This was the message I gave for the Holy Week Services in Whitesburg, Kentucky, on April 1, 1999. The message was based on John 13: 1 – 17.
Today is April 1st, known throughout the world as April’s Fool Day. It is a day dedicated to playing practical jokes on people and just having fun; though I think that for many today, the events in Europe and the world are not much of a laughing matter.
The origin for this day is actually tied to our celebration of Easter. Because the Julian calendar caused problems with the celebration of Easter in the springtime, Pope Gregory determined to modify the calendar and bring Easter back in line into the spring. The calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is essentially the calendar we used today.
Prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the New Year was celebrated on April 1st. With the new calendar, several countries decided that it was better to celebrate the New Year on January 1st. But, like many things, there were still those who choose to celebrate the New Year on April 1st. Those who clung to the old celebration were called “April Fools” and sent fake party invitations and funny gifts by those who used the newer calendar.
But Jesus and his disciples were not celebrating April Fool’s Day this Thursday some 2000 years ago. They had gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover Feast, a far more serious event.
The Passover Feast was the celebration of the night the Angel of Death passed over Egypt, killing the first born of every living thing, and ultimately freeing the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. The Israelites who put the blood of a lamb on their door were spared this, the most devastating of the plagues.
“On that night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
This is the day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. (Exodus 12: 12 – 14)
But I think that the disciples must have thought that Jesus was pulling some type of joke on them when Jesus, as John wrote,
“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.”
After all, a Lord does not wash the feet of his servants. To some extent, that is why Peter at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet.
We probably would respond the same way were Jesus to appear before us and offer to perform this act of superb humility. I think that the most difficult think for us to accept, as it was for His disciples, is the idea that Jesus came to be our servant, that He would die to save us. Yet that is exactly why He came.
For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22: 27)
The washing of a guest’s feet was supposed to be done by the host’s servants, not the host, when the guest arrived. But for some reason, it was not done that way this evening. Whatever the reason, by performing the washing during the meal, Jesus sought to emphasize the point of humility and selfless service.
All through his work, Jesus emphasized that He had come to serve the people and that His disciples should do likewise. And while Peter’s rebuke shows that he understood the point of humility, for he (Peter) could not allow his Lord to wash his feet, it was also a matter of pride that he could not let Jesus perform this task.
Peter knew that he was a sinner and that he was not worthy of having his feet washed by Jesus. But, like all of us, his pride wanted to dictate what Jesus could do and could not do for him.
It is our pride that stands between Jesus and us. We, like the disciples that evening, have trouble understanding Jesus’ act of servitude. And like Peter, we put up barriers that keep Jesus from us. But, as Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” If we do not allow Jesus to be our servant, if we do not understand the sense of servitude and humility that was part of his message to us, we can never have Christ as our Savior.
On that first Passover, God protected those that He loved but they had to put the blood of a lamb on the door to their dwelling or they would be killed. When Jesus gave his life so that we could live, He did so out of His and His Father’s love for us. Yet, unless we allow Jesus to be our Savior, his sacrifice on the cross is meaningless. And if we pay no attention to what he said to the disciples that evening, “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them”; we will not have heard his message.
The message of loving one as Jesus loved us takes on a more serious meaning today as we hear of the tragedies taking place in Kosovo. How can we stand by and say it isn’t our problem or in our interest when Jesus died to save us when we hadn’t be born yet.
We might be like the disciples and think that Jesus was joking but we know that their attitude quickly changed as the events of that evening transpired.
If God loved us enough to send His Son to be our servant and Savior, can we, like Jesus asked his disciples, show that same type of love as we go into the world?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
His commandment that we love others as He loves us is very much true today. The events that occur in the world, both today and those that happened some 2000 years ago, are not a joke and the world is not laughing this morning. Jesus asked us to be servants to the world, to love others as He loved us. That is the challenge that we take into the world today.