25. He stoops to conquer

What is the most surprising thing that has happened to you?

Our reading describes an occasion when Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet.

I’m sure that took them by surprise!

John 13:1-17

Photo by Luis Quintero:

The scene was a large upstairs room on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The atmosphere was uncomfortable and unpleasant. There were two reasons for the unpleasant atmosphere


The Palestinian roads were dirty and dusty. The disciples wore sandals.  Although the owner of this upstairs room had provided for the rest of their needs, he may have been unable to afford servants to wash their feet upon arrival. But none of the disciples was prepared to wash those smelly, grimy feet.


In his account of the Last Supper, Luke gives us a hint that another contributing factor to the uncomfortable atmosphere was an argument over who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Not the first time this debate had raised its ugly head (Luke 9:46-48; Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37).

Jesus and His twelve disciples were eating the Passover meal. The tense atmosphere increased as all eyes were fixed on Jesus who suddenly—unexpectedly—rose from the table. Discussion ceased. You could have heard a pin drop. Was there something wrong with the Passover preparations?


Without a word, Jesus got up and moved across the room to the large water jar standing near the front door. He stripped off His outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Jesus was about to act out a parable. “Having loved his own…He now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1b). Clad only in the garments of a slave, Jesus began to wash His disciple’s feet.

Peter reacted: “No way Lord—you shall never wash my feet!”—“Lord, I’m not fit to have you wash my feet.”—I can’t let you be my servant.”

Jesus’s reply shook the disciples. “Peter, If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple” (John 13:8b GNB).

Typical of act-before-you-think Peter, the fisherman replied, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head too” (Verse 9).

Jesus use this everyday practice of foot washing to teach His disciples a spiritual truth. “Anyone who has had a bath is completely clean and does not have to wash himself, except for his feet” (Verse 10).

We who trust Jesus have been washed clean of all past sins. Yet, we are constantly contaminated through our contact with the sinful practices of the world. We need Jesus’s continual washing of those daily sins that attach themselves to our lives. “Having loved His own…He began to wash His disciple’s feet” (John 13:1a, 5).


Several lessons can be learnt from Jesus’s actions that evening.

True greatness

Jesus gave them a demonstration of true greatness by humbling himself and washing their feet.

Jesus said, “The greatest one among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like the servant” (Luke 22:26 GNB).


None can serve Jesus meaningfully until we have let Him serve us. Until we allow Jesus to wash us clean of all sin, our good works count for nothing. We need to allow Jesus’s act of sacrifice to impact upon our lives.

Only once we acknowledge His sacrifice and surrender our lives totally to Him, can we begin to serve others effectively for Him.


What Jesus did physically that evening He wants to do spiritually today. He cares for you and me. He wants to meet our needs. Jesus wants to serve you—to wash those who have. . . . .

Tired feet

You feel weak and worn out. Battling to cope. Things are getting you down. Jesus wants to restore your strength.

Dirty feet

Things have crept into your life that ought not to be there. Skeletons are in your cupboard that Jesus wants to help bury today. He died on that cross to set us free from these things.

Wounded feet

Wounded at some time, in some way

  • in childhood by the actions of a parent or relative.

  • by someone who betrayed a trust we placed in him or her.

  • through the unfaithfulness of a marriage partner.

  •  as a result of words or actions of a church leader.

  • due to bad, crippling experiences which have left you confused and bewildered.

Our wounded spirit needs inner healing. The scars will always be there. But the hurting , the raw wounds can be healed. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He was wounded for us so that our wounds may be healed.

For many the problem is Busy feet.

  • Too busy to spend time with the Lord.

  • Too many things going on in your life.

  • A constant need to keep busy and working. Maybe we can identify with Martha.

Don’t forget, Jesus told Martha that she was losing out by being too busy and not spending more time with Him like her sister, Mary. Busyness does not necessarily equal effectiveness.

Let Jesus bathe your busy feet as you admit your business and ask Him to show you where to cut back to make more time for Him.

Finally, some have Ugly feet.

  • Are you discouraged and disappointed in yourself?

  • Do you seem to be lacking in gifts to use to serve Jesus or others?

  • Have you thought, If you could look behind my mask, you would have nothing to do with me. I am not a pleasant person to be around. I’ve got ugly feet!

Jesus says to you, “Allow me to wash those ugly feet. I want to make them beautiful!”

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation...(Isaiah 52:7 ESV) Share on X

No matter which category of feet you identify with today, remember that Jesus died to give you abundant life. He came to save sinners, to heal the wounded, to restore the brokenhearted.

Admit that you have tired—dirty—wounded—busy—or ugly feet and ask Jesus to wash them for you today.


After washing the disciple’s feet Jesus said, “I have set an example for you so that you will do just what I have done for you.”

Jesus did not mean that we’re to literally wash one another’s feet, but serve one another. Serving  is a two-way street. I need to come alongside you and allow you to be open with me. But in return, I must be open with you, and let you come alongside me.

Once we have been washed by Jesus, He commissions us to make ourselves available to wash, to minister to, to come alongside, those who need to be washed clean of the things that have contaminated their lives.

Praise God that Jesus came to save us and make our lives beautiful for Him. Now we can confidently proclaim “Our God reigns” in the words of this song, ‘How lovely on the mountains’ based on Isaiah 52:7.

If you haven’t yet read the Introduction to Encounters with Jesus, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.