Why did Jesus wash the disciple’s feet?
- As a testimony of his love to his disciples (v1-2)
Verse 1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, 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.”
We can see from this verse that the love Jesus had for his disciples was a special love. But not only for his disciples but for others also. These people are called “his own,” and they are “in the world.” These are a blessed group of people, to be loved by Jesus and to be called “his own.” Certainly Jesus’s disciples were in this group, but I’m sure there were many other of Jesus’ followers that he loved dearly, (family, friends, Mary, Lazarus, etc). These were all people who not only did Jesus love, but they loved Jesus. These are people that followed him and spent time with him. Many of these people had given everything they had to follow Jesus.
We can see that the love Jesus has for his people is love to the end. Unfortunately this is not always the kind of love we have experienced in our lives personally. If you are like me, you have had people in your life that have said they love you, but they have hurt you or left you. Maybe you have somebody in your life that you thought loved you, but it turns out they really didn’t, their love didn’t last. This is not the case with Jesus, the love that Jesus has for his people is a perfect love and it last until the end. The love Jesus has for his people is pure and it comes straight from who he is, for God is love. (1 John 4:8)
Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
The love Jesus has for his people is everlasting, he is faithful until the end. But today the question is, are you part of “his own”? Are you one of Jesus’ beloved? Jesus’ love is open for anybody who will come and take it, it is a free gift. Today Jesus is calling you, “come to me,” and if you come he will also call you “his own.”
- So that Jesus could display both his power and humility (v3-5)
First before looking at Jesus’ humility, let’s look at his power. These verses tell us something special about Jesus, his knowledge. Going back to verse 1 we can see that Jesus knew his time had come to leave the world. Jesus has a knowledge beyond that of a normal person, Jesus knows the future and when things will take place. Also in Verse 3 it says:
Verse 3 “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,”
This is an amazing verse. God the Father has given all things into Jesus’ hands. This means, Jesus has power, real power, all things are in his hands (He is in control of everything). This verse also tells us Jesus came from God and was going back to God. In fact the gospel of John tells us that Jesus was in the beginning with God. Not only before Jesus came to earth, but before the universe began, Jesus was with God and was God. Jesus came to the earth as God’s ambassador, he came to earth as the son of God, sent from God, and after his death and resurrection he went back to God, where he is now and will be for eternity. Jesus is powerful, and knowing his power makes his humility even more amazing, because Jesus, the most powerful person in the universe does one of the lowest jobs he could have done, washing feet.
In Hebrew culture washing somebodies feet was considered so dirty and low that a Jew wasn’t even supposed to do this job. The job was usually only done by a slave. Jesus does things that do not make sense to us as humans. Jesus has more power and authority than anyone, in our mind he should be sitting back, relaxing and having his feet washed. But instead he lowers himself to the position of a slave and serves his disciples out of love.
In Matthew 20:28 Jesus said that he did not come to earth to be served, but instead to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Here as Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, his humility is shown. But he showed his humility in an even deeper way on the cross, when he died for us, in our place. Jesus as a perfect man, never committing one sin, died in the place of sinners, for you and for me.
- To give a picture of spiritual washing (v6-11)
Verse 8 “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
Again, Jesus says something amazing. If I do not wash you, you have no share with me. Why is foot washing so important? This would be a question I would ask Jesus, why does it matter so much that you wash my feet? I think if Jesus was simply washing feet to clean the dirt off of them it wouldn’t matter. But like many things Jesus does, there is a deeper meaning. I believe what Jesus is doing is illustrating spiritual washing with the washing of the disciples feet. Jesus physically washing the disciples’ feet is showing them, and us, how we need him to wash us spiritually.
Peter response to Jesus by saying, not only my feet but my hands and head also. But Jesus says that someone who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, they are completely clean. Then Jesus says that they (the disciples) are clean, but not all of them (talking about Judas). What does this mean what is Jesus talking about? What I think Jesus is talking about is those who are washed, are born again. These are the disciples that have believed in Jesus. They are washed completely from their sin, they are completely clean. Those who have had their sin washed by Jesus don’t need to be washed again.
- To set an example for his disciples and for us (v12-17)
(Jesus gives his reason for washing the disciples’ feet). Now after Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, he tells them the why he has done this. So that they may wash each other’s feet also. Jesus tells his disciples they should do as he has done.
It is interesting that Jesus waited until after washing their feet to explain to them why he was doing it. Often examples are more powerful when you do not realize the meaning or purpose while it is happening. The disciples had to have been thinking the whole time Jesus is doing this, why is he doing this? Then at the end, he gives them the explanation and then they understand the meaning, this was a powerful picture of being a servant.
We can see here Jesus’ call for the disciples to call him Lord and Master not only out of respect for him, but in action. Jesus is telling the disciples, you call me Lord and Master, but I want more than just your words, I want you to live like I am your Lord and Master. Jesus has the same call for our lives. Jesus is not looking for us to simply respect him as a teacher. Jesus wants us to follow him, and following him means doing what he did. Jesus is saying, if I as your Lord and Master act as a servant, you as my disciples must be servants.
Something amazing about Jesus is that he never gives us a command that he himself has not done. Would it be fair for somebody to require you to do something they themself have not done? No. Today we can have comfort in knowing that all that Jesus asks for us to do, he has been through himself. He can relate with all of our struggles, fears, and feelings. In Hebrews 4:15, it says that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because he has been through every temptation we experience, yet he did not sin. When you feel weak, tempted, or afraid, or you simply do not want to do what you know is right. Look to Jesus! Cry out to Jesus, and ask him to give you strength. He is able to help us in everything we do.
Jesus as our Master, Teacher, and Lord, has set an example for all of us. Let us strive to follow Him that we may be more like Him and everything we do.
To give a picture of spiritual washing (v6-11)
One last reason why I think Jesus washed the disciple feet was to give us an example of the washing we need spiritually. I think what Jesus does here is a picture of Justification and Sanctification.
Verse 8: In verse 8 Jesus says something else amazing, “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Why is this foot washing so important? It is important because Jesus is referring to the washing that happens to us when God forgives our sin, this is called justification. Without being justified by God, we are still accountable for our sins, we have no share with Jesus.
Verse 10: Jesus says those that are washed, are completely clean. This is the what justification is (Rom 8:1)
The second washing, the washing of feet, I believe means the washing we need daily for our sins. The washing of justification is once and for all, Jesus says “you are completely clean.” But your feet still need to be cleaned, meaning when we sin we should repent and ask God to forgive us. And this is what sanctification is, it is when we grow each day becoming more like Jesus. We will never be perfect or without sin in this life, but if we are a true Christian God will cleanse us and make us more like him.
Have you been cleansed by Jesus? Jesus died on the cross so that he could justify you by his death, cleanse you and set you free from sin. This is a free gift from God, this is the gospel, and this is eternal life.