SERMON TEXT BELOW
First Wednesday in Lent 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
March 1, 2023
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Imagine you’re at a restaurant. It’s not a fancy restaurant, like a Denny’s or Applebee’s. Ready to order, and the president of the US is there with a notepad and pen to take your order. Absurd, crazy, that’s not how things are supposed to work. It doesn’t become a man of his power and position to be waiting tables.
Now take that absurdity and multiply it. Ten times, a hundred, even a thousand. Now you start to understand the absurdity of what Jesus does in our Gospel text today. In it, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Now remember who Jesus is. He is God in the flesh, the LORD of all. He is the One who made the disciples in the first place. He created the world, speaking it into existence with just a word.
Even in His earthly life, Jesus has shown this authority. He has authority over the wind and the waves, the sea itself listens to Him. Jesus has authority over sickness, disease, and injury. He even has authority over life and death itself. Jesus is the single most important person in all of human history. More important than kings, presidents, celebrities, actors or singers. He is God most high, the One who stood on Sinai’s mount in fire and spoke with rumbles of thunder.
That is the man who now washes the disciples’ feet. That is the man who bows low before His disciples, scrubbing and cleaning their dirty and dusty feet. What Jesus does here has more meaning than we might think at first. Sure, feet are gross and nasty and disgusting, but it’s not exactly a normal thing in our culture to have someone else wash our feet.
In Jesus’ day, footwashing was much more common. When everyone is wearing sandals and the roads are dusty, feet are the first thing to get dirty, even for a short trip. So, when a guest arrived, usually before dinner, their feet would be washed. Just like today, feet were considered to be one of the most unclean parts of the body. Touching someone else’s feet was gross. So the person who washed the guest’s feet wouldn’t be the host or an important servant, he would be the lowest of the servants. The least important one.
And Jesus, God Most High, is doing the work of the lowliest servant. That is completely absurd. But this is the kind of work that Jesus came to do.
When Jesus gets down to actually washing the disciples’ feet, Peter is shocked. He’s shocked when Jesus lays aside His robe. He’s shocked when Jesus goes and gets the water basin. He’s shocked when Jesus kneels before the other disciples, scrubbing and washing the dust off their feet. He’s even shocked that the other disciples are letting this happen. Don’t they know who this is? Even if Jesus wasn’t God, He’s still their teacher. It would be unheard of for a teacher to wash the feet of his disciples; and Jesus is far more than a teacher.
Finally, Jesus kneels before Peter. Peter is incensed by this point. He says:
“Lord, do you wash my feet?”
Peter says “Really Jesus? What are you doing? Are you, the Son of God, really going to bow down before me and wash my feet like a lowly servant? Seriously?”
But Jesus insists. He says
“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
Jesus is saying a couple of different things here. On the one hand, once Jesus is done washing Peter’s feet, Peter will have a better understanding of what Jesus is doing. But on the other hand, this is a night of foreshadowing. Jesus kneeling before Peter, is humiliating Himself. He is stripped of His robe, doing a menial task. But this is a small humiliation in comparison to what’s to come. For Jesus will be stripped. He will be scourged. He will be crucified.
But Peter will not even let Jesus have this small humiliation. Peter says:
“You shall never wash my feet.”
Peter means well. But he misses the mark here. Peter loves Jesus. He respects Him. Peter doesn’t want Jesus to be stripped and humiliated. He wants Jesus to be glorified and honored. So, with the best of intentions, he tells Jesus never to wash his feet. But Peter does not understand what he is saying. Jesus answers him:
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
Jesus isn’t hearing any of it. Jesus knows why He came to this earth. Jesus knows what He came to do. He came to serve. He came to wash away the dirt of sin. Jesus came to be humiliated. But Jesus would bend even lower. Remember, this is a night of foreshadowing.
Now when Peter hears Jesus’ words, he is worried. He wants to have a share with Jesus, and so he says:
“Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
But this isn’t the right response either. Peter has overcorrected.
Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you all are clean, but not every one of you.”
Peter doesn’t need to be rewashed. Just his feet do. In many ways, this conversation between Jesus and Peter is a great analogy for the Christian life. In baptism, Jesus washes the entire person, body and soul. It is as though Jesus has washed you, hands, head and heart and made us clean. But sin is still a reality in the Christian life. You still live in a fallen world. Like walking on dusty roads, specks of dirty sin collect on you. But this doesn’t mean you need to be baptized again. What it does mean is that you must repent of that sin.
That is why you confess your sins each and every week. And each and every week, God forgives your sins through the lips of Pastor Jud. Now, I want to be clear. Jesus isn’t instituting a sacrament here. Washing your feet doesn’t forgive your sins. This is just a good picture, a good symbol for talking about the life of the baptized.
Jesus has finished washing the disciples’ feet. Now comes time to face what is ahead of Him. Jesus said
“And you all are clean, but not every one of you.”
Jesus knew who was to betray Him. Jesus knew there was one among them whose hands, head and heart were already filthy. The devil had already entered him. Soon, Jesus would say to Judas:
“What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Judas would leave. He would strike out on the dusty road once more. His head and his heart were already overtaken by the Evil One. His hands would soon be dirtied by 30 pieces of silver. Money for blood. This is a night of foreshadowing. For Judas, the unclean disciple, would soon betray Jesus. Judas meant this for evil, but God uses it for good. For your good.
Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him. Even knowing this, Jesus sent Judas on His way. Jesus knew what was coming. This night was a mere shadow of what was to come. But just as He willingly lowered Himself to wash His disciples’ feet, Jesus willingly lowers Himself to face what is to come. For Jesus also knows why He comes to suffer. Why He comes to die. It’s for you. Out of nothing but pure love for you.
As John’s gospel records:
having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
He loved you to the end. His own end on Mt. Calvary. This is a night of foreshadowing. The day of our Lord dawns soon. The day of His suffering. The day of His death. The day of His love.