Holy Week Thursday - Selfless Service And Sacrificial Love

On Thursday, the stage is set for Jesus and his disciples to eat the Passover meal together in the upper room. As is always the case, Jesus takes this opportunity to teach his disciples through symbolic action.

“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:14-20).

The meal is prepared; the apostles recline at the table and Christ tells them how much he has desired to eat this meal with them. It is a weighty moment for many reasons. Jesus will not enjoy this kind of celebration again until the wedding supper of the Lamb when he comes again to usher in the fullness of his kingdom (Revelation 19:9). He knows what he is about to suffer, and he knows what that suffering will mean. The apostles know the symbolism of the Passover; how the blood was placed on the doorpost to signal that the lamb had been slaughtered and that death would pass by. And now Jesus tells them that it was pointing to him all along.

“This bread is my body, broken for you.” He is about to be broken. Beaten. Slaughtered. For them. “So now,” he says, “every time you eat the bread together, remember my body.”

“This wine is my blood, shed for you.” He is about to be poured out. His blood will be the ultimate sacrifice. His blood will usher in the new covenant. “So now, whenever you drink the wine together, remember my blood.”

He continues to teach. Rising from supper, Jesus removes his outer garments and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. They are perplexed, and Peter speaks up: “Lord, you wash my feet?...You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:6,8). But Jesus answers, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (v. 9). And Jesus says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (v. 10).

Jesus uses this moment to teach of the spiritual cleansing that only he can provide. We must be washed by Christ, or we have no share with him (v. 8). Only he can cleanse us from our sins and present us spotless before the Father. And this is Christ’s greatest act of service, that he would shed his blood to make us clean. The foot washing serves as a picture of the ultimate type of service: a serving that requires sacrifice.

And not only does Jesus serve his disciples in this way, but he instructs them that this is this type of self-sacrificial love with which they are to love one another. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Kostenberger and Taylor summarize like this:

“The foot-washing episode foreshadows the crucifixion by displaying Jesus’s attitude of self-sacrifice, love, and service— attitudes that must characterize Jesus’s followers (see Phil. 2:1– 8). As an anticipatory commentary on the cross, the foot washing illumines the underlying motivation for the cross: God’s sacrificial love for the people he has made (see John 3:16). [Kostenberger, Andreas J.; Taylor, Justin (2014-01-31). The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (p. 69). Crossway. Kindle Edition.]

The bread, the wine, the foot washing, all pointing to the self-sacrificial love that Jesus was about to display on the cross. This same self-sacrificial love should characterize we who would claim the name of Christ.

After supper, they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives to pray (Matthew 26:30). The stage is set for his betrayal and arrest. Indeed, the sun is about to rise on the darkest day in history.