Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”John 13:1-14
There’s an old running joke about Christianity, that heaven is probably filled with really awful people. If all it takes for you to go to heaven is to say sorry to Jesus, then that’s basically like a Get Out of Jail Free card. Lots of bad people must’ve noticed this loophole, and said the magic words. Which might mean that Christians might have to spend eternity with people who used to be crooks, or murderers. Anyway that’s how the joke goes.
But what if this is actually not too far from the truth? What if this idea that seems too good to be true, really is true? What if the gospel, the good news of Jesus — that anyone can be forgiven and have eternal life, because Jesus died for absolutely everyone — really is that good?
The Jesus of this passage seems pretty good. Here is the Son of God, the King of all Creation, Teacher of Teachers, Commander-in-Chief of Heaven’s Armies, on the night just before he will be murdered. He knows he will be murdered. He knows that two of his closest friends will break his heart: one will betray him to his murderers, and the other will loudly, publicly disown him instead of helping him.
And what does the King of all Creation, the Teacher of Teachers, the Supreme Commander of Heaven’s Armies do?
He doesn’t lecture the twelve friends who are with him. He doesn’t yell at the two friends who he knows will hurt him. He doesn’t call down angels to defend himself. Instead he takes off his shirt, sits down on the filthy floor, and washes his friends’ feet.
Can you picture in your minds the most powerful man in the world? Imagine how much his suit and tie cost. Imagine how his position of power means his feet would be washed by other people. Now imagine instead the most powerful man in the world taking off that expensive suit and tie, kneeling down, and washing his friends’ feet. He’s doing this, knowing that this is the last thing he will do for them for a while, and that even though he will die soon, he wants his friends to know how much he cares about them, and how little he cares about looking high and mighty.
Too good to be true? Now imagine that he is doing this specifically for two friends who will betray him. Did you notice that in this passage, only two of the disciples are mentioned? Peter is named specifically — he is the one who will disown Jesus instead of helping him. Judas is not named specifically, but Jesus does say out loud that he knows one of them will betray him. Maybe he was trying to get Judas, his betrayer, to change his mind.
Several hours later, Judas handed Jesus over to be murdered. Peter disowned Jesus in front of a crowd. Judas and Peter, whom Jesus had knelt in front of, and washed their feet, to tell them that even though he knows how evil and weak they are, he still loves them. He will still die for them. Both Judas and Peter met very different ends, but Jesus died for both of them all the same.
Too good to be true. That is the craziness of the gospel. Jesus died for all people, and the way to him, the way to eternal life, is open to all people — including Judas, including Peter, including you, and including me.
When I was your age, I never really appreciated this. I knew, deep down inside, that I’m a good person. I’m smart, I’m analytical, I’m above it all. What’s so amazing about the gospel then? Why is it so unbelievable that Jesus died for me? I don’t need it. I kind of… deserved it anyway. Of course it made sense that Jesus died for me.
But the older I get, the more incredible and crazy the gospel seems to me. The less sense it seems to make. My thinking has shifted from ugh, Jesus died for that guy? to ugh, Jesus died for me? The older I get, the more I realise what an awful person I am, deep down inside. There is so much of me in here that I don’t even know, even after 30 something years. Now and again I still encounter parts of myself that I’ve never met before, that I really wish I hadn’t met. And yet Jesus, who knew all of me, all of this, even before I knew myself, went willingly, lovingly, obediently, to the death for me. He gave me everything he had when he knew that all I could give him was selfishness, cowardice, and lie upon lie upon lie. He did the same thing for Judas too, and Peter. And he is alive now, for people like them, for people like me. And I hope that the older you get, the more you realise this too, that the gospel is in many ways crazy, it does sound like it’s too good to be true — but it is true. It is that good. Because it doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Jesus, who really is that good.