Washing Feet and Washing Stripes
May 22nd, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
WASHING FEET AND WASHING STRIPES
Dr. W.A. Criswell
5-22-88 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor delivering the message at this eleven o’clock morning hour. As you have seen, we are recognizing and honoring our seniors who are being graduated from high school and are turning their faces now toward college and university. Tonight at seven o’clock, I have a prepared message for them. It will be also the baccalaureate sermon for our First Baptist Academy. This morning we continue our preaching through the Gospel of John. We have come to chapter 13 and the title of the message is Washing Feet and Washing Stripes. First, in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 4 and 5, then verses 12 through 17:
Jesus riseth from supper—
and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.
Then 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, Lord, You will not wash my feet.
Then after the conversation with Simon, who acquiesced [John 13:6-9], verse 12:
After He had washed their feet [John 13:12]—
He taketh His garments, and set down again, and said unto the disciples, Know ye what I have done to you? You call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you 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—
the Greek is amēn, amēn—
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.
As we look at the text and the story, why do we not have an ordinance in our church of washing feet? “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14]. Why do we not? For years, for ten years, I was a country pastor. And in those years, intimately, I was associated with members and pastors of the Primitive Baptist church—sometimes called the Hard Shell, the foot-washing Baptist church. Why do we not observe that foot-washing service as an ordinance in our church? The reason we do not is because we seek to follow the Bible, the Word of God. We seek to be a New Testament church, and the Words of our Lord are interpreted by the apostles. And their writings are here in this Holy Bible. And, in the New Testament Scriptures, there were only two ordinances observed by the congregations of Christ—the ordinance of baptism [Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:3-5], and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-30; 1 Corinthians 11:23-30]. But there is no instance of the ordinance of foot-washing being observed in the New Testament church in these sacred pages. So we do not include foot washing as an ordinance in our congregation.
But I can tell you this; I have never been more moved in my life than by their washing of feet. Those dear people would just cry, the women would wash women’s feet, and the men would wash the men’s feet. And if we were to choose to have a service like that in our church, I would rejoice and be glad in it. I think it would be wonderful if we were to announce a foot-washing service, and my fellow ministers and my fellow deacons washed the feet of these in our congregation, and our sainted women, who lead in this work, wash their feet. There’s something about the service that will move your heart if you ever see it.
Well, what occasioned it here in the life of our precious Lord? [John 13:3-17]. Reading the synoptic Gospels, such as in the twenty-second chapter of Luke, it is very apparent why the incident. When the disciples came into the upper room to observe this feast of the Lord’s Supper, they began to quarrel about who would be greatest in the kingdom of God [Luke 22:24]. Isn’t that natural and normal and typical of us? We love to be adulated. We love to receive the accolades of our peers. And they fell into an argument over who would be seated at the table. Do you remember, even the mother of James and John, the wife of Zebedee, came to the Lord and asked that her two sons—one be seated on one side in His kingdom and the other seated on the other side [Matthew 20:20-21]. So they were quarreling about who would be greatest in the kingdom of our Savior, and then in their seating arrangements who would be next to the Lord Himself.
That was the background of what our Savior did. He disrobed and He took a towel, and girded Himself [John 13:4]. Now in that day, in any home there would be a large basin full of water; it was a refreshment for the traveler and the visitor. They walked barefooted over the land or else just had sandals, and when they came into a home, a servant there would bathe the feet of the weary traveler—a refreshing and gracious thing to do. Well, in that upper room there was no servant; and the Lord took the place of the servant, and began to bathe their feet [John 13:5].
What do you think of that: God, deity, washing feet? The great Jehovah God in heaven revealed in this Book is always washing feet; washing the feet of the angels, washing the feet of men, washing the feet of His universe, a servant God, a Savior Lord. And if in anywise we are like Him, we are like that—servants, a keeper at the door or a lighter of the lamps. A menial task, never too lowly for one of us to seek to do if we can be of help, if we can be of service, if we can encourage: it’s our privilege in His name to do so; humble, a servant heart, a servant’s spirit, a servant’s response. It is such a tragedy in human nature that, if we’re not praised, if we’re not exalted, if we’re not elected, if we’re not furthered, why, we are petulant, and critical, and feel that the world passes us by, and do not appreciate us.
O Lord, how infinitely better it is to assume a humble guise and a humble place, and to be a helper and a servant of these whom we might be able to encourage in the Lord.
Where shall I work today, dear Lord?
And my love flowed warm and free;
And the Lord pointed out a tiny place,
And said, “Tend that for Me.”
I cried aloud, “O Lord, not there!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done—
Not that little place for me!”
When the Lord answered, He was not harsh,
He answered me tenderly,
He said, “Precious child of Mine,
Are you working for them or for Me?”
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.
[“Where Shall I Work Today?” Meade McGuire]
Any place, Lord, just so I can be close to You and feel Your presence in the task, however humble, I may be assigned to do. Your servant, for Jesus’ sake, if I can help washing feet.
There joined our church upon a day an executive in the city—a man of tremendous financial resources and executive leadership. You know what he said to me when he shook my hand and joined the church? He said, “Pastor, I want you to know you don’t have to pamper me or recognize me or further me. I’ll be in the church in any place that I can help. But don’t think you must exalt me.” Oh, what a wonderful spirit! What a glorious response to the calling of our Savior! Washing feet: if I can help, if I can be a servant, if I can run an errand, if I can do the most menial and lowly of deeds, call on me. I’ll be there, gladly. Dear God, that we might be like that! Washing feet: the attitude of humility. Washing stripes—the act of humility: this is from the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts, chapter 16, beginning at verse 22, washing stripes:
And they rose up together: and the magistrates commanded to beat them—
Paul and Silas, the preachers of Christ—
and when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight, Paul and Silas…
What? Did they find fault with God, and did they war against the cruel providence that thus had beat them and put them in prison? No! What does a Christian do no matter what, no matter what? “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God” [Acts 16:25].
Dear God, how to be like that—whatever the hurt, and whatever the tragedy, and whatever the disappointment, and whatever the agony, Lord, to lift up hands of praise to Thee! Beat, bloodied, in an inner dungeon with their feet in the stocks, praying and singing praises to God; “And the prisoners heard them.” No wonder! No wonder! Anybody would listen to that:
And the prisoners heard them. Then there was a great earthquake from God, and the foundations of the prison were shaken: and the doors were opened, everyone’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of a sleep, seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword to commit suicide—
he was responsible for their lives, and the Roman government will hold him accountable—
he thought they had been fled. Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, My brother, do thyself no harm: we are all here. Not one has fled. Then that jailer called for a light, sprang in, fell down before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be a Christian, to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his. And when he had brought them out, he set food before them, and rejoiced, believing God with all of his house.
Do you notice? Do you notice the first thing above everything else? The first thing—he washed their stripes before he was baptized, before he brought them out, before he invited them into his home and house, before he set food before them, before they broke bread together [Acts 16:33-34]. First of all, he washed their stripes. The reason that is so impressive is the instantaneous change in that cruel, hard, harsh jailer. My brother, there was no law in Rome that demanded Paul and Silas be treated like that. You could search the law books of all the empire and never find that. There was no law to beat those men because they were preaching the gospel. No law to thrust them into that inner dungeon and no law to put their feet fast in the stocks [Acts 16:23-24]. He was cruel beyond law, beyond the measures and demands of the legislature. Now look at him. Look at that same man, who heretofore [was] so harsh and so cruel, washing stripes, washing stripes, washing stripes [Acts 16:33].
Symbolic acts are so very typical of the Christian faith. The whole Christian faith is full of them. Like the ordinance of baptism, it’s a symbol. We are buried with the Lord, the Bible says, in the likeness of His death, and we are raised, raised in the likeness of His resurrection out of that watery grave [Romans 6:3-5]. It’s a symbolic act. When we have the Lord’s Supper next Sunday—Sunday week—when we have the Lord’s Supper, that bread is the symbol of His broken body, and that fruit of the vine crushed in red is the symbol of His blood [1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-26]. When we have an ordination service, we put our hands on the heads of these that we set aside for the deaconate or for the gospel ministry [Acts 6:6, 13:3]. In fact, you can sum up the whole Christian faith in a symbol. There will be a cross on the top of a high steeple, a symbol. There will be Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. There will be a seven branched lampstand representing the churches of our Lord; just so, so much.
Well, here’s another one: washing stripes—a symbol of the Christian faith—washing stripes [John 13:3-5]. I want you to see how poignant that is against the background of the civilization, the culture of the Greco-Roman empire in which this incident took place. Did you know that in the whole civilized world at that time there was not one hospital, not one? In the whole civilized world, there was not one hospital, not one. There was not an orphan’s home. There was not an asylum. There was not an institution for the care of the poor. There was not an institution for the care of the aged—not one in the whole empire.
In that culture and in that civilization, there was the exposure of children. The father by law had the right, if he didn’t want the child, to expose it. “What do you mean by exposing it, pastor?” “Exposing” meant they could take the child and put it out where the wild dogs or the carnivorous animals could devour it. Or worse still where some inhuman family could pick it up and mutilate it, break its bones and twist its body, and set it out on a street to beg. It was a world where womankind was looked upon as cattle. Socrates is supposed to have said, “I thank the gods that I’m a Greek and not a pagan. Thank the gods I’m a freeman and not a slave. And I thank the gods I’m a man and not a woman.” They were chattel property, and had you walked down the streets of any city in the Roman Empire, three men out of every five you met were slaves, bonded slaves.
May I take out of the New Testament the poignant picture of that culture in that day? Where did that Gadarene demoniac live? He cried by day and by night. Where was his home? Where did he live? The Bible says he lived among the tombs. He lived among the dead [Mark 5:1-5]. Do you ever think when you read the story of these lepers—a leper, they could just walk right up to the Lord Jesus, just walk right up to Him. The Lord would be thronged by thousands of people, pressing Him on every side, and yet a leper would just walk right up to Him [Matthew 8:1-3]. Do you ever think, “How could he do that?” Well, the reason is wherever he was and wherever he went, the people fell away from him, fell away from him, fell away from him. And he walked in the midst of an icy circle. The leper was remanded to the tombs. Or take again that unfortunate who was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who beat him and robbed him and left him for dead! And on one side, there walked the Levite—passed him by. And on the other side, there walked the priest who passed him by [Luke 10:30-32].
The whole world was like that, and yet—all of us know, there’s not a school youngster here that doesn’t know it—there never has been a civilization so graced by genius and art as the Greco-Roman empire. There have never been geniuses at statuary as they, never! In architecture, in literature, in drama, in poetry, in painting, in every area of the arts, the Greeks excelled and the Romans were fast after. Yet it was in that civilization, and it was in that culture that these who were so unfortunate were forgotten, and forsaken, and left to perish and to die! Then came our Lord Jesus and His people washing stripes, washing stripes, healing the hurt of humanity [Acts 16:33]. And wherever the gospel has been preached, there will you find the ministry of the people of God washing stripes, washing stripes, washing stripes.
I have tried to describe for you how I felt in West Africa, where they threw and turned out all of those lepers to perish of exposure and hunger and starvation. And little children have leprosy, little-bitty kids, and teenagers, and fathers and mothers. Their extremities fall off, their noses fall off, their ears fall off, their digitals, their fingers and toes fall off; they become horrible, horrible. And they’re cast out. God’s missionary, Dr. Goldie—our missionary—gathered them together in what he called “clan settlements.” And in a great arc through West Africa, he gathered them together. Here and then miles and miles there, other miles and miles there, and ministered to them. I went with him, preaching the gospel to them, building mud churches, churches made out of solid mud! Preaching the gospel to them, loving them, washing stripes, washing stripes; the gospel of Christ.
In the most forsaken and out of the way place I ever saw in my life in south central Africa, I went to the hospital at Sanyati where our beloved members, Dr. Giles Fort and Wanda his wife, were the two physicians there—retired now, here in our congregation. There I walked up and down those hallways, extensive, and looked at their ministries to those people; washing stripes, washing stripes, washing stripes.
Not in a thousand lifetimes could I forget how I felt one time when I stood in a church, pressed on every side by those half-naked people, illiterate, untaught, waiting for my appointment to preach there, standing there, and beyond the man in the pulpit, and on the backside of the wall, there was a picture of our Lord, and around Him, this caption: “Jesus is the answer to every human need.” Jesus is the answer to every human need; washing stripes, healing the hurt of humanity.
It was a new thing, it was God washing stripes [John 13:3-5]. I tell you sweet people, out of all the things—and they are multitudinous—in which our church is engaged, nothing pleases my heart more or makes me more grateful for you than our ministries through our twenty-eight chapels. We have a crisis closet here, and every Lord’s day we gather food and clothing, and during the days of the week, and we give it out to those poor people. Washing stripes, healing hurts, Lord, I’m so glad I belong to the family of God! [I] wouldn’t trade the life in this dear church for any other in the earth.
WASHING FEET AND WASHING STRIPES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Background of the incident
1. Disciples quarreling about who would be greatest
B. Jesus disrobed, washed their feetII. Washing feet – the attitude of humility
A. God washing feet
1. Servants for Jesus’ sake
B. “Where Shall I Work Today?”III. Washing stripes – the act of humility
A. Paul and Silas beaten, in jail, singing and praising God (Acts 16:22-25)
B. God opened prison doors, loosed their bonds; but they stayed
1. Jailer converted
C. Change in the cruel jailer
1. He washed their stripes
D. Washing stripes a symbol of the Christian faith
1. The background of the Greco-Roman culture
a. Gadarene demoniac lived among tombs
b. Isolation of the leper
c. Man for whom the Samaritan cared for
E. Wherever gospel preached, there is the ministry of the people of God
1. Dr. Goldie’s clan settlements
2. Dr. Giles and Wanda Fort