Summary: Does the church undervalue the practice of foot washing? Should it be an ordinance or a sacrament

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Is Foot Washing a Sacrament?

John 13:1-17


Foot washing has been erratically performed by the church throughout the ages. Different groups hold to divergent opinions of it. I used to be in the Church of God where it was held in high regard, at least then. It seems even there to have fallen out of favor. The United Methodist Church at various times and places has embraced the practice of foot washing. The Poe in the Roman church washes the feet of some priests on Good Friday. How much more than that they practice, I do not know. Other churches do not practice it at all, or say that we practice it indirectly in our acts of service. What does the Bible say?

Exposition of the Text

There is definite break in the text here from chapter 12. This chapter starts with two significant terms. The first of these is “feast”. This word is used throughout the Gospel of John, showing that Jesus was in the habit of attending them. The full phrase occurs in John 5:1, in the section where Jesus meets the bedfast man at the Pool of Bethesda. All of these feasts serve as pointers to this feast, this Passover. This is accentuated by the use of the second phrase “that His hour had come”. The use of the word “hour” also occurs throughout the Gospel in one of two ways. The first of these occurred in 2:4 in which Jesus tells his mother that His “hour” had not yet come. Here he addresses his mother as “woman.” What Jesus was telling her was that he had to follow His Father’s will, not His mother’s in the way His Messiahship was to be revealed. When we encounter Mary again at the crucifixion, Jesus gives her care into the hand of John, where again she is addressed as “woman” as though Jesus is saying: “Mother this is the hour and the way my Messiahship is to be revealed.” A similar word “time” is used in John 7:6 where again Jesus refuses to show Himself in the way his own brothers wanted Him to reveal Himself. It was the wrong feast (Tabernacles), the wrong time, and the wrong way. God’s plan was for the Messiah to be revealed at a certain Passover on a cross.

The second use of “hour” supplements the fact that Jesus was working out a specific plan scheduled on a day in history that the Father had ordained before creation itself. So when the Jews in 8:20 desired to seize Him in the Temple treasury they were unable to do so because it was not yet the time that God had set. Later on in that chapter, they took up stones to stone Him, but he walked out unharmed because stoning was not to be the method of Jesus’ execution.

In chapter 12:27, Jesus talks about the imminence of His departure and attaches to it that it would be as the result of violence. This prepares us for 13:1 which we are now discussing. The time had fully come, the time which was preordained. All of the events had come together. It was the time to complete the mission that he had been sent to perform on earth and return to His Father.

This verse also makes reference that Jesus had loved his disciples “to the end”. The word translated “end” here is the Greek word, “telos” which is very hard to translate directly into English. Some of you may see a word other than “end” in your translation such as “fully”. The best way to describe the meaning of this word is that it is the word that indicates that a certain plan had been fully implemented according to design. For example, a bridge is designed by an architect. From the blueprint of the architect, forces are bought to bear, materials are purchased, builders do their work, supervisors supervise to see that everything is going according to plan, and finally, the work of the bridge is completed and ready for business, just as designed. Jesus uses another form of “telos” to indicate that the work of redemption was completed on the cross exactly according to the prearranged plan when he cries “It is finished” (John 19:30).

So now we can gather what Jesus is telling His disciples. His death on a cross was the completed expression of His love for His disciples, not just the eleven here, but all those who would believe on Him. And the cross is the greatest and most complete manifestation of love ever for the entire world. It is the fulfillment of John 3:16.

The demonstration of Jesus’ perfect love for the disciples begins in verse 2. The best texts indicate that the foot washing was an interruption of the dinner itself. According to Dr. Vanderlaan the partakers of this meal would have been seated at a U shaped table. Unlike our modern era where the table tends to be rectangular and the guest of honor seated at one end of the table, Jesus would have reclined at the place next to the right end of the table. The table would be set so that three people would have eaten out of each of the individual dishes. If we look at the events later in the chapter, John would have sat in one of the seats of honor next to Jesus. What is really shocking is that Judas sat at the other. We will discuss this in more detail next week. Let it be simply said that Jesus’ love was offered to all the disciples, even Judas who participates in the Lord’s Supper as well as the foot washing.

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