by Jack M. Lane
Here are some interesting details regarding why we wash feet today as part of the annual Passover observance.
At some time in your life you may have seen a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Footwashing, bread, and wine as part of the Passover ceremony were instituted by our Messiah. They are a new element of worship in the Greek scriptures, not carried over directly from the Hebrew scriptures and the old way of doing things. Of course, bread, wine, and footwashing were a part of people’s lives in Christ’s time, but he used them as important parts of our religious practice.
We talk about bread and wine and footwashing as New Covenant symbols. You can take that two ways:
(1) These are new symbols for the New Covenant, and
(2) These are symbols of the New Covenant observance.
There are those who believe that Christ was re-instituting the old covenant with the bread and wine. For example, in Matthew 26:28, various translations will say something like:
28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (NKJV)
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (KJV)
28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (NIV)
28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (NASU)
28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Not all translations agree on whether it is the New Covenant or simply, “the covenant.” Apparently the Greek word for “new” appears in some Greek manuscripts, but not in others. So it is that there are those who understand this as a renewing of the Old Covenant with national Israel, rather than the beginning of the New Covenant.
Long ago, in the years “B.C.”, the Israelites slaughtered a lamb for Passover and memorialized their ancestors escaping slavery in Egypt. Today, we talk about the slaughter of the Lamb of God and how we escape slavery to sin. What we do today commemorates this pivot point in all of history.
Here is the story, from John chapter 13, New Century Version:
Jesus Washes His Followers' Feet
1 It was almost time for the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that it was time for him to leave this world and go back to the Father. He had always loved those who were his own in the world, and he loved them all the way to the end.
2 Jesus and his followers were at the evening meal. The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to turn against Jesus.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him power over everything and that he had come from God and was going back to God.
4 So during the meal Jesus stood up and took off his outer clothing. Taking a towel, he wrapped it around his waist.
5 Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
7 Jesus answered, "You don't understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later."
8 Peter said, "No, you will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "If I don't wash your feet, you are not one of my people."
9 Simon Peter answered, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but wash my hands and my head, too!"
10 Jesus said, "After a person has had a bath, his whole body is clean. He needs only to wash his feet. And you men are clean, but not all of you."
11 Jesus knew who would turn against him, and that is why he said, "Not all of you are clean."
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and sat down again. He asked, "Do you understand what I have just done for you?
13 You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and you are right, because that is what I am.
14 If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other's feet.
15 I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you.
16 I tell you the truth, a servant is not greater than his master. A messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.
17 If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.
18 "I am not talking about all of you. I know those I have chosen. But this is to bring about what the Scripture said: 'The man who ate at my table has turned against me.'
19 I am telling you this now before it happens so that when it happens, you will believe that I am he.
20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send also accepts me. And whoever accepts me also accepts the One who sent me."
Jesus Talks About His Death
21 After Jesus said this, he was very troubled. He said openly, "I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me."
22 The followers all looked at each other, because they did not know whom Jesus was talking about.
23 One of the followers sitting next to Jesus was the follower Jesus loved.
24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus whom he was talking about.
25 That follower leaned closer to Jesus and asked, "Lord, who is it?"
26 Jesus answered, "I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man who will turn against me." So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus said to him, "The thing that you will do — do it quickly."
28 No one at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas.
29 Since he was the one who kept the money box, some of the followers thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the feast or to give something to the poor.
30 Judas took the bread Jesus gave him and immediately went out. It was night.
31 When Judas was gone, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man receives his glory, and God receives glory through him.
32 If God receives glory through him, then God will give glory to the Son through himself. And God will give him glory quickly."
33 Jesus said, "My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and what I told the Jews, I tell you now: Where I am going you cannot come.
34 "I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.
35 All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other."
Peter Will Say He Doesn't Know Jesus
36 Simon Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."
37 Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I am ready to die for you!"
38 Jesus answered, "Are you ready to die for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will say three times that you don't know me."
I’m amazed at how many religious leaders say, “Yes, Jesus instituted the bread and the wine, so we do those things,” but then they say, “No, he didn’t institute footwashing. He was just teaching a lesson, a principle.” Yet is says very plainly there that he wants us to do it.
On the other hand, there is a risk that, once you have institutionalized something, like the footwashing, it becomes a mere ceremony and is robbed of its deep meaning. We can get so caught up in washing each other’s feet that we forget to have Jesus wash our feet first.
In verse 10, Jesus says, in the NIV, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." In the Greek Interlinear I consulted, Jesus doesn’t say “not every one of you,” but rather, “but not all.” If you’ve had a bath, you’re clean – but not all. If John hadn’t made the reference to Judas Iscariot, we would simply understand that Jesus was saying, “You’ve had a bath. You’re clean – but not all.”
Of course – they would need to wash their feet again, after walking around in the dirt and dust in their sandals. Oh yes, we need to wash our feet, too, in a spiritual sense. We have been washed; we’ve had a bath, and we are clean. But footwashing is another, ongoing cleansing. We still get dirty; we still walk around in the world; we still sin. When Jesus washes your feet, you are restored to a close, personal, intimate relationship with him. At least, that’s the idea; you’re supposed to be restored to a clean and wholesome relationship with him.
If we just start washing other people’s feet, we’re saying, “I’m clean; I can clean you. Then you’ll be clean, too – like me!” That’s absurd. Only Jesus could do that. That’s why he told us to wash each other’s feet. We all have dirty feet. Those of us who have repented, and have been baptized, and have received the Holy Spirit, have had our bath. We’re clean all over – but not completely. There’s still some Judas Iscariot in us.
Too many people still betray Jesus for silver. Too many people re-crucify their Savior and put him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:6). Too many people don’t measure up to the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Too many people still sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Too many people still grasp for an imaginary righteousness that comes from zealous law-keeping, rather than yearning for the righteousness that comes from God through faith (Romans 3:21-22). Too many people still do not have a footwashing attitude.
What can we do? This is where the deeper meaning of footwashing comes in.
In John 13:4, Jesus lays aside his garment. In verse 12, he takes up his garment again. John has carefully chosen his words in his gospel so that when he uses certain words to describe Jesus laying down his garment and taking it up again, Jesus has also used these words a number of times, elsewhere in John’s gospel, to describe how he, Jesus, lays down his life for his sheep, and he also takes up his life again!
For example, look at John 10:17-18 (NIV):
17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again.
18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
Jesus was tempted, tried, and tested in all points, as we are, and yet he didn’t sin. He set us an example in so many ways, in so many areas of our lives.
When Jesus did the footwashing, he was doing more than merely washing feet. From the time he took his garment off, until the time he put it back on again, he was enacting what his death would mean: It would clean us up! When we do footwashing, it’s more than symbolizing a life of service to others. It means we are willing to lay our lives aside. It isn’t play-acting. It isn’t fun and games. It’s enacting how we die in the Last Adam, and are buried with him.
Paul wrote that Jesus “… made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:7-11, NIV)
Jesus wasn’t pretending. He was completely given over to doing his Father’s will. Does God expect any less from us?
I want to include here a poem my wife wrote. As you read this poem, hear the pain which was Jesus’ pain; the hurt that he endured beyond our hurts in life; the lessons he had to learn so he can help us to go through them, too.
The Lamb Helps Me See
by Marty Lane
My friend, my friend, why have you persecuted me?
I think that I know, for The Lamb Helps Me See.
I needed to know how it feels to be betrayed,
So I can know heartache that won’t go away.
I needed to know that a hug or a kiss can change
Into “Please go away,” which seems very strange.
I needed to know when I kneel to pray
That the cup can pass from me, but sometimes must stay.
I needed to know how my calling, and what God wants me to do,
Will be judged by others who call them untrue.
I needed to know that my character can be assassinated.
Lies will be told; a lack of love is how it’s created.
I needed to know how tongues can wag in arrogant claim
To bring down the guiltless with whip-stripes of pain.
I needed to know how friendship is denied –
Three times denied – godless, undignified.
I needed to know, when I hunger and thirst,
That to strive over words drives the nails and the hurts.
I needed to know to forget and forgive.
From the Lamb’s mercy I’ve learned how to live.
I needed to know when man’s blood runs cold,
To sacrifice the self to let God’s plan unfold.
My friend, my friend, why have you persecuted me?
I know from the Lamb’s life that I can be free.
Whatever I’ve lived through, he lived it for me.
I know, and am sure now, for The Lamb Helps Me See.
“John 13-17 - Foot Washing,” By Gary DeLashmutt
“The Lesson of Foot Washing,” by Jerold Aust
Good News Magazine, March/April 1997
“Significance of the Footwashing,” Copyright 1995 Ben Johnston, 1999, 2007, ed. Wade Cox
“What is the profound meaning of Jesus washing the disciples' feet on night he was betrayed?”
Written by: Bill Keesee, Taken from Forerunner Magazine, © 2002 Church of the Great God
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.