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Foot-Washing Humility - Self-Giving Love

John 13:1-17

Pastor Robin Fish

Maundy Thursday
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

View Associated File

Thu, Apr 8, 2004
Maundy Thursday
 

John 13:1-17

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.  And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  And so He came to Simon Peter.  He said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter."

Peter said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."  Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."  For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, "Not all of you are clean."

And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This evening we are going to take a look at the other side of Maundy Thursday.  Each year we have re¬hearsed and repeated the institution of the Lord's Sup¬per.  It is an appropriate thing to do.  Tonight we will share in that Supper, and we will receive the same thing as the disciples received that first time, at what we have come to call the Last Supper.  The only differ¬ence tonight is that you will not see Jesus, and the voice you will hear speaking His Word will be mine.  But He is still the host, and He still gives to us His body and blood for our forgiveness, faith, and strength.

Tonight we look at the other Maundy Thursday ac¬tivity - where Jesus washed His disciples feet.  Some churches make a big deal of it, where the Pastor wraps a big towel around Himself and takes to washing the feet of the congregation, or of a chosen few who repre¬sent the congregation.  They do this because Jesus commanded His disciples in verse 15, "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did so you."  We want to meditate on this lesson and discover Jesus' Foot-Washing Humility and His Self-Giving Love.

Now, I have no problem with taking up a towel and washing your feet, if that is what you want, but you would probably just feel silly, and it would be another one of those things that the church does that doesn't really make any sense.  The lesson here is not about pedal hygiene.  The lesson is about humility and love.

We know it is about love because the first verse says so.  "having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end."  What Jesus does here is part of loving His disciples to the end.  But everything He did from that moment until He had risen from the dead and showed Himself alive to the Twelve was done as part of loving them to the end.  Our salvation was about His love, not our worthiness, in the first place.

The foot-washing was about humility.  You see, this foot-washing was a custom of that time and that place.  It was normally done for guests by a servant.  In the hot, arid regions of Judea, where people walked barefoot or with sandals on, a cool washing of the feet was powerfully refreshing, and it was considered at that time to be a wonderful courtesy from host to guest.  There was no Law.  It was just a custom.  It was a courtesy which to deny or forget was simply rude.  The telling point is that a servant, a person of no recognized status was normally the one to perform the actual washing.

Jesus chose to perform it Himself.  He took the position of the servant deliberately.  It was as if to say 'there is no task too humble for me to do.' Many of us have no problem stooping to do things we ought to regard as beneath the people of God, or beneath us personally.  We can excuse any sin.  But Jesus wasn't excusing wrong, He was demonstrat¬ing for the disciples, and for us, that there is no position of privilege in the church.  If there is, there is something wrong.  Jesus - our Lord and Master, and our God - was not above stooping to the most menial of tasks.

That is why the customs in many churches of pas¬tors washing the feet of the people is so silly.  Washing someone's feet is no customary courtesy today.  It is embar¬rassing.  It is an alien inconvenience.  It becomes one of those odd things they do in the church which is not really clear to anyone.  It is supposed to teach humility, but it is so far out of our social experience as to be just weird.

Jesus explained His action to them in verses 12 through 15.  "And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said so them, 'Do you know what I have done so you?" Jesus had to ask because they might have mistaken it for simple foot-washing too.  What He meant was, 'Do you know what it means?'

But He didn't depend on them to understand.  He knew that they would not.  So, He explained.  "You call Me the Teacher and the Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought so wash one another's feet."  Back then, the teacher was the most important person for the student.  The students lived to serve the teacher.  The greatest hope anyone could have is that they could be as good, as learned, as disciplined as the teacher one day.

The title, the Lord, was even stronger.  Politically, it meant He was the leader, with the right to rule and to be served.  Theologically, it meant that He was God.  I don't know if they thought theologically as they applied the term to Jesus, but it carried enormous importance and prestige none-the-less.  If He was not above this servant's task, how could the followers consider them¬selves above any task that they might need to do for one another?  The answer is, they could not.  When Je¬sus said that they should wash each other's feet also, He didn't mean that they should carry buckets and towels and wash feet, literally.  He meant that they should be humble, never too good or too important to do anything that any Christian might need to do, or might need done.

"For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you."  This word of Jesus should be the answer to every need of the church.  If we did not consider ourselves greater than the Master, more deserving of respect, we could not look down our nose at any task which was needed.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case, is it?

We have all seen people who are too important to come to meetings.  We have seen people whose time is too precious to spend it with children.  We have all known people who will take an office with an impressive sounding title, but not one that may require time and effort and attention.  The church is filled with people who cannot be bothered, won't take the time, have no interest in the needs of others, only see what is important to themselves.  Such people have rejected the exam¬ple of Jesus - and in so doing, they have rejected Jesus Himself.

"Truly, truly, I say so you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him."  If Jesus could wash feet, there is precious lit¬tle we can honestly be too good to stoop down and do.  If the Son of God was not above the work of a slave, those who claim to be His people can hardly be too im¬portant or respectable to take the time or spend the ef¬fort to do anything that is needed in the Church.  That willingness to serve is only the echo of the foot-washing humility of Jesus.  Je¬sus then said, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." It is not simply enough to nod your head piously as I preach about it.  The blessedness of the thing comes from the doing of it - from echoing the humility of our Lord, and His love.

The other thing we face on Maundy Thursday is the self-giving love of Jesus.  We receive of that self-¬giving love in the Sacrament, where Jesus literally gives us Himself -- feeds us with His body in and with and under the form of the bread, and gives us His blood to drink in and with and under the form of the wine.  In and with the Sacrament He also gives us forgiveness, and strength, and grace, and faith.

But here, in our text, we see that love surface in how Jesus dealt with Peter.  When Peter realized what Jesus was doing, He asked "Lord, are You going so wash my feet?" Jesus answered something to the effect of "I know this isn't going to make much sense to you now, but I will explain is afterwards."

Peter was not persuaded.  He recognized the enor¬mity of what Jesus was doing and refused.  "Peter said to Him, 'Never shall You wash my feet!'" He was not about to allow such an inordinate and out of place thing to hap¬pen.  He was like many people today who want salvation by works, or by human decisions and choices, and will not allow Jesus to die for them and save them utterly without their help or co-operation.  But Jesus intended to teach, and Peter had a lot to learn.  "Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.'" Jesus was not just speaking about washing feet here.  This was like Jesus telling Peter, "You think washing feet is stooping too low for the Teacher?  I am going to have to do much more for you than this simple thing."  Jesus was referring to the cleansing of Baptism, the washing which washes away our sins and makes us part of the body of Christ.  If Jesus doesn't save you to the utmost, you have no place in His body, or in His salvation.

Here, the self-giving love of Jesus was going to lead Him to the cross.  He would be beaten, mocked, and spit upon for us and for our salvation.  Peter wanted it all, but he wanted it his way.  He said to Jesus, "Never!" Lit¬erally, Peter said "not at all forever!" Jesus said, in effect, that it had to be God's way -- or not at all.  Jesus had to do it God's way, and so must we.

Of course, then Peter wanted to be washed all over, "Simon Peter said so Him, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."  If a little is good, then a lot must be better!  But that was still Peter demanding that it be Peter's way.  Jesus was still patiently teaching him that it would have to be God's way.

"Jesus said so him, 'He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.'" We are clean, in Jesus Christ.  Peter needed to learn the same lesson we need to learn, that our salvation is by God's grace, not our works at all.  Christ has made us clean.  We cannot refuse what God has done, or de¬mand that it be done or given the way we want it.  We must walk in the faith as it is.  We must receive salvation by grace, and yet there are things God would have us to do, too.  It is God's way, not our way, even today.

Jesus gave Himself for us, to purchase our for¬giveness at the price of His suffering and death on the cross.  He also taught us how we are to live - in foot-washing service, loving one another as he has loved us.  And look at the humility of our Lord, He washed even the feet of Judas, who Jesus knew was about to betray Him into death.  What kind of humility, and great self-giving love that act of humble and loving service must have required.  And Jesus holds this lesson out to us on the night on which He was betrayed as an example that He would have us follow.  There is nothing that God calls on us to do about which we can rightly say, "Oh no, not me!" Foot-washing humility before one another, and self-giving love toward one another!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.



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