It is Maundy Thursday and only a few hours before Jesus’ betrayal, abandonment, arrest, and torture. He and his disciples have been traveling to and fro; they have worn out the road. As a consequence, their feet are tainted with the dirt of Palestine. But the evening has arrived, and they have all made it to the table, but there they recline with dirty feet. No one takes the initiative to esteem others better than themselves and serve their brothers. Is it due to ignorance, apathy, arrogance, excitement, or distraction? Who knows? But no one is interested in humbling themselves and taking up the basin and the towel.
Therefore, Jesus takes advantage of another teaching moment. He will improve his friends through word and deed. He will shape his disciples with his Law and his Gospel:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:1-15)
Learning the Law from Jesus
The Son knows the “Law of Love.” He is the one who has written and delivered it to man.
From eternity past, he loves his enemies who are consumed by sin. Mercy and grace he decrees for his elect.
He loves the world by submitting to his Father, forgoing access to his divine prerogatives, taking on a human soul and body, and passing through Mary’s womb.
Great love is expressed as he obediently places himself under the authority of foolish parents, elders, and government officials. He is not a free man, for he is a Jewish citizen subservient to Rome.
Jesus loves by means of deed and word. Great love is expressed through his miracles and sermons.
And look at his love as he marches into Jerusalem. Here he is to die on a Roman cross. Here he is to be the Passover Lamb. Greater love is not possible; this is a man laying down his life for his friends.
Therefore, it ought not be totally surprising to see Jesus remove his outer robe, wrap himself with a towel, and busy himself with washing the feet of his men. This is so odd and wrong, but it is so typical and loving of the Stooping Savior. He is the King of Kings. He is the Servant King who gets his hands dirty and is left with dirty feet.
And through his actions, a Law-sermon is proclaimed. Here we see what we ought to do. Listen again as Jesus says:
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
Clearly, Jesus is the perfect man and model worshiper. Therefore, we must ask how we can mind, heart, and hands of Christ? How can we esteem others better than ourselves and practice such beautiful and encouraging meekness? How can we love God and our brothers after Christ’s example? Friends, this is what holy Law-keeping looks like. This is the standard of obedience, and it is what God expects from us every day, in every hour, in every place, from the inside-out, without exception. Friends, this is the Law of Love. Do we keep it?
By the way, the answer is, “No!” There is not one of us who faithfully serve our fellow man, and we certainly do not faithfully serve God. We are like Jesus’ dull disciples, sitting at the table with very dirty feet.
Learning the Gospel from Jesus
Yes, Jesus’ disciples are a sinful lot. Even on this night, they are all misunderstanding his kingdom purposes. Though he has repeatedly told them of his arrest, crucifixion, and death, they remain so dull and temporally minded.
In addition, they are all consumed with self-promotional materialism and pride. Not just Judas, James, and John, but all the fellows are all interested with acquiring the chief seats in the kingdom. They are all “numero uno” in their own eyes. They all want their silver coins and golden thrones.
Jesus also knows before this very night is through, Judas will betray him with a kiss, Peter will betray him with his words, and the rest of his disciples rest will betray him with their actions. All his “faithful friends” will abandon him.
And this night, as they should be practicing humility and showing honor to one another and the King of Kings, they allow their brothers to enter, sit, and dine with dirty, grimy, unacceptable, and unloved feet.
However, Jesus has something to say to them:
Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean …. (John 13:7-10a)
Through Jesus’ actions, a sermon is being presented. Through his words, his sermon is clarified. And what is the big idea? Here it is:
If Jesus does not wash us, we have no share with him, but if Jesus applies one drop of his sacred blood and holy water to us, we are thoroughly cleansed of all our sins.
Friends, consider our blessed condition.
Jesus is the King of Kings.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb slain for 100% of the sins of those who are his disciples.
Jesus is the Servant Leader with bloody hands and dirty feet. But all those he touches are washed, cleansed, purified, made spotless, declared blameless, made radiant, and sweet-smelling — forever and ever.
Today, enjoy afresh Christ’s grace, then encourage your brothers and sisters in some way, before going out to engage and serve those who know not the lover of their souls.