A Place at the Table for You

John 13:1-30

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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.

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 had finished washing their feet, he 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. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’

19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas,the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Dear Friends in Christ,

As most of you know, whenever Marilyn and I go on vacation we typically head to the mountains.  Whether it’s the beautiful rolling hills of the Smokies of Tennessee or the high and lofty jagged ridges of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Montana, or Canada, the indescribable beauty of God’s creation is what keeps us coming back year after year.  But regardless of where we go, we always do our homework in advance.  That homework consists of researching the area and especially the trails that we hike so we can get the most out of our vacation experience.  Sometimes, however, our research proves to be a bit deceptive.  Kind of like what happened this past summer when we found one trail that we wanted to take in Glacier National Park called the Highline Trail.  Our book said it was one of the most popular trails in the park and we were really excited about doing it.  The book also happened to mention that there was one part of the trail toward the beginning where you’d have to navigate your way along a cliff that might require having to hold onto a cable that was hooked to the wall of the cliff, but it made it sound like it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  Well, guess what?  It ended up being a HUGE deal.  In fact, it ended up being a deal-breaker because when I reached that point and saw how high up and narrow the trail was and discovered that we’d have to be on that cliff for a good ¼ mile or so, my fear of heights took over and I told Marilyn there was no way I could do that.  Thankfully, she agreed so we turned around and gave up.

Well, this evening we begin a journey of sorts – a journey that is going to take us to what our theme is calling “Places of the Passion.”  It’s a journey that is going to take us to some of the key spots where Jesus found himself that night before he was to hang on a cross and die for the sins of the world.  We’ll be visiting a garden called Gethsemane where Jesus will struggle and ultimately come to terms with his mission and where he will also be betrayed into the hands of his enemies by one of his own disciples.  We’ll visit the courtyard at the high priest’s palace where Peter, another one of his disciples, will let Jesus down in a way Peter never dreamed possible.  We’ll sit in on the trials Jesus endured at the hands of the Jewish leaders and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  And tonight and another night we will visit an upper room in Jerusalem where Jesus will gather with his disciples to observe that centuries-old meal called the Passover, but where he will also institute a brand new meal that will supersede or take the place of the Passover.

So let’s get started, shall we?  Earlier that day that we now call Maundy Thursday, Jesus had instructed 2 of his disciples to go into Jerusalem and get the Passover ready so that he could observe it that night with all 12 of them.  And once they arrived in that upper room, there were so many things that happened, 3 of which I want to focus upon this evening.  For one thing, that room became a place of sinister darkness.  Luke tells us in his account of this event that sometime prior to this evening, the chief priests and teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus.  Then Luke writes: “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money.  He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”  Judas, the Satan-possessed disciple of Christ, was present in that upper room, knowing full well what he was going to do.  What he did not know, however, is that Jesus, being the all-knowing Son of God, also knew what Judas was going to do.  And when Jesus gave Judas permission to leave and do it, John writes these rather ominous sounding words: “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”

Night is a time of darkness, isn’t it?  And in this particular case it was especially a time of spiritual darkness.  For Judas was nothing less than a pawn in the hands of Satan, the prince of darkness.  He was the one who would get the ball of Jesus’ Passion rolling.  He’s the one who would topple the first domino that would begin the progressive toppling of all the others until the nails would be driven into Jesus’ hands and feet and the cross upon which he would die would be set in place on Calvary’s hill.

You know what this tells me?  It tells me that no one is exempt from the clutches of Satan.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the devil especially delights in attacking those who are closest to Jesus, just like he did with Judas.  I don’t know how many times over the course of my ministry I have heard of fellow pastors – what I would have called very good pastors – succumbing to those attacks when in moments of weakness they betrayed their marriage vows and had an affair that ultimately brought about not only the end of their marriage, but also the end of their ministry.  I have seen others succumb to the ravages of pornography.  While working on this sermon I came across the following information: “Nearly 20% of the calls received on Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care Line are for help with issues such as pornography and compulsive sexual behavior. And of the 1,351 pastors that Rick Warren’s website, Pastors.com, surveyed on porn use, 54% said they had viewed internet pornography within the last year and 30% of those had visited within the last 30 days.”  I have seen pastors succumb to discouragement, depression, and burnout.  On one survey I looked at pastors were asked: Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout?  77% said yes.  Which would explain another shocking percentage that came in response to this question: Have you ever considered leaving the ministry?  85% responded that they had.

Listen, my friends. Satan is not stupid.  He knows that if he can get to the shepherds, then the sheep are going to have no one to lead them and feed them.  He succeeded in doing that with Judas and his presence in that upper room transformed it into a place of sinister darkness.

But thankfully, it wasn’t totally dark there, which takes us to the 2nd point I want to look at this evening.  And that is that the upper room also became a place of engaging enlightenment. Luke tells us in his Gospel that during the course of the evening a dispute broke out among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest.  Now they had argued about this on several prior occasions and each time Jesus had severely reprimanded them for doing so.  Pride was to have no part and no place in his kingdom. So when it reared its ugly head again in the upper room, Jesus gave his disciples an unforgettable lesson in humility and service.  He, the Master and leader of the group, enlightened them in a most engaging way.  He took a basin of water and a towel and proceeded to kneel before each one of them, including even Judas, and wash their dirty, smelly feet.

When he was finished, he said: “”Do you understand what I have done for you?” … “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

May I ask you, my friends, whose feet have you washed lately?  What person or persons in your life could you be a servant to right now?  Perhaps it’s an elderly parent who has dementia, who maybe doesn’t even remember who you are anymore or much of anything else for that matter.  Maybe it’s your spouse who’s been under a lot of stress at work lately and is feeling smothered by all that they have to do not only at their job but around the house.  Maybe it’s a fellow employee who hasn’t been very kind to you and whom you’ve grown to resent and avoid.  Perhaps it’s time to rethink that approach and instead follow the words of Paul in Rom. 12 where he says countercultural things like: “Bless those who persecute you…Do not repay anyone evil for evil… live at peace with everyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  My, but those are some countercultural statements, aren’t they?  But you know what?  When you look at Jesus’ life, he was pretty countercultural, wasn’t he?  And there are times when we need to be too, if indeed we are going to reflect the humble, servant-like spirit of our Master.

That takes us to one more thing that I want to point out this evening and that is that the upper room where Jesus met with his disciples became a place of grace and giving.  As Jesus led them through the traditional Passover meal, he changed things up.  Taking some of the unleavened bread, he broke it for the purpose of distribution and said to his disciples: “Take and eat; this is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Then after the supper that was held at every Passover observance he took a cup of wine that was called the Cup of Redemption and he said: “Take and drink; this is my blood of the new covenant that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

In essence, Jesus gave his disciples the gift of himself…his very own body and blood…and along with that he also gave them grace – his undeserved kindness and love, his unmerited favor and forgiveness.  And he continues to do that still today.  Whenever his people gather around his Holy Supper, he joins himself to the bread and wine in such an intimate way, a way that can only be described as nothing short of miraculous, and we receive into our bodies his very essence along with the very personal assurance of his love and forgiveness.  In fact, whenever I receive the Lord’s Supper I try to have a mental image of Jesus hanging on the cross and looking down at me and only me, as if I’m the only person there.  And he’s saying:  “Doug, this is how much I love you.  I love you so much that if you were the only person alive on this earth when I was here, I still would have gone to the cross for you.  I still would have died just for you.”  And no matter what you have done in your life, my friends, no matter what sins you may have committed, when you come to this sacred meal with a humble spirit and a repentant heart, meaning that you’re not just sorry for your sins but you’re willing to give up those sins and turn away from them, the amazing grace and goodness of Christ is waiting for you here.  And you can leave that table with a little spring in your step and a lighter load on your back knowing that the One who would rather die for you than spend eternity without you has just given you himself and all the blessings he earned for you through his life, his death, and his resurrection.

So let our Lenten journey begin.  We’ve launched it from the upper room which we’ve found this evening to be a place of sinister darkness, a place of engaging enlightenment, and a place of grace and giving.  But we’ve got a lot more places to visit and a lot more lessons to learn.  I pray that you will make every effort to be here for these special times of worship each week and that our gracious God will use them to draw us closer to him and to help us appreciate more than ever the selfless and matchless sacrifice that our Savior made for unworthy, undeserving sinners like you and me.