The text for this lesson is John 13:1–17
- God pours out His love for me by sending Jesus to serve me by saving me from sin, death, and the devil and by empowering me to serve others in His name.
- Law: I fail to recognize the depth of my sin and think I can cleanse myself.
- Gospel: Because of His love for me, Jesus is willing to stoop down and take on the role of a servant, washing away that which is most disgusting and perverse in me.
- The washing of the disciples’ feet takes place on Thursday evening of Holy Week. Foot washing was normally done by the most menial of slaves, never by a master. When Jesus says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10), He is referring to common ancient practice. Walking on dusty roads in Bible times made one’s feet extremely dirty. Those who had recently bathed would be clean except for their feet, which would need to be washed again.
- Our Lord’s washing of His disciples’ feet is a beautiful picture of the love He has for all people. John sets the stage early by saying that Jesus had “loved His own who were in the world” and that “He loved them to the end” (v. 1). John then tells us that Satan had already entered Judas’s heart to betray Jesus (v. 2). Nevertheless, Jesus still washes Judas’s feet. When Jesus becomes the chief Servant of humanity, no one is left out. Jesus even washes the feet of the man whom He knew would betray Him into death.
John goes to great pains to highlight our Lord’s humility. Jesus lays aside His outer garments, ties a towel around His waist, pours water into a basin, and kneels before the disciples’ feet (vv. 4–5). These feet have been walking down from the disciples’ campsite on the Mount of Olives through the filth of the city streets. They are probably caked with mud and dung. For this reason, foot washing was the role of a slave, the lowest of servants. A master would never do such a thing for his disciples.
Peter is so shocked by what Jesus is doing that he says, “You shall never wash my feet.” Peter doesn’t understand that Jesus is taking the role of a slave in order to show that our sin corrupts and taints us so severely that we have no hope of making ourselves clean. He tells Peter that if He does not wash him, he will have “no share” with Him (v. 8). The point is clear: only God can wash away our sin. The dirt, dung, and filth of the streets that cling to the disciples’ feet point inward to the sin that completely saturates our flesh.
When Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, their whole bodies (which had probably been washed earlier in the day or week) are clean. The cleanliness of their skin is meant to point to the fact that Jesus has come to wash away our sin. He accomplishes this through His death on the cross and delivers it in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Even so, Jesus says that not all of His disciples are clean (vv. 10–11). Even though Jesus forgives the sins of all people through His death on the cross, this does not benefit us unless we receive the benefits of that forgiveness through faith. Judas is unclean, even though Jesus washes his feet. He is unclean, even though Jesus will forgive his sins on the cross. Apart from faith, the benefits that Christ wins on Good Friday are lost to us.
The washing of the disciples’ feet is also an example for us. If Jesus willingly takes on the very form of a slave and performs an act of humble obedience, then there is no act of loving service that is beneath us. Whether changing a baby’s diaper, cleaning the house, or helping a parent or friend with a job that is dirty and disgusting, we are serving our neighbor in love and fulfilling the tasks God has given us to do.