“[Jesus] 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” (John 13:4-5). Some devout Christians follow this example and make a custom of “foot washing” services. While this is certainly commendable, there is a deeper meaning to be learned from this practice. In fact, after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he asked them, “Do you know what I’ve just done to you?” (13:12).
Jesus was giving us an example of what he most desires of us — “taking up the towel.” There are several hidden lessons we can learn from our Lord as we look at this phrase. The Word tells us: “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). And, “[Submit] to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). We often gloss over certain truths in the Bible because we don’t understand their meaning and in doing so, we miss their power. How many of us really know what it means to serve one another in love? And how are we supposed to submit to one another in the fear of God? As we better understand what Jesus did in washing his disciples’ feet, we will understand these concepts of service and submission. You see, this means much more than merely taking orders from or being accountable to a higher authority. Rather, these glorious truths are unlocked only in the context of “taking up the towel.”
Another lesson Jesus taught when he washed the disciples’ feet was how to obtain unity of fellowship in the body of Christ. When Peter drew back from having Jesus wash his feet, the Lord said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8). Jesus was showing his mercy and love through washing away Peter’s feelings of worthlessness, anguish and despair.
In washing the dirt off the disciples’ feet, Jesus was also teaching the comfort of transgressions removed. Many Christians today are in the same condition as Peter, after being overtaken by a sin. If you want to be merciful — to take up the towel to restore a brother or sister — you don’t need to know the details of their sin. Jesus did not ask any of his disciples how they got dirty, he wanted only to accomplish their cleansing. His love for them was unconditional, just as it is for you. And just as it should be for those we encounter with his love.
You may be going through the worst storm of your life — a financial struggle, business troubles, slander, family problems or a personal tragedy. Restlessness keeps you awake at night, a cloud hanging over you. When you awaken, the dull ache is still with you and you cry, “God, how long will you allow me to go through this? When will it end?”
Let’s look for a moment at Israel’s experience at Rephidim: “Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink … And the people thirsted there for water” (Exodus 17:1-3). The Scripture shows that God led Israel to the driest place in the whole wilderness — no stream, no well, not a trickle of water — where he allowed them to grow thirsty. The people complained to Moses but God had a plan! He was not going to allow them to die; he had a reservoir of water that he had prepared long before.
Why had God done this? He was waiting for a response of faith from Israel. He was saying, “I have taken you through all these things but you have refused to learn. Will you trust me now?”
Many Christians are being tested and tried right now because of unemployment. Their savings are dwindling and the situation looks hopeless. Others are enduring various forms of suffering. It is never easy. These faithful, anxiety-ridden people come to church and raise their hands in praises to the Lord. They smile and hug their brothers and sisters in Christ, yet they go through awful pain and insecurity.
Beloved, one reason your trial is prolonged is because God wants you to approach him with childlike trust and confidence. When a spiritual dryness sets in, God wants you to look to him: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:7). If you put your total trust in his Word and his faithfulness, God has promised to bless you — and he cannot lie!
Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and when they came to the Red Sea, the leader held his staff out over the water and throughout the night a strong east wind divided the sea. The water stood up in a wall on each side so that the Israelites could cross over on dry land. When the Egyptians pursued, the waters overwhelmed them and drowned them all. Read the account in Exodus 14:15-31.
Moses and the children of Israel rejoiced in the Lord, with his sister Miriam leading the dancing (see 15:20-21). But even after this tremendous victory, it wasn’t long before adverse circumstances caused the people to complain against Moses and Aaron. Sadly, most of these people who had endured the plagues of Egypt and praised God for deliverance at the Red Sea did not make it to the Promised Land. Instead, they perished in a miserable wilderness — all because of doubt.
Beloved, our Promised Land today is Jesus Christ alive in us. He is our inheritance! As we rest in his faithfulness, we enjoy his presence. God never intended for us to become stuck in a wilderness of emptiness and drought. Through his Son, he has provided for us abundant life — a life free from worry and anxiety if we put our trust in him.
Right now you might be in the fight of your life. The enemy is coming at you on all sides and even though you know you have a mighty God on your side, all you can see is the battle in front of you. You’re asking God, “Why did you bring me into this mess? I can’t make it.”
The Word assures you that you can enter into a restful place in Christ’s fullness. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). God wants you to come into a place of peace. He wants you to truly rest in his power and ability to deliver you from all snares, trials and temptations — if you will trust him!
The apostle Paul tells us we've been called by God to run a race. Peter refers to this race also when he tells us to gird up the loins of our mind (see 1 Peter 1:13). He's saying we need to prepare ourselves for the contest by reinforcing our belief and trust in the Lord.
We all have a heavenly calling preordained by God. Maybe the Holy Spirit has given you a vision for what your calling is. But there is probably a big gap between your high calling and seeing it fulfilled. At times that gap may cause you to despair and that’s the reason Paul admonishes us about the mind — to remind us of a certain truth about God.
God longs to show himself strong to those whose hearts are completely his. Right now you may seem to be in lack. Yet God essentially says you can do more than people who seemingly have everything: “You may think you don’t have what you need, but you don’t need the world’s resources. If you’ll trust me to accomplish my purpose in your life, you’ll see it happen faster than you can imagine. I’ll do it more powerfully, with more authority — and I’ll be glorified through your life.”
God wants to supply for you what you cannot supply for yourself. Indeed, Jesus tells us the Father longs to double our harvest. In John 4:35, Jesus and his disciples were walking near some grain fields. He pointed to the fields and said to his followers, “The fields are ready for harvest, so don’t say, ‘There’s going to be a harvest four months from now.’ Lift up your eyes because the harvest is ready even now.”
Jesus’ lesson of the harvest fields declares to all who would follow him: “Now is the time!” He is saying, “There is no waiting in my kingdom so don’t let any excuse sidetrack you. Now is the time to follow me and run your race without hesitation!”
Jesus once said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
You and I also face a thief today — one who has come to steal our future, our families, our joy, our hope, and our effectiveness on the earth. However, Jesus reminds us that he has made a way for us to have an abundant life. And so we must understand that we have the power to overtake the enemy.
The devil will try to convince you that victory is just out of reach. However, he is a liar! God has called, as well as equipped you, to overpower the devil. David the psalmist said it this way: “For by You I can run against a troop. By my God I can leap over a wall … for You have armed me with strength for the battle” (Psalm 18:29, 39).
Paul instructs us in the book of Ephesians: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11). In other words, “Have strength in your inward parts. Walk in right relationship with God.” I urge you to know your Bible, for it is your weaponry!
You are not facing the enemy alone. Ask the Lord to give you a vision of who you truly are in Christ, a vision of why “even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19). The prophet Elisha once prayed something similar in order to encourage his fearful servant. “‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
Do not tremble when you face the enemy! You have the weaponry of Christ, the fellowship of brothers and sisters who are there to help, and Jesus, the great General. You are never alone!
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.