The Way It Has To Be

Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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

Do we understand that this is the way it has to be? Yes, it has to be this way.  “What has to be this way” you may ask?  Jesus, who is Lord, ‘has’ to serve us.  Yes, unless our majestic Lord serves us, we will have no part with Him.

This is the profound and humbling truth that the disciples had to experience and hear from Jesus some two-thousand years ago as they partook of the Last Supper and as Jesus washed their feet.

In our Gospel reading from this evening we heard that Jesus got up from the table, took His outer robe off, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, and came to Simon Peter to wash his feet.  In response to Jesus’ actions, Peter exclaimed and reacted with a great deal of boldness saying, “In all of eternity, you will not wash my feet!”  Indeed, even though Peter had previously called Jesus ‘Lord,’ he now responds with a great deal of resistance to Jesus’ desire to wash his feet.  In fact, his response is rather bold and defiant. But why was there such resistance to have Jesus wash Peter’s feet? 

One of the most difficult experiences for mankind is the challenging experience of being served.  Being served cuts against our autonomy, our pride, and our passion to be self-sustaining individuals.  Being served by someone else puts us into the passive position, where we are acted upon; whereas, when we serve others, we are in control and we are doing the actions.  There is surely a great deal of fear that comes about when we are dependent upon someone else or to let some do something for and to us.  Indeed, it is very accurate that it is more difficult to receive than it is to give. 

Not only is all of this true in a general sense but we tragically see this in the Christian church as well.  For example, there is an awful temptation in believing that Sunday church services are solely about us brining and delivering our best efforts to God through our praises, prayers, and tithes; as if God is a distant passive God that needs to be entertained by us.  Furthermore, there is a heartbreaking temptation to make baptism into a work of man, where it is made into an act of our obedience towards God; showing God that we are serious about Him.  Also, there is an enticement to make the Lord’s Supper into a mere memorial service where we eat and drink as a symbolic salute to Jesus.  Finally, there is disaster when we read the Bible as an instruction manual of how to live our lives in a way to earn brownie points with God.  Yes, in the church the temptation is to make the Christian story about the Christian in action towards the Lord who observes rather than the Lord actively serving the Christian.  Otherwise stated, in the church there is a resistance to being receivers, to being beggars.  Like Peter, we resist being served; we resist being in the passive position; we push back against the Lord and Him doing stuff to us and for us.  We resist the idea of the church being the bride of Christ and frankly want to be betrothed to ourselves.  The reason being, we ultimately want to assert our greatness; we resist being a helpless beggar who needs to be served.

But Peter was not advocating for his own greatness when he didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, was he?  Yes, he was.  Consider this.  Peter argued and resisted Jesus descending to wash his stinky and filthy feet, because he didn’t think that this was a fitting task for Jesus to do.  Otherwise stated, He didn’t think it was appropriate for the great Christ to sink so low to wash feet.  Thus, Peter’s refusal to let Jesus wash his feet was a refusal to let Jesus be Jesus.  Peter was refusing a Christ who served humanity and demanded a different kind of Lord, one who wasn’t a lowly foot washer.  So, by rejecting Jesus as one who served, Peter was consequently asserting his own greatness over Christ by refusing to learn humility in this example of feet washing.  Yes, Peter was asserting his own authority and his own definition of who he thought Jesus should be and what he believed Jesus should do.  “Jesus, you should not be washing my feet.  No, ‘I’ . . . ‘I’ should be washing your feet, for I am certainly able and capable of doing this for my Lord.  I don’t need to be served, I am o.k.   It is more important for me to prove myself by showing how well ‘I’ can serve you Jesus!”

In response to Peter’s bold resistance to having his feet washed, Jesus responds by saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  In other words, Jesus is showing Peter that if he is going to have any part with Him that it needs to depend not on anything Peter can do, but on what Jesus does for Peter.  In other words, Jesus is simply saying, “This is the way it has to be Peter.” 

My friends, Jesus ‘has’ to serve you and me.  This is the way it has to be.  Our old sinful nature, the old Adam, complains and snarls at this reality though, because the old Adam wants to be in the driver seat.  The old Adam wants to be in control and resists helplessness at all costs.  You see, to be served and acted upon is to admit defeat, to say that we are helpless, to confess that we are beggars; alas the old Adam will never do this and thus the reason why we struggle with being served.  Nonetheless, this is the way it has to be.  It has to be this way because if we are to share in Christ’s fate and to partake in Christ’s finished work, we are going to need to be cleansed.  Yes, we can’t adequately clean ourselves.  Furthermore, why on earth would we need to wash Jesus?  It is not Jesus who needs to be cleansed, but us.  He is not the sinner, we are.  He is not the one who is dirty, we are.  He doesn’t need our works; we need His works. 

Yes, like Peter we need to be served.  We need to hear the firm, yet compassionate words of Jesus, “Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me.”  Truly, we cannot perform spiritual surgery upon ourselves to rid ourselves of sin.  We cannot scrub hard enough to remove the stain of depravity.  We cannot climb high enough into the good graces of God.  We cannot pray fervently enough to conjure up peace that passes all understanding.   We cannot bleed enough to pay for our own iniquities.  Thus, this is the reason why Jesus Christ had to come into this world; He came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. My friends, unless Christ washes you, you will have no share with Him. 

Keep in mind that this simple foot washing in our Gospel reading, is a mere foreshadowing to Peter of what is to come.  This tiny service of washing feet, which only takes 5-10 minutes, is a shadow of the bloody cleansing that Jesus did for humanity on the cross, for some 6 hours on Good Friday.  Hear the good news baptized saints, Christ not only demonstrated His servanthood by washing the disciples feet, He demonstrated His servanthood by washing you clean through His sacrificial death on the cross.  Jesus washed away your sin and guilt.  While you and I only need a mere 10 minute physical shower to cleanse ourselves from the dirt, sweat, and filth of life, we need the washing of Christ’s blood in order to be cleansed for all of eternity; a cleansing that happened for you on that cross.

Yes, Christ served you my friends when He went to the cross.  This is the way it had to be, for Christ our great Lord would have it no other way.  He was not content to leave you and me soiled by the stain of our sin.  He was not willing to let humanity perish.  He was not willing to leave us to our futile attempts to clean ourselves.  Surely, it was not beneath Him or opposed to His greatness to sink deeply into humanity where He lowered His shoulders underneath sin, taking it upon Himself and considering it well worthwhile.  This is the way it had to be. 

This is what the Christian faith is all about!  It is about humanity being served by God in the Flesh.  You and I don’t come to church on Sunday’s to give God our best as if He is a critique in the audience; rather, you and I come to church on Sundays to receive God’s living and active Word and His gifts of the sacraments.  Your baptisms are not primarily about your confessions, but about the confession and work of the Lord who washed you and says to you, “I have placed My name upon you; You are clean!”  The Lord’s Supper is not a mere symbolic salute to Jesus, but a heavenly meal prepared and delivered to you; a meal that delivers to you the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  The scriptures are not a mere ‘how to book,’ for you and me to try and implement in order to acquire brownie points with God, but the scriptures are the living Word of God that bestows repentance and faith upon you and me as a gift.  Yes, thank God that this is the way it has to be; thank God that Jesus has to serve you.  Thank God that Jesus did serve you.  Thank God that you and I are indeed beggars, beggars who are shown compassion and daily receive warm bread as a free gift. 

Give thanks to the Lord for He indeed went to the cross for you.  Give thanks to the Lord for He indeed washed you.  Give thanks to the Lord for He indeed chose to serve you.  Give thanks to the Lord for you undeniably have a share with Him forever.  Give thanks to the Lord for you are buried with Him and raised anew in Him. 

Dear Saints, you, who have been loved, are free to love.  You, who have been served, are free to serve. 

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

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