In this passage, Jesus institutes the practice of footwashing among His disciples. He teaches as He does that footwashing is a sacrament to observe, and a symbol of servanthood and the forgiveness of post-conversion sin.
1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.John 13:1–17 (NKJV)
2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”
12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
In the beginning of the passage, we see the great love of Christ described, especially to lengths and depths to which He loves us. He is described as loving His own until the end, perhaps signifying the death to which He is destined. He moves into the posture of a servant, laying aside his garments and girding Himself with a towel, As He washed the disciples’ feet, He came to Peter—the boisterous, vocal one—who seems to refuse Jesus the privilege of washing his feet. When Jesus reveals that those who would not allow Jesus to wash their feet have no part with Him, Peter then asks for a complete bathing. Jesus explains that those who are “clean” have no need of a bath, but just to have their feet washed. He then proceeds to tell them that they should wash one another’s feet, and should follow His example of servanthood.
The lessons taught here are deep and poignant. John Christopher Thomas, in Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community gives a wonderful explanation of footwashing as a symbol of the washing away of post-conversion sin. These were followers of Christ already. They had cast out demons and healed the sick. However, Jesus taught them the need to wash the residue of sin and worldliness from themselves regularly. If men and women of Jesus’ day did not wash their feet physically on a regular basis, bacteria and parasites could enter the body and create disease and even death. In much the same way, sin can enter the soul without regular submission to Christ and even prayer for forgiveness in the soul of the Christian disciple. Don’t assume that your behavior and thought life are irrelevant once you are saved. Seek His face daily. Be willing to recognize the sin His Spirit reveals, and fall before Him in contrition and humility. Live in victory, but not to the point that you ignore your sin. God’s grace is great, but our submission to Him is the key to walking in grace. T
The second lesson here is the need for servanthood, not only to the Lord, but to one another. Never let your arrogance cause you to ignore your sin, but also never let your arrogance prevent you from finding an opportunity to serve. The Lord is our master, and our fellow servants are our brothers and sisters. Serve Him and serve one another as you love Him and love one another. This is way to Christian perfection, or at least the pursuit of it.