Summary: The Lord's washing of all the disciples' feet reminds us that all of us need cleansing, that His cleansing starts us on the way to holiness, and that we are then empowered to help others toward cleansing.
When I was growing up, there were very definite rules about what you did or did not do at the dinner table. Obviously, everyone was expected to wash their hands before coming to the table and then to wait quietly while prayer was offered. To this day, if I rush to eat something without doing both of those things, I feel wrong, I feel incomplete. Just have to wash hands and pray before eating.
You know how in one Scripture Jesus said to His disciples, “Watch and pray"? Well, in our house, we pronounced it a little differently: "Wash and pray".
But there was another cleanliness rule. This rule was that nobody sat at our dinner table in bare feet. You had to wear shoes to the table.
Now being a boy with an analytical turn of mind (my father used to say that the very first word I learned was "Why?"), as somebody who always had to know why, I questioned that policy. "Mother, I am not planning to pick up my food between my toes. Why do I have to wear shoes?" “Because your feet are dirty, and we don't want dirt at the dinner table."
Now I had a comeback for that. So the issue is not footwear, the issue is dirt. "Mother, what if I wash my feet at the same time as I wash my hands"? Sounds reasonable to me; doesn't that sound like it would work?
"No, they are feet and feet are always dirty. Put on some shoes."
Feet are always dirty. I don't know that my mother knew that she was making a profound theological statement, but she was. Feet are always dirty. We constantly walk through the valleys of temptation, we wade through the swamps of despondency. We climb all over the jagged boulders of despair, and we run down the slippery slopes of anger. Our feet are always dirty.
But whereas my dirty feet, exposed and grimy, were not welcome at the dinner table, let me tell you about a Table where dirty feet may be placed. Whereas my unshod and unwashed feet were banished from my mother's table, let me tell you this morning about the Father's Table, where, in fact, no other feet but dirty feet may come.
You see, the Lord Jesus, on the night before He was betrayed, took a towel, and prepared to wash the feet of His friends gathered at the Table. He knew those feet were dirty; He knew those lives were unclean, He knew those hearts were impure. But He knew too that He had the remedy. He washed their feet.
The Scripture tells us that when Jesus came to Peter, Peter tried to stop him, "Lord, you will never wash my feet," Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."
Friends, we are here as a Christian church because we have learned that the cleansing work of Christ is necessary. It is critical.
My mother was right. "Feet are always dirty." No amount of scrubbing and washing could have made them acceptable at the dinner table. There are some things we simply know are correct. I will tell you that as clearly as I know anything, I know that we are not capable on our own of dealing with the problems that lie right here, inside the human heart. We are simply not able to do it, and in fact, if you tell me that with nothing more than will power you can correct that alcohol problem, if you argue that with nothing more than your own strength you can handle that honesty issue; if you insist that you are all you need to confront that hostility thing ... if you tell me any of those things, then I will quickly tell you that you have just convinced me more than ever that neither you nor I are large enough to deal with our own needs. We don't even see them for what they are.