Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
“I Have Seen the Lord!”
April 20, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Jesus was dead. One thing that the Romans were very good at was making sure a person was dead. True, Jesus had not been on the cross very long – only three hours – but, we must remember that He had been flogged so brutally that the writers of the day say there wasn’t an inch of skin on His body that was not torn and bleeding – and He had lost a great deal of blood.
But there was controversy:
“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last fraud will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:62-66, ESV).
Most of the chief priests and the Pharisees did not believe that Jesus is the Savior sent from God – and they wanted to make sure that nobody did anything to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead – so they could claim that He is the Savior God sent. So the chief priests and the Pharisees went to see Pilate on the Sabbath, and they asked Pilate to secure the grave so no one could steal the body and make up a story. Not unreasonable.
So Pilate told them to take a guard of soldiers – a squad of soldiers – to guard the tomb until the third day. And every painting you have ever seen depicting the Resurrection is wrong about the number of guards. The problem is, we know how many soldiers there were in a Roman legion, but the number of soldiers in a Roman guard or squad varied, depending on the circumstance.
So, let’s think this through – as the scholars have done: after the Resurrection, we’re told that “some” of the guards went to report what happened – so that means there were at least three guards. Yet, we read in Acts 12:4 that a squad of sixteen guards were assigned to watch over Peter while he was in jail – to keep him from escaping – and the chief priests and the Pharisees knew that there were eleven apostles who believed in Jesus and hundreds of disciples, as well. So how many would have been reasonable to send to make sure the tomb was secure and that they would not be overpowered by believers trying to steal His Body?
Scholars figure there were likely between thirty and fifty soldiers guarding the tomb – strong, well-trained soldiers – like in “Gladiator,” and “300,” and “Blood and Sand” – to take on any fishermen or women who might try to steal the Body.
They also had rolled a large stone across the front of the tomb, so that it covered the entrance and sat in a channel in the ground, so it would have taken several strong men to move it – the women noted as they made their way to the tomb that first Easter morning that they didn’t know how they would get the stone moved so they could finish the burial preparations that they couldn’t do because the Sabbath was upon them.
The chief priests and Pharisees also had the tomb sealed – what that would involve is pouring melted wax along the spot where the stone met the tomb and then pressing Pilate’s ring into the wax, so his mark would be there. The legal implication was that if anyone broke the seal, they would have to answer to Pilate.
So, the chief priests and the Pharisees secured thirty or more soldiers and a legal injunction against anyone who even tried to get into the tomb. The tomb was rather secure.
But something happened: Somehow – even with the guards and the seal – the Body disappeared, and we read: “While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day” (Matthew 28:11-15, ESV).
The guards knew what really happened, but the chief priests and the Pharisees could not have the guards telling everyone that Jesus had physically risen from the dead – that would prove that they were wrong, and they weren’t wrong – they couldn’t be wrong. So they told them to say they all fell asleep and the disciples stole the body. And they offered them all a bribe to stick to that story, and they promised to intercede on their behalf before Pilate, because if they had fallen asleep while they were supposed to be on watch, they would have been put to death – and if their falling asleep made for this rag-tag group of Galileans to cause him more trouble about this Jesus, after all the trouble he had gone through to put Him to death – they would have really have suffered.
So, yes, thirty or more guards fell asleep at the same time and so soundly that they didn’t hear the disciples sneak past them, push the stone up out of its resting place, out of the way of the opening of the tomb, and stole the Body. And the Jews believed the story!
What does our text tell us – and we’ll add some of the details from the other Gospels:
“Now on the first day of the week [there was a great earthquake and] Mary Magdalene [and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and Joanna, and other of the women] came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb [by an angel from heaven].”
Luke records: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:1-11, ESV).
Returning to John: “So she [they] ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple [John, the author of the Gospel], the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
At least six women followers of Jesus went to the tomb to finish anointing His Body for burial. That morning there had been an earthquake, but they rose at dawn, and set off for the tomb, not knowing how they would get in, but when they got there, the tomb was open, the guards were on the ground, having fainted seeing the angel come down and move the stone away from the tomb, and the angels asked, “What are you doing here? Don’t be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, but don’t you remember that He said He had to be crucified, and on the third day He would rise from the dead?”
They remembered Jesus’ words, but they didn’t quite get it. They were filled with fear and joy and ran to tell Peter and the other disciples, and when they told them that Jesus was gone – that they had seen angels and the angels had told them that Jesus had risen just as He said, Peter and the others said, “Aren’t women cute? They’ve got such imaginations. If the tomb was empty, we men will go check it out and find out what really happened. You sit down here and rest – you got up too early – you’ve been overwhelmed with grief – you’ve got ‘the vapors.’”
So Peter and John ran to the tomb – they were probably both in good shape, being fishermen, but Peter was the elder statesman, and John beat him to the tomb. But John stood back and looked into the tomb to see what had happened. But Peter being Peter – he ran in without any thought – straight into the tomb, and John joined him and looked around. And the women were right – Jesus was gone. But they didn’t see any angels. And they didn’t understand yet what Jesus had told them about His death and Resurrection.
“Those poor women. Something happened – the Body is gone, but they’re such a nervous gender – they thought they saw angels who told them that Jesus was alive. What wishful thinking!”
So, they went home. They told everyone that the women were right – the tomb was empty, but that’s all they knew. There were no angels. And now, some of the guards were spreading a rumor that some of Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body during the night. It was best that they go home and see if this would all blow over – or perhaps if someone would come forward. It would take some time for them to make sense of what had happened. So, they went home.
But Mary Magdalene went back to the tomb.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”
Mary went back to the tomb, confused. She wasn’t sure about what she had heard and experienced before. We’re the disciples right? Had they imagined the angels? Had it been wishful thinking? Had it been a delusion?
Jesus was gone. There was no body in the tomb. What had happened?
Mary stood weeping and wondering.
Just then, the angels returned – and they asked why she was crying – and she said she didn’t know where the Body of her Lord was.
Just then, she turned and saw the Gardener – so she supposed. She didn’t recognize Jesus – not because He didn’t look like Jesus any more, but because God kept her eyes from seeing for the moment – just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus we initially kept from seeing Who Jesus was.
And so Mary asked Him to just tell her where the Body was so she could take it and tend to it and lay it to rest.
But then Jesus spoke to her – and God pulled the blinders back – she heard His Voice and recognized Him, and she cried out “Rabboni!” and hugged Him. And Jesus told her not to “cling to” Him – not to “clutch on” to Him – because He had yet to ascend to the Father.
Many fanciful reasons for this have been put forward, but quickly, understand that Jesus was raised in the same physical body that He died in, but glorified. He could be touched; He could eat – as we see in the Gospels. What Jesus was telling Mary was not think that He was lost to her because He was not physically there – He was yet going to ascend back to the Father, and His Physical Body would remain with the Father. And so we understand that Jesus is spiritually with us through the reading and preaching of His Word and through the Sacraments.
Jesus told Mary to go and tell the disciples that He would soon be ascending back to the Father – having completed His work in the flesh on earth.
And, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her.”
The disciples still weren’t convinced – not until Jesus Himself came into their midst and presented His wounds to them. And this is one of the greatest and most striking evidences that the history of the Physical Resurrection of Jesus is true.
Did you miss it?
The first, primary, and largest witness to the Physical Resurrection of Jesus is the testimony of a bunch of women. Today, we turn our noses up and say, “Humph, women are just as reliable as men.” And that is absolutely true – however, that was not the prevailing opinion in the first century Middle East. Women were not allowed to give testimony in court, because women could not be trusted to get the facts right.
Margaret Manning writes, “Women were the witnesses because no man in his right mind would give credence to a woman’s testimony in the first century. They simply were not credible witnesses in court, or anywhere else, for that matter. Why then did the gospel writers report them as witnesses? If women were not credible witnesses, why would the gospel writers insist that they were witnesses, indeed, the first witnesses for the resurrection? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to offer some credible, male testimonial?
“Anglican priest and physicist John Polkinghorne answers this question with a resounding ‘No!’ He writes: ‘Perhaps the strongest reason of taking the stories of the empty tomb absolutely seriously lies in the fact that it is women who play the leading role. It would have been very unlikely for anyone in the ancient world who was concocting a story to assign the principal part to women since, in those times, they were not considered capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law. It is surely much more probable that they appear in the gospel accounts precisely because they actually fulfilled the role that the stories assign to them, and in so doing, they make a startling discovery’” (http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/unlikely-witnesses/).
Women are the first, primary, and largest witness to the Physical Resurrection of Jesus. The testimony of women was not admissible in courts when the Gospels were written. If the disciples were making up a story – if the Physical Resurrection is a lie – in first century Israel – they would have written the story so men brought the evidence – influential men – like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus – not a group of women! The fact the women are the ones who discover the tomb empty, and women go and tell everyone that the tomb is empty, and women report that they have seen the risen Christ before any men come on the scene – make the whole story much more believable. It would have been absolutely foolish to make up a story about Jesus and have the testimony of women be the evidence.
But that is how God tends to work, isn’t it?
As Paul explains: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“For consider your calling, brothers [and sisters]: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31, ESV).
God has commanded that His Gospel be preached to the whole Creation – and He began by putting the witness of the Truth of the Gospel in the hands and mouths of women who would not be believed, due to the sexist views of the courts in the first century Middle East. And now He uses you and me.
Surely, salvation is of the Lord! So let us boast in Him.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for coming to earth to save us and make us Your children. We thank You for being willing to come to earth, live, die, rise and ascend – and this is all to Your Glory. Thank You for using us to spread Your Gospel. Help us to believe that salvation is Your Work and pray for Your saving power as we proclaim the Gospel. For You have chosen us – the foolish – to proclaim Your Salvation to the wise. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
“You Saved My Life”
April 18, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Today is called, “Good Friday.” It’s the day that we remember that Jesus was unjustly arrested, illegally tried in three courts, tortured, and crucified – and died. Why do we call this day “good”?
We are looking at the first half of Psalm 116 – the author is unnamed.
We see in the first half of this psalm:
The Lord answers the prayers of His people.
The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress.
The Lord is our salvation in life.
The Lord is our salvation in death.
“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”
The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord heard his voice.
The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord had mercy on Him – the psalmist loves the Lord because He showed him unmerited favor.
The psalmist tells us that he loves the Lord because the Lord inclined His ear to him.
The Lord answered the prayer of the psalmist. When the psalmist was in distress – even to the point of death, as we shall see – he prayed to God, and God answered Him, and showed Him mercy, and delivered him from whatever it was that put his life in such distress and danger.
So, the psalmist tells us that he will call on the Lord as long as he lives. Since the Lord answered him and inflamed his love for the Lord through answering his prayer, the psalmist turned to prayer when he needed the mercy of God.
The same is true for us, is it not? Jesus taught us how to pray and the author of Hebrews reminds us that we can come boldly into the throne room of God to ask of Him as His children.
Jesus certainly prayed – we read of His praying throughout the Gospels – going off by Himself to spent time in prayer with His Father. In those last hours on the cross, we find two prayers recorded:
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:34a, ESV).
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46, ESV).
The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress:
“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!’”
The psalmist tells us that he was trapped in the “snares of death” – he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was unable to escape from the death that was upon him – he saw no reason to believe that he would be able to survive whatever was occurring.
The psalmist tells us that “the pangs of Sheol” grabbed him – the pain of the grave grabbed him – he could feel his life descending into the grave.
The psalmist tells us that he suffered distress and anguish – it surely looked like the end for him – and then he called on the Lord to deliver him.
Our Father is waiting for us to call to Him in our distress. He is with us and walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death, and we are comforted by His rod and His staff. Even if the answer He gives us is “wait” or “no.”
Crucifixion is still considered one of the most horrifying and painful ways to die.
As Jesus hung on the cross, He was trapped in the “snares of death.” He felt the pain of the pull of the grave on Him as His Blood flowed out of His wounds and it became more difficult to keep breathing. And He cried out:
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’…” (John 19:30a, ESV).
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46, ESV).
We need to remember that these were cries of victory – even though death was upon Him – He had won. Jesus had endured the Wrath of God for the sins of everyone who would ever believe – ending with His physical death.
The Lord is our salvation in life.
“Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.”
Unlike Jesus, the psalmist did not have to endure death at this point in his life. No, God heard his prayer and saved Him. God showed how gracious He is in extending the salvation of the life of the psalmist to him. The Lord showed that He is righteous in dealing with the psalmist as He did saving him in this life according to His good and holy will. And the Lord showed His mercy is not bringing the psalmist to death in that moment.
The psalmist tells us that the Lord preserves the simple – the Lord preserves those who are humble about their circumstances – even though it be great peril. For none of us deserves salvation. All that we receive from the Hand of God is a gift. So, when the psalmist was brought low – even near to the grave, God saved him and restored him to his life – a gift of salvation.
The psalmist tells us that He was restored such that his soul could rest. He was no longer shaken – looking into the grave – by his circumstances, but God heard his prayer and in His Righteousness – in grace and mercy – God chose to deliver him in this life – to deal bountifully with him – as He has with us all, has He not?
Has God short-changed any one of us? Has God neglected to give us some good thing that we deserve? Or have we received so much more than we could possibly have imagined, given our sin, that we can rest and be satisfied in all that God has done for us? Has not God even delivered us from disastrous situations in this life?
The Lord is our salvation in death.
“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;”
The psalmist tells us that he was delivered from death – whatever it was that was upon him, God mercifully removed and let him live.
The psalmist tells us that his eyes were delivered from tears.
The psalmist tells us that his feet were delivered – God kept him stumbling – either in his feet or into sin in that moment.
He was saved, and we may think of the final salvation, remembering these words, “[The Lord GOD] will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:8-9, ESV).
The Lord answers the prayers of His people.
The Lord listens when His people cry out to Him in distress.
The Lord is our salvation in life.
The Lord is our salvation in death.
Why do we call this day “good”?
Paul explains in one of his benedictions: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14, ESV).
This day is called, “good,” – and we do well to give everlasting thanks to God – because through Jesus’ Death, Jesus completed part of the gracious work that He set out to do to deliver us from the reign of Satan over us. We were slaves to the prince of lies, and we have been saved from his dominion over us through Christ suffering and dying for our sins.
Not only that, we have been transferred from slavery in the devil’s domain to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God, through Whom we are redeemed. Christ’s Life and Death were traded in to God that we would be brought back to God – reconciled – made right with Him – as sons and daughters – our sins have been forgive through Jesus and we are now, through the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness – through the crediting to our accounts of Jesus’ perfecting keeping of the Law of God – also seen as holy. We are living this life now, striving for holiness, and looking forward to His Kingdom coming in all its fullness.
On this day, we rejoice that the Lord saved the psalmist in this life and in the life to come and that He will do the same for all those who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, help us to see and receive the Work of Christ for our salvation. Let us call out to You and cry to You for our daily needs and distresses and for all the hopes of our future – in this life, and in the Kingdom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Friday, April 18, 2014
“Love One Another”
[John 13:1-17; 31b-35]
April 17, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Tonight, we remember the night when Jesus gathered with His disciples for the Last Supper and, among other things, He commanded His disciples to love one another. We call this day, “Maundy Thursday.” The word, “Maundy” is Latin for “commandment.” This is the day we remember that Jesus gave His disciples a “new commandment” – the commandment to love one another.
We will all notice that the date of Easter moves around on the calendar – that is due to the fact that the date of Easter is set based on the date of Passover, which is set based on the cycle of the moon – as are all Jewish holidays. The Church officially set the rubrics of Holy Week at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. – though it seems they were followed earlier than that.
What we see in the Scripture is that Jesus rose on the first day of the week – which is Sunday. He was crucified and had to be taken down from the cross because it was the “day of preparation” for the Sabbath – so Jesus was crucified on Friday and couldn’t be left on the cross Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath. Thus, the day before the crucifixion – the day that the Last Supper was celebrated – the day that Jesus gave the “new commandment” – was Thursday.
So, in the year that Jesus was crucified, Passover began on a Thursday evening. That evening, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, gave them the “new commandment,” and then celebrated the first night of the Passover with them and instituted the Lord’s Supper. Then He went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, was arrested, and, on Friday, was crucified, buried, and rose Sunday morning.
I point this out, not just for your cocktail party discussion, but because Marla brought to my attention that a Jehovah’s Witness that she talked with told her we should be celebrating on Monday of this week, since Passover began – this year – on Monday evening. While the Jehovah’s Witness is right in the sense that the start of Passover moves around on the calendar, we celebrate and remember the day of the week that these things actually, historically occurred. Since Passover and Easter move around on the calendar, we may be celebrating them in the historically wrong month or week, but we celebrate them on the biblically recorded, historical day. In Church history, it was decided that remembering the correct day of the week was more importance than remembering the correct week or month.
Hopefully that makes sense – it sets the historical setting for when this text took place, and it also helps us to understand why we celebrate on the days that we do – and, as Marla found out – there are people who will challenge even the day that we remember and celebrate events, so we should know how we got to celebrate them when we do.
So, our text tonight takes place on Thursday, the first evening of Passover, in the year that Jesus was crucified. Jesus and the disciples gathered for dinner and then to celebrate the Last Supper.
We see in the sections of the text that were read:
Jesus knew it was time for Him to die and return to the Father.
Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
Jesus explained that He did so as an example for them to follow.
And Jesus gave them a new commandment – to love one another.
“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.”
Jesus knew it was time for Him to die and return to the Father.
Notice: Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed by Judas – He also knew He would be denied by Peter – which is in a section of the text we did not read – He knew He was going to be taken, unjustly arrest and condemned to death, tortured, crucified – and His thoughts were on His love for the disciples.
With all of these things on His mind – that they were all now coming to pass – that the mission for which He chose to incarnate to earth was now coming to its bitter nadir, He thought about how He had loved all those that God had given to Him and how He would continue to love them until then end.
The end of what? Jesus knew He would love His people to the end of His life on this earth, to the end of this age of the corruption of sin, and into the restored Creation and the fullness of His Kingdom. Jesus loved His people and He loves us and all those who come after us. And though He is not with us physically right now, He is spiritually with us – as He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV).
Jesus was able to face and endure all that had been revealed to Him and was now coming to pass, because His resolve was strengthened in the knowledge that as the One Who had come from the Father and was now returning to the Father – as God Incarnate – all power and authority were His. None of this was happening by chance. All of this was happening according to the Sovereign Plan of God, and Jesus, the Incarnate God, had willingly taken all this upon Himself that the people of God might be made right with God through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. As Jesus would rebuke Peter later than night, “ Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54, ESV).
Jesus knew everything that was to come to pass. Jesus willingly chose to follow through with the plan God had made from before the creation. Jesus went through the horrors of it all, strengthened by the knowledge of His Sovereign Divinity and the love that He had and continues to have and will always have for all those who believe in Him.
“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.’”
Let us understand that in Jesus’ day, when people walked around barefoot or in sandals, it was the custom – a sign of hospitality – for the host of a group of people to provide for the washing of his guests’ feet for the sake of their comfort and as a gesture of welcome and love. So, the washing of the feet, in and of itself, was not strange at all. So why did Peter get so upset?
Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet – more accurately, Peter rebuked Jesus for going to wash his feet – because Jesus was their teacher – their rabbi – and they were His students. It was not proper for a teacher to wash the students’ feet – the students ought to wash the teacher’s feet.
Jesus responded, first, by telling Peter to just accept it, and he would understand later. And we ought to take note of that – that we are to obey Christ – we are to obey God – even when we don’t understand. If God has commanded something in His Word – we must obey, because He is God and we are not, even if we don’t understand, even if we wish it were different, even if pop psychology and science says otherwise. As the “corrected” bumper-sticker says, “God said it; that settles it.”
Then Jesus responded that He must wash Peter or Peter will have no part of Him – and Peter being Peter then demands that Jesus wash his entire body – thinking that if washing his feet would unite him with Christ, having his whole body washed by Christ would really be powerful!
But Jesus then tells Peter that if you’re clean, you only need your feet washed, you don’t need your whole body washed. If you took your monthly bath, you only need to have your feet washed from walking out in the streets and getting them dirty; you don’t need to be bathed again.
Which is true, right? But that is not all that Jesus intended by this conversation, because Jesus then said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you” – meaning that Judas was not clean. Jesus was not indicating that Judas needed a bath – Jesus was pointing to the distinction between what is clean and what is unclean in God’s Law. That which is clean is acceptable before God. That which is unclean is not acceptable before God.
Jesus is saying the same thing that was said in the vision given to Zechariah the prophet: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by” (Zechariah 3:1-5, ESV).
The text goes on to explain that the cleansing that occurs is done by the Savior that God will send. This is symbolic of sins being washed away. Just as Joshua the priest had his filthy clothes replaced with clean clothes by God, and just as Peter had the filth removed from his body by the bathwaters, so Jesus cleansed him – and all those who believe – from his sin – but not Judas – he was still unclean.
Jesus took the opportunity to use the symbolism and Peter’s outrageousness to state that He is the One Who makes His people spiritually clean.
What He was doing in washing their feet was another matter.
“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.’”
How are we to interpret what Jesus did?
One option, which many Baptist and Mennonite denominations go with, is to say that foot washing is a third sacrament which all Christians are to practice.
Another option is that Jesus was saying it is good to wash each other’s feet that we would remember what Jesus did and understand that through Jesus we are all on the same level – no one is greater than another.
In the Reformed understanding, we disagree with those two interpretations and instead, understand that Jesus was not instituting a sacrament, because He said this was an example for us. It also does not mean we are all equal, because Jesus is certainly the pinnacle of humanity. No, what we understand to be going on here is Jesus telling His disciples that if He, being greater than they, was willing to humble Himself to wash their feet, we ought to be willing to wash each other’s feet – that is, we ought to be willing to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Christ – not matter how “low” it may seem.
If it would help a brother or sister in Christ, and you are able, would you be willing to do their dishes, make them a meal, pick up the garbage on the lawn, clean their toilet, bandage wounds on their body – whatever it is that you don’t like, or that grosses you out, or makes you uncomfortable, or puts you off – would you be willing to do that if you are able and it would help a brother and sister in Christ?
Jesus was saying, “I gave you the example of the Incarnate Almighty God washing the dirt and animal poop off of My disobedient disciples’ feet, now you go and… [insert whatever it is that you can do that someone needs you to do that you would prefer not to do].”
(I’m not going to give you an example from my life, because I don’t want you to not ask me about certain things just because I find them difficult or unpleasant; I want you to call on me when you have need, and, if I am able, I will help.)
We jump over Jesus identifying and dismissing Judas, and now we turn to the “new commandment”:
“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, “Where I am going you cannot come.” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
Jesus begins by telling them that God the Father and God the Son are glorifying each other in the events of Holy Week – in particular. Jesus revealed the Father and the Father revealed the Son – through Jesus’ Incarnation, Life, Death, Physical Resurrection, and Ascension, we learn about Who the Father is – Jesus reveals Him to us. And through these events, the Father also reveals Who the Son is that He might be believed in for the salvation of His people.
But, He explains to them, they would not be able to go with Him – ultimately – they were not able to ascend to the Father with Jesus. As Jesus completed the work of salvation in returning to His throne, he would have to leave His disciples behind on earth until that final day. Jesus wanted them to understand that He was physically leaving them, but He was not deserting them – He was not abandoning them – as we have already noted – Jesus promised, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).
Finally, in the section we read this evening, Jesus gives His disciples – all of us – a “new commandment, “that [we] love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”
What’s “new” about this?
Was Jesus asked what the greatest commandment was – and didn’t He say, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV)? And didn’t Jesus explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is everyone? So, isn’t it our duty – from the days of Moses – which is where the law comes from – to love one another?
What’s “new” about this?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
“Just as I have loved you.” That’s new.
We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ – this command is directed to believers – just as Christ loved us. We are to keep that always before us as our goal – because none of us are Christ – none of us is sinless – it is the goal towards which we strive – that we would love our brothers and sisters in Christ just as He loved us. This is a part of our sanctification – of the process of our becoming holy, like Jesus, which the Holy Spirit enables us to do and completes in us on the last day.
What does that mean?
Paul put it this way: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV).
It means we are to love each other in humility. We are not to look down on one another, but treat each other as fellow bearers of the Image of God.
It means we are to serve one another. We are to do for others what we can do that they cannot.
It means we are to be supportive in heart and soul and mind and strength – bearing each other’s burdens in the ways that we are able – using our gifts and blessings and giftedness for the good of the whole Church.
It means we are to be self-sacrificing – being willing even, if we are so called, to give up our lives for the sake of our fellow Christians.
That’s not easy to do in a world where what I get is mine and you can’t have it, and we know where we stand – we know who we’re better than – in this great social experiment that we live in.
Yet, we have an example: The Almighty God and Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, the One and Only Savior of all those who will believe, did not think it too much to wash the dirt and poop off of His disciples' feet – and then he allowed Himself to be murdered for them.
Jesus commands us to love each other like that – not to be a doormat – but to be willing in every way that we are able, because we need each other. We are one body, and when one member of the body is hurt, the whole body suffers, and when one member of the body is built up, the whole body is encouraged and strengthened – if we love one another.
And, Jesus told His disciples, and He tells us, if we strive to love each other as He has loved us, the world will notice and know that we are His disciples and what we believe about Him is real.
You might wonder if that is really true – does the world really notice and care – do they put two and two together?
“For example, the pagan satirist Lucian (130-200 c.e. [sic]) mocked Christians for their charity: ‘The earnestness with which the people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren.’
“… the Pagan Emperor Julian -- who attempted to lead the Roman Empire back to paganism -- was frustrated by the superior morality shown by the Christians, especially when it came to charity. This was something he readily admitted: ‘The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours . . . . It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance’" Epistles of Julian, 49 (http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_charity.html).
Non-Christians may find our love for one another – as well as for the world – very frustrating. But it will always point them back to asking “why.”
And if you and I love each other and show our love in ways like Jesus did, people may ask us why. And you might begin by saying that you’re just following the example of Jesus Who cleaned the dirt and poop off of His disciples’ feet. And that might just be an “in” to tell them the Gospel.
Love one another – as Jesus loves us.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we ask that You would strengthen us and open our eyes so we would see ways to show Your love of us to our fellow Christians. We ask that we would unashamedly love one another in humility, service, support, and self-sacrifice in thanksgiving to You, love of our brothers and sisters, and as a witness to the world that they might ask us why. Lord, prepare our mouths that we would answer well the questions of the world. For it is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.