God’s Pilgrim Army: Washing Feet
July 9th, 1967 @ 7:30 PM
GOD’S PILGRIM ARMY: WASHING FEET
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-09-67 7:30 p.m.
On the radio on WRR, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now, we want you on radio with the great throng here tonight to turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 13, and we shall read the first 17 verses. And there in your home, in your living room, in your bedroom, take your Bible and open it to the thirteenth chapter of John and let us all read it out loud together – the first 17 verses. The title of the message tonight is God’s Pilgrim Army; the mighty meek, these who are girded with towels and wash feet. Now let’s read it out loud together, all of us:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.
And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him;
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God;
He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.
After that He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
Then cometh He to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto Him, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto Him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.
Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean.
So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was set down again, He said unto them,
Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
The reason for this passage and the reason for the sermon is because of our Lord’s Supper. This is what happened just before the institution of this memorial service. It followed this kind briefly; it followed this kind of a course. After the Lord had made preparation for the observance of the Passover [Luke 22:7-13], you remember how He did it? And after they had gathered in the upper room, they apparently fell into a dispute over who would be greatest among them because of the seating arrangement at the table. Here was the Lord Jesus; who would sit on His right hand, and who would sit on His left hand; and who would be next to these so fortunate ones? And apparently because of the seating arrangements at the table, the disciples began to dispute among themselves as to who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Now, it was in the midst of that dispute that the Lord arose and took aside from Himself His garments. There’s not anything more humbling than nakedness. The Lord riseth from supper and laid aside His garments, took off His clothes; and He took a towel and girded Himself, and He poured water into a basin [John 13:4-5]. There was no servant to do those menial tasks of a hospitable home: He, Himself, took the situation and the assignment of a slave: poured water in a basin; began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel wherewith He was girded, a very humbling experience. And I might incidentally say, when Judas cast those thirty pieces of silver and they rang so on the temple floor, and said, "I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood," and went out and took his own life [Matthew 27:4-5]; I would think one of the reasons that he did it was having already conspired to deliver the Lord unto death [Matthew 26:14-16], and watching the Lord wash his feet.
Well, after the ceremony, the Lord put His clothes back on, redressed Himself, and sat down and spoke to the disciples about what He had done, that we are always to assume the place of a deacon, a servant of the Lord [John 13:12-17]. And His mentioning the fact that they all were washed, "except one," brought to mind His betrayal; and He said openly as He sat back at His place in the Passover supper, "One of you will betray Me" [John 13:21].
And the disciples in astonishment said "Lord could it be I? Is it I?" And the apostle John who was seated on the right side of the Lord Jesus and, in the oriental way, reclining; the head of the apostle John was next to the bosom of the Savior as he reclined on his left arm, and was eating the meal. So Simon Peter said to the apostle John, "Ask the Lord who it is – who it is that would betray Him" [John 13:22-24]. So John relayed the question to the Lord Jesus [John 13:25]:
And the Lord replied, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it in the dish. And He took a piece of bread and dipped it in the dish, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And when the sop had been given to Judas, Satan entered into him, and the Lord said, What you do, you do quickly.
Now all of those at the table heard that conversation and they supposed, because Judas was the treasurer of the group and had the bag, as John describes it here, that the Lord meant, "Now you go out and buy something for our meal here," or to give something to the poor" [John 13:28-29]. But it was only Simon Peter and the beloved disciple John who knew what Jesus meant. "And when he had received the sop, he went immediately out; and it was night" [John 13:30].
What a word to say here, "And it was night." It was night every way for Judas; it is night every way for one who rejects our Lord. There is no light but in the Son of God who brought life, and light, and immortality to us [2 Timothy 1:10], "and it was night."
Then when Judas had gone, the Lord took bread and blessed it and brake it, and they all ate of it. Then He took the cup and blessed it, and they all drank of it [1 Corinthians 11:23-25]. And He said, "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come" [1 Corinthians 11:26].
Now, in the few minutes that we have I want to speak of some things in this washing of feet that preceded the memorial, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. First this: And when He came to Simon Peter, Simon said, "Lord, You? Wash my feet?" And Jesus said, "What I do, you do not understand now, but you will know someday." And Peter said, "Lord, You will never wash my feet, not mine. Not mine." And the Lord replied, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." And when the Master said that, then Simon Peter replied, "Lord, if it is a matter of washing, if I am to be Thine, identified with Thee in washing, Lord, do not wash my feet only but wash my hands and wash my head and wash me all over." And the Lord replied, "He that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" [John 13:6-10], all over.
What does that mean? Something very plain and very precious: what John did, the apostle who wrote this Gospel, he says that what Jesus did were semeia, they were signs; that is, they had a deep spiritual meaning and beyond the thing itself and beyond the word itself, we are to see the deep spiritual connotation in the semeion, in the sign, and in the words that followed after it. So it is here, "He that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" [John 13:10]. That is, when we are saved, when we are washed, when we are bathed, when we are cleansed, when we are regenerated, when the Lord has cleansed us, washed us, purified, we are saved, and forever! God doesn’t save us again, and again, and again; nor are we washed from our sins again, and again, and again. The Lord died one time, and one time are we saved and we are clean, and forever. In God’s sight we are justified, we are washed, we are regenerated, we are saved, we are clean. One time are we washed; one time are we bathed. One time are we saved; one time are we regenerated, "born again."
But, I still sin, every day I sin, and every day I ought to bow in the presence of the great God and ask the Lord to forgive me my sins for that day. And that’s what Jesus meant when He said, "He that is clean," he that is washed, he that is born again, he that is regenerated, he that is a child of God, he who has been saved, "needeth not save but to wash his feet" [John 13:10]. That is, as we walk through the pilgrimage of this world, we dirty, we soil our feet. And every day, we must wash our feet, we must ask God to forgive us the sins of that day.
Not that we need to be saved again, not that we need to be bathed again; regenerated again, born again. We are "born again," saved, washed one time and forever. Christ died one time, we are saved one time, and to crucify unto us God’s Son again would be blasphemous of all things [Hebrews 6:6]. But day by day, we who have been washed, we have been born again, we who are saved, day by day we must wash our feet. We must go to Jesus every day and say, "Lord, forgive me the sins, and the derelictions, and the shortcomings, and the mistakes and the wrongs of this day, every day – washing our feet" [1 John 1:9].
All right, the second thing to say: why is it not a church ordinance, when the Lord says:
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, happy are ye if you do them.
Now why is it not a church ordinance? Well, there is nothing wrong in the church washing feet; there is nothing wrong. If you have ever attended a foot-washing service, you would find it to be one of the most moving of all of the practices that any church could ever, ever observe. And I wish that I could think of something that would take the place, in our church, of the service of washing feet; someway to express our love for one another and our fellowship in the mercies of Jesus. Why is it not an ordinance?
Oh, I remember one time when I was in the seminary, I was preaching in the nob country of Kentucky. And you got to go to Kentucky, the dark and bloody battleground, to know what I mean when I refer to the "nob country." Oh, those people who live up there! They’ve been living up there ever since the Indians and they were sharing those happy hunting grounds together – and they haven’t been out of them. They’re still up there.
Well, I was in the county seat town and I was on the courthouse lawn. And I found myself surrounded on every side; I was in a large knot of men and they were all Hardshell Primitive Baptists. And I was holding a revival meeting there in that county seat town, way out there in the nob country. And they believe in three ordinances: the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and the ordinance of washing of feet. And you never heard such a goings on in your life! One of the men who was running the store asked a customer as he came in, he said, "What in the world is going on out there on that courthouse lawn?" And the customer said, "Man, you ought to close the store and go out there and listen to it. You see that young fellow there in the middle of that bunch of men? Well, he’s from the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; and he doesn’t believe that washing feet is an ordinance in the church. And all those men gathered around him believe that it is, and they just going at it out there." Well, that was the Lord’s truth. That was the Lord’s truth. But they didn’t change me, and I didn’t change them. I still believe, just as I did then.
Well, why is it not an ordinance in the church? For this simple reason: our Lord said that the disciples would bring to our minds and to our attention what He said and what He meant, and the interpretation of our Lord’s words for His church is done for us by the apostles. And in the church of the New Testament, the washing of feet is not an ordinance. Baptism is; the apostolic church observed the ordinance of baptism. The Lord’s Supper is; the apostolic church observed the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. But the apostolic church did not observe the ordinance of the washing of feet.
Therefore, listening to the voice of the Spirit [John 16:13-15] through the apostles – whom Jesus said would teach us what Jesus said and what Jesus meant – listening to the voice of the apostles, I know that the washing of feet is not an ordinance, but that the Lord here was giving us an example in our personal lives: how we are to be in this world, in our church, and toward one another [John 13:14-15].
Now, I must conclude. I speak now of what it is, the spirit of washing feet, washing feet. This would be a sermon, if we had time for it, on "The Mighty Meek." This would be a message, if we had opportunity to preach it, on the words of the apostle Paul:
The Lord said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me . . . For when I am weak, then am I strong.
[2 Corinthians 12:9-10]
God’s mighty meek!
Ah! When I was a youngster and began my ministry, preaching out in those little churches in the country, there was a pastor of the county seat town in our association. To me, he was a very old man. You know, I wonder about those things now. You reckon he’d look old to me now? He might look young to me now. But to me, when I began, he looked very old to me. His hair was very gray, and his life and demeanor reflected the years of his toils for Jesus. And I don’t exaggerate when I say literally – literally, the love of God shined in that pastor’s face; oh, the godliest man!
I remember, Lee Roy, the first time I ever heard that song, "God Leads His Dear Children Along." I don’t know why I’d never heard it before. But at one of our associational meetings, and of course, being a country pastor, when they had the associational meeting, I was always right there. I just loved those older men in the faith. They could just preach so well, it seemed to me. And they loved God, and they just knew things that you don’t ever see in a book; they come out of God’s pilgrimage. Well anyway, his wife had died. He had one son – they had an only child, and that young man was killed. And at that meeting, they asked him to sing a solo, and this was what he sang:
Sometimes o’er the mount where the sun shines so bright
God leads His dear children along.
Sometimes through the valley in the darkest of night.
God leads His dear children along.
Some through the water, some through the flood.
Some through the fire, but all through the blood.
Some through great sorrows, but God gives a song
In the night season; and all the day long.
["God Leads Us Along"; George A. Young, 1903]
He sang that song the week following when his only boy was killed. Well, anyway, I stumbled into something that that man did. In the town, you know, I just wonder is it that way today in little towns? When I grew up, we had a "town infidel." Oh! Oh! He lived right back of our house. Every morning, every morning, you could hear that fellow cuss as he beat his cow all over the lot. Every revival meeting he came and sat on the second row right there, and would just make fun of the preacher as he preached. I wanted to kill him, even as a little boy. That’s one reason I knew I needed to be saved. Oh, I just felt those things! But every town when I grew up had its infidel. Well, this county seat town, a little place way back out, had its infidel.
And as the years passed he grew hard, and he grew old, and he grew bitter, and he grew invalid. And upon a day, this godly man that I’m speaking of went by to call at the home; and the wife of that hardened old infidel was preparing to bathe his feet before putting him to bed for the night. And this godly pastor said to the wife, "Dear wife, would you mind if I bathed his feet?" She acquiesced, and that pastor took that basin of water, and with a towel bathed and dried that infidel’s feet. It broke him up. It literally tore his soul apart. He burst into tears. Like showers of rain, they fell from his face as that godly pastor bathed his feet, and in that humility and in that sweetness of spirit, brought Jesus’ message to the very soul and heart of that hardened man; and he found Jesus, and died in the love and mercy of God. "For when I am weak, then am I strong [1 Corinthians 12:10]. For the Lord says, My strength is made perfect in weakness" [2 Corinthians 12:9].
O Lord, that we might sit at Thy feet and learn of Thee. The mighty meek – God’s holy and pilgrim people.
Now we must sing our song, and while we sing it, somebody you, give himself to the Lord. Would you come and stand by me? A family you, to put your life in the fellowship of our church; a couple, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it tonight, make it now, come now. "Here I am, pastor." Decide for Jesus, now. And when we stand in a moment to sing, stand up coming into the aisles down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor. I come tonight." Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.