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The Journey to the Cross - Thursday

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Jesus gathers with his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal in a rented upstairs room.

Now, there was likely some washing of hands and face from a day outside in the dusty city… but before the meal Jesus does something truly remarkable. The Apostle John records it in his gospel:

“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. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 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, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ 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.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 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.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” (John 13:1-11 ESV)

Their feet were likely very dirty and obviously in need of washing. But it is the job of one of the lowly servants to wash the feet of the dinner guests, if there was to be any washing at all. It was not the rabbi, the honored guest, who was to take on such a menial and degrading task.

But Jesus, always confounding human wisdom, gets up from the table and ties a long towel around his waist. Taking off his outer robe, he pours some water in a bowl and begins to wash the dirty feet of his disciples.

The motivation for this action seems to be two-fold:

  1. Jesus loved them
  2. Jesus knew the authority he had

1. Jesus loved his disciples.
John says, “he loved them to the end.”
Think about that for a second… He loved them to the end.
The end of what?
The end of everything.
Jesus’ love for his own was a complete and never failing love.

2. Jesus knew the authority he had.
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had give ALL things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.” (emphasis mine)

Judas was already a betrayer. Jesus already knew what God was requiring of him — he had told his disciples many times about the death he must experience. Jesus knew that none of this was outside of the authority of the Father, therefore, even these things were placed in Jesus’ hands. In his confidence he acted.

And in a remarkable move of humility and service, Jesus gets up and starts washing.

Now, you can imagine the cultural shock this must have been to the disciples. Sure, they pushed the boundaries of social norms before (picking heads off the grain - Luke 6:1-5; not following all ceremonial hand washing - Mark 7:1-13) and Jesus was known for being a bit “unconventional” (healing on Sabbath - Luke 14:1-6; eating with sinners - Matthew 9:9-13), but this… this was personal.

Peter is the first to speak up, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

Jesus responds, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

I know this doesn’t make sense Peter… but it will. Just wait.

Peter, being Peter (and so much like us) almost blurts out,“You shall never wash my feet.”

Peter’s false sense of honor compels him to reject Jesus’ offer.
Did you catch that?

Now, read Jesus’ response very carefully because it isn’t just for Peter… it is for us…

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8 ESV)

In order to partake, to have a share, to live in Jesus’ kingdom, we need to be served. That says something about our condition as we are invited to the table…And it says something about what God does, in Christ, to prepare us to be ready for the feast.

Now, Peter continues to not fully understand (again, much like us) what Jesus is doing here and Jesus continues to patiently correct Peter’s misunderstanding, while alerting the disciples to his betrayal by one of their own.

But here is the beauty in this act… Jesus, secure in the authority of the Father, and full of love for his own, makes himself the humble servant of underserving and dirty men, with a traitor and a fearful denier among them.

As you look at what’s coming tomorrow (Good Friday) with the farce of a trial, the mocking, the beating, the thorns, and the rugged tree upon which Jesus is hanged… let us remember this…

Unless Jesus serves us in this way…
Unless we’re honest about the dirtiness of our feet…
Unless we’re willing to let the perfect one become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)…

We will have no part with him.

But if he does serve us… we who are unworthy on our own…everything changes.