Pastor Gary Wong April 9, 2020
John 13:1-15, 34
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. 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
“Love Makes the World Go Round.” “All You Need is Love.” Those are just two of countless songs that have been written about love. Love has always been a favorite topic of songs, books, and movies. So, what is love? Love is an emotion. The dictionary describes love as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” Yet, love isn’t just something we feel; love is also something we do. When you love that special someone, you want to show how much you love him or her.
The setting for our lesson about love is the Upper Room on the evening of what we call Maundy Thursday. Earlier, Jesus had sent two of his disciples ahead to prepare a place where he and the disciples could celebrate the Passover. It was the custom in Jesus’ day that guests who came to a special meal would have their feet washed by one of the household servants. The disciples had provided everything necessary for the Passover meal, but there was no servant to do the foot washing. John tells us that the meal had already begun. Yet, not one of the disciples had made a move to wash their fellow disciples’ feet or even their own.
What were they thinking? They couldn’t have thought that washing feet was too difficult a task. Did they think that while having their feet washed was a good custom, they could go without it this one time? Was there another reason? Luke gives us a clue in his Gospel. On several occasions and just prior to Maundy Thursday, the evangelist tells us that the disciples had argued about which one of them was the greatest. For instance, James and John had asked Jesus if one of them could sit at Jesus’ right and the other at his left in his kingdom. When the others had heard about the brothers’ request, they were indignant because each thought they deserved the honor; they were mad that James and John had beaten them to the punch. Basically, the disciples’ pride was getting the best of them. How did they get to this point? At first, the disciples were humbled when Jesus had said, “Come, follow me.” But later on, their status as disciples became a point of pride. They probably thought, “Jesus chose me to be one of only twelve. He’s taught me the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. He’s given me the power to heal the sick and cast out demons in his name. Jesus even said that we will ‘sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel’” (Mt. 19:28). With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder that the disciples didn’t make a move; not one of them was willing to lower himself to perform such a menial task!
Jesus, knowing that the time was at hand for him to complete his work of salvation, was now going to show his disciples the full extent of his love and what it means to be a disciple. Without saying a word, Jesus got up, took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. We don’t know the identity of the first disciple whose feet were washed by Jesus. We don’t know how that disciple reacted or if he said anything to his Savior. We don’t know how many pairs of feet Jesus washed before he came to Peter. However, we don’t have to guess how Peter responded. John, who was right next to Peter, gives us a succinct, eyewitness account. Peter was flabbergasted. He sputtered, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (Jn. 13:7).
In so many words, Peter was saying, “Jesus! What are you doing? You are the Christ, the Son of God. You have a lot more important things to do than wash my feet!” How did Jesus respond? Jesus matter-of-factly replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (7b). With that answer, Peter realized that Jesus was going to wash Peter’s feet despite his disciple’s objections. So Peter became even more vociferous. In the strongest possible terms, Peter declared, “No, you shall never wash my feet!” (8a). Did Jesus heed his disciple’s passionate plea? Not at all! Jesus declared, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (8b). Jesus’ answer was a game changer. Peter realized that if he continued to try to stop Jesus, there would be negative consequences to his relationship with his Lord. Peter took Jesus’ answer, “You [will] have no part with me” to mean that he might not be allowed to continue as a disciple. So rather than continuing down the same path, Peter did a complete turnaround and urged Jesus, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (v.9).
Jesus then pointed out a simple fact: “a person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean” (v.10). With that, Peter had no more objections. When Jesus finished washing all of their feet, he put on his outer garment and returned to his place. Jesus then asked them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (v.12). Jesus already knew they did not. Before he washed Peter’s feet, he told Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing.” So as soon as Jesus asked his rhetorical question, he immediately proceeded to explain the motivation behind and the meaning of his actions.
As we study this portion of Scripture, we can see similarities to John’s account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. In both cases, Jesus used a common, everyday task—washing feet and fetching water—as a springboard to teach an important spiritual truth. In both cases, the Samaritan woman and Peter were only thinking in earthly terms and were slow to see the spiritual truth Jesus was teaching them. In both cases, Jesus patiently led them to understand that truth. So what truth was Jesus teaching Peter and the other disciples? Jesus’ lesson was all about humility and love. Earlier in our text, John tells us that God the Father had put all things under Jesus’ power. Because Jesus is the Son of God, all power and authority belong to him. So, if the question is who should be serving whom, the obvious answer is that Jesus’ disciples should be serving Jesus, their Lord and Master. Yet, in the Upper Room, it was Jesus serving the ones who should have been serving him! What would possess Jesus to do that? Jesus did it because he loved them. All along, Jesus had been teaching them about humble, loving service. Pointing to himself, Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28).
In love, Jesus called his disciples to follow him. He patiently shared the gospel with them, preparing them for the time when they would be proclaiming the forgiveness, joy, and peace that come through Christ. Jesus loved them from the very beginning; he would love them to the very end. Jesus knew that he would soon be leaving his disciples to return to his Father. He also knew how his departure would affect them. On Maundy Thursday evening, Jesus wasn’t thinking about the pain and suffering he would be enduring in just a few short hours; he was thinking about his disciples. What could he do to teach them the most important lesson of all? By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus was teaching them that everything that Jesus did and everything they were to do was to be done out of love. Jesus’ simple act of love on Maundy Thursday was a prelude to Jesus’ ultimate act of love on Good Friday. In the Upper Room, he washed their feet; on the cross, Jesus washed away all of their sins with his holy, precious blood. God so loved the world that he willingly sacrificed his one and only Son for people who did not deserve his love. Jesus suffered and died for the unlovable. He died for you and me so that we would never know what it’s like to be without God’s love. Because of Jesus and through faith in him, we will bask in the light of God’s love forever.
Have we learned the lesson that Jesus taught that holy night? It isn’t just about washing someone’s feet or some other act of kindness for someone else—Jesus commands us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Out of gratitude to Jesus for all that he has done and continues to do for us, we want to “Love one another.” What does that look like? It starts with our attitude. Rather than thinking highly of ourselves, we want to put the needs of others ahead of our own and willingly and humbly serve them. To what degree are we to love others? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). The question is, are we willing to lay down our lives for others? A husband would say, “I would gladly give up my life for my wife”; wives would say the same thing of their husbands. Parents would gladly sacrifice themselves for their children. But would we sacrifice our lives for someone we don’t know or might not like? Fortunately, God usually doesn’t put us in those situations; yet, God wants us to be willing to go the extra mile.
More often, the challenge to show love comes in everyday life situations. For instance, do you love you family enough to hand over the remote control to someone else? Are you willing to shop, cook, and clean for others who rarely say, “Thank you”? Will you continue to put yourself out for someone who constantly complains and criticizes? We might be tempted to say “No” in those situations. That’s when we remember what Jesus did. He showed love in little things, such as washing the disciples’’ feet. Jesus showed his love in the greatest possible way by laying down his life for us. We want to show the same, all consuming, self - sacrificing love. Jesus’ love moves us to make a meal for a family that is going through tough times. We take time to listen to that acquaintance who has no one else with whom he can talk. We pray for and comfort a friend who is ill or who has lost a loved one. I have been the recipient of countless acts of love. I will never forget what my friend did for me when my father died. This was the friend whom God used to bring me to faith. A mere thirteen days after my dad witnessed my baptism, he suffered three heart attacks and died. I was stunned. As a new Christian, I couldn’t see God’s love in taking away my father. When I told my friend that my dad had died, she dropped everything she was doing. She packed a bag, and along with her two young children, flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Over the next few days, she assured me of God’s love for me and my father. The Bible passages she shared strengthened my faith and encouraged me in my walk with Jesus. I will always be grateful for her overwhelming kindness. My friend’s love is one of the reasons I am a pastor and proclaiming God’s love to you.
In this holiest of weeks, we see the love of God on full display. In love, Jesus lived for us. In love, he gave up his life so that we might have eternal life through faith in him. God loves us with an everlasting love. So, as God’s dearly loved children, let us love one another. Amen.
May the peace of God that transcends all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“O Master of the Loving Heart” (CW 491)
Text: Calvin W. Laufer, 1874-1938, alt.
Tune: Carl G. Glaser, 1784-1829, alt.
O Master of the loving heart, The friend of all in need,
We pray that we may be like you In thought and word and deed.
Your days were full of kindly acts; Your speech was true and plain;
Of those who ever sought you, Lord None came to you in vain.
Your face was warm with sympathy; Your hand God’s strength revealed;
Who saw your face or felt your touch Were comforted and healed.
Oh, grant us hearts like yours, dear Lord, So joyous, free, and true,
That all your children, ev’ry where, Be drawn by us to you.