Last Sunday we read through the story of Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. This was the day when Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem much like a King arriving at his coronation day. Crowds of people welcomed him with shouts of praise and celebration – waving palm branches and laying their coats on the ground before him. They were overjoyed to finally welcome their long awaited Messiah – the King of Israel.
And as the streets of Jerusalem were filled with celebration and praises to God, Jesus affirmed that their praises were absolutely appropriate for the arrival of the Messiah, even if the crowds did have a terribly mis-shapen understanding of what the Messiah had come to do!
You see, most Isrealites were expecting the Messiah to come in as a political and military leader – much like King David or one of the judges of old – and they expect that he would liberate Israel from the oppression of the Romans. But as we talked about last week, they had no idea that God had much bigger plans than just defeating the Romans. God had plans to defeat sin and death once and for all. He had come to rescue all of mankind! Overthrowing the Romans wasn’t even on his radar!
The Kingdom of God – that Jesus was about to usher in – was going to look entirely different from what everyone was expecting. Even the disciples had completely missed the point of what Jesus had come to do.
For example, Luke 22 tells us that at the Last Supper – on the night before Jesus was crucified – the disciples were still arguing about which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom! Even at that point, they still didn’t get it!
But of course, Jesus patiently endured their blindness – explaining to them time and time again that the kingdom of God was going be unlike any kingdom they’ve ever seen or experienced.
And we’re certainly going to see that our passage today.
Today we’re going to look at the events of the Last Supper – but not so much the elements that we’re most familiar with – that is, the breaking the bread and the sharing of the wine in remembrance of Jesus – signifying his broken body and spilled blood on the cross. Now of course, that will be a part of our message today, but for the bulk of the message this morning, I want to focus on what happens before that.
While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the sharing of the wine and the bread – John’s Gospel doesn’t include those details at all (probably because his Gospel was written quite a bit later than the others and he didn’t feel the need to include information that was already well established by the other Gospels.) Instead, John begins by telling us what happened before that part of the meal.
And what Jesus does there is completely unexpected and it completely flips the disciples understanding of the kingdom of God on it head.
We’re reading this morning from John chapter 13 – starting at verse 1.
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
Now first of all, the idea of washing someone else’s feet is a completely foreign idea to us – there is nothing in our society and culture today that even resembles that, so let me see if I can paint a picture for us of what this is all about.
In those days, pretty much everyone walked everywhere – wearing sandals that were not much more than thick pieces of leather strapped to the bottom of their feet. And while the Romans were famous for their paved roads, still the majority of the roadways in ancient Israel were not much more than dirt paths – walkways that would be dusty during the dry season and muddy during the rainy seasons. Not only that, but the roadways and streets would likely be littered with sheep droppings or donkey dung or worse – since the animals walked along the exact same paths as everyone else!
And so you can imagine that after a typical day, everyone’s feet would be filthy to say the least!
And then, to make matters worst, when it came to supper time, they didn’t all sit around the table on chairs like we what we do today – with the filthy feet hidden beneath the table… No… For supper they would have likely have been reclining around either a low table or even a mat on the floor, kinda like you might do with a picnic blanket when you eat out in the park! You might sit with your legs crossed underneath you, or maybe you lay on your side and prop yourself up with your elbow. But either way, your filthy feet were going to be a lot more ‘in-your-face’ than they might be at most meals today!
And so, the host of the meal would always provide water and a towel so that you could wash your feet before the meal. This was just common courtesy. And if the host was a bit more wealthy and really wanted to honour you, he would have one of his slaves come and wash your feet for you. But of course, it would only be the lowest slave that would get that job. As you might imagine, washing someone else’s filthy, stinky feet was not a desirable task and so it was always the slave who had the lowest rank who would end up washing the guests feet. Obviously washing feet was not something you volunteered for – it was something that you were forced to do.
And so you can understand why Jesus’ actions here are so completely unexpected! I’m sure the disciples were in complete shock to see Jesus take off his robe, grab a towel and some water and then make his way around the table, washing his disciples feet! I mean, Jesus was the Messiah – the up and coming King of Israel! And here he is, doing the job of the lowest slave! That simply did not make any sense to any of the disciples!
And we see that in Peter’s reaction! Look at verse 6…
6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
For Peter, it is inconceivable that Jesus would wash his feet. I mean, Jesus is his teacher, his Lord! But here he is, taking the role and position of a slave!
And that was completely contrary to everything Peter knew about having authority and being someone significant.
You see, people in authority tell other people what to do – especially when it comes to the dirty jobs that no one enjoys. People in authority do big important things. For the little stuff, they delegate and command others to do that – they certainly don’t volunteer to do menial tasks like washing feet!
In Peter’s mind, being great means that other people serve you! And the more significant you are – the more people you have under your authority to carry out your wishes! Having people serve you is like a badge of honour – it shows that you’re important and significant!
At least, that’s how Peter understood greatness and authority and significance. And we can probably relate, because that’s pretty much how our world works even today. We see that play out in the workplace (as people try to climb the corporate ladder) – we certainly see that play out in politics. It seems the goal of power and authority is to get other people to serve you.
But Jesus had a totally different understanding of power and authority and significance.
We saw that back in verse three of this chapter, so let’s go back and read that again.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
You can see here that Jesus didn’t exploit his authority or gain his sense of significance by having people serve him. But rather it was the opposite. His authority and his sense of significance all came from his relationship with the Father – which enabled and motivated him to freely serve others!
Jesus was so secure in his identity and his purpose, that he could give of himself completely to others without the fear of losing his own sense of value and worth.
Jesus knew exactly who He was and what He had come to do. He didn’t need to have servants washing his feet to make him feel important! Or for that matter, he didn’t need to have a pile or wealth or crowds of adoring fans or a fancy title to go with his name. He was totally secure in his relationship with God the Father. He knew that God had given him authority over all things – and he had come from God and would return to God. He didn’t need anything else to assure him of his value and worth!
And just on that note, I wonder what sort of things we might require to be assured of our value and worth? Is it a title beside our name? A certain number of instagram followers? Likes on our facebook posts? A certain number of dollars in the bank? Having the role of husband and father, or mother and wife? Does our significance come from having lots of employees or other people under your authority? Having someone else wash your feet for you? What assures you of your worth and value?
Because the trouble with all those things is that they can all disappear in an instant! You can lose your job, you can go bankrupt, you can lose those relationships with family and friends… And if your sense of identify and value and worth is only found in those things, your world is going to be completely shattered when you lose those things!
But if you find your value and worth in your relationship with God – in the fact that God created you and that He loves you more than you comprehend… If you find your identity and worth in being a dearly loved child of God… Nothing can shatter that, because that will never change. That’s something you can count on for eternity!
And when you have that, you don’t need all those other things. You don’t need to have people washing your feet – in fact, you’re totally free to go and wash their feet because you know that doesn’t diminish your value and worth!
But poor ol’ Peter certainly didn’t see it that way. He couldn’t allow his Teacher and Lord to suffer such an indignity as washing his feet! He didn’t realize that in the Kingdom of God, the greatest among them must be the servant of all! And so we read in verse 8…
8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
You see, unbeknownst to Peter, there was something much more significant going on here than just Jesus wanting his disciples to have clean feet at the table! For some reason that Peter didn’t understand, Jesus had to wash his disciples so that they would belong to him. And of course, Jesus is speaking symbolically and spiritually, (And we’ll see that in a minute) but Peter seems to take things rather literally because we read in verse 9…
9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” John 13:9
In typical Peter-fashion, Peter is all-in. If it takes washing his feet to belong to Jesus, well, then let’s not stop there! Let’s wash everything! “Wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Jesus is, of course, using a physical reality to explain a spiritual truth. Washing his disciples feet was symbolic of what he was about to do in just a few hours on the cross. Just as it required the humble act of Jesus washing their feet for them to be entirely physically clean, so too it required the humble act of Jesus washing away their sins through his death on the cross for them to be entirely spiritually clean.
I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases these verses in the Message Bible – he writes:
Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you’re clean. But not every one of you.” (He knew who was betraying him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you.”) John 13:10-11 MSG
You see, Judas, while wiling to have his feet physically washed by Jesus, would never accept the spiritual cleansing that Jesus offered. He would never put his trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. Like Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” And sadly, that was the case for Judas. Judas would remain in his sin and would remain separated from God for eternity – because he refused to allow Jesus to cleanse him spiritually.
Peter on the hand, while initially reluctant to receive the physical washing, would indeed accept the spiritually washing through his faith in Christ. He would be entirely clean and would thus belong to Christ! He would be adopted into Christ’s family forever!
But of course, all of that wouldn’t be clear to the disciples for some time yet. (And actually, Jesus had said back in verse 7: “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” It seems there was a lot of Jesus’ teaching that were really only understood in hindsight – and this was certainly one of those teachings.
But none the less, there were still parts of this illustration that the disciples could grasp – and so Jesus explains that to them a little further. verse 12
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
Even if the disciples couldn’t fully grasp how this was a foreshadow of what Christ would soon do on the cross, Jesus wanted them to see this as a picture of the humble, self-sacrificing love they were to have for one another! Instead of arguing about which one of them was the greatest in the kingdom, they should instead be willing to humble themselves in order to serve each other. They were to put the needs of each other before their own! If Christ Himself, their Teacher and Lord, humbled himself to meet their needs, then at the very least, they should be willing to do that for one another!
In fact, Jesus would go on to say a little later on in that same chapter (in verse 34).
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Self-sacrificing love – a love that puts others before yourself – is the mark of those who truly follow Jesus. This is how the world will know that we are his disciples if we love one another in that way.
I wonder, does the world around us know that we are his disciples? Can the people of Penhold tell that we follow Jesus because of how we love each other?
We are to love each other with the same love that Christ demonstrated for us – the kind of love that motivates us to wash each other’s feet. To do the things for each other that we would’t even ask for ourselves! To put aside our pride and ego – and humbly put the needs of others before our own.
In fact, Jesus goes even further… He says in John chapter 15….
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus didn’t stop at just washing our feet. He went on to lay down his life for us. He willingly took the punishment for our sin upon Himself, dying on a cross in our place, so that we could be forgiven and free – so that we could belong to Christ, cleansed from our sin, and enjoy life with him forever. There is no greater love than that!
And that’s really what Jesus was trying to communicate to his disciples at that last supper. He was giving them a picture of the self-sacrificing love that He had for each one of them. And if they didn’t get it through his humble act of washing their feet, then Jesus would give them another illustration.
We read in Matthew 26 – verse 26
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
Jesus shared the bread and the wine with the disciples – symbolizing how He would very shortly go on to have his body broken and his blood spilled on a cross so that he might wash us all clean of our sin – so that we might all belong to him!
His blood would be poured out as a sacrifice for many – including you and I. That’s the kind of love that Jesus has for each one of us.
And so this morning, we want to celebrate communion together – remembering the self-sacrificing love that Christ demonstrated for each one of us through his death on the cross.
But before we do that, I just want to ask you one last simple question and this is it:
Have you allowed Jesus to wash you clean?
And I’m not worried about your feet, but what about your heart? As Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” The only way to belong to Christ – the only way to have a relationship with your Creator – the God of heaven – is by allowing Jesus to wash away your sin.
He made that possible by dying on a cross – allowing his body to be broken and his blood to be spilled, taking the punishment for your sin – so that you could be clean. If you’ve never accepted His incredible gift, then I would certainly encourage you to do that today. And if you’re not sure how or if you have other questions, please talk to me or someone else here that you know – and we would love to walk with you through that.
There’s an old hymn the the title “Are you washed in the blood?” And the first verse and the chorus goes like this:
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
I’m going to have the music team come up and lead us in that song, and as we sing together, I’d really encourage you to think about those questions and answer them for yourself. Are you washed in the blood – the soul-cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God? And if not, why wait any longer? Choose today to be washed clean of all your sin and accept His invitation to belong to Him for eternity.