Scripture Text: John 13:4-10 Title: Clean or Dirty?

Question of the Day: Was the Lord’s washing of the disciple’s feet because they were clean or dirty?

The bottom line in this account of Jesus’ washing the disciple’s feet is obviously that Jesus was teaching the disciples the importance of learning to stoop down and be a servant to those we are ministering to—and that is a badge of honor for the believer. But what other main truths are seen in this scene at the table that night? Who was clean and who was dirty? And who needed what to be cleansed?

Let’s look at today’s text: “Jesus then got up from the table and took off His outer garments, picked up a towel, and prepared to serve. Then He poured a basin of water and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel over His arm. When He came to Simon Peter, Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You aren’t going to wash my feet? Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you don’t understand now, but you will understand later.’ Peter then said, ‘You will never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I don’t wash your feet, then you are not part of My team.’ Peter answered, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but my hands and my head.’ Jesus said to him, ‘When a person is washed, only his feet needs to be washed and he is clean—but not all of you are clean.’”

Next we have the greatest example of servanthood given to us by our Lord. Jesus waited until after the supper part of the meal to wash their feet and dismiss Judas and give His disciples final instructions before His crucifixion. He rose up, laid aside His garments and prepared to do the work of a servant. He took a towel, tied up His undergarments so He could work, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel. We are told that this is one of the jobs that a servant would do in those days. So is this something that the Master should do? Why would He do it? (He would explain it to them later.)

Everything came to a halt when Jesus came to Peter to wash his feet. Peter’s words were startling and firm: “Lord, are You going to wash my feet?” Peter would be humiliated if Jesus stooped to wash his feet. The rest of the disciples probably felt the same way, but Peter was bold enough to speak up and say something. Jesus explained to Peter that he didn’t understand what He was doing then, but He would understand later. How much of the Christian life is built around the fact that much of what we do in the body of Christ is not understood—yet. But the promise from the Lord is that we will understand much much more later on.

Peter got much more bold (like he did when he took Jesus aside to rebuke Him for speaking of going to the cross) and refused to let the Lord wash his feet at all. What words of embarrassment and rebuke to the Lord, “You will never wash my feet.” Peter had to be thinking that he should be the one to wash the Master’s feet, but because He had taken the role of a servant—well, later he would understand. The Lord’s answer to Peter was both firm and direct and to the point: “If I don’t wash your feet, then you have no part with Me (or, you are not part of My team).”

Notice how gently the Lord dealt with Peter when it was Peter who didn’t understand what was going on and why the Lord would want to wash his feet. Jesus was telling Peter that if he didn’t allow the Lord of the universe to serve Him, then he didn’t understand what it was that Jesus was doing, and he would not be part of, really, part of the kingdom of God. That is a pretty strong statement, but when you look at Peter’s answer, it is clear that Jesus was forceful and Peter, because of his lack of understanding, was at least uninformed. Simon Peter’s answer back to the Lord was quick and swift.

Here is Peter responding with a little more information, a little more understanding, and also with a willing clean heart wanting to get it right and respond properly to the Lord. “Lord, don’t stop at just washing my feet, give me a bath—wash my feet and my hands if it means that I can be part of Your team and have a part with You.” Peter’s response shows the heart of Peter. He dearly loved his Lord. He wanted to serve Him wholeheartedly. He wanted to “jump in with both feet” into whatever the Lord was doing—not knowing that in a few months he would be the head of the church in Jerusalem and one of the first great leaders in church history.

Jesus’ answer to Peter not only ended the conversation here about footwashing, but it is also a transition to John’s next topic: the explanation of what He was doing in washing their feet and the dismissal of Judas to go and do his dastardly deed. First, Jesus had just told Peter that if He washed his feet, then he would be clean all over. What Jesus meant by that is revealed in the next phrase: Peter’s heart was willing and clean, but Judas’ heart was calloused and hard and unrepentant and he was ready to do a “dirty deed” (since we are talking about cleanliness here). So who had the clean heart and who needed the clean feet? Jesus gave Judas one more chance to repent before he did an evil deed, and our Lord gives us many opportunities to clean up our lives before we make a major mistake. Do we want to live clean or dirty?

Prayer: Lord, we are so grateful that You have cleaned up our lives. We now live with a clean and clear conscience—even though we are still growing in You—because You became a Servant and a Savior and a Redeemer so that we could live clean. Teach us to be like You in every way. Lord, clean me up often—I need it!  Amen!