(Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
(watch here: https://youtu.be/A_9M_NnG_1c)
13Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table,* took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,* but is entirely clean. And you* are clean, though not all of you.’ 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants* are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him,* God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
What makes a gift so good? Think about all the gifts you’ve received over the years. No doubt there are more than you could ever possibly recall. None of us fully understands the full extent of the gifts we received throughout our lifetimes. We just don’t fully know how much was given to us! And I’m not talking about all the gifts you received before you even understood what the word ‘gift’ meant. I’m talking about all those gifts you received knowing full well that you did nothing to earn them; all those gifts that were given without anything expected in return. You were simply given those gifts because of who you were as a beloved child or spouse or grandchild or friend or lover or advisor or parent or employee or sibling or any other beloved relationship. You were loved by someone who felt compelled to give you something to reflect that love. Now reflect on some of those wonderful gifts and on what made them so special for you. Was it the dollar amount of the gift that made it so special? Was it the uniqueness of the gift that made it so special? How about the size—was bigger better? Was it the person who gave it to you that made it so special? Some people love us more than others. We naturally attribute their love with the gift. A gift from your mom is often considered better than a gift from a friend or co-worker simply because it came from someone who loves you more. But getting back to question—what makes a gift so good? Was it all the thought that went into picking it out and specially tailoring it to your unique personality that made it so special? Indeed, there are many qualities of gifts that make them so special, so good. And it’s typically a combination of qualities that make for a good gift. It’s hard to attribute a single quality of a gift to how good it is. And the quality changes from gift to gift. A small gift might be better than a big gift sometimes. A cheap gift might be better than an expensive one. A gift from a friend might be better than a gift from a parent. So what makes a gift good?
Well, I’ve been asking myself this very question a lot this week, particularly as it applies to what our Lord and Savior did for us so long ago. What Jesus did for us…what Jesus endured for us…what Jesus overcame for us is perhaps the greatest gift we could ever possibly receive! And I say ‘perhaps’ because I believe God’s full glory will again be revealed to us someday. Yes, Christ is alive and well in our world today but his full glory has yet to be revealed. There will come a day when God’s mighty and majestic glory will once again be revealed to us and the world will forever be changed. But what has already been revealed to us through Jesus is the greatest gift of all! Our God is an awesome God! Our God gives like no other God! Our God gives and gives and gives some more! Jesus himself gave like no one else gives. Jesus gave his life for you and me. And Jesus gave his life so that we no longer have to fear God and God’s wrath. Jesus gave his life so that we no longer have to fear death. Jesus gave his life so that we might know God’s glory and want to love and serve God above all other things.
Not that God’s gifts are unique to Christ alone. God has a long history of giving to his beloved children. We heard in our passage from Exodus how God advised his beloved children of Israel to smear lamb’s blood around their doors so that the Spirit of death might pass their homes. God didn’t have to do that—God could have easily killed their newborn along with the rest of the newborn throughout Egypt. But God chose to spare the newborn of the Israelites and, in so doing, gave the people of Israel new life and new hope. Our God is a kind and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!
Our God is a God who listens to our prayers just as He listened to the many songs of David. Our God gives us his ear in our times of struggle. When no one else is willing or able to listen, our God hears us cry out in anguish and despair. We are to love our God just as David loved our God. David sings on our behalf in our psalm for today: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” Don’t think that God gave David his ear and attention simply because he was a king. Remember David’s humble beginnings as a shepherd boy…our God lifts the lowly and loves those who love him. If our God can love and listen to a man like David, surely He can listen to us!
Better than the gifts of life and God’s attention is the gift of God’s beloved Son. With the Son comes both new life and God’s focused attention. With the Son comes grace and mercy. With the Son comes a new covenant and a new commandment. Paul reminds us of Jesus’ gifts of bread and wine as reminders of the sacrifice our Lord made on the cross on our behalf: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ and ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ We remember through bread and wine, through our Lord’s body and blood, the great sacrifice he made for us…a sacrifice born from a deep love for us. Jesus loves us—Jesus would do anything for us, even die for us.
In our passage from John, we heard how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as one of his last acts of service. Jesus loved his disciples. Jesus served his disciples…greater than they served him! And he had served them long before this last night with them. We often think it was the duty and responsibility of the disciples to serve Jesus while he ministered to the people but they were served like everyone else. Indeed, they were served the most by Jesus, what with being able to walk alongside him and co-minister with him. No, the disciples were long served by Jesus so the act of washing their feet was just the cap of many acts of service. Jesus gave and gave and gave until he could no longer give. And how he gave was uniquely special. Jesus gave not only out of love but perhaps more importantly out of sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed all that he had—his time, his possessions, his family, his family, his friends, and ultimately his life to serve all and to give us an example of how we are to serve each other. Those are no small things to sacrifice for the sake of service!
Which brings us back to question I’ve been mulling over this week—what makes a gift so good? Is it the sacrifice made by the giver that makes a gift so good? Is it the time sacrificed in coming up with the gift or going out to get it? Is it the money sacrificed to purchase it? Is it the love sacrificed that could have been used on other things, other people? Is a gift only as good as the sacrifice made on its behalf? I tend to think it is. If a gift is given with little to no sacrifice from the giver, well, it’s just not that good of a gift. A gift IS only as good as the sacrifice made on its behalf. God’s gift of his Son is the greatest gift He could give us precisely because it was a gift of great sacrifice. Our God sacrificed his Son for us. There is no greater gift than this!
As we head into the great three days, let us be mindful of all the gifts we’ve received. Let us reflect on what made the gifts so special and so unique. I suspect your greatest gifts were those that required the greatest sacrifice. Our God gives us the greatest gift, the greatest sacrifice. Let us give God hearts of sheer gratitude and appreciation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.