The meaning of footwashing

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Why did Jesus wash the disciple's feet at the beginning of his last Passover? What is the profound meaning of performing a footwashing service during the yearly commemoration of Jesus' death? Which of Jesus' twelve disciples REFUSED to have him wash their feet?

In the 13th chapter of John we find Jesus performing a simple act during his last few hours on earth that reveals not only his true character but the character he wants ALL believers to develope. Jesus' act of humility teaches so much and is so critical to the life of a Christian that he commands all those who follow him to do the same.

Interestingly, John is the only one of the four gospel writers to record Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples during Passover. John, the last gospel writer, may have wanted to include information Matthew, Mark and Luke left out.

What is known as the "footwashing ceremony," found in John 13, offers us a glimpse of Jesus' character. Just like Jesus, Christians should wash each other's feet as a humble act during the yearly Passover service.

How did Jesus serve?

At the very beginning of his last Passover Jesus performs a simple task with a profound meaning.

14 If I then, your Master and Rabbi, have washed your feet, it is also your duty to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example in order that you may do what I have done to you. (John 13)

What a humble action our Savior performed! The custom at the time was that it was left to the lowliest servant to perform the disliked duty of washing the dirty, filthy feet of strangers or travellers before they entered a house.

Jesus also makes it very plain that he did not expect from the disciples (or us, by extension) something he himself did not do. This is the mark of a true spiritual leader.

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Peter's objection

We find something rather odd when Jesus approaches the disciples in order to wash their feet. The first person to receive this humble act was Peter. When Jesus was about to wash his feet Peter responded with an answer that seems way over the top.

6 But when he came to Simon Peter, that disciple asked, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' 7 Jesus answered, 'You don’t really know what I am doing, but later you will understand.' (John 13)

Peter, who seems like he doesn't believe what Jesus said, rejects having his feet washed (verse 8). Jesus' rather blunt response, however, finally gets Peter to change his rejection.

'If I don’t wash you,' Jesus told him, 'you don’t really belong to me.'

Peter then responds with another over-exaggerated answer that his whole body should then be cleaned (verse 9). Jesus' short answer is both revealing and full of spiritual meaning.

People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. (verse 10)

When a person is baptized and receives God's holy spirit they become spiritually clean before him and come under his grace and mercy. Jesus Christ's blood covers them entirely and washes completely away all their sins. The pulls and temptations of human nature, however, still exist after baptism. As a person lives their life they will, of course, still sin. The disciples were certainly not sinless preceding the Passover - in fact, shortly after the service they all RAN from Jesus when he was arrested and Peter DENIED him three times! When a true Christian does sin God does NOT treat them as if they were never baptized or received his spirit. They are still his spiritual children. God as a loving parent sees their sin, in a sense, as a setback and a flaw they need to repent of and overcome. In his eye's his children have only gotten their "feet' dirty, and not their whole bodies.

Jesus' simple act of footwashing teaches us the kind of humility God wants us to have.

Obedience brings happiness

After washing the feet of all the disciples Jesus sat down to explain what he had just performed. He closes his explanation with both a command and a promise.

17 If you know all this, blessed are you if you act accordingly. (John 13:17)

Those who considered themselves true believers are commanded to perform footwashing during the yearly (not weekly or monthly!) observance of the Christian Passover. If they do as Jesus commanded - if they obey the words of God - they will be blessed.

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