This is the first part of an article I wrote for our Men’s Newsletter. I will post the second part tomorrow.
Have you ever looked at your feet? I mean really looked at them. Have you sat down and examined them? Are your nails yellow? Are there callouses on the bottom? Do they have a distinct odor? Do you let your toenails get too long? Are your toes spread out or shoved up on top of each other? Does your heel feel like sandpaper? Are there ugly veins all over them? Do they itch? Feet are generally not pleasant to behold, especially men’s feet. But in John 13 those ugly feet provide one of the greatest symbols of Christian service.
The Text: John 13:12-17
Christ was just hours away from being nailed to the cross and bleeding for us when we reach John 13. It was Thursday evening. He was about to spend several hours teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, prayer, abiding in Him and how the world will hate them because it hated him (John 14-16). He will end the evening with a long prayer where he prayed for himself, for his disciples, and for us (John 17). Then the guards will come and carry him away to be crucified.
But the night begins with an act that crystallizes who Jesus is. Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on a donkey (12:14). He did not come in on a chariot or with a huge army or entourage. He came on a lowly donkey. Now he again chooses a humble action to show the disciples who he was and how they were supposed to imitate him. After the meal is over, Christ, the Messiah, takes off his robe and puts on a loincloth. He dresses himself like a slave. He then begins to wash the disciples’ feet.
In those days, when men travelled on dusty roads and wore sandals, foot washing was an essential part of hospitality. When you entered someone’s house you took off your sandals and a servant would wash your feet. There are several other examples of foot washing in the Scriptures, including Luke 7:44 and I Timothy 6:10. Foot washing was often done by the lowest member in the household. Christ chose to serve his disciples by washing their feet.
There is a lot more in this text than what I am going to draw your attention to. Verse 3 gives the reason for Christ’s service. He belonged to God and therefore did not need to grasp. Also the exchange between Jesus and Peter (13:6-11) is theologically rich. I would love to discuss how Peter is clean, but still needs his feet washed. But we will focus on verses 12-17. I would encourage you to read John 13:1-17 before reading the rest of the article.
What Kind of Lord?
In these verses, Jesus is smashing down all worldly ideas about power and leadership. He is the Lord. He is their Teacher. He states that emphatically (vs. 13). But he flips leadership on its head. We think leadership means I get to rule over you and tell you what to do and generally boss you around. But Jesus takes a sledge to this picture and in its place puts up a symbol of humble service. We are sons of God. We are citizens in an Empire that will shine for eternity like a million burning suns. We are servants to the greatest King who ever lived. But this does not mean we get to rule over, it means we get to serve under.
Can you imagine our president washing the feet of his cabinet? Can you imagine any great athlete washing their teammates’ feet? What about James Bond? What about at your job, can you picture washing the feet of your fellow employees? Can we imagine our fathers washing the feet of those in our homes?
Men, God has called us to lead in many areas. We will lead in our homes, at Christ Church, in our jobs, and in our communities. But this leadership is not leadership like the world. We are not to imitate the brash, haughty, chest thumping men that parade themselves around, whether they are in sports or movies or politics. We are to imitate the leadership of the King of Kings. We are to wash the feet of those around us.