Second Reformed Church

Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Are You Clean?" Sermon: John 13:1-15

“Are You Clean?”
[John 13:1-15]
April 9, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Once Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, they found a place where they could celebrate the Passover together – that feast which memorializes God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt by God’s Mighty Right Hand. They were seated in the Upper Room; the meal had not yet been served. And John tells us that Jesus knew three things:

First, Jesus knew that this was the end – that He was going to depart to be with the Father – and Jesus had loved His people to the end. Jesus knew what was before Him: on the one hand, the horrors of the crucifixion lay before Him, and, on the other, the joy of being received by the Father into glory was also before Him.

Second, Jesus knew that the devil had come upon Judas and put it in his heart to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that one of His twelve chosen had followed the devil’s deception and sold Him out to the Pharisees.

And third, Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into His Hands. He knew that He had come from the Father and was returning to the Father. Notice, this is a statement of Jesus’ divine origins: Jesus is not merely a man Who became God or god-like. No, Jesus is God Himself Who took on a real human body and soul. He is the Creator of all things Who willingly came to earth for our sake and to the glory of the Father.

Therefore, John tells us – since Jesus knew these things – Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet. Since Jesus is God Who came to earth to save His people and glorify the Father, since He loves His people to the end, since He knew that Judas had betrayed Him, since He knew He would suffer the worst Hell humanly possible and then be received back to His Throne by the Father, therefore, He washed His disciples’ feet.

How does that make any sense?

We have to turn back to the Old Testament and look at the God’s instructions for the laver – the basin of bronze. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go to the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall also wash their hands and feet, so they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations’” (Exodus 30:19-21, ESV).

As one went to worship, first he met the altar, then the bronze basin – the laver, and then, he entered the sanctuary. We need to understand the symbolism of these items: when the priests sacrificed on the altar, they were offering up a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. This continued until the Final, Once-for-All, Sacrifice of Jesus. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ has offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sacrificed” (Hebrews 10:11-14, ESV). Jesus is the Final Sacrifice on the altar that forgives us for all of our sins forever. We are forgiven for our sins, justified, made right with God, credited with Jesus’ Righteousness, through Jesus’ Sacrifice.

However, according to the Scripture in Exodus, God promised to kill anyone who entered the sanctuary without going through the basin. Why? Why did the priests need to wash their hands and feet after the sacrifice? Because the sacrifice was bloody, and blood got on their hands and feet and clothing. We looked at the basin in our Sunday morning Bible study, and we saw that this was an enormous metal bowl on legs, which contained water. There were spigots around the basin, and the priest would stand under it, after the sacrifice, to wash off the blood and anything else he got on him during the sacrifice. This is to remind us that, although we are forgiven through God’s Sacrifice, we continue to sin and befoul ourselves, so we need to repent and confess our sin daily. If one believes in Jesus Alone for Salvation, then Jesus’ Sacrifice on the altar – the cross – His Resurrection and Ascension, merit eternal salvation for that person However, all those who believe are in a process of sanctification – of becoming holy. That is why we need to confess our sin – that is why we have a prayer of confession during our worship service. We are saved by Christ Alone – through His Bloody Sacrifice, but we mature and become holy as we confess our sins, daily, and are washed anew.

Paul explained, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV).

Notice, Christ gave Himself up for the Church – a one-time act of sacrifice which secured the Salvation of all those who would believe. However, sanctification, becoming holy, is a process that requires a daily washing away of sin. Of course, Paul tells us that this washing is not the literal washing with water that the priests did after they sacrificed. No, now, the washing comes through the administration of the Word of God. How? At least in two ways:

The Word of God reveals our sin to us: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet, if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7, ESV). We cannot repent of our sin if we do not know we have sinned. So, God’s Word makes it clear to us that we have sinned and what sin is.

The Word of God – read and preached – is also a means of grace by which we receive the strength to refuse sin and to repent of sin when we do sin and to grow in holiness that we would be made like Jesus on that final day. The Psalmist wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word (Psalm 119:9, 25, 28, ESV).

This is why it is necessary for us to meet together as a people; we cannot be healthy Christians on our own. The author of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day draw near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). Our gathering as a people is necessary for our mutual encouragement, love, and good works, as well as the reception of the grace to do these things, through the word read and preached, which is our cleansing by water.

So, Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet is a picture of sanctification – of our becoming holy – like Jesus. It is not for salvation – for justification – for becoming right with God. With this in mind, let us consider how Peter reacted:

Jesus came to Peter and Peter asked Him if He was really going to wash His feet. Jesus told Him that he didn’t understand what He was doing then, but the day would come when he would understand. And Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet.” Why?

Peter thought Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet to be beneath Jesus. After all, Peter had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The Son of God should not be washing the feet of His disciples, like a common servant. And under different circumstances, Peter’s recognition of the high rank of Jesus would be appropriate, but it wasn’t here.

It was as though President Obama came to worship this evening and suddenly got up and said he was going to wash our feet. Our response would likely be, “You will not wash my feet; the washing of feet is beneath the office of the President.” Those who hold the office of President are to be respected and held to a high standard; they are not expected to be doing the work of a common citizen.

But Jesus said, “If I do not wash your feet, you have not share with me.” In other words, only those who have been saved through the Sacrifice of Jesus are welcome and able to be forgiven of their daily sin and to progress in holiness. If Jesus did not wash Peter’s feet, it was a denial of Peter’s salvation through Jesus.

So, as Peter often did, he jumped to the other extreme, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and head ” And Jesus said, “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.” Peter thought that having his feet washed by Jesus would be an honor, but having his whole body washed by Jesus would be an even greater honor, so, he asked Jesus, if He was going to wash his feet, then wash all of him. But Peter missed the point of what Jesus was doing.

On the one hand, Jesus was washing their feet. It was customary that the host, or his servants, wash the feet of his guests. Remember, although people bathed in Jesus’ day, they wore sandals and walked on dirt roads, so their feet would have been filthy, despite their having bathed earlier. Jesus used this truth to tell Peter that, if he had bathed, he was clean except for his feet, so that’s all he needed to have washed. But as we have said, Jesus was talking about more than physical cleaning – he was talking about their spiritual state.

Being clean is having received salvation through Jesus Christ Alone, as Paul tells us, “[Jesus] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, ESV). Jesus told Peter that he was clean – Peter had received Salvation in Jesus Alone, his sins were forgiven, he was right with God, he had received the crediting of Jesus’ Righteousness. (And Jesus notes that one of them – Judas – was not clean – he had not received Salvation in Jesus Alone – he was the betrayer.) Yet, his feet needed to be cleaned. As Peter walked – we talk about our spiritual walk – Peter’s feet got dirty – he sinned, and though he was forgiven for his sins, he still needed to confess them, repent of them, and be washed clean by the Word of God.

So Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and asked them if they understood what He had done. He reminded them that they call Him “Lord” and “Teacher,” and Jesus said that He is both of those. As Lord, Jesus and His Word as to be obeyed, and, as Teacher, He is to be believed.

Since Jesus humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples (reflecting the image of His leaving Heaven and taking the form of a servant), Jesus said that His disciples ought to wash each other’s feet. Since Jesus had humbled Himself and given that example, His disciples ought to do likewise. And again, we do well to remember that Jesus does not merely mean the act of physically washing each other’s feet, but seeking out and repenting of the sin in our lives and being willing to seek the welfare of those for Whom Jesus died by loving them. Paul wrote, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV).

Are you clean this evening? Have you received Jesus Alone as your Savior? If you have believed in Him, you are clean, you are saved, your are justified, and right with God. If you have not, Jesus calls you to repent and believe – to forswear the filth that clings to you – and to become clean through His One and Final Sacrifice.

If you are clean, have you been washed? Have you confessed and repented of your sin this day? John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8, ESV). The band, the Call, has a lyric in their song, “Blood Red,” that goes like this, “He says, ‘we’ll walk in the front door, and proudly raise our heads,’ I said, ‘man, you must be joking, our hands are covered blood red! ”

If you are clean, if you are washed each day as you come before God in prayer, let the Love of Christ cause you to seek the welfare of all those for Whom Jesus died, both spiritually and for their daily needs.

Jesus had the horror of the cross before Him, the disappointment of Judas’ betrayal that very night, yet Jesus was focused on accomplishing His Father’s Will. He loved His people, and He showed us how to love in the image of submitting to the washing of the disciples’ feet.

As we join together with Jesus in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, let us pray to be like Him in loving all those He has called to be His Own.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, we thank You for the example of Your Love in the washing of the disciples’ feet. We thank You for reminding us that we continue to sin in this life and need to come back to You for washing every day. We ask that as we come together to hear the Word of God read and preached, and even through the bread and the cup, that we would receive Your Grace and learn to wash each other’s feet by loving each other as You loved us on that first Maundy Thursday night. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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