Five Observations About Jesus As a Foot Washer

By Brian Ehlers 

Early on in our courtship, my soon-to-be wife, Darcy, and I learned that relationships require hard work. I will never forget the day the Lord showed me I had set my expectations for her beyond what could possibly be met. From that day forward both Darcy and I experienced a greater freedom in Him. From those shaky beginnings the Lord has led us on a journey of humble servanthood, preferring the other over ourselves. We have been married now for 21 years. A life of fighting for what we each thought we deserved would have sunk our relationship.  

One of the most beautiful pictures of humility and service is Jesus washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:3-5). This was the job of a slave in many cultures of the day. This act of service was not expected of a teacher among his students. Here are five observations about Jesus as a foot washer: 

  1. Jesus knew His freedom, His position, and His destination, yet He still washed the disciples’ feet. The Father had given all things into Jesus’ hands; He had ultimate freedom. The Father gave the Son the steering wheel (freedom to choose), and the direction of humankind was at stake. The Lord also gives us a steering wheel. Will we use that freedom as Jesus did to fulfill our purpose of humble servanthood? Someone’s freedom from bondage could be at stake.  

Jesus came from the Father, and it was back to the Father He would return. His position was the Son of God, but it was only through the cross (suffering and servanthood) that He would return to the right hand of the Father. We too are sons and daughters of God. Our confidence of who we are in Him should never presume that we deserve anything more than obedience to the purpose for which we are called. It is through serving our purpose that we experience fulfillment and life more abundant. The road to abundance is through selflessness, putting the other first. Regardless of our position and destination there will always be “feet” that need to be washed. 

  1. The foot washing (servanthood) lesson is so important. Peter understood his position as student to the Master and respectfully wanted no part in Jesus’ foot washing. Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (verse 8, NKJV). Peter had to receive the foot washing lesson to be Jesus’ disciple so that its impact could drive Him into the humility and service that would free others, bring Him fulfillment, and glorify God. The Lord’s service and sacrifice for us will drive us to the same humility and service. 
  1. Jesus washed the feet of His betrayer, Judas. Betrayal is about as low as it gets, a combination of deceit, disrespect, and disloyalty – a backstabbing from someone you thought had your back. The perfect scenario for anger, hate, and a good fight, right? Instead of throwing Judas out in a fit of rage for his betrayal, Jesus washed his feet. My sinful nature has never liked the “love your enemies,” “turn the other cheek” lessons found in the Sermon on the Mount, but as seen here, Jesus is our perfect example, and I have found embracing the truth of these lessons to be liberating. A lot of our anger and fear come with grudges and an empowered enemy. Grudges bring the poison of unforgiveness. An enemy who has been empowered by our thought life to have sway over our destiny brings fear. Forgiveness and faith are the keys that unlock the prison of unforgiveness and fear. We all need to assess how “enemy loving” and “cheek turning” is going in our life. 
  1. Jesus commissioned the disciples to be foot washers. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (verses 15-16). Jesus is telling His disciples that they are not too good for humble servanthood. More than instituting a foot washing ceremony, Jesus was elevating a “foot washing” state of mind. The sin nature focuses on my wants, my freedoms, and my rights, so a servanthood state of mind takes consistent yielding to a humble spirit. Would those closest to you say you are yielding to a humble servanthood state of mind? 
  1. God blesses a servanthood state of mind. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (verse 17). We don’t give to get but knowing God’s hand of blessing is upon us is priceless. Having confidence that God is being glorified and we are walking in His blessing (regardless of our circumstances) is an assurance that can’t be beat. When Darcy and I yield to a humble servanthood state of mind, our marriage is more blessed. One caution for ministry leaders who are fully engaged in a humble servanthood state of mind: this does not mean saying “yes” to everyone. It does mean loving God and others and always saying “yes” to God. Whose “feet” do you and I need to wash? 

About the Author

Brian Ehlers and his wife, Darcy, have been married for 21 years. They have 11-year-old twin daughters, Hannah and Abigail. Brian worked in the mutual fund industry until God called him to vocational ministry serving as an executive assistant at Open Bible East, then as a lead pastor of a local church, then again as an assistant and church plant director in the East Region, and now as Secretary/Treasurer of Open Bible Churches. 

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