By Rev Kent Compton
Special to The Guardian
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8)
If someone were to write your biography, how much space would they dedicate to certain parts of your life? The Gospels dedicates most of their space to the last week of the life of Jesus. This speaks volumes about how important that week was in the life-work of Jesus.
John himself dedicates nearly half of his gospel to Jesus’ last week (chapters 12-20). Not only that, but much of that was dedicated to the last 24 hours!
John’s point is that what happened in that week is the most important aspect of Jesus’ life, as well as our own. John gives us the time frame, saying that it was before the Feast of the Passover. (vs. 1) This was the night before His death. We might excuse Jesus for being more concerned about himself given all that would happen, but he takes the time to impress upon them what his death would mean.
John continues saying, “He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet...” (vs. 4-5) Jesus adopts the dress and duty of the lowliest of menial servants.
Paul opens this up for us when he describes Jesus, “though he was in the form of God...made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant....” (Phil 2:6-8) His disrobing to work is an acted parable portraying his leaving his outward glory as the Son of God and becoming a human being. Paul further says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
Just as his disrobing is emblematic of his incarnation, the basin and towel portray His work on the cross where he shed blood to wash away sin. But why do we need washing in the blood of Jesus? The Bible says we become defiled, or unholy, before a holy God when we break His law. So David prays, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:2) He sees his sins, not as simply mistakes to be swept under a rug, but as high crimes against the God of creation. These are crimes that can strangely enough be dealt with by God alone. This is exactly what He is doing in putting His own son on the Cross!
Jesus says the same here. His blood carries the value of not just a good man but the God-man.
But this act is met with stiff opposition from Peter, who thinks such an act is unworthy of Jesus. He protests, “You shall never wash my feet.” No doubt Peter is acting out of a sincere respect for Jesus, but it is misguided and dangerous.
In many places, the cross is still regarded beneath the God we worship. Yet, Jesus states unequivocally. “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Hebrews famously says, “...without shedding of blood is no forgiveness of sin.” (Heb 9:22)
Whatever else we may think of Jesus or do for Jesus, unless we are washed from our sins by faith in His blood we cannot have any part with him. Our call is like that of the 12; to submit, not our feet, but souls to the cleansing Jesus freely offers with the assurance that, “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1Jo 1:7)
Rev Kent Compton is with the Free Church of Scotland. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.