“Jesus Washing Feet”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

The Bible contains many truly revolutionary ideas, but of them all the strangest may be the concept that the greatest should be the servant.  This was alien to the people of Jesus’ day.  Back then, people uniformly believed that the greatest should be. . . the greatest.  Even today, 2000 years after Jesus’ ministry, in a country in which most people claim to be Christians, most people consistently put their own interests ahead of the interests of others.

This year, our theme is “Living for Jesus”, which is why Clay and I have been doing so much preaching, teaching, and writing about Jesus.  If we truly want to live for the Lord, though, that means that we cannot be living for ourselves.  If we want to eradicate the disease of selfishness from our lives, only Christ can show us the way.  With this in mind, then, let’s turn to an episode from the final evening of His ministry.  Let’s consider what we can learn from Jesus washing feet.

We’re going to spend most of our time this morning in John 13, and the first section of the foot-washing story is about JESUS’ MOTIVATIONS.  Let’s read from John 13:1-5.  The first thing that we see here is that Jesus acted out of love.  Washing feet was usually the responsibility of the lowest-ranking slave of a household, but here, the Son of God on earth lowers Himself to do the task.  Why?  For the same reason that the Son of God came to earth in the first place—His love for every member of the human race. 

Even today, love does not exalt itself.  Love does not boast.  Love does not insist on getting its own way.  Instead, love serves.  If we are like Jesus, we too will serve others, even in the most humble ways possible.  It’s not demeaning for a Christian to bring a meal to somebody, clean their house, mow their lawn, or even scrub their toilet.  Instead, when we act from love, we make even the lowest task noble.

Second, we see that Jesus acted because He knew who He was.  He came from God, and He was going back to God.  Washing the disciples’ feet didn’t change His value or His worth.  Today, I think the people often refuse to be humble and serve because they’re afraid of losing who they are.  They’re worried that if they give in to somebody else, that will lessen or diminish them. 

That might be true for people in the world, but it’s not true for Christians.  Like Jesus, we’re children of the King.  Our lives are hidden in Him.  So long as we remain righteous, there is nothing we can do or that anyone can do to us that will alter that truth.  If I don’t insist on my own way, guess what?  I still have an eternal inheritance waiting for me that makes any earthly squabble look insignificant.  Jesus has given us everything, and that frees us to serve like Him.

In the second section of this story, PETER MISSES THE POINT.  Look at John 13:6-11.  When Jesus gets around to Peter with His basin and towel, Peter pitches a fit.  Then, when Jesus explains to him that anyone who doesn’t let Jesus serve them isn’t Jesus’ disciple, Peter goes to the other extreme.  He sees what Jesus is doing, but he doesn’t see the lesson.

In this, I think there are two lessons for us.  First, we need to learn to let others serve us.  Many Christians, myself certainly included, have real trouble with this.  We will be first in line to help somebody else, but when the time comes to be helped ourselves, we make that as hard for other Christians as possible.  I know sisters in Christ who would haul themselves up out of their deathbed and crawl around the kitchen making a meal rather than letting themselves be put on a meal train!

Brethren, this is something we need to work on.  First, when we don’t allow others to serve us, we are denying them an opportunity to imitate Christ, and that’s a cruel thing to do to a disciple.  Second, we need to be aware of the seductive illusion of self-reliance.  Who are we to think that we don’t need help from anybody?  Deep down, do we believe that we ought to be able to manage our sin problem on our own too?  Fundamentally, being a Christian means being honest and admitting we can’t.  When others want to help us, we have to be honest about our need for that too.

Second, notice that Peter also goes astray here in wanting to turn Jesus’ service into a ritual.  He wanted Jesus to wash all of him, even though only his feet were dirty.  Jesus refuses because there wouldn’t be any point to that.

So too, we need to be careful about turning Jesus’ actions here into a ritual.  There are, of course, religious groups who engage in ritual foot-washing.  However, they’re missing the point just like Peter did.  It’s not serving anybody to go around with a basin and wash a bunch of clean feet!  This is a text about meeting needs, not going through the motions, and we need to keep our focus on that.

Finally, we see JESUS’ APPLICATION.  It appears in John 13:12-16.  The first thing to notice here is His call for His apostles, and indeed for us, to imitate Him.  This is one of the places, I think, where it really helps us to look at the other gospels.  John doesn’t tell the story, but according to Luke 22, during the Last Supper, the apostles returned to one of their favorite pastimes—arguing about who was the greatest.  One can well imagine the argument raging until Jesus, who is greater than all of them, rises from the table without a word and does something for them that none of them would have lowered themselves to do.

Hopefully, we usually have the good sense not to argue that we’re the greatest, but all of us struggle with that attitude from time to time.  We think that other Christians ought to listen to our opinions.  We think that things ought to be done in the church according to our preferences.  We might not say that we are the greatest, but maybe we want to be treated like it.

Jesus’ example here shows how foolish that is.  He really was the greatest, but He served like the lowliest.  If the Lord Himself didn’t insist on His place, that doesn’t leave much room for any of the rest of us to do so, does it?

That’s where the power of this story lies.  It’s not a call for us to scrub feet that don’t need scrubbing, and then to go on putting ourselves first.  It’s a call for us to adopt the spirit of our foot-washing Lord.  If there are feet that need washing, we’ll wash them.  If there are toilets that need plunging, we’ll plunge them.  For the disciple of Jesus, no act of service is too low, because we know that the lowliest service makes us more like Him.