Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 13. Chapter 13: The Mediator Washing the Feet of His Own

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to | Download

Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 13. Chapter 13: The Mediator Washing the Feet of His Own

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 13. Chapter 13: The Mediator Washing the Feet of His Own

Other Subjects in this Topic:


The Mediator Washing the Feet of His Own

After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter; and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 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. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feel, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done unto you? Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.


WE ARE aware of the fact that to treat of the story of the washing of the feet of the disciples, at this point, is again to depart from the chronological order we have been following. We allowed ourselves that privilege before. Again we do so with a specific purpose in mind. We have been looking at the dark side of the picture of Christ in the room of the Passover. Now we choose to see the brighter side. We were seeing the shadow, when, in the vestibule of it as well as in the temple of sorrows itself, we observed Christ struggling against the satanic element, and saw that element warring against Him. Therefore we must now devote some attention to the light, to the Spirit of love and truth, to the Spirit of prophecy and of the official ministration of redemption. Christ surrenders Himself to death in the room of the Passover. Hence, Christ comes before us first of all in the guise of a servant, of a servant who washes the feet of his own. Thereupon He appears as the Mediator who ministers Himself unto them in the Holy Supper.

There was a perfectly natural occasion for this service of the washing of feet. A dispute had arisen among the disciples about who should be the greatest of them. Their thoughts frequently tended to linger over that question of the balance of power. It is possible that the argument on this day was conducted with an eye to a possible assignment of functions in that future kingdom, a kingdom which all of them had at first confidently expected in a temporal form, and which still haunted their imaginations in that guise. Be that particular matter as it may, however—a dissension had arisen among them.

Christ undertakes to stop the argumentation. He lays His garments aside, takes a basin of water and goes about a duty customarily performed by the least of the household menials. He proceeds to wash the feet of the guests, whom, as a host, He has Himself invited to the sacrament. It is in this sense that the washing of the feet may be regarded as a perfectly natural service, fitting nicely into the day’s program.

Nevertheless, no believer can suppose that Jesus’ act of love is completely accounted for when it is regarded as a deed quite naturally evoked by the circumstances. Into this act of Christ as into so many others an element of necessity enters. The system of Jesus’ life as Mediator again harmonizes perfectly with the prosaic forms and complications of the day’s business.

We may not, therefore, regard the washing of His disciples’ feet simply and solely as an item in Jesus’ schedule of activities; still less as an addendum superadded to that program by reason of the exigencies of the occasion. We may not even consider it as a service which Jesus assigned Himself as an appropriate prelude to the Passover meal, and as nothing more than that.

The washing of the feet is more than a casual, more, too, than a special item in the program of activities for the night in which He was betrayed. Again the majesty of the eternal Spirit manifests itself in Christ’s daily conduct. That is the majesty of a Spirit who gives His divine ordinances of regeneration form and color in the flowers which, figuratively speaking, burgeon forth spontaneously wherever He places His foot. It is specifically the work of the Mediator which gives eternal significance to all events which take place in the night of the passion. The mystery of the Messiah is revealed in them, also in the washing of the feet.

We shall not expose and refute at length those various exegeses of this event which tend to dissociate it from Christ’s mediatorship.

There are those, for example, who interpret the washing of the feet as a mysterious preparation of the beloved disciples for the mystical marriage of the heavenly Bridegroom with the church.[1] Others suppose that this act must be regarded as a bathing, a purification, not unlike the so-called “mysteries” of the pagan world, by means of which, after so many ritualistic washings and purgings, a candidate was initiated into certain “mysteries” and raised to a higher degree in the religious order which had instituted them.[2] In the same way, these aver, by means of the water of cleansing—note that the holy water, not the holy person becomes the important matter—Christ now initiates His disciples into the Christian mysteries (supposing these actually exist). Accordingly, we are told, He prefixes this act of service to the Holy Supper advisedly, indicating in that way that the Supper, too, was one of those mysteries. The implication is that by means of the mysteries the religious life is emphatically differentiated and segregated from the natural life. By eating the holy bread and drinking the sacred wine the religious man retires into the secluded room of the mystery, there to meet with God in intimate, esoteric communion.

[1] Eisler, alluded to in Carl Clemen, Religions geschichtliche Erklarung des N. T., Vol. 2. Topelmann, 1924, p. 113, note.

[2] Clemen, pp. 280, 281; also the standard literature on the subject.

It would be inappropriate to dwell long on a refutation of these positions, so widely do they differ from our own.

Obviously the assumption underlying the theories outlined is that Christianity is but one manifestation of the general phenomenon called religion. Such explanations are designed to fit Christianity into the system of decadent paganism of the late-Hellenic spirit. They do not explain the Bible and the Gospel in terms of its own meaning—a requisite any honest scholar would set down as primary, even though he regarded that Bible as simply another cultural book. Such expositions distort the Scriptures, are the product of interpreters who have chosen once and for all to do all they can to fill in the gulf between Christianity and other religions, and—changing the figure—to melt Christ, and Buddha, and Mithras, and all other “saviours”[1] together in one crucible. They throw the Bible on the same heap with all the other “sacred” writings: this they do in order to show that the “one” spirit of the “religious” life gradually expresses itself through the channels of these various books, in order to prove that at best only a difference of degree, never one of kind, can obtain between the several religions, saviours, and systems of redemption that have evolved in the world.

[1] Drews, Arthur. Die Christusmythe, Jena, Diederichs, p. 99.

The fundamental fallacy in these positions is this: they fail to acknowledge the significance of the office of Christ, and the office, too, of the disciples. Precisely because we wished to push the significance of the “office” to the fore we chose to allude to these other explanations of Christ’s washing His disciples’ feet.

Just what is meant by office in the religious life of the people whom God favored with His revelation? What is meant by it in the sphere of special grace?

Certainly that concept does not signify that as a result of the favor of grace a person is inducted into one of the “mysteries” where, in aristrocratic aloofness from men and affairs, he may have a passive, immediate communion with God. On the contrary, the term “office” implies service. The person favored with the gift of the office immediately converts the privilege of that into a calling. In him, Gabe (to use the nicer German designation for the gift of God) immediately is changed into Aufgabe (what he must do for others in God’s name). “Office” implies a going out from the solitude of seclusion, in which one has met and been prepared by God, into the great world in order to share the blessing received with others. Not a greedy swallowing up of the waters of grace, but giving free outlet to the river of salvation—that is what the concept “office” implies. It cannot mean an aristocratic seclusion from others on the part of the “initiate,” a retreat into an “ivory palace” of religion, whose every window is shuttered from and every door is barred to the world in order that grace may be received “purely.” In the Old as well as in the New Testament, office signifies an active power, a mission. This force throws doors wide open, presses out at the sills, blows the Spirit through crack and crevice into the great world outside. The office-bearer tears every veil asunder, forsakes palace and temple to reach the hovels of men, descends to the deep valley of common life in order that he may, in God’s name, give the world what he has first received from God.

That is the essential difference between the theories to which we alluded and the truth to which we adhere—a difference not peripheral but basic in character, and a truth which is binding upon us who read the Scriptures in their own light, who honor Christ as the only Saviour, and who oppose Christianity, as the true religion, to paganism, as the false.

Dare we forget that Christ appears on this occasion as an officebearer? God forbid.

The washing of feet which took place in the room of the Pass- over, which preceded the Holy Supper, which the eternal counsel and foreknowledge of God chose to actualize here and now— dare we lift that act out of its sublime setting? For behind that act and in it is contained the whole struggle of Christ Jesus in His official career as Mediator. In it is contained the struggle of Christ Jesus, who wants to perform the responsibilities of His office perfectly before God, who by His “official” example, by His “official” power, wants to constrain the Spirit of God, to speak the Word with a power derived from God, in order that thus the Spirit of Christ may convey the Word He speaks and the example He gives, to the apostles.

No, we dare not lift the account of that out of its context. We must refuse to cut the story of the passion into pieces, to make of it so many acts of a drama, whose tension is relieved by this lyrical entr’acte, this soothing episode, this gentle washing of feet.

In the name of our deepest conviction, in the name of the Reformed principle of interpretation of Scripture, we protest against any attempt to explain the washing of feet as a prelude to the Supper in such a way that both the washing and Supper are inveigled into a system of Christian “mysteries,” supposedly extant. Whoever chooses this interpretation curses Christ with sterility. He overlooks the very significant spiritual meaning of Christ’s act. We must remember that it is precisely John who records the act. And it cannot be denied that if this service of love were to be regarded simply as a token of friendship par excellence, simply as a supreme gesture of courtesy on the part of the gentlest host the world has ever seen, to a few, trusted friends, simply a demonstration of fellow-feeling, of intimacy—if it were to be regarded solely as such, it remains inexplicable why the other Evangelists say nothing about it[1] and precisely John emphasizes it so strongly.

[1] True, Luke (Luke 22) records Christ’s discourse, but says nothing of Christ’s exemplary deed. We shall speak of this discourse later.

That is a remarkable feature. For John is the Evangelist who, throughout his account of the Gospel, is continually pointing to the fact that the external acts of Jesus are so many revelations and evidences of the presence of the Word which was made flesh. He never permits us to see the whole significance of Christ’s outward conduct in His external acts alone. His constant effort is to relate those outward expressions, those external forms, to the inner, infinite, spiritual, divine, everlasting being and life of the uncreated Word, of the Logos, the Eternal Son, who was with God in the beginning and Himself is God.

That emphasis points to the truth that the washing of the feet cannot (after the fashion of those who would relate it to the pagan “mysteries”) be interpreted as a concealment, a retreat of the Divine to the comfortable shelter of an intimate communion, reserved for aristocrats by the grace of God, but that it, on the contrary, also is an illustration of what the prologue of John’s record of the Gospel had revealed: namely, that in Christ, God comes into the world, and in that way sent out to the lengths of the earth—God revealed in the flesh, dwelling among men. Hence the office of Christ must become manifest and active in that mild and unostentatious act of the washing of the feet. This account which John gives us is not a product of fancy, not an idyll, not an Arcadian play. The event it describes is not the embodiment of a supercilious aloofness on the part of certain “initiates” of a certain mystery. In the washing of the feet the great Office- Bearer of God goes out—to the apostles first, from them and through them to Jerusalem, Asia Minor, to the lowlands of the sea, where Batavians lived even in that age, out into the great, wide world.

The significance of the washing of the feet is not simply that by this token a gentle, gracious Master wants to teach a few of His best friends a lesson in humility. Such lessons can be learned elsewhere also. No, not that. In this service the Messiah takes up His Work, and, in doing that work, seeks the whole world. Is the room of the Passover small?—the Spirit will break its bounds. God Himself sets the pins of this tabernacle of communion far apart. Had He not done so that tabernacle would have become a tent of vanity.

Moreover, it is not only the prologue to the Gospel of John which suggests the basic principle that will explain the meaning of the washing of the feet to us: the chapter which narrates the event makes the same fundamental principle of interpretation binding. One writer,[1] consequently, has correctly observed that the token of love which Christ manifests to His disciples “is not completely contained in the washing of the feet. If in St. John’s opinion that act itself constituted the whole token of love, he would have related the second sentence of the chapter to the first very directly by the use of the word “for” or “now.” As a matter of fact, the word used in that transition is the conjunction “and,” a word designating sequence simply and nothing more. Hence, the evidence for the supreme[2] love Christ had for His own is not limited to the washing of feet, but includes everything written by this author in chapters 13 to 17. The discourses of Jesus, certainly, are an eloquent expression of the love of Jesus.”

[1] P. G. Groenen, Het Lijden en Sterven van Ο. H. Jesus Christus, 2nd Ed., Utrecht, 1919, p. 43.

[2] The word “supreme” is used here because in the writer’s opinion the line in verse 1 should be translated “he loved them supremely” rather than “he loved them unto the end.” This opinion is a plausible one. Dr. C. Bouma (Evangelie van Johannes) also adheres to it.

That interpretation is the correct one. It is not merely accidental that in the Gospel account the washing of the feet is closely related to the discourses which Jesus spoke to His disciples in the room of the Passover. Such interrelationship is in harmony with the very form of the Gospel. Those discourses, too, certainly were not intended only for the few, were not a treat reserved for the secret delight of some few favored “initiates.” If any one should undertake to measure the column-space devoted to Jesus’ “public” addresses and that of those given to an intimate circle in the room of the Passover, that person would find that these private discourses, spoken between the washing of feet and Jesus’ captivity, fill a very large percentage of the total space.

Can it seriously be suggested, then, that John the Evangelist is letting little flashes of mystery for him and some few others play before the amazed eyes of beginners in the faith, of “freshmen” converted to Jesus much later than he was, newcomers, who, alas, will never graduate to the level of the apostles, those favorites of Jesus, but who may in this secondhand way get a glimpse or two of the intimate secrecies enjoyed by the first disciples? No, no, not that. John is in his narration of this act, as he is in his account of all of the discourses of Jesus, himself seeking the world. In this instance, too, by means of the Gospel he seeks to make the office of apostleship productive for the world outside himself.

And, as we observe that the Word of Christ was given them for our sake in the room of the Passover, it becomes our duty to understand that Christ, so far from joining Himself in esoteric communion with a company of “initiates,” personally not only officiates at the service, but also shares His official function with His apostles. In that way He makes the washing of the feet a subsidiary part of His official ministry in the world. And that is the reason for which the apostles in the succeeding discourses are designated as being not so much those persons who stand next to and live by virtue of Jesus, but as office-bearers of God, who as such receive promises, and are assured of the Spirit to inspire them in their official work.

In the washing of the feet, also, therefore, that emphasis on “office” must be discovered and accepted before any interpretation is attempted.

It is the High-priest, the Prophet, and the King who washes the feet, and who by that act sends His Word out through the apostles.

And that is why we insist upon directly relating the love of Christ, together with His sensitive care, to His office.

There are two ways in which we can do the Bible an injustice by a false interpretation of this event.

We are doing the Scriptures an injustice if for the sake of the office we lose sight of the love of Christ. To do that is to reduce the washing of the feet to a purely formal transaction, fruitful, perhaps, for teaching us rules of ecclesiastical manipulations bent on an official display of edification, but one which the Spirit has abandoned.

But it is also doing an injustice to the Bible to ignore the emphasis upon the office in favor of stress upon the love of Christ. To identify Christ with love, quite dissociated from Christ the Mediator, is to retain nothing of this narrative of John except a faint atmosphere of gentle enchantment. Such misreading of the account is to build the bridge between the episode of the washing of feet and the “mysteries” of India and of Greece. It is to invite the probability, no, it is to invite the certainty, of degenerating to that sick and sentimental attitude of those who look at the love of Christ as a purely erotic inclination, sublimated to a spiritual level, the kind of attitude, for example, to which Novalis succumbed in his spiritual hymns. Then, remembering the Indian mysteries, and regarding Christ’s act in the room of the Passover as “parallel” to it, one is tempted to repeat with that poet:

When Christ assures me I can be

His own—assuring by his favor’s light

How soon a luminous life for me

Dispels unfathomable night.

Man only when I belonged to him

Dark destiny gave daylight room

And India even in the North

For the Beloved burst in bloom.[1]

[1] From Novalis, Geistliche Lieder.

We repeat: if we look at the office, at “calling’’ in that way—rather, if we overlook it in that way—that is, if we force mediatorship and history of revelation out of this scene of tender love, we are quite ready to enter, with a spiritual but altogether unbiblical eroticism, into those other words of that poet:

Firmly grasp his hands in thine,

Fix thine eyes upon his face;

Flowers bend unto the sunshine

Thou must bend so to his grace,

Give him all, give heart and life:

Thine he is, faithful as is faithful wife.

But the Scriptures place a very different concept of love over-against such confused eroticism.

We, too, certainly, we too, want to see a manifestation of love, and of tender love, in this episode of the washing of feet. But we refuse to define that love at the prompting of the spirit of our time.

For some in our day choose to think of love as the sustaining energy of every living thing, as the creative force, the prime mover, the first principle of a world and life view. Those who do so make two fundamental mistakes.

In the first place, they make all men equal in love. This one has more of love, perhaps, and that one less, but essentially all are born of love. Not one human creature, accordingly, nurtures hate, feeds enmity at the roots of his being. Love lives in all things alive.

And those who have this view are perfectly willing to let Jesus wash our feet, but that only as one possessing an intenser quality of love than other men. Over against this conception we postulate another: namely, that Christ is not one with other men by reason of His having been born of love, but that, as Mediator, He gives others something they do not possess in themselves. We refuse to look upon Christ as one differing from us simply in the degree of intensity of His love. We must regard Him instead as the Mediator who must offer us love as a gift if we are to have it at all.

In the second place, the conception alluded to is erroneous because it forgets that love can really grow only when it is rooted in regeneration rather than in natural birth. By nature we are not related to Christ. We cannot even emulate Him in the service of washing feet unless He warrants it. The example He gives us can not possibly be separated from His work as Mediator. We may not forget that by His washing of the feet He was calling attention to the fact that man must be “wholly clean,” and therefore needs above all other things a cleansing which will purify him in principle and for an eternity. And such cleansing is the washing of regeneration.

Those, then, are the reasons for which we object to any sentimentalized paraphrase of this story, be it ever so charmingly done. We object to any version of it which separates the demonstration of love from the service of Mediatorship. If such versions were really based upon the Scriptures, we should have to agree with Novalis and acquiesce in his spiritual eroticism. Then his analogy of Christ to a “faithful wife” would have our assent. But, because it is the office of Christ which is completely pouring itself out in the act of His love, that love is spiritual, official, purposive, masculine, virile, and prophetic. It represents, not the secret delight of the Bridegroom and some few of His intimates in the seclusion of a bridal suite, but in an official love which blesses the world. It is a faithful Mediator and not as “faithful wife” that Christ, in the washing of feet, gives Himself to all as the servant of all.

“How friendly, how intimate this place seems!—” Should you like to write that over the door of the chamber in which Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet? Well, you may—but not until you have understood first “How awful this place is!”

Once the key to unlock the meaning of this event has been given us, we have little trouble in manipulating it. In this story we see Christ as the second Adam, while en route to the wilderness of the cross and of death, prophesying the law of the restoration of Paradise, that law according to which the least and the greatest, the servant and the Lord, the one who blesses, receiving the tithes, and the one who is blessed, giving tithes, no longer oppose each other but meet and live with each other in harmony. As the second Adam, as the image-bearer of God, the Mediator in this instance too, is a prophet, king, and priest.

Christ is a prophet in this instance: He preaches the law of the Kingdom of Heaven to His disciples. He proclaims love, and in doing so declares the nature of its law with prophetic clarity. He demonstrates that love is not a natural life-function which is common to all, and that it is even less the inherent life-principle of all being, uniting all created things to each other and naturally relating the several members of any body to each other. Instead He teaches that love can have being only by reason of the mediatorship, which offers the greatest sacrifice not because of the pressure, sympathy but because of the imperative of the Will of God which grants reconciliation through fulfillment. Christ asserts that the expulsion of enmity from the world is not to be the product of culture, or an achievement which will follow naturally when the better impulses resident in man once are given free rein; on the contrary, He declares that the birth-chamber of love is the same as the place where justice demands its due. All reconciliation, including that between man and his fellowmen, can come only through fulfillment.

In order to preach that message Christ relates the washing of feet to the institution of the Supper, He preaches the Word in which the Mediator exposes His sacrifice, to full view, and He promises the Spirit of Pentecost as a gift from above, for which He will pray the Father.

Those two emphases are extremely important ones in the prophecy of the gentle Jesus, menially engaged as He is in the service of washing feet.

The Spirit, the effectual principle of love, the prime Mover of it, can only come from above. Love, sympathetic cooperation, is not a flower which grows in gardens planted by men. That is the first emphasis of the prophecy. And the second “like unto it” is this: the Spirit of love proceeds from the mediatorship only, for it can come only after an anxious wrestling for it in intercession with the Father. Love is not possible, you see, without the mediatorship.

This prophecy which accompanies the act of Jesus exposes to us fully the significance of that act.

The man Jesus walks around the room with a basin of water in his hands, but—we may not forget it—the handles of that basin are being held in heaven. Take the Mediator away and Love’s meanest article of furniture—a slave’s wash-basin—will be drawn up into heaven. What remains of it on earth then is but a pathetic, empty caricature of it.

Is that not plain prophecy? Is not Christ teaching with shaming clarity that love is not to be regarded as the sublimation of elements of it with which the disciples were born, but is instead a gift from above, a very effectual power of love, and given solely upon the basis of His atoning and satisfying sacrifice?

In His preaching which accompanies the act of the washing of feet Jesus adds to the objective intercession on His part, the subjective need o£ regeneration, the indispensability of uninterrupted sanctification in His people. He enjoins the thought upon Simon Peter that love is not self-sufficient, cannot nourish itself, cannot guarantee its own fruition, but that God’s almighty power must intervene to that end each day again. The soul must be purified again and again by an unintermittent, ever returning visitation of God’s influence, which gives those who in principle were purified at regeneration, sanctification also, and thus guarantees that the fires of love will not die nor be extinguished by the stifling dust of sin.

That is Christ’s prophecy about love. So He relates it to His own work, just as the fruit of sanctification is related to the root of justification. Thus He proves that love is impossible without mediatorship and regeneration. And so He asserts that every field of the merely natural, human world is arid and sterile.

And the sum of His prophecy is this. There is a love which is solely the product of common grace, it is true. This love is included in that eternal rotation of our natural life, in which love and hate, sympathy and antipathy, appetency and aversion, the day of marriage and the day of war continually exchange places and keep each other in balance, vacillating ever, ever, ever . . .

But the love which has worth in the Realm of Heaven lives by reason of other laws. It is not part of this vacillation of the natural life of common grace, of the tedium which the Preacher of the Old Testament deplored so sorely. For this love, arising as it does in the Kingdom of the Heavens, from the soil of special grace, entwines itself around the cross of Golgotha, the central redemptive fact, and derives its nourishment from the outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost. It will never follow the circuitous groove of common grace, but will undeviatingly assist in the realization of the history of redemption until that history culminates in the youngest, the “last” day. This love is bound up with the cross and resurrection, is inter-ramified with the ever-progressing process of special grace and revelation, a process never disturbed, which will fulfill the world’s times and bring them to rest in the day of Eternity.

That is the first emphasis. Christ the prophet does not ally Himself with love as the natural life principle; instead He allies love as the fruit of the spirit with Himself.

Peace foundations, humanitarian propagandists do like to carve Christ’s water basin in wood, and to embroider it upon their banners. Against them Christ prophesies this: What I have joined together, you shall not put asunder. Why do you accept my wash-basin and ignore my bread and wine, my cross and . . my Word?

Christ washes the feet of His disciples as a King and that is so much more evidence to show that His kingdom is not of this world.

At precisely the same time in which Christianity made its appearance in the world the Caesarship of Rome was being deified. It is not mere coincidence that at the very time of Christ’s advent to the world the Caesar of Rome sent out the decree that he was to be honored as a god and be worshipped with the name “Lord.” Thus the “Lord” of the world’s realm rose to power over the shoulders of his subordinates; wading, when necessary, through their blood, he established his throne and somewhat later became the apotheosis of the glory of man. Such was the “Lord” who had himself anointed by the many as the great One.

At this same time Jesus anoints the feet of His disciples. The Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven enters the circle of those who are eminent in His Kingdom, His disciples. But He offsets any danger of His own and of their yielding to a blissful indolence of rest upon luxurious divans, breathing incense offered by others. He proclaims the law of that “Lord” who washes the feet of others in the guise of a slave although He is the Lord of all.

In doing this Christ explains further the fifth commandment, the one pertaining to respect.

There are many kinds of respect for authority—coerced respect, patriarchal respect, and spiritual respect.

Now there is no denying the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, simply as teacher, as a worker of miracles, as a thinker, elicited the respect of men. Argue His mediatorship out of His life entirely: He still, in a relative way, enjoys the esteem of men. “They call Him master, and they do well.”

But today Christ as the second Adam comes to preach and make binding upon the world as His will another message: namely, that all respect, cultural, patriarchal, that of an inferior to a superior anywhere, may not be separated from the mediatorship which is in Christ Jesus. Note that Christ accepts no respect, no honor, not even that which a teacher enjoys among His pupils, without first earning the highest possible respect by suffering the profound humiliation of slavery. What can He care for Socrates’ respect among his students, what for the cultural superiority ascribed to their leader by the peripatetic school of philosophers, if He is not the Mediator? How can He care for any attitude of respect which arises from common grace? As long as the world endures there will be masters and servants, teachers and students, strong men and weak, culturally accomplished and culturally unfavored. As in the matter of love, so in that of respect: the riddle of the Ecclesiast inheres in it. He, too, looked upon respect as it operated under the fatiguing, maddening vacillations of the shuttle-like process of experience. Today he sees a lord riding a horse, a slave walking alongside; tomorrow the slave rides, and the lord, poverty-stricken and dispossessed, goes on foot. A king builds a palace today; tomorrow rebels destroy it. In such matters, respect, honor, acknowledgment of authority remains a relative thing. In natural life, on the plane of common grace, there is no absoluteness; there nothing is conclusive about respect. And that is really saying that, truth to tell, there is no respect! Must Jesus Christ file His claim to respect in such a world and upon such conditions?

Of course not. Were it so, death would have inhered in the quality of respect forever. If Christ’s superiority were based on common grace alone, He would be a mere man among men; then His respect would be subject to that eternal wheel of vacillation to which we referred in connection with the Preacher of the Old Testament.

In the interest of an absolute, thorough-going respect Jesus rises to His feet, throws His robe aside, takes a basin, and washes His disciples’ feet. In the same hour in which the sacrifice of the cross will fulfill all other sacrifices, in which the Kingdom of special grace will mercilessly cut its way through all world relationships—in that same hour He reveals the fact that He desires no respect which arises from mere earthly relationships. He wants a respect which has its origin in heaven. It is a respect which dares to use a wash-basin and a cross. He files His claim to respect by appearing in the loin-cloth of a slave, by hanging naked on the cross. His Kingdom is not of this world, His honor not the product of the movements of this world. His authority comes from above. He does not wear the loin-cloth “in spite of’ His crown. It is His choicest crown, save one. The cross only is choicer.

As long as men let Christ wash the feet of His disciples, meanwhile turning their backs to the cross, that washing may be ever so appealing as a humanitarian incentive to the false prophets of philanthropic enterprises, Christian or non-Christian, but will always be misconceived. In such attempts on the part of social reformers to annex the episode for their purposes, irrespective of whether they have Jesus’ basin engraved upon their stationery and ballots or not, man remains the equal of his fellows, authority asserts itself over against the “underdog” today, and tomorrow itself bows to him. To and fro: the eternal wheel. The exigencies of the occasion determine. But Christianity will have no part in that scheme. That scheme will remain a philosophy and an attitude earthy and of the earth, will not represent an intervention of the Kingdom of Heaven.

But Christianity will escape the revolution of the wheel of things if it does its simple duty; that is, if it relates the story of the washing of feet to the history of the passion. It must insist upon that relation in social life too. And in the administration of the office in the church. By such insistence a genuine authority, a real respect, will arise, by which a reciprocal interchange of the service of love and of the pleasure of love causes the Spirit of Christ to be fruitful in the world, and the church to flourish. Then a relationship of authority and respect will arise, which still includes that obtaining between owner and laborer, between teacher and student, between the culturally strong who can stand on his own feet and the weak who must rely upon another. These relationships of natural life, thus, by virtue of common grace are sanctified by and put in the service of the Gospel of special grace through Jesus Christ our Lord. On that basis the washing of the feet is not an example or a symbol for humanitarian propaganda but is, as a subordinate part of Christ’s official service, an act of royal jurisdiction, which earns the blessing that accrues to social service. God’s kingdom is not merely portrayed in this act; it actually comes, realizes itself, in Jesus’ gentle manner as He girds His loins, quietly restores Peter to his senses, and, with bowed head and holy calm, proceeds to wash the feet of twelve people. It was a mild, a mellow, a gracious service in a way, but it was also a constraining, a formidable, a more than magnetic potency of the Spirit of the strong will of the King, Christ Jesus. That slave’s garb proves He is the coming King. The basin is not in contrast to, nor a preparation for, the crown: it is the beginning of it.

As King, too, then, the bearer of the basin of water understood and removed the difficulties weighing upon the Ecclesiast of the Old Testament. Today this Lord travels on foot, but sometime He will sit upon a white horse and yield the reins to none but God, so that God may be all and in all.

Finally, Christ washes the feet of His disciples in the capacity of Priest also. The same Person who by reason of a royal sense of personal worth accepted the luxury of Mary’s precious ointment, now returns as a Priest what He accepted then, returns it twelve times, too, or better, innumerable times. As far as Christ is superior to Mary, so far is the deed of the hand that is disturbing the water superior to that which poured out ointment. Water in Jesus’ hands is more precious than spikenard in ours. The difference is as great as that between time and eternity.

And this service of water is for our benefit. All have quarreled among each other. For all these He not only preaches peace, but also makes a beginning of peace. Blessed be this Peacemaker!

Christ in His priestly care is attentive to personal, individual needs also. Who does not think of Simon in this connection at once? Simon, too, had his difficulties in seeing that the relationships of the realm of grace begin and interconnect in a way diametrically opposed to those in the realm of nature. As often as Simon tried to draw Christ into his scheme of things, he became “a satan” to Christ. Now Jesus approaches him and radically overturns all human ways of doing things. When Peter, confronted by this, becomes “satanical” again, and tries once more to dictate and prescribe the laws of Heaven’s Kingdom according to those at the basis of human relationships, Jesus approaches him in a priestly way, and says: “Everything or nothing! Simon, accept this turning things upside down, or else: You have no part in me!”

Then Simon saw the lightning flash, the other world open itself to view; he bowed in acknowledgment and comprehended the thought that the revelation which comes from above does not accept the laws obtaining on earth. Revelation has its own law, the law of the mediatorship.

Yes, such service is priestly service.

As priest He preaches to them the need of a continuous repentance after regeneration. After all, there is a double washing. First there is that which immerses the whole man in water and cleanses him from top to toe; that is the regeneration of which baptism, presently, will be the sign. But the man who bathes himself completely at home, and then walks to the house of his host, will surely dirty his feet if he wears only a sandal, while en route, to wash his feet repeatedly. And this may be regarded as fitly analogous to the need of a daily repentance, even after the gift of the principle of regeneration. That daily repentance, then, Jesus also enjoins upon them. And as a priest, Jesus serves as surety for it. He too washes feet.

Hence, after the bathing of his whole body, he will be compelled He is prepared to do something now which He can do only once. It is a task which, once achieved, can never need doing again. That task is the cross, is death, resurrection, and ascension.

Not the justification only which takes place once for all, but the sanctification constantly being realized in us, as well, proceeds from Christ. See, He is washing feet! Not regeneration only but continuous repentance also, not only the root but also the branch and foliage and blossom and fruit proceed from Christ. Lo, He is washing feet!

Such is the perfect mediatorship. The cross as single redemptive event would not suffice without the washing of feet which points to the repeated gift of the promise and which repeatedly applies the strength of grace.

It is very comforting for us to know that, before the Holy Supper, Christ washes the feet of His own.

At that Holy Supper, remember, He presents Himself to us in a two-fold relationship: as the host, and as that which the host serves; as the giver, and as that which is received; as He who distributes the blessing and as the blessing itself. As a host He is in glory, but as the food on the table He is broken and annihilated.

That same double relationship holds true of the washing of the feet.

“Ye call me master, and that I am,” Jesus declares confidently. In saying it, the host, the master, the first in rank is speaking.

But He also proceeds to wash the feet, and in this is the equal of a slave. As such He is the least; He disappears beneath all others.

When I sit at the table of the Holy Supper, I see the glorious King; I also see the slave, who has no outer garment. In the form of this dual unity He extends the bread to me. I take it and eat; I cannot think what to say, but He Himself speaks to me as a Prophet, buoys me up in His priestly arms, guides me as King; and this is a blessed experience known to none except the believer.

Once more — and this time with assent — we can listen to Novalis.

If his love they only knew,

People would be Christians all,

Would abandon all their fears,

Would adore the Only One,

Would companion me in tears.

Nevertheless, yes . . . even now we cannot read Novalis with assent.

Would all men become Christians, if they “knew” His love? We must be Christians, born of the Spirit, included in Christ, in order to “know” this love. This love is folly and an offense to a natural student of human nature. Thank God for that; because it is, it can save us.

The water-basin is not the grail of knight-errants nor is the blood-basin that.

The hands of Jesus stirring the water are just as offensive and foolish to “the flesh” as are the spiked hands dripping blood from the crossbeam. But, in the loin-cloth of a slave, He is unto them that believe the power and the wisdom of God.

The power, too. He is the power of God, too.

Remember the service of washing feet took place on the side of the wall opposite to that behind which some were delighting themselves with sweet nebulosities, or yielding themselves to “naive and sentimental poetry.”