A Servant's Towel

Dear Brethren,

"Jesus Christ rose up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a servant's towel, and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the servant's towel wherewith He was girded." (John 13:4-5) Extrapolating backward, the translators of the Amplified Bible correctly added the word, "servant's," to this passage. Why did Jesus wash the disciples feet, and why did He tie the footwashing command to the New Testament Passover? What spiritual lesson should we draw from the footwashing?

When Jesus said, "You also ought to wash one another's feet," He was giving us a most important instruction (John 13:14). Is the footwashing optional, or is it commanded? Why must we wash the feet of others? Some people think that the footwashing is for the sole purpose of teaching us to be humble. The footwashing does require that we have a humble attitude, but it means much more than merely humbling ourselves by washing the feet of others. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of acquiring a false humility as a result of the footwashing ceremony. By His example, Jesus was teaching us how to serve others just as He has done. The footwashing is about learning to serve one another in a spiritual way.

Not having yet received God's Holy Spirit, the disciples could not understand the spiritual aspect of the ceremony Jesus was establishing. "Then came Jesus to Simon Peter: and Peter said unto Him, Lord, is it for you to wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou know not now; but you shall know hereafter." (John 13:6-7)

"Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." (John 13:8) The footwashing, when performed in the spirit in which Jesus established it, assures our place in the Body of Christ, the Family of God, the Kingdom of God and eternal life. "Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus said to him, He that is washed need not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all."
(John 13:9-10)

Jesus establishes here that Peter has been forgiven - washed all over - cleansed from sin through baptism. When Jesus said, "He that is washed, need not wash except his feet, but is clean every whit." Jesus was alluding to baptism which cleanses a sinner completely of all past guilt. And, Jesus shows here that the yearly footwashing is still necessary and required.

Sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:2). Because we are in the flesh, we are not perfect. Sin can and does occur after baptism, and must be acknowledged, repented of and forgiven (1 John 1:8-10). The footwashing is a needed spiritual cleansing - because we come short throughout the year - we are sinners - and Jesus Christ is our advocate, comforter, intercessor and consoler. "If any man sin, we have an advocate [parakletos] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1)

Though we were once washed at baptism, the footwashing symbolizes our renewed commitment to walk in the newness of life that we made at our baptism. Because we are yet sinners, the yearly footwashing indicates our desire to "clean our slate," so to speak, in a reaffirmation of our baptismal vow. But, this explains only having our own feet washed. Why is it necessary to wash the feet of others?

"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought [ must, obligated, duty-bound ] to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." (John 13:12-15)

In the same way that we want to be clean before God, He requires us to help other brethren to be clean before God in our common spiritual quest. Jesus taught, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13) Jesus laid His life down for us, so we must lay our lives down for others - but how do we do that? When a brother or sister has strayed and allowed a serious sin to enter their life - we must serve them by going to their spiritual rescue, no matter what it takes - that is laying down our life for them.

James tells us how we are to go to the rescue of every brother or sister in Christ who is experiencing a spiritual problem. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converts [turns around] the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20) This is a perfect example of the spiritual application of the footwashing. We, therefore, must wash the feet of one another.

Not only must we have an attitude of being willing to lay our life down for others, we must actively intervene in their lives whenever they go astray so that they may live. "Truly, truly, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them... A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:16-17, :34-35)

Jesus gave us this priority: "Whoever would be first and foremost among you, let him be your bond slave, even as the Son of man came not to be waited upon, but to serve, and to give His life..." (Matt 20:27-28)

The footwashing ceremony defines our relationship with God and our fellow man. The footwashing symbolizes our renewed commitment to walk in the newness of life that we made at our baptism. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)


Sermon:  "A Servant's Towel"