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John writes us this amazing story that comes from his lifelong reflection on Jesus. And it’s important because if you read Jesus in John’s gospel, if you read John’s gospel, one of the things you understand is the astounding claim of Jesus is that you’re supposed to look at him and go, aha, that’s what God’s like.

What God Is Like

Everything Jesus does, everything He says, the cumulative effect of his life in the in the story of John is that we would draw conclusions. Oh, look at what Jesus did. That is what God is like. That’s why Jesus said, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father, no one comes to the Father but through Me. I am the way, the truth, and the life in John fourteen.
Even one of his disciples said, well then, Lord, show us the way to the Father and Jesus looks at him and you can hear the grief in His voice and He says, have I been among you so long and you don’t recognize Me? It’s the passion of Jesus’ heart is to understand in His life, in His teaching, in His moving, in His walking, talking, healing, breathing, in His touching, and ultimately in His stretching out His arms and dying a sacrificial death.
You’re supposed to gaze on the story of Jesus and go, oh wow. That is what God is like. We get a loving, walking, talking, suffering Saviour that doesn’t smite His enemies. He stretches out His hands and dies for them. Because that is what God is like. Yeah.

John Chapter Thirteen

In John chapter thirteen, John takes us on the journey. This is Jesus’ last set of dramatic speech and action before the cross. Listen to what He says. It was just before the Passover Festival. And Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father having loved His own who were in the world. He loved them to the end.
We are faced in this story, John says, having loved them not because they left the world, not because they were all heavenly, not because they were good, not because they were holy. He loved His own who were in the world.
John 13:1-17 NKJV
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, 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 should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
The evening meal was in progress. And supper was taking place and the devil had already prompted Judas the son of Simon Iscariot to betray Jesus. And Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power and then He had come from God and was returning to God. So He got up from the meal and He took off his outer clothing. And He wrapped a towel around His waist.

Washing The Disciples Feet

After that He poured water into a basin and He began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that He had wrapped around him. He came to Simon, Peter, who said to Him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet? And Jesus replied, you don’t understand now what I’m doing but later you will understand. No, says Peter. You shall never wash my feet.
In the Greek, it’s emphatic. It says, You shall never ever ever wash my feet. And Jesus said, unless I wash you, you have no part with Me. Then Lord, Peter replied, not just my feet and my hands, but my head as well. And 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 everyone of you.
For He knew who was going to betray Him. And that was why He said not everyone was clean. When Jesus had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and He returned to His place. Do you understand what I’ve done for you? He asked them. You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so. For that is what I am. But now that I, your Lord, your Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.
I have set you an example. You should do as I have done for you. Later it is to the Church, John would say, as He is in this world, so are we. Very truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed. If you do them.

First Century Feet

You know, in the first century world, feet were grubby. There was no sealed roads, sometimes cobblestone, if the Romans wanted to march their army but you think about, you know, there was no like Tesla vehicle, you know, environmentally friendly driving down the road without any smoke.
There are camels driving down the road and they don’t emit smoke but there’s other stuff that comes out of camels and cattle and donkeys and horses, and dogs, and cats, and pigs, and all sorts of stuff in the ancient world. No street cleaners, no machinery, no technology, just dirt, and dust, and camel emissions and you never know because see there’s not enclosed footwear. It’s like bare feet.
If you read the sociology of the first century world, actually, up to 60% of the of the population didn’t have shoes. Shoes themselves were a mark of some level of affluence of at least being middle class. And the two things we know about the ancient world is most people couldn’t read and most people didn’t have adequate footwear. And if you did have footwear, you’d have sandals because they’re cheap and easy to make using the technology of the time and yeah, with the resources that can be acquired. So there’s no enclosed protective footwear.
There’s like open footwear. You’ve gotta put on your best going out thongs in ancient world. And that means you’re walking around in the dirt and the dust and everywhere you walk. No one knows what you’re walking through but everyone’s doing the same thing. Everybody’s in the same boat. Doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or you’re poor. You’re walking down the street. The camel was there before you. Don’t slip.
Dirt and dust. It’s normal. And when you had a feast in the ancient world, it was customary for when your guests come to find the person of the lowest status in the house. Usually maybe the youngest in the family. Who’s the youngest always getting picked on? Oftentimes it would be a female because not even whether they were younger or not they were of low status in the house. In those days and you would take a person of low status because this is a icky job. This is a yucky job. Their job, wash everybody’s feet on the way in, right?

Taking Your Shoes Off

Well, because you understand that, right? Some homes right now today, we take our shoes off before we come into your lovely marble flooring or your or or your your shag pile, bright, white carpet or something like that and you don’t want to mess up. So, you want people take off your shoes, taking off your shoes at the door. That’s the equivalent of like, wash your feet before you come in. I don’t know where you’ve been walking. I don’t know what you’ve walked in. I don’t know what you’ve walked through but I just don’t, I just, no I don’t want you walking it through my house.
And so at the door you’d be greeted by someone of low status who would get the worst job ever. The foot washing job. The foot washing job. Actually it was such a low status job that in the first century where the rabbis ruled that a rabbi was no longer allowed to ask his disciples to wash his feet because it was seen too demeaning a task for somebody.

The Ticlinium

When they had a feast in the ancient world, you’d come in and they would have their feast area set up in a U-shaped table, three sides, called the Triclinium. And if you’re wealthy, it might be up to a foot off the ground. If you are sort of everyday Joe, it would really be on the ground. There’d be some cushions around and there’d be some linen and some maybe some palm leaves or something like that to rest things on because it’s not straight on the ground.
And then what you do is you would come to the Triclinium and you would recline. Triclinium is like a three-sided reclining table, Triclinium. And you would come and and you would kind of lounge down and you’d rest on one arm and stretch out on the floor and the arm you weren’t resting on is the one that you’d eat the food with. That’s why the host would break bread and pass it to you because while you’re leaning on one arm, you can’t break your own bread. So, it’s this active hospitality. Let me help you. Let me serve you and of course, as everybody’s sort of, you know, topping and tailing and staggering around their eclipse.
Well, it’s like, I’m here with my feet stretched out and if you’re here, my feet, they’re they’re kind of up in your grill. They’re they’re pretty close and so, whatever I’ve worked, walked through, whatever I’ve gotten on my feet, if my feet haven’t been washed, then, probably what’s going to happen is I’m putting it all up in your grill. You better hope if you asked to a Triclinium feast in the ancient world that someone at the door washed some feet.
Now, watch what happens in the story. Jesus has a feast and no feet get washed on the way in. No feet get washed on the way in. There’s no one at the door. There’s no one of low status. Many commentators say, John, remember this story because being the youngest, I was probably should have been his job. There’s no one to do it. So, think about this, right?
Remember, remember John’s thesis. This is what God’s like. Wanna see the glory of God? Look at what Jesus is like. You and I, if we, if we have a feast, we want people to come with clean feet. We don’t want to smell what they walk through. We don’t want to be wandered in around our face. It wrecks the atmosphere, stinking out the atmosphere with your feet. Look at what Jesus is like.

Don’t Wait To Clean Your Feet

All of us would understand a God that says, if you want to feast with me, clean your feet up first. I tell you what, I haven’t understood for the last 20 years, is the God who says, don’t wait till you’ve cleaned up your act. Come and join my feast. Come to my banquet table, come and dine with me now. Come and dine with me. Come with your dirty feet. No matter what you’ve walked through, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter what you smell like, don’t wait and clean your act up thing and then I can come in.
Come in now because when you join lives with me at the feast, what happens is in the middle of the feast, I get up and I am the ultimate foot washer baby. Don’t try to clean up your mess. Don’t wipe your feet at the door. Come in. Come as you are. Come smelling just the way you are and I will clean you up at this feast. That is what God is like. God, the foot washer. Come on.
God, the tyrant that that conquers the world with overwhelming force. We can understand that. What about a sacrificial God who conquers the world through overcoming suffering love? That is what our God is like. It was controversial because in the ancient world, to eat with someone, it was perceived if I eat with you, we are joining lives together.
That’s why Jesus was persecuted that this man eats with tax collectors and sinners. He would die. He wasn’t careful. Why were they worried the Pharisees? They were never with a sinner and you know why? Because eating in the first century world is joining lives. Yeah. And when we join lives, what is true of you becomes true of me?

Joining Lives

So, I don’t want you polluting me. I don’t want your dirty feet in my feast. Whatever you’ve No. I don’t want that pong in my life. That’s what the Pharisees were like. So I was utterly controversial. This man eats with sinners and tax collectors. I’m going to tell you a secret about what God is like. Jesus eats with people. Jesus eats with anybody. Jesus is not remotely careful. Jesus lets people feast with him who have filthy, dirty, unwashed feet.
And he says that’s right. When you eat with someone, you’re joining lives together and I’m not remotely afraid. Says Jesus that you’re going to pollute me because when we eat loaves together, what’s true of me becomes true of you. So join lives with me and my clean feet will become your clean feet, baby.
You gotta get the nuance of the story because this is a dramatic action, a prophetic action. Jesus is about to go to the cross. One of the most painted art depictions in Renaissance Art, Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Almost every painting gets it wrong. Because as John tells it, you can never replicate this.
You can’t put it on TV, you can’t put it on a billboard. You can’t put it on the chosen. Jesus gets up and he takes off his clothing. In John’s ancient Greek it says and he rises. He does it in the present tense which means he’s trying to transport you into the story. It’s no longer what happened. It’s now what happens. Present tense. Jesus. It’s like you’re transported in in a portal or a time machine. Bam. Back at where it’s happened.
Look. Jesus. He rises from the table and He lays aside His garments. Later Paul would think about this image and say, this is what Jesus did. He considered not equality with God, something to be grasped but He came being found in the form of a servant and He emptied Himself and made Himself nothing. John says, He laid aside His garments and He wrapped a towel and girded himself.
Jesus, He clothes himself in a towel and every painting you ever get doesn’t capture the nuance that He removes His outer clothing and He wraps the towel around Him. He doesn’t take another towel and use it to clean their feet. He wraps the towel around him. He is now characterized by the towel. This is how the people of low status wash feet in the ancient world.
A foot washing basin, a heavy porcelain or clay basin with little knobs on it for you to put your feet on so the person could get under there and give it a real good scrape. What they do is they would loosen up with some water, all of the dirt and all of the mud and then using the towel, you would take your foot and you would put your foot on them and you came in with your dirty feet. Jesus lays aside His robes of a rabbi. His robes of privilege.
He’s clothed in the towel of a of a person of low status. And He says in the middle of the feast John’s careful not at the start. Come in with clean feet only. No come in with your dirty feet. Let’s join lives at the feast in the middle of the meal. Jesus gets up. And He washes your feet. And all the dirt on your feet. And has residue on His towel.

Taking Our Sins Upon Himself

Look at the way Jesus lives into and points towards the cross. Your dirt on your feet. Taken upon myself. He clothes himself in the dirt of His guests. That’s what God is like. That’s what God is like. He’s pointing towards the cross. Our sin, our brokenness, our failure, our infirmities, Isaiah said, our shame when we join lives with Him in the world’s greatest exchange, He takes it upon Himself. On the cross, Jesus ultimately did it.
Isaiah the prophet 700 years before Jesus walked the face of the earth, looked ahead in time and said, surely He will carry away our infirmities. Surely, the punishment that brought us peace, it will be upon Him. He will be crushed for our iniquities. Jesus knows, join lives with Me. He beckons to His disciples in His last dramatic action.

This Is How He Loved Them

John says, this is how He loved them. This is how we love them towards the goal. He went and He stooped and He stripped and He washed their feet and He wore their dirt and then He said to them, don’t you understand what I’ve done, church? I’ve given an example. I’ve given you an example that this is what God is like and so this is what a Christian supposed to be like.
Not someone who says, man, clean up your act before you come over my place but someone who says, oh, you’ve got stinky feet, you’ve got some dirt, you’ve got some filth, you’re a Zacchaeus up a tree, you’re a prodigal son, you’re a woman at a well, come, come and join lives with me, come with me, come and join lives with me in a sacred and holy, embraced, and I’ll bring you to the feast that is Jesus.
I’m not going to tell you, oh, clean up your act before you get in here because I know If I can get you to the meal table, if I can get you to the broken bread and the cup of wine, if I can get you to the communion table, I can get you to join lives with Jesus and then what’s true of Him will become true of you and you will have the cleanest feet that you’ve ever had in your whole life. Amen.

Jesus Our Example

I’ve given you an example, Jesus says. That’s why Christians love broken people. If they don’t, a Christian isn’t the title they should have. They can be Pharisee. They can be High Priests. They can be Levite. They can be Old Testament prophet but see none of those are Christian titles. A Christian title is a Christian.
I’ve given you an example what I did you should do and the sacred calling in this text, friends, is that we would join lives with broken people, amen. Notice how Jesus cleans us up. How good is our God? That’s what God is like.

Conversation Topics

  • When Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” he was talking about something more than just a footbath. What was Jesus really talking about?
  • What does it mean to have our feet washed?
  • Why is it important to be willing to wash someone else’s feet?
Ps Ben Teefy

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