Scripture: John 13:1-5
Have you ever had someone do something for you that took you completely by surprise? I remember a few years ago now, we stopped to eat at a restaurant, I think we were on our way back from going around the Cabot Trail, and there was someone there I knew. Not very well mind you. He was also a pastor and was eating dinner with his wife. I think we had only met very briefly once before. We acknowledged each other, talked briefly, and enjoyed our meals with our families.
As he got up to leave, he came over one more time, shook my hand, said good bye to my family, then paid our bill.
I was shocked, and thankful of course, that this man, essentially a stranger, paid for our dinner. He saw it as his way to support our family and my ministry. I suppose he remembered what it was like when he was just starting out with a young family. And now that he was approaching retirement, he was trying to give back.
I’m sure you have your own story of someone reaching out and doing something amazing for you. Paying for a meal. Offering some sort of gift. Taking care of some errands or chores you’ve been putting off for too long.
Maybe you even have a story of someone forgiving you, or someone you know, that came as a great unexpected surprise!
After a brief hiatus, we’re back into looking at forgiveness. You may remember from two weeks ago, we started on this journey of discussing the healing power of forgiveness in our lives. Of letting go of difficult situations and letting more of Jesus in. If you missed it and want to hear more, the audio of the sermon is available on our website. Or you can read the text here.
Surprises are often good. And it’s extra special when it is forgiveness for something we may have done wrong to someone else. It’s quite possible we are feeling terribly guilty about it and don’t feel like we deserve forgiveness. I’m sure some of us have been there at some point!
Yet, here in the Gospel of John we see Jesus do something very special and completely unexpected. It’s not his job to wash the feet of the disciples. This job is for the one who is the least important in the room, certainly not a great teacher like Jesus!
Yet, here we read of Jesus taking off his cloak, wrapping a towel around his waist and washing mud off his friends feet. Why would Jesus do such a thing? Why would he “stoop” so low to take on a servants job?
We see why when he gets to the feet of Peter. Peter says, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (John 13:6)
And what does Jesus say? “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13:7)
Just hours before his death, what is Jesus doing? He is showing just how much he loves his friends. He is removing more than just dirt, Jesus is removing their doubt. Jesus knew what was coming next for all of them. He knew that in the heat of the moment in just a few hours, they would all abandon him when he will be arrested.
Judas won’t even get that far, he abandons Jesus at this very meal to go off and betray him!
Yet here is Jesus, washing their dirty, stinky feet after walking about hot, dusty streets all day long. Stepping in who knows what!
Because Jesus knows what is going to happen over the next 24 hours, what he is doing in this moment is loving them and forgiving them before they even have the chance to do him any wrong.
And later on, Peter remembers this moment. He shows he remembers when his eyes met Jesus after his arrest, after he denies Jesus three times, as Jesus predicted… what does Peter do? When Peter’s eyes meet the eyes of his Lord, all of these things flash back into his memory: the washing of the feet, the prediction of the denials… and in that moment Peter weeps. Peter realizes Jesus washed his feet knowing full well what was going to happen, and Peter is overcome with emotion because he gets it. He gets what Jesus did in that upper room.
Peter knows he doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve such grace and mercy in his life from someone so great as Jesus! He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven! But that’s exactly what has happened! Isn’t that amazing?
Peter changes after this. So do the others over time when they also realize they have received forgiveness, grace and mercy from their Lord and Saviour. And while Jesus doesn’t have the opportunity to wash our feet, he is still offering us the same forgiveness, mercy and grace today.
1 John 1:7-9 says this,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin … If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour, kneels down before us and peers into the deepest, darkest parts of our lives and he washes us clean by offering forgiveness, grace and mercy.
He doesn’t jump back in shock at what we’ve done. He doesn’t recoil in terror. He says, “I love you, let me help you take care of that.”
And afterwards, Jesus expects his friends, his disciples, and all of us, to do the same.
John 13:15 says this after Jesus has finished washing all their feet. Jesus says, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
Now, if you want to go around and wash people’s feet, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a beautiful thing to do for others. But ultimately Jesus is asking us to offer forgiveness and show mercy and grace.
The disciples did this! Boy did they ever! And you know what? We can too!
Why has Jesus offered this to us? Because he is offering us forgiveness, grace and mercy. More than we can ever know. And we can do it too!
You might be saying to yourself, “But I’m not guilty of anything! I’ve done nothing wrong! Get off my back Phillips!”
Maybe you’re right. Maybe it isn’t your fault. But Jesus wasn’t guilty either. He was the only one in the entire room who didn’t need to be washed. All the disciples, they needed it. They needed to be forgiven. Only Jesus was pure. Only Jesus had never done anything wrong. Yet, here he is being the humble one taking on the dirty job and washing their feet.
What is extra special about what Jesus has done is show us that the best way to mend relationships and build bridges is for the stronger person to reach out to start the process of reconciliation. It can’t fall to the one who is broken and hurting. Jesus shows us it’s for the stronger, not the weaker person.
Jesus shows us that when we kneel in humble service to others, they get lifted up. But first we need to acknowledge there is brokenness we need to deal with.
I’m going to take a few minutes this week to talk about the different ways in which we experience offenses against us. Next week we’ll take a look at the steps we need to take in order to forgive others.
Now I know some of you here are possibly carrying huge pain inflicted upon you by someone. I know because a few of you have shared your stories with me. And I also know Jesus wants to help you with that pain. But it will take time. Certainly more time than a 3 week sermon series can help you with.
But also know, this could be the start of a healing process. A process which may free you from years of pain and release you into more of God’s care and love. I am more than happy to help you work through these things, all you need to do is give me a call and we will set up times when we can meet and do this important work. Please, I encourage you to take me up on this offer, God wants to see you healed. I want to see you healed as well.
With that said, and hopefully well stressed, let’s look at the categories in which we experience offense.
The first is that bad things are done to us. This includes things like physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, but also includes many, many other minor things.
Now, when I talk about forgiveness, I’m not saying we are going to forgive and forget! That is not the point! Now sure, maybe that’s the ideal, but in reality, it’s not going to happen very often, especially in the big areas of abuse!
In the cases of serious abuse, we absolutely cannot move on and forget as if nothing ever happened. If someone was raped, they may choose to forgive the one who raped them, but they should not forget about it and act as if it never happened! That’s not healthy either.
Scripture does not tell us to forget something like that happened then treat the rapist as best friend, especially if the rapist is unrepentant!
Forgiveness is not the same as trust. Proverbs 22:3 gives us this little piece of wisdom, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”
In other words, keep your head up, be watchful, and be safe when in these types of situations. Take care of ourselves. Don’t just automatically trust just because we have forgiven someone. Trust needs to be earned, and it is going to take time.
The second category in ways people hurt us is for the good things people didn’t do for us.
This comes up often when people look at family dynamics. People will say something like, “My parents never told me they loved me.” Or, “They didn’t didn’t listen to me when I was afraid or hurt.”
This is, of course, a smaller kind of offense, but something that still hurts. There are roles in families and communities which tell us that we should expect some things from certain people we encounter.
We expect our parents to love us. We expect doctors to take good care of us. We expect teachers to teach us and protect us when we’re away from home.
But when one of these people don’t follow through on these things, we are affected, we are hurt. And sometimes that hurt affects us more than we know.
The third category is for our perceived hurts. What I mean by this is that someone hurts us unintentionally. Most of the time they don’t even realize it. For example, maybe you’re trying to have, what you feel, is an important conversation with someone, and all they are doing is looking at their phone.
How would this make you feel? You’d feel unimportant and rejected, am I right? The other person likely doesn’t even realize it. But you’re hurt. And the next time you see this person, maybe you won’t be quite so open, maybe you’ll even think twice about talking to this person at all!
It is just as important for us to practice forgiveness for the so called “smaller” things that it is for the bigger things. In fact, if we want to get “good” at forgiveness, starting with the “small” things is a great place to start. It’s helps us make it part of who we are as people who follow Jesus, but also prepares us to deal with the “big ones” as well.
Now, when it comes to forgiving the sources of our hurts, it is not necessary to confront and even make it known to the other person that we have forgiven them. This would apply to most instances in the last two categories. The ones on perceived hurts (the person on their phone) and the hurts inflicted by what was not done (our parents not loving us for example). Unless of course they have asked for forgiveness and are waiting for a response. In most cases, these incidents are small enough we can simply deal with our own emotions and move on in our lives.
If you are unsure of what to do, then I’d be happy to talk it over with you and help you pray through to a decision.
So why bother to forgive? Two reasons really.
The first is, Jesus asks us to. In fact he commands us to.
The second is, God wants the best for us, he wants us to know of his great love and his healing power in our bodies and in our spirits. So much so he sent Jesus to wash us all clean.
We are loved by God. We are all capable of being washed clean by the most perfect man to ever walk the earth, Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour.
To hold on to the pain and withhold forgiveness, we cannot be washed fully clean. Jesus is still kneeling in front of us with his basin and towel, but the dirt remains if we hold on to it. So we need to practice this forgiveness and let the dirt be removed.
Next week we’ll finally get to the important steps. What do we need to do to forgive others! I look forward to sharing those with you.
In the meantime, I am here. I am also walking with you towards receiving the healing power of Jesus in all our lives. Jesus who offered his life for ours.
Let us pray.
Thank you for being such an amazing example of forgiveness, mercy and grace for us. Thank you for showing us the importance of forgiveness and the power it can have in our lives.
We also thank you for kneeling down before us and offering to wash us clean. Jesus, we know we don’t deserve it, yet here you are! Freely offering yourself to us. An offering which will lead you to being a living sacrifice for our lives.
So as we continue to consider acts of forgiveness in our own lives, Jesus would you walk with us? We know, of course, that you will, but sometimes we need to ask just to reassure ourselves we are never truly alone.
Sometimes these areas of forgiveness are harder to manage than we can imagine. This is why we ask for your help. And also why we know you will help us.
So thank you Jesus, in advance, just as you worked in advance for the disciples, offering them forgiveness, grace and mercy. We thank you for those things too.
We pray this prayer of thanksgiving in your most Holy Name. Amen and amen.