We are continuing our journey towards Easter morning by taking one day at a time in the final week of Jesus’ public ministry.  As we have moved our way through the week, we might have noticed that the level of detail and the depth of information that we are receiving for each measure of time is increasing.  I mentioned before that in my Bible there are about 180 pages of material used to describe the three years of Jesus’ ministry.  But of those 180 pages, 11 pages are devoted to the events and discussions at a single meal, Jesus’ final meal with all his disciples. One hundred 180 pages to describe three years.  Eleven of those pages used to describe just four hours.  That fact alone suggests that the events of that meal had a profound effect on the disciples, the gospel writers in particular, and upon the early Christian Church.

          What happened in those four hours?  There were six actions of significance.  First, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Second, Jesus predicted his betrayal by Judas.  Third, Jesus shared bread with his disciples and said it was his body and he shared the cup and said it was his blood.  Fourth, the disciples argued among themselves about which one of them was the greatest. Fifth, Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. And sixth, Jesus gave one final teaching to the disciples.  Each one of these six actions could be the subject of a sermon or two on its own, so I won’t attempt to cover all these actions today.  I will cover some of those actions today, some on this Thursday evening during the Maundy Thursday service and I will leave the balance for another day. So, let’s begin. 

          The meal celebrated by Jesus and his disciples was the Passover meal.  The Passover meal was then and remains today the occasion used by the Jews to remember that God had redeemed the Hebrew people from the Egyptians.  In Jesus’ time, Jews desired to celebrate the meal within the city of Jerusalem.  And Jesus arranged for the Passover meal within the city and made those arrangements through a man whose identity has been lost to history.  In Mark 14, we read that Jesus sent two of his disciples into Jerusalem and look for a man carrying a jar of water.  Jesus told his disciples, “Follow him. 14Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”  16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So, they prepared the Passover” (Mark 14:13b-16).  There is a bit of secrecy and a little clandestine feel to these arrangements.  The disciples do not know the name of the man that they would follow, only that the man would find them, and the disciples would know he was the right man because the man would be carrying a jar of water.  The disciples did not know where they were going.  They only knew that they were to follow the man with the jug of water and go to the house he entered.  Once at the home, the disciples only knew to ask the owner of that home, another man unknown to them, “Where is the upstairs room?”  There was only one person who knew the whole plan and that was Jesus.  Why the secrecy?  Perhaps secrecy was necessary so that this meal happened without interruption by Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  Whatever the reason, the secrecy would have caught the attention of John’s original readers and highlighted to them the importance Jesus placed on this meal.

          Today, we will work with John’s account of this meal.  John wrote, “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” (John 13:2-4).  John was making it clear that while the meal appeared to those attending to be another Passover meal, it was so much more than that.  For at this meal sat Jesus, the Son of God and Judas, who had given himself over to Satan.  The presence of Jesus and Satan tells us that a spiritual battle was being fought while the participants ate.  For in and through this meal, the perfect plan of God the Father would be worked out. It was time for Jesus to complete his mission and return to his glory in heaven.  This meal signal the essential points of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

          John said that while the meal was in progress, “4 He [Jesus] 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” (John 13:4-5).  The custom of that day was that just prior to the Passover meal people immersed themselves in water to bathe and become ritually clean before the meal.  Likely then everyone had bathed.  Once at the house for the meal, a servant of the host of the meal would clean the feet of each guest upon their arrival, meaning the foot washing occurred before meal.  To the original readers of John’s gospel, Jesus rising in the middle of the meal to wash the disciples’ feet would have been a completely unexpected and thought unnecessary. This fact alone would have alerted John’s readers to something important was about to happen in and through the foot washing and that it would reflect insight into the spiritual battle that was underway.

We know something significant was happening because Jesus said as much with his interaction with Peter.  John wrote, “6 He [Jesus] 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” (John 13:6-7).  Jesus’ reply confirmed that what Jesus is doing is no ordinary foot washing to remove the dusk of the day because Jesus told Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing.”  Well, there were two things the disciples realized were happening.  First, their feet were being washed.  Second, the person washing their feet was not a servant but their Lord, Master, and Rabbi, Jesus.  So, Jesus’ words, “You do not realize now what I am doing,” means that physical foot washing by Jesus was not the true significance of the moment. There was something much deeper going on.

We see that after Jesus washed Peter’s feet, Jesus said again, ““Do you understand what I have done for you?”  This is very much the same statement Jesus made before he washed Peter’s feet.  In Scripture, when we read the same or similar statement such as these statements, it is a signal to look hard at the words between those two statements.  This writing technique is called an inclusio.  It is an ancient writing technique used to emphasis the words between the similar statements.  So, let’s look harder at those in between words. 

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  “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.  12 When he [Jesus] had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (John 13:6-12).

Jesus’ words, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” gives us insight that the physical washing was representative, symbolic of an action Jesus must take on behalf of his disciples and that to refuse Jesus’ offer meant the disciple could not have a relationship with Jesus at all.  Peter and the other disciples did not realize at that moment, but Jesus was pointing them to events that were about to unfold in the spiritual battle that was underway. The events were the fulfilment of the gospel.  The events included Jesus giving his life upon the cross so that the sins of his disciples would be washed away.  The events included Jesus being raised from the dead.  The significance of Jesus foot washing was that Jesus washes away the sins of his disciples.  The disciples would not understand this significance until later, that is after the resurrection appearance of Jesus.

Being washed by the Son of God is to be cleansed of sin.  To be washed by Jesus is to be redeemed from death into life.  Redemption, coming to be right before God the Father, can only happen if Jesus’ washes away sin.  There is no other way.  John would later write about Christians that, “9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us (wash us clean) from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Jesus will continually wipe away our sins as we confess our faith in Him. 

John wrote, “12 When he [Jesus] had finished washing their [the disciples’] feet, he [Jesus] 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” (John 13:12-15). Certainly, Jesus set the example of humble service to others.  This was the common life physical experience.  But we know now that what Jesus did was more than that.  There was the uncommon spiritual experience of Jesus having washed the disciples clean of their sins.  The disciples had been forgiven by Jesus.  The example Jesus then set was that the disciples then was humble service but more than that it was that we must forgive those who sin against us. We must be willing to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus taught, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you.   15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus how often it was necessary to forgive, and Jesus replied, ““I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22), a number to be taken symbolically, not literally, for the never-ending way that we ought to forgive. 

Jesus liked to use parables to illustrate various aspects of forgiveness. During his conversation with Peter, Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew18:23-35). Luke’s gospel has a series of five forgiveness parables:  the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); the bent over woman (Luke 13:10-13); the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7); the lost coin (Luke15:8-10); and the greatest forgiveness parable of all, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  Jesus was extremely kind and merciful in the way that he forgave those who sinned against others. Jesus told the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5); when a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48); when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him, Jesus said to her “Your sins are forgiven” (John 8:11). 

When Jesus had been resurrected and he met with his disciples, John recorded, “21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:21-22).  The first command of Jesus upon his resurrection was to forgive the sins of others.

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is about forgiveness of sins so as to restore the perfect relationship with God and transform our minds to restore relationships with one another.  Jesus told his disciples “14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet [I have forgiven you], you also should wash one another’s feet [forgive one another]. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).

The message for us today is the same as it was for Jesus’ disciples.  To be part of Jesus, we must accept and allow Him to wash our feet, that is to cleanse us of sin.  There is no alternative.  To be cleansed by Jesus of unrighteousness is to believe that Jesus died for you, that Jesus was buried, and that Jesus rose from the dead.  To have Jesus is to believe in the gospel. 

But it does not end there.  To believe in Jesus and be cleansed of sin, also means that we must wash the feet of one another, that is to forgive one another the sins committed against us.  If we refuse to forgive the sins of another, then we are saying we do not want Jesus to cleanse us.  Let me say that again.  If we refuse to forgive the sins of another, then we are saying we do not want Jesus to cleanse us.  These are not my thoughts; these are Jesus’ thoughts.  Jesus said, “15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).

We need to ask ourselves, “Do I understand what Jesus did for me at that meal?  Have I allowed Jesus to wash my feet, that is to cleanse me of my sin? Is there some unconfessed sin I need to have washed away?” Jesus stands ready with a basin and a towel ready to cleanse each of us and make us right before God.  Let’s not wait.  Let’s not hesitate.  Let’s be cleansed.  And if we have been cleansed by Jesus, then have we done as Jesus commanded and followed his example?  Is there someone who we have not forgiven in the same manner Jesus forgave us?  If so, then grab your basin and towel and forgive as Jesus has forgiven you.  Let us pray.