“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:5 ESV)
I am struck by the sheer depth of the theology that marks the beginning of John’s passage about the time Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. John tells us a lot about what is happening behind the actual scene, and he obviously does this for an important reason, but he leaves it for us to grasp the significance.
- Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of the world and return to his Father—so much in that one little sentence. The Word was going back to his Father with whom he had been “in the beginning” (John 1.1).
- Having loved his own he loved them to the end.—Yes, “to the end” is emphasized in the Greek. Jesus had loved his disciples while he was with them and was going to continue loving them to the end of…what? His life? His time on earth? Eternity? All of the above? I myself would choose all of the above.
- The Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus—The great betrayer was already at work, influenced by Satan himself to do the work which God had ordained from the foundation of the world. Judas’ terrible duplicity was ordained of God to bring about our salvation.
- Jesus knew that all things were given into his hands by The Father. He knew that he had come from God and was returning to God.—Jesus was God-in-the-flesh, and he knew it and spoke and acted accordingly.
After all of this background, John tells us that Jesus took off his outer clothes and took up a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
I think that John wanted us to really grasp the power of what Jesus did here. He was God. He was on God’s mission. He would complete God’s mission—all things were given into his hands. Then he started washing the feet of the disciples.
This was the work of a slave. It was humiliating work. The disciples knew this. Peter certainly knew it. Jesus also knew it, but he has something important to do, so he washes.
This is our God. He comes to earth and submits to all of the limitations of being a man. He gets tired. He is hungry. He is thirsty. He does the work that only a slave does, because he has something that we need to understand [which we will get to]. Right now it is enough to observe the Man, kneeling in the dust of the floor, stripped down to his waist, washing the feet of those who are there to serve and learn from him. This is a God most unexpected.