Sermon: What The Lord Gave That Thursday

Text: John 13:1-7, 31-35; 1 Cor. 11:23-26
Maundy Thursday
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread.” Did you notice that? “On the night when he was betrayed.” That’s tonight. Today is Thursday in Holy Week, meaning it’s the night our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed. We remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper and his betrayal tonight. So why is the Gospel reading for tonight about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet? What’s the connection between washing the disciples’ feet and the Lord’s Supper?

He Gave an Example

During the Last Supper, Jesus first gave His disciples a pattern to follow, an example of sacrificial service, of holding others in higher regard than ourselves. Jesus got up from his place, took off his robe, tied a towel about his waist, took a basin of water, and one by one washed His disciples’ feet. Scrubbing between dusty toes isn’t the most appealing job in the world, is it? The Lord and Creator of all bend down to do the work of the lowliest of servants. The Master becomes the slave. He came not to be served but to serve and lay down His life as a ransom for the many.

Our Lord came to serve and not to be served. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. His life was about love, which was a life that loved to the bitter end. Jesus wanted them to understand this. He showed His almighty power with a bowl of water and a towel. He showed them this is who God is: the one who came not to be served but to serve. God serves with a bowl of water and washing that gives a share with Him in His life.

In washing their feet, Jesus gave them an example: “that you should do as I have done to you.” Jesus did not command a ceremonial foot washing each year. He gave a pattern, an example for His disciples. Jesus gives us a new commandment: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” Jesus is the King who bows before His subjects and washes their feet.

The same self-sacrificial love that led Jesus to wash their feet is the same love that led him to the Cross. The Apostles should not have been surprised that Jesus rose from Supper, laid aside his garments, and wrapped himself with a towel to perform a slave’s task. Shouldn’t they have been more surprised that although he was in the form of God, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness? During the Last Supper, Jesus laid aside his clothes; but he was stripped of his clothes on Good Friday. He wrapped himself in a towel but was wrapped in linen clothes after he died on Good Friday. He poured out water and washed the Apostles’ feet during the Last Supper, but he shed blood and water on Good Friday to cleanse us from our sin and defilement.

Is there any task beneath your dignity in light of this kind of service? Christ wants us to imitate His example of servanthood. He wants us to love each other like He has loved us. “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Love is serving others. Service always means bending down, getting off your high horse, and setting aside your pride and ego. Love expresses itself in tiny and lowly things and when we bend down to wash the feet of others. To be a Christian is to be a servant of all. What would Jesus do? He would wash dirty, smelly, gnarly feet. He even washes the feet of Judas. Love one another! Serve one another! It doesn’t matter if you don’t like them. Jesus told you to love them. How can you show your love for one another? How can you bend down low for them? We should not be so focused on ourselves. Instead, our focus needs to be on those we are supposed to be serving.

He Gave a Meal

If clean feet were all Jesus gave out that night in the upper room, He would not have given anything new. And so Jesus gives to His Apostles in yet another way. Not just an example but a meal. He takes the bread that opens the Passover meal, the hard, unleavened bread of affliction, gives thanks, and breaks it into pieces, handing a piece to each of His disciples. He takes the cup of wine after Supper, the blessing cup. He lifts His cup, gives thanks, and gives each of His disciples to drink from it. What does it all mean? “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Why? Because “in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given to us.”

But in John’s account of this night, there is no hint of the Lord’s Supper. Instead, we find the Lord Jesus on his hands and knees, humbly doing a task that none of his disciples were humble enough to do. He’s washing their feet and serving them. He was all about service. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is all about. Not only did Jesus serve us once, but He also continues to serve us here tonight. It’s all about Jesus continuing to serve, touch, and wash you clean. The dirt is washed off of you and placed onto Him. The grime of your sin is sullying the clean water and rags in which he is draped. He gives us this bread and this wine, his body and blood, to strengthen our faith in Him and our love for one another. The Supper is about Him loving you that much. And notice that He does this washing for Judas, just as for Peter, John, and others. There’s none whose sins Jesus wouldn’t wash away by the sacrifice He prepared to offer. He would be on the Cross for all.

The same Meal He gave to the apostles, He now gives to you. The same self-sacrificial love that led Jesus to wash their feet and lead him to the Cross motivates him to serve you today. He is still the one serving his disciples today. Receive the bread He prepared for you and eat it. His body, your manna, sustains you in your wilderness journey until you rise to walk in the promised land. Receive the cup He prepared for you and drink from it. His blood is poured out for the many, even for you. It’s a covenant, a promise, that assures you that your sins are forgiven and that you have peace with God. No more extraordinary gift can Jesus give than to give you the benefits of His suffering, His own Body and Blood.

He gives His all to you so that He might save all of you. Nothing stands outside His forgiveness. Nothing can separate you from His self-sacrificing love. No greater love exists than this self-giving love that lays down its life for another. In His Supper, at His altar, He gives you all the benefits won by His Cross and says, “These are for you.”

The words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper are the exact words spoken at the altar. The same words, “Take, eat, drink, etc.” are the very Gospel. The redemption and forgiveness of sins were won on the Cross, but they must be delivered to you so you may experience them. Just looking at the Cross is not enough. Even though many people were present at the Cross, they didn’t realize that the forgiveness of sins would be gained there until someone directed them to it. The words “for you” not only teach that Christ is your Savior but also require you to believe in your heart that the forgiveness of sins and salvation won by Christ’s sacrifice are explicitly meant for you. Without this belief, the words lose their power and meaning, and we miss out on the fullness of Christ’s gift.

The words “for you” are essential to the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s body and blood are the Lord’s gift to you personally, not just a performance of our religious duty. Let the “for you” of Christ’s body and blood be your focus on this night. Tonight, partake of the Lord’s Supper, where you will receive the precious gift of Christ’s body and blood, which offers your faith the forgiveness of sins and strength. As we approach the table, let us remember that this is not something we are entitled to but a gift that has been freely given to us by the Lord.

Come to His table on this night when Jesus, your Savior, was betrayed into death for you. And from this holy Meal arise forgiven, renewed, restored. Let Jesus’ Body and Blood strengthen your faith in God and your fervent love toward one another.               

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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