Basin of Grace

During Easter week, many churches teach a moment of Jesus’ life that is recorded only in the Gospel of John. It happened during what we call “The Last Supper,” Jesus’ final meal with his beloved apostles before he is arrested later that night and brutally executed the next day. In their reporting of this meal, Matthew, Mark and Luke focus on Jesus likening the bread and wine to His sacrifice of His body and blood to cover our sins. John never mentions that. Instead, he focuses on an act of servitude by Jesus that would have been virtually unfathomable to the 12 other men in the room.

In a respectable Jewish home, there would have been the lowliest of servants at the door to wash guests’ feet as they arrived. On this night, there was none. Perhaps Jesus planned it that way. The 12 apostles certainly would have noticed the unstaffed basin and towel. They would have known better than to track dirt and manure all the way to the upper room where they would dine. Yet, off they went.

So, after the meal was served, Jesus got up and did it himself. Without speaking, Jesus pointed out the failure of the 12. Why didn’t one of you do this? Now that I have, go and do likewise. Yes, Jesus was setting the example of the servant leader. It’s impossible to overstate how shocking Jesus’ act would have been to his disciples. The lesson that none of us is above kneeling to another has been taught over the past 20 centuries. But as I prepared to preach on this recently, God showed me more. My revelation came in reading (for probably the 50th time) Peter’s response to Jesus washing his feet. First, Peter tells Jesus that He will never wash his feet. Jesus then tells Peter that if He doesn’t wash his feet, Peter will have no part with Him. So, Peter swings to the other extreme:

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean. John 13:9-11 (NIV)

Some biblical scholars, including Gary M. Burge in the NIV Application Commentary, argue that this may be an attempt to underscore the importance of baptismal washing for the believer. I believe Jesus meant something else. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as Peter did, our spiritual hearts are clean. But we still have sin in us and live in a sinful world. So, our “spiritual feet” get dirty each day; that is, we sin.

Yes, we are to serve others by “washing their feet,” whatever the 21st-century equivalent of that kind of servitude is. But I believe Jesus is also saying: “You are mine and you are clean, but your spiritual feet need cleaning every day by confessing your sin to Me and repenting.”

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:7-9 (NIV)

Our spiritual feet are washed in a basin of grace (a term I’m borrowing from Max Lucado, who used it in a different context) filled with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ when we bring out failings to Him each day. After I preached on this, I discovered that William MacDonald makes the same case in the Believer’s Bible Commentary:

“There is a difference between the bath and the basin. The bath speaks of the cleansing received at the time of one’s salvation. Cleansing from the penalty of sin through the blood of Christ takes place only once. The basin speaks of cleansing from the pollution of sin and must take place continually through the Word of God. There is one bath but many foot-washings.”

We need ask forgiveness only once, at salvation. But when we each day confess our sins to Jesus and repent, our spiritually dirty feet are purified of all sin by the Basin of Grace where they are bathed in His cleansing blood.  Perhaps this is why the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, cover the Last Supper by focusing on Jesus’ sacrifice of His body and blood while John focuses on what it purchased on our behalf. This Easter season, may we meditate often on both His sacrifice on the cross and what it continues to purchase for us each day.

— Pastor Jerry Bader

  • Steve Launer
    Posted at 22:14h, 27 March Reply

    Interesting take. Digesting and looking for a responce.

    • Jerry Bader
      Posted at 16:41h, 31 March Reply

      Hey Steve,
      This doesn’t remove the obvious service message of the foot washing. But it does add another layer. The bathing happens once, the washing with the cleansing blood of Jesus is required every day. But Jesus lowering Himself in service is still the critical message.

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