The Love of Christ: On the night before the cross, Jesus gave his disciples a new command that would change everything: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Despite all the things that threaten to divide us, the cross-shaped, costly love of Jesus was to be the defining marker of his church. Recorded on Feb 4, 2024, on John 13:18-38 by Pastor David Parks.
Finding Life in Jesus’ Name is a sermon series on the gospel according to John in the Bible. Have you ever felt unsatisfied with your life? Or, even when things were going well, something was still missing? Many people sense there must be something more. But what?? John, one of the closest friends of Jesus, believed that Jesus came into the world so that we may have life and have it to the full. Jesus turned John’s life upside down, and John claims this new life — marked by God’s power, presence, and purpose — is available for all who believe.
So, all year, we’re working through The Gospel According to John in a series called Finding Life in Jesus’ Name. It wasn’t long ago that I was really having a hard time in my life. And I wasn’t handling it very well. And no one could see it more clearly than my wife, Holly. Now, Holly and I were married when we were pretty young. So we’ve had to do a lot of growing up together, and it hasn’t always been pretty. In fact, it never is. Immaturity is always painful. But when I was deep down in this dark valley and feeling pretty bad for myself, she could’ve responded to me with judgment and condemnation (or at least a cold shoulder). But instead, she told me, “It’s ok. I’m not going anywhere. And we’ll figure this out.” It was her grace; it was her love for me in that moment that made me want to run up out of the valley. Now, not everyone is called to be married, and I know that not everyone who gets married stays married for various reasons. But this kind of love is what every single one of us was created to enjoy with God and within the church. Today, we’re finishing John chapter 13, considering the love of Christ and his calling for us, his people, to love one another just as he has loved us. If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to John 13:18. We’ll read through this and unpack it as we go.
John 13:18–21 (NIV), “18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” 21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” Ok, let’s pause here. So, last week, we started a long section in John’s gospel focusing on the events and teachings of the night before the cross of Christ. This includes the story last week of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, demonstrating the humble service that Jesus called his disciples to do for one another. But this night also includes the Last Supper, one of the longest sections of the teaching of Jesus known as the Upper Room Discourse, and the sad story here of the betrayal of Jesus by one of his friends and followers. But Jesus knows this will happen. He isn’t surprised by this betrayal, but it still hurts. John says that he was troubled in spirit. If you knew one of your friends, someone you spent years of your life with, would sell you to your enemies, how would you feel? But Jesus says that this tragic choice was all part of the plan. He says this was to fulfill a verse from Psalm 41. This was a psalm of the ancient King David. And one where some sort of illness had threatened David’s life while his enemies prowled around him, celebrating his impending death. Even one of David’s close friends, one who had shared his bread, had turned against him. But David was confident that God would raise him up and he would enjoy life in God’s presence forevermore. Jesus says this psalm and this event in David’s life was a sign pointing forward a thousand years to Jesus and his enemies who prowled around him, hoping to celebrate his impending death and one of his close friends who would turn against him. Jesus tells the Twelve why he is telling them this. He says, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” In the shock and disorientation of the death of Jesus, he warns them ahead of time so that they will not completely lose faith. As we said last week, even though Jesus was about to face the ultimate pain and shame of the cross the very next day, and even though his death and resurrection would forever change the course of the history of all of creation, Jesus was not only thinking about himself and what he would do — he was still thinking about his disciples. He was still looking out for them and helping prepare them for what they would face in the next 72 hours and beyond. This is why Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” He starts to move to what they will need to remember after his death and resurrection when he will send them out to be his witnesses, bearing the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Much of the Upper Room Discourse will focus on this as well. But imagine if you saw Jesus become troubled in spirit and then heard that one of you would betray him. What did this even mean? Who? How? Was there something they should be doing? We see this in the response of the disciples in the next section. Let’s continue with v. 22.
John 13:22–30 (NIV), “22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” John’s final statement was probably a memory (that it was night) but also a theological judgment. Judas was lost. The light of the world was sitting next to him, but he was in the dark. But upon hearing that one of them would betray Jesus, they started looking at each other, and Peter motioned to John to ask him who he meant. John must’ve been next to Jesus as they reclined around a low table, which would’ve been common in their day for special occasions like the Passover meal. So John asks Jesus, and Jesus must’ve answered quietly since later, some of the disciples were confused about where Judas was going. Now, we don’t know for sure, but the fact that Jesus gave Judas the piece of bread means he might’ve been sitting right next to Jesus on the other side — John, the beloved disciples, on one side, and Judas, the betrayer, on the other. The fact that Jesus offered this choice piece of bread to Judas himself when Judas was perhaps sitting in a place of honor next to Jesus is as remarkable as the fact that Jesus had just washed Judas’ feet, knowing he would betray him. Again, Jesus didn’t just tell us to love our enemies; he modeled it. He lived out Proverbs 25:21, which says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” Commentator Don Carson writes, “Judas received the [bread] but not the love. Instead of breaking him and urging him to contrition, it hardened his resolve.” (PNTC, p. 475). It is here that Judas fully gives himself over to the darkness. John wrote earlier in chapter 13 that Judas was tempted by the devil, but here he is embodied by Satan himself, the Adversary. What a tragedy. It was Judas who would share the bread of Jesus but would turn against him. It was Judas who would go out, not to serve the poor, but to serve himself at the cost of his friend’s life. Now that Judas was gone, Jesus would give the remaining faithful Eleven what they needed to hear on the night before the cross. Let’s continue with v. 31.
John 13:31–38 (NIV), “31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is 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 everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” This is God’s word. Well, it’s here, after Judas departed, that the Upper Room Discourse begins and runs through the end of chapter 17. But here, Jesus says that he will be glorified immediately, at once, and that God would be glorified in him as well. How would this be? Because where Jesus is going — in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven — his disciples will not be able to follow. So, to prepare for his departure, King Jesus gives us a new command. But is this really a new command? In one sense, it’s nothing new. The command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself was already firmly on the books. Love was widely understood by devout Jewish men and women as the greatest commandment and the highest calling for people created by a loving God. But the kind of love that Jesus was commanding was new. In fact, it was radically new. Why? Because it was based on him. If you take notes in your Bibles, I want you to underline v. 34. Underline “Love one another.” But then circle, “As I have loved you.” In this simple statement, Jesus changes everything. His disciples/followers/servants/friends are called to love one another “as I have loved you.” And how did Jesus love his disciples? We know how Jesus loved! We’re called to love one another just as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in humble service on the night before his own death (including Judas!). We’re called to love one another just as he offered Judas the bread and one more chance to repent and believe. To love just as Jesus would give up his life on the cross for the sins of the world. To love just as Jesus spent years of his life selflessly working/teaching/healing/mentoring/leading/giving. To love just as Jesus was patient and kind but truthful with Peter when he knew that Peter would deny him three times in just a few short hours. To love just as Jesus was willing to forgive and restore Peter after his resurrection. And on and on. We could find 10,000 examples of the love of Jesus to serve as a model for the love we are to have for one another. But more, this type of cross-shaped love wasn’t only what we are called to do. It was to become the defining marker of his disciples. Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Nothing is more important to Jesus regarding his people/church than our love for one another. Nothing. The Apostle Paul would later famously write, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1Co 13:1-3). As a church, it doesn’t matter how good our preaching is, how nice our facilities are, how powerful our worship is, or how many ministries we might offer — it would all be worthless if we fail to love one another as Jesus has loved us. But cross-shaped love is not easy; it’s a costly love. It’s a sacrificial love. It’s a love that puts the needs of others ahead of our own rights, opinions, and preferences. It’s a love that is faithful even when life or relationships are hard. It’s a love that has the courage to speak the truth, even when it’s unpopular.
So, how might we apply this to our lives today? Well, since the command of Jesus is so clear, and since he modeled this costly, cross-shaped love so evidently, I’m not sure we need much help in understanding what Jesus means by this. Instead, I’d like to help you think through what prevents us from doing this, from obeying this command. I’ve said it for years: loving people is the hardest thing in all the world to do. Of course, it’s the best thing. But love can be so difficult, even for the mature believer. So, what are the barriers that make it difficult to love one another just as Jesus has loved us? I’ll just give you just two today. The first barrier is sin. The closer you get to another imperfect person, the more evidence you have to hold against them (and they have against you!). The more time you spend with people on this side of eternity, the more opportunities they have, like Judas or Peter, to sin against you. This is the natural way of this broken world, but this is also sadly true within the church. Time plus sinful people equals hurt, and I know that some of you have been hurt by other Christians very deeply. I’m so sorry, and I believe it grieves God’s heart when his children hurt one another. But also, this is why Jesus spent so much time talking about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. As Christians, we know that God has forgiven all of our sins because of his forgiving love and the power of the cross of Christ. If we believe this, then we must be people who repent/forgive. But if we have the faith and courage to do this, then our repentance/forgiveness can often build back a bridge of love. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1Pe 4:8). The second barrier to love is the fact that people have all kinds of different personalities/experiences/biases and, therefore, see the world very differently than you. And when two opposing perspectives come together, it’s natural to see the other as ignorant or even as your enemy. But fighting with each other in the church — whether it be over politics, ministry preferences, doctrinal issues, cultural hot topics, or something else — will convince no one that we are disciples of Jesus. Of course, it’s appropriate to have discussions and even disagreements over big, important things, especially when there might be multiple right answers. But we cannot, under any circumstances, withdraw our love for one another, even if we have significant disagreements with one another. We must learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Of course, if this all sounds hard, you’re starting to get it. It is. But it’s the only way that is good/right/beautiful. It’s the only way of Jesus. Remember that John began chapter 13 with this beautiful statement, “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” As individuals, and as a church, may we follow him, and may we love like this. May our love for one another be the defining marker of this church. And so bring glory and honor to our King. Let us pray.