A GOD WHO LOVES Holy Thursday
John 13:1-17, 31b-35 Behold the Man Series
April 18, 2019
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 him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them....
31b“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Le 19:18). That’s the Old Testament command given through Moses. Jesus reiterated it for a lawyer who asked, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36). Together with the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37), Jesus called them the great commandment. But how hard such a command is. I might think I can truly love God with my whole heart and soul and mind (which of course I really can’t, at least of myself), but to love my neighbor as myself is impossible!
Then, in our text, Jesus raises the ante:
“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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34–35).
These aren’t only words, that Jesus speaks. His words took shape in the action he had just performed. He took the role of a servant, a slave, and washed the feet of his disciples. This is the way they were to live: as servants of one another, like Jesus, the God who loves.
I. HE IS A LOVE THAT WASHES HIS DISCIPLES’ FEET
The first verse of John 13 reads:
“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. (Jn 13:1).
One of the key phrases here is the last, “he loved them to the end.” It was certainly true chronologically. His love did not fail when Judas plotted to betray him. His love did not fail in Gethsemane when they could not watch with him one hour, but fell asleep as he agonized in prayer. Nor did his love fail when Judas betrayed him into the hands of the mob. It did not fail when all of them fled in fear. It did not fail when Peter denied him in the courtyard of the high priest. It was also true in that it endured to the completion of his work and fulfillment of his purpose in this world. This love was evident when Jesus spoke to his disciples of his coming suffering and death. It was manifest when he prayed, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39). This love was displayed as he was condemned by the Sanhedrin, ridiculed, spat upon, struck and slapped, or taunted, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Mt 26:68). Jesus’ love for his disciples never failed. It endured even as he hung dying on the cross.
So now, at this final Passover,
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. (Jn 13:3–5).
This was the task of a slave, a servant. At the very least, one of the disciples should have taken up this responsibility, but none of them stooped to the occasion. The disciples were all too proud. None of them volunteered, lest they lose their spot in line to glory. They were pre-occupied with their own position in the coming kingdom they believed Christ was about to establish. They constantly argued with one another as to which of them was the greatest. James and John attempted an end-around, sending their mother to request of Jesus:
“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Mt 20:21).
They did not love their neighbor as themselves. Did they really love God, who stood before them in the flesh, with all their heart and soul and mind? Behold the man who loves! Jesus did what was needed. He stooped to be the servant he came to be. He began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel around his waist. Peter attempted to prevent him from doing this, but Jesus warned,
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (Jn 13:8b).
Now, tonight, Jesus comes to you. Of course, he isn’t washing feet; he comes to cleanse you, body and soul.
II. HE IS LOVE THAT WASHES US BODY AND SOUL
We’re really no different than Jesus’ disdainful disciples. We have our pride as well. We’re proud of our family and the success our children have made of their lives (with a lot of help from us, of course). We’re proud of our business accomplishments that enable us to enjoy the life to which we are certainly entitled. We’re proud of our profitable farm or ranch operation which we built from scratch. We’re proud of our contributions to the church and other charitable enterprises. We’re proud of the sacrifices we have made to keep this church and our school going through the years. We’re proud of the name we’ve made for ourselves in this community. We’re proud of our spiritual piety which others naturally admire. In fact, we’re so proud of ourselves we’re not sure we really need Jesus at all. We don’t really need to come to his house to hear his word and receive his gift of forgiveness unless it fits well with our busy schedule. We don’t really need his gifts in the Sacrament of the Altar more than once or twice a month, or once or twice a year. We don’t need to pray, except when we come to church, or when real trouble erupts. We may not think we need Jesus to wash us, but we do! And unless he washes us, we have no part in him.
Jesus comes tonight and does what needs to be done. Behold the man! He lays aside his garment of glory to love us, body and soul. He takes up the garment of flesh and blood. He stoops down to wash us body and soul. He washes us in Holy Baptism with water and the Word. He drowns the Old Adam in us with this washing, forgiving us all our sin. He raises up a New man in us, leading us into a new life as his chosen people. He feeds us with his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar which nourishes that New man, empowering us for a life of true service and love, as he has loved us. He speaks his word of absolution to us through the mouth of the pastor, bathing us, body and soul, in the blood of his sacrifice which cleanses us again and again of our sin and clothes us with his righteousness that we may stand before our heavenly Father. Behold the man, and in him, the God who loves us to the end, to the end of our earthly lives, to the completion of our full and final redemption, redeeming our souls and our bodies for his kingdom.
In this God who loves, we learn to love, as well. In him we learn to love as he has loved us—
to love as flesh among flesh, to love as sinners among sinners, to love those who cannot and will never deserve our love, to forgive those who are unforgivable. In his love, we learn to love with our hearts and our hands—to remove the filth, the guilt, and the shame of our brothers and sisters, to bring our fellow man into the presence of Jesus that he might be made clean, to love those who will not and cannot ever repay, to love without expecting anything in return.
Behold the man who loves the completely unlovable, who loves those who will soon abandon him to save their own lives, who loves those who will condemn him, beat him, crucify him.
Behold the man who loves you who are still unlovable, who turn away from him again and again, who stand in dire need of his deliverance.
Behold the God who loves you with an everlasting love, who loves you in the water of Baptism, who loves you in the word of absolution, who loves you with his body and blood in this meal, who loves you today and will love you to the end, body and soul.