“Washed Clean with Jesus’ Love” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Holy Thursday
April 1, 2021

“Washed Clean with Jesus’ Love” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

One thing we’ve been reminded of a thousand times over the past year is to wash your hands frequently. Washing your hands, we are told, is an important way to keep you from getting the virus or spreading it to others. And so we wash our hands. Frequently.

But you can wash your hands fifteen times a day, eight days a week, and still, eventually, something is going to get you. We’re all going to die of something. But there is one type of washing that will keep you from dying eternally. And that is, when you have been “Washed Clean with Jesus’ Love.”

Washed clean with Jesus’ love: That is the story of our text tonight, from John chapter 13. It’s the familiar story of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem in order to eat the Passover meal. But at the meal, Jesus does something surprising and unexpected. He gets up from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet.

“What is this, some kind of an April Fool’s joke? A prank?” That’s what Peter is thinking. It doesn’t make any sense to him that Jesus, their master–that Jesus, the Messiah!–should lower himself to do this menial servant’s task. It’s just not right! “You’re the Messiah, Master! This is beneath your dignity, to stoop down like this and wash our feet! These other guys may not object, but I do! You’re not going to wash my feet!”

See, this is the same Peter who had earlier objected when Jesus said they were going up to Jerusalem where he, Jesus, would be handed over and put to death. “No, no, Master, that should not happen to you! You are the Christ! A proper Messiah should not have to suffer and die!” But at that time Jesus had to rebuke Peter and say, “Get behind me, Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”

Now here it is on this Thursday evening, and it’s the same story. Peter doesn’t want to see Jesus being humiliated. And you can understand his point. After all, Jesus deserves glory, not lowliness. Peter had seen all the wonderful works Jesus had done: healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes, even raising the dead. Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus had given Peter a miraculous catch of fish. Peter had seen Jesus transfigured in glory.

But now this? Jesus humbling himself, lowering himself, to wash Peter’s feet? Peter knew that he himself was not worthy of this kind of attention. And he knew that Jesus ought not have to do this. So Peter objects even more emphatically. “You shall never wash my feet,” he says. But Jesus answers him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Dear friends, you see, this is the way it is with you and Jesus. You need to be served by him. If Jesus does not wash you, you will have no share with him. You need to be washed clean by Jesus, or else you will be shut out of the kingdom of heaven, you will have no share in it.

How come? Because we are sinners, and we cannot clean ourselves. “Clean up your act!” we’re told. Oh, I suppose if we try real hard, we can clean up certain aspects of our outward behavior. We may be able to get rid of some unhealthy habits and take up healthier ones. We can stop overeating and start exercising. We can do that sort of cleaning up by means of sheer willpower. But we will never be able to cleanse the underlying layer of our sin-stained soul. We can’t clean that up on our own. “Clean-up on Aisle 5!” Yeah, you can take your mop over to Aisle 5, but in the meantime there’s still a mess on Aisles 1, 2, 3, and 4, not to mention 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

We may look clean on the outside, but on the inside, we’re still a tomb full of dead men’s bones. You know this. You’re a decent person, a respectable citizen, but you know the dirty thoughts you entertain in your head. You know how you have spoken of others–and to others–with hurtful words. You know you haven’t loved God with your whole heart. You haven’t loved your neighbor as much as you love yourself. And that is sin. You are not clean. You need Jesus to wash you and make you clean.

Only Jesus can wash you and make you clean, deep-down clean. Only he can do that deep-cleaning job, because he is the one Savior sent from heaven to do just that. And he does it by being a servant. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “He took the form of a servant . . . and humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

This night, Holy Thursday, is when the plan is put into action. The hour has come. Soon, on this same night, the Savior will be betrayed into the hands of wicked men, and they will deliver him over to be crucified. This is the greatest servanthood of all, when the master lays down his life for his disciples. Jesus “loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them to the end.” And he demonstrates this love with the foot-washing. Here’s the point: You need Jesus to serve you in order to save you. Let me repeat that: You need Jesus to serve you in order to save you.

Finally, Peter begins to catch on. So he says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Yes, Peter, you need your whole self washed clean by Jesus in order to be clean. You need the deluxe wash, and only Jesus can provide that. And it’s free. You get the big upgrade wash, and the whole thing is free. It’s on Jesus. He paid the price for you with his blood shed on the cross. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

You, dear Christian, you have been washed, you have been made clean, by Jesus. The water and the Word were poured over you in Holy Baptism. In that baptismal bath, you were cleansed, all your sins were washed away. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Your sin-stained robe was washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. So now you are clean, completely clean.

And in the Supper that Jesus institutes on this night, the Lord’s Supper, he likewise serves you with his love. He gives you his very body and blood to eat and to drink–the same body and blood he sacrificed on the cross for you. And so, in this Sacrament you receive the benefits of his atoning death: forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation.

On this Holy Thursday, Jesus shows his love for us by serving us. And he shows us that this is the way it is to be among us also. Serving one another in love is what he calls us to do. “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.” And again: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are Jesus’ disciples. We are his family, the church. We are called to love one another by serving. Maybe not by literally washing feet, but in other practical ways, yes. Can you think of ways in which you can do this? Can you think of people you can serve with this Jesus kind of love? Think specifics, think practical. Is it giving a ride to someone who could use a ride to make it to church–or to a doctor’s appointment? Is it checking in on the 90-year-old shut-in and paying her a visit? Is it offering to help clean someone’s house or sharing a meal with someone who is lonely? The opportunities to love and serve will present themselves before you. There are lots of ways we can put love into action. And Jesus will show you the way.

Friends, you know the love of Jesus. Now let that love flow through you out to others. Love is not just a feeling. Love is put into action, from thought to word and deed. Love, by its nature, happens in community. Love happens in our life together as church.

What a joy and blessing it is to be here together in God’s house, to gather as a family and to receive the gifts of Word and Sacrament, to share in the life and love that our Savior gives us! Thank God for this great blessing! This is where we receive Christ’s love. And this is where we meet and get to know the brothers and sisters with whom we can share Christ’s love. Take a look around. All these people have feet that you can wash.

Brothers and sisters, fellow baptized disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus has served you, Jesus has washed you, and he has washed you clean. Jesus has loved us, and he will love us to the end. Out of his great love, you and I have life together with him, and with one another, forever, without end.

Published in: on April 1, 2021 at 10:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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