Jesus the Servant

Sermon for Holy Thursday based on John 13:1-17

Dear people served by Jesus: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Simon Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” The very thought of having his Teacher and Lord humiliate Himself by washing his dirty feet was just too much for Peter. It would just be too embarrassing. Maybe the lowest of the low slaves could wash the feet of guests, but certainly not the host. Certainly the greatest Teacher to walk the earth, the Lord of creation, should not be washing the feet of His disciples. Really, it would have been embarrassing for the disciples if other people found out they followed a leader who humiliated Himself in such a way. It was a completely foreign thought that their Lord and Teacher would not seek prestige and honour from others, but would instead humble Himself and serve them in such meekness.

Really, what Peter needed was not just for Jesus to humble Himself like a lowly slave by kneeling before him and washing his feet. He needed Jesus to humble Himself even more than that. Peter needed Jesus to humble Himself by allowing Himself to be betrayed, mocked, whipped, beaten, and numbered with criminals. Peter needed Jesus to humble Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. All the world had that same need.

The washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus took place in the upper room the same day Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is another way in which Jesus humbly serves His people. Jesus gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. This gives us much more than clean feet as Jesus humbles Himself and serves us in meekness.

Jesus humbled Himself to be like a lamb led to the slaughter (Is. 53:7). Passover lambs without blemish or spot were chosen from the flock and slaughtered at twilight. Their flesh was roasted on fire and they were eaten rather humbly with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Their blood was put on the doorposts and the lintel to turn away the angel of death.

In similar fashion, the only man without blemish or spot, the sinless Son of God was chosen by God the Father to be slaughtered. His flesh was roasted in the fires of hell and is eaten rather humbly with bread and wine. Wherever we eat His body and drink His blood death’s dread angel sheaths his sword (cf. LSB 633 st. 3).

So do we respond like Peter and say, “Lord, do you give me Your body and blood to eat and drink?” Is the very thought that our Lord and Teacher would humiliate Himself by giving us His body and blood to drink too embarrassing? Certainly the Lord of creation should not humble Himself to the point of dying for us and giving us His body and blood to eat and drink. Is it such a foreign thought that our Lord and Teacher would not seek the prestige and honour of the world but would instead by humbling Himself serve us in such meekness?

Jesus responded to Peter by saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This wasn’t just about Peter refusing to have his feet washed. It was about Peter refusing to let Jesus serve him. It was about Peter thinking he knew better than Jesus how Jesus should serve him.

For us it is not just about refusing to eat a wafer of bread and take a sip of wine. It is about refusing to let Jesus serve us. It is about thinking that we know better than Jesus how He should serve us.

Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Peter is still thinking that he knows better than Jesus. “If you need to wash me so that I can have a share in You, then wash all of me, not just my feet – that’s not enough.”

Jesus answers Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except his feet, but is completely clean.” If you’ve bathed and then walk in your sandals on dusty streets to another house, you are still clean, except for your feet. You don’t need another bath; you just need your feet cleaned in order to be completely clean.

So it is for us. We should never say the Lord’s Supper is not enough. We should never say that we need more than the Lord’s Supper from Jesus. We’ve already been cleansed by the waters of Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism has washed us clean from all of our sin. We’ve been given faith through the Word of God. When we fall into sin, God does not take away the promises He made to us in Baptism. When we go out and walk in the streets of sin our feet get dirty, but God does not take His Word away from us. We need the forgiveness that Jesus gives in His Holy Supper to cleanse our sin.

Sometimes it may feel like it’s not enough. God’s Law convicts us of our sin. Our sins of thought, word, and deed haunt our consciences. Our feelings of guilt make us feel dirty and unclean.

But when we hear the words of Absolution that forgive us our sins and receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins, we are no longer dirty. We are completely clean. We don’t need to feel like we’re too wretched and sinful to have a share in Jesus. When you’ve been baptized and absolved, you’re not completely dirty even though you’ve again fallen into sin. You just need your feet washed, so to speak. You need to once again hear that your sins are forgiven. You need to once again receive the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

It may seem too little or too simple. We may ask, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’” (SC VI)

It’s so simple, because Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross for your sins. He’s already paid the price of your sins. You’re already baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, so regular forgiveness is as easy as coming to the Lord’s Altar. It’s simpler even than a foot washing. And the forgiveness given to you in the Lord’s Supper is complete. God doesn’t give partial forgiveness. Every time you receive Holy Communion you receive complete forgiveness of all your sins.

We daily sin much, so we daily need forgiveness. Jesus humbly serves us in His Holy Supper. Our Lord and Teacher desires to humbly serve you and give you the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (SC VI). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Lord’s Supper – A Matter of Life and Death

Sermon for Holy Thursday based on 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 11:17–32

Dear children of God who have come to be fed: grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of the sad realities of Christendom is that we do not all agree when it comes to the Sacrament of the Altar. Sometimes there seem to be as many views on the Lord’s Supper as there are church bodies. What if this issue could have been settled already in the Early Church, so that all Christians would be in agreement now? What would it have taken, so that everything that we need to know about the Lord’s Supper would be crystal clear, with no possible inaccuracies? What would have needed to happen so that there would be absolutely no doubts?

Well, first, we would want to have an eyewitness who was there when Christ instituted His Supper. But no, let’s say two eyewitnesses in order to establish the truth for legal purposes [Dt. 17:6, 19:5, Mt. 18:16]. Just for good measure, because of the weakness of our faith, let’s double the legal requirement and say that we would want four eyewitnesses that were present at the institution. Then let’s still multiply that by three and desire twelve eyewitnesses, of which at least four would give us, in writing, the truth of the Lord’s Supper. If the written reports of the four were not accurate, then the other eyewitnesses could respond and set the record straight.

Next, we would want the institution to take place in a somber setting – perhaps the day Jesus knew He would be arrested to be crucified. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables (Mt. 13:34) but to His disciples He taught plainly the secrets of the kingdom of God (Mt. 13:11), so we would want this institution away from the crowds, only with His disciples.

We would also want what Jesus said to be something that must be taken literally, such as a last will and testament, so there would be no doubt concerning the meaning of the words. The will would come into effect upon Christ’s death [Heb. 9:16 – 17], and would be binding and unchangeable, since no one can change or annul the will of someone after their death [Gal. 3:15].

Also, we would want Jesus to have used the simplest of words to ensure that they cannot be misunderstood. Maybe if He just said, “Take eat; this is my body [Mt. 26:26],” and “Drink… this is my blood [Mt. 26:27 – 28].” With this, He would make clear that it is His true body that is eaten and His true blood which is drunk in words so simple a child can understand them. And further, if He would connect this Supper to His covenant, which is a testament that cannot be broken or changed, and then say the reason for this covenant – “the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].”

And still, just for good measure for the doubters and those slow of heart to believe, if the apostle who wrote thirteen of the Epistles in the New Testament would have, after Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension, written confirming that this is how the disciples and the Early Church understood the words of Christ. And finally, if another New Testament author, perhaps the writer to the Hebrews, in connection to Christ being a guarantor of the better covenant, would write, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind [Heb. 7:21b – 22].” With all of this, what more could we ask for? How is it possible that it could have been made clearer?

I hope you are starting to see the picture here, that all of this is indeed true. We do have four eyewitness testimonies and Christ’s clearest of words regarding His Supper. Matthew, Peter [recorded in the Gospel written with Mark his interpreter], Luke, and John were all eyewitnesses of the institution, and they all write concerning the Lord’s Supper [even though John doesn’t specifically mention the institution]. This issue was settled by Christ, and the Early Church believed and held onto His words as demonstrated by St. Paul’s writings. Jesus says that it is His will or testament. No one can change or annul the will of someone after their death [Gal. 3:15]. There is no way anyone can change the Lord’s Supper into something Jesus did not institute. It is His true body and blood we receive.

Since we receive the true body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, how should we approach the altar? St Paul writes that we should examine ourselves and recognize the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament so that we do not eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-29). This is why we practice closed communion. We recognize what the Lord’s Supper is.

In a way, the Lord’s Supper can be compared to a powerful medicine. The pharmacist doesn’t just give it to anyone. If taken in the wrong way, the powerful medicine can harm the patient. If the patient doesn’t know what it is and pops it like he does tic-tacs, he will die. It is important that the illness is recognized, the medicine is prescribed, and then that the medicine is taken properly. No principled pharmacist gives out such a medicine willy-nilly to just anyone who shows up. But this isn’t because the pharmacist is on a power trip, but because he wants to protect those who do not know what they are receiving. He wants everyone to receive the medicine for their benefit, not their harm.

It is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to your harm. Those who are not repentant over their sins receive the body and blood of Christ unworthily. Those who do not recognize the real presence of Christ’s body and blood eat and drink to their judgment. This is not what we want for anyone. For those who are living in a sinful situation that is against God’s will, we want those people to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness instead of receiving the Lord’s Supper unworthily. For those who do not believe Jesus’ words “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, we want those people to be taught first what the Sacrament of the Altar is instead of eating and drinking to their judgment. Paul says that unworthy eating and drinking is why many of the Corinthians were weak and ill, and why some had died (1 Cor. 11:30). Unworthy eating and drinking is eternally serious.

Pastors are stewards of the mysteries of Christ, and it is required that we be found faithful [1 Cor. 4:1 – 2]. We want to ensure that no one eats and drinks to their judgment. But we cannot examine your hearts. This is why we have confirmation. You are taught the truth of God’s Word, and the truth of the Sacrament of the Altar. And then you confess whether or not you believe it. Based on your confession, you are admitted to the Lord’s Supper. This also puts the responsibility on you to examine yourself and what you believe. It puts the responsibility on you to examine yourself if you repent of your sins and seek to amend your sinful life with God’s help. It puts the responsibility on you to confess what you believe the Lord’s Supper is.

Even though it is possible to eat and drink unworthily, Christ did not institute the Supper to scare or frighten us. As He Himself said, He instituted it to give us forgiveness of sins. That is why we cling to the absolute certainty of the Sacrament that Jesus instituted and do not change what He has given us. We dare not change anything in His last will and testament. We dare not change anything or we will introduce uncertainty. We hold to what Jesus gave us so we have the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. We hold to what Jesus gave us so we have the certainty of eternal life, because the Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality.

How often do you want this medicine of immortality? How often do you want the forgiveness of sins? How often do you want the strengthening of your faith? We should desire it often. Jesus Himself said, “As often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

If you struggle with your sins; if you feel weak and in need of strength; if you’re tired of your battle with sin, then I have wonderful news for you: the Lord’s Supper is for you! Jesus gave us the Supper specifically to strengthen us in our faith and give us forgiveness of our sins. The Lord’s Supper is for the hungry soul; the soul that needs forgiveness; the soul that needs strength in the battle against sin. Jesus specifically said the purpose of the Supper – “the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].” In His Supper, Jesus personally distributes to you the forgiveness of sins He earned by His death on the cross. Jesus died for your sins on the cross, and He gives that forgiveness to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.

So let us cling to the clear words of Jesus concerning the Supper that He instituted and let us gather to receive the gift of forgiveness often. Jesus left us His last will and testament for our good. He instituted it to give us the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. So come receive what Jesus here gives you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.