As we have noticed throughout John’s gospel about Jesus, John often has deeper symbolic language behind the signs and events that he records. Jesus, knowing that he was leaving this world to go to the Father, has loved his own to the end. He shows the attitude of humility by taking on the clothing of a servant and washing the disciples’ feet. This foot washing scene parallels what Jesus did for the whole world, taking on the form of a servant by becoming human and being obedient to the Father to the point of death on the cross. After doing his work of service by dying on the cross for the world, Jesus takes back his glorious form and resumes his rightful place. But there is something more that is being taught, which is seen in conversation between Jesus and Peter. The conversation that we will look at is found in John 13:6-11.
The Need For Cleansing
Peter grasps the absurdity of Jesus, the Lord, Savior, and Christ, washing his feet. So as Jesus comes to Peter’s feet, Peter asks, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Notice that Jesus does not simply say, “Yes, I am.” Nor does Jesus say, “I am going to show you how to serve.” Listen to Jesus’ response in verse 7. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” The first point by Jesus is that he is doing something significant. He is doing something with greater meaning than simply washing feet. Now Peter and the disciples do not understand this. Jesus admits as much. Right now they are not going to understand the meaning of what Jesus is doing. But Jesus is going to explain what he is doing so that they will be able to understand later. Peter continues to reject the notion of Jesus’ washing his feet in verse 8. Now listen to what Jesus says in verse 8. “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
Obviously, Jesus is doing something more than just washing feet. Now Jesus says that if Peter does not allow Jesus to wash his feet, then he has no participation or fellowship with Jesus. This is quite a statement. If you do not let Jesus wash your feet, then you have no part with him. Now this excites Peter as we read his response in verse 9. If washing my feet means having fellowship with Jesus, then do not wash my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Wash everything that is exposed! But Jesus rejects what Peter is concluding. Listen to Jesus’ response in verse 10: “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” Jesus uses an analogy to teach us about the cleansing we need. Once a person took a bath, the only part of their body that needed to be cleansed were the feet because they would get dirty while walking through the town. You were clean but your feet were dirty and needed to be cleaned. This is the picture Jesus is using but notice that Jesus applies this to spiritual cleansing. Jesus is not making an observation about baths but is talking about the cleansing Jesus gives.
Jesus is not speaking of the washing of the outer body but is speaking of spiritual cleansing. Washing is a common biblical metaphor for spiritual cleansing.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word… (Ephesians 5:25–26 ESV)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22 ESV)
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:2 ESV)
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior… (Titus 3:4–6 ESV)
Therefore, listen the words of Jesus in verse 8 in spiritual terms. “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” The only way to be in fellowship with God the Father and with Jesus Christ is to be washed by Jesus. The only way to be in a relationship with God is to be cleansed by Christ. Now it is clear that Peter does not understand that this is a spiritual washing that Jesus is describing. This is why he asks for the rest of his exposed body to be washed. Therefore Jesus takes the imagery even further concerning spiritual cleansing. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” What does Jesus mean by this? We can get a better grasp of this teaching when we read the explanation in verse 11. When Jesus tells Peter that his disciples are clean (the “you” in verse 10 is plural), he makes a point that one disciple is not clean. The betrayer, Judas, is not clean. He is a false disciple. Not all of your are truly my disciples. Not all of you have experienced the spiritual cleansing that Christ offers. The other disciples are following Jesus and will give their lives for Jesus. But Judas will not. Therefore he is not clean.
Recall what we learned in last week’s lesson. Jesus washing feet symbolizes his atoning death on the cross. Jesus laid aside his garments, took the form of a servant, and serves his creation by giving his life on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus has come to serve through his death which makes atonement for sins. The message is that spiritual cleansing comes to those who will give their lives to Jesus and follow him. Judas is not one of those people. He is a false disciple. He is a betrayer. The rest of the disciples are spiritual clean. So that part is the easier part of the illustration.
Notice that the scriptures tie baptism to the washing of sins and fellowship with Christ.
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (Acts 22:16 ESV)
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4–5 ESV)
Now let us be clear. Baptism is not a sacrament. Baptism is useless without faith in Jesus that leads to full submission. But our faith in Jesus leads us to submit to his teachings and obey his word. Anyone who rejects God’s teaching rejects God. We have learned in John’s gospel that true saving faith goes the distance in serving Christ. We do not get to choose what we will or won’t obey. Our faith is revealed when we submit to baptism because we are showing that we will do anything Jesus says.
Except For His Feet
Jesus says something that should catch our attention. Jesus says that only the feet need to be washed. This is a glorious picture of the Christian walk. When we come to Christ and have our sins washed away through the blood of Christ and the grace of God, we are completely cleansed. But then we are going to go out and walk in this world. We are going to pick up defilements along the way. We are going to sin. We are going to fall short of the glory of God. We are going to fail to be pleasing to God. There is still a need for daily cleansing from the defilement that comes from living. One does not have to return to the moment of salvation and restart the salvation process again and again. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” We have come to Christ. We are in fellowship with Christ. We love to be his disciples. But we do sin. Our feet get dirty and we need to continually come back to Christ for the cleansing that he offers. Listen to how John says it in his letter.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:6–10 ESV)
What a glorious picture! When we fall short and sin, our Lord is faithful to forgive us of our sins. Does this mean we can be like Judas forsaking Jesus and remain forgiven? No, Judas was not cleansed because he was betraying Jesus. Judas was turning from Jesus. But as disciples, when we fail, God will welcome us back to him because the blood of Christ will continue to cleanse us from our sins. Peter had to let Jesus wash his feet because that was the part the needed cleansing. We need to keep coming back to Jesus, confessing our sins to him, and we are promised to remain in fellowship with him and have our sins forgiven. We must submit our sins to Jesus for cleansing. What a glorious hope and joy it is to be a child of God! What grace we have found through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus!
Notice the picture: One must be washed to have fellowship with Jesus. Washing is used throughout the scriptures as spiritual cleansing. We access the spiritual cleansing of Christ by submitting our lives in faith to Jesus in immersion in water. This declares our faith in God, asking him for forgiveness (cf. 1 Peter 3:21 — “the appeal for a clean conscience”). Baptism is the heart of a person submitting to Jesus in faith. We receive complete cleansing at this moment of salvation and never needs to be repeated. Jesus’ atoning death provides our completely forgiveness and we offer nothing to that forgiveness, as we have seen in study Ephesians 2:1-8. After this glorious moment of salvation, we will not live perfectly. Our feet are going to become unclean, to use the imagery of John 13. Return to Jesus and he will wash those sins too. Once you are saved by God, then you can come back to Christ through confession and find full cleansing again. What a great God we serve! Will you find cleansing in Jesus today?