You can tell a lot about people by what they wear or what they drop into conversation. In particular, you can often tell what sports or team someone follows by their choice of clothes they wear. Especially around May/June, when lots of sports finals are happening, we will see the colours of whichever team is successful being worn proudly all over the world. In an individualistic world, we are all looking for belonging, and when we find it, we want the world to know!
How Do We Identify With Jesus?
I wonder what you would think marks out Christians in the world? For some, it might be the correct belief or a particular way of doing Church; it might even be about the preaching/teaching. There can be many waits by which we think we associate with Jesus. Yet, if we are honest about our own personal experiences, how we have often identified Jesus in other people has been by how they have treated us and those around us. It could have been any example:
- In a time of crisis, when someone was there for us,
- The faithfulness of a Sunday School teacher,
- The kindness of a friend,
- Or the pastoral care of a minister.
Most of us should have more examples that we can remember because our experience of Faith and walking with Jesus should mirror the life of Jesus: the saviour whose life was marked by service, the King who came to serve and not be served. In response to the Grace of God through the servant who went to the cross, we turn to the world and serve/love all people because through our service, we want all to see the beauty of King Jesus.
What makes the Christian faith unique among all others out of the dedication of Jesus as distinct among all others? Love! That God would come to serve humankind out of love; and then implore humanity to help one another in response to his love is the defining quality of the teachings of Jesus. It is the Love of God revealed through Christ, then the love of God revealed through the body of Christ to itself and the world that stands the Christian faith as unique among all the religions of the world.
Jesus proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom and the hope that would be offered to all of humanity who turned to him; he declared the Love of God for all who would repent! Not as some abstract philosophical truth but as a real-life reality. Thus as he taught this new Kingdom and its upside-down way, he incarnated those teachings by how he lived among us, or we could say: by how we love as our saviour did; and it is that service which has marked the Christian faith as distinct for centuries. The service of Christ was the Love of God made real for those who experienced it. Thus, the church that is called to serve is called to make known the love of God through our love of one another and all people.
Love: Faith Lived Out
Truth faith in Jesus is marked by living like Jesus! To live like Jesus is to love like Jesus. Our love of one another in service is our faith lived out. It is why James (the brother of Jesus), in his letter to the early church, challenged them to consider the fruits of their faith and to make sure they were living out the Love they had received, with the warning that if they were not then they (and we) should question if their hearts belonged to Jesus. James used the example of a Christian friend in need of clothes and food, which is meet not with practical love but kind words; James asks: What good is it? Before concluding:
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”(James 2:17)
Love “incarnated” in action has been distinctive of the Church of Jesus since Pentecost; Rodney Stark, in his book on the rise of Christianity, Highlights the effects of such loving service on the 4th Century World and culture by quoting from a letter from the Emperor Julias:
“Julian complained in a letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the virtues of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their “moral character, even if pretended,” and by their “benevolence toward strangers and care for the graves of the dead… The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.””1
It was not the wisdom of Christian disciples nor the intellectual rigour of their discussion that helped open the eyes of those around them to the wonder of God’s love and life in the Kingdom. No, it was a life that modelled the Grace of God received through faith, the Love of God made known through the Cross, and lives that lived out the call of the Kingdom that Christ gave to all disciples. Specifically, the greatest command to Love is the command of Christ to love!
A Beauty of Contrasts (31-33)
The beauty of something is often only known in contrast to something else. We only see the goodness of light because we experience the darkness of the night. Yet, if we were people who had only ever known the darkness of the night and never heard of the light of the sun, we would never be able to think of what light might be. The contrast from the dark nights only highlights the wonder and goodness of the light of the sun.
Light Amid Darkness (31-32)
The setting of Chapter Thirteen and the setting is both dark and tense. Expressly, Judas has set off to do what has been on his heart for some time – hand Jesus over to the religious authorities of the day. The picture is bleak, and as you read through Johns’ account of the ministry and life of Jesus, you can feel the heaviness of this moment. Yet, it is the bleakness of the moment that Jesus is in that highlight the beauty of the command he gives and just how radically different God’s working in the world would be and how different his Kingdom would look to the places it would inhabit.
The departure of Judas marks the beginning of his final farewell discourse in which he seeks to remind the disciples of all that he has taught them, prepare them for what was coming on the Cross, and remind them of their call as his students – to live as he lived and love as he loved. Thus, our verses today are the foundation of the entire farewell discourse, and foundational to that foundation is the truth that Jesus teaches before the call to love – God is sovereign and working all things towards his purposes (even when the world seems to be going the opposite direction).
Judas has departed to enact his betrayal to alert the worldly authorities to the location of his teacher and hand him over to die. Not only that but the fact that Jesus and his disciples are aware of the threat that he is under, yet, Jesus does not seem defeated or dismayed, nor does he seem to doubt what God is going instead in the movement of Judas away from God Jesus trusts and knows that God is still at work. The logic of heaven looks nothing like the way of the world, and there is nothing the world can do to fathom it or work against what God has ordained to do. The Cross was always meant to be the means of God’s great redemption. It would be the pinnacle disciple of God’s power, mercy and love. The Cross would be how salvation would be won and the model through which it must be lived out. Hence, as Judas moved to work against Jesus, the messiah was not dismayed because he knew God is sovereign and at work. Twelve times in his Gospel, John has used the title “Son of Man” to teach different truths about the identity and purpose of Jesus. Throughout the Gospel, John has tied Salvation for all to the death and rising of the Son of Man, his being “lifted up” (3:14, 12:34).
A Road Walked Alone (33)
Now that Judas had departed, the final act of God’s redemptive plan through the life and ministry of Jesus had begun. The Cross would be how God would save his people and all people who would turn to him. Even though it would be a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to those who sought the world’s wisdom, the cross was the most incredible display of power and authority that the world has ever seen. Thus, Jesus points out that amid the darkness of this moment, the beauty of God’s love and grace will be made known all the more. Instead, something to fear what Judas had started by his betrayal would be beautiful. Through it, the Son of man would be glorified; God would be glorified through the Son of Man’s glorification (being lifted up).
The glory here has a duality of meaning, pointing both to the death of Christ, yet through his death, God would be holy. The Cross of Christ is the Exaltation of God because it is the most incredible display of power, mercy, grace and love that the world has ever seen, and, it is all the more significant because it looks nothing like how the world would display such things. Amid the darkness of Judas’ betrayal, the hope of the Cross was made all the more beautiful: Jesus was not worried about it because he trusted fully in the purposes and will of the Father. Yet, with loving concern – “My Children”- Jesus points out the reality that although they and all after will benefit from what he is going to go, it is not a road they can walk. They cannot come where he is going; they cannot come; this is for him alone.
Trust that God is always at Work
Jesus knew that God was in control and always is in control and working all things to a better end even when it does not seem like it. As he knew it and rested in that truth even when the world’s evidence pointed otherwise! Today, we must live confident that God is at work and can be trusted. Whatever we are facing, fearful for or worried about, let us rest in the assurance of God’s rule and reign as we bring it to him in prayer, then get on with living for him.
A New Commandment (34-35)
It is a beautiful moment that is again highlighted against the darkness of the reality they will find themselves in. What is the first thing that Jesus wants his disciples to do in his farewell discourse: after they have been reminded that against all logic in the madness that was about to unfold that God was a work? Where are they too ready themselves mentally? Perhaps they were to find somewhere safe to weather the coming storm? It might have even made sense for them to get out of the city for the next few days to avoid all the commotion coming their way. All those things are probably what we would tell ourselves or those with us to do in this situation! Yet, Jesus is not the sort of leader we would be, not the kind of teacher the world would look to, nor the saviour that the world would choose to serve. Thus, his command is not for self-preservation but self-sacrifice as he commands them to Love (gk Agapō) and love another. How are they to love one another? Simple as Jesus has loved them! It would not be the way of the world that would keep them together through all that was to come; it would be the way of Love that Jesus had modelled for them. Thus, he calls them to love one another as he had loved them over the years. Eugene Peterson puts it succinctly in his paraphrase as he writes:
” Love one another. In the same way, I loved you; you love one another.”
In difficulty, the world might flee or turn against one another to survive, but in the Kingdom of God, citizens’ confidence in the work of God continues in the way of God: The Practice of Love! What was the model for this way? Well, perhaps you remember the beginning of Chapter 13, where Jesus took on the role of the servant to wash the feet of his disciples, even the feet of his betrayer. Jesus there one last time modelled the way of the kingdom where love was made known through service and greatness found in humility. How were the disciples love one another? As he had loved them! How had he loved them? By serving them over and over again, hence there was no more excellent incarnate example that the washing of the disciple’s feet, at the end of which Jesus concluded:
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)
It would be that same spirit of service and love that would take Jesus obediently to the Cross to fulfil what God had set in motion and take upon himself the curse of sin so that we (through faith) might know the beauty of relationship with God. Love is the way in the Kingdom of God, and the way of Love in the Kingdom of Heaven is the way the Footwasher walked along the road of the Cross. So let us follow this new command and get on with the call of loving one another as an act of beautiful heavenly rebellion against the fallenness and darkness of the world. Because when we get on with loving one another, then the world around us will know that we are his disciples, and they might see the beauty of life with him through faith in what he has done on calvary – the greatest act of service and love that the world has ever known.
CONCLUSION: LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER
There is something profound and challenging about this short section from the Johanian farewell discourse from Jesus to the disciples. When you think of the movement that marks the moment (Judas literally moving away from Jesus), you would expect something radically different from Jesus as the leader of this group of men. The truth is if any of us were in this situation, we would act as we would be expected if we knew what Judas was about to do! We would lament him and the waste that he had been over the years, we would probably speak ill of him personally and his evil, and then move to make ourselves and those with us safe from the threat. Yet, Jesus does not conform to our ways or our expectations: where we would retreat from what we know is coming, Jesus remains faithful; Where would speak ill of the one who had begun the betrayal, Jesus teaches his disciples to love one another regardless of circumstance and in so doing identify with him.
It is Love that defines us: How We Define Love
In a world of Chaos and selfishness, love would be the defining mark of those who are our citizens of the Kingdom of God and seek to live out the teachings of Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit. In a chaotic world, love incarnated in our treatment of one another would identify us with Jesus in a weary and waiting world. Thus, the question must be, if Love defines us, then what is the definition of this love that John speaks of here? If it is via how we love one another that we will be identified with Jesus, what is the correct proper understanding of “love” in a culture and world that has so many different notions of it?
“Love” means so many different things in different contexts and other people. We can talk about our love of a sport or food and then tell someone we love them in the same breath. In each utterance, the same word has a profoundly different meaning. If you ask google to define love, it will tell you either: “an intense feeling of deep affection;” “feel deep affection for (someone);” or “like or enjoy something very much.” Google’s definitions perfectly summarise how our culture sees love as something individualistic and beneficial to us in a particular moment. Love as the world sees it, is rooted in self-interest; that might be how the world sees Love and defines it, but it is not how we who live in the Kingdom of God are to understand Love especially when thinking about the command of Jesus here.
The ontology of love lived out in the Kingdom of God and for the glory of God is already given to us through the example of the feet-washing; where rather than act selfishly (as the world would) and demand that someone else there do it, Jesus humbled himself for the sake of everyone and took on the task of the servant. Out of love for those around him, Jesus watched the feet of everyone there, including Judas, to display to the disciples the incarnated ethic of the Kingdom, the way of Love. This self-sacrificial-other-orientated service is the Love that Jesus is talking about here; this understanding of love led him to wash the feet of all there (even Judas), and it was this type of love that he wanted the disciples to see and live out. It would also be this understanding of love that would bring Jesus to the cross to bear the cost of our sin. love in the Kingdom of God looked nothing like the world; hence, when Jesus repeated the call for the disciples to love one another in Chapter 15:12-14
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Love in the Kingdom of God is defined by its otherness; our preputial example of that selfless love is the life and work of Jesus; in the first utterance of the command to Love, the disciples were given the model of his love rooted in the imagery of the foot washing. In the same farewell discourse, the disciples are reminded again of the command to love one another, with the ultimate example of love giving one’s life for another. Why? Because that is what Jesus was about to do – lay down his life for his friends and those who would turn to Him in faith! It is love that defines us in the Kingdom of God so let us make sure our love is expressed through the person of Jesus.
The Foundation of our Love: Trust in God
As we remember that our love is defined and known through the person of Jesus, we are also reminded that he is the foundation of our passion! How can a Christian love in a radically different way to the world? Because the foundations of our lives, identity and purpose are fundamentally different. We are those who know that through faith in Christ Jesus and what he has done for us that we have received all that we need and more than we could ever need. Thus, we don’t live, serve, or love to earn anything more – we live in response to what we have! We can love sacrificially; and live lives that move from the self to the other because we do not need anything and trust the one who has given it to us – God.
In an individualistic world where possessions and positions judge you, loving self-sacrificially is a risk because it means giving something up. It means giving up our time or possessions to help another person, and do so so might disadvantage us. Hence the fear of loving others properly and even opening up ourselves to being loved by others. It is not to say that people outside of the Kingdom of God are not capable of selfless love (of course they are!) but that the starting place for such love is radically different. In the Kingdom, we are those who have grasped our sinfulness and lack, that the world can give us nothing we need, but God can and has! We are a people who benefit from Grace and the love of God, where we receive fully not because of who we are or what we have done but simply because of who God is, that God delights in loving us and enabling us to know the beauty of his Love. More than that, we are overcome with the knowledge that through faith in Christ and trust in God, our eternity is secured, and there is nothing the world can do to take it from us! There is nothing we can do to risk it in how we treat other people or live our lives today. Thus we are freed from the fear of living and loving as God loved us.
The foundation of how we live out this radical command to love is our knowledge and experience of the Love of God! Additionally, our trust in the work, reign and goodness of the God who loves us. As Judas departed and Jesus trusted that the Father was still Lord and still good, so do we continue to live in the Love of God and trust that regardless of the state of the world, God is still ruling and reigning over all things. The foundation of how we love is our knowledge and trust in God, so we get on with the task of loving one another.
The Model of our Loving: Jesus
Jesus is everything to us; it is by Him we know God, and it is through him that we can come to God. Jesus is our Lord and Saviour; this truth is key to Christian identity, life and witness. Yet, sometimes we lose something of the simplicity of the Gospel’s accounts of Jesus if we raise him so high that we lose sight of who he was and how he lived. Think about it: Jesus commanded the disciples to love one another as he loved them. He did not just say: “Love one another as you see fit”, and then let them decide individually what they looked like for them in a way that suited them. No! He called them to love one another as He had loved them. Thus, we are reminded that Jesus is not just our Lord and Saviour; in the Kingdom, he is the model of what life looks like and the ethic by which we live – how he treated people and served us is how we are to treat one another and help one another in the power of the Spirit. The washing of the feet incarnated this Kingdom way for the Disciples; here they are reminded of it, and in a few verses, Jesus would give the ultimate example of Self-Sacrificial love as he would again instruct the disciples to love one another; and that no greater love laying down one’s life for a friend – What he did for them and for us. So as we live with Jesus and in response to what he has done for us on the Cross; let us live and love like Jesus remembering that he is not just our saviour, but that he is the model and ethic by which we live in and live out the Kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit until he comes again.
Our Living Out of Love is our Identification with Jesus
The irony of the culture that we live in being so individualistic is that we are all looking for belonging and community. We are individuals searching for community and in that community purpose. Thus, it’s only natural that we want people to know about it when we find it. We will find ways to make known our belonging; it might be as simple as wearing a team skip, dropping into conversation the new hobby we have discovered, or posting more on social media about a new club or hobby group we have found. When we find belonging, it is only natural that we want to share it!
The person and work of Jesus and life with him are so good and beneficial to all who receive it we should naturally want to share it. The question we sometimes ask ourselves is how? We sometimes think that sharing our faith or life in Jesus means standing on a street corner with a loudspeaker, giving out a tract to someone, or an awkward Gospel presentation. All of those things can be suitable means of sharing the good news of Jesus, but they are not the only way. In the words of Jesus, today, we are reminded about one of the simplest and most natural ways of sharing our faith – loving one another.
Jesus tells the disciples to love as He has loved them, and as they do this, then that is how people will know they are his disciples. It is profoundly simple as Jesus tells the disciples to love as he loved, and then by that, people will see the incarnation of his teaching and how they treat one another. In a selfish world, be selfless, says Jesus, and by being selfless, people will see me. Notice here that the instruction is not to teach the right thing or defend the faith. No, the disciples are called to love as they have been loved – to put into practice the ethic and way of Jesus as displayed to them in the washing of their feet, and made real in his most significant act of love – when he would lay down his life not just for his friends but for everyone who would turn to them.
So profound was the love of Christ to the disciples that they would continue to live it out and instruct those who would seek to enter the Kingdom in the same way. Consider the words that Paul used in the conclusion of his letter to the church in Galatia:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers. – Galatians 6:7-10 NIV
Our love of the other – a love that mirrors Jesus’ love – is part of the fruit that true faith in Christ will produce in our lives. We might be able to fool those around us about where our hearts belong, but we cannot fool well; thus, if we say we live for Jesus and yet we are not drawn naturally to love as he has loved us, then our hearts still beat to the rhythm of the world, the rhythm of the flesh. We will reap the fruits of such disorder love, how we love one another in the church and our desire to do as Christ did signify our belonging to him. Our self-sacrificial love of one another declares to the world the greater love we have received. How do we love one another? By service, kindness and mercy, so let us heed the words of Paul today as we seek to live out this commandment of Christ and not become weary of doing God! Instead, let us pray for and take every opportunity to make good/love to all people, especially the family of faith. We know by such acts we are identified with Jesus and make Him known to a weary and waiting world.
- Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity, 83-84 ↩