Go read the first seventeen verses of John 13. It’s the chapter in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, the night of the Last Supper.
When he gets to Peter, there’s some confusion to clear up first. Peter knows that footwashing is a job reserved for the lowest servants, and how can he let his Lord abase himself so?
Jesus answers that unless Peter lets him wash his feet, he can’t have any part in Jesus.
What’s that about?
I don’t think Jesus is talking literally about washing feet at this point. It’s a symbolic action, referring to the cleaning that Jesus can give those who believe in him. Our sins are worse than we think they are, and even our best efforts are so pale next to the holiness and righteousness and perfection of God that the prophet Isaiah describes them as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and Paul as “rubbish” and “loss” (Philippians 3:8). Our greatest sin and failure is our waywardness, our losing touch with God and not caring.
On the cross, with the death commemorated as Good Friday yesterday, Jesus took on himself the penalty due for our sin, substituting himself for us. In his resurrection commemorated at Easter tomorrow, he defeated both spiritual and physical death, and made it possible for us to share in his new life, to make us spiritually alive, and to so join us with God that our waywardness can never separate us again (Romans 8:38-39).
Peter in his earnestness then asks Jesus to wash not only his feet, but also his hands and his head. Jesus replies that those who have had a bath are clean, and just need to wash the dust from their feet as they go from place to place. He tells the disciples that all of them, except the betrayer, are clean.
How can this be? Jesus has not yet died and risen — the disciples haven’t prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer” or studied “The Roman Road” or “The Four Spiritual Laws” or any other evangelistic tool.
The disciples have a lot to learn and understand, and the event on which their cleansing is based has not yet occurred, but they trust Jesus with their lives, and have left everything to follow him, and they believe what he says. That is enough.
It reminds me of two things.
First, a sermon I heard once about how the disciples followed Jesus for all sorts of reasons at various times, with various levels of understanding and various misconceptions and expectations. And yet Jesus welcomed them, and treated them as his true followers. It’s only a beginning, but that beginning is the fundamental thing, the thing that is necessary, and they can trust God to finish the work (Philippians 1:6).
Second, one of the things that led us to the practice of infant baptism was this idea of inclusion before full understanding. Just as the children of Israel were treated as children of the covenant, with the expectation and hope that they would grow up into their faith, so it is good to welcome our children as children of the covenant, with baptism as the sign and seal of it.
There’s more to the chapter, but naptime is over and I’ve already talked about what I wanted to talk about.
If you’re a believer, blessings to you and may you come more and more to trust in him, including to trust him to lead you into the rest of the truth and to finish the work he’s begun in you.
If you’re not, blessings to you, and may you seek the truth wherever it is to be found, and if you want to tag along after Jesus a bit and see what he’s about, there’s room for you there.