Imagine if, instead of attacking President Donald Trump, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited the Oval Office with a bowl and towel and offered to wash the president’s feet. What if a mass foot washing was conducted outside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, and all Palestinians and Jews were made to set down their knives and guns and take up basins of water?
We are more likely to encounter a live dinosaur than witness such a scene. Yet this is exactly what these intractable conflicts need. The only way these issues will ever be solved is if all those involved develop the attitude Jesus Christ had when He washed the feet of the disciples on Passover. Foot washing reveals the solution to man’s relationship problems!
For members of God’s Church, it reveals the solution to our relationship problems too. From time to time, tension and conflict can creep into our relations with our spouse and children, with our minister or fellow Church members, and even with God. This lack of peace in our relationships can create fatal spiritual problems (Matthew 5:23-24). It could even keep us out of the Kingdom of God!
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples at Passover, He was not participating in a bizarre Jewish rite. And He wasn’t instituting a purely physical ritual for members of God’s Church to follow. The act of foot washing embodies Jesus Christ’s personality and character. It exemplifies the way He lives, and the reason for both His death and resurrection.
When Jesus knelt to humbly serve His disciples on Passover, He was revealing the path to happiness and the solution to man’s problems. After Christ finished washing His disciples’ feet, He told them, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). The act of foot washing reveals how to be happy and how to be at peace with God and man.
A Way of Life
The account of this incident can be found in John 13. During dinner on the night of the Passover, Christ stood up and removed His robe, then took up a towel and basin and washed the feet of each of the 12 disciples.
The Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course explains: “Since open-toed sandals were the customary footwear of the day, feet could become quite dirty. Foot washing, upon entering a house, was considered a menial task, usually done by the lowest servants” (Lesson 29; emphasis added throughout).
The act of foot washing can be summed up in two words: humility and service. In John’s Gospel—The Love of God, Gerald Flurry calls it “a beautiful ordinance of humility.” And humility is crucial to having a relationship with God (Isaiah 66:2).
The correspondence course continues: “By washing their feet, Jesus was illustrating to His disciples that He had come to Earth to serve mankind. Shortly afterward, He proved the extent of His willing and loving service when He gave His very life for the sins of all mankind!” Foot washing represents a way of thinking, an attitude—a way of life!
Peter didn’t understand what Christ was doing and self-righteously rejected His advance (John 13:6). But notice Christ’s response: “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (verse 7). In other words, Peter and the rest of the disciples would not fully understand the deep meaning of foot washing until they received the Holy Spirit. This shows that foot washing at Passover is more than mere ritual.
In verse 8, Christ corrected Peter for his attitude, telling him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” The foot washing was so important that if Peter didn’t participate, he could have nothing to do with Christ. It is the same for us today! If we don’t understand the foot washing and take it seriously, both at Passover and as a way of thinking throughout the year, then we cannot be part of the Body of Christ. Foot washing is that serious.
Humility and Service
Foot washing embodies humility and service. Isn’t this what our calling is all about—humbly serving God and fellow man? “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28; New King James Version).
Figuratively, Jesus Christ spent His entire life washing feet. Every minute of every hour of every day of every year of His life in the flesh was spent humbly serving God and serving mankind. The foot-washing attitude of humility and service was in His mind constantly, as God wants it to be in ours.
Mr. Flurry writes: “The Passover is a memorial of the crucifixion of Christ. God instituted the Passover as a memorial to that sacrifice of Christ, which paid for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. [A]ll of our attention should be on the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us. We must focus on the Lamb who paid the penalty for our sins. …
“Think about this for a moment. The Creator of the universe, of the angels and of man, came to this Earth. He did not sin. He did not have to repent, because He did not sin. He came here as God in the flesh to die for your sins and mine. The Creator of everything did that for us” (How to Be an Overcomer).
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate manifestation of the foot-washing attitude.It was the ultimate display of humility and service.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul warns against taking the Passover symbols of the bread and wine lightly. Verse 27 states, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” We cannot enter Passover not having considered Christ’s broken body, by which physical sin is forgiven and our sicknesses are healed. Nor can we enter Passover not having considered the blood of Christ, spilled in remission for our sins.
But what made the bread and the wine possible? What spiritual attitude did Jesus possess that enabled Him to endure such a horrendous sacrifice? Christ endured all that physical suffering and eventually death because He had an attitude of humility and service! His possession of the foot-washing mindset made the bread and the wine possible.
Be Like Christ
Foot washing is not about making dirty feet clean. It is about washing our minds spiritually. It’s about shunning the mind of the devil and taking on the mind of Christ—a mind of humility and service. When we participate in this act, we are reminded of the covenant we made at baptism to surrender our lives to God, His law and His Work.
In John 13:14-16, Jesus said; “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.”
This is clear instruction that Christ’s followers today should practice foot washing at Passover. But it is more than that. Christ is telling us, I have lived a life of humility and service toward God and all men—now follow my example! “Jesus explained that if He, being the Master, would serve mankind, then His disciples ought to also serve one another and the world” (op cit).
Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” We are called into the Church today to wash feet. Philippians 2:4 says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” Verses 1-5 are a beautiful description of the foot-washer’s attitude.
It’s important to remember verse 13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” We are not inherently humble and cannot through our own strength or enthusiasm work up godly love and service. We have to ask God for the power, and even the desire (“will”), to serve Him and fellow man.
In Luke 22:24 we see that just after Christ finished washing His disciples’ feet and instituting the Passover, a lively argument broke out among the disciples about who would have preeminence in God’s Kingdom. Isn’t this remarkable? The Son of God had only just completed this display of service and humility—He was about to be crucified and killed—and these men were arguing about who would have the highest office in the Kingdom.
This is human nature. This is the nature on display in Washington, d.c., on the streets of Jerusalem, and in cities, families and communities all over the world. This is the ultimate cause of all man’s relationship problems. And it is the nature we battle daily.
Foot washing, and the attitude it represents, is the solution to human nature. We overcome selfishness by being selfless. We conquer the way of get by living the way of give. We confront vanity by asking God to help us develop humility. We are called to wash feet; not just at Passover, but every day. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”