Him if we are to belong to Him, if we are to partake of Him and know Him. This is the only basis on which we can be in a right relationship with Jesus Christ. He must wash us. There is no other way.
Oh, remember that, friends. There’s no living bond of fellowship with Jesus Christ without His cross, without the cleansing He brings. Think of Him as example, prophet, master. He is all of these to us. But at the deepest level, if He is not our Savior, we are not truly His.
There’s something in us that wants to come to Jesus on our own terms. We’ll let Him help us toward the good life, teach us what we need to know, make us well-rounded personalities or world-changing workers. We’re ready for that. What we’re not ready for is the humbling word that we need to be washed. But that’s what it takes to belong to Jesus Christ. We begin in the Christian way not by learning answers or keeping rules or making promises but by accepting with a trustful heart His gift of cleansing. Out of that receptive faith grows the distinctively Christian attitude toward Jesus: a blend of penitence and gratitude, a sense of boundless indebtedness to the One who saves us by His poured-out life.
We can refuse, we can reject His loving offer to wash us. We can say no, and He won’t force His grace upon us. But to refuse is to cut ourselves off from Christ, from forgiveness and from hope.
DAY BY DAY
Peter doesn’t want that. “Lord,” he responds, “not my feet only but also my hands and my head.” “If washing is needed to belong to Jesus,” says Peter, “let me be washed all over.”
Jesus told him that wasn’t necessary now: “He who has bathed does not need to wash except for his feet.” The Lord seems to speak here of one great cleansing and a host of little ones. When we believe in Jesus Christ, when we receive Him by faith as our sin-bearer, our Savior, we are washed completely, fully cleansed, totally accepted. That happens once for all when we come to Christ.
But as we move about in this world, our feet get dirty, as it were. Every day we contract new, partial defilements. We need to be cleansed again. We need our “feet” washed. But that’s not like becoming a Christian all over again. It’s like letting Jesus cleanse us afresh in the places where we need it, day by day.
I believe the Lord wants us to pray what’s called The Lord’s Prayer daily. After all, don’t we ask in it: “Give us this day our daily bread”? And don’t we need that every day? Of course! Well, in the same prayer we’re told to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Apparently we run up fresh debt every day. Each day’s walk brings some defilement, some wandering, some sin that needs confession and cleansing. That’s why the apostle John writes to his brothers and sisters in Christ: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). They had already done that, of course, when they came to Christ in faith, but John is saying that as they become conscious of sin each day, they’re to confess it and receive fresh cleansing. Here’s the cheering promise about that: “the blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from sin.”
If you take your shower in the morning, you don’t usually need another one right before lunch-time, do you? But you may need to wash your hands in preparation for a meal. Jesus says to all of us who have truly trusted Him as Savior, “You are clean.” Yes, that’s who you are now: a child of God, an heir of heaven, someone washed and made clean, a believer. And yet, you don’t stop needing Jesus and what He has done for you. As John Calvin once put it: “Christ always finds in us something to cleanse.”
So let the Lord teach you. Learn to listen daily to Him in the Scriptures and in your prayers. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Let Him show you His way. Second, let Him wash you. Realize that only as one cleansed through the sacrifice of Christ can you belong to the Lord and live as one of His children.
And finally, once He has cleansed and redeemed you, let Him minister to you every day. Confess your sins whenever you become aware of them. Accept His forgiveness anew each time. And then go on your way rejoicing. Remember, all that you know of pardon and peace is through His stooping love, His cross, His life poured out for you.
Prayer: Father, let everyone sharing this program partake of the gracious cleansing Jesus gives. Let every one of us realize how great our need of Him is, and trust Him fully. In Jesus’ name. Amen.