Jesus washing His disciples' feet

Last month, Christians all around the world were celebrating Easter -- remembering and focussing on stories from the Gospels with which we are very familiar -- but the depths of which we may never fully attain. However, if we will allow it to do so, the living and active Word of God will minister to us afresh as we read it with open hearts and minds.

I have been drawn lately by the idea of, and Scriptural references to, the Biblical concept of foot-washing. This ancient hospitality custom has cropped up at several significant moments within the pages of the Old Testament:

  • When the angels visited Abraham and Sarah to tell them to expect the birth of their long-awaited son Isaac (Genesis 18).
  • When Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to fetch a wife for that very same son (Genesis 24).
  • As Joseph welcomes his brothers of betrayal in Egypt, even though they don't recognize him at this stage of the story (Genesis 43).
  • Or as Abigail, in humility, offers to wash the feet of even the servants of her new lord and future husband, King David (1 Samuel 25).

It all sounds very romantic and exotic to a modern Westerner like myself. But I know that, in reality, this physical act of service in a hot, smelly and typically "soapless" ancient sandal-clad area of the world might not be quite so attractive. (I am reminded of the times my son has returned from cadet camp!)

Foot-washing also played a part in the fellowship of the early church (1 Timothy 5:10), and has over time, cropped up in many denominations across the globe since then.

There is a very small word snuggled into the 13th chapter of John that has always amazed me! I have emphasized this word in the following passage of John 13:3-5:

"Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him" (NIVUK).

On a personal note, if I knew that God had given me all power, and that I was going home to my Father in heaven, what would my natural response be? How many of us could honestly answer that we would, like Jesus, want to willingly humble ourselves by such actions of love and service?

However, my gracious Saviour does not leave me in this state of dejected conviction. Rather, He turns my attention to a possible place of renewal; a response of humble worship, the acknowledgement of my own sins, and His redeeming sacrifice and forgiveness of them -- bringing me to a point of reconciliation with God.

I find this truth illustrated in another foot-washing account, Luke 7, which unfolds in the house of Simon the Pharisee. There we find a woman who was referred to as a "sinner" (a state in which I can certainly identify). Entering a place where she knows she is not wanted -- where she may face rejection and ridicule -- the repentant woman falls down at the feet of her "Teacher" and "Lord" to weep while wiping His feet with her hair and anointing them with the generous outpouring of fragrance...the costliest gift she had.

Jesus openly tells her, in front of all the mockers and accusers, that her faith in Him has saved her! In addition, He permits this woman's act of humility and endearing devotion to be recorded in the Scriptures, which brings to mind the words of James 4:10:

"Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you" (ESV).

Like the woman who humbled herself before our Lord with a contrite heart, I find myself bowing down before His pierced feet on the cross, and there I weep for many very good reasons! I need Him to wash away my sins, for otherwise I could have no part with such a Saviour (John 13:8). Thankfully, He has done so with great compassion and mercy, and now I am clean (vs. 10)! Although I can't fully understand what He has done for me, I worship Him and give thanks!

Having been through this momentous journey, I am now ready to face the challenge of conviction that I experienced while reading of how Jesus bent low to wash the feet of His disciples! Now that I have washed the feet of my "Teacher" and my "Lord" with my own tears, I find the strength to begin to obey His command to "wash one another's feet" through acts of loving servanthood (John 13:14). According to the following two verses of this Scripture passage, those who obey His commands will be blessed:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (ESV).

Our persecuted family often risks rejection and ridicule (or even worse) in order to fall at Jesus' feet in worship and serve Him as He has called them to do. They know that living for Him is well worth the cost!

"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
Still were a present far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!"

~ Isaac Watts (1707)

By partnering with the ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, we can wash the feet of our persecuted brothers and sisters all over the world in many different ways. May we seize the opportunities we're presented to 'wash the feet' of our Risen Saviour and Lord!


Jo (Joanne) Phillips
Executive Assistant
The Voice of the Martyrs Canada


Feet sticking out of a commercial washer