Cowards with Clean Feet

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Tim Kimmel offers a new perspective on the account of Jesus washing his disciples' feet.

At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.  Matthew 26:55-56

Let me set the stage for you. It’s Gethsemane; the witching hour. It is time for truth to play its ultimate hand. Eternity had submitted to a ticking clock. That clock’s alarm had suddenly gone off. Divine perfection had humbled himself within the confines of a human body. And now, this one-and-only instance of faultless humanity was about to take his iconic stand.

Evil’s shadow hung over this scene like a black fog. All of his actors were in place. They didn’t realize they were little more than sock-puppets of darkness masquerading as religious power brokers, Roman governors, professional soldiers, and fickle mobs. The coup Satan had started so long before was about to be completed. Or, so he thought.

Fortunately, Jesus wasn’t alone. He had his carefully chosen band-of-brothers surrounding him. Sure, one had already sold him out. In fact, he was leading this group of temple security thugs to capture him. But he still had the ones left.

He didn’t have the twelve, or the eleven that were left, or even one left of that collection of disciples he’d poured the last three years of his life into. There was no one to draw ranks around him and protect him from the hell that was in the process of breaking loose. But none of this took him by surprise. He was running solo. He’d known this for some time. He’d talked out the final scene with his Father in heaven, and then had stood up to carry out what he had come here to do. He was alone.

That was okay with him though. He knew going in the price he’d have to pay to redeem the people he so deeply loved. Humanity had been kidnapped. Sin and its ugly twin brother death held the human race hostage. The only begotten Son of God would have to die to pay the price for their freedom. The very people he came to save were going to leave him on his own to face this moment. But the evening before this early morning nightmare, Jesus had done something practical as well as symbolic to prepare them for this time when they would let him down.

He had washed their feet.

Feet - those smelly, disgusting things at the end of the disciple’s legs. Those cracked and gnarly appendages they brought to dinner covered in filth and sweat. Those left and right instruments of cowardliness they’d use the next morning to put distance between them and the Savior.  Jesus had gotten down on his knees, taken those feet in his hands and with water, soap and towel, washed them clean. He’d stooped lower than his disciples in order to do for them what they should have been doing for him.

Do you ever wonder what Jesus was thinking when he washed Judas’ feet? Judas would be racing off on his spanking clean feet (before their last meal was even over) to see how much Jesus’ enemies would pay him to set an ambush. Still, Jesus took his betraying vile feet in his hands and scrubbed them clean. How about Peter? This Galilean redneck was full of spit and bravado, usually the first one to want to turn nasty circumstances into a fight. Before the morning rooster would complete his obligatory wake-up call, Peter would triple down on his denial of even being acquainted with Jesus. Knowing full well what was going to happen, Jesus still gave Peter the best foot scrubbing Peter had ever had.

It was alright, though. Jesus understood. He knew that man, with all of his pride and confidence was helpless to stand on his own two feet when facing the full forces of the Prince of Darkness. And even without Satan messing with their minds, man had an historical record of being high on promises but low on follow-through.

Man has had millenniums to reflect on all of this. We now see clearly what Jesus’ disciples were blind to at the moment. Jesus donned towel and water at the Last Supper to illustrate man’s universal dilemma and God’s divine solution. We were stinky, gnarly, and filthy in our sin. Our only way out was for God to assume the form of a servant and stoop down to make us clean.

The night before, Jesus had used water to wash off the temporal miles of grime from their feet. This next day, Good Friday, he’d wash off a lifetime of sin … with his blood. His disciples ran away from him on clean feet he’d washed the night before. Meanwhile, before the day was done, evil would pierce Jesus’ own precious feet with spikes. And in the process, Jesus would give mankind an opportunity to have a clean heart.

The only difference between the disciples and us is that we weren’t there to join them in the abandonment of Jesus. But, just like them, he still loved us enough to do what had to be done to give us clean hearts, clean lives, and clean destinies. He’s the love of God wrapped in a towel and holding a basin of water. He’s the gospel hanging on a cross. He’s our eternal hope outside an empty tomb calling us to come to him on our feet of clay and receive his gift of eternal life.

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