“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.’ So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he, Judas, immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.’”
This is God’s Word. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we come to a sobering part of Your Word. We’re arrested by what we hear Jesus saying to His disciples – both the startling command and the sobering pronouncement of what was about to take place, a betrayal and a denial. And because these things are part of actual history, and because they are written down to shape our lives, we ask for the help of Your Holy Spirit to enable us to hear Your Word and to understand it, not just with our minds but that our hearts would understand, that we’d embrace Your truth, and that our lives would be transformed and even freed through Your Word by the power of Your Spirit. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Please be seated.
So we began last Sunday evening looking at what scholars call “The Farewell Discourse,” John chapters 13 through 17; five chapters. This is Jesus’ final words to His disciples. It’s really an ominous conversation. It’s ominous because within twenty-four hours, Jesus is going to be betrayed, He’s going to be arrested, convicted, tortured brutally, crucified, killed, and buried – all within twenty-four hours, and Jesus knows it. And because He knows what’s coming, because He realizes, “Everything in My ministry has come to this,” because of this He has one final conversation with His disciples. We call it a farewell discourse. He’s getting them ready for the brutality of what is about to happen to Him for the horror that they are going to observe and experience, for the lostness they are going to experience, and for the inexplicable wonder that they are going to find three days later. He’s getting them ready; the last conversation He has.
Last Sunday we introduced this farewell discourse by showing there are two primary trajectories in these five chapters. Jesus is driving two fundamental themes into the hearts of His disciples. One, that the follower of Jesus is appointed to bear fruit. It’s not just about you and me. Jesus is determined to shape us so that we will be instruments in His hands toward the ingathering of His people. He wants to use us to accomplish His work. That’s the first theme. The other theme is, we are deeply loved by our Father. Strikingly, He is going to show us over and over again that it’s so hard for us to embrace both. It’s hard for us to believe how deeply He loves us and it’s hard for us to believe that He rescued us to be instruments of bearing fruit rescuing others. Those are the themes that He’s going to come back to again and again.
In this passage, this second half of John chapter 13, we’re going to come to a stunning statement almost in the middle of the text. In the middle He’s going to make a startling statement. He calls it a new commandment. “A new commandment I give to you,” verse 34, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And I’d like us to look at this commandment from three perspectives. One, I’d like us to look at the newness of this commandment. Secondly, the obstacles to the commandment. And third, the practice of this commandment. The newness, the obstacles, and the practice.
The Newness of the New Commandment
And we’ll start with the newness of it. “A new commandment I give you.” Now on one level, there was nothing new to what Jesus was saying. From the very beginning of His public ministry He was talking about the command to love. In one of His earliest teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” He said you are called to love. God calls you to love. At one point when one of the religious leaders, a lawyer, was trying to trap Jesus, the lawyer asked him, “What’s the most important commandment out of all the commandments in the law?” Jesus said you can boil it all down to this. “The most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And secondly, to love your neighbor as yourself. One these two laws hang everything else you find in the law.” So on one level, there is nothing new to this commandment. Jesus has been living out and demonstrating a life of love from the very beginning. But He does call it “a new commandment.” He’s taking this command to love one step further.
Now the disciples don’t see it yet. Actually they can’t see it yet. They’ll only see it after the resurrection. See what the disciples don’t understand is that Jesus is not, right now, going to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies. They thought He was there to do that. This morning, if you were here, you heard Cory Brock reading during the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he read from Isaiah 25 where the prophet, Isaiah, says, “On this mountain God will do these things and they are stunning things. He’s going to remove the shroud of death, He’s going to create a feast for His people, He’s going to make all things right.” And the disciples of Jesus believed that because He had this amazing power – they had seen the miracles. He could control the weather. He could control the sea. He could raise the dead. He could heal the sick. He could multiply fish. There was nothing He couldn’t do! And so the disciples were convinced, “It’s now! If He has all this authority, if He has all this power, surely He’s going to do it now.”
And they could not understand what we see – that there was going to be another 2,000 years at least before Jesus actually did what all these Old Testament prophecies said He would. So they couldn’t understand what was unique about the newness of this prophecy. They couldn’t see that the cross was necessary. Jesus had talked about His going to the cross but it didn’t fit in their brains. “How could this powerful leader, teacher, authoritative master, how could He be arrested, convicted and killed?” It didn’t fit in their brains. See, there are some things, some things you can only read backwards. They only make sense when you look back at them into the past. And that’s what the teaching of the cross really was. It made no sense to the disciples. It didn’t fit in their brains.
It’s kind of like going back a year for us. Go back to New Year’s Day, January 2020. I actually asked one of our deacons at the door this morning what he would have thought if at a New Year’s party, New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2019, what if I came up to him and said, “You know, in 2020 you’re going to be prevented from going to church in the United States. You’re not going to be able to go to your office the way you want to. You’re not going to be able to go to the gym. You’re not going to get your haircut because you won’t be allowed to go to the barber. You’re not going to be able to go to your favorite restaurant. You’re not going to have elective surgeries. You’re going to be using this software called Zoom for almost all of your meetings. What would you have said at that New Year’s party December 31, 2019?” And he laughed and he said, “I’d have said you were crazy! I would have asked someone to come, gather you up and take you to the loony bin because not in these United States could these things ever happen! Come on, tell us you can’t go to church, can’t go to Sunday school, can’t gather with your friends?” But that’s exactly what happened. In 2019 it wouldn’t have fit in our brains, but now looking back we can say, “Okay, this makes sense. I see what this is about.” And here we are, all wearing masks – almost all of us!
Some things only make sense looking backwards at them, and that’s what this new commandment was for these disciples. There was a new quality to the kind of love Jesus was commanding and He was saying, “As I have loved you, so you are to love one another.” They thought maybe it was this really shocking thing that Jesus had done in washing their feet – unthinkable thing that their master, their teacher would take off His outer garments, wrap Himself in a towel, bow down in front of them and wash their grubby feet. But that was only an example of what was yet to come within twenty-four hours because less than twenty-four hours later they would be stunned to behold their master, their powerful, authoritative leader and king, laying down His life for His friends. See, there’s something entirely new about this command to love one another. The disciples couldn’t see it that night, but a short time thereafter they would. It’s what Jesus would talk about in just a couple of chapters – John 15 verse 13, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends.” That’s the newness of the command. They saw it later as we see it looking back.
The Obstacles of the New Commandment
But that brings us to the obstacles of the command. And you see the obstacles so clearly in the example of Judas and Peter. And I’d like you to think about their experience slightly differently because the two obstacles you’ll see in this chapter are one, self-preservation, and two, self- reliance. Both are graphic obstacles to our loving the way Jesus has commanded us to. Judas, for example, is a picture of self-preservation. Judas, we’re told, was probably the most intelligent, reliable, most educated of the disciples. John 12 tells us that he was the keeper of the money bag. We’re also told that he was shrewd; that he was helping himself to what was in that money bag. They had a singular checkbook for all the disciples – that one money bag paid for everything they needed for their public ministry. But he was stuffing his own pockets with what was in it.
And Judas, shrewd as he was, was becoming frustrated. In the previous chapter, John chapter 12, you read that at a dinner gathering where Jesus was the honored guest, a woman whom Jesus had delivered came and did something that was shocking to everyone and frustrating to Judas. She took her nest egg – we’re told it was an alabaster bottle of expensive ointment or perfume. And when I say nest egg, Judas tells us in Matthew’s gospel that Judas was angry and said in Matthew 26:8, “This is a waste for her to take this bottle, break it open, and pour it all over Jesus’ feet and then wipe His feet with her hair!” Such was her sense of being overwhelmed at what Jesus had done for her, she took what was her life savings, this nest egg, her investment portfolio. Judas says, “We could have sold this for 300 denarii.” That is, 300 days of wages. This is a year’s salary for a worker. Think about what you make in a year. Maybe $20,000; maybe several hundred thousand dollars, but it’s all wrapped up in this one container of perfume. And this woman breaks it open, pours it on Jesus’ feet, wipes His feet with her hair, and Judas is shocked. He’s angry. Matthew tells us he’s angry not because he cared at all for the poor, but he was a thief. He was helping himself to what was there.
So he’s frustrated; he’s angry. He says, “Why are we wasting this?” And he’s beginning to look at what’s taking place. He’s seeing the religious leaders becoming increasingly hostile toward Jesus. He’s seeing Jesus baiting these religious leaders. He’s not trying to get along. He’s not taking any steps that are designed to make people line up to make Him the king. Actually, He’s taking steps that are making people angry at Him, at Jesus. And Judas is beginning to line everything up and he’s saying, “This is not going to work out well. This is not going to turn out well at all. As a matter of fact, the hostility is rising. The risks Jesus is taking, the risks He is taking are becoming greater and greater. I need to figure out where am I going to land. I don’t care what happens to these other disciples. I really don’t care what happens to Jesus. I need to take care of what happens to me.” And so with that frustration in his heart, Judas goes to the religious leaders and he says, “I’ve seen enough. Enough is enough. I don’t want any more part of what Jesus is doing. It’s a waste. It’s not for me.” And in Matthew 26 verse 14, Judas went to the chief priests and he said, “What will you give me if I deliver Him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment on, he sought an opportunity to betray Jesus. Now understand, Judas was paid in advance to betray his Lord.
Let that sink in. What’s it take to make someone that frustrated to where he says, “This one that I’ve been with for three years – I’ve watched all His power, His miracles. I’ve listened to His teaching but it’s not for me. I’ve got to look out for myself. I’ve got to put myself in a place where when all this shakes out I come out on top.” That’s self-preservation. That’s self- protection. That’s putting myself in a place where I evaluate, I measure, and I say, “I’m going to do what puts me in the best place for me.” Judas couldn’t see that for Jesus, the cross, about which He was speaking over and over again, the cross was the plan. Judas couldn’t see the redemption, the new life that could result only from the cross. He couldn’t see it, wouldn’t see it, and so he turned to self-preservation, self-protection, and said, “I’ve got to look out for myself.”
That’s the first obstacle, even for you and me, that’s the first obstacle to this kind of love to which Jesus calls us. You see it in our own marriages. You see it in our relationships with our children, with our neighbors, our coworkers. It’s really pervasive. The calculating, self-protection, self-preservation, the unwillingness to be vulnerable, the unwillingness to take risks. It says, “Nah, I’ve got to make sure I protect myself so that I come out on top when this is all said and done.” That’s the first obstacle to loving as Jesus has commanded us in this new commandment.
But there’s a second obstacle that really Peter illustrates for us. It’s the obstacle of self-reliance. You see it in verses 36 through 38. Judas has left, it’s night, and Jesus says in verse 31, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself and glorify Him at once.” Five times He speaks about God’s glory. And then He says this, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’” Now this throws the disciples into real confusion. Peter, in particular says, “Where are You going and why can’t I come?” Matthew’s gospel slows the film down and unpacks it even further and Jesus says, “You’re all going to abandon Me.” Peter looks around and says, “No, no, no, no. Even if all these other guys abandon You, not me! I’m not going to abandon You. You can count on me. I am here for the duration. Even if I have to die, I would sooner lay down my life for You than abandon You!” And Jesus says to him, “Really?” Verse 38, “Will you lay down your life for Me?” In the Greek the word order is different. It comes across this way. “Your life for Me, you’ll lay down?”
See, the core question here is, “Who will lay down his life for whom?” John 15 – again, I’ve quoted this – Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, than he lays down his life for his friends.” “Your life, Peter, for Me, you’re going to lay down?” And then these ominous words, “I tell you the truth, Peter, before the rooster crows again, you’re going to deny even knowing Me three times.” Now Peter sticks to his guns. He is resolute. And that’s proven later in the scenario as Judas gathers up a whole band of armed soldiers to arrest Jesus. He goes to this place where he knows Jesus and the other disciples are going to go. But Peter shows up next to Jesus with a sword. And when the mob, led by Judas the traitor, comes into the garden, the first thing Peter does is he unsheathes his weapon and he begins waving it around. A fisherman waving a sword – that’s not going to end well. And a servant loses his ear in the process. But it’s only a few hours later before Jesus’ words actually come true. “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
Do you hear the self-reliance as Peter is confronted by Jesus? Jesus says, “A new command I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. And you are about to see the full display of My love.” That’s John 13:1. He loved them to the end. He showed them the full extent of His love. Peter says, “No, You’re going to see what I can do. Even if all these other guys abandon You, not me.” Jesus gives them a new command – “I want you to love each other as I have loved you.” And there’s two obstacles. There’s self-preservation that Judas pictures for us, and there’s self-reliance that Peter pictures for us. Neither allow us to love as Jesus has commanded us. We will never love as Jesus has loved us while self-preservation and self-reliance motivate us. We will always stop short. We will always be derailed.
The Practice of the New Commandment
So we’ve seen the newness of this command, we’ve seen the obstacles of the command; finally, the practice of this command. It’s really an ominous question. “Will you lay down your life for Me?” Who is laying down their life for whom? That’s the key question in the Gospel. Jesus has said it, “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends,” to which He says, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Here’s the point. There will always be a laying down of our lives for us to love as Jesus has loved us. There will always be a necessary, even sacrificial laying down of our lives to love as Jesus loves us. I don’t like hearing myself say that because I don’t want to lay down my life. I want to enjoy my life. Don’t you? “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
There’s so much to say about this love I wish I had time to unpack it more carefully. Two negative things to say about it, though, just to highlight this. One, this is not a transactional love that Jesus is commanding. By transactional love I mean, “I’m going to love you because I’ve seen you love me,” or “I’m going to love you because I’m hoping you will love me back.” That’s not what Jesus is saying. As a matter of fact, he said, as we quoted earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. I’m calling you to lay down your life for people who are going to stomp all over you, who will never love you back.” It’s not a transactional reciprocity kind of love. That’s what comes naturally to us, right? We love the people who love us back. Jesus says, “No, this is a new command. As I have loved you, you who betray Me, you who deny Me, as I have loved you, I want you to love one another. This is how people will know that you belong to Me.”
The second thing is, it’s not a self-promoting love, meaning, Paul says in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine,” or literally, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” It’s not the kind of love that says, “I’m going to show love to you because I want to be well thought of, I want to make a good impression, I want to love this person here because then they’ll think well of me.” That has nothing to do with the kind of love to which Jesus is commanding us. He says, “Love one another deeply,” Peter writes, “from a pure heart.” It’s a radical love. It’s a self-sacrificing love. It’s a willing, laying down of one’s life kind of love. It’s what Jesus said in John chapter 10 when He talks about laying down His own life. He says, “No one takes My life from Me but I lay it down willingly. I lay it down of My own accord.”
Can you do that? Really, can you do that? Look, I’m married to my best friend, whom I love more than life, and yet it’s hard for me to lay down my life for my wife. It’s hard for me to love without always thinking, always thinking about reciprocity. “Look, I do these things for you. You need to do this for me!” Do y’all keep score in your relationships that way? This is not the new commandment, is it? The new commandment is a willing, even sacrificial laying down of our lives for those who are unlikely to ever love us back. Jesus says when you love this way, then you’ll demonstrate that you belong to Me. Then others will know that you are truly My disciples.
Can you do that? I can’t. Which on one level makes me think, “Well I’m off the hook then. I can’t do this. Jesus commanded me something that He knows I can’t do.” But in the very next verse, John chapter 14 verse 15, He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” How? Very next verse – “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever.” It would take a miracle for you to love this way. Wouldn’t it? It will take a miracle for me to love my wife this way, for me to love my kids this way, for me to love my neighbors, my coworkers this way. And yet it’s a miracle that Jesus intends to perform in my heart and your heart. This is why He commands us this new commandment. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. And I’m giving you the Holy Spirit who will do a miracle, who will enable you to love in a way that is absolutely impossible for you to do any other way on your own.
The two obstacles though will be self-preservation or self-reliance. Any time you start thinking about, “How do I make sure I take care of myself first? How do I make sure I come out well in the end?” or “I’ve got this. I can do this. I’m just going to try harder” – you’ve failed already. Our only hope is to come to the Lord Jesus and say, as in every other part of my life, “This is impossible unless You give me the grace by Your Spirit to enable me to do what You’ve already commanded me to do.” And Jesus smiles and says, “Great. Let Me serve you. As I washed the feet of My disciples, let Me wash your feet. Let Me serve you, enabling you to do what otherwise would be absolutely impossible.” This is the new commandment. It stands before us. You will confront it over and over throughout this week, and yet Jesus, by His Holy Spirit, stands ready with a smile to say, “Watch what we can do as you trust Me to serve you, to equip you by My Holy Spirit to enable you to love without expecting anything in return. Watch what we can do.”
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we recognize that the love to which You call us is patient, it is kind, it is a love that does not envy or boast, a love that is not arrogant or rude, a love that does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but it rejoices with the truth. It’s a love that bears all things and believes all things and hopes all things and endures all things. It’s a love that never ends. This is impossible for us, but with You all things are possible. And by Your Spirit, we ask You to enable us to love in this way. And in so doing, to show ourselves truly to be the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Make it a joy to willingly, even sacrificially, lay down our lives for the sake of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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