So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (John 13:12).
Jesus asked His disciples this searching question on the night He was betrayed. What preceded this question? Two events. In the same hour, at the same table, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and gave it to His disciples, and He also washed their feet like He was just a household servant. Then He asked this question.
Did the disciples know what Jesus had done to them? The answer is no. His question was met with silence. They knew Jesus by now. The answer would not just be “You washed our feet clean.” They knew He was teaching them something they didn’t know well enough yet.
The clue to the answer comes in Jesus’ back-and-forth with Peter as He went around washing the disciples’ feet. Peter at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet. He thought it was just about his feet. This washing of feet was a dirty job, an unwanted job, a menial task assigned to an unimportant, non-essential person. Peter didn’t want to think of Jesus that way! At first, he resisted Jesus, so Jesus said: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” (That statement contained the glimmer of the promise that the Holy Spirit would enlighten His disciples and open their minds to understand.) Peter then said to Jesus: “You shall never wash my feet!”
Now came Jesus’ key statement: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Then He said that he who is washed “is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”
This makes it clear that when Jesus said, “Do you know what I have done to you?” He wasn’t talking about washing their feet. He was talking about the Lord’s Supper. For what had He just said to them? “You are clean, but not all of you.” This was before Judas went out. Judas is the one who wasn’t clean. Jesus washed all their feet, Judas’ too. You could tell Judas’ feet were clean. But you couldn’t see into Judas’ heart. By a lack of faith, what did Judas get in the Lord’s Supper as an unbeliever? He still got Jesus’ body and blood, but to his condemnation. Judas was not clean. But the other disciples, who had faith in Jesus’ words, received Jesus’ body and blood to their benefit and had “forgiveness, life, and salvation” by “faith in His words.” What did Jesus say about them? “You are clean,” and not just that, but they were “completely clean.”
Hear that? You are completely clean. That is what Jesus has to say to you when you receive the Lord’s Supper. It’s why He instituted it: to make you completely clean from all your sins. It’s why you are to come – to be made completely clean from all your sins. It’s what you are to believe, because Jesus Himself says this to you when you have partaken of His body and blood with faith in His words: “You are clean … completely clean.” Could there be anything better? No!
Think of it! Who gets into heaven? Psalm 24 says, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” You’ll be tempted to think that you can’t get into heaven because your sins make you so unclean. But in the Lord’s Supper, you hear differently. Jesus says to you, “Do you know what I have done to you? … You are clean … completely clean.” He is saying ahead of time what He will say on the day of judgment. He will put His hand on you and say, “You are clean … completely clean … Come!”
This is the confidence, then, with which we go out into the world after we receive the Lord’s Supper. We are clean, so we are sent into the world to infect it with our cleanness in Christ.
Christ sends us into the world — into our vocations — with renewed strength to live a holy life, stronger not only in faith toward God but also stronger in love toward one another. So we cleanse others, and the very world we live in, and sanctify everything we do and touch in the power of the One who lives within us now by the cleansing power of the word He has spoken to us in the Sacrament. This is how we “wash one another’s feet.”
“Do you know what I have done to you?” He asks. We learn every time we come to the Sacrament. We’ll be learning until we arrive where there is no sin or uncleanness and we are dressed in our robes of His righteousness that were washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb, the cleanness in which we will live and reign with Him forever. This is your true self, as He has made, redeemed, and sanctified you to be. This is how He sees you: clean and holy. He reveals this to you so that you’ll see that this is what He makes of you: completely, and truly, clean from all sin.
Rev. Jerry Gernander
Bethany Lutheran Church
In the Interest of Clarification
The “Jesus Asks Questions” article in the January/February issue of The Lutheran Sentinel contained some wording that could give the wrong impression. The author regrets writing: “He got some answers wrong. This includes His knowledge of God and his Word.” This was intended by the author to show how “Jesus increased in wisdom” and that His need for learning in His state of humiliation did not involve sin on His part, and that while He was guilty of no sin or any moral wrong, it was indeed possible for Him – during his childhood while growing in understanding – to be corrected by His earthly parents and teachers in the process of human teaching and learning. However, this is conjecture. The author of the article agrees that this may have provided too much conjecture or taken too many liberties with regard to things written in scripture. It is comforting that our Lord as our substitute carried out perfectly the law of God in our place also in His adolescence while mysteriously still increasing “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).