There’s washing, and there’s washing

A couple of days ago, I was listening to a sermon on the first part of John 13—Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Recently, I’d been wondering if there was more to the foot-washing than well, foot-washing. Was I in for a pleasant surprise or for a wonderful truth? (Answer: both) And I also wondered why I hadn’t got it sooner…

The preacher drew attention to the exchange between Jesus and Peter:

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him,  “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “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.”

It must be the effect of having read this story for years, but I never noticed Jesus’ rather strange responses in verses 7 and 8: What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand and If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.  They both seem a little over the top, humanly speaking. What won’t Peter understand? Jesus explains pretty clearly in the verses that follow why He did what He did . As for the second statement, well, that is a little harsh for foot-washing…

Jesus wasn’t only talking of their appendages. He was talking of their souls. Less than 24 hours later, he would die on the cross so that they, and all who would later believe in Him, would be washed from their sins.

As I listened to this, I thought, Any 16-year-old reading this as a lit text would have got that connection. I couldn’t believe I’d gone through life without understanding that the foot-washing wasn’t an end in itself but that it pointed to something far greater.

The apostle Paul used the washing imagery  in Ephesians 5:26, 1 Corinthians 6:11 and Titus 3:5. The author of Hebrews also  uses it in Hebrews 10:22. The apostle John revisited it in the book of Revelation in chapter 7 verse 14 and in chapter 22 verse 14.

May God the Father continue to show wonderful things from His Word!