I must wash your feet

Mar 23, 2008 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: Sacrifice | Category: Sacrifice
Scripture: John 13:1–13:17

It was time to celebrate the Passover, and nearly three million people had traveled to Jerusalem for this most sacred of Jewish feasts.  Word had spread quickly among the people that Jesus of Nazareth, who had raised Lazarus from the dead, was on his way to the feast.

And they wondered could he be the one that King Solomon had written about so many years before?

"Behold, O Lord, raise up their king, and gird him with strength that he may shatter unrighteous rulers. He may purge Jerusalem of the nations that trample her down. He shall destroy the godless nations with the word of his mouth. Hosanna!"

Was this man, Jesus of Nazareth, the king who had come to shatter, to smash and to purge?

As Jesus made his way into Jerusalem, there was a celebration reminiscent of the welcome given to Simon Maccabaeus in 141 B.C. on the eve of his triumphant conquest of the occupying Syrian forces.

Thousands lined the road, waving palm branches and shouting, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Blessed is the King of Israel! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David!"

These were words sung to conquering hero's who had come to liberate the people of God.  The words came directly from Psalm 118, written at a time when Israel was surrounded by warring nations, but God rescued her.

Could Jesus be this king, the long awaited Messiah, the one who had come to liberate Israel?

Jesus was indeed the king but he was not the kind of king the crowds expected.  In fact, for some, he was a huge disappointment.

A few days later when Jesus and his friends had gathered for a meal and the disciples were thinking about the kingdom of God and their imaginations were running wild with dreams of thrones and power and glory.  

In fact, Luke tells us in his version of this story that the disciples were engaged in a dispute as to which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom.

And in the midst of a celebration of triumph and glory, no one could have ever imagined what Jesus, the king, was about do - especially Peter.

Jesus stood up from his place of honor, and took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and he began to wash the disciple's feet in a basin of water and then dried them with the towel around his waist.

Peter couldn't believe what he was experiencing.  It was horrifying to see the king of kings washing his stinky, dirty feet; this is the work of servants not the work of royalty. 

In fact, Peter would have been perfectly comfortable washing Jesus' feet.  That would have been normal.  But to see Jesus, the great I AM, the one who had come as king to shatter the unrighteous stoop before him and begin to reach for his dirty, smelly feet that is not normal and he wasn't going to have any part of it.

And so he said to Jesus, "You shall never wash me feet"

And Jesus responds, "Then you shall have no part in me". 

It is as if Jesus were saying, "Peter, if you do not let me be who I am, if you do not let me stoop down and act on your behalf to cleanse you, you will have no fellowship with me, and you cannot enter the kingdom."

Well, the thought of missing out on the kingdom got his attention and he exclaims "If you must wash my feet, than not my feet only but my hands and my head also."

Jesus has to clarify his point, "a person", he says, "who has had a bath, needs only to wash his feet, and his whole body is clean."

What does that mean?  Well, before attending a banquet, people of the first century would take a bath at home in preparation of the great feast.  As they would make their way to the banquet, their feet would get dirty from the mud and dirt and so the only thing that needed washing once they arrived was their feet.   

Washing Peter's feet pointed to the only thing he needed - the Cross of Christ.  And Jesus is using this living parable to tell his disciples that "You only need me to wash your feet, to lay down my life for you.  My death for you is all you need to enter my kingdom".

By his death we are cleansed and we are made worthy to enter the banquet of the King.

After Jesus had this exchange with Peter, he then took back his place of honor at the banquet table and he says to his disciples "Do you understand what I have done for you?

"You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet."

And this is significant . . .

Because in that room that night was another disciple, who also had BIG dreams about what Jesus was supposed to do but this Jesus of Nazareth whom he had followed for three years turned out to be a big disappointment. 

His name was Judas; and he betrayed Jesus for a few bucks.  And although Jesus knew exactly what Judas was going to do, Jesus washed his feet.

You see, on that night Jesus had the clearest sense he had ever had in his life that he was the son of God.  He knew where he had come from and where he was going and no sooner did he gain clarity on all that, that he was on the floor wiping the mud and dust off the calloused feet of grown men - even those who would betray him.

In this foot-washing scene, Jesus shatters our concept of divine royalty and he shows us what it means to be God and he tells us what it means to be a follower of the King of king and Lord of lords.

I wonder . . . would you allow Jesus to wash your feet?

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