February 25, 2004: Ash Wednesday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, tonight as we begin our journey to Your cross, we’re reminded of the singular purpose of Your love for us—to save our souls through a life of humble service. When we think of Your passion may we always recall that Your Christian service saved our souls, and that through our Christian service Your light continues to shine. Amen

TEXT: John 13: 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.”

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Tonight we begin Lent. This is a time set aside for God’s people to prepare themselves for Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. And one of the best ways to prepare for something is to ask questions. SAT questions prepare young people for college. Driver’s license questions prepare people for getting behind the wheel. Pastors prepare young people for meaningful a communion by confirmation questions. Questions are part of our everyday life.

During this Passion season, we will employ various questions to prepare your hearts to meet Him in righteousness and holiness. And the first question is: Do You Understand What I Have Done For You?


Jesus asked this question of the disciples in the Upper Room after washing their dirty feet. St. John says this of that moment in his gospel account: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” He showed it by practicing condescending love. He took on a job that only the household slaves did. He got up from the table, stripped off his outer robe, wrapped a towel around himself, poured water in a basin, and commenced to washing their very dirty feet. God’s Son did this! God Almighty did this! And by so doing, he was teaching them that nothing was beneath God when it came to saving our souls.

Simon Peter was appalled by all this. He protested vehemently. And yet, this washing was important because it was an action prophecy, an external action by which Christ revealed a greater truth: namely, He came to make them clean not only externally, but internally. For just as external dirt separates us from the spotless purity of God, so internal dirt, sin, separates us from oneness with Him, too.

The second washing which this action prophecy conveyed required a far deeper humiliation than merely stooping down to wash dusty, sweaty feet. In order to wash the souls of His disciples, Jesus had to bleed and die on the altar of the cross as a complete and total sacrifice for sin. St. Paul sums up this awesome and loving work of God in Philippians 2 when he writes: “Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” That fact is what Jesus wanted His disciples to comprehend—that soon He would suffer and die to cleanse them from all guilt and shame before God.

So, now Jesus asks each of us. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” For unless we grasp the deeper spiritual meaning of the foot washing by Christ, we really don’t understand anything. Unless we understand the foot washing, we don’t “get” the cross, the blood, the nails, the bloody death on the cross. But, if we do grasp His love here, kneeling before the disciples, and us by extension, then through the Spirit’s power we begin to see and understand the true nature of His humble, condescending love. We begin to see that “by His wounds we are healed.”


How did this foot washing come about on Maundy Thursday? Well, the disciples were sitting around the table, ready to celebrate the final Passover, and a dispute broke out among them as to “who is the greatest?” We don’t know what caused this dispute. Perhaps someone didn’t like the seating arrangement. Maybe it had to do with the very task of foot washing, that is, since no slave was there to do it, and they all realized it needed to be done, they were quarreling over who drew the “short straw” and would have to engage in this humble task. In any case, Jesus stops their quarrel in its tracks by washing their feet! And then His question comes. A question which shows to them the true meaning of sacrifice and Godly service.

Now the Savior looks at our lives and asks us: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Are you humble? Are you willing to engage in self-sacrificing love? We often forget that true greatness in God’s sight comes from humble service, not from having others serve us. So, the Savior looks at how we live. We sees children who sit around wondering why their parents don’t do more things for them and don’t buy them more stuff, instead of children who help, do chores, and clean their rooms. And He asks them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”

Jesus sees moms and dads more interested in their careers than having to do the unglamorous task of raising, training, and even disciplining their kids. He sees husbands who wish their wives would do more for them and who quarrel about whose goals and ambitions are more important. He sees congregation members who wonder why their church doesn’t do more for them and offer more programs, but who are unwilling to jump in and do the heavy lifting which always comes with true service. To each of us, He asks: “Do you understand what I have done for you?”

Do our lives constantly reflect humble, loving, sacrificial service? No. We aren’t naturally inclined to mimic Christ. Instead, we usually mimic the disciples, don’t we? And yet, to them and to us, the Savior comes! He comes not only holding up an example for us to follow, but more importantly, He comes to do, to save, to give to us Godly service, His service, which covers over all our sins. And now that you have come to know that, now that you have grasped the meaning and truth of His question: “Do you understand what I have done for you?”—Let that same kind of love guide and uplift you. For it is love for hurting souls and showing such love that truly is the most excellent way! Amen