Tension and anticipation were thick in the air when Jesus sat with His disciples during what would be their last meal together. Even though it was so palpable, the disciples, as yet, did not know why. In their Master’s face could be found both tension and resolve and the Word’s He was teaching them with were thick with hidden meanings.
To make things even more confusing, He now wished to wash their feet, a duty for only the lowliest servant. Why would He degrade Himself in such a way? Why would He allow Himself to be so humiliated? Just one more thing to add to an already confusing day.
Of course, we know now that Jesus was teaching them a lesson on how to carry on the ministry after His Ascension. They would have to learn that to be first, sometimes you must be last. To be great, they must learn to be servants of all. Even if it means you must wash the feet of those who are the lowest of the low.
The act of washing was an important part of the Biblical experience and in almost every case it had a symbolic meaning. In Leviticus and in many other places it was done to make one pure, from Leviticus 15:11, “Anyone whom the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.”
Even the priests, upon entering the temple had to have a ritual washing of their hands and feet before they entered, “The LORD said to Moses, “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations” (Exodus 30:17-21).
The word Baptism itself simply means to wash. The sacrament of Baptism still brings about purification or regeneration and admission into the Christian church as one made pure through water and Word.
Jesus, Himself, went through the same process as billions of people after Him. Though He was inherently pure, He maintained the washing that would prepare Him for ministry as it had been done for priests throughout the centuries. “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
This custom of purification was an important part of Jewish life in the time of Jesus. In fact, the water that Jesus turned to wine was taken from the 20- and 30-gallon wine jars containing water for purification, from John 2:6-11, “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So, they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:6-11). The water used for Jesus’ first miracle was water made pure by the Word and used to proclaim the glory of God.
In Jesus’ washing of His disciple’s feet, He was not only giving an example of humility His disciples would need to learn from as they carried on His ministry, He was also purifying them for that ministry. From that day forward they would be called to carry on the message as God’s priests and their temple would be wherever that Word would be proclaimed, even to the ends of the earth.
Now their ministry has become ours and through the same Baptism we have been prepared to carry on as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High. The same Word is to used with the same passion of all the saints before us. God looks to those who have been purified through water and Word even today and are willing to carry on the work His dear Son has started. Please pray with me:
Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing us to be washed in the pure waters of Baptism. Help us to carry on Your ministry as people washed in the blood of the lamb. Amen.