(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
John 13:31-35 – When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus’ words from John 13 were spoken on Maundy Thursday evening. Jesus said this after Judas had departed. Judas had left to betray Jesus. Jesus began by saying, “Now is the Son of Man glorified” (John 13:31). When Jesus was betrayed, the process began which would bring glory to Jesus. Jesus’ glory is that he is our substitute who took the punishment for our sins. God is glorified through Jesus because he sent Jesus into the world to be our Savior. The time had come for Jesus to suffer and die. God would glorify the Son by raising him back to life as the proof that the price for sins had been paid.
Jesus speaks about his coming death to the disciples. He tells them, “I will be with you only a little while longer” (John 13:33). He then says, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13:33). Jesus only had a few more hours before he would be arrested. Right after celebrating the Passover meal, these disciples were ready to go with Jesus wherever he asked. But later, when that mob came to arrest Jesus, they would all flee. They were not willing to come with him to his trial. Jesus says that they could not come along and there is good reason for that. Even if they had enough courage, the arrest and death of the disciples would not have won salvation for anyone. No, Jesus had to go alone. Only the death of Jesus could save us from our sins.
Jesus gives his disciples an important command. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). Why does Jesus call this a new command? In the Old Testament, God had already given a command like this. In the book of Leviticus, God said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In fact this command to love one another is a good summary of commandments 4 through 10. If we honor our parents, if we avoid hatred and murder, if we avoid lust and adultery, if we do not steal, lie, or become jealous of what others have, then we are loving each other as God intended in the commandments.
Then why does Jesus call this a new command? He explains, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). This statement gives the new aspect. The people of the Old Testament didn’t know the love of Jesus like the disciples knew the love of Jesus. Even the disciples didn’t yet fully understand the love of Jesus. They had seen many miracles and heard his teaching but they did not yet know that he loved the world so much that he was going to give up his life of the cross. The love that Jesus is talking about is a completely unselfish, self-sacrificing kind of love. This love is difficult for us because by nature we want to be selfish and we don’t want to put the needs of others first.
Our God showed his love to us in the most important way when he sent Jesus to forgive us. 1 Corinthians 13 helps us understand God’s love. While it is true that this chapter of the Bible is often read at weddings, the love described there is the standard that God sets. We as sinful human beings cannot live up to that kind of love. This pure love is shown to us in Christ. Christ fulfilled this kind of love. For example “Love is patient” (v4). Jesus was much more patient with us than we deserved. We constantly sin against him and yet he still saved us. “Love is not self-seeking” (v5). Jesus did not seek his own good but rather the good of all people. Jesus put his body through torture so that we could be saved. “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (v5). Once Jesus has forgiven us, he doesn’t keep on bringing up our sins.
If we understand that this is the perfect standard of love, then we realize that even husbands and wives are going to fail to love like this. That’s why forgiveness is so important. When husbands and wives have conflicts, it is very easy to blame the problems on the other person. This is an example of failing to love one another. Patience goes right out the window when we feel like we are correct. It is easy to be selfish and to think that what I want is the most important thing. There are times that we keep a record of how others have wronged us. Then we bring up those sins in order to make ourselves look better or to try to inflict an emotional wound. Whether it is love between spouses or love between family and friends, we often fail to love one another as God has loved us.
It is easier for us to love others in our life when we appreciate how much God has loved us. Think about how others have sinned against you. It can sometimes be a struggle to get along with people because they keep on sinning against us. It seems some people in our lives never even admit they have wronged us and they never seem sorry for what they do. And yet, are there not times that we do the exact same thing to God? We sometimes don’t even realize our sins and when we do, there are times that we make excuses. There can be times that we are not even sorry. In spite of our sinfulness, Jesus forgives us. Because of Jesus’ forgiveness, we are motivated to forgive others.
The book of Revelation speaks about the glory of God that we will see in heaven. All believers are described as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. That husband is our Lord. In heaven we will see the full glory of God. In heaven we will have no more death or mourning or crying or pain. We will drink from the spring of the water of life. This is what we have to look forward to because we have been forgiven through Christ. In this life we do not see the full glory of God. We do not see the full glory of heaven until our God brings us there. However we do see the glory of God through what Jesus did for us. The glory of the cross and the resurrection give us the motivation to love one another. Jesus has revealed his glory to us and he has shown us what true love is all about. Through faith we show our love to others and this is evidence that we are Jesus disciples.
Jesus told his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). If the disciples went out and displayed the love of Christ, then all people would know that they were the followers of Christ. On many occasions, as the disciples shared their faith, many people were brought to faith in Christ. However there were other times that people persecuted the disciples because of their faith. Before the disciples fully understood the gospel message, they were afraid of persecution. For example, they hid in fear on Easter evening because they were afraid of what the Jews might do to them. After Pentecost, they were no longer afraid of sharing that message.
Take a look at Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts. They shared the love of Christ. Sometimes they were met with opposition and other times the message was heard and believed. People understood that Paul and Barnabas were disciples of Jesus. When they were persecuted, they continued to share the message of Christ. This was the loving thing to do. It is showing love to one’s neighbor when we preach the law and gospel even if that makes people angry. The persecution against Paul and Barnabas was eventually so strong that they had to leave the region. If they had remained quiet when they were persecuted, then people would not have recognized them as followers of Christ.
The command to love one another has to do with more than just preaching the word. It also has to do with our relationships with friends and family. When people see us acting in a loving way, it is a strong testimony to the faith in our heart. A good example of Christian love can be seen in the friendship of David and Jonathan. David and Jonathan should have been enemies. David had been chosen by God to be the next King of Israel even though Jonathan’s father Saul was still King. Jonathan was the oldest son of Saul and should have inherited the kingdom after Saul. Jonathan should have objected to David becoming King.
However, Jonathan and David became close friends. Jonathan held no grudge against David. Jonathan put the needs of David ahead of his own desire to be king. At times, Jonathan stood up to King Saul in order to protect David. Because of their close friendship, David promised Jonathan that he would always treat Jonathan’s descendants with kindness. This close friendship reminds us that Christian friendships can be very meaningful when we practice the love that Christ has shown to us.
How are people going to see that we are Jesus’ disciples? One major way is by showing love to our family and friends. An important part of love is forgiveness. It is so easy to hold a grudge. It is much more difficult to be able to forgive those who have wronged us. When we practice forgiveness, then we can build very close loving relationships. Then we can be kind and gentle toward others. People notice when we live in a loving way. When they notice they might start to wonder why we show this kind of love.
That leads into another way to show that we are Jesus’ disciples. The main way that people are going to know is through our words. When we tell them that we are only able to love because Christ loved us first, it gives us a wonderful opportunity to tell them more about what Christ has done for us. Just like with Paul and Barnabas, some people will listen to this message and others will flat out reject it. We continue to speak the message. Through that message, people will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. Through that message, the Holy Spirit will bring many to faith.