The Washing of Peter

July 1, 2009

We interrupt this program to bring you a short character study of Peter in the Gospel of John…

Basic Idea: If Peter the dedicated follower of Jesus is going to continue to follow, it will only be through continually returning to Jesus for washing.

A couple of sketches of Peter and the events John recounts to us about him: He is dedicated to Jesus and would even die for (11:16 presumably; 13:36–37) this one who has the words of life (6:68).  Peter is willing to go to great lengths, even dying for him (18:10), to save him Jesus descending from his high estate (13:6-8–the master serving!?”).  Peter is instructed by Jesus that he must return to Jesus to have his feet cleansed (13:9).  Peter denies that he is a follower of Jesus when it means following him to the cross (18:15-18, 25-27).  NOTE: he does not deny the Lordship of Jesus, only that he is a follower.  He sees the empty tomb (20:2-9)

When Peter originally declares his willingness to die for Jesus, Jesus does not deny that Peter will also be crucified.  He does however tell him that he is not yet ready (13:36 “…you cannot follow me now, but you will later.”).  At the end of the story, following Jesus washing of Peter, he again reaffirms his invitation to Peter to follow him to the cross (21:18-22) which he had previously escaped through denial (ch. 18).

And so, if Peter the dedicated follower of Jesus is going to continue to follow, it will only be through continually returning to Jesus for washing.  The remaining question for me is, Who will wash Peter’s feet?  What are Jesus’ instructions on the matter?

So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you.  I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

Yes, the foot washing is an example of service, but Jesus (in his discussion with Peter) has also invested it with a profound spiritual reality.  So, as followers of the Servant King, we bring his presence not by bringing forgiveness (“a messenger is not great than the one who sent him”), but by washing each other with and bringing each other back to the Gospel we so regularly fail to believe.

How do we as believers carry out this washing?  As others New Testament authors have put it,

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man has great effectiveness. (James 5:16)

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph. 5:25-27)

And again, with Peter,

But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong…But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:11, 14)

Peter’s life declares his disbelief in the Gospel and Paul confronts him on it, washing him and drawing him back to Jesus, the Servant King, at whose Table all find provision!