Love and the Footwashing

Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.

Such evil welling.

From hell, of course. The end of Jesus must be by forces gushing from there.

Almost we do not see it. It is the last Thursday of Jesus' life on earth. He is now busy, privately, ministering to His disciples. He will institute the Lord's Supper in place of the Passover. He will instruct His disciples in many things about the kingdom. He will offer a beautiful high priestly prayer. He and the disciples will go to the garden and there Jesus will pray more....

Such good and godly things! All is well!

But hell.... Look at hell's evil welling: "And the supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him..."(John 13:2).

Judas will go out. He will call the wolves. And the devil in him will be calling the devils. Wolves of hell. Hellions from hell. Gates of hell. To devour the Son of Man. To undisciple and scatter disciples.

But look! Now is love. "When Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (John 13:1).

Hell is hell, I tell you. And evil is welling. But who is king? Is He not Love? Is He not Love now?

Yes! Love! Love rules hell. Love thwarts hell. Love instructs. Love comforts. Love prays. Love will save. Love is loving!

Jesus' love! Father-love! If such love is now, what shall we fear? Will not Love-now always be Love?

Behold now: Love washing feet. Sin-cleansing, soul-cleansing love. Love welling ... in you? Footwasher too?

For Study, Meditation, & Discussion

1. Circumstances, Customs, and a Clarification.

John 13 is the only record of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples on that last Thursday. What do the parallel accounts in Matthew 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-25, and Luke 22:8ff. tell us of the circumstances leading up to and following the feet washing? Glean from a Bible dictionary or other source to answer questions such as the following: What were some of the customs associated with the eating of the Passover? What do we know of the custom of the washing of feet in Palestine?

Evidently, when Jesus and the disciples had come to celebrate the Passover meal together, the room was all ready for feet to be washed: there was a pitcher of water, a basin or bowl to pour the water and wash the feet, plus a towel to dry off the feet after they had been washed by hand. All was ready, except, that is, for one thing: there was no one to wash the feet! There were no servants. And none of the disciples had volunteered.

As to the time when Jesus Himself rose up to wash the disciples' feet a clarification is in order. John 13:2-4a (KJV) speaks of it being the end of the supper when Jesus rose to wash the feet. But this is clearly not the proper translation. Three things prove this: 1) The Greek reads simply: "the supper having come to pass," that is: it being supper time; 2) Verse 26 shows that the supper was still in process after Jesus washed the disciples' feet. 3) Footwashing would normally take place before a meal. Therefore, we ought understand Jesus to have washed His disciples' feet immediately before or sometime during the supper.

2. The Spiritual Reality of Christ's Washing (vv. 4-11).

What does Jesus say in His conversation with Peter to indicate that there is a spiritual reality signified by the washing of the feet (vv. 8, 10)?

Cite texts in Scripture which refer to salvation as a washing (e.g., Psalm 51:7; Titus 3:5). What is washed (away) in salvation? How are we washed?

The cleansing work of Jesus is twofold. There is His work of justification, or the blotting out of our guilt, and the imputing to us of His own righteousness. There is also His sanctifying work in us by His Spirit, cleansing us from the corruption of sin. How might Jesus be referring to this twofold work of cleansing in verse 10 when He says: "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit"? (Hint: Jesus says here that we are clean "every whit," that is, totally. But still our feet must be washed. Might the first clause refer to our legal status as those justified in the sight of God, and the latter clause refer to the necessity of daily cleansing and sanctification? Cite other texts to support or refute this claim.)

How is the truth of the necessity of Christ cleansing us brought out in the protest of Simon Peter (vv. 6-9)? How does Peter in his protesting represent all men as they are apart from grace?

Jesus at this time washes all the disciples' feet, including those of Judas. Judas, however, was never cleansed, spiritually, by Jesus. This is brought out in verses 10, 11, and 18. How does this compare to the baptism of all the children of believers in the church?

3. The Example for Us (vv. 12-17).

After Jesus sits down again He tells the disciples that what He has just done in washing their feet is an example for them, that they should follow Him and wash one another's feet. He argues (vv. 13, 14) that since He whom the disciples call (literally) the Master and the Lord has condescended to wash feet, they ought also to wash the feet of each other. And further, lest the disciples think this beneath their dignity as apostles (v.16), they must remember that Jesus is far greater then they, and that if He did not think it beneath His dignity to wash feet, neither should they. 

What about this calling of disciples of Jesus to wash feet? Some have thought, and still do, that we are all literally to wash each other's feet. Is this true? Just how are we to wash each other's feet? Is Jesus saying by this simply that we should serve each other? Or is there something more, something in our serving, which corresponds to "washing" each other spiritually? In other words: Is Jesus saying of us that we are and ought to be His "cleansing agents," used of Him, somehow, in the washing of the people of God? If so, how can we help each other get rid of the dirt? How is our washing one another different from Jesus' washing of us?

Fundamental to this footwashing is a humble, serving spirit. How do the disciples show at this time that this was exactly contrary to their nature (Luke 22:24)? Jesus is our example also in the right attitude we should have. He was humbled low. The Son of God, the Lord and the Master of the universe, the heir of all things, and all things now given into His hand (v. 3), continues to serve.... How do we develop and show this serving (vs. self-serving!) spirit in our hearts and lives?

4. Love unto the End (v. 1b).

This washing of dirty feet is a lesson in Christ's loving us unto the end (v. 1). Jesus' love is the reason why He cleanses us with His blood and by His Spirit, and why at this time He teaches of this spiritual cleansing by washing the disciples' feet. His love, flowing freely to us, and unconditionally to us, will never end. He does not love His disciples only to the end of His life on earth, and then stop loving them. No, He loves them unto the end of this age, and then beyond, in the eternity of the new heavens and earth.

In your circumstances of life, right now, do you know that Jesus' love has not stopped? What of your future: can you say that Jesus will love you to the end?

5. Perspective.

Jesus, the foot-washer, is the Christ, the Son of God. List several characteristics of this Christ, and His love, which the footwashing brings out. How especially does this passage reveal Jesus as the humble Servant of Jehovah? List other instances in Scripture of Jesus serving Jehovah and His people.

Do you believe this Christ, this Savior? Do I? 

Believing is knowing, with heart, mind, and soul, this wonderful, feet-washing, soul-cleansing Jesus. Believing is following, with humble, thankful heart, the example Jesus has set for us, and washing others' feet. Judas Iscariot knew all about this Jesus. But he did not truly know Jesus Himself, or follow Him. And what of us: how do we show true faith? 

In this knowing of faith, and in this serving, is, Jesus says, happiness (v. 17). Judas, in his unbelief and diabolical treachery, was a very unhappy man. Later he would go out and hang himself. But for disciples, in the way of faith and following Jesus, there is happiness. 

Are you happy? Even happy in the midst of sorrow? If you are not, the only explanation is that you are not trusting this Jesus, or not serving Him. For "unhappy circumstances," trials, afflictions, losses of whatever sort cannot undo the happiness of salvation. 

Just think: there is Jesus. Evil welling. Such evil welling. It will be a cross and death and hell for Jesus. And yet He is trusting His heavenly Father. He is serving. Love unto the end. Happy. Though it be a cross. Though it be such a cross. Happy ... for our happiness! 

Evil welling? All is well!