The journey to the cross was a path of obedience. He listened to will of the Father in heaven and Jesus responded by lovingly walking the road set before Him. It was a path of miracles. Jesus broke through the rules of nature with His creative power and restored broken people. It was a path of truth. Jesus spoke unapologetically, confronting error and hubris which combined to enslave people in their guilt. It was a path of sacrifice. Again and again he gave up the honor and dignity of His heavenly home, for walking in the dirt and dust of human existence. But ultimately, this journey to the cross was a path of love.
Tonight is called “Maundy Thursday”. The phrase is one that we are not very familiar with in our church tradition. It is believed by some to come from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning “command.” It refers to the “new command” Jesus gave at the last supper.
I don’t know what you would say at your last supper. It might have more to do with reminiscing over the good times or even apologizing for the bad. For Jesus, it was a time to clarify all that had happened and why. And it was a time to point His disciples forward. This night would give them perspective on the last 3 years of ministry and direction for the hard time to come. This night would lay a foundation for Christianity for the next two millennia and more.
On that night, Jesus said, John 13:34-35 “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.”
New? This new command wasn’t new at all. In Leviticus 19:18, God told the Israelites to love their neighbor. This idea of loving others has always been part of God’s order because love has always been part of God. But here Jesus calls it “new.” “New” doesn’t always mean, previously unknown, or something that hasn’t existed before. But “new” can mean “of a new kind”, something that is different in some important respect.
Jesus’ new command to love was based on self-sacrifice. This is not a convenient love. It is love to another degree. It isn’t a love that meets obligation, it is a love which meets a need.
Jesus demonstrated this kind of love that night. As his disciples sat around the Passover table, no one had taken care of the menial task of cleaning feet. It was important, as their feet were at “table level.” No one met the need. The disciples were known to jockey for position around Jesus. They couldn’t lower themselves to be the servant. They wanted to be leaders, have influence and receive the blessing of their Messiah. Jesus did the unexpected and loving thing. He got up, took the basin and washed their feet.
John 13:1-17 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.a
2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 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.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his 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 I tell you the truth, 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.
There was a need. Love met the need. It gave up honor, place and privilege and met the need. That’s what love is. That’s what love does.
That night, before His death, Jesus knew of a greater need. And He gave himself to meet it. And that is why he warned his disciples, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me (John 16:16).”
Jesus knew where He was headed and why. He said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13).” He would lay down his life. His death would meet their need. His death on a rugged Roman cross would meet our need.
If His death did not meet our need, there was no love in it. If there was no love in it, it was a meaningless tragedy. But, how could death meet a need? We didn’t need a story; the world is filled with legends and myths. We didn’t need some image of hope in the midst of pain; there is always someone who is saved from the power of disaster. We didn’t need motivation; messages abound that will hype us up into action. We didn’t need a tragic hero to follow; good people and good examples surround us. We needed a Savior!
In looking down the long aisles of history and reading the pages of our lives, Jesus saw that we were a people separated from our God. We were a people who stood condemned, under His wrath and judgment. We had lived out our own stories with pride and self-sufficiency. We gave up submission for demanding-ness. We gave up righteousness for expediency. Again and again, we turned from the voice of the Spirit of God and followed the demands of our appetites. This was our need. This is what He was about to address.
That night, Jesus moved from washing feet to cleansing souls. He moved from addressing a social courtesy to satisfying a just demand. He moved from a taking up a towel to laying on and being nailed to a cross. He moved from suffering the indignity of serving to suffering as the object of wrath. Christ loved. Christ stepped up and into our need. He met our need. He met your need.
And like Peter, who said, “Lord, don’t do this for me…” had to let Him meet his need, we have to let Him meet our need.
In the sadness of his sacrifice, we have to let him meet our need. It is tempting to say, “Lord, not for me. I’ll work harder. Let me do it. There has to be a way that I can stand without your help.” But we know when we see the holiness of God that we cannot stand. Our good things are tainted, twisted and malformed. Our need is too great to overcome. The chasm is too wide and deep.
And so, in a realization of faith and desperation we cry out to receive what Christ has done. And in this, He and the angels find great joy. They celebrate the arrival of every one of us who has come to the end of our ropes and reached for His grace.
His journey to the cross is a journey of love. It was displayed in the washing of feet. It was explained in His words to His disciples. It was delivered in the work of the cross. And it is received by faith. And when received, our need is met; our pain relieved; our separation healed.