In the Sunday sermon, we got to see a striking example of Christian humility in John the Baptist. When required to give testimony about himself to the Jews in John 1:19-28, John adamantly confesses that he is no one special, that he is only a voice, and that he is ultimately an unworthy slave of God and of Jesus the Messiah. To stress his lowly position, John asserts that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, a task considered so humiliating and degrading by Jews in those days that only slaves would do it for others. Thus, when John confesses that he is not even worthy of doing this slave-level task for Jesus, John gives us a great example of the attitude we should all have as Jesus’ disciples.
Something I did not mention in the sermon, though, is how John the Baptist’s words find greater significance later on in John the Apostle’s Gospel, for we soon hear about one who actually does undo the sandals for another and even washes his feet. But it isn’t one of Jesus’ disciples doing it for Jesus; it is Jesus doing it for his disciples!
In John 13:1-20, in his last Passover meal with his disciples before the cross, Jesus, the God-man, the eternal word made flesh, does what was culturally unthinkable at the time: the rabbi washes the feet of his own disciples. The disciples are, of course, stunned, and Peter temporarily refuses to let Jesus humiliate himself in this way (Jn 13:8). But Jesus insists, and Peter and the others acquiesce.
Why does Jesus the master take this role of a slave before his disciples? For a few reasons: 1. Jesus profoundly demonstrates his great love and humility, the same love and humility displayed in the entire incarnation and especially the work of the cross (Jn 13:1; Phil 2:5-8; Jn 15:13); 2. Jesus teaches his disciples about their need for continual cleansing from sin (dirty feet) even while they have already been fundamentally saved in Jesus (a bathed body) (Jn 13:10); and 3. Jesus provides an instructive example for his disciples to do as he did to one another:
John 13:13-15, You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
What an amazing God! What an amazing Savior, that no task is too low for him to undertake on behalf of his Father and his own! May we indeed obey his command to wash our brethren’s feet and, thereby, wash the feet of our great Christ (Mt 25:40).
Questions to Consider:
1. What is the significance of Jesus, while knowing of the coming betrayal, still washing Judas Iscariot’s feet (Jn 13:10-11)?
2. Have you ever literally washed another person’s feet? Would you be willing to do so?
3. How might you figuratively wash the feet of your Christian brethren?