Of all the stories in the New Testament, perhaps none is no more interesting than that of the Last Supper in the Upper Room. If we did not know better, one would think that this was something out of one of today's newspaper headlines or that is was a movie-of-the-week.
The events that correspond to this day of days are equally as intriguing. Just days from death, Jesus decides it's time to have one final meal with those who had been following Him and learning from His teachings. This was the opportunity to Jesus to give his final commandments and final instructions before He began His journey to return to the Father and to fulfill the promises that had been made.
Before we get into our text, let us first examine the significance of the Last Supper.
It was just before the time of the Passover feast. The feast represents the rescue and deliverance of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. When it was instituted, the Israelites were directed to take a male lamb without blemish, one year old, and kill it on the 14th day of the first month. This was to be done during the evening, and the lamb was to have it's blood sprinkled with a branch of hyssop on the twp side posts and lintel of the door of the Hebrew houses. This was done so that when the Lord passed through Egypt on the night of Passover, He would see the blood on the door post, and would spare the first born child of that house.
Now since the time of the life, death and resurrection, this Jewish festival does not hold the exact same significance that it once does. In the Christian circles, the Passover feast has been replace with celebrations of our risen Lord and Savior. But the Passover feast is still an important part of our history as Christians, because this was the last meal that Jesus partook of.
And with many of the old Jewish traditions, this practice has now taken over a heavy symbolic overtone.
The actual dinner Passover dinner was called a SEDER, which affords to us the opportunity to recall the dramatic and miraculous events which led to the exodus from a land of slavery. The Bible declares to us "And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying, It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt." But this, the Bible tells us that you and old should gather on the even of the Passover, in order that we might relate to the children and to all this chapter in the history of our people.
Included in the Passover Feast are the following items, which we should take a brief look at. We have the MATZOS or unleavened bread, the ROASTED SHANKBONE or slain lamb, the ROASTED EGG, the MAROR or bitter herb's, the HYSSOP PLANT and the KARPAS or green vegetable.
The MATZOS or unleavened bread represents to us the separation of the Israelites from Egypt and their hurried departure. This came about because during the time of the exodus, the Israelites did not have time to wait for the bread to rise in the over, so the removed it, hot and flat, and that is what they ate.
The ROASTED SHANKBONE or slain lamb represents to us the Paschal Lamb, a special animal sacrifice which our ancestors offered on the altar of the great Temple in Jerusalem on the Passover Holiday. It also symbolic of the LAMB OF GOD, which is Jesus. And just as the blood of the lamb was spilled to protect the first born children of the Israelites, so was Jesus' blood spilled to protect us all.
The ROASTED EGG represents to us a second offering that was brought to the Temple on Passover. It was known then as a festival offering, becoming a symbol of the triumph of life over death. Once again, like the ROASTED EGG, Jesus is the living embodiment of a victory over death, for as He foretold, He would be raised on the 3rd day.
The MAROR or bitter herbs reminds us of the bitterness of slavery under Pharaoh, and the unpleasantness which our forefathers and foremothers had to endure.
The HYSSOP PLANT was very common during the times in which we speak about. However, it is this common plant which signified faith, faith that the Lord would indeed spare their child and their house from any hurt harm or danger. By using the plant to apply the blood of the lamb to the door posts, we in like manner apply the blood of Christ to our hearts, that we also might be protected in similar form and fashion.
And finally, the KARPAS or green vegetable reminds us of the coming of spring, the green giving us hope and renewal, reminds us that not only to things change, but they also get better. Let us not forget that in addition to Passover being a spiritual festival, it was also a agricultural festival, a chance for the Israelites to give thanks for the rich bounties of the Earth.
It was customary during the Passover feast, or the SEDER for the family to gather around the table, giving thanks for what the Lord had given them. It was customary for all of the food to be eaten at one sitting, none to be carried outdoors.
In like manner, when we celebrate this feast, as we do tonight and as we do every first Sunday of every month, we too take time to be thankful and prayerful for the sacrifice that was made for us, long, long before any of us were born. It is a time to take to heart, through these symbolic actions, and internalize that which was done so that we might be saved and have ever lasting life.
Now, getting back to the text, the time had come for the feast, and Jesus gathered his disciples, and went and had a room secured for this feast. And although Jesus belonged to the world, as He had come to save the world, He used this time, in his final hours to talk with and fellowship with His disciples.
Just before they all began to eat, Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe and tied a towel around his waist. He then knelt before his disciples and began to wash their feet. Now, let this point not go unnoticed, because kneeling for someone is considered one of the truest forms of humility and submission. By bowing before someone and getting on your knees, you are suggesting that the person sitting or standing before you is greater than you. Hence the reason we come to the altar and get on our knees to pray.
So when Jesus, who was the Messiah, who was the Teacher and the Lord of the 12 that were gathered, got on his knees to wash the disciples feet, the disciples were astonished. This is reflected in the words of Simon Peter, who suggested that the Lord would never wash his feet. But Jesus told him in no uncertain terms that this was something that had to be done.
Now, let us also briefly consider this issue of washing of the feet. During that time, there were no paved roads, only rocks and gravels. During that time, they also did not wear shoes as we did, having to make do with only sandals. And if you have ever walked on a gravely road with sandals on, you know how uncomfortable that can be, with the rocks and the like coming in and out of the sandals at will. Also, you get an idea that your feet can get pretty dirty. Think about the fact that after a hard day of work, when you get home and relax, what is one of the first things that you do? You take off your shoes, and socks if you wear them. You give your feet a chance to breathe, a chance to remove the stress and strain on your feet.
And while modern day movies and book have made the notion of washing someone's feet somewhat romantic and eccentric, it is really not a pleasant job. What if you went to work tomorrow and your boss told you that in addition to all of your other duties, you now had to wash his feet each morning when you came to work? You'd think they were crazy for suggesting such a menial task for someone like you. You may even suggest that such an act was beneath you.
But Jesus, being the humble man that He was, got right down there and washed the dirty and tired feet of His disciples. Now after the protest by Peter, it is then said that one needs to have their heads and hands washed as well. Jesus then goes on to tell the disciples that if they have already bathed, then all they need is their feet washed, but that almost all of them were clean, referring to Judas as the one who was unclean for his act of betrayal.
Then Jesus continues to teach them, asking them if they could appreciate the significance of them washing their feet. And like all of the other items that I mentioned at the beginning of this message, it was a symbolic gesture. A symbolic gesture of humility and servitude. For while Jesus was the Son of God, the King of the Jews, He also said many times that he was the Son of Man. And that night, before they ate, before Jesus handed down his new commandment, the Son of God, who was also the Son of Man, washed feet.
The washing of the feet was symbolic in what Jesus said next. "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. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him."
By washing each others feet, we experience a humility that Jesus portrayed that night. The humility of a man, who was in a constant act of giving. After all, if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, as Jesus knew, wouldn't you want someone to do something for you? Wouldn't you want to be pampered and praised and babied, knowing that you had a limited time on earth?
But the Son of God, the savior of mankind did not do that. Instead he got on his knees and performed an act of servitude. At that moment the roles had become reversed. The Master and become a servant, and the servants had become symbolic masters.
Which is why the words that Jesus spoke at the end of the text taken on an even greater significance. Jesus' life was full of servitude, serving the one true Master, the Father in Heaven. Jesus was a trained carpenter, who built and fixed things for people. Jesus walked the earth, not as a king as he was so right to do so, but as a meek man, with a message. A message of salvation. A message of hope. A message of faith. And a message of love.
For by washing the feet of the very people he had come to serve, he was saying that he was willing to share a part of his humanity, to serve those who should be serving him, that he was willing to submit himself to the ultimate authority. God. Because as Jesus said, no servant is greater than the master, and no messenger is greater than He who sent him.
So Jesus was sent by God to do the Father's work. He was sent down to be sacrificed like a lamb. He was allowing his blood to be spilled, like the blood of the lamb. He allowing himself to be used as an instrument of faith and hope and salvation. He became the ultimate triumph of life over death, by getting up on the cross, allowing himself to be killed and rising on the 3rd day afterwards. He became an example that even through you or your ancestors were once slaves, that you can overcome that bitter experience by following his commandments. He also serves to represent renewal. A renewal of mind, body and spirit. That through him, all things are made new again, all things are changed, and that all things are possible.
So this evening I suggest to you that it is time to reverse the roles. It's time to stop thinking of ourselves as Masters and become more like the servant Jesus. It's time to stop thinking we are too good to wash our brothers and our sisters feet. That kneeling before someone is a crime. It is through such examples of humility that we are able to get closer to Christ. To let him come into our lives and renew us and change us. That we get in closer touch with the Lord, letting him touch us and motivate us to become living symbols ourselves. Symbols of faith, of joy, of hope, of love. Symbols that others will see and be able to draw closer to God themselves.
Yes, it is time to reverse the roles. None of us are greater than our Master. None of us are greater than He who teaches us. And none of us are greater than He who sends us. For we are all messengers and we are all servants. And this night of all night, we are reminded of the humility that is possessed by one who came to save us all.
So this night, bow down to wash someone's feet. You don't have to do it literally, but do it in the spirit in which it was done by Jesus. Submit yourself as a servant of the Lord. Submit yourself as a servant of Man. There is no harm or shame in doing it. After all, Jesus did it for you. He got on the cross and submitted himself as a living sacrifice for you. The least we can do, is submit ourselves to Him.
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(Charles E. Smoot © 2000-2009, all rights reserved)