"Washed for the Walk"
(Delivered Sunday, June 22, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I would like to share a story with you. It's a familiar story; but it's best seen as a smaller story within the context of a larger one.
And I believe the best thing to do is to tell you about the larger story first.
* * * * * * * * * *
This larger story is found in John 13—the passage that gives us Jesus' dinner-time conversation with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. So much of what our Lord said was within ear-shot of multitudes. But in this passage, Jesus shares His heart in a very private way with His disciples.
John tells us about our Lord's frame of mind on this solemn night. He tells us;
Nothing of this remarkable evening took our Lord by surprise. He knew exactly why it was that He had been sent by the Father into this world. And He also knew that the hour of the fulfillment of that purpose had at last come. He knew that the cross awaited Him—and also that He would be raised from the dead. He knew that the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray Him. But He also knew that the Father had already put all things into His hand; and that He would soon be restored to the glory that He shared with the Father before the world was. And in all of it, He loved His disciples to the very end.
Sadly, the disciples seemed oblivious to the significance of this evening. Do you know what the Gospel writer Luke tell us they were doing? With the Son of God sitting in their midst, they were busy arguing with each other over which of them should be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24).
And it's this fact that makes what happened next all the more remarkable. John tells us;
When you traveled to someone's house for an important feast back in those days, you'd spend the day getting yourself ready. You'd bathe yourself, and you'd put on your finest garments. But to get there, you would have had to travel by foot as you wore open sandals. You'd walk across roads that were covered with dust and grime and animal droppings. And once you arrived, in order to keep from defiling the home of your host, it was expected that your feet would be cleaned.
This was a necessary task; but as you can imagine, it was also a rather humble one. Usually, the host would provide one of his servants to do the job. As you reclined, the servant would carry a jug of water over to you and pour the water over your feet—catching the water that poured from your feet into a bowl. And then, he would wipe your feet with the towel girded around his waist.
Now; on this solemn evening, none of the disciples had thought of performing this humble act of service. They were too busy arguing over which of them was the most important. And so, you can imagine their stunned silence—and the rebuke they felt in their spirits—as Jesus Himself rose from the table and washed their feet!
And when it was all over, He went on to explain why He did it. John tells us, in verses 12-17;
Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in order to teach them that real blessing in His kingdom doesn't come from being "the greatest". It comes from humbly serving one another. He Himself set the example. If the Lord and Teacher would humbly serve His disciples in this way, then how inappropriate for us—His followers—to think that we are too important to serve one another! It's helps us to put the example of His greatest act of love toward us—that is, His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins—into practice in our relationships with one another. As 1 John 3:16 says; "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
* * * * * * * * *
Now; that's the 'larger story' of this passage. I believe that many sermons could be preached on that larger story alone. But I would like to draw your attention this morning to the smaller story that's found tucked away in the middle of it. I believe that this smaller story only makes sense in the context of the larger story. But I also believe this smaller story deserves to be treated separately. It has tremendous spiritual lessons for us all its own.
And we find this "smaller story" in verses 6-10:
The larger story of this passage is the example that our Lord sets of humble service. And the lesson of that larger story is that if our Lord and Teacher would so humble Himself as to serve us, then we are obligated to likewise humble ourselves and serve one another.
But this smaller story—the story of our Lord's interaction with Peter as He washed his feet—has a different emphasis. It's not so much about our Lord's example of service to us, as it is about our reception of His gracious service toward us.
I believe that this passage shows us the reason why so many people who place their trust in Jesus Christ fail to go on to live the kind of fruitful and victorious lives they should. It shows us that we can begin in the right way—that we can sincerely place our trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, and be washed clean once and for all of the guilt of our sins by His redeeming blood; but that we may still not make the kind of progress in our walk with Him as we should. And the reason is because we do not rightly avail ourselves to the ongoing ministry of "washing" He wishes to perform on us.
Our Lord doesn't save us, only to leave us in the same condition in which He found us. He performs an ongoing work, through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit1, of setting us free from the sinful habits and attitudes of our old life, and of helping us walk in moral purity and holiness with Him. The name theologians give to this work of our Lord is "sanctification". And that's what this smaller story is about. It shows us that we can place our trust in our Lord's once-for-all-time work of "justification", and yet fail to grow as we should in holiness and fruitful service, because we are not rightly availing ourselves to the ongoing ministry of "sanctification".
This smaller story teaches us that, in order to walk in fruitful fellowship with our Savior, we repeatedly need to allow Him to wash our feet clean from the dirt of this world.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now; let's look a little closer at this conversation between the Lord and Peter.
Look particularly at verse 5. Before he tells us about this story, John lets us know that the Lord had already "began" to wash the disciples' feet. It would be safe to assume from this that Jesus had washed the feet of at least a few of the disciples before He came to Peter.
Can you just imagine what must have been going on in Peter's mind as the Lord washed the feet of His disciples? He would have watched, and thought to himself, "How could John let such a thing happen? How could he just sit there and allow the Lord—the Son of God—to stoop down and perform this menial task toward him? And now look! He's washing Matthew's feet! Matthew was a horrible sinner—a tax collector! Doesn't Matthew realize Who this is who is washing his feet? And oh no! Even Andrew—my own brother! No one knows how unworthy Andrew is better than I do! I'd never allow the Lord and Teacher to do to me what Andrew is allowing Him to do!"
I believe that these sorts of things had already been going on in Peter's mind by the time we get to the words, "Then He came to Simon Peter" (v. 6).
* * * * * * * * * *
Look at verse 6. When the Lord came to Peter, Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" And you need to know that that's really a pretty mild translation. In the original language, it reads in a more emphatic way: "Lord; You?—my feet You're washing?"
I don't know why I have thought this way; but I've always suspected that Peter's feet were probably the least desirable of the whole bunch to wash. After all, the feet of most people are bad enough; but Peter had spent much of his life tromping around in boats full of fish guts! But I don't think that was why Peter was so appalled at the idea of the Lord washing his feet. Rather, I believe it was because Peter knew Who it was that was kneeling down to perform this menial task on him—and how sinfully unworthy he himself felt about receiving it.
Do you remember the time when the Lord Jesus preached from Peter's boat? When He was through teaching, our Lord told Peter, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4). Peter objected, because he and his crew had been fishing all day and had caught nothing. But he obeyed the Lord; and as a result, he drew in a catch so great that it almost sunk his boat. Peter instantly realized that he was in the presence of Someone who was more than mere man! And so, Peter fell down before the Lord and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (v. 8). Early on, Peter's realization of who Jesus was had made him deeply ashamed of his own sinfulness and unworthiness.
And do you remember the time when the Lord asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16); and the Lord Jesus commended him as giving an answer that was the true one from God. But do you remember how Peter then immediately blew it by rebuking the Lord for saying that He must go to the cross. Remember how the Lord had to turn to Peter sharply and said, "Get behind Me, Satan!" (v. 23)? It's hard to imagine how ashamed Peter must have felt!
The Lord knew all these things about Peter. He knew that Peter was unworthy. But His action to Peter was not based on Peter's worth, but on Peter's need. The Lord told him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this" (v. 7). Peter needed to learn to humbly receive everything that the Lord Jesus wanted to give him—even though he felt utterly unworthy to receive any of it.
And dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I suggest that this is one of the first lessons we too must learn about our Lord's ministry of sanctifying us. It is a ministry that He Himself must provide. It's not something we do for Him, but that the Holy Spirit performs in us. But we can cooperate with our Lord's sanctifying work in our lives by being fully receptive of it. The Lord Jesus has shed His precious blood for us. He gave everything in order to purchase us to Himself forever. Our glorification with Him throughout eternity is His great project of love toward us. He has placed His Holy Spirit within us as a guarantee of our future glorification. We are utterly unworthy of it; but He has given His all to make it happen.
And so; whatever He wishes to do to you and me to make us holy, let's welcome and receive it with all our hearts—unworthy though we most surely are!
* * * * * * * * * *
So then; we can see from this story that one of the ways we cooperate with the Lord's sanctifying work in our lives is by being receptive to it.
But what happened next teaches us that we should also see it as absolutely necessary.
The Lord had told Peter that he could not fully understand what it was He was doing for Him right then; but that if he would humbly receive it without objection, he would "know" it later. And frankly, that should have been enough. But sadly, Peter wouldn't humbly receive this "washing" from the Lord. In the original language, Peter uses the strongest negatives possible to express his objection. Literally, he says, "Not by any means shall You wash my feet ever!"
Now; if the Lord Jesus truly is the Lord, and if it truly becomes clear that He wishes to do something for us, then it isn't a demonstration of humility to refuse it. Rather, it's a demonstration of pride and rebellion. And so, He answered Peter with a strength that matched the strength of Peter's refusal: "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (v. 8).
And I suggest to you that this gives us a second lesson we need to learn about our Lord's ongoing work of sanctification. We not only need to joyfully receive it from Him; but we also need recognize how much we truly need it from Him! If we don't consider it absolutely necessary that the Lord Himself sanctify us, then we will resist His work and not cooperate with Him in it. We will keep trying to "improve ourselves" according to this world's agenda, or through our own fleshly methods. And as I said, I believe this is why so many professing Christians perpetually struggle with the same old problems, and seem to fall victim to the same old temptations over and over.
There is no such thing as a truly redeemed man or woman whom the Lord Jesus does not also sanctify. And the Lord will not put His stamp of approval on our own self-help programs as a substitute for His work. We need to yield to His work in our lives as absolutely necessary. We need to see that unless the Lord Himself wash us, we have no part with Him.
* * * * * * * * * *
This leads us to our third exchange between Peter and the Lord. As soon as the Lord said this, Peter went to the other extreme. He said, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" (v. 9). If it was necessary to have a part with the Lord, then Peter didn't just want his feet washed. He wanted a whole bath!
But Jesus put His sanctifying work into perspective. He told Peter, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean . . ." (v. 10). He was about to go to the cross and complete His work of redemption on behalf of the disciples. And that sacrifice was sufficient to make all His redeemed ones "clean". As Hebrews 10:10 says, "[W[e have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." All that is really needed after that is to for the Lord to clean our feet.
And so, here's a third lesson we should learn about our Lord's ministry of sanctification. We should see it as based on His greater work of justification. The great work of our redemption has already been accomplished through the blood of our Savior. He has truly cleansed us and made acceptable in His sight. When we come before Him to worship Him, we come as His fully redeemed people. When we follow Him, we follow as His justified saints. But because we live in the midst of a fallen world, our Lord performs an ongoing work of the cleansing of our feet—so that we can and stand before Him and walk with Him in a way that is consistent with what we now are in Him.
I think a way to illustrate this is by our church. It sits on a hill at the end of a long dirt road. Most of us, when we come to church on Sunday, bathe before we get here. What's more, many of us come to church dressed nicely. Men come with their slacks and shirts all pressed and their shoes all shined; and ladies come in a nice pants suit or dress. Everyone's hair is combed, their faces washed, and their teeth brushed. You take care of all that before you get here. (Thank you, by the way.)
But I've noticed that many of us, when we come to church, have to park down down the hill, get out of the car, and walk up the dirt driveway a little ways. Sometimes, the driveway is a little muddy; and sometimes, by the time you get to the church building, you have a little mud on your shoes. Now, when that happens, you don't need to take a bath all over again. All you need to do is clean your feet.
* * * * * * * * * *
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; we cannot walk with the Lord Jesus Christ in the kind of fellowship with Him that He desires from us, so long as our feet are dirtied with the dust of this sinful world. We need to submit ourselves to Him regularly—even daily, and even often throughout the day—to allow Him to wash our feet.
This passage teaches us three things we can know for sure (1) the cleansing of our daily walk with the resurrected Lord Jesus is a ministry that He truly desires to perform it for us, (2) it's a ministry that is essential to our having a part with Him, and (3) because it's based on His greater work of justifying us through His blood, it will be successful—if we simply cooperate with Him in it.
Now; as I believe this passage teaches us, our sanctification is a ministry that our Lord performs upon us through the Holy Spirit. It's not a work we do for Him, but rather a work that we receive and welcome from Him. But let me suggest a couple of things that we should do to avail ourselves to His ongoing "sanctifying" ministry in our lives in a greater way.
First, we should expose ourselves faithfully and regularly to the Scriptures. The theme of this passage is how the Lord works to cleanse our "way"—the steps of our feet. And as the psalmist in Psalm 119:9 prays, "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word." Ephesians 5:26 says that the Lord sanctifies and cleanses His church "with the washing of water by the word." Jesus Himself prayed to the Father for His followers and said, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." (John 17:17).
You and I would not know about the dirt of this world that is on our feet unless the word of God told us about it. And you and I would not know the holy paths our Lord wants us to walk with Him unless the word of God laid out the steps for us. So let's avail ourselves, if I may put it this way, to the “soap of sanctification”. Let's expose ourselves regularly to that which He says He uses to cleanse us—His word!
And the second thing we must do is come to Him for the cleansing of our feet through the confession to Him of our day-to-day sins. 1 John 1:5-2:2 says;
Our Lord walks in holiness. And those who follow with Him must walk the holy path He treads. When we wander into sin and foul our feet with the dirt of this world, we can praise Him that we are not lost to Him. But we need to immediately confess our sins to Him. When we do, we find that He is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
1The ministry of our sanctification is one that involves each member of the Trinity. The Father is said to sanctify the saints (John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23); and the Son sanctifies Himself that the saints may be sanctified in Him (John 17:19). The Father sanctifies us by uniting us with the Son (Romans 6:1-14). But though the work of sanctification is brought about by the decree of the Father, and is made certain by our union with the Son, it is primarily performed—as an ongoing ministry of life-transformation—by the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). But it would not at all be incorrect to speak of our sanctification as a ministry of our Lord; because "the Lord is the Spirit", and the Holy Spirit is also called "The Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Missed a message? Check the Archives!
Copyright © 2008 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights Reserved
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436