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Maundy Thursday - The Miracle of Cleansing

April 21st 2011 by Joel Schultz

During the Lenten season we have been looking at the miracles St. Matthew records at the time of Jesus' death. This evening, we ponder a wider miracle that comes because of Jesus' passion... the miracle of cleansing.

Maundy Thursday – "The Miracle of Cleansing" – John 13:1-15 – April 21, 2011

When it comes to giving out gifts, we’re usually glad to be on the receiving end. Our hearts thrill to receive gifts at Christmas, on birthdays, and on anniversaries—or on no particular occasion at all.

Tonight, however, we see something different. Peter says to Jesus, in effect, “I don’t want your gift.” It was the Passover feast. The traditional foot washing was usually done by a servant, and when no servant was present, it was done by the humblest person in the group. Not one of the Twelve rises to perform this humble task. But Jesus does. Strangely, the disciples allow the master to wash their feet. Until Peter. We don’t know exactly what was in the heart and mind of Peter, but this is not how Peter thought it should be. “You shall never wash my feet” (v 8).

Do we say no to God’s gifts? Of course, when our sinful self is in control. We pray, “Thy will be done.” But a part of us wants to say, “My will, not thine, be done.” God promises strength and patience to bear up under sickness or some heavy burden. But that’s not what we want. We want immediate healing or deliverance.

We feel at home with some of our sins—how we speak to others, what we say about others, our goals that center on material things, the lusts and sinful desires of our heart. We don’t like to hear God say, “Repent!” That’s not what we want.

We may pray only now and then. Our devotional life may be on again, off again. We may absent ourselves from worship and the Sacrament and think nothing of it. Something is more important right now; we don’t need it right now; we don’t need it that much—these are all polite ways of saying, “God, I don’t want your gifts.”

Jesus answered Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v 8). To say no to God’s gifts is death. It’s having no share with Jesus, no share in His sacrifice for our sins, no share in His forgiveness – only the death of being apart from God.

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (v 8). Those words of Jesus now penetrate all the way to Peter’s heart. And he responds: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (v 9). Peter, the impetuous one, needs to be reigned in. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (v 10).

I believe that Peter now sees his total need for cleansing in the deepest core of his being, cleansing not merely of dirt from the body but of the filth of sin from the heart and soul. The foot washing was a symbol, only a picture of Jesus’ ultimate humility, His ultimate gift. Jesus humbles Himself to the death of the cross for Peter, for all the disciples, for us, to make us clean from all our sin. It is a miraculous cleansing that goes all the way to the heart.

The Twelve are eating the Passover with Jesus. But only Peter and Judas are mentioned by name. The contrast is sharp, between the disciple who is saved and the disciple who is lost. Judas, too, received the foot washing, but was cleansed only of the dust from his feet, not the soil on his soul. “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (v 2). He was untouched by Jesus’ deeper cleansing.

Here is the lesson for us. Don’t let the devil put into your heart a calloused attitude toward sin. How does the thinking go? “I am simply doing what everyone else is doing.” …. “My sin doesn’t matter – God forgives me.” …..“There’s no harm in it.” …..“It’s only now and then.” ….. “Nobody’s getting hurt.”

Judas started out with a little dishonesty. He dipped into the treasury. But his sin grew and grew—into betrayal, despair, and finally suicide. The thoughts, desires, words, and deeds of sin will form a callus over our heart. The progression of sin takes us farther and farther from God to a point where we no longer hear Jesus’ words: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” When that happens, we are untouched by Jesus’ deeper cleansing.

But, as repentant believers, we do have a share with Jesus through the cross. Later the next morning, He would go to the cross, where He would die for all sin. We’re included in that through His gifts of Word and Sacrament. Our Baptism is the divine washing that put us in union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God continuously gives, and that means we continually receive. Baptism’s washing never stops. It embodies the divine detergent of our Savior’s blood, which makes us clean from all our sins.

And the love that brought us to our Baptism keeps coming through His Word. What a great message we hear in His Word! “Look at Jesus. See your sins on him. See him on that cross for you. You are cleansed, forgiven, free from the guilt of your sin.” So Christ speaks to your heart through the gift of his Word.

This night, during the Passover meal, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of His body and blood. He is the Lamb prefigured in the Old Testament Passover. They ate the Passover lamb and painted the blood on their doorposts, and the angel of death passed over, leaving them untouched. We eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, and the angel of death passes over us, leaving us untouched. We receive Christ’s true body and blood as a pledge from God that our sins are forgiven.

And as that miracle of cleansing, through the Word and Sacraments, cleanses us again and again we in turn love and serve others. Listen to Jesus: “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’ ” (vv 12–15).

The foot washing is an example of Jesus’ humble and loving service to His disciples. It’s a call for us to a love that never stops, a love that doesn’t quit when it’s hard to love, a love that includes all—spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbors, friends, enemies, fellow Christians, pastors and other church workers and the lost. It’s compassionate, giving love that gives time, effort, and money. It’s tough love when saying no is the most loving thing you can do. Ultimately, john tells us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

What motivates us? Where do we get the strength? This miracle of cleansing that comes not through the washing of our feet, but through the Word of Christ, through washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism and through the eating and drinking of Christ own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. His gift of cleansing calls us to repentance, forgives us, and draws us to follow Him and love others as He did. Amen.


1 1:19 p.m. on September 17, 2014

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