The History of Simon Peter: 6. Washing of the Feet and Communion

John 13  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
A fresh aspect of the character of Christ and His work is revealed to Peter at the supper-His service in connection with communion. On the holy mount Peter had been brought into the actual scene of this communion, and had heard the Father's expression of delight in His Son; but he had to learn what was necessary in order to enjoy this communion, or maintain it, or be restored to it if lost. We may, like the disciple in Matt. 17, enjoy some measure of intercourse with God, without real communion with Him. Communion is being in thought and heart one with the Father, and with the Son. The Lord explains it in our chapter when He says to Peter, " If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." (v. 8) Have we part with Christ unreservedly in His estimate of things, His thoughts and affections? Have we God's judgment concerning man, the world, sin? Have we His thoughts as to the work of Christ, and the value of His blood? Have we the same affections as the Son for the Father, and the Father for the Son-common enjoyment with God as to the perfection of Christ, common thoughts with the Son concerning the Father to glorify Him, to please Him, to do His will, to trust in Him, to enjoy to the full His presence?*
(* It may be added that "part with elitist" is in the new place on which He was entering-a place, too, made for believers through redemption.-ED)
Alas when it comes to realizing these things we are indeed forced to own that we know but little of such communion; for in reality the moments spent in heavenly communion are, as it were, submerged in the rest of our Christian life. And yet there is nothing to hinder its being continual; for we have the eternal life which brings us into it. (1 John 1) But if our communion is so feeble, let us not be content with our measure of it, and, on the other hand, let us not be discouraged. God has made provision for all our failures and short-comings in the advocacy of Christ, and by washing of the feet, which is the counterpart.
The basis of this service is the love which has been manifested once, but not exhausted, at the cross; for it remains, and will remain, the same to the end. "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." (John 13:11Now 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. (John 13:1)) It was not enough for the Lord to save us; His love would purify us from all defilement; and it is for this that He takes the place of a servant. Nothing can stop or hinder this service for His own. He girds Himself to wash the disciples' feet at the very moment of Judas' betrayal of Him. (13: 2) The possession of all things, His own dignity as coming from God and going to God, do not deter Him either from this service; on the contrary, He makes use of His power, in humbling Himself to serve His beloved ones. Such is His love manifested in the washing of the feet.
The priesthood of Christ itself has many functions. Not to speak of its necessity for making propitiation (Heb. 2:1717Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)), we see it in exercise for the succor of those who are tempted (Heb. 2:1818For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)), and to enable us to draw nigh to the throne of grace. (Heb. 4:1616Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)) We see it in activity for us that we may have part with the Lord where He is, and recover communion when we have lost it through sin. This is advocacy properly speaking. (1 John 2 and John 13) Exercised in our favor advocacy has two sides-the Father's and ours. Christ intercedes for us with the Father, and He brings us succor from Him when we have soiled our feet on the pathway.*
(* It may be doubted if the distinction between priesthood and advocacy is here sufficiently observed; and whether the object of feet-washing is, as in the next sentence, "to help us." It surely is restoration to communion, if defilement is contracted through sin.-ED)
In connection with communion we find in this chapter the Advocate coming in to help us; but when Jesus says later on to Peter, " I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32)), it is advocacy in exercise with the Father for the disciple's restoration. Here we see the Lord placing us in contact with the Word (the water of purification), which He applies Himself by the Spirit to our consciences and our walk, in order to give us, not a future, but a present part with Him. " If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." This is what we see with many blessed details in the type of the red heifer. (Num. 19)*
(* See the paper on "The Red Heifer," Christian Friend, 1888)
But Peter as yet understood nothing of Christ's service so presented to him, and was unable to enter into what would thereby have been his part. Two things were lacking, expressed in these two words: "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter" (v. 7); and, "Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterward." (v. 36) These two things were knowledge and power.
Peter had real affection for the Lord; but this affection could not preserve him from the gravest of falls. He lacked what was indispensable-knowledge-as was proved in the hitherto most striking acts of his life. When he said (Matt. 16:2222Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. (Matthew 16:22)), " Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee," it was his affection which spoke; and yet at this very moment Peter was a Satan, who, for want of knowing the heart of Christ, dared to think that the God of love would consent to save Himself. When on the mount he said, " Let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias," it was again his affection for Jesus; but the knowledge of the glory of His person was totally lacking, although with his eyes he beheld the manifestation of it. He put divine grace on a level with the "law" which "came by Moses" to condemn, and prophecy which announced judgment. In the scene of the tribute money, Peter's "Yes," in answer to the question, "Doth not your Master pay? " denotes once more affection for his Master, whom he thought to honor in the presence of his compatriots, but without the least knowledge of the dignity of Him who was God, Creator, Lord of the temple, Son of the Sovereign on His throne. In one sense knowledge precedes affection; for in reality it is no other than the apprehension by the Holy Spirit of the work, the love, and the person of Christ. It follows it too, for affection for Christ is the best way of growing in His acquaintance. In the chapter before us, Peter's words, " Thou shalt never wash my feet," denote again his affection, joined to a sense of the dignity of Christ, but also ignorance of the Savior's love, which found its satisfaction in devoted service. Then, when the Lord says to him, " If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me," he asks to have not only his feet washed, but also his hands and his head. Truly this was affection for Christ, for he esteemed it most precious to have part with Him; but this affection was accompanied by complete ignorance of the work which had already accomplished purification once for all.*
(* I say "accomplished" because from chapter 13 to the end of 17 the Lord is seen as if on the other side of the cross, His hour being come to depart out of this world to the Father.)
The secret of our intercourse with our brethren is also found in this knowledge of the work and the love of Christ. As the Lord had loved them (v. 34), the disciples were to love one another; as He had washed their feet, they were to wash one another's feet. (v. 14)
And here let us observe in passing, that when we are in need ourselves of feet washing in order to be restored, it is not the moment for us to attempt to wash our brethren's feet. The man himself must be clean who would sprinkle the water of purification on one who had been defiled by a dead body. (Num. 19) If we lack vigilance in our walk, we lose not only the communion consequent upon it, but the great privilege of intercessional service towards others.
As we said before, the second thing which Peter lacked was power. Humanly speaking, he was characterized by an energy which led him to face difficulties, but which, being energy of the flesh, did not enable him to overcome them. "I will follow Thee." "I will lay down my life for Thy sake." "I will not forsake Thee." Such is his usual language. It was always affection, but without divine power, and an affection which did not hinder the disciple from denying his Master. What was lacking was the power of the Spirit, which is exactly contrary to that of the flesh, and which is only displayed in the measure in which the flesh is judged. For its full manifestation there must be the sense of utter powerlessness.
Peter could not have either this knowledge or power previous to the death and resurrection of Christ, or before the gift of the Holy Spirit; but what he had to pass through when he was not yet in possession of these two things was profitable to him, and is, and will be so, to others. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter's career completely changes. Knowledge of Christ, power, self-forgetfulness, blessed service for others, are met with at every step. Old things are passed away, and we have the new career of a new man. H. R.