The Foot Washing
Why did Jesus Christ add the footwashing ordinance to the New Testament Passover? Why wasn't foot washing a part of the Old Testament Passover? What lessons should we draw from the footwashing? Why must we wash the feet of others? What did Jesus mean when He said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me?" Is the footwashing optional, or is it commanded?
On the evening before He died, Jesus, having Godly authority, rose from supper, laid aside his garments; took a towel, girded himself, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet. In doing so, He began to institute a New Testament commanded ordinance. The Old Testament Israelites did not have a footwashing ceremony, because without God's Holy Spirit, they were unable to be cleansed of their sins. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)
"Then cometh He to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." (John 13:6-7)
Not having yet received God's Holy Spirit, the disciples could not understand the spiritual aspect of the ceremony Jesus was establishing. 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." (1John 2:1)
"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) Because of its significance, the footwashing for Christians is an obligation in assuring 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 saith to him, He that is washed needeth 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," He was alluding to baptism which cleanses a sinner completely of all past guilt. "For He knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean." (John 13:11) In addition to being a reference to Judas Iscariot, this statement by Jesus shows here that a yearly footwashing is still necessary and required.
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 our "own slate clean" before God, He requires us to help "clean the slate" of others. We, therefore, must wash the feet of others. God makes His forgiveness of our sins contingent on our forgiveness of others. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15)
"Verily, verily, 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; 13:34-35)
Jesus' example was to serve humbly and totally. "Every man that is among you must not think of himself more highly than he ought to think." (Romans 12:3) Jesus gave 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..." (Matthew 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: "The Foot Washing"