The full significance of what Jesus was doing while washing His disciples' feet, was hidden from them, the lesson taught in His example, and which is ever to be the rule of our behavior one to another as disciples of the Son of God, was veiled from their understanding.
After Jesus, "had washed their feet, and had taken His garments and was set down again He said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?" (John 13:7) They might have readily replied, "Why, Thou hast washed our feet!" Jesus had certainly done this, but in this act there was that done by Him which far transcended in signification there mere outward act. The washing of their feet was the external form, of that in and by which Christ was pleased to illustrate that which He did for an example that we should follow. O, the graciousness, the condescension, the willing ministry of the Incarnate Son of God, who verily is meek and lowly at heart! O, what amazing grace, the surpassing condescension seen in Jesus, our dear Savior! What was it then Jesus did while washing the feet of the disciples which caused Him to say, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter"?
While at Capernaum on a certain occasion, the disciples came to Jesus saying, "Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1) The subject seems to have been one that caused trouble in the hearts of the disciples. The teaching of the grace of God in the hearts of poor sinners, is that which humbles them in their own sight, and according to the motions of this grace given them, they will be found fulfilling the royal law of King Emmanuel written in their hearts. (James 2:8; Jer. 31:32) "In honor preferring one another." (Rom. 12:10) And the longings of their very souls will be found giving heed to the wrods of our Lord by His apostle Paul: "Let nothing be done through strife and vain glory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem another better than themselves."
But the true disciples of the Son of God find another law in their members warring against the law of their minds, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin which is in their members. This captivity often casts the dear child of God into the depths of wretchedness, so that in his pangs he will cry out, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
He finds he cannot extricate himself, creatures and creature appliances, all fail, but when God shines, though it be but a ray of light in his heart piercing the terrible gloom of his soul, the light of the knowledge of Jehovah's glory that shines forth in the face of the Mediator of the New Covenant, hope revives, our mourning is turned into joy and being thus cheered, in a song of triumphant praise, we sing in melodious strains, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 7:25)
How precious was the answer of Jesus to the question of the disciples. "Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
We should think that such explicit teaching would quiet and set at rest any questionings as to "who is the greatest." We journey on with Jesus and His disciples, and come to the memorable night in which the Son of God was betrayed, and in that upper room, where He partook of the Passover with the twelve disciples, it is recorded, "There was also a strife among them, which should be accounted the greatest." (Luke 21:24) What! at it again? Had not the example of the little child, and Jesus decision to whom they had appealed already settled the point. Is it now again in dispute? Had each one been so humbling himself as a little child, and were all so abased, so insignificant in their own sight; had they been thus, why this strife? O, that hateful spirit of Lucifer! (Isa. 14:12) That spirit of Diotrephes, "Which loveth to have the pre-eminence." (III John 9) Are we tinctured with his spirit? I confess with shame that I am not exempt. There have been times when to others there may have been no manifestation of such a thing, but in secret I have found it was there, known only to my soul, and to my God. We have seen how Jesus, in teaching His disciples who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, illustrates His teaching by putting a little child in the midst of them. The little child thus in the midst of them would see them all above him, and to see their faces he would have to look up. These full grown men would all have the pre-eminence. The Son of God also at another time had taught them, saying, the scribes and Pharisees "love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi, be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren. And clal no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ, but he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Matt. 23:6-12)
In Bible times to provide water to wash one's feet was an act of hospitality; and the guest washed his own feet or some one of household, a servant, a slave washed his feet. Let us read together, "And one of the Parisee's house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden Him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if He were a prophet would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed him five hundred pence and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore which of them will love him the most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And He said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore, I say unto thee, her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven the same loveth little. And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with Him began to say within themselves Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And He said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." (Luke 7:36-50)
When the servants of David were come to Abigal to Carmel, they spake unto her saying, David sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife. And she arose and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid to as a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord." (I Sam. 25:40-41) The apostle speaking of the widow says, "Let not a widow be taken under the number of three score years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saint's feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work." (I Tim. 5:9-10)
The feet of the disciples were defiled, as you see in John 13:6-10, "Then cometh He to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto Him, Lord dost Thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto Him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me. Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit."
Peter's hands and head were clean. Christ was not going through the motion of washing their feet, as though they were unclean; it is unthinkable that He would do such a thing (sic). Our precious Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory was doing His disciples real service. The disciples' feet were dirty, He was thier very Servant; did them an actual service. Had their feet been clean, Jesus could not have washed them (sic); for to wash is to cleanse.
While washing their feet Jesus said, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." They knew He was washing their feet; but what He did far exceeded, was of far deeper meaning thatn the external act of washing their feet. This they knew He had done, but that which He taught them in this act, and which teaching they were ever to follow, they knew not. "Thou knowest not now." "Ye call Me Lord and Master, and ye say well, for so I am." They had ever been ready to give Jesus the pre-eminence. They had no thought of questioning His authority for they readily submitted themselves unto Him as willing servants. (Psa. 110:3) Christ Jesus is the greatest, the chiefest among ten thousand. He is the Head of the Church and in all things has the pre-eminence. (Col. 1:18) That, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the eart. This same Jesus, the Word made flesh, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, but took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in the fashion of man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
That pre-eminence, for the possession of which there was such unseemly strife at the Passover table, was that in which the greatest, the pre-eminent one would be able to lord it over his fellows, over God's heritage; but the dear Savior had His doctrine told them, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you, but whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." This pathway to honor and greatness in Christ's kingdom, does not accord with our canal thoughts and ways of becoming great. Jesus, therefore, our Lord and Master, humbled Himself for our example, and took upon Him the form of a servant. (I Sam. 25:41) "Know ye what I have done? Ye call me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, YE ALSO OUGHT TO wash one another's feet, for I have given you an example that ye SHOULD DO AS I HAVE DONE TO YOU. Verily, verily I say unto you, the servant is NOT GREATER THAN HIS LORD, neither is he that is sent greater than He that sent him. If ye KNOW these things, HAPPY are ye IF YOU DO THEM." Jesus abased Himself; He ministered to these striving disciples; He washed the feet of these unworthy worms. He was their servant and served them. "Whosoever will be greatest among you?" Is that what we are aspiring to? Then let him be servant of all. Let him be one to minister to others. Does some one say that would be too humiliating, that is not the pathway to greatness that I have mapped out for myself. I want to be looked up to, to be in high reputation, to have some authority, to have some one under me. If this be one mind, we need not deceive ourselves; we can never attain to greatness in the kingdom of God. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister." "If ye know these things happy are ye if ye do them." "Ministering to the saints" - this is indeed happy service; the sweetest pleasure is felt when we are found serving one another in love. When our Saviour was washing the feet of these disciples, it was as though He had said: "Let My mind be in you, learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, instead of striving for dominion over one another, the ascendancy, the pre-eminence.
"Whosoever among you will be greatest, let him be your minister." I am your Lord. I am your Master. I am the greatest. I am the Pre-eminent One, yet I am among you not to be ministered unto, but to minister. I am among you as one that serveth. (Luke 22:27) "I have given you an example, that ye should DO as I have done to you." The glorious Gospel of Christ makes makes known to believers in our Lord Jesus Christ the many channels in which they can "serve one another in love." How precious is the record in Romans 16:1-4. "I commend unto you Phebe, our sister, which is a servant of the church at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquilla, my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles."
The aposlte Paul says, "Ourselves your servants for Christ sake." (II Cor. 4:5) Does thy brother need a cup of cold water? Give it to him. Is he in need? Shut not up the bowels of thy compassion from him. If ye say unto him, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." "Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." The Scriptures are full of heavenly precepts, that we may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. The feet of the disciples were defiled, Jesus the Pre-eminent One, the Lord and Master riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself; after that He poureth water into a basin and washed and wiped His disciples' feet. Jesus did not merely go through the form of serving them; He washed their feet, He really served them. Washing another's feet was the occupation of the lowly - of servants. "Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant (ebed - a slave) to wash the feet of the servant of my lord." (I Sam. 25:41)
Jesus said, "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well: for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you." "By love serve one another." (Gal. 5:13) If I can serve my brother by washing his feet, it is my blessing to do it. To merely assume the attitude of a servant will not suffice. To say with my lips, I am your humble servant, is of no account. Our Saviour's instruction is that in humbleness of mind, and in love, serve and minister to one another. It is that we are truly servants of the saints in all the channels of service required of us one toward another in the blessed Gospel of Christ.
It is our sacred right to be found serving one another in love. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." While we are thus servants of each other in the Gospel, there will be none of that bitter, fleshly strife among us, as to which of us shall be accounted the greatest.
May the Lord graciously bless us with the mind of Christ. Phil. 2:5-8.
Frederick W. Keene
Zion's Landmark, Feb. 1933