The Foot Washing: Pt. 1. The Importance of Spiritual Cleansing.
"If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
Because people wore only sandals, when people arrived at a house, they would have their feet washed for both cleansing and refreshing. The task, however, was reserved for the lowliest servant. Even Jewish slaves were above washing the feet of others, and it was a task given only to the gentile slave. Therefore it is not surprising that when Jesus gathered with the disciples, no one stooped to wash the feet of the others. However, seeing the failure of anyone to offer to wash the feet of the others, Christ took the responsibility to demonstrate two invaluable truths. The first deals with our relationship with God, and the second deals with our relationship with others.
When Jesus took it upon Himself to wash their feet, Peter was stunned. Jesus was the one to be honored, not the one to perform such a demeaning task. As a result, Peter objected. Nevertheless, Jesus used this opportunity to point to an important lesson. If Peter's pride and social constructs prevent him from allowing Jesus to wash his physical feet, how much more will it be difficult for Peter to let Jesus wash his "spiritual feet." Peter sees things from an earthly, physical perspective. Christ desires to have he see things from a heavenly, spiritual perspective.
In response to Peter's objection, Christ points out that Peter cannot have any part with Christ and His kingdom without this washing. As a result, still thinking earthly and physical, Peter states, then wash not just "my feet but my hands and my head as well?" But Peter is missing the point. Peter is talking about physical cleansing of the whole body, but Jesus is talking about spiritual cleansing of the soul.
We minimize the severity of sin and the stain it brings upon the soul. We tend to view sin as a minor issue that can be overcome by living a good life. In His response, Christ points out that sin alienates us from God and Christ. Sin makes us dirty. In His act of washing the disciples' feet, Christ symbolizes His atoning, sacrificial death where He takes upon himself the guilt and shame of our sin. Theologians refer to this as the vicarious or substitutionary atonement in which Christ took our place in suffering the penalty of our sin so that the justice of God might be satisfied. This is the point that Christ is making in verse 10. The one who Christ has washed has no other need to be washed again. He is now completely and permanently clean. To make this point, Christ changes the wording. In the previous verses, Christ used the word meaning "to wash." However, in verse 10, Christ changes the word to "bathed." Jesus is not just washing their feet, but He bathes them thoroughly. When Christ has bathed us, we are "completely clean." We are forever and entirely cleansed from sin, with nothing more required.
Conversely, if we try to obtain our salvation by our own "self-washing," then no amount of effort on our part will achieve our spiritual cleansing. No matter how much we may rub and scrub (to continue the analogy), we remain forever stained by sin. The Hymn writer E.A. Hoffman (1839-1929) captured the essence of this illustration when he wrote:
Have You Been To Jesus For The Cleansing Power? Are You Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb? Are You Fully Trusting In His Grace This Hour? Are You Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb?
Are You Washed In The Blood, In The Soul-Cleansing Blood Of The Lamb? Are Your Garments Spotless? Are They White As Snow? Are You Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb?
Lay Aside The Garments That Are Stained With Sin, And Be Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb, There's A Fountain Flowing For The Soul Unclean, Oh, Be Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb.