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Where His Love Will Take You (Maundy Thursday)
John 13:1 - 13:35
April 14, 2022
Reverend Chris Hildebrand
This Maundy Thursday, we reflect on the nature of Jesus' love and explore how that ought to shape how we are to love one another and to love the world.
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Our Scripture passage comes to us from John 13:1-17, 31-35. Let’s give our attention to God’s Word.
1Now 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. 2During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12When 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
This is the word of the Lord. It is absolutely true, and it's given to us in love.
As a pastor, I spend a lot of time talking about love. I spend time talking about love with people who are looking for God's love, who are dealing with broken love, who are grieving over disordered love, who are longing because of unrequited love. I talk a lot about love. One of the places I talk a lot about love is in premarital counseling. It is one of the great joys of being a pastor. I love doing premarital counseling. When you talk to a couple who is engaged, or anticipating engagement, or clearly moving towards marriage, a topic of discussion is the very nature of love and how we are to communicate love. One of the things that happens when we talk about this notion is that we are to offer love in a way that the other person—our spouse—wants to receive that love. In our modern day, this has become popularized as love languages. It's this notion that there are different ways you can love. You can love with service, you can love with gifts, you can live with words. There are lots of ways you can love someone. And if you only offer love to the other in the way that you want to be loved, then you're actually going to be missing the way you are to love other people and love those closest to you.
One of the things that happens in John's Gospel up until this point is that Jesus actually goes along with this notion that you are to love in the way that others would need. For instance, when people are hungry, what does Jesus do? He feeds them. When they are thirsty, he offers them something to drink. People come looking for Jesus to heal them, and he heals them. There are times when Jesus needs to teach and needs to enlighten those who are so desperately seeking wisdom, and so he does just that. When Jesus' friend Lazarus dies, he raises him. He brings him back to life. All throughout John's Gospel you see Jesus adhering to this notion that there are needs to be met and so because Jesus loves his people, especially because he loves his disciples, he then goes out and offers the love in terms of what they need.
You get to this passage, John 13, and something very different happens. John, as he begins this passage, wants us to be a little bit surprised at the act of love that Jesus displays. John goes out of his way in the first three verses, telling us that for Jesus everything is in place. Jesus' time has come. If you read throughout the Gospel of John, one of the common refrains is: his time had not yet come. Now John wants you to know that as Jesus gathers with his disciples for this meal, his time has come. But it's not just that. He also has all the resources at his disposal—the Father has given him all things. Of all the things he could do, he did something this time that no one was really asking for, no one really knew that they needed, no one was even thinking of; and yet, as it turns out, everyone needs. He washes their feet. He washes the disciples' feet. In this act of love, Jesus not only commands us to love one another, but he actually shows us how to love one another by revealing the very nature of his love. That's what I want to look at for just a few minutes—the nature of Jesus' love, and then I want us to reflect on how that ought to shape how we are to love one another and to love the world.
The Nature Of Jesus’ Love
First, let's look at the nature of Jesus' love. What I want you to see first in this passage is that his love is unwavering. Here in this passage, Jesus has gathered his disciples together for a meal. It's just before the feast of the Passover. Jesus knows that his death is imminent, and John, as he narrates this footwashing tells us that this is a display of Jesus' love. Look again, at the second part of v.1, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” That assurance of Jesus' love for his disciples and the world hangs over the next four chapters. He loved them to the end. Other translations say he loved them to the utmost. If you read any accounts of the gospels, you know that Jesus' love has to be this way. His love has to be unwavering because none of his disciples have any idea what lies ahead and none of them can return his love in the way that he has loved them. They can't return his love and devotion that Jesus shows them up to this point. They simply don't get it. Here's Jesus, ever so patient, slowing down, eating a meal with them fully aware that those whom he has poured his life into cannot return his love.
If you're a parent of a young child, you have only a glimpse of what this is like—a love that can never be returned. It simply cannot be reciprocated because the children are so completely dependent upon their parents. And yet, as a parent, you can't help but keep loving and loving because this is your child. But even more than that, this chapter takes a surprisingly dark turn because here we get a glimpse that there are enemies in the ranks among the 12. V.2, “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” Jesus knows this, and he still washes his feet. He knows Peter is going to deny him. He knows Judas is going to betray him, and he still washes their feet. Jesus in loving his disciples, in loving Peter, is experiencing a love that can never be returned—not fully. The nature of Jesus' love for his disciples and for us, is unwavering. It is always unwavering in the midst of our frailty, in the midst of our sin and brokenness.
If you're familiar at all with the story of how God has worked in the world, this reality of unwavering love in the midst of human rebellion and frailty should not come as a surprise to us because it happens time and time again by the time we get to Jesus. From God creating the world and placing Adam and Eve in the center of that world, only to see their frailty and rebellion put on display. In the country Israel throughout the Old Testament, God's saying, “I'm your God, I chose you because I loved you and because I love the world,” and only to see them spurn his love. This has been the nature of God's love from the very beginning. He is completely unrelenting. He is completely unwavering in his love.
I also want you to see that his love is subversive. Look now at the actual foot washing. Jesus rises from the meal and without saying a word, at least that’s what John tells us, without any explanation that we read about, he takes off his outer garment, takes a towel, ties it around his waist, and he begins to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus is very deliberately taking the position of a slave who had washed his masters feet. But here in this very moment, Jesus is overturning all social norms. All good first century etiquette is now out the window. Peter, in his protest, saying, “Lord, do you wash my feet?,” at least understands this. Peter gets this much, that this act of love, threatens to destabilize Jesus' relationship with his disciples. But what Peter doesn't yet realize is that this act of love, Jesus washing the disciples feet, actually threatens to destabilize all of humanity. It's going to destabilize the world because kings don't wash the feet of slaves. Kings don't serve slaves, and Jesus is claiming to be a king—the king. He's claiming to be God incarnate, King of Kings. John has already reminded us in v.2 that the Father has given all things into his hands. And so it stands to reason that those hands, the hands of a king, the hands of the ultimate king, who holds all things should not then touch the dirtiest of feet. The Son of God does not wash the feet of sinners.
Or maybe he does. Maybe he loves these disciples so much that he would be a slave for them. Maybe he loves the world so much that he would die the death of a slave on a cross. Maybe he loves you that much. What if he does love you that much? What if he loves you so much that he would go to the cross for you? Wouldn’t that open up the entire world to you? Now everything is overturned. This is why Peter is asking, “Why would you wash our feet?” Essentially, that's what he's asking. Which is to ask, why would you die for me? Why would you serve me in this way? Jesus answers, “It’s because I love you.” That's his answer to us.
Jesus' love is unwavering. It's subversive, but it's also completely and profoundly intimate. Imagine what the condition of the disciples' feet must have been like living in the first century, in the Middle East—no shoes, just sandals, filth on the street. Think of what your feet are like after a hot summer day in New York City. Now think about 1,000 times worse. Here's Jesus at their feet, with all that stench, with the smells, with the calluses, the grind, the scars, the sores, and he's right there. He's washing them. Imagine how dirty that basin of water got, as Jesus went down the road, imagine them putting their feet on his lap, the water in the dirt just getting all over him, the smells overwhelming him as he sat at their feet.
In his prologue, John tells us that Jesus is the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. Perhaps you have hoped that this means that Jesus would keep a comfortable distance, and maybe respect your personal space. Maybe that's love to you. Right? He'll keep a distance, only get involved when he’s summoned—a cosmic genie in the bottle. He's there when you need him, but he's not going to get too involved in your life. Nope, not this Jesus. This is Jesus. He's all up in your business. He's all been every part of your life. Jesus knows who he has been called to love. He knows it's not pretty. He knows Peter's doubts. He knows that the devil has already led Judas to betray Him. He knows the scars and the dirt, and here's Jesus completely vulnerable. This is love.
I also want you to see that Jesus’ love is restorative. You see this with Peter's interaction with Jesus. We learn so much about what's going on here with the foot washing because of Peter's failure. What if he wasn't so clueless? Then we wouldn't have Jesus explaining so much of the foot washing. Jesus says to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” In this act of love as he washes them, he's restoring his relationship with them because he's not simply inspecting their feet. He's not simply looking at their feet. He's not figuring out who has the best feet or the cleanest feet. He's washing everyone's feet, and he's making them clean. Of course, Peter, once Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,” says do it all. Wash all of me. Jesus, out of love, assures Peter that, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash.” In other words, Peter you are mine. That's what Jesus is telling him. You're a mess. I need to wash you, but you've already been through the cleansing waters of baptism. I'm washing your feet because I love you, and you are mine.
Jesus’ love may confound, and it does. Jesus' love might confuse us at times, and it certainly does. But it always cleanses. Jesus' love always cleanses, which is to say that Jesus, by his very nature, through the power of the Spirit is always approaching us in love—to make us whole, to renew us, to restore us, and to set us free. Even this act of loving restoration, it is a complete assurance to us that despite the mess, despite the needs to be washed, we still belong to Jesus, just as these disciples. This is what happens when we confess our sins as we've done, and as we do on Sundays. When we confess our sin, and we hear God's assurance of heart that we are a mess, but we belong to God, we need our feet to be washed, and we are restored by God's loving hands.
How We Love One Another And The World
There's a lot more that we could say about the nature of Jesus' love from this passage, but I want to look just for a moment at how we are to love one another and the world around us because this is what Jesus wants his disciples to do. This is the way we are now called to love one another, and to love the world.
Let me just offer you a few points by way of application. This command that we are given to love like this, like Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, is very difficult. It means laying down our instinct of self-preservation that has been honed since almost the day you were born. This notion of self-preservation, because after all, if you love others like Jesus has loved you, it is going to cost you. It will most certainly cost you. It'll cost you something. It did for Jesus. Jesus' love has him on the floor, washing Judas his feet. Jesus is washing the feet of the very one who will soon trample him. This is the one who will get up, leave his meal, walk out the door—and with clean feet cleaned by Jesus—will turn him in, sending him into his execution. That's the kind of love that we're talking about here.
I want you to know that a Christian ethic of love, the love we're talking about, is a call to risk. But that is to look at it from the cost of it. There's also a great gift and benefit that is offered. Where Jesus’ love is subversive, we find a call to address every place in our culture, every place in creation where the realities of sin and a broken world have taken hold whether it be political, institutional, relational, global, no matter the problem, because it must be first and always addressed with this kind of love. This kind of love subverts, this kind of love overthrows the powers and principalities that dominate our lives and that dominate the world. You might be thinking, that's absolutely naive. How can we say such a thing? But look again at Jesus' love. I assure you it's not. This is not naive because we're to love intimately knowing full well the brokenness of the world. In other words, we love with our eyes open—our eyes wide open. After all, we're not being called to freshen up one another's faces as though there isn't an issue when we love one another. We are being called to wash filthy feet. And with the call to love comes the reality Jesus faces—the reality that the devil is still at work, that evil is real, that death is still ever present, that there is a real enemy of love, and it needs to be defeated. The Christian ethic of love calls us to this. This is not naive.
Finally, I want you to see that a love like this is dynamic. It’s a call to action. Jesus doesn't just say hey, I love you guys. No, no, no, really. I really love you guys. You need to remember that, so remember that. That's not what he does. He acts. He shows them love. He loves them. He washed their feet. A Christian ethic of love emphasizes that love is a verb, before it's a noun, before it's an adjective, before it's a feeling. It's an action. And before it's an action, it's a person. It's Jesus. You need more than someone telling you I love you. You need someone to show it to you. And not just once, but all the time. The good news for us is that this is how Jesus loves us. What the disciples couldn't have known as Jesus was sitting there, washing their feet, was that he was actually previewing for them an even greater act of service, an even greater act of love that was soon to come.
Just as Jesus removes his garment as he kneels to serve them and wash their feet, soon his garments would be removed at his crucifixion, as he's humiliated on the cross and the soldiers vie for his garments. His body, just like he wraps himself in linen cloth as he now bows to serve them and wash their feet, in just a short time his body is going to be wrapped in linen cloth as he lays in a tomb at his burial. This passage shows us that Jesus hasn't loved us merely with words. He loves us with his actions—with his very life. He's hung on a cross for you. He rose from the dead for you because he loves you. He is seated now at the right hand of his Father, interceding and praying for you because he loves you. Even now, he's sent you the gift of his Holy Spirit all because he loves you. His love is active. The job for us, the task we take away, the command we follow is to find creative, tangible ways to show love to one another and to show this love to the world—to take up this command to love and then not just to talk about it, but to actually love one another. To be a follower of Jesus means that Jesus calls us with a costly love in every area of our lives, but he also loves us with the same kind of love. You have been loved by the king, Jesus. You've been loved by someone who loves you to the utmost. He serves you. He lays his life down for you, and he will take it up again in resurrection hope all because he loves you. This is the hope we carry with us.
Our great God and Heavenly Father we thank you that you love us to the utmost, that your love is unyielding and unwavering. It never ends. Your love is subversive. It overthrows all powers and principalities. Your love is so deeply intimate. You know the people whose feet you're washing, you know who you call to yourself and you love us. And you cleanse us, and you restore us. God, in the midst of the broken loves that we face, in the midst of the unrequited love, in the midst of our disordered loves, would we see that you love us like this, and then would we be people who take up this command to love one another as you've loved us. God make it so by the power of your Spirit. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.