1 – It was just before the Passover 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.
2 – The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.
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.
6 – He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ?Lord, are You going to wash my feet??
7 – Jesus replied, ?You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.?
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!?
10 – Jesus answered, ?A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.?
11 – For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.
12 – When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. ?Do you understand what I have done for you?? He asked them.
13 – ?You call me ?Teacher? and ?Lord,? and rightly so, for that is what I am.
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.
16 – I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
17 – Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.?
Have you ever been humbled?I mean really humbled? I have?numerous times?but the time that stands out most in my memory happened about 13 years ago. At the time I had been at odds with a Christian brother for several weeks?and the situation had gotten worse and worse until one day we both blew our tops and angry words flew back and forth between us. Our argument was so bad that I asked a mutual friend to meet with us to help resolve the situation. Understand?I knew I was ?in the right??and expected this mutual friend to put my foe in his place by pointing out all his errors. But that?s not what happened. The three of us met in my office one Sunday afternoon?and shortly after we sat down our mutual friend got up and went into the bathroom where, unbeknownst to me, he had placed a large bowl of warm soapy water and a towel.
He came to me first, and without saying a word, he knelt down and removed my shoes and socks. Then he did the same for my ?enemy.? You can guess what happened next. He washed our feet and dried them with a towel that he had wrapped around his waist. His Christlike act of humility…humbled us both such that we became speechless. Suddenly, all my carefully prepared justifications seemed very inappropriate and I think my ?foe? felt the same way. We both saw that our pride had led us to see only the faults in the other while blinding us to our own sins.
Plus?we had allowed the situation to get to the point where we cared more about being right than we did about our friendship.
After a time of silence in which neither of us knew what to say…we confessed our sins to each other and apologized. Forgiveness was shared such that the wounds in our relationship were healed. All this was made possible by our mutual friend?s humble?AND HUMBLING?action that afternoon.
I think of that Sunday afternoon whenever Maundy Thursday rolls around?because of course our mutual friend was following the example Jesus set that night. Do you remember the setting? It was Passover and Jesus had gathered with His disciples to share that special symbolic meal that we saw demonstrated this past Sunday by Stephen Katz. Jesus had instructed His disciples to set up for this annual meal in an upper room that He had reserved earlier. Now?since the streets and the roads of Judea were plain dirt, in dry weather they were inches deep in dust. In wet weather they were liquid mud. And, the shoes of that day were very simple: a flat sole, held onto the feet by a few straps. In other words, they did NOT keep the dirt off your feet. So every time you walked in the streets back then your feet needed cleaning. This is why inside the door to the Upper Room there would have been a basin of water and a towel. It was customary for someone to take the responsibility of using those items to wash the feet of visitors as they arrived.
This was especially important because people did not eat seated at a table back then. I mean, Leonardo da Vinci had it all wrong in his famous painting of the Last Supper. Jesus and His followers would have shared this meal at a low table, just inches above the floor. They would have eaten while reclining?laying on one side while leaning on one elbow. da Vinci should have had a long line of reclining disciples…wrapping around a low table. Well, this ?seating? arrangement meant that at dinner your feet were often in someone else?s face. So?you can understand?this foot-washing deal was a very important custom. I mean, who could eat with the aroma of a pair of filthy feet just a few inches away?! But on that night, when they came through that upper room door, none of the disciples had carried out this menial task. Each of them had walked right by the basin and the towel. Like me and my friend 13 years ago?they were too busy arguing to think about this kind of mutual servanthood. All those first followers could think about that night was Jesus? triumphal entry four days earlier. They just knew that Jesus was about to run the Romans out of town and set up His eternal kingdom…and they were embroiled in a dispute about who would get the top jobs in Jesus? administration. In short, everyone was too SELF-FOCUSED to think about washing the dirty feet of his peers.
Well, in the midst of their disputes, instead of taking sides by assigning cabinet positions, Jesus rose from His seat and shocked His followers to silence by taking the basin from inside the door, wrapping a towel around His waist and then kneeling beside each of their muddy feet. And then the King of Kings gently washed away the filth.
Before we share communion, I want to point out two things we can see in Jesus? humble and humbling action that night.
(1) First, what He did symbolized His entire mission.
I mean, this servanthood kind of thing was not isolated event for Jesus. In fact, it vividly portrayed the whole journey He made from Heaven to Earth. Think of it.
- John tells us that Jesus rose from the supper and came down?just as He had risen from His Heavenly throne and come down to Earth.
- That night Jesus laid aside His garments just as He had laid aside His privileges as the Son of God.
- Jesus wrapped a towel around Himself, just as He wrapped Himself in our humanity.
- Jesus then washed His disciples? feet, performing the most menial act of service just as the next day He would die the degrading death of a common criminal.
Even Jesus? interaction with Peter in verses 6 and following pointed to the cross?His mission?THE reason for His coming to earth. Remember? When Peter resisted Jesus? foot washing, our Lord responded by saying, ?Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.? It is as if Jesus was saying, ?Peter, if you do not let Me be Who I am; if you do not let Me stoop down and act on your behalf to cleanse you, then you will have no fellowship with Me, and you cannot enter the Kingdom. Peter, something needs to be done to you and unless I do it, you have no part with Me.?
Well, that something was of course the cross. Only that ultimate act of humility and service…only that ultimate stooping down…could cleanse us from our sin. It is as Augustine put it, ?Proud man would have died had not the lowly God found him.? I?m reminded of Paul?s familiar words in Philippians 2:5-11 where he wrote:?Jesus?being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!?
In that upper room that night, the eternal Son of God, the King of all creation, helped us to see these words from Paul?s letter lived out. His actions around that low-lying table help us to understand that in coming to Earth, God humbled Himself to wash away our sin. You may remember in high school reading in ancient Greek mythology the story of how Zeus and Hermes came down to earth for a brief time DISGUISED as poor slaves. They did this to fool human beings?so as to get a reading on the level of homage people payed to the gods. When Zeus and Hermes found out what they wanted to know, like Clark Kent and Superman they threw off their rags and revealed themselves in all their Olympian splendor. In this mythical story, they took on the outward form of a servant, but that was just their DISGUISE. Well, Jesus did not take on the ?outward form? of a servant. I mean, when Jesus came in the form of a servant, He was not DISGUISING Who God is. He was REVEALING Who God is?and we never see this more clearly than in His actions inside that upper room door.
I remember reading once that pride is forbidden to human beings but its okay for God because, after all, He is God. But this way of thinking is wrong. God is the Infinite Servant. God is the most humble being in all the universe. As John Ortberg puts it, ?Jesus did not come as a servant IN SPITE of the fact that He is God; He came precisely BECAUSE of the fact that He is God.? Jesus? actions that night showed us Who He is and what He came to do. Washing the feet of His followers symbolized His entire mission.
But it did more than that.
(2) What Jesus did with that towel also symbolized OUR entire mission.
I mean, following Jesus means exactly that. It means following in His footsteps?following His example. Look at verses 12 through 15 again. ?When [Jesus] had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. ?Do you understand what I have done for you?? He asked them. ?You call me ?Teacher? and ?Lord,? and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another?s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.?
As you know, some Christian communities take Jesus? command here to mean that we are to literally wash each other?s feet and they hold regular foot-washing services. That?s a good practice?but only as long as we remember?Jesus intended it to be SYMBOLIC. He was saying, ?This is a symbol of the fact that I lay My LIFE down for you. I go to the cross for you. In response to that you should sacrifice to meet the needs of others.? In short, whenever we gather as we do tonight to remember what Jesus did for us on the cross?it should inspire us to follow His example by putting the needs of others above our own.
Bruce Thielemann, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, told of a conversation he had with a member of his flock who said, ?You preachers talk a lot about ?do unto others? but when you get right down to it, it comes down to basin theology.? Thielemann asked, ?Basin theology? What?s that? The lay man said, ?Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to acquit Jesus? He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But Jesus, the night before His death, called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of the disciples. It all comes down to basin theology: which one will you use??
This layman makes a good point. We are called to practice Jesus? example of ?basin theology? every day. Our mission is to follow His example and give of our time, our talents, and even our SELVES to minister to the needs of others. Being a Christian?a Christ-follower?means being laying down your life day after day.
In the open salvos of WWII a large British military force on the European continent, as well as English citizens and diplomats, retreated to the French coastal port of Dunkirk. With its back against the English Channel, the British army faced a German army that threatened to drive it into the sea. To save as many people as he could, British prime minister Winston Churchill called for all available sea vessels, whether large or small, to evacuate the soldiers and civilians from the besieged French beaches and bring them back across the Channel to safety. An incredible array of ships and boats responded by racing to the rescue?everything from small fishing boats to huge cruise ships. As the flotilla made its way to the beach to pick up people and then move out again, Nazi aircraft attacked while German artillery pummeled them with shells. Ships were strafed with machine gun fire, and some were blown out of the water all together.
The ship that received the worst of all this was the Lancastria, a converted cruise liner whose decks and cargo holds were packed with thousands of fleeing soldiers and civilians. Three German Messerschmits attacked the defenseless ship. One bomb dropped directly down the ship?s smokestack, tearing a huge gap in her lower hull. Nearly 200 men were trapped in the forward hold of the now severely listing ship. No one doubted that the liner was going down.
Chaos, smoke, oil, fire, and blood, mixed with terrified cries of the men trapped below, created pandemonium on deck as those hopeful of surviving searched for lifeboats or simply leaped into the water. When all was said and done over 4,000 lost their lives on that one ship.
Moving through the middle of this living nightmare, a young navy chaplain quietly worked his way to the edge of the forward hold and peered in at the darkness below. Then, knowing he could never be able to get out, he jumped into the hold to minister to the men who were trapped there. Survivors later told how the only thing that gave them courage to survive was hearing the chaplain shouting to calm the men, telling them of Jesus and His love and then leading them to sing hymns as the ship finally rolled over and sank to the bottom of the channel.
That chaplain understood and practiced ?basin theology.? He followed Jesus? example by going down to serve others. He put the needs of those trapped and dying men before his own?even though that meant giving his life. As we come now to remember what Jesus did both that night in the upper room and the next day on the cross…as we remember when He came down to help trapped and dying people like you and me…I invite all Christ followers present to join us. Even if you are not a member of this church…join us because after all, if you are His, this is yours.
As is our custom, Bobby, Kevin, and I will stand behind the kneeling benches…and after a time of examination and prayer…when you feel ready…come and we will serve you His Supper.