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“God’s Will and Joyful Service”

Date: March 30, 2018 Speaker:


“God’s Will and Joyful Service”

John 13:1-17

 Maundy Thursday: March 29, 2018

Pastor Mark Wiesenborn

St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The sermon message for our Maundy Thursday service is taken from the Gospel, where Jesus pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that is wrapped around him.  After he has finished and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he says to them:

Do you understand what I have done to you?


Dear friends in Christ, This evening we are going to take a look at the “other side” of Maundy Thursday.  Every year we remember and celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  It’s an appropriate thing to do.  Tonight we will share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, 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 difference is that you will not see Jesus, and the voice you will hear speaking His Words 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 activity – where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.  Some churches practice this in a very personal way, where a Pastor or Elder wraps a towel around himself and washes the feet of the people (or a few who represent the congregation).  They do this because Jesus commands His disciples, saying: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  We want to meditate on this lesson and consider how it can help us respond to God’s will in joyful service.


Now, I have no problem with taking up a basin of water and a towel and washing your feet, if that is what you want, but some of you would probably just feel awkward, and it might become another one of those things that the church does that people misunderstand.  The lesson here is not about personal hygiene, or about embarrassing anyone.  The message is about humility and self-giving 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 does from that moment until He has risen from the dead and showed Himself alive to the disciples is done as part of loving them to the endOur salvation is entirely about Christ’s love, and never about our worthiness.


The foot-washing is 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 requiring foot-washing.  It was just a custom.  It was a courtesy, which to deny or forget would simply be rude.  The telling point is that a servant or even a slave, a person of no recognized status, was normally the one to perform the actual foot-washing.


But Jesus chooses to perform it Himself.  He takes the position of the servant deliberately.  It is 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 isn’t excusing wrong, He is demonstrating 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 – is not above stooping to the most menial of tasks.


That is why the custom in many churches of pastors washing the feet of the people misses the point.  Washing someone’s feet is no customary courtesy today.  It is embarrassing; perhaps a little too intimate for our comfort.  It is supposed to teach humility, but it is so far out of our social experience that we misunderstand.


Jesus explains His action to them.  “And so when He has washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He says to them, ‘Do you know what I have done for you?’” Jesus has to ask because they might have mistaken it for simple foot-washing too: ‘Do you know what this means?


But He doesn’t depend on them to understand.  He knows that they will not.  So, He explains.  “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, wash your feet, you also ought to 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 themselves above any task that they might need to do for one another?  The answer is: they could not.  When Jesus says that they should wash each other’s feet also, He doesn’t mean that they should carry buckets and towels and wash feet, literally.  He means 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.”  These words 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 their 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 Jesus’ example of joyful service – and in doing so, they reject Jesus Himself.


“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 Jesus could wash feet, there is precious little we can honestly be too good to stoop down and do.  If the Son of God is not above the work of a slave, those who claim to be His people can hardly be too important or respectable to take the time or spend the effort to do anything that is needed in the Church.  That willingness to serve is only the echo of the foot-washing humility of Jesus.  Jesus then says, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” It is simply not 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 gentleness.


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 grants to us forgiveness, and strength, and grace, and faith.


But here, in our text, we see that gentle love displayed in how Jesus deals with Peter.  When Peter realizes what Jesus is doing, He asks: “Lord, are You going so wash my feet also?” Jesus answers something to the effect of “I know this isn’t going to make much sense to you now, but I will explain it afterwards.”


Peter is not persuaded.  He recognizes the enormity of what Jesus is doing and refuses.  Peter says to Him: “Never shall You wash my feet!” He is not about to allow such an inordinate and out of place thing to happen.  He is 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 cooperation.  But Jesus intends to teach, and Peter has a lot to learn.  Jesus answers him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Jesus is not just speaking about washing feet here.  This is 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.” If Jesus doesn’t save you to the utmost, you have no place in His body, or in His salvation.


Here, the gentle and self-giving love of Jesus is going to lead Him to the cross.  He will be beaten, mocked, and spit upon for us and for our salvation.  Peter wants it all, but he wants it his way.  He says to Jesus, “Never!” Literally, Peter says “not now, and not ever in this way!” Jesus tells him, in effect, that it has to be God’s way – or not at all.  Jesus has to do it God’s way, and so must we too respond to God’s will in joyful service.


Of course, then Peter wants to be washed all over, so he says: “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 is still Peter demanding that it be done his way.  Jesus is still patiently teaching him that it would have to be God’s way, so he says, “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 demand 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 forgiveness 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 joyful service of our Lord – He washed even the feet of Judas, whom He knew was about to betray Him unto death.  What kind of humility, and gentle 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, Lord, not me!” Foot-washing humility before one another, and gentle self-giving love toward one another!


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!



GOSPEL LESSON – John 13:1-17 [ESV]


1 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.  2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,  3 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,  4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  5 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.  6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  8 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.”  9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  10 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.”  11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”


12 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?  13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

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