Grace to you and peace from God the Father and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
These sentences are the reason today is called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin mandatum, from where we get the English word mandate or command. Jesus leaves no wiggle room in how we are called to act as His disciples. He leaves no doubt as to how we are to treat one another: Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. Period. Mic drop. There is nothing more to say.
And there would be nothing more to say if, and it is a big if, we actually followed what Jesus said. There would be nothing more to say if, following the example of Jesus we spent all of our time in our church and in the world loving one another. There would be nothing more to say if people walked into our churches on a regular basis and were blown away at how we acted toward each other. There would be nothing more to say if those who are outside the church looked at us and said, “Those Christians are not like anyone else. They are different through and through. They don’t argue. They only disagree. They never gossip about one another, they only talk respectfully about one another. They never assign ulterior motives to anyone, they put the best possible spin on each other’s actions. They don’t point fingers and blame, they forgive and work toward common goals. Their community is unlike any other community. They are different. They truly love one another.”
You know as well as I do, that those outside the church do not say that about us. You know as well as I do that folks say almost the exact opposite. “I don’t go to church because it is full of hypocrites.” “The church is just like any other organization–they fight, they argue, they want money, they want time. There’s nothing different about them!” Sam Harris, a prominent atheist writer penned these words, “Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.” These are all observations you probably have heard–at least you should have heard if you do not wear rose colored glasses in regards to the church. If our governing command given by Jesus Himself is, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another,” then we have failed.
And it is not really a surprise. Our hearts are not geared to love as Jesus loved. What do I mean by that? Close your eyes and take a look around the room where Jesus and His disciples are eating the Passover meal. Look at Judas who will betray Jesus into the hands of the Jewish Sanhedrin and then Rome. Look at Peter who will deny Jesus three times. Look at James and John who will fall asleep when Jesus asked them to stay awake and pray. Look at all the other disciples who will turn and run when Jesus is arrested, leaving Jesus to stand alone to face the coming ordeal. Look at all of those faces who betrayed, denied, disobeyed, and ran. And pretend that you knew they would do the same to you. Pretend like they would abandon you, deny you, betray you, disobey you. Would you still wash their feet? Would you still serve them? Would you still love them? Even though you know, you absolutely know that Jesus told you to love them, would you love them? Would you be willing to die for them?
I think it would behoove us to be honest with ourselves. No. We wouldn’t. We wouldn’t want to love them. We wouldn’t want to serve them. We wouldn’t want to wash their feet. These people would be hurting us deeply. They would be dishonoring us. They would be causing us emotional pain, and our hearts would not want anything to do with them.
The great George Strait once sang a song that applies here, “You can’t make a heart love somebody. You can tell it what to do, but it won't listen at all. You can't make a heart love somebody. You can lead a heart to love. But you can't make it fall.”
Why do we know that we are supposed to love one another but fail to do so? Why do we fully acknowledge that Jesus is a perfect example and yet fail to imitate Him? Our hearts aren’t like Jesus. We are not like Jesus.
You see, in reality, we are much more like Peter. No, I am not going to go through all the details of Peter’s three years with Jesus here. I am simply going to focus on what Peter does in this text that is before us this evening. Jesus is being Jesus. Jesus is putting this love one another thing into practice. He is humbling Himself and doing something no respectable Rabbi would ever, ever do. No rabbi would wash his disciples’ feet. No. The reverse ALWAYS took place. Always. But in the kingdom of God, the greatest is the least, and the least is the greatest. This reversal is too much for Peter to handle.
Peter looks at Jesus and says, “You will never wash my feet.”
Peter knows this is not the way the world works. Peter knows that what Jesus is doing is so contrary to everything he has ever known. Peter knows that the powerful are served by the powerless. Peter knows it was his job to wash Jesus’ feet and not the other way around. Peter has a problem with grace. For grace turns the world upside down and gives honor, love, and respect when it is not earned. Grace gives love, honor, and respect when it is undeserved. Peter knew he didn’t deserve what Jesus was doing. Peter knew that he had done nothing that would warrant Jesus’ washing his feet, and so Peter rejected what Jesus was doing.
I told you earlier, we are like Peter. For the most part, Christians have a problem with grace as well. We have a problem with Christ washing us. We have a problem with Christ dying for us and saving us on His own merit–with nothing added on our part. Let me rephrase that: we have a problem believing that there is nothing we have to do to be saved. We want to add qualifiers to grace. Sure, Jesus died for us, but there is still stuff we have to do for our salvation. Jesus forgave our sins, but if we don’t live a holy life, we won’t get to heaven.
The reason we think such things is because it gives us a sense of control. If it’s all up to Jesus, then everything is out of our hands. Everything. Everything rests on Jesus and what He has already accomplished, and so we place our trust in Him–not in ourselves; not in our ability; not in our accomplishments; not in how good we were; not in how much money we’ve given away; not in how well we’ve treated others. It all rests on Him, and for those of us who like control, this is very, very disconcerting. I have no control over whether or not I get to heaven. It’s out of my hands. And face it, we don’t generally like depending on others when it comes to the most important things in our lives. We want to do things ourselves.
Jesus’ response to this is not compassionate. It’s harsh. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done.’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’” If you didn’t quite get that, let me break it down. There are those people who come before God and submit to God’s will. They bow at their Maker’s feet and say, “God, I submit to you and what you have done, are doing, and will do. I give my life to you and willingly serve you. Speak for your servant is listening.” These are the folks who understand grace and know that there is nothing God cannot ask of them. And then there are those who God looks at and says, “You are only interested in serving yourself. You are only interested in getting the things that you want. You are only interested in preserving yourself, your wants, your desires, and I will let you pursue them. I will give you up to your desire and your selfishness. Go on your way.” You see, God loves us enough to let us go. He loves us enough to let us pursue our deepest heart’s desire–even if that leads us away from Him. Jesus tells that to Peter. If you want to do things on your own; if you don’t want me to serve you and wash you, you will end up on your own. You will end up separated from me because you are acting selfishly. You are free to go on your own, but there are consequences.”
Peter’s response shows that he still doesn’t get Jesus. He still doesn’t get grace. Peter is still self-centered. Peter says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” If a little bit is good, a lot must be better! Give me more, and more and more!! How many stories have we heard like this? Peter’s response is like the lady who asked her husband to wash the clothes while she went to the grocery store. She came back home to find half of the house covered with soap suds. “What did you do?” she demanded. Her husband replied, “Well, I read the directions on the soap. It said one cup will get your clothes clean. But my work clothes were extremely dirty. I figured that if one cup was good for regular clothes, then ten cups would be better in getting my clothes clean.” The results were actually disastrous!!
Ah, but in Peter’s case, the disaster is actually related to his soul. “Jesus, I want more of a share with you!! If by washing my feat, I get a share, then wash my head and my hands and I will have an even bigger portion!” You see, Peter was still under the impression that Jesus was going to be the ruler of Israel. Peter thought Jesus was going to establish an earthly kingdom, and Peter wanted more of it. He wanted a bigger share in that kingdom. He wanted more power and prestige. Oh how we fall into that trap as well. Jesus, I will believe in you because I want what you can offer. I will believe in you, Jesus because I know you can give me my deepest heart’s desire. I know you can give me wealth, status, and privilege. Jesus, I know you can give me health and make all my family healthy. Jesus, I know you can give me the perfect life, and I know that if I pray enough, believe enough, give enough; if I promise to use what you give me wisely, then you will give it all to me. Wash me through and through so that I can benefit!
Peter’s selfishness is shining through. It’s a testament to the fact that even though a person walks with Jesus on a daily basis for years, listening to Him, eating with Him, watching Him perform miracles, and the like, one can still have a selfish heart. And that is the reason our churches are no different than any other organization. That is the reason we do not follow the command to love one another as Christ loved us. Our hearts are still selfish. And simply telling people to love one another isn’t going to work. “You can lead a heart to love, but you can’t make it fall!”
And so, our hearts are in need of change. Our hearts are in need of a fix so that we stop focusing on ourselves and our wants and our desires and what we can get. Our hearts need transformation.
“Just as I have loved you...”
That phrase sticks out. Because Jesus washing the disciples’ feet tonight is not His ultimate act of love. Jesus’ ultimate act of love is an act that melts the most hardened heart. Jesus’ ultimate act of love is an act of selflessness that when contemplated leads a person away from himself or herself and toward God. Jesus’ ultimate act of love comes as He opens His arms on Golgotha, looks at those who are crucifying Him–looks at you and at me–and says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And then He faces the wrath of God on our behalf–faces the punishment for our sins–dies in our place so that we might have eternal life.
When you love someone and pour out yourself for them, sacrifice for them, and show them undeserved love, it melts that other person’s heart. It changes them because they want to love you in return. Some of you have known such love. Some of you may still be searching for it. Look no further than the cross. Look no further than the one who pours out His life for you. Look no further than Jesus, the God who came to earth because He wants to live with you for eternity. Through Him you were created, and through Him you are redeemed and made a part of the family of God. And through Him you find boldness, and strength, and a deep desire to love like He loved. And this is how His commandment to us will be fulfilled. We will begin to love one another as He loved us when we come to see what He has done for us; when we can see what He has done on the cross; when we can see His wondrous love. Amen.