WASHING FEET AND WASHING STRIPES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-11-79 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church delivering the message entitled Washing Feet and Washing Stripes. It is a message based upon two passages in the Bible. The first is in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. And I wonder if we could turn now to John 13, and we are going to read out loud verses 4 through verse 14; John 13:4-14. In our study Bible it is page 1260. The day is going to come when we will just announce the page and we will all have it. When Christmas time comes, give everybody a study Bible. John 13:4-14. Now let us read it out loud together:
He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.
After that He poured 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 has 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, You 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?
You call Me Master and Lord: and you 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.
The reason that we do not receive that as a third ordinance in the church is very obvious. The Lord said to His apostles that “after I am gone, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth, and He will bring to your heart the things that I have said” [John 16:7, 13-15]. So we look in the church itself after Pentecost to find the meaning of the Lord’s will for us who belong to the body of Christ. And in the example of the apostles there were two ordinances, the initial one, the ordinance of baptism [Matthew 28:19], and the continuing one, the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And not in the New Testament in the church is there a third ordinance, the washing of feet.
So by the interpretation and understanding of the apostles, we learned that when our Lord says, “If I, 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” [John 13:14-15]. The occasion for this menial, humble act of our Lord is very apparent when you read the four Gospels in a harmony. Following the story, as all four of them will tell it, the occasion arose over the quarrel of the apostles as who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven [Luke 22:24-30]; and that was occasioned, of course, by their seating arrangement at the Lord’s table. Who is going to be next to the Lord? And who is going to sit next to him who is next to the Lord? And how is the arrangement to be? So, the disciples fell into a quarrelsome humor as they came to the upper room and were seated.
Well, that is so human and so reflective of something that’s in all of us. We like to be honored, and preferred, and chosen, and exalted, and spoken about, and appreciated, elected, chosen; we’re just all that way. There’s something in us that likes preferment and notice and acclamation. Well, the disciples were that way. When they came to the upper room to be seated at the Lord’s table, they began to quarrel with each other as to who was going to be first, and who was going to be greatest.
It was upon that quarrelsome spirit of the apostles that our Lord took off His garments. And there’s not anything more humbling than that when a man is undressed, he loses absolutely all of his worldly preferment and medals and honors. He is so very much like common clay. “And the Lord took off His garments; and girded Himself with a towel . . . and began to wash the disciple’s feet” [John 13:4-5].
Now this in itself was a very menial assignment. It was the assignment of a servant, of a slave, and especially in the custom of that day when, to be nice to a guest, you washed the feet of the guest. They didn’t have conveniences such as we have. People walked and in being weary, and their feet being dusty, why, when you entered the home, the servant washed the feet of the guest. It was all together a menial task. So, when the disciples were in the upper room, there was no servant there to perform that act of welcome and courtesy, so the Lord did it. He, taking off His garments and girding Himself with His towel, began to wash the feet of the apostles [John 13:5]. Washing feet.
Now we believe that the Lord is God revealed in the flesh. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” [John 1:14]. Now I want to ask you, what do you think about that? Do you think that is God like? Do you? Do you think that is like deity to wash feet? Do you? Is that the way God does? God washes feet. Is that the revelation of the Lord? As I read the Bible, and look at our blessed Savior, and look at the church that He left in the earth, and the beautiful example of our Savior Himself, and the beautiful lives of those that are more like Him, I don’t know of anything more God-like than this. God washing feet, washing the feet of the angels, washing the feet of men, and washing the feet of His whole universe; that is God-like, that is deity.
Contrariwise, this is man-like, this is carnal: self seeking, self aggrandizement, always coveting the chief places and always seeking self-preferment. That’s man. That’s not God. This is carnal, this is man-like: to be petulant and critical and unhappy, if you are supposedly overlooked, unappreciated and not advanced. Littleness demands recognition, commendation, admiration, presentation, preferment, exaltation. Littleness is that.
Greatness, God-likeness is the opposite. The menial task is a great task if it’s done for Jesus’ sake. There are no big things or little things when we do them for Jesus. They are all blessed things when they are done in His name. To light a lamp, to raise a window, to stand at the door, to sweep out the floor, to be kind to a child, to knock at a door, there’s just no thing that isn’t great if it’s done for Jesus’ sake. That is what the Lord taught us. He is greatest in the kingdom of God who is the humblest and the most self-effacing, forgetting his own preferment and looking rather to those who could be chosen before Him.
And, ah! that’s hard, that’s difficult! I don’t know of anything that speaks more of the fullness of grace in a man’s life and heart than to see others bear the laurels that he wished for himself, to see others stand in places that he coveted to stand in, to see others advance into areas of choice and honor that he wished might come to himself. And for the man to love God and to serve God in a humble and a sweet and a precious and self-effacing way is a virtue of the highest order. It’s a diadem, it’s a crown, it’s a star when a man can be thus close to the image of our Lord.
One of the things that I have known through all the years, and one of the things that I run into now in a certain direction and a certain thing that I’m trying to do, one of the things that I have known and that I see now, there are so many men, so many men who are personally ambitious. And in order to achieve what they have in their minds to achieve, we want to be called to the great pulpit. We want to be advanced in our communion and denomination. And we want to be received by all of these who are in political power in the machinery of the denomination. And they seek personal, ambitiously-coveted prizes in the denomination and in the churches. So they are very careful not to say anything that might offend and not to do anything that might align them as though they were not walking in the same direction, according to the same beat.
And instead of standing vigorously and marvelously and gloriously and courageously for the truth, why, their voices are muted and their stands are compromised. And they place the praises of men above the praises of God. I see it all the time. And looking at it, I think of the poem of Robert Browning concerning William Wordsworth entitled, “The Lost Leader.”
Just for a handful of silver he left us.
Just for a riband to stick in his coat–
Found a one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others, she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
So much was theirs, who so little allowed;
How all our copper had gone for his service!
Rags–were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honored him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern, to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
Burns, Shelley were with us–they watched from their graves.
He alone breaks from the van and the freeman,
He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
We shall march prospering–not thro’ his presence;
Songs may inspirit us–not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done, while he boasts His quiescence,
Still bidding crouch whom the rest bid aspire.
Blot out his name then, record one lost soul more,
One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more devils’-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong mortal man, one more insult to God!
[“The Lost Leader,” Robert Browning]
I’d rather die than to compromise the truth of God. Lord, help us to forget about our own advancement, our own emoluments, our own rewards, our own exaltations, our own elections and preferments. God, help us to forget it! And may we sink ourselves and lose ourselves in the wonderful goodness, and grace, and love, and truth of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ. I couldn’t say it better. Lord, Lord, may there be less and less and less of me, and more and more and more of Thee, until there be nothing of me and everything of Thee.
Washing feet, the menial task of a menial servant: just loving the Lord, doing anything to bless His name and to further His kingdom—washing stripes.
One of the most unusual things that happened in the life of this convert in Philippi, “Believe on the Lord,” and he said, “I believe.” And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway, and brought them into his house, set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all of his house [Acts 16:30-34].
Now did you notice in that story of the conversion of this Philippian jailer? The first thing he did was not “he was baptized.” The first thing he did was he washed the stripes of the disciples of the Lord, the preachers of Jesus—Paul and Silas [Acts 16:33]. That’s remarkable in the life of that man! When you look at what he did, this man was hardened and cruel, and he thrust these two preachers into a dungeon, having beaten them and laden them down with stocks and chains [Acts 16:23-24]. No Roman law demanded a harsh, cruel punishment like that; that came out of him. After they had been beaten, then to thrust them in the inner part of the dungeon, to laden them down with chains, and to put their hands and feet in stocks, all of that was beyond the purpose and duty of the law; this man was harsh and cruel beyond the law’s requirement [Acts 16:23-24].
Now you look at him. In a moment, just like that, having accepted the Lord as his Savior, before anything, anything, anything, he becomes sensitive to the hurt and the need of others. And he looked at those two preachers of Jesus; Paul and Silas, and the first thing he did was to wash their stripes [Acts 16:33]. Washing feet and washing stripes: always that will be the response of the true convert of Jesus Christ. He will be always and ever sensitive to the needs of others around him. He just will. God does that to the converted heart; you can’t be a Christian and not be aware of other people. And of course, knowing them, you are sensitive to the burdens, and the sorrows, and the tears, and the heartaches, and the frustrations of human life.
I wish I had a thousand lives to give to the Lord. With some of those lives, I would just love to go to the homes of people and knock at their door, and say to them, “Could I read with you out of God’s Book, and could I kneel down and pray with you?” There would hardly be a home . . . there never has been any in my experience. I hear some people describe how they’re mistreated and many, many things when they try to witness to the Lord. I’ve never in my life been insulted, or rejected, or mistreated, or abused; never in my life. Any time I have ever, ever, in any place in my whole life approached somebody, anybody, about the Lord, I have always had an open heart. Not that they will believe as I believe or turn or be saved, but always there’s a response. And I think it is obvious why. It is because in every heart and in every life, in every home, there is a burden, a need, and we all feel it, and especially as the years come and go, it increases.
Well, when you’re saved, when you become a Christian, immediately you become sensitive to the needs of other people. And you become interested and you become prayerful. And you become an intercessor, as we met tonight with these who prayed in the day of our church. And I wish all of us could share in that intercessory prayer ministry. We become sensitive to other people. And we ask God to help and to bless.
Now I want to show you. That has become—washing stripes—that has become a symbol of the whole outreach of the Christian faith; washing stripes. You look at this: in all of the Greco-Roman Empire, before Jesus came, in the whole empire, there was not one hospital. There was not one orphan’s home. There was not one asylum for the deranged. There was not one home for the elderly. And there was not one institution to care for the needs of the people. On the other hand, there was universal exposure of children. If a man did not want the child, he, by law, could take the child and, what they call expose it, that is, set it where the wild animals or the dogs would eat it. And womanhood was below the slave. That was before Christ came.
I want you to look again. The world has never reached the height of civilization that it reached in the days of the Greco-Roman Empire. There has never been an architecture that has superseded or excelled beyond the architecture of the Greeks and the Romans. If you want to build a magnificent impressive building today that is beautiful, build it according to Greek architecture, those beautiful columns and all the other things that went with those magnificent structures. There has never been statuary, the sculpture; there has never been painting that exceeded that of the Greeks and the Romans. There has never been philosophy that has even begun to approach that of the Greeks. There has never been poetry or drama that has exceeded that of Homer, of Euripides, of Sophocles, of Aeschylus. There has never been any achievement in civilization, in drama, or poetry, or art, or literature, or architecture that has ever exceeded that of the Greco-Roman people.
And yet, with all of that magnificent civilization, what did I see? There wasn’t one hospital in the Roman Empire. There wasn’t one orphan’s home. There wasn’t one asylum for the deranged. There wasn’t one ministry for the elderly. What Jesus has done for the world, you just can’t realize it. And when you go around this world and look, wherever the gospel is preached, oh! what Jesus brings to the people, the church. The public school came out of the church, the church, the school, all of those precious ministries of remembrance; sensitive, washing stripes, a very symbol of the Christian faith and its Christian ministry. And that’s what Jesus does for us when He comes to us in our hearts. He opens our hearts heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward, and He opens our hearts earthward, makes prayer partners out of us, makes friends out of us. If I love Jesus I can’t hate you. Walking with the Lord, I’m your fellow intercessor and your helper. And may God bless us both, as in the name of Jesus we pilgrimage down this earthly road in His dear name.
Ah, sweet people, the longer I live and the older I get, the more Jesus means to me. God be praised that He came to die for us [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 12:27], and that He lives to encourage us in the way of our walk and of our work.
Now may we stand together? Our Lord, when we look at these things in God’s Book, we are brought to our knees. Forgive us, Lord, our pride, our selfishness, and forgive us, Lord, when we are offended and hurt by some slight, maybe unconscious, non-recognition. Help us, Lord, to be like Thee. O Jesus, that we might grow in the grace that brings us close to Thy side. And Lord, bless our church in its outreach, in its praying, in its seeking, in its loving. And our Lord, even tonight may Thy Spirit be so felt and Thy grace so beautifully seen that others will say, “We want to be a Christian too; want Jesus to come into our hearts and lives; want Him to be a guest in our home; want to raise our children in His love and goodness.” Lord, tonight give us a sweet harvest, and we will thank Thee for it, in Thy dear name, Amen.
In a moment we sing our song, and in that invitation, in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor you, coming into the fellowship of the church, taking Jesus as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13], “Preacher, I want to publicly give my life to God as He said in the Book, ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord’ [Romans 10:9], I want to do that. And I want to be baptized.” He washed our stripes, and the same hour in the night was baptized [Acts 16:33]. “I want to be baptized.”
As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision. For any reason that God bids you, come, make it now, down a stairway, down an aisle, I will be standing right there by the side of our table of the Lord’s Supper. Give me your hand and your heart to God [Ephesians 2:8]. A family, a couple, or just you, may the Lord speaks in the way as you come, while we wait, while we pray, and while we sing.
FEET AND WASHING STRIPES
A. Occasion arose over
quarrel of apostles as who would be greatest
arrangement at the Lord’s table
B. Jesus disrobed,
washed their feet
II. Washing feet – the attitude of
A. The Lord is God
revealed in the flesh (John 1:14)
1. God washing
feet is God-like
2. Man-like is
self-seeking, petulant, unhappy
B. Menial task is a
great task if it’s done for Jesus’ sake
C. Placing praises of
men above praises of God, pulpit muted, compromised
III. Washing stripes – the act of humility
A. Conversion of
Philippian jailer (Acts 16:22-33)
1. Cruel beyond
the law’s requirement
2. Being saved,
now sensitive to hurt and need of others
a. He washed their
B. The response of the
C. Washing stripes a
symbol of whole outreach of Christian faith
1. Before Christ,
not one institution to care for needs of people