Bath Time: The Full Extent of Love

The first time I gave all three of our kids a bath, I thought, “No wonder my mother was always exhausted!” Bath time is a huge effort, and the process can be grueling: scrubbing bodies, washing hair, lifting kids in and out of the tub, and drying them off. Not to mention the fact that dressing damp children, a miraculous feat similar to covering an eel in shrink-wrap [1], takes the strength of Samson and the patience of Job. I could suddenly relate to the record of Naaman in 2 Kings Chapter 5, when he was told by the prophet Elisha to go wash in the Jordan seven times to cleanse his leprosy. Some days instead of bathing my kids, I just want to tell them, “Oh, just go dunk in the river seven times!” But sometimes love means getting down and dirty.

When Jesus knew that he was about to die, he wanted to give his disciples the ultimate demonstration of love.

John 13:1, 3-5
(1) It was just before the Passover Elisha to go wash in the Jordan seven times to cleanse his leprosy. Some days instead of bathing my kids, I just want to tell them, “Oh, just go dunk in the river seven times!” But sometimes love means getting down and dirty. Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
(3) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
(4) so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
(5) After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

What was the full extent of his love? Bath time! He was about to wash their feet. In biblical times, they didn’t have paved roads or hiking boots. I imagine that the condition of someone’s feet was somewhat similar to my kids’ when they play barefoot outside in the summertime–they come back in with the entire backyard attached to their feet. Yet here was Jesus, the Messiah, on his knees washing the grimy feet of grown men (yuck).

Not only washing, but drying them with a towel, and it’s not like he could take it to the Laundromat afterward. I think I would have let them air dry. But I wouldn’t make my own children air dry, because I love them. When they emerge from the tub shaking and shivering, their downy hair plastered to their heads like newborn baby chicks, I wrap them in a fluffy towel and hold them close like a mother hen protecting her brood. Jesus went above and beyond the call of duty to make his disciples feel loved.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I look at my TO DO list for the week–errands, shopping, cleaning and appointments–and then I think, “There is NO energy left to bathe those kids.” What was Jesus’ TO DO list?

1. Get beaten beyond recognition.
2. Die for the sins of mankind.

That intimidating list didn’t stop him from showing the full extent of his love. Why did Jesus do this? It wasn’t just because they were about to eat and he couldn’t stand their smelly feet!

John 13:14,15 and 17
(14) Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
(15) I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
(17) Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

When Jesus gives us a key to being blessed, we should be taking copious notes. In verse 26 of this record, Jesus gives Judas Iscariot the piece of bread after dipping it in the dish. Wait a minute–errrrrrkkk!–Rewind! Judas was in the room?! No part of the record indicates that Jesus washed everyone else’s feet, yet skipped over Judas’ feet. He washed Judas’ feet, knowing that this was the man who was about to betray him to die a horrible death. I give my kids a bath because I love them, but I don’t invite every kid in the neighborhood and randomly start scrubbing everyone down. But Jesus did not discriminate in his love. He washed even his enemy’s feet, and he did this as an example.

There are times, even with my own children, when there are unpleasant things to clean. So why do I bathe them? Physically, they need to be clean, and emotionally, they need to feel loved. A child who is neglected is usually dirty. But God has cleansed us, His kids, through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 9:22 states that “…the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Lawfully, it was necessary for Christ to die so that we could be cleansed by his blood. 1 Corinthians 6:11 lists some descriptions of sinners, and then states:

1 Corinthians 6:11
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Peter 3:20 tells us that those on Noah’s ark “were saved through water.” It took forty days and nights of rain to cleanse the earth of the sinful people during Noah’s time. That’s a lot of water, almost as much as it takes to cleanse my boys after playing in the mud. But it took a lot more than that to cleanse us of our sins–the life of Jesus Christ. His BLOOD cleansed us from unrighteousness. Jesus taught his disciples to “dig deep” and bathe each other’s feet. How their hearts must have ached when they saw him hanging on that cross, and in the months and years to come imagine the awe they felt as they realized that the full extent of his love was his voluntary cleansing of their sins by his death. He had asked them to wash each other’s feet, and here he was washing their entire bodies and souls.

After the bath and mealtime in John 13, Jesus gave the disciples a new command–not a suggestion:

John 13:34
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

“As I have loved you” are 5 words that cannot be dismissed. Jesus was setting the standard for love. He didn’t bad-mouth his enemy, Judas; he loved him and washed his feet! I’m sure Judas’ feet didn’t exactly smell like lavender and primroses, and his heart definitely smelled rancid. What was racing through his mind when the man he was about to betray was bestowing such an act of grace and love upon him? Instead of looking at the dirt on other people’s feet and perhaps thinking badly of them, what if we dared to clean them off with love?

There are some who will resist the bath. Peter at first resisted his bath in John 13, until the Lord convinced him otherwise:

John 13:8 and 9
(8) “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
(9) “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

When our daughter Grace was about to receive her first bath, we were ready with the video camera to capture this tender moment. As soon as her body hit the water, she started screaming like a cat caught in a rainstorm. I couldn’t just say, “Oh well, I guess you can bathe when you get to college!” We can’t do that to people. Even when people resist our love, we still need to bathe them with it. It’s good for them, even when they don’t realize it. When our kids don’t want to take a bath, sometimes I have to say, “Honey, there’s a nest of birds in your hair; that’s not good.”

Sometimes after I give our kids a bath, they end up making a huge mess that negates the whole process. The Bible states, “”A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud”” (2 Pet. 2:22). Likewise, a child who is washed goes back to his playing in the mud. So what do I do? Go back to the bath! Isn’t that what happens to all of us? Even though we’ve been cleansed, we go wallowing in the mud again.

1 John 1:9 (KJV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When we confess our sins to God, He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness! (God, I blew it, I’m in the mud again.) He doesn’t need to drag out the soap, bubble bath, rubber ducky, and towels. He has the blood of our savior, Jesus Christ, and He calls, “BATHTIME!”


[1] Shrink- wrap (noun) A protective wrapping consisting of a clear plastic film that is wound about an article and then shrunk by heat to form a sealed tight-fitting package. American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, 1993.

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  1. I needed this! Thanks! Tonight’s bathtime was rough…and this was a reminder of being like Christ. I don’t think he would’ve gotten quite as irritated by being splashed in the face two times by a two year old. 😀 I just feel so “beat up” sometimes by my kids. But when I look at reality– I “beat up” my Father God, and sent my “Brother” to the cross. And yet he loves me. Thanks for this perspective. I love how God uses everyday things to teach us about his love. And I want my kids to experience God’s love through me in the ordinary things. Bathtime included.

  2. English is not my first language but I think you need correction John 13:1, 3-5

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