WASHED BY CHRIST
SERMON PRESENTED ON 04-15-06
In John, Chapter thirteen, we have the account of Jesus and his disciples being together for one last meal before He would be arrested and subsequently crucified. During the meal Jesus took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He proceeded to pour water into a basin and begin to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who questioned him about what He was doing. Peter asked "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter objected. "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet:
Peter was not being obstinate in telling Christ that he would never allow Him to wash his feet. Peter was simple taken aback at the thought that the one he had come to believe was the promised Messiah would stoop so low as to wash his feet. Peter had been with Jesus for three and one-half years. He had witnessed the power of Jesus in seeing Him perform many healings, casting out of demons and even raising the dead. He had witnessed on two separate occasions the miraculous feeding of thousands of people from a few loaves of bread and a few fishes. He had been on the mountain with James and John when Christ was transfigured before them and they witnessed His glory.
Now here at this final meal before the crucifixion, this man Jesus, for whom Peter had the utmost respect, whom Peter recognized as the Son of God, this great man was about to perform the lowliest job a servant could perform. Wash someone’s feet. Peter was flabbergasted. How could this be happening? Why would Christ be doing this? I can’t allow Christ to do this. This is way beneath what the Son of God should be doing.
How did Christ reply? Christ replied: "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, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his 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 every one was clean."
It should be obvious that Christ washing the disciple’s feet had a lot more significance than removing the dirt and dust from between their toes. In Luke’s account of this get together, Luke shows the disciples arguing among themselves about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom.
Luke 22:24-27: a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus is not disputing the fact that there are levels of authority and rulership. This is necessary in any government or kingdom. What Christ was pointing out to His disciples is that such rule and authority should have as its focus the serving of others. The kings of the Gentiles promoted themselves as benefactors but in reality were out to serve themselves at the expense of those they ruled. Christ was pointing out to His disciples that the goal is not the achievement of personal greatness but maximizing the welfare of those being ruled.
In washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus was visually demonstrating what the attitude of a leader should be. Jesus knew these men would be in the forefront of preaching the gospel and facilitating the development of the New Covenant Church. He was intent on instilling in them the correct focus. He was also preparing them for what was about to happen.
When you read the Gospels, it becomes quite apparent that the disciples did not really understand that this man called Christ Jesus would have to suffer and die. Israel was expecting the Messiah to appear, not as someone to be killed, but as a warrior king who would lead a successful revolt against Rome and reestablish the Davidic Kingdom. The disciples had come to view Christ as this promised Messiah and looked upon him as the one to restore the Kingdom to Israel.
Mark 8:27c-30: Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
The disciples understood Jesus to be the Christ, the promised anointed one. They did not see this anointed one as being killed. They saw this anointed one as the anticipated deliverer to come, the one who was going to set Israel free from Roman oppression. Just as in Old Testament times when God's servants such as Moses and David were anointed ones used by God to deliver Israel from their oppressors, so now they saw Christ as an anointed of God to deliver Israel from Roman rule and restore the rule of the Kingdom of Israel. The disciples were not looking to see Jesus arrested and crucified. When Jesus tole them this is what was going to happen they would not accept it.
Mark 8:31-32 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Matthew 16:22: Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
Its apparent from the scriptures the disciples did not understand Christ must die and be resurrected. When Peter, James and John came down the mountain after the transfiguration, Christ gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Scripture records they did keep what they had seen to themselves but that they also were discussing among themselves what rising from the dead meant (Mark 9:10). At the meal before the crucifixion, it is apparent the disciples didn’t understand what was going to happen in the next 24 hours. They expressed surprise when Christ said one of them would betray Him.
John 13:21-29: After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him. But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
The disciples didn’t have a clue as to what was about to happen. Even though Christ plainly told them that He would be betrayed by the person to whom He gave the piece of bread and after receiving the bread the disciple Judas immediately got up and left the room, they concluded it was for some other reason that Christ said what he said and did what he did. These men had a totally different paradigm as to why Christ came. They did not understand He had come to be a suffering servant who would be killed for the sins of mankind.
When Peter questioned Christ about washing His feet, Christ made this statement: "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." What did Christ mean by that statement? In washing their feet Christ was preparing them for the events that were about to unfold. They expected Christ to be a conquering king who would set up a physical kingdom and defeat Israel’s enemies. It’s been speculated the reason Judas betrayed Christ is that he was trying to force the issue and make Christ come forward as king. In washing their feet Christ was showing them His kingdom was of a different nature. It was a kingdom not of the flesh but of the spirit. It was a kingdom of forgiveness and service and its leadership would serve the people and not lord it over them. Christ was preparing them for what was about to happen, something they would not realize then but would understand later.
Christ told Peter that "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Peter may not have totally understood what Christ was saying but he knew one thing for sure. He wanted to have part with Christ. He wanted it so bad that he wanted Christ to wash his whole body. Again we see Christ’s answer.
Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his 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 every one was clean.
This answer from Christ reveals there was much deeper meaning in this washing of the disciple’s feet. Christ appears to be speaking of a spiritual cleanliness as He now addresses the group and speaks of their being clean but not all of them. He knew Judas was not spiritually clean as he was about to betray Christ. So what lessons can we learn from this event in the life of Christ.
Lesson #1: We obviously learn that being a servant must be a primary focus of our lives. Paul told the Galatians, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13). We serve one another in love by behaving toward one another according to the law of love. The law of love is the moral law that has been in existence since creation. We serve one another by using our talents and gifts to better the lives of others. Peter told his readers:
1 Peter 4:10: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
Lesson #2: We learn that it is important to step out of the box. The disciples were so stuck in a particular paradigm of what they thought Christ was all about that they failed to see the forest because of the trees. Christ had plainly told them He would be killed and three days latter would be resurrected. Because they were seeing Christ from only one view point, they apparently just shrugged off His statements about death and resurrection and continued to view Christ from one dimension only. Even after visiting the tomb and finding it empty they still didn’t understand from scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
John 20:1. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb, first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes,
When it is stated that the other disciple believed, it is apparent that what he believed was the women’s report that the body was missing, not that a resurrection had taken place as the following statement indicates they still at this point did not understand from the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. What we can learn from this is to be very careful about our paradigms. We can easily become one dimensional in our thinking and fail to see the big picture. It is our responsibility as Christians to search the scriptures to learn God’s will and purpose. Our search must be done with a willingness to go wherever the evidence may take us even if it means abandoning previous paradigms. We have a great scriptural example for this in Acts 17:11.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
The example here is that we should always be eager to learn but also be careful to be sure what is being learned squares with scripture. The disciples had come to believe Jesus was the promised Messiah. They apparently had not bothered to carefully study the scriptures and ask the right questions to get the whole story.
Lesson #3: We must embrace Christ totally. We must seek to be in total partnership with Christ and allow Christ to be in total partnership with us. When Jesus told Peter that, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Peter didn’t hesitate. He was willing and desirous of having Christ wash him completely. The message here is not about having a clean physical body in order to be part of Christ. The message is one of spiritual cleanness. We are washed by the blood of the lamb. That is what the resurrection is all about. Christ died so we don’t have to. Yes we all physically die but spiritually we are alive in Christ. Spiritually we live beyond physical death because of what Christ did on the cross and because of what happened three days later.
There are a number of references to being washed in the New Testament scriptures. By context we see that it is spiritual cleaning that is being alluded to. In his letter to the Ephesian church Paul speaks of how Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27). In his letter to Titus Paul wrote this: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:4-5). We see this theme of being washed in a variety of other scriptures.
Hebrews 10:22: let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Revelation 22:14: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
Revelation 7:13-14: Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
It is because we are washed in the blood of the lamb that we have right to the tree of life and are able to enter the city. It is because of the blood of Christ that we are washed and cleansed from a guilty conscious as stated in the letter to the Hebrews. It is because of the blood of Christ that we are saved and granted a washing of rebirth as Paul wrote to Titus.
When Christ washed the disciple’s feet, He prefigured for them the spiritual cleansing that would become available in less than 24 hours. The very next day He became the sacrificial lamb whose blood was shed for the sins of the world. Three days later he rose from the grave. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ because it is the foundation of our Christianity. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 15:18-20: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. Let’s celebrate this event not just during this season of the year but every day of our lives.