Introduction: Perhaps the most sacred spot in the Bible is the Upper Room of John 13-17, where all the worry, anxiety, and grief of the ages settled into a particular room in concentrated form for one night. It happened during Passover in Jerusalem on the eve of our Lord’s crucifixion. The room, hidden away somewhere in Jerusalem, was presumably lighted by candles or torches, and the air was thick with tension and foreboding. Our Lord’s betrayer was present and even the devil showed up. In John’s account, the evening began with shock—Jesus bathed his disciples’ feet. That complex and wonderful story is layered with meaning.
1. An Expression of His Love (John 13:1). First, when Jesus bathed the feet of his followers, it was an expression of his love. It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
In Bible times feet-bathing was commonplace. Most people traveled on foot and didn’t have orthopedic shoes. When they arrived at someone’s house their feet were tired and maybe swollen and dusty. The hosts would have basins of cool water so guests could bath their feet. Based on Genesis 18:4, I’m not sure the host typically did this. The guest bathed his own feet, unless the home was wealthy enough to have servants or slaves who assumed the humble task. In the Upper Room, Jesus, who sees every need and misses no opportunities to serve, began bathing his disciples’ feet. It was his way of expressing his love for them. The Lord Jesus has a thousand ways of expressing his love for us every day. He meets our needs. He refreshes us. His blessings are an outflow of love lavished on us. If we were as aware of this as we should be, we’d go through the entire whispering, “Thank you, Lord; thank you, Lord; thank you, Lord.”
2. An Exhibition of His Mission (John 13:2-5). When Jesus bathed the disciples’ feet it was also an exhibition of his mission. Notice how carefully John describes this, beginning with verse 2: The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
The action of bathing the disciples’ feet was symbolic of his entire mission. The Lord Jesus Christ, the everlasting God the Son, rose from his place at the head of the universe, descended in humility, laid aside the prerogatives of his deity like a man laying aside his clothing, became a servant to cleanse his people. And having done so, he rose from his humility, re-clothed himself with glory, and resumed his place on the heavenly throne.
3. An Emblem of His Forgiveness (John 13:6-11). This also becomes an emblem of his forgiveness, which becomes clear in the passage thanks to Simon Peter. Peter was uncomfortable when Jesus came to wash his feet, and at first he refused. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “”not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.
Through John’s commentary we know this wasn’t just about bathing feet. Jesus laid aside his glory and came to earth as a servant to provide total cleansing. When we come to the Lord Jesus and trust him to forgive our sins, we are cleansed and never need to be bathed in that way again. He forgives our sins past, present, future, and always. But along the way in our daily walk we get the dust of the world on us, we stumble, we stub our toes, we get in the mud and mire; and the Lord washes our feet. He not only provides total and eternal forgiveness; but he provides the daily maintenance necessary for us to have a cleansed daily walk with him. Jesus bathes us at Calvary and washes our feet day by day by grace. That was the living experience of everyone in that room that night with one glaring exception—Judas, who had never truly given his heart to the Lord Jesus. And that leads us to the fourth lesson.
4. An Example for His Followers (John 13:12-17). When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “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 also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
From the other Gospels we learn the disciples had been arguing with each other. This was our Lord’s final attempt prior to the crucifixion to bring unity to his splintered disciples. He was trying to help them realize they simply need to serve each other and to stop worrying about which was the greatest or the most gifted or the most fortunate.
Conclusion: Only one person in the Upper Room that night missed having his feet bathed. It wasn’t Judas. Even Judas felt the gentle hands of Jesus pouring water over his feet, for that night our Lord even bathed the feet of the man who was about to betray him. No, it wasn’t Judas. It was Jesus Himself. Though he bathed the feet of others, as far as we know no one did the same for him. No one returned the favor. He was denied even this last simple refreshing creature comfort on the eve of his crucifixion. But today we can rectify the record, for we are bathing our Lord’s feet whenever we serve the least of his brothers and sisters. When Jesus bathed the disciples’ feet, it was an expression of his love, an exhibition of his mission, an emblem of his forgiveness, and an example for his followers. It was a lesson twenty-four feet long. And because He loves us this tenderly and personally, we never need to worry about anything. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Jesus loves you.