Jesus Took a Towel
by Bill Somers
Some time ago I heard a taped message by a well known minister with the title of: Jesus Took a Towel. The text was these verses from John 13.
1 Now 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. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
There are many messages you can preach from the above verses. The importance of servant hood. The need to be cleansed by Jesus. The betrayer in the midst. The way to set an example. Etc., Etc,
What the Lord showed me was something quite different. It began when He got my attention by something very odd in the text. Look again at verse 5. "After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded."
What is so strange about this is that Jesus is wiping the men's feet on a towel that he is wearing, not one that he is carrying.
My wife will often give her dog a bath. When she does, she puts on an apron to keep herself clean and dry and she uses one or more towels to dry the animal.
But Jesus is wiping the men's feet on himself! He is getting the mud and filth off their feet and on to the towel he is wearing, onto himself. This is really strange! And it's awkward: You try doing that!
The bible is full of strange things like that. Often they are clues that there is a deeper spiritual meaning to be found in the passage.
First of all we need to see that the washing of the feet represents our salvation.
Peter says to him "Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." So what does this tell us? It tells us this.
Unless we are cleansed by Jesus, washed in His blood, we can not have any part with Him. That is we can't have any relationship, we can't know Him as our personal savior without the cleansing of the blood. The foot washing then is a picture of our salvation.
Next we consider the fact that Jesus is getting his towel that he is wearing all dirty, while he is washing the men's feet.
The Sin Bearer
The deeper meaning here comes from the idea that clean garments represent righteousness, and that filthy garments represent sin. We find a reference to filthy garments in Isaiah.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; …. Isaiah 64:6
And clean garments are spoken of in revelation.
… And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14
And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:8
So Jesus washed the disciples feet but in the process all their dirt, which stands for sin, gets on him. What this passage is showing is that Jesus cleansed us by taking our sin upon himself.
We can see it stated in another way in Peter, who speaking of Jesus, says:. Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 1 Peter 2:24
And also these passages from 2nd Corinthians and Galatians say something quite similar.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: Galatians 3:13
It is also found in the old testament when the ministry of the suffering servant, Messiah, is prophesied.
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:11
What this is saying is that Jesus took our sin upon himself, or he became sin, or became a curse, for our redemption.
Here are two more verses closely related to this theme.
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Hebrews 9:28
His normal clothes represent his Divine nature. That is what he set aside when he became a man to suffer and die for us.
The towel representing his human nature was clean, reflecting his sinless condition. But in saving us he had to take on our sin. And so the towel gets all dirty as he does this service. This is what the foot washing illustrates.
When He is finished, he sets aside the dirty towel and puts his own clothes back on. This speaks of Jesus once again taking on the Divine nature after his resurrection.
There is a veiled reference to this in the book of Zechariah, where Joshua the high priest is a type of Jesus.
And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. Zechariah 3:1-4
This scene shows Jesus as a man coming to the judgment seat of the father, still bearing our sins. And we see the Lord, [the Father] rebuke Satan the accuser. After all Jesus was innocent! Then he gets a change of raiment, new clothes. His divine nature is restored to him before he is raised from the dead.
Another passage depicting the servant hood of Jesus, our messiah, is in Philippians.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5-8
To sum up the entire scene, what Jesus has done here is to act out his entire ministry in a symbolic form.
He rose up from where he was seated represents leaving His throne in heaven Setting aside his clothes is his incarnation. He was born naked into this world. Taking a clean towel is the sinless human nature that he took upon himself. Washing the men's feet is washing us with the blood. Getting the towel dirty, is bearing our sins for us. Putting his own clothes back on, is his resurrection in a glorified body, taking His divine nature back once again. His sitting down again speaks of sitting on his heavenly throne once again, at the right hand of the father.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? John 13:12
Lord, help us to realize and be thankful for what you have done for us sinners