I shared some of these thoughts shortly before Easter Sunday with our college students. Something interesting takes place in Jesus’ life as He begins the last 24 hours before the Cross. We see a gradual process of Him shedding His divinity. Each moment, He makes Himself weaker, lower, smaller, and more vulnerable. As they celebrated the Passover, it was a highly emotional time for Jesus, not just because of the impending suffering, but because He was saying goodbye to His best friends. Yet, they were still so slow and dull. “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he 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 and to wipe them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:1-17).
There are many churches that still institute foot washing in their services, not just during Holy Week. We have done this several times during prayer retreats, leadership meetings, or solemn commissioning times. While it could be awkward at times, it’s also a powerful and anointed time that only adds to the Communion experience, further accentuating Christ’s arrival as the ultimate servant.
In the Middle East, foot washing was a common occurrence at people’s homes due to the arid climate. People wore open sandals in the dry, hot climate but the result was getting dirt, sand, and possibly manure caked on their feet. Now, Jesus’ friends still couldn’t grasp what was about to happen, and instead vied for power and position. “And they began to argue among themselves as to who would be the greatest in the coming Kingdom” (Luke 22:24). They are celebrating, drinking, eating. Yet in the corner sits the towel and basin. In a final attempt to display His purpose, Jesus takes the initiative to demonstrate unconditional love to His friends. How humiliated they must have been–their master and teacher groveling on the ground like a slave.
Why are feet so important?
They symbolized authority and dominion. Kings would step on the neck of their vanquished foes. And now, the King of kings was bowing before His own students. It illustrates our role as believers.
- We are to be prepared at all times for any situation. Nothing should catch us by surprise. “…and with your feet fitted with readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
- We are to run the race. “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win” (I Cor. 9:24-27). Paul admired the athlete’s dedication and discipline. Likewise, we must stand firm: watch where we’re going and what we’re doing. “My, son, if sinners entice you, don’t give in to them. Do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood” (Prov. 1:10. 15-16).
- We are to defeat the enemy. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet“ (Romans 16:20). We are given authority for spiritual warfare and earthly dominion.
- We are to go into all the world. “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:13-15). God’s grace has changed us and we should want to see others changed too. A missionary to India told me about Mother Teresa, about how physically, her feet were unattractive. They had been dried and calloused through the years of service in Calcutta. But he declared, “She has beautiful feet!”
Why do our feet need to be washed?
- They are our direct contact with the world. Being in the world, we pick up dirt. Spiritually, we pick up junk, attitudes, thoughts, and impurities. Jesus recognizes our need to be washed and cleansed. Then, we can reach out to one another.
- They get rough and calloused. In our hearts, we often get desensitized by our surroundings: adversity, disappointments, hurts, pain, etc. These things start us focusing on ourselves rather than others—we’re no longer in servant mode.
Why do we need to wash one another’s feet?
“Now that I, Your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
- So we can be identified as followers of Christ: servants.
- So we can receive God’s enablement to serve. We can’t do it on our own. At a very young age learn to be selfish. There’s so much emphasis placed on operating in the supernatural. If we want to operate in the supernatural, we must become servants. Service is alien to this world, it’s not natural. It requires us surrendering our schedules, sacrificing our time, and sowing into other people’s lives. This means accepting everyone and forgiving when we don’t want to. That’s not easy because we don’t always want to minister. But even in the toughest of situations, Christ exemplifies yet again the position we are to take. “When He had finished washing their feet…” This included Judas, the one who would betray Jesus.