Foot washing was commonplace in Greco-Roman and the first-century Jewish culture and appears as a ritual of daily cleansing, as a religious act, or as a token of hospitality when someone first entered a home. This was a world where the roads were dusty and sandals were worn daily. In Luke 7:36-50 Simon the Pharisee's failure to wash Jesus' feet was correctly interpreted as a gesture of hostility. In Timothy 5:10 washing the feet of the saints may be a metaphor for humble service.
"Actions speak louder than words." This expression is not always true, but it is sometimes true. And in some instances it is the only actions that speak at all. Sometimes a gesture or an object lesson gets the point across faster and better than any number of words. We know these things. So we are not surprised to learn that on His last full night with His disciples just before His crucifixion, when He wanted to teach them many things, Jesus began His teaching, not with words which might have been missed by them, but with the two significant actions. The first action was the washing of the disciples feet, recorded in John 13:2-11. The second action, which I will not talk much about, was the giving of the sop to Judas, recorded in John 13:21-30. In each case the action is followed by important teaching.
Many wonder why Jesus did these actions. The disciples were preoccupied. They disciples were terrified of the Jewish leaders; they suspected that Jesus was about to be arrested, and they were afraid that He would die and that they would die with Him. Or, even if that were not the case, it might be that He would be taken and they be left. Nothing in their present circumstances had prepared them to hear His teaching. So Jesus acted boldly in order to get their attention. We cannot miss the fact that He sometimes does that with us, particularly when we are persisting in some sin or act of stubbornness and so refuse to listen to Him.
Verse 1 of John 13 states that " Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." This is the cornerstone verse to Jesus' love for the disciples in these few verses. Jesus loved his disciples the whole time he was with them but the foot-washing is a symbol of his love in action for them. "His own" are the objects of His love; "unto the end" is the extent of His love. He loves us unto "the end" of our miserable failures, unto the "end" of our wanderings and backslidings, unto the "end" of our unworthiness, unto the "end" of our deep need. We should recognize that love itself is unrecognizable. From God's perspective there is nothing in us to make us remotely desirable. He is holy; we are unholy. He is just; we are unjust. He is loving; we are filled with hatred and all forms of sin. In short, we are sinful and in willfull rebellion against Him. Yet he loves us. In fact, this is so great a marvel that God even uses it to commend His love to us. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Jesus knew that one of his disciples had already decided to betray him. Another would deny him by the next morning. Even this night, they would desert him. In the next hours they would repeatedly...