Jesus washed the disciples’ feet on the last night He spent with them before going to the cross. What is the significance of this act?
After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. (John 13:12-15)
In biblical times, the act of washing feet when a guest entered one’s household was sometimes done by the guest themselves. But in some cases, the house servants would be responsible for doing this.
Given what footwear must have been like, and walking being a primary mode of transportation, it had to be a disgusting job for whoever did it.
Everyone has that one job, that no matter how low they get, they just won’t do. It’s just too embarrassing, too messy, to unfulfilling.
Now, picture doing that job, but doing it in front of your closest friends.
Now, imagine doing it for your closest friends.
The Church Emphasis on Jesus Washing the Disciples’ Feet
John’s Gospel is the only one that records Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. There are several details about Christ’s life on earth we only get from John. This one has had a lasting impact on the church.
The ceremonial act of foot washing is still observed by many denominations today, some even considering it a 3rd ordinance alongside baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The term Maundy has roots in both Old French and Latin; we use it today in the term Maundy Thursday during the Holy Week of Easter.
That means alongside Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we have a day set aside that refers to this specific act of Christ’s. It is clear that this passage describing where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet has been revered by many believers over time.
And yet, it signifies more than mere religious ceremony. It is a command to be obeyed.
The Commandment to Wash Each Other’s Feet
As His disciples, Jesus expects us to follow Him in obedience. Christ is gracious to us in that He spells out what is expected of us, without ambiguity, if we are ready to follow Him in surrender.
For example, here where Christ has given us this command, He makes it clear that we are to do this for one another. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he repeated this 3 times for emphasis: You ought. I have given you an example. Do as I have done.
To make sure the disciples didn’t miss the point, He did more than just tell them to wash each other’s feet. He took on the role of a servant and did it Himself. Let me say that again; Jesus Christ took on the role of a servant. Before Jesus went to the cross, He washed the disciples’ feet.
Even if we didn’t understand by observation, the Bible tells us of the humility that Christ put on when He came to earth in human form (Philippians 2:5-8). And now, here Jesus, the Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is washing the disciples’ feet. Their dirty, dusty, smelly, sweaty, nasty feet.
So what was Jesus trying to teach us when He washed the disciples’ feet?
The Significance of Jesus Washing the Disciples’ Feet
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, it was a lesson in true and complete humility. And this was the lesson; that we are to treat each of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as more important than ourselves.
Now, this is a message that Jesus taught the disciples often.
One time when the disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus told them that the one who would be first among them would have to take on the role of a servant to the rest (Mark 9:33-35).
In teaching about prayer, Jesus commends the man who beat his chest and called himself a sinner, saying that by his humility he went home justified (Luke 18:9-14).
Another time Jesus contrasted the way disciples of His should act as opposed to the rulers of the world who “lord it over” others (Mark 10:42-45).
As disciples of His, we should be willing to serve each other, no matter how low, how embarrassing a help it is. We should be willing to go to any lengths to show unfailing love to each other.
When we are tempted to withhold service from others, we need to remember: If Jesus can wash our feet, we should be ready to wash anyone’s feet. For it is in so doing that we are obeying Christ in the 2 greatest commandments.
Jesus showed a willingness to exhibit great humility to those He loved. As His servants, how can we do any less?
More verses about being humble servants to each other: