According to Jewish practice, the washing of the master’s feet was one of the obligations of a foreign slave, but was not the duty of a Jewish slave. Thus, the service was considered a menial one. And because there were no servants at the time of the Last Supper, one of the disciples should have volunteered to do it, but none did.
So, Jesus volunteered to wash the feet of His disciples and set an example of humility (John 13:1–17). For He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus’ humility was contrary to the proud spirit of His disciples who were arguing as to who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). The humility illustrated at the upper room foreshadowed Jesus’ final act of humility and love on the cross (Isaiah 53).
When Jesus stooped to wash Peter’s feet, the disciple protested but Jesus said to him: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8). Peter and the rest of the disciples needed cleansing from sin. And Jesus added, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Jesus was doing more than giving an example of service. He was establishing a ceremony to be kept by the believers to the end of time.
The ordinance of feet washing has a threefold significance:
(1) It symbolizes cleansing from sin. Baptism symbolizes the soul’s original cleansing from sin. When a person accepts Christ as His personal Savior, he receives His righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). And as he abides in Him, the holy Spirit does the daily cleansing by the “washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26) to bring forth the fruits of repentance (Galatians 5:22,23). The cleansing from sins that have later accumulated are symbolized by the ordinance of foot washing. And as in baptism, the ordinance has no significance whatever unless the partaker repents of his sins.
(2) It symbolizes a new dedication to God’s service. As the participant kneels to wash the feet of his brethren, he shows that he is willing to be part of God’s no matter how humble that service may be.
(3) It symbolizes the spirit of Christian fellowship. The ordinance is thus an appropriate introductory service to participation in the Lord’s Supper.
Christ’s example of humble service was to be followed by His followers. The service of feet washing demands a self-sacrificing spirit of humility that places the interests of self after those of others (Mark 9:35; 10:44).
In His service,
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