First-century Palestine was a dusty place. There were no Nikes, Hunter boots, or paved sidewalks to be had. There were no splash pads on which to rinse off playground dirt. No modern conveniences to make life more comfortable. Men and women walked dusty streets day in and day out with sandals or bare feet—dirty and sweaty. Because of such conditions, culturally, it was an honor for a host to provide a servant to wash the feet of his guests.
The Disciples Encounter the Lowly Christ
Passover (a celebration of God liberating the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt) was the most important week of the Jewish calendar, making this the most important meal of the year for the disciples. Jesus invited them to share this meal with Him in the Upper Room. To their surprise, Jesus did not provide a servant to wash their feet; rather Jesus Himself was the servant. Although they had regularly seen Jesus bend low and serve the unlovely, the unwanted, the uninvited, it must have been striking to behold the role reversal—to see their leader, the Messiah, bend a knee to them and remove their dusty sandals to wash their feet. Jesus’ selfless service quickly became quite personal.
The disciples still viewed Jesus through the lens of a conquering king, waiting to take His rightful place. So to witness their King take on the posture of a feet-washing servant must have been shocking. Peter likely spoke for the group when he emphatically responded to Jesus with “No, you shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8 NIV).
Jesus explained His actions when he said in John 13:15, “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you” (NIV). The significance of Jesus’ act was not only to demonstrate the character of humility He desired in His followers, but it was a picture of His coming self-sacrifice on the cross, the culmination of His servitude, which was hours away at this point. Reflect on the connection between Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet with His death on the cross. Jesus’ point was that He was doing this so that we may have life. To reject His sacrifice is to reject life.
We see the change especially in Peter, who said no, that Jesus would never wash his feet, and then came to understand that Jesus embodied the type of servanthood to others—a spiritual humility—to which He would call His disciples (vv. 14–15). Peter wrote later in 1 Peter 1:22 “Now that you have purified yourself by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (v. 22). He got it. Do you understand what Jesus has done to you by washing the disciples’ feet? He has called you to a humble life of service (John 13:12–16).
How can you figuratively, maybe even literally, follow Jesus’ example and wash another’s feet in humble service this season?
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