The Good Father Figure at the Passover

Vicar Kinne

Maundy Thursday, 3/28/2024

Texts: John 13:1-17, 31-35; Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32


            A father figure, a servant, and sacrifice.  We find these three things both in Exodus twelve at the institution of the Passover, and in John thirteen on the night when Jesus was betrayed and washed the disciples’ feet. God’s Holy Word is written by the hands of people who witnessed these momentous events, and we, as the church, listen to them like little children learning from their parents. Through these words we learn to believe in God’s power and strength over death by faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord. 

            What comes to your mind as the image of a good and faithful father? Is it the man who works hard every day to make sure his family is fed and has a comfortable place to sleep at night? Is it the man who goes out to mow the lawn in the hot summer heat and looks after the house? Does he protect his family in times of danger? Maybe this man spends quality time with his wife and children and is not embarrassed to show them affection and kindness. A good father tends to the needs of his family. If he does not take care of his family, or even try to look after his household, is he worthy of being called “good”? 

Surely, in this broken and sinful world we all have seen or may have experienced a bad role model of a father. Yet even if someone knows firsthand what a “bad” father is, they should be comforted by our Father in heaven who is not just good, but is the definition of good for all. He sent His son, Jesus, into our world to tend to our needs and protect us from all evil. 

In the instruction from God to the Hebrew people regarding the Passover, each man is to sacrifice a sheep or goat without blemish and eat it on the fourteenth day of the first month with his family. Through this eating and drinking, the family has fellowship with each other and with everyone else who eats the meal in their home. In this celebration, little children are taught by their fathers how God saved the nation of Israel from Pharaoh and his army and escaped death through the Red Sea waters. God set up this Exodus plan to save His children, and then He instructs every father to serve future generations by partaking in this meal and teaching his children the story of God’s salvation from Egypt. 

But if a man decided not to celebrate the Passover, what would this mean for his family? The children would miss the annual fellowship of the Passover meal. There would be tension because the father refused to do his God-given duty. The family would never hear the story of God’s saving power and thus be separated from the family of God. And it does not stop there! The children who never learned the stories would not be able to pass them on to the next generation. They would all be outcasts, not only in earthly traditions, but also in heaven. They would perish because of the sinful pride of their mute father who did not teach God’s will to them. This one sinful man we cannot call a “good father” because he potentially cuts off his lineage from the story of salvation. Thus, we should add to the image of a good earthly father that he be inspired by the Holy Spirit and follow God’s instruction to teach his children the Gospel of God’s saving plan through the Savior. His story telling and his participation with the people of God would be serving His family through eternity.

In John 13, Jesus is set up as the good father figure. Jesus is sent to do the will of God among men to save the world from sin, death, and hell. Just as it is the will of God for earthly fathers to tell the story of salvation to their children, Jesus becomes the disciples’ “father” as they celebrate the Passover. In verse 33 Jesus addresses His disciples as, “Little children”. But Jesus did not only teach the story of the Passover. Through His body and blood given on the cross, He fulfilled it. But before He goes willingly to His death, He teaches three new things to His disciples.

First, he washes the disciples’ feet. This action of Jesus removing His outer garments and wrapping a towel around His waist like a servant and getting on His hands and knees makes the disciples uncomfortable. They call this man “Rabbi,” “Teacher,” and “Master”. Surely a man of such status should not expose Himself and act like a slave! But just like the children at the Passover meal who ask the good Lutheran question to their father, “What does this mean?” Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus then turns to them and says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 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.” 

Through this teaching, Jesus sets up the model of what it means to be a servant in God’s kingdom. The disciples would not be able to understand it fully until after the crucifixion, but Jesus displayed the rest His humility. He not only undressed down to the clothes of a slave, but while being led to the cross, Jesus stripped Himself willingly of His authority among man and from the good graces of His Father in heaven. At the cross Jesus took on the full wrath of God upon Himself thus protecting His children from utter condemnation. He put himself before all people, and a servant of God’s Word will do the same. 

You are called, as Christ’s chosen people, to serve your brother before serving yourself. Is that too hard to understand? Well, given the circumstances of our broken sinful nature, it is. As the prophet Isaiah (59:7-8) says regarding the sinful people of Israel, “Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” Follow the words of the Father teaching His children through Proverbs 1:15, “my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths.”

Because you are made of sinful flesh, your feet want to carry your body away from God’s will towards a dark and corrupt path. Jesus knows His disciples suffer from the same thing. They are all about to betray Jesus by denying Him and giving Him up to the crowds who kill Him. They may not nail Him to the cross themselves, but their feet ultimately run away in cowardliness towards evil. 

Jesus foresees these things, and when Peter says, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” Peter does not yet see that his feet are all that matter to equation because they carry his body to the courtyard later that evening where he denies his teacher three times. Jesus washes their feet because He is the only one worthy of cleaning them from their sin. He is the only father figure that protects them from their own selfish pride. Thus, the father figure becomes the servant to save His children.

At the end of the supper, Jesus teaches a second time. He institutes a new meal; one that binds himself and all members of the church in fellowship. Through the bond of Christ’s death and resurrection in this meal, the disciples are fed the true body and blood of their Lord. Just like the lamb sacrificed for the Passover, Jesus’ body is sacrificed to cover the cost of the whole worlds sin so that God’s righteous wrath will pass over all who put their trust and faith in the blood of the Lamb in the New Covenant. Christ does not teach a symbolism that this bread and wine represent His body and blood. He teaches that He is truly there. Because of this, forgiveness and salvation are delivered into the believers’ body giving true fellowship with the Servant who sacrificed Himself for all.

The third and final thing Jesus teaches His disciples is this, “…love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is sent to earth to do His Father’s will. The Father wants you to be His own and He wants to have fellowship with you because He loves you as a good Father does. When Jesus teaches His disciples as little children, He hands down the Father’s will to them. And through them, they hand down the teachings of Christ and His love for one another to the next generation all the way to the church today. These teachings handed down throughout history bind us in unity and fellowship by faith and love.

How then do you love one another? Start by look at the example of our father figure. He serves and sacrifices Himself willing to forgive you and save you. We are to be living sacrifices to each other just as a good father sacrifices himself to love and protect his family. And when the Lord permits it to happen, we are to hand down this love to our children. This way, we may find all believers alive in the body of Christ and the world will see Jesus in His glory. At the resurrection we will feast together with our Lord in body and soul. No longer will our feet need washing because we will not run towards evil. Our bodies will not decay, our feet will be made clean in the blood of the Lamb. Our bodies will be perfect, because the Lamb without blemish gave up His perfection for our salvation. 

We, children of the Church, are to mirror the actions of our father figure, Jesus Christ, because of His service and His sacrifice to the world. We give our lives to each other because He first laid down His life for us. Amen.