The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and The Fellowship of the
Holy Spirit be with you All. Amen.
John 13:1 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. 2
And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas
Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, 3 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, 4 rose from supper, and laid aside
His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. 5 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. 6 And so He came to
Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus
answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you
shall understand hereafter.” 8 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.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also
my hands and my head.” 10 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.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this
reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 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? 13 “You
call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then,
the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one
another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as
I did to you. 16 “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. 17
“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. . . 34 “A new
commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have
loved you, that you also love one another. (NASB)
Each year, year after year we meet here in the church on Maundy Thursday,
the night in which our Lord was betrayed, to hear Jesus institute the Lord’s Supper
and to listen to what the Scripture teaches concerning the Sacrament of the Altar.
It is an appropriate thing to do. It is, after all the New Testament’s version of the
Old Testament Holy of Holies. In Holy Communion Jesus is present with us, in,
with, and under the bread and wine.
Tonight we look at the other Maundy Thursday activity that Jesus is known
for. The washing of His disciples feet. Some Christian denominations make a big
deal of the foot washing, so much so that it upstages the actual and real
sacramental gift He left His Church. They over emphasize our work and service to
each other, while diminishing the work of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy
Communion. That’s an age old problem for Christians and the Church. Too much
us and not enough of Him.
When Maundy Thursday rolls around, there is no shortage of clergy who
take hold of a big towel and a wash basin and set to washing the feet of the people
who have come to the service.
They do this because Jesus commanded His disciples in verses 14 and 15
saying, “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.”
The custom of washing of feet upon entering a tent or a house after a long
journey goes all the way back to Genesis 18:4 where Abraham offered to washed
the feet of his three angelic visitors. From there on, we see that the washing of feet
when entering a house or tent was standard operating procedure.
The common foot ware at the time was open toed sandals so you can
imagine what a person’s feet looked like after being on the road for a several days.
The washing was not only cleanly, it was also refreshing.
In the case of ordinary people, who did not have servants and slaves the host
furnished the water and the guests washed their own feet. If the guest was
important enough, one of the younger children would be given the task.
If the master of the house was a man of means and had a servant of slave,
the slave or servant would be assigned the task of washing the feet of those who
entered the house.
As far as tasks are concerned, being designated as the household foot
washer was the lowliest of all services. When entered into voluntarily, it showed a
spirit of humility and servant-hood. In 1 Samuel 25:39 King “David sent a
proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife.” As a show of her acceptance of the
proposal and of love and devotion 41“She arose and bowed with her face to the
ground and said, ‘Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my
lord’s servants.’” Abigail offered to wash the feet of servants. This reply was
understood as a great act of humility and devotion.
When the Pharisee Simon had invited Jesus to dinner, Simon had shown no
hint of humility at all. He thought pretty highly of himself. As Jesus taught
Simon about the nature of true faith and repentance, a sinful woman was busy
doing the work of a repentance sinner. Jesus “said to Simon, ‘Do you see this
woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has
wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no
kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did
not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this
reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven…”
Washing guests’ feet as they entered the house was considered a nice
courtesy from host to guests. It was not a law. It is no where commanded by God
in Scripture. It was a custom. It eventual came to be expected, especially if the
guest was a person of importance. To neglect or forget to do so was rude.
Though His disciples seemed unaware of the fact, Jesus and His disciples
had been on a three year journey to reach Jerusalem on this particular Passover
and thus the end of Jesus’s earthly teaching ministry. The opening verse of the
assigned Gospel lesson for this evening. “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.”
This part of their journey was coming to an end. The very last Passover was
at hand. The old was passing away and the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper was
coming into being. So Jesus takes the position of the servant.
He did so to teach His disciples, soon to be Apostles that there is no position
of privilege in the Church. Jesus – our Lord and Master and our God – was not
above stooping to the most menial of tasks.
He came to live among sinners, people devastate by sin. This is one of those
rare cases where Jesus does something for the specific reason of being an example
in the proper use of His example.
After washing His disciples feet Jesus says, 15 “For I gave you an
example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 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.” The disciples are not greater than Jesus and they, and we must
never forget this humbling fact.
For the past three years, the disciples argued off and on which of them
would be the greatest in the new kingdom. They jockeyed for position as to who
would sit on Jesus’s right and left.
The whole point of the lesson and Jesus’s hands on example is to teach the
disciples that in the Church all Christians are servants to each other and to the
neighbor. While the pastoral office is the only divinely instituted office in the
Church and while there are other offices created by human arrangement for the
sake of good order, we are to serve the other.
Church councils, electors, elders, deacons, voters, committees, and members
are to serve each other and the pastoral office. The pastoral office has been
divinely created principally, to serve the sheep by preaching the Word and rightly
administering the sacraments.
In the normal course of life, we in the West do not observe the washing
someone’s feet when they come into our homes. It is not a customary courtesy as it
was in Jesus’s day. What the disciples found odd and uncomfortable was that the
Teacher was washing the feet of His students.
Washing feet on Maundy Thursday strike many of us as gimmicky. It is odd,
an alien inconvenience that is embarrassing. It is supposed to teach humility to
great and small alike. But it is so far out of our cultural experience as to be forced
and weird. And because sinful human beings tend to place more emphasis on our
works, our decisions, our good intentions, in many churches and doctrine foot
washing overshadows the institution of the Sacrament of the Altar.
But Jesus, true to form wants His disciples to understand that what He is not
just engaged in a simple expected custom. He is teaching two lessons. There is the
one that is clearly and plaining stated. 12 “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? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and
you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your
feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’”
But there is more here than Jesus’s example of what it means to be a
Christian in service to the Church and to one another. Jesus also used the foot
washing episode as a symbol of what Jesus was about to do for His disciples and
for all Christians. This lesson comes out in the exchange between Peter and Jesus.
When Peter realized what Jesus was doing, “‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’
7 Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you
shall understand hereafter.’ 8 Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my
Jesus was about to render unto the disciples and all Christians the greatest
of all services. The Master was going to die as the atoning sacrifice for sin for
servant and enemy alike. He was vesting the water and His Word with His perfect
live of love and obedience and would within 24 hours fill Holy Baptism with His
death. On the third day He would then vest Holy Baptism with His resurrection.
Peter impart recognized the enormity of what Jesus was doing and refused.
Jesus was Master. He was servant. Peter thought it was below the dignity of the
Office of King for the King to be washing the feet of the subjects. But by rejecting
this act of Jesus, Peter was also rejecting what would be the most humbling and
cleansing service of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice.
Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ 9
Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my
head.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but
is completely clean; and you are clean….”
Those of you who have been attending the Sunday morning class, should
recognized a baptismal reference when you see one. 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 wash you clean you are not clean.
Peter needed to be reminded of the same lesson we often need to be
reminded of. Our salvation is by God’s grace, not our works. God the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit makes us clean by grace in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the
gift of faith.
On the night in which He was betrayed Jesus even washed the feet of Jesus,
while at the same time recognizing that Judas was unclean. Look at the humility of
our Lord, He washed even the feet of Judas, who Jesus knew was about to betray
Him into death. 10 “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.’ 11 For
He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of
you are clean.’”
In that room and on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, we have a
picture of the Christian life and of the ministry of the Christian Church. There is
Jesus and His Word. Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, believers–the disciples,
and a hypocrite–Judas, and Christian love of and service to each other and our
Maundy Thursday is rightly remembered as the night in which Jesus gave us
His Holy Sacrament of the bread/body and wine/blood. This is the sacrament of
sustenance. It sustains us. But on the very same night Jesus also spoke of the
washing that makes us clean. He used the custom of the servant washing the
sojourners’ feet to point Peter and all Christians to Holy Baptism. Peter always
wanted to render to Jesus some great and glorious service. “For even the Son of
Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for
many.” (Mark 10:45)
Jesus knew you before the foundations of the world were made. He chose
you despite the fact that He knew everything that you are, everything that you
have done, and everything that you will ever do. Yet, He came to serve you. He
made you clean in your baptism, He forgives you time and time in confession and
absolution and most of all in the Sacrament of the Altar.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and The Fellowship of the