In this section of John 13, John gives us some important facts.
The first is that this event took place just before the Jewish people’s annual Passover Feast. The Passover Feast was designed by God as a time of celebration and remembrance of God’s grand deliverance of His people. The Jews had suffered under the bondage of slavery and the rule of Pharaoh in Egypt.
After the Jewish people had suffered for years and years as slaves under Egyptian rule, God sent a series of plagues through Moses upon the Egyptian people. Yet Pharaoh refused to relent and let God’s people go. So God sent one last plague through Egypt. He struck down every firstborn, both humans and animal throughout Egypt, including Pharaoh’s firstborn son.
Yet for all those who were His and posted the blood of the animal sacrifice on the doorpost, as God had instructed, God’s judgment passed over. Hence the name Passover. This is what finally caused Pharaoh to free God’s people and let them go.
Jesus, knowing all things, knew that His time had come. It was time for Him to leave this world as our Passover Lamb and return to His Father in heaven. But before He returned to His Father, Jesus, out of His great love for His own, demonstrated the full extent of His love for them.
We are told in verse 2 that the evening meal was being served. Now it was customary for each household to provide a slave to help remove the sandals of their master and his guests. The slave washed their feet, as they would often return home dusty and dirty from wearing their sandals and traveling along dirt roads. This was important because they gathered around a table that sat close to the floor and their feet were stretched out near others.
But on this occasion, there was no slave and not one of the disciples moved to assume the role. Not one! In fact, they had just been more concerned with their position than anything else.
Jesus was aware that the devil had prompted Judas to betray Him. He knew that His time on earth was short. And although His Father had put all things under His power, and He had come from God and was returning to God, He also knew that He had one more lesson to teach His disciples before going to the cross.
And so it was Jesus who pushed back from the table and stood up and removed His outer garment and replaced it with a servant’s towel. After that, we are told that He went and poured water into a basin and returned to the table where His disciples were gathered. He began to wash and dry their feet.
Can you just imagine the thoughts and the discomfort that must have been reeling in the disciples’ heads?
How could Jesus, their Rabbi, their Teacher, do this?
Jesus could do this because He knew who He was. He knew what His position was and He didn’t have to prove it to anyone. Jesus was the Son of God and He had come to seek and save the lost. He had come to set the prisoners free.
And so He stooped once again, only to be lifted up as a symbol of how a servant of the Lord is really supposed to act.
When it came to Peter’s turn, he looked into Jesus’ eyes and recognized Him with his words as Lord. Peter said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” And Jesus lovingly replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Then Peter responded, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” He had probably so elevated Jesus as His Teacher and Lord that he thought it unworthy of Jesus to humbly serve him by washing his feet.
Yet, Jesus lovingly and persuasively responded to Peter’s plea, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” And then Peter responded to Jesus by saying, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
At first, Peter seems to be an all-or-nothing kind of guy! Yet, what Peter and the others were learning was that if they wanted to be a part of Jesus’ inner circle, they needed to submit themselves to Jesus. They needed to do things His way and not their own.
Jesus answered Peter’s request by teaching him and the other disciples that a person who has had a bath only needs to wash their feet.
Therefore, one who has already received Christ and His forgiveness has been purified of their sin–past, present, and future.
Peter then relented and allowed Jesus to wash his feet. It proves that Peter wanted Jesus more than anything.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been washed in the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb. We need only to come to Him for daily cleansing. We confess our specific sins, such as the sin of pride, jealousy, anger, unforgiveness, gossip, or lack of love and whatever else the Holy Spirit brings to mind.
Believers are called to come to Jesus and submit to His daily cleansing.