Washing Feet – Revisited

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “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, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their 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.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

John 13:6-15

I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here. 

We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, “Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.

We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.

Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.

Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.

I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.

Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.

When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.

Pierced Side

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

John 19:31-37

So much was happening in the moment the soldier pierced Jesus’s side that we need to slow down to take it all in. There are so many layers of meaning here that are easy to miss.

First, we need to remember that when Jesus had finished all He came to accomplish, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus gave His life, no one took it from Him. The other two men who had been crucified with Jesus had not died. Their legs had to be broken to speed up the process of suffocation. With broken legs, they couldn’t push up on the spike that went through their feet. Pushing up would have allowed their lungs some space to breathe. With broken legs, their suffocation would begin quickly.

In this way, we see Jesus fulfill Old Testament prophecies about himself. The first prophecy, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” is about how to prepare the Passover lamb without a braking any of its bones (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). This foreshadowed what would happen to Jesus on the cross. The second word fulfilled, They will look on the one they have pierced,” was from the prophet Zechariah about Jesus’s side being pierced (Zechariah 12:10).

But there is even more happening here than fulfilled prophecy. They pierced Jesus’s side to make sure He was dead. If they saw both blood and water, they knew He had already died. But this blood and water meant so much more than that. Blood and water came from His side. This is important because Jesus had become the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21). When God made Eve, He put Adam to sleep and pulled a rib from his side (Genesis 2:21-22). As the second Adam, Jesus was put to sleep and God birthed the Church, the Bride of Christ, from Jesus’s side. Blood and water is what is released when there is a birth. As Jesus’s side is pierced, we see the blood and water flow from the birthing of the Church.

Blood and water was not only found at a birthing but also in the purification rites of the Temple priests. Priests would enter the Holy Place by first cleansing themselves with the blood of sacrifices and by washing with water in the wash basins. Blood washed them clean from sin. Water washed them clean from “uncleanness.” Sin was a wrong action they had done. Uncleanness/unrighteousness was just the contamination they experienced from living in a broken world. Blood took care of one and water took care of another. Once they were cleansed, they could enter the Holy Place. And the high priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, could enter the Most Holy Place.

The blood and water from Jesus’s side represented Jesus’s own cleansing as He became our High Priest, entering the Most Holy Place of the tomb on the ultimate Day of Atonement, to take away the sins of the world. Not only that, but this blood and water from Jesus’s side allows us to be forgiven of our sin and cleansed from our unrighteousness. The blood deals with our sin. The water deals with our uncleanness/unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

So there Jesus hung, dead on the cross, blood and water flowing from His side. But as we picture Him hanging there, do we see the fullness of what was happening? Look again. Do you see that this was a new Passover Lamb, His blood on the horizontal and vertical beams of the cross instead of a doorframe, not a single bone broken? Do you see that this was a new Day of Atonement, our new High Priest purified with blood and water, so that we could be purified and cleansed by His blood and water? Do you see that this was a new Garden of Eden with the Second Adam painfully giving birth to the Church, the Bride of Christ?

All of this was happening in a moment. All of these Old Testament promises and types were fulfilled in a moment. Layer upon layer upon layer of meaning, flowing from our Savior’s side! All of this was because of His love for you and me. Thank you Jesus!