In Bible days if you didn’t have a servant to wash your guest’s feet, it was the job of the host. But at the Last Sup-per, they were all guests (Mark 14:12-16), and all too proud to wash feet. So the Lord laid aside His garments, took on the attire of a servant, and then redressed after washing their feet (John 13:2-12). This is a picture of how before He came to earth, the Lord was clothed with glory (Ps.93:1; 104:1), but put aside His garments when He came to earth and took on the attire of a servant (Phil.2:5-7), then put His majesty back on (Heb.1:3) when He ascended. He expects we who are clothed with robes of righteousness (Isa.61:10) to do the same, and not be too proud to serve others.
The Lord was a prophet (Deut.18:18), and the prophets were always acting out their prophecies (Isa.20:2; Ezek.24: 15-24; Acts 21:10,11), so He acted out the lesson He want-ed to teach them by washing their feet. What lesson? Well, it starts with how they called Him “Lord” and “Master.” Paul never calls Him “Master” because “master” means teacher, and the Lord is not our teacher, He teaches us through Paul, His “teacher of the Gentiles” (I Tim. 2:7; IITim.1:11). But if we call Him “Lord,” we too “say well” (Jo.13:13). No one ever called Him “Jesus” to His face—except His enemies (Mt.26:61) and demons (Mark 1:23,24)
The writers of the four gospels called Him Jesus, but they were inspired by the Spirit, and while He was here on earth He was a little lower than the angels (Heb.2:9), and lower than the Spirit, so the Spirit could call Him that. Now that He has risen up far above all heavens (Eph. 4:10), we can’t. Jesus Christ died for the right to be your Lord (Rom.14:9), so give Him His props. Just don’t call Him “Lord” and then fail to do what He says (Luke 6:46) through Paul, or else you mock Him as the ones who put a reed in His hand and called Him King, with no intention of obeying Him.
Now the Lord presses the point. He says that if He, their Lord and Master, was willing to wash their feet, they should be willing to wash one another (John 13:14). We should be willing to do these kinds of things too, for Paul says “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ… Who…took upon Him the form of a servant” (Phil.2:5-8).
But we know the Lord didn’t want us to practice a religious ceremony of washing feet, as some do, for He told the apostles He had given them “an example” (John 13:15). Some who practice this ceremony ask why we don’t, but we observe the Lord’s Supper—a good question! The an-swer is found in the little words. In giving the Supper, the Lord said “this do” (Luke 22:19). “This do” meant to do the exact thing (Gen. 42:16-18). Just as Joseph wouldn’t have been happy with a picture or some other example of his brother, “this do” means the Lord wanted us to do the very thing He was doing. But in washing their feet the Lord said “do as I have done,” which means to follow His example (Cf.Ezek. 24:22,23). The Lord told Ezekiel to tell Israel not to cry over the temple, i.e., to follow the example of when Ezekiel didn’t cry when he lost his wife.
Since Christ washed their feet before the Last Supper, some churches do this for the same reason the Catholic church has confession before communion, as a cleansing to make you worthy to receive the elements. But you don’t have to be worthy to take communion, you just need to be saved
I’m not trying to find fault with those trying to follow the Lord in washing feet, I just don’t want you to let them criticize you for not practicing this religious rite. If they claim they follow the Lord in this, ask if they wear a towel. Then ask if after washing the feet of someone in a wheelchair if they fail to help that person on the stairs. If so, they are guilty of observing symbolism over substance.
It is not enough just to “know” these things, you have to “do” things like this to be “happy” (John 13:17). It is a happy thing to get your feet washed, but it is a happier thing to do the washing (Acts 20:35). There are of course people who wouldn’t be happy washing the feet of others. The Lord says He wasn’t speaking those words to Judas (John 13:18). The secret of happiness is serving others, but the secret of a happy life begins with getting saved.