Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14-16, 24-30; John 13:1-20
"I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you." – John 13:15 NLT
There is so much going on in this scene. As Jesus eats the Passover meal with His disciples one last time, the occasion is overflowing with symbolism. Here was Jesus, the real Passover Lamb, taking this meal one last time with His disciples. He knows what lies ahead, and it is an emotion-filled time for Him. He knew that He was the fulfillment of all for which the Passover celebration stood. In just a few short hours, He would be offering up His life as a sinless sacrifice. He would be shedding His blood. He would be dying for the men who were sharing that last meal with Him. Jesus had a mission to accomplish. He had a final task to perform before His job was complete. "Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God" (John 13:1-3 NLT).
One of the things we must recognize in order to understand the significance of this event is the critical nature of purity and holiness to the Passover celebration. A great emphasis was placed on cleansing. The two disciples who were sent to prepare for the meal would have spent a great deal of time ceremonially cleansing the room in which they were to take the Passover meal together. Everything in the house would have been cleansed. All leaven would have had to have been removed from the house. Each man would have had to ceremonially wash his hands before eating the meal. But the disciples had evidently missed one thing: No one had washed their feet. Why? More than likely because there was no household servant to do it. They were in a borrowed room. Normally, a household servant or slave would have performed this demeaning task. So when they entered the room, they simply overlooked this detail. More than likely because each of them were too prideful to do it themselves. That's what makes what happened next so significant. "So he [Jesus] got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him" (John 13:4-5 NLT).
Jesus did what they would NOT do. Here was their leader and master, their teacher and their self-confessed Messiah, stooping down to do the one task that none of them would do. He humbled Himself and slowly, methodically went from disciple to disciple, washing their filthy feet. Peter, probably embarrassed, tried to keep Jesus from washing his feet. He protested, “No, you will never wash my feet!” (John 13:8 NLT). But Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me” (John 13:7 NLT). Upon hearing this, Peter demands that Jesus wash his hands and head as well! But Jesus told him that was unnecessary. His feet were what needed washing and Jesus was taking care of that neglected, but essential oversight. Purity, cleanliness and holiness were essential to the Passover meal, but these men had neglected something important. All out of pride.
Peter didn’t understand. None of the disciples did. This was an illustration. Jesus was acting out for them what it was He was about to do for them in just a few hours. He was going to serve them in death. He was going to sacrifice Himself on their behalf. All so that they might be fully clean. Jesus was demonstrating for them the kind of attitude or mindset that He wanted them to have. He was showing them the true nature of His Kingdom. It would be one of servant leadership. It would be marked by humility and not pride. It would be characterized by humble, sacrificial service. Paul reminds us, "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross" (Philippians 2:3-8 NLT). Jesus Himself had said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).
Jesus came to serve. He came in humility. He came to sacrifice Himself on behalf of others. He came to provide cleansing. He came to make us righteous and acceptable before God. The true significance of what Jesus was doing would hit them later. “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important that the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them” (John 13:12-17 NLT).
All of these men, except for Judas, would eventually do just as Jesus did. They would end up serving others. Fifty days after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit would descend and fill these men with power, equipping them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. They would suffer greatly for the cause of Christ. They would sacrifice their time, energy and talents to make sure that the Good News was spread around the known world at that time. They would be persecuted, misunderstood, arrested, beaten and, in time, each of them would end up sacrificing their lives so that others might be cleansed. They would end up as martyrs for the cause of Christ. They would do as Jesus had done. This was not about the washing of feet. It was about humility and selfless service for the cause of the Kingdom. It was about purity, cleansing, and holiness. It was about the need to ensure that all men received the cleansing made available to them through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to let our pride get in the way. We can't let embarrassment or ego prevent us from doing what needs to be done. We must have the mind of Christ. We must share His attitude of selfless, sacrificial service and an unflinching willingness to do the will of our Father.
Father, I want to have the same attitude that Christ had. I want to see my pride increasingly diminish so that I might do as Jesus did. I want to learn to serve selflessly, even doing those things that no one else will do. I want to serve in ways that mean I don't get any credit and I don't receive any accolades. Jesus did the unthinkable. He did the distasteful. He lowered Himself and did what no one else could or would do. May I be willing to do as He did. Amen.