Sermon title:  WHY DID JESUS WASH THE APOSTLES’ FEET?

 

John 13:1-17

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, January 26, 2020

 

 

 

A number of years ago, I happened to be talking with

Jewish computer programmer.

 

He told me that his wife was activities director

at a nursing home,

and the two of them were wondering

why the Jewish Passover celebration

and the Christian Easter celebration

always came up on the calendar

at about the same time.

 

I explained to him

that the lamb that was sacrificed on Passover

served as a prophetic picture

of the Messiah who would die

to take away our sins.

 

And that Jesus’ was crucified and rose from the grave

at Passover time.

The passages of Scripture that we’ll be looking at today,

beginning at Luke 22:7

show that it was during the preparations for Passover

that Jesus was preparing to go to the cross.

 

The Jews counted each day from sunset to sunset,

so the Passover Day began at sunset,

with an evening meal.

 

They ate that lamb that was slain.

 

And they at the unleavened bread that we call “Matzah” today.

 

And in Luke 22:7 we see

the preparations for Jesus’ ‘Last Supper’ with his apostles.

 

We read,

 

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread

on which the Passover lamb

had to be sacrificed.

 

8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,

 

“Go and make preparations

for us to eat the Passover.”

 

9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?”

they asked.

 

10 He replied, “As you enter the city,

a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.

 

Follow him to the house that he enters,

11 and say to the owner of the house,

 

‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room,

where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’

 

12 He will show you a large room upstairs,

all furnished.

Make preparations there.”

 

This was miraculous knowledge Jesus had, of course.

 

The whole thing was arranged miraculously

by God’s foreknowledge and almighty power.

 

The disciples, by now,

had come to expect miracles from Jesus,

and so they followed his instructions,

without asking,

“How do you know all this?”

 

Verse 13 tells us,

 

13 They left

and found things just as Jesus had told them.

 

So they prepared the Passover.

 

14 When the hour came,

Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.

 

15 And he said to them,

 

“I have eagerly desired

to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

 

16 For I tell you,

I will not eat it again

until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

 

This is the famous Last Supper

portrayed in the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Only, da Vinci’s painting,

and many other artists’ renditions,

fail to portray what a supper really looked like

in those days.

 

The paintings show Jesus and the apostles seated at a long table

with their feet on the floor

in front of their chairs—

just as we sit downstairs in the fellowship hall,

when we meet for our dinners.

 

But the custom back then

was for guests to lie on their sides.

 

Even the line drawing I used in our bulletin insert

isn’t quite accurate in that respect,

but it was the best I could find.

 

We just read in Verse 14,

 

14 When the hour came,

Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.

 

That word “reclined” is translated from

a Greek word that actually means

“to fall back,” that is, to Lie down or lean back.

 

And that’s because dinners back then

were very relaxed affairs.

 

The table was surrounded by

couches, beds, cushions and pillows.

 

And those who shared the meal

would all lie down on these cushions

with their feet pointing away from the table.

Understanding that, helps us visualize what happened next,

when Christ washed the feet of the apostles.

 

Some older Bible translations say

they “sat down” at the table—

apparently in an effort

to use familiar terms.

 

But they weren’t in chairs.

 

Rather, their feet were all accessible

to someone who left the table,

because they were all laid down on their sides

with their heads toward the table

and their feet

pointing outward, away from the table.

 

I mention all of this because, in a moment,

we’re going to read in John Chapter 13,

how Jesus washed their feet.

 

He went from one disciple to another,

washing their feet.

 

If they had all been sitting in chairs,

facing a table,

as we do at our dinners downstairs,

or as in Leonardo DaVinci’s painting,

Jesus would have had to reach under the table

to do that,

or would have had to get each disciple

to stand up, turn their chair around,

and sit down again

with their back to the table.

 

But, because they followed that tradition of reclining at the table,

lying down with their feet

facing outward from those couches,

it was easy for the Lord

to go from one to the other, washing their feet.

 

So, with that explanation in mind,

let’s look at John Chapter 13, to see what actually happened.

 

Beginning with John 13:1, we read,

 

1 It was just before the Passover Festival.

 

Jesus knew that the hour had come

for him to leave this world

and go to the Father.

 

Having loved his own who were in the world,

he loved them to the end.

 

2 The evening meal was in progress,

and the devil had already prompted Judas,

the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.

 

3 Jesus knew

that the Father had put all things under his power,

and that he had come from God

and was returning to God;

 

4 so he got up from the meal,

took off his outer clothing,

and wrapped a towel around his waist.

 

5 After that, he poured water into a basin

and began to wash his disciples’ feet,

drying them with the towel

that was wrapped around him.

 

It’s really astounding when you think of it.

Think about who it is

that washed these men’s feet.

 

John had begun his Gospel at John 1:1 by saying,

 

1 In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

 

2 He was with God in the beginning.

 

3 Through him all things were made

 

It’s astounding to think that this One

who was with God in the beginning

and who WAS God,

and who created all things—

that this same One

interrupted his last meal on earth

to wash the dirty feet of a bunch of men.

 

People wore sandals back then­—

not shoes or sneakers—

and they walked on dirt roads.

 

If anyone at all washed their feet when they came to dinner,

it was a slave who was assigned that task—

the lowest ranking slave in the household.

 

And in a large gathering like this

at a guest room in a friendly stranger’s home—

a stranger who didn’t attend the dinner,

but merely made the room available—

there must not have been a servant provided

to wash anyone’s feet.

 

So, Jesus did it.

-------------------------------------------

 

By this time, the disciples were beginning to grasp

who Jesus was—

that he was the Son of God.

 

Just imagine, if you were granted

a group audience with the Queen of England,

and she came over to you,

got down,

and began to clean and polish your shoes.

 

You would be astounded.

And that’s how the disciples must have felt.

 

We read at Verse 6,

 

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,

 

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 

7 Jesus replied,

 

“You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later you will understand.”

 

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

 

Peter knew who Jesus was.

 

And he didn’t feel it was appropriate

that the Son of God should wash his feet.

 

But, then we read,

 

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you,

you have no part with me.”

 

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied,

“not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 

10 Jesus answered,

“Those who have had a bath

need only to wash their feet;

 

their whole body is clean.

 

And you are clean,

though not every one of you.”

 

11 For he knew who was going to betray him,

and that was why he said

not every one was clean.

 

Judas Iscariot was still at the table,

among the other apostles,

when the Lord washed all of their feet.

 

That’s why he said this

about not all of them being clean.

 

But Jesus knew that the rest of his apostles

were about to be cleansed

by the blood he would shed on the cross.

 

Christ cleanses all of us

who turn to him as our Lord and Savior,

and then we are clean.

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But, what do we learn from this episode,

where Jesus interrupted his dinner at the Last Supper

and washed the disciples’ feet?

 

He actually goes on to tell us

what we should learn from it.

 

12 When he had finished washing their feet,

he put on his clothes and returned to his place.

 

“Do you understand what I have done for you?”

he asked them.

 

13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’

and rightly so,

for that is what I am.

 

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher,

have washed your feet,

you also should wash one another’s feet.

 

15 I have set you an example

that you should do as I have done for you.

 

16 Very truly I tell you,

no servant is greater than his master,

 

nor is a messenger greater

than the one who sent him.

17 Now that you know these things,

you will be blessed if you do them.

 

So, if Christ could lower himself to do a servant’s job,

we should not see ourselves

as above doing that.

 

We’re called to be kings and priests in heaven

and to sit with Jesus on his throne,

but we should be ready

to do anything the Lord calls us to do,

even if it seems below our dignity.

 

And we should look for opportunities

to serve our brothers and sisters in the church,

in anything that needs to be done.

 

Some churches today feature foot-washing

as part of special worship services.

 

And that’s OK, if they want to do that

to give people a visual reminder

of what Jesus did here.

 

But that’s not what our Lord meantwhen he said,

you should do as I have done for you.

 

He wasn’t instituting a ceremony

that he wanted us to repeat like taking Communion together.

 

His point was that we should be doing this

in our everyday lives,

and especially in our lives as part of the Church,

within the Body of Christ.

 

We are to look for opportunities to serve one another.

 

Now, that doesn’t mean

that we have to do menial things, like washing feet

if we are capable of doing more.

 

We see that in Acts Chapter 6,

where there was a job that needed to be done in the Church.

 

The Apostles could have done it,

but it would have occupied all their time,

and would have taken them away

from the preaching and teaching work

that Christ gave them to do.

Beginning at Acts 6:1, we read,

1 Now in those days,

when the disciples were growing in number,

a complaint arose

on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews

against the native Hebraic Jews,

because their widows were being overlooked

in the daily distribution of food.

 

2 So the twelve called

the whole group of the disciples together and said,

 

“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God

to wait on tables.

 

3 But carefully select from among you, brothers,

seven men who are well-attested,

full of the Spirit and of wisdom,

whom we may put in charge of this necessary task.

 

4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer

and to the ministry of the word.”

 

This work of distributing food needed to be done.

 

But, for the apostles to do it themselves,

they would have had to neglect

the ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God,

which Jesus had assigned them to do.

So, they asked the Church to select other men

to oversee that food distribution work.

 

But that didn’t mean that those men

would be any less spiritual than the Apostles.

 

The apostles said the men assigned to “wait on tables

and distribute food

should be men with good reputations

who were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.

 

And that’s true today, too.

 

There are various tasks to be done in the Church,

everything from preaching and teaching

to carrying food to the Salvation Army for the poor,

to waiting on tables,

to repairs, improvements, and

daily and weekly maintenance of the building,

to decorating for holidays and seasons,

to handling the money,

to record keeping

and other paperwork.

 

And those who do all these tasks

are appointed by the church

or called by the Holy Spirit

to do the work he puts into their hearts to do,

and all are men and women

full of the Spirit and of wisdom.

 

1 Peter 2:21 says,

 

Christ suffered for you,

leaving you an example,

that you should follow in his steps.

 

And the example Jesus set for us

is to serve humbly and lovingly.

 

He said,

 

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher,

have washed your feet,

you also should wash one another’s feet.

 

15 I have set you an example

that you should do as I have done for you.