He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
– John 13:6-11
In more than two decades of ministry with my wife Grace, we have had the honor of walking with a number of assault victims. Most every one has told us that one of the first things they did following their assault was to take a shower. Why? Because they wanted to be clean.
If we are honest, we’ve all felt dirty, filthy, or unclean to the level of the soul. Sometimes, we feel defiled because we are a sinner who has done something defiling. Sometimes, we feel defiled because we are a victim who has had something defiling done to us. As a result, people consider places defiled, so they avoid them as happens throughout the Old Testament. People also find things defiled, such as an adulterous marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4).
The sense of defiling uncleanness starts all the way with our first parents in the first sin. If you remember the story, Genesis 3 says that upon sinning, Adam and Eve covered themselves and hid from God and one another because they were ashamed.
In this conversation with Jesus in John’s Gospel, Peter is discussing the human longing to be cleansed from defilement. Peter’s example is crucial–the want to precedes the how to. Someone has to want to do something before teaching them how to make that change is of any help. In this example, both Peter and Judas are present. Judas does not want to become clean, but Peter does want to become clean.
Peter’s default, however, is the erroneous typical response. Peter wants to be clean at the soul level, but thinks he needs to do this cleansing for himself. This is the classic error of religion: I will do something to clean up my soul. However, Jesus teaches Him (and us) that only God can make our soul clean. In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The big idea is this–Jesus not only forgives your sin but He also makes your soul clean. Throughout the Bible, God’s people have symbolic acts to remind them of this fact, so they clean their house, wash their clothes, wash themselves, get baptized, or have their feet washed as Jesus does for His disciples in this scene of John 13. The point? Jesus makes people clean.
Are there any areas of your life that still feel dirty? If so, invite God to make them clean in Christ!