Peter looked down at Jesus. For the past three and a half years, he had followed Him all over Judea. He had left his boat, his nets and his occupation behind and had become one of His disciples. He had learned firsthand of the gospel of the Kingdom of God and had seen the many miracles wrought by His hands. Now, his Lord had removed His outer garments, wrapped a towel around Himself and knelt down before him. He began to unfasten Peter’s sandals. The basin of water nearby spoke volumes about what He intended to do.
He had watched as Jesus had washed some of the other disciples’ feet, and now here He was kneeling before him. He had to say something.
“Lord, are you washing my feet?!” Peter blurted out.
He knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and he understood that He was the prophesied Messiah or Christ they had been waiting for. Jesus was his Lord! He was Peter’s Teacher and his Master! Yet here He was, kneeling before Peter like a lowly servant—preparing to wash his feet. It just wasn’t right.
“What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this,” Jesus answered.
Peter didn’t get it, deeply meaningful as it was.
The Master’s example of serving
As they had followed Christ throughout Judea, they had walked along the dusty roads, and much of the time their feet were filthy. Some houses didn’t receive their message, and the disciples had been instructed to shake off the dust from their feet as a testimony against them. Those who received them willingly often provided them a place to wash their feet, with sometimes perhaps a slave or house-servant to do it for them.
That the Messiah had taken the position of such a lowly slave was unacceptable. He was a King, not a servant.
“Lord, you shall never wash my feet!” Peter protested.
“If I do not wash you, you have no part with me,” Christ replied softly.
“Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head also,” Peter insisted.
“He who is bathed need only wash his feet … And you are clean, but not all of you.” Peter didn’t know what He meant by that. Realizing that Jesus would not be deterred by his protests, he relaxed and let his Teacher begin the task.
Jesus took Peter’s foot in his hands, unfastened the sandal and gently lowered his foot into the basin. The cool water gave Peter a start, and as Christ began to cup His hands and wash Peter’s feet—wiping the dirt from them gently—what thoughts went through Peter’s mind?
His protests tonight perhaps reminded him of the time that Jesus had told him and the other disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the elders and chief priests. Christ told them He would suffer and be killed, then raised the third day. Peter pulled Him aside and started to rebuke Him, letting his Master know that he would never let that happen. He wouldn’t stand for it!
But Jesus had corrected him sharply and told them all that those who would come after Him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. If they desired to save their life, He said they would lose it, but if they lost their life for His sake, they would find it.
Deny himself … lose his life for the sake of Christ … Peter had puzzled over his Rabbi’s words.
Jesus began to dry Peter’s foot with the towel, bringing him back to the present. Jesus unfastened Peter’s other sandal and began to wash the grime from his other foot.
A lesson from a child
The memories, one would imagine, came flooding back.
Once, as they had all traveled to Capernaum, Peter and the rest of the disciples had gotten into an argument about which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. They argued over who was the most important, or who would be the leader under Christ.
Jesus must have overheard them, because when they arrived at their destination, He asked what they were arguing about. Peter and the rest of the disciples had remained silent. They didn’t want to admit that they had been arguing about which one of them would be the greatest.
The road to Capernaum wasn’t the first time, nor was it the last time they had argued about that topic. In fact, it came up again this very evening.
Christ had sat down with them after arriving in Capernaum and told them that if a person wanted to be first, he must be last and the servant of all. He then brought a child before them and told them that whoever received a child such as this in His name would be welcoming Him and the Father who sent Him. Whoever humbled themselves as this little child was humble would be the greatest in the Kingdom.
“Blessed are you if you do them”
Jesus dried Peter’s foot, picked up the basin and moved on from one disciple to the next, washing their feet and wiping them dry with His towel. Perhaps he saw a hint of sadness in Christ’s eyes when He knelt to wash the feet of Judas Iscariot, their money keeper.
When Jesus had finished washing all of their feet, He stood up, laid aside the towel and put on His outer garments. He then sat down with His disciples.
“Do you know what I have done to you?” Jesus asked them.
Peter and the rest of the disciples were likely still stunned at what had just happened.
“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” Jesus explained.
He continued: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 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.”
Their Master had provided the 12 with an incredible example of humility and service. If anyone were owed special treatment, or if anyone were worthy of worship or greatness, it was Him. Yet He had lowered Himself to the position of a slave and washed the feet of His disciples, those whom He loved.
Jesus had said it Himself—the servant isn’t greater than the Master. Nor is He who was sent greater than He who sent Him.
And Jesus had taught the need for serving in leadership before. When the mother of James and John had requested that her sons sit at Christ’s right and left hand in His Kingdom, what was Christ’s response? That the gentile kings lord it over their subjects, but that this was not to be so among them. Jesus’ disciples were not to be concerned with greatness or position. Instead, they were to focus on serving others.
“If you know these things,” Christ stated, “blessed are you if you do them.”
A shocking turn of events
Jesus continued: “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’”
Peter no doubt recognized the words of the psalmist and wondered what Christ was insinuating.
Jesus went on: “Now I tell you before it comes that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
He appeared troubled and then stated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”
Peter and the rest of the apostles looked around at each other in shock. The room grew louder as the disciples began to question Christ and one another about this stunning statement.
Each was asking, “Lord, is it I?” Peter looked up and caught the eye of John, who was nearest to his Lord, and encouraged him to ask Jesus of whom He was speaking.
Christ answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” Dipping the bread, Jesus handed it to Judas Iscariot, who asked Him, “Rabbi, is it I?” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” He then told Judas, “What you do, do quickly.”
Judas moved to the door and disappeared into the night.
Peter’s mind probably began to race. What had Christ meant by betrayal? And where was Judas off to at this time of night? Some assumed that as the money keeper he must have been getting provisions for the feast days that would follow, or maybe he was making a contribution to the poor, as was customary.
An example for Christ’s disciples to follow
Christ had other urgent things to say: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Peter likely reflected on this new commandment in light of the evening’s lesson of the foot-washing. The disciples’ Master had personally demonstrated the kind of loving, humble attitude of service He expected of His followers, and now told them they must have that same giving and serving attitude toward one another. This attitude of selfless love and service, He said, would show all others that they truly were His followers.
Jesus’ actions and words were to help them see that being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t a position of power and authority. It is a life of willing service. It requires a person to humble himself and to view the needs of others as greater than his own. If the Messiah—the Son of God—was willing to humble Himself by showing His love to His disciples in such a way, how much more should Peter humble himself and become a servant to all?
His Master had set the example tonight, and He expected His disciples to follow. It wasn’t enough to simply know it. Peter and the others were expected to follow through and live this way, actively showing their love to others through serving.
Peter was still processing the lesson as Jesus told him his personal commitment as a disciple would be challenged. And Jesus had still more troubling and astonishing things to say.
As it got later, and Jesus’ words became more alarming and pressing, Peter wondered what the night would yet bring, and what other important lessons would await. Jesus assured them it would all work out. While their faith would be challenged in ways they could not yet comprehend, they had to continue in what He had shown them to truly prove to be His followers.