Lenten Midweek III
March 22, 2017
“Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice: Jesus: God’s Son and Your Servant”
Text: John 13:1-20; LSB 556:5-6
“His royal pow’r disguised he bore; A servant’s form, like mine, He wore To lead the devil captive” (LSB 556:6). No one expected it. No one expected that when God’s Messiah came to rescue His people from sin and death, He would come in lowly form, born of a poor girl from Nazareth of all places, the supposed son of a carpenter. No one expected Him to be born in backwater Bethlehem, in a cattle stall, no crib for a bed, but laid in a manger, the feeding trough for the barnyard animals. And certainly no one expected He would win His victory over Satan and the yawning jaws of hell by submitting Himself to their power, to the condemnation of sinners and the accursed death of the cross. God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. So when our Lord stoops down to wash His disciples’ feet, the proper work of a slave, the disciples, and Peter in particular, are greatly offended. “Lord, do you wash my feet? … You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:6, 8; ESV). “Lord, this is not the way Messiah is supposed to behave. No stooping. No serving. Be served! Sit back and relax! Let us do the work. There have to be some perks to this Savior gig. Let’s enjoy a nice Passover meal and then go blast those Romans to Kingdom Come by Your sheer glory!” Yes, that’s what we expect. Not a Savior who stoops, but a Savior who stupefies.
But that’s not Jesus. The Son of God would not have needed to become man to do that. That’s what a mostly hands-off god would do, a selfish and self-involved god, like the gods of the pagans and the false gods that reign in our hearts. But not a God of love. Not a God sincerely and intimately concerned with the plight of sinners. A man got us into this mess… “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added)… So death and sin must be undone by a man, and that man is the eternally-begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. “For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (v. 15). “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Jesus puts it this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is the God who loves you in such a way that He cannot leave you in sheer despair, death as your share, the pangs of hell to suffer, as we sang a couple weeks ago in Luther’s marvelous hymn. He cannot and He will not forsake you. Instead, He becomes one with you, bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh. And He takes your sin upon Himself and suffers your death and your hell, that you be free and live forever as children of God.
“God said to His beloved Son: ‘It’s time to have compassion’” (LSB 556:5). “When the fullness of time had come…” At just the right time, God sent His Son. “Then go, bright jewel of My crown And bring to all salvation.” Set them free from sin and sorrow. Slay bitter death by dying. Punch a hole through death’s stomach, that it may never hold my children again, that they may live with You forever. And that is what He does, our merciful Lord Jesus. He obeys His Father’s will. He is born of a virgin. He puts on our birthday suit, our flesh. And He does what we cannot do… fulfills God’s Law, perfectly, without error, without sin. This is His active righteousness. And He does what otherwise we would have to do. He suffers under Pontius Pilate, is crucified, dead and buried. This is His passive righteousness, His taking our punishment, thus atoning for our sins. He has to be one of us to do this. He has to be a man to be our substitute. And God cannot die. Unless God is a man. And He is. His Name is Jesus.
Yes, our God is a man. How humiliating. No wonder it was a stumbling block to Jews and utter foolishness to Greeks, and remains so for all the world to this very day. We call this our Lord’s state of humiliation, from His conception in the womb of Mary to His death and burial, when He does not always or fully use His divine powers. St. Paul puts it this way, probably quoting an early hymn: “though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). And so, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1), to the end of His life, to the end of Himself, to His utter humiliation, condemnation, and death. That’s a God who loves you. That is how your Savior wins the victory. And, of course, the hymn continues with the story of Easter and the Ascension: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). That last part, by the way, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” is the earliest Christian Creed. In Greek, it reads more like “Jesus Christ is Caesar,” words that will get you killed in the Roman Empire. This is what we call our Lord’s state of exaltation, from His bodily resurrection from the dead and into eternity, when He now always and fully uses His divine powers. The Father exalted Him. Because He submitted Himself to death and hell for you, to save you, thus accomplishing the Father’s will, His reward is resurrection from the dead… Not just His own on Easter morn, but yours on the Last Day. His reward is to reign at the right hand of the Father, not only as God (as He has from all eternity), but as man, in your flesh. And He is bringing you with Him! He wants you to reign with Him forever.
So now we live in the Great Meantime between our Lord’s saving work and that glorious Day when we will see Him as He is and reign with Him in our Father’s Kingdom. What are we to do? Jesus demonstrates it for us. We are to be servants of one another. We’re to do the work of slaves. Jesus was not commanding His Church to do foot washing from here on out, though that is certainly fine and good if you want to do it. The point is, humiliate yourself before your brothers and sisters. Serve them. Which is to say, love them. And at the proper time, God will exalt you. And them. And now, you do this as one who knows that your salvation is already completely accomplished by the Lord Jesus, apart from works, apart from service, apart from your love. You’re freed up to just go do it, in joy and thanksgiving, because that’s what Jesus does for you.
He came to be your Brother. In fact, wonder of wonders, He became your Servant. Think about that one. Almighty God stoops down to serve you. He washes you head to toe in Holy Baptism, washes all your sin and guilt away forever. That is why He tells Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). We might say, Jesus washes your feet in Holy Absolution, which is always a return to your Baptism. You’re already clean. You’ve already bathed. Now Jesus washes the dust and grime of daily life in this fallen world from your feet by forgiving your sins. He did it again tonight. He’ll do it your whole life long until you walk the streets of gold where there is no filth, no sin, no death. Jesus still washes your feet. He still serves you. He is still one with you. He loves you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.