The tears were flooding down my cheeks. This was the last thing I expected on that long, hot afternoon. The team of pale-faced westerners had been ministering to the students in a small bible school just outside Lusaka, Zambia. But the students and staff had brought bowls of water and towels and were singing worship songs and slowly and prayerfully washing our dusty and probably smelly feet. We had gone to serve them but they served us, and it was a powerful and emotional time.
There is something very significant when a person stoops low to carry out this very unnatural act. Pride is conquered and humility shines through. Indeed the passage we read is often used as a reminder that Jesus was a servant King and that as His followers today we commit ourselves to humble service in the body of Christ. However there is another meaning hidden in this encounter with His disciples. The foot-washing was a prophetic act pointing towards what was about to be accomplished a short time later as Jesus endured the agony of the cross. The 'full extent of His love' would be revealed as He gave His very life for mankind. His daily ministry on earth was typified by love and compassion, but His willingness to die on that cruel cross would elevate His love to an altogether different level.
Now let us remember that the highways and byways of ancient Judea were not tarmacked and there were no paved footpaths or sidewalks. The conditions we find today in many rural villages in the developing world are very similar. Humans moved in the same traffic flow as animals and there were no proper sanitation facilities. After a day walking with Jesus the disciples would have had dirty, stinky feet! This dirt symbolises the sin and all of its messy consequences that we pick up as we journey through life.
I want you to notice something very important in verse 5. It says that Jesus wrapped the towel around Himself. The clean water represents the cleansing, reconciliation and forgiveness that comes through the shedding of His own innocent blood at Calvary. Any remaining dirt on the feet of the disciples would be wiped on the towel wrapped around the body of Jesus.
There is a strong cleaning product sold in the UK called Domestos and the manufacturers claim that it ‘kills all known germs’. I don’t know about that, but I do know that the blood and body of the crucified Christ is more than adequate to deal with the sin disease of all people, for all time.
In his song lyric Matt Redman wrote: ‘What can wash away our sin? What can make us whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!’ The cross was a pivotal moment in human history and through the drama of the towel and the basin Jesus wanted His disciples and all gospel-readers to understand the magnitude of what was about to unfold.
Unless we allow Jesus to wash us, we will never really be clean. We could have two showers and a bath every day but still feel stained inside by past sins. If you are not a Christian at this time and you are carrying the weight of guilt around, I have some good news for you. God’s free gift of forgiveness and salvation is waiting for you. No sin that you have ever committed will disqualify you from His amazing grace. All that remains to be done is to speak personally to your Heavenly Father (pray), confess those sins (repent), believe in what happened that first Easter (faith) and receive the Holy Spirit who comes to live in you (be born again). Then tell another Christian who will walk with you as you take the first steps in your new-found faith.
Perhaps you have been a Christian for a while but are still plagued by guilt, or are troubled by whispers of “you will never be good enough” or “what you did was just too terrible”. In that case I want you to know that God has already forgiven you. One hundred percent. You have already been washed by Christ! Your sins were taken up by Him as he breathed His last at Calvary. It is finished with and forgotten about as far as He is concerned.
I wonder, has your mind caught up with this wonderful reality?
This is a daily devotional written by Rob Carter, and is taken from his book 'Closer'. The book is available from Amazon and is also available as a Kindle Version. Alternatively, you can contact Rob directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for a paperback copy of the book.