Maundy Thursday: Washed by the Humble Savior
Today marks Maundy Thursday in our journey through Holy Week. If you’re like me and didn’t really know what “maundy” meant, allow me to help before we get to the text. The term “maundy” is from the Latin word “mandatum” which we get the word “mandate” from. It’s the day where the Lord’s Supper is instituted by Christ, where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, and when he gives his upper room discourse. So while today encompasses many wonderful things, I’d like us to stop and observe the moment Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.
Now 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. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus 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.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When 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? 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:1-20, ESV)
I’m sure many of us have read this passage and thought, “how wonderful it is that our Savior stooped down to serve his disciples, giving us an example to humble ourselves and serve others.” While this is certainly true and is exactly what our Lord Jesus mandates for us to do in 13:14-15, there’s more to it than the example. There’s real spiritual significance found earlier on as he’s washing their feet that makes truly following Jesus’ example possible, so let’s look at a specific portion for this morning where Jesus gives spiritual insight to the task he’s doing.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus 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.” (John 13:6-10)
As Jesus is going around to each of the disciples to wash their feet, he comes to Peter who asks the questions we see in verse 6. It seems as though Peter is confused as to why Jesus is doing what he is doing, which is why Jesus responds to him the way that he does in verse 7. However, instead of accepting that response from Jesus and allowing him to wash his feet, Peter goes on to reject Jesus’ foot washing. It seems at this point that Peter is doing a noble thing. He’s recognized Jesus to be the Christ, he’s seen his transfiguration, and he’s witnessed his earthly ministry. He sees this lowly and dirty task of washing someone’s feet to be beneath Jesus. Jesus shouldn’t be washing their feet because he’s their Lord, this task is for the servant. But what Peter doesn’t realize is that this task is completely consistent with who Jesus is and the work he was to do. You see, Jesus initially set out to leave the disciples, and thereby all believers to come, an example of humble service to one another, but with Peter’s rejection, Jesus reveals the spiritual significance behind his work.
Jesus’ reply in verse 8 is clear, if he does not wash you, you have no share in him. But what does that mean for us who have not had our feet washed by Jesus? It means the same as it meant for Peter. The washing Jesus does is symbolic of the pardoning of sins and cleansing unto newness of life. Jesus is washing away the stains of our sins, which is why if he has not washed us, then we have no share in him. In response to this, Peter responds in typical Peter fashion by asking Jesus to wash not only his feet but his head and hands too. But Jesus again gives Peter a gentle correction. For those who have been washed, and have a share in Jesus don’t need to be completely washed again, only their feet need to be washed, for they are completely clean. By this he means that the believer is completely clean from the dominion and guilt of sin. It’s only the remnants of sin in us, while we are still in this fallen world, that needs continual washing so that our declared cleanness may become consummated cleanness. All of these words from our Savior are heavy, but what we glean from them are ever so sweet.
1. Jesus humbled himself to wash you.
Take this in slowly. The High King of Heaven, God Almighty, the Holy One of Israel, humbled himself to wash you clean. If you were clean or if you could wash yourself then he wouldn’t need to humble himself to wash you. But as we know, we cannot wash ourselves nor can we even help Jesus wash us. Rather, it is God alone who washes. The Father sends, Jesus humbles himself to the point of death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:8), and the Spirit applies. There is no washing apart from Jesus stooping down on our behalf. Your sins can’t be pardoned and you can’t be given newness of life apart from the Son of God coming in the form of man to fulfill all the righteous requirements of God’s holy law on your behalf and dying on a cross so that his crimson blood could wash you white as snow.
2. If you’ve been washed, you have a share with Jesus.
This here is a wonderful reality for it speaks of our union and communion with Christ. To have a share with Jesus is to be united with him and have fellowship with him. All that he is and has done as the perfect man – his righteousness, his perfections, his inheritance, his glory, and every other benefit are now yours in him. You are now an heir with Christ of all the glorious inheritances and blessings. It also means that we have fellowship with our God now, enjoying intimate communion with him as the Holy Spirit indwells us. Yet as we all realize, this share is now experienced in part and will be experienced in full when our Lord Jesus returns to make all things new. So as you think of this share with Jesus, remember that this time of waiting for his return is one where we get to enjoy the firstfruits of our union with Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:23), and as we struggle with our remaining corruptions of sin and the fallenness of the world around us, let us yearn for the fullness of our union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ when he returns. For when he returns, there we, who have been washed and united to him, shall be with him and like him in his glory (Col. 3:4).
3. Let us not reject the free washing given by Jesus.
What’s interesting about this portion of the text is that Peter, who has confessed Jesus to be the Christ, first rejects Jesus’ washing. And yet Jesus kindly corrects Peter. How often do we do the same thing? We can subtly begin to think that we ought to earn the washing or cooperate by helping him wash us, rather than simply receiving the washing that Christ offers. The offer of the gospel is free, let us not add to it some form of works. There’s nothing left to be done for our justification. Nor should we reject the continual washing of Christ upon our remaining sin. Instead, we should go at all times to Jesus for fresh mercy and grace to wash the remnants of sin from us until he brings it to completion (Phil. 1:6). See also that the gospel which cleanses us also transforms us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18). The sacrifice Jesus is about to make the next day after washing his disciples’ feet would be the once-for-all sacrifice that would pay for the entirety of our salvation. Therefore, let us humble ourselves continually, making use of the ordinary means of grace, such as the Word, prayer, and sacrament, by faith to receive the grace and mercy from the throne of grace for our whole salvation and not reject the continuous washing of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
4. Let us respond with gratitude by following Jesus’ example.
Later on in John 13, we read of a new commandment which Jesus has given, which is to love one another just as Christ has loved us. This is similar to the words the apostle will later write in his first epistle that we love because God first loved us (1 Jn. 4:10). We love God because he first loved us, and therefore we respond out of gratitude for his love for us by loving others, especially those that are brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet in our passage today, Jesus gave us an example to follow. While we do not wash the hearts of people like Jesus does, we are to humble ourselves and serve one another as Christ has served us. We serve because Christ first served us. We must always keep in mind this order lest we start trying to earn love from God or others. Jesus gives the example and the command later on to guide us towards holy living, towards living the way he’s designed for us. So if you have been washed, if you have a share with Jesus, if you have freely received his mercy and grace, then respond with thanksgiving and obedience in light of those things.
Pray – Thank Jesus for humbling himself to the point of death, even death on the cross so that you would be washed clean. Thank him for washing the disciples’ feet and thereby showing that he washes ours too through his blood with his word (Eph. 5:26). Thank Jesus for giving us his Spirit to apply the work he’s done on our behalf and to enable us to follow his example to love and serve one another. Ask the Spirit to convict you of the ways you’ve rejected the washing of the Lord and responded to his grace with disobedience. Ask the Lord Jesus to continue to wash you afresh in those areas. Ask the Father for forgiveness in light of these things. Then thank the Father for his great love and mercy for you. Thank the Lord Jesus for dying for you and living righteously in every way you’ve failed to. And thank the Holy Spirit for giving you a new heart and transforming you. Ask your God to help you rest in his mercies and to help you walk by faith in response to those mercies.
Sing – If you are able, take some time to conclude your devotion this morning by listening and reflecting on the lyrics of Thank You Jesus for the Blood by Charity Gayle.