If you knew you had one more night to live, what would you do? What would you eat? Who would you choose to be with?
I find it fascinating that in Jesus’s final hours before the cross, he thinks not about realising his dying wishes or ticking off his bucket list, but about preparing his disciples for what is ahead. Knowing his betrayal, arrest, trial, and execution are imminent, Jesus is determined to show them "the full extent of his love" (John 13:1).
As they ate the Passover Feast together in an Upper Room in Jerusalem—joining with countless thousands of Jews throughout history remembering God’s Great Rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt—Jesus did something shocking to show them his love.
Jesus took a servant’s towel around his waist, poured water into a bucket, and began to wash their feet(!!!).
We need to realise how shocking this would have been for Jesus’s disciples.
First, feet were disgusting, picking up all the filth and faeces from Jerusalem’s streets in an ancient society before modern sanitation and sewage.
Second, in a hierarchical society, servants were worthless. It is doubly shocking for Jesus their Master to take the lowest position in society and do their most menial and degrading task.
Of course the disciples object. Peter says, “You shall never wash my feet!”
This was not their picture of greatness. In their mind, Jesus should be ascending to the throne of Israel to bring the Kingdom of God with power.
But this is not the way of Jesus. Jesus’s idea of greatness is not ascending the ladder of power, but descending to use his power for the good of others. He takes the lowly position of a servant to wash his disciples’ feet, and in doing so gives us a picture of what his death will accomplish for us.
Just as the water washes away the filth of the Jerusalem streets from their feet, his blood will wash us clean. All our shame, all our guilt, all our sin, all our filth is washed away by the blood of his cross, and we are made perfectly and permanently clean in God’s sight.
The beautiful message of Easter is that we don’t need to clean ourselves up to come to God. Jesus loves us when we’re at our worst, in our filth, in our mess, and he demonstrates his love by willingly dying to make us clean. How great is God’s love and mercy towards us!
And having received such a great love, it now overflows in our lives.
Jesus says "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15) He gives us a new commandment, to "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, we are to "encounter one another as God has encountered us in Christ".