Text: John 13:1-17
Jesus must wash the dirtiest parts of our lives.
As Peter watched the Lord bend down to wash the other disciples’ feet, something within him rejected the idea. I believe that it was Peter’s pride that would not allow the Lord to touch him. Although I do not know from the text precisely in what way Peter’s pride kept him from allowing Jesus to touch him, I have observed four different types of pride that often keep people from bringing our sinfulness to Jesus to be cleansed.
Pride #1: I’m Not Dirty: Often people reject the idea of coming for Jesus for cleansing because they falsely believe that they are already clean. These days, this sort of pride most often manifests itself in the rejection of sin as an objective reality. If you don’t believe in sin, you will never come to Jesus for cleansing. In fact, the very idea of Jesus cleansing you becomes offensive to you. The Bible teaches us very clearly a conclusion that any objective observer of human behavior will come to: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is no one righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). Yet our pride often blinds us to the sin in our own life so that we try to explain it away or justify it.
Pride #2: I’m Cleaner Than Him: The pride of comparison This pride may admit that one is not perfect, but will immediately turn outward and point out the sins of others to diminish one’s own need for cleansing. Peter watched the Lord cleanse the other disciples feet and didn’t have any hesitation or rebuke. But when the Lord turned and kneeled in front of him, that is when his pride was threatened. Peter was the leader of the group – they all looked up to him. Jesus wouldn’t undermine his spiritual condition in front of everyone else, would he? This pride says, “Yes, Lord, I’ve sinned. But it’s me! I’ll be alright, you know that. You go on and take care of the others first.” This is the pride of people that believe that as long as they are not the worst sinner they know, God will let them into heaven. Listen very carefully. The Bible says, “we all must face the Judgment seat of Christ.” On that day, we will not be graded on a curve based on how much cleaner you are than the next person. The book of Revelation tells of the kingdom of heaven and states that “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27).The standard is perfection. If Jesus finds dirt on you, you are out, no matter how much your pride says you are cleaner than others.
Pride #3: You Can’t Clean Me: The pride of condemnation This pride is actually sometimes confused with humility, but it is a false humility. This false humility tells us that we are so low, so wretched, so sinful, so unlovable, that we run away from Jesus for fear that his touch will only hurt us more. Often people who have been abused physically or emotionally display this sort of pride. They believe that they deserve commendation and have fallen beyond hope of God’s grace. “You will never touch my feet, Lord,” they proclaim with Peter. This is prideful and false because we have chosen to believe the lie that we’ve constructed or others have convinced us of rather than the truth that God has revealed. These are hard lies to unlearn. The truth, if we are humble enough to accept it, is that God created us to reflect his image, he loved us enough to send his Son to die for us, and he cares for us to cleanse us through his Son’s intimate touch.
Pride #4: I Can Clean Myself: The pride of control This pride says, “Yes, ok, I’m dirty, but I can clean myself.” I once had a Chinese student of mine admit this. He understood that he was a sinner, but believed that with just more self-control, with just more education, with just more accountability, with just more government, with just more laws – then we could overcome sin. The problem is that all of the solutions to clean us are created by dirty humans. Any attempts to clean ourselves will only make us more and more dirty.
This is the reason why Jesus says in John 13:8, “If I don’t wash you, you have no share in me.” We cannot cleanse ourselves. We have to allow Jesus to touch and wash our dirtiest parts. The Bible calls this repentance. Repentance is the act of bringing the dirty parts of our lives to Jesus for cleansing. It involves illumination, the Holy Spirit showing us those areas of our lives that we must bring to Jesus for cleansing. It involves confession, the act of agreeing with God that we have filth in our lives that needs his cleansing. It involves forgiveness, the act of Jesus removing the stain of our sin and holding it against us no longer. Finally, it involves faith, the act of trusting that Jesus and Jesus alone can cleanse us of our sin and that once he has removed it, we are clean.
We are clean, but still need washing
After Jesus tells Peter that he must be washed, Peter exclaims in verse 9, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!” Jesus responds in verse 10, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." I believe that Jesus was teaching his disciples an important lesson about the nature of the Christian life. When one comes to Jesus to wash him of his sins through repentance and faith as I described above, he is completely clean in God’s eyes. All of his sins have been forgiven by Christ and he has been completely bathed clean by the blood of Jesus. This state of being eternally cleansed is symbolized powerfully in baptism – you have died in Christ, the old has passed away, and are raised again to live in Christ as a new creation. The theological word for this is justification – some remember it as “just-as-if-I-never-sinned” because that’s how God regards us. Yet we all know that salvation does not make one perfect.The new Christian still deals with some of the dirty parts that continue to fester because of years of ingrained patterns, addictions, consequences and ignorance. Also, the Christian continues to live within the confines of this world and all of its temptations, godless values, and distractions. Though we are clean and accepted by the Father through the gift of the Son and the work of the Spirit, we continually will need to come to Jesus for daily washing until we are perfected in his presence when he returns. This is the message of 1 John 1:8-2:1:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
As Christians, we need to battle against pride in the same way that they unbeliever must in coming to Christ. Christ still holds out his hands to cleanse us, and our pride still wants us to minimize our sin, direct Jesus to others who need him more, continually condemn ourselves, or try to clean ourselves up first before coming to Christ. As Christians we still need Christ’s cleaning grace everyday.
We are to wash each other
From verse 12, Jesus starts to explain why he washed his disciples feet and it is here where I think he speaks the most challenging and powerful message to us a church.
John 13:12-17 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Jesus washed his disciples feet to be a model for his disciples to follow. As hard as it must have been for the disciples to allow Jesus to wash their feet, as hard as it was to present their dirtiness to him, as hard as it was for them to lay down their pride so they could receive washing and healing, Jesus expected them to get past all of that and do the same for each other. There are a couple of things that we need to consider in relation to Jesus’ expectation.
The Significance of the Model: As we have studied the book of John in our English congregation, we have noticed that most of the book is concerned with bringing the reader to faith in Jesus Christ. It is only in the four chapters (John 13-17) that the focus of the book turns toward instructing Christians as to how they are to live their faith after Jesus returns to heaven. What that means is that, at least in John’s mind, this is the defining model of what it means to be part of a Christian community, that we are a community who washes each other’s feet, who touch and clean each other’s dirtiest parts through spiritual care and service to one another.
A question may be raised at this point. Some churches literally wash each other’s feet as a religious observance like baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Why don’t we? I submit to you that the reason we don’t literally wash each other’s feet is because we do not want the symbol to limit the ways in which we extend pastoral care and service to one another. That is, if we came and literally washed each other’s feet in a worship service, we may come to think that we had fulfilled Jesus’ command to love one another in this way. The point is that we are to extend spiritual care and service to one another in all ways. What does this require?
Trust and Intimacy In order to live in such a community, a great deal of intimacy and trust is required. Unless I trust you, I will not allow you to come near the dirty, shameful parts of my life. Foot-washing, whether literally or spiritually, is an intimate act that require human touch. Do you trust the people around you enough to allow them into your life, to see you weaknesses and to care for you? This is what the church is to be, but too often we are a community of friendly people, rather than a community of friends. What’s the difference? In a community of friends there is sharing, there is openness, there is intimacy. In a community of friendly people, everyone smiles, but nobody shares their hurts. In that sort of community, a cycle of distrust develops. I don’t trust anyone, so I don’t open up to anyone. Because I don’t open up to anyone, no one notices my hurt. Because no one notices my hurts, I feel that no one cares for me.Because I feel that no one cares for me, I don’t trust anyone and pull back deeper into myself. When we all do that, we are no longer the intimate community that Jesus is calling us to be.
It is very hard to break this cycle of distrust, because it has been so ingrained in us not to open up our lives to other people. We are taught not to air our dirty laundry, keep our skeletons in our closets, or as they say in Chinese, jia chou bu ke wai yang. It means, “don’t tell your family issues to the world.” So people come to church, and are hurting but jia chou bu ke wai yang. They come to church and were laid off and could desperately use some help or just have people pray for them, but jia chou bu ke wai yang.Or they’re having marriage struggles and could use help, but jia chou bu ke wai yang. Or they’ve got an internet addiction and need support, but jia chou bu ke wai yang. Or they’ve been abused, but jia chou bu ke wai yang. It’s ingrained in them. jia chou bu ke wai yang. Don’t share outside of the family. This is where we need to understand what Jesus was really doing in setting up the church. The foundational New Testament understanding of the church is that it is in reality a spiritual family. It is a family of families. It is what Paul calls the household of God in 1 Timothy 3. It’s why we adreess each other as brothers and sisters. So yes, jia chou bu ke wai yang, but we need to understand that our family is larger than the people we rode to church with. Our family is the people we see when we get to the church. And we need to foster openness among us so that we can be a family to each other, caring and serving each other. This doesn’t mean that you need to stand up each weekend and tell everyone every hard detail that’s going on in your life. But there should be people here whom you trust to wash your feet. If there’s not, maybe before you blame others for not caring, you should first ask if you’d even open up to them if they tried.
Sensitivity and Humility In order to break that cycle of distrust, we also must learn how to be more sensitive to each other, especially those of us who are mature in the faith. This also takes risk. It took risk for Jesus to step away from the table, put the robe around his waist and approach his disciples with the basin. They could have rejected him. They did reject him. “Get away from me Lord, you’ll never wash my feet!” But he sensitively and humbly pursued them. He drew them out. He carefully loved them until they were wiling to open up to him. He fostered trust. He took the first step. Have you ever been there – you were with someone and you knew that they were hurting? You knew they needed love? You knew they needed someone to wash their feet – but you just stood there, silent. I believe that those impulses are from the Holy Spirit, whispering to us to take the basin, get down on our knees and wash our hurting friends feet. So often I miss out on blessings and intimacy, because I’m scared to take that risk.