I’m Not Touching Your Stinkin’ Feet

John 13:1-17

January 9, 1994 | Ray Pritchard

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:1-17


I have been thinking this week about what a servant is and does. I sat down and started making a list of great servants I have known, going all the way back to my childhood days. I let my memory run free and started thinking of people who over the years have impressed me by their servant heart and servant spirit: Betty Jahns, Rick and JoAnn Hale, Pastor Lucien, Delores Bolton, Buford Thornton, Hal Kirby, Libby Redwein, Alvin Johnson, Kim Lewis, James and Sheri Kegel, Jerry and Beverly Hansen, Dennis Greene, Jesse Sandberg and Brother Bob Kaufin. None of these people are from the Oak Park area. I went back to the past.

You know what I discovered as I made that list? It is difficult to say exactly what a servant does, but you know one when you see one. It is hard to get a good definition of what servanthood is, but you sure know what it is when you experience it. I thought about Delores Bolton, a church secretary for 30 years, one of the most retiring, shy, unassuming people I have ever known. Buford Thornton, a pharmacist, was one of my father’s best friends; Hal Kirby, who had so much help for me when my father died; my friend Libby Redwein down in Texas. Of those people, none of them are famous as the world counts fame. None of them are great and there is no reason that you would know any of them. And yet, when I thought of servants, those are the people I thought of. Why? Because you may not know how to define it, but you sure know a servant when you meet one.

I draw some conclusions from that.

1. Being a servant is an attitude, not an action.

So many of us think, “Tell me what I need to do if I’m going to be a servant.” Being a servant doesn’t start with what you do, being a servant starts with the attitude of the heart.

2. Servants come in all sizes, all shapes and all colors.

These people are some of the most ordinary people in all the world. Mannford George Guchki said it this way, “The servant of God may be a very ordinary person with a very ordinary manner of life.”

3. Anyone can be a servant if they have a servant’s heart.

What is it that makes the difference between being a servant and not being a servant? Is it visiting a nursing home? Is it baking bread for those who are sick? Is it giving money to those who are in need? No, because you can visit a nursing home with a servant’s heart or you can do it out of a sheer sense of obligation. You can bake bread because you want to serve somebody, or you can do it because you want to win favor and have them praise you. You can give money because you really want to serve, or you can give money in order to curry favor with somebody. The same action can be the action of a servant or the action of a proud person. What makes the difference is the motivation inside the human heart.

4. Some people will find it easier to be a servant than other people.

However, the Bible commands us all to be servants whether we find it easy or difficult. Somebody said to me last week, “Are you going to talk about the spiritual gift of being a servant or the spiritual gift of service?” I said yes. I am doing it right now.

There is such a thing as a spiritual gift of service.

There are those people inside the body of Christ who are specially gifted by God at serving others. Romans 12:7 says, “If your gift is service, let him serve.” The other part is the part that all believers, whether they have the gift or not, are commanded to serve one another. Galatians 5:13 states, “You therefore, have been set free. But do not use your freedom as an excuse to indulge the flesh, but rather serve one another in love.” So whether you find it easy or whether you find it difficult to be a servant, it is still commanded that you should have a servant’s heart.

5. Jesus Christ is the ultimate or model servant for the people of God.

There are two verses that you ought to tattoo on your soul. The first is Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” The second is Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” What was Jesus, why did he come? He was a servant, he came to serve.

Where do you find servanthood in the life of Christ?

I think you could go almost anywhere in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but to me the supreme expression was Thursday night in the Upper Room.

The disciples gather with Jesus for their final meal. They are all there—James and John, Judas, Peter, Bartholomew, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot. They are chattering in a nervous tone. Things aren’t going well. The men know that something is up. Jesus seems pensive and quiet. He doesn’t seem his usual gregarious self. He talks, but it seems as if he has something on his mind and indeed he does.

Jesus, as he eats that meal, knows that before long Judas will come with a kiss, the Roman soldiers will come to arrest him, and soon he will stand before Herod and Annas and Caiphas and Pilate. Soon, in just a matter of hours, he will be hanging on a cross. The chatter goes on back and forth and Jesus listens.

Suddenly, without a word, he stands up. Without any explanation, he takes off his tunic and wraps the towel of a slave around his waist. Taking a pitcher of water, he goes to the end of the table and kneels down. Without a word he takes the feet of the disciple. He brushes the dirt off and begins to splash the water on the feet. He massages it. When it is clean, he takes the towel and wipes the feet dry. He goes to the next one and does the same thing. In the room there is silence, total silence. No one dares to speak. They cannot believe what Jesus is doing.

Four facts about foot washing:

1. Foot washing was considered an ordinary sign of common courtesy.

To us what he did was bizarre and unusual, but in those days foot washing was just what you did when somebody came to your house. The roads in Palestine were dry and dusty, except when it rained they turned into a quagmire of mud. So even if your feet were clean when you left your house, by the time you got wherever you were going, your feet would be covered with dust and dirt and grime and grit. So it was common in those days that if you came to my house for the evening, when you arrived I would greet you with a kiss on the cheek, I would offer you oil to rub on your face, then I would call my servant, who would kneel down and take off your sandals and he would wash your feet. That was a sign of common courtesy.

But what was NOT common was for the host to wash the feet of his guests.

Foot washing was the work of slaves.

It was the mark of a rich man that he never had to wash anybody’s feet because he had enough servants to handle the feet of anybody who came to see him. But Jesus broke the rules and that’s why they were so shocked—not that somebody would wash their feet, but that Jesus was the one doing it. That broke all the customs of the day.

2. Foot washing by definition is dirty, smelly and humiliating.

Have you ever tried to wash somebody’s feet at the end of a long, hard day? Have you ever tried to wash somebody‘s feet covered with grime, perspiration, somebody’s feet when the feet really stink? Have you ever put your face right down next to an ingrown toenail? It’s not as much fun as you think it is.

There are some churches, I think the Freewill Baptist are among them, that will have foot washing as a part of their regular practice. Some churches even call it a Third Ordinance —Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Washing of Feet. They will say, “On Thursday night we’re going to have a foot washing ceremony.” So everybody will come out on Thursday night. Only what do they do before they come to church? They wash their feet. Because you don’t want anybody touching your dirty feet. But that misses the point. The only feet that need washing are dirty feet. Just to have somebody messing around with your feet is embarrassing.

As I was preparing this, my mind went back to Seminary days when I took a course called The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) in Greek exegesis. There were about twelve of us in the class. It was taught by a young professor at Dallas called John Best. John Best had always struck me as a rather proper, rather straight, non-exciting, typical Greek teacher, knowing the adverbs and participles, but nobody that would surprise you.

We were a couple of weeks into the class and we came to this passage in John 13. We were all sitting around a table and he had a box next to him. He started to talk about the Greek text, about participles and adverbs and conjunctions and pluperfects, and suddenly he said, “Take off your shoes, men.” I don’t like it when somebody says that. We all looked at him. “Go on,” he said, “Take off your shoes.” So we reluctantly took off our shoes. He opened up his box and said, “Give me your shoes.” He started polishing our shoes. He said, “I could have washed your feet, but you would have thought that was bizarre. But shoe shining is something you pay people to do. That is the closest I can come.”

When he came to me, it bothered me. I didn’t want to give him my shoes because my shoes were old. My shoes were dirty. My shoes had a hole in the bottom. Because my shoes had been on my feet, they stunk. With my shoes off, my feet were stinking. I didn’t feel comfortable. That was 17 years ago, but when I came to this passage, that is exactly what came back to my mind, because any time people start messing around with your feet and you don’t expect them to, it’s uncomfortable. It’s dirty; it’s humiliating. It makes you vulnerable.

3. Foot washing, though often misunderstood, meets a very real need for continued cleansing.

Peter told the Lord, “Don’t touch my feet. You’re not washing my feet. Jesus, what are you doing?” By the way, when Peter spoke up, I think he was speaking for all the disciples. As usual, Peter was blurting out the concern of all of them. In Peter’s mind and in the mind of the disciples, what Jesus was doing was demeaning. You didn’t do that. That was slaves’ work. Don’t, Lord, don’t touch my feet. That’s not your job. That’s beneath you.

What bothered them was not what he was doing, it’s that he was doing it. Foot washing was OK as long as a person of lower class or lower position did it. But to see the Son of God do it, that was a bother. That just blew all their preconceptions; it destroyed their status quo notions.

I have a question for you. If foot washing was common, and it was, and they had come together as friends, and they had, then why hadn’t they already washed each other’s feet? And why hadn’t they washed Jesus’ feet already? What was it the disciples were talking about before and during the Last Supper? What was the topic? Who’s going to be the greatest. Jesus was about to be crucified, and they were arguing about who would be on his left and right. Listen, as long as you’re arguing about who’s the greatest, you’re not going to have any time to do foot washing, because foot washing and looking out for number one are mutually exclusive.

In that room you had a bunch of proud hearts and dirty feet. They would fight over a throne, but they wouldn’t fight over a towel and a basin.

Not only that, the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is meant to be a picture of his work on the cross. The disciples didn’t understand that. It is meant to picture the cleansing that his death can provide. The dirt on the feet is just a symbol of the dirt that’s inside the soul. The dirt on the outside is just a picture of the dirt of sin, and the water that washes away the dirt of the feet is a symbol of the blood of Christ which washes away the dirt of sin. Coming to Christ is having his blood wash away the dirt of your sin. Therefore, having your feet washed is like coming to Christ because all you do is sit there and Jesus does it all. That is what salvation is like. You’re dirty and he comes and cleans you up. I heard somebody say a few months ago that coming to Christ is like taking a shower on the inside. There are some of us this morning who need a shower on the inside. You are clean on the outside but you’re dirty on the inside. What you need is inner cleansing.

Our hymns speak of that.

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stain.”

“Down at the cross where my Savior died, down where for cleansing from sin I cried, there to my heart was the blood applied, glory to his name.”

“Dark is the stain that I cannot hide. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all my sin.”

“Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”

If you’re dirty, I know where you can be made clean. I know somebody who can clean you up from the inside out. His name is Jesus.

4) Foot washing will never go out of style because you’ll never run out of dirty feet.

Everybody has dirty feet. That’s one good thing about foot washing. Everybody around you has dirty feet. Wouldn’t it be great if we would take a few minutes now to prove that, to take our shoes off and check everybody out? That would be the end of the service. Even to think about it is frightening because underneath all the exterior, we’ve all got dirty feet. Jesus came to a world of dirty feet. He came to clean the dirty feet, which means he came for you because your feet are dirty too.

That brings me to the end of the message from Jesus Christ to you. He got to the end of the foot washing and asked the question in verse 12, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” In order to answer that question, you have to go back to verse 1, which says, “He now showed them the full extent, the completeness of his love.” Verse 3, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come to God and was returning to God.”

So in washing their feet he was giving them a parable, an acted-out object lesson. He wasn’t just washing their feet. He was saying, “This is who I am. This is why I have come to earth. This explains the cross. I came as a servant, to wash dirty feet.”

The greatest washing of all took place when he died on the cross and his blood was poured out.

The answer to his question, “Do you understand?” is no, they didn’t. So like any good teacher he goes ahead and gives them the truth, the command and the promise.

The truth is found in verse 13, “You call me teacher and Lord and rightfully so, for that is what I am.” The truth is you call me Lord. What is the command? Verses 14 and 15, “Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” The command is do as I have done.

Brothers and sisters, that is a shocking thought, because to wash feet is the work of slaves. It is not the work you would think of for the Son of God. No wonder they were upset, baffled, confused. No wonder the disciples tried to protest. After all, these are the same geniuses who just ten minutes before were arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom. End of argument.

Jesus is saying, “If you’re going to be my disciples, just go wash dirty feet and let the kingdom take care of itself. If you’re going to follow me, just get down on your hands and knees and find some feet to wash. In the end all that throne stuff and kingdom stuff will be taken care of.” That’s the message. Here’s the promise in verse 17, “Now that you know these things, you’ll be blessed if you do them.”

Brothers and sisters, I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is feet stink. If you’re going to wash feet, you’re going to do some humbling things and some humiliating things and you’re going to be involved in some situations that aren’t very nice or popular or that aren’t going to be seen by the masses. You aren’t necessarily going to be applauded for doing it. The good news is there is a great reward for foot washers. You’re blessed if you do these things.

Three reasons why we ought to wash dirty feet:

1. Because Jesus did it.

2. Because dirty feet need washing.

3. Because we’re blessed when we do it.

Here is my whole sermon in one sentence: Followers of Jesus distinguish themselves through humble acts of service to those who don’t expect it and are unable to repay it.

Foot washing is a distinctive mark of the followers of Jesus Christ.

I only have one question left. It is very simple. Jesus said, “Do as I have done.” My question to you is this.

Who’s feet are you going to wash this week?

It is time for us to move away from theory and get over into practice. It is time for us to move away from talk and get over into action. You see, if all you do is just say, “Well, Pastor Ray, that was a nice sermon,” and you walk out of here and it doesn’t change you and affect you, you might as well not have been here at all. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are you if you know what I know.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you if you do what I do.”

How did Jesus do it?

1) He saw a need and moved to meet it.

2) He didn’t wait for an invitation.

3) He took the initiative.

4) He took off his uniform of greatness and got down on his knees.

5) He didn’t announce what he was going to do. He didn’t stand up and say, “Well, men, I’m Jesus and now I’m going to wash your feet.”

6) He didn’t wait for a thank you and didn’t receive one either. That is what a servant does. He sees the need and moves to meet it.

Just remember this. It all starts in the heart. I’m going to give you some suggestions, but I’m halfway scared to. You’ll hear my suggestions and you’ll think that a servant must do something.

Servanthood begins with an attitude of the heart.

A couple of years ago the staff got together and came up with a list called “Fifty ways to wash feet.” Here are some of them.

Running errands for a friend.

Baking a cake for a shut in.

Opening your home for international students.

Giving $20 with a note of encouragement to a single mom.

Confronting a friend who has strayed from the Lord.

Driving car pool to Awana.

Making tape recordings for the blind.

Hugging your children every day.

Refusing to repeat gossip.

Sending flowers to a friend.

Meeting a new Christian at 6:30 a.m. for discipleship.

Picking up your own dirty underwear.

Giving anonymously so a single Mom can go to Snow Camp.

Intervening in a quarrel to bring two friends back together.

Buying food for the food pantry.

Tutoring at Circle Urban Ministries.

Helping a friend light the pilot in their boiler.

Writing your parents a love note.

Cleaning up the kitchen so your wife can read the paper.

Complimenting your boss.

Keeping a secret you’d really like to share.

Spending Saturday helping a friend move.

Raking leaves for a senior citizen.

Changing the oil on a friend’s car.

Making supper for a new mom.

Baking an extra loaf of bread for your child’s teacher.

Visiting a nursing home.

Typing a term paper for a Moody student.

Counseling at the Crisis Pregnancy Center.

Inviting college students over for Sunday dinner.

Volunteering to serve in the nursery.

Washing windows at the church.

Reading books to children.

These are just suggestions. The heart is what matters. The servant’s heart will always find plenty of dirty feet to wash. If you have the right kind of heart, you will find 10,000 times 10,000 opportunities this week to wash dirty feet.

I want you to pray a prayer right now. The prayer is, “Lord, whose feet should I wash this week?” Don’t pray for ten names. Start with just one, your husband, your wife, your children, your family, your friends, people across the street, your co-workers, somebody you barely know. Ask the Lord for one name right now.

Now that you have the name, write down the initials of the person the Lord has shown you. This will help you be accountable to God, to seal the decision.

It’s not that difficult if you have the right kind of heart. If you don’t, it’s impossible. Anyone can wash dirty feet. You can. If you’re willing to kneel down and if you don’t mind your hands getting wet and if you don’t mind dirty feet you can do it. You can wash feet this week if you’re willing to be a servant, not a big shot. Jesus said, “Do as I have done for you.” The only question this morning is this, “When will we take the words of Jesus seriously?”

Lord Jesus, for too long we have overlooked your words and we wonder why the world has overlooked us. Forgive us for our disobedience. Send the Holy Spirit to do a deep work of repentance within us. Grant that we might leave this place determined to become foot washers for you. As you were not ashamed to kneel before your brothers, may we not be ashamed to do as you have done, and so prove ourselves worthy to bear your holy name in the world. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?