LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 9 February 2020
Sermon Text: John 13:21-38
I. Jesus’ example of love
II. A “new” commandment
III. A “new” commandment in three senses
These verses of Jn. 13 we’ve just read capture some of the very last hours Jesus spent with His disciples before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. On this very night, the Lord shared with them the last supper. It’s not clear whether it was during or after the supper, but Jesus washed their feet that night. Having shown His example, the Lord commanded His beloved disciples to serve one another likewise.
In addition to that example, He showed them another example with a command for them to follow. This is what we read from v. 34, that is, to love one another as He has loved them. He designated it as a ‘new commandment’ given to them. It is interesting to note that whenever Jesus commanded His disciples to do something, He always showed them an example. Having washed their feet earlier that night, He commanded them to serve one another; having shown them his example of prayer, He urged them to pray continually and in His name; having shown them how comfortable He was in the stern of a boat in a wild storm, He commanded them to believe in Him, thus, in the Father. Here, in the passage we’ve just read, His example for this ‘new’ commandment, that is, to love one another, is His attitude toward Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. As they saw how generously and lovingly their Master dealt with them, Judas and Peter, they received this ‘new commandment’ from their Lord.
I. JESUS’ EXAMPLE OF LOVE
I want to begin with Jesus’ example of love before considering His command. Let’s take a moment to consider who these men were to whom Jesus showed His example of love.
First of all, Judas was a betrayer who was planning to hand Jesus over to the Jewish authorities. He was a betrayer, enemy of Jesus. He was also a thief, as Jn. 12:6 tells us; he used to steal from the moneybag he was in charge of. Of course, Jesus knew all about him. On this night of the last supper, Jesus knew that Judas was soon going to betray and lead Him to the cross. Yet, He washed his feet alongside others. He had hinted them all the existence of ‘the unclean’ in their midst as He said in 13:11, “Not all of you are clean,” and again in v. 18, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I haven chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled.” Then, He continued, quoting Ps. 41:9, “‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heal against me.’” This expression was an idiom in the Near East of contempt. Mk. 14:20-21 gives a clearer picture of what the Lord said about Judas; He said, “the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” In short, Judas was an enemy of Jesus – not in a sense he could compete or fight against Jesus, but in the sense that he was against the Lord, conspiring to destroy Jesus.
Our Lord knew all about him from the beginning. On this night of His last supper with His beloved disciples, Judas was there with Him and He washed his feet. Moreover, He dipped a morsel of bread and gave it to him, saying, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Because His voice was soft and tender, none of the disciples noted what He really meant. They thought that Jesus was asking him to do one of his usual duties as the carer of the moneybag. This is Jesus’ amazing example of love. If you know someone very well, having spent quite a number of years – say, the entire three years – together, you’d easily be able to pick up your friend’s feeling by simply hearing his voice, wouldn’t you? But none of the disciples there in that room noted what was going on in the mind of their Master toward Judas Iscariot.
Moreover, v. 21 describes what was going on in Jesus’ spirit when He washed Judas’ feet and spoke to him. He was ‘troubled’ in His spirit! That’s because of the coming death on the cross which would be soon begun by Judas’ handing Him over. This word, ‘troubled,’ means being disturbed, agitated, stirred up with various emotions. But none who were there in the room noticed it at all. Jesus spoke to Judas kindly while His spirit was troubled! What an amazing example of love! It’s the ultimate fulfilment and example of love commanded to us by Jesus in Mt. 5:44, where He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
What about Simon Peter’s case? In a sense, Peter was a betrayer too. He would soon deny the Lord three times as prophesied in v. 38. But on this night, what did he say to Jesus in v. 37? Braggingly he said, “I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus knew what Peter was soon going to do. Denying Jesus in the court of the high priest, Peter even invoked a curse on himself and swore that he did not know Him! I guess you’d know well how much pain and anger a betrayal of a best friend would cause to someone’s heart. Moviemakers are those who know this bitterness well and have produced numerous movies. But the Lord was kind to Peter. Then, as you read from the beginning of Jn. 14, He speaks to Peter and all disciples this, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” What an amazing example of love this is!
Jesus’ example of love is amazing not because He was able to control His feelings and dealt kindly with them, but because He looked at them and considered their souls. As I read to you earlier what the Lord said about Judas from Mk. 14:20-21, Jesus’ words focused only on Judas’ spiritual life than on his act of betrayal. The Lord’s concern was on Peter’s faith that would save him despite his denial of his Saviour three times. His flesh would soon be torn on the cross and His blood be shed, but Jesus’ eyes were fixed on the souls of these men. His concern for their souls was far greater than the trouble that stirred up His spirit. I pray that you’d be able to understand this concern of the Lord for each one’s soul as you hear more of today’s message. So, with this example, Jesus gave His commandment to His disciples – and through them to us all – to love one another.
II. A “NEW” COMMANDMENT
Interestingly, Jesus says that this commandment of His is a ‘new’ commandment. This designation is more than interesting; it is rather strange. How come it is a ‘new’ commandment?
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not questioning Jesus’ authority by saying, ‘Is it really new?’ What I mean is that this command for mutual love isn’t new; it’s an ‘old’ command found also in the OT, such as in Lev. 19:18 that says, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the LORD.” In this sense, this commandment of Jesus is not something ‘new,’ unlike the way you talk about a new house, a new car, a new road, a new minister, a new church member, and so on. When you say something’s new, you mean something that has not been there, but now is. A building wasn’t there before, but is now; so it’s a new building.
The ‘newness’ of Jesus’ commandment is not that sort of ‘newness.’ This command to love one another has always been in the centre of the Bible. This has always been the core of the teaching of the Scriptures. A proof of that is in Mt. 22:36-40. A Pharisee who was a teacher and expert of the Law asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Then He continued, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Do you see in Jesus’ summary what upholds the entire OT? It’s ‘love’ for God and ‘love’ for one another. So, ‘to love one another’ is not a ‘new’ commandment; rather, it has always been one of the two pillars of God’s law and commandment.
III. A “NEW” COMMANDMENT IN THREE SENSES
Then, why does Jesus say in our text passage that it is a ‘new’ commandment? Was Jesus confused? Absolutely not! Never can He be confused by anything! Then, is Jesus talking about something different to that OT commandment? No, not at all. It is definitely a repetition and re-emphasis of what has been given to God’s people as a command. Then, why is it a ‘new’ commandment?
In three senses, this command is ‘new.’ Firstly, it is always ‘new’ when this love is compared to the way of all in mankind. To love one another as exemplified by Jesus is so alien to human race. That’s why it is ‘new.’
Fallen man’s understanding and practice of love is always toward ‘self.’ Practising love by helping others is always for the joy and satisfaction of the helper. Love between husband and wife, love between parents and children, love between siblings and among friends is always selfish, self-centred love. That’s why such love can be broken when a party in that love relationship becomes unhappy and dissatisfied. If anyone loves another despite all dissatisfactory conditions and circumstances, still that love is far from being compared to the love exemplified and commanded by Jesus. Why? Because Jesus’ love washes away of sins and saves the soul from sin’s eternal condemnation. That’s the definition of ‘love’ and, in this sense, Jesus’ commandment to love one another is ‘new’ to all in human race. So, when a Christian understands this true love of Jesus and, seeking the Lord’s help, leads a fellow human being who is a sinner to the Lord Jesus, that is ‘love.’ Jesus’ love is a revolutionary way of bringing the eternal spiritual blessing to a soul. It is so radical to the ears and hearts of sinful men. And that’s why it is a ‘new’ commandment.
Secondly, it’s ‘new’ to even many believers because many of us forget this commandment of our dear Lord. We only love ourselves, forgetting or dismissing our need to ‘love’ others. And to ‘love’ others means to pray for them and help and guide them to the Lord Jesus so that they might also have the true love of Jesus that washes away of sins and grants His eternal life. Because many of us, if not all, constantly fail to remember this love, it becomes ‘new’ to even Christians like us daily and moment by moment.
Truth is that still some people understand this command to love one another in the worldly sense, trying to be nice and compassionate to others, yet purposelessly or blankly. ‘Dispense mercy to all people,’ but for what? To achieve what? Only to improve their daily meals by adding a piece of beef or to cover them with better clothes? What about love that seeks to supply true food for souls and Jesus’ righteousness that covers the nakedness of sin? If someone has ‘ample goods laid up for many years,’ but his life is taken away today, what benefit would there be for his soul? So, to love one another and lead them to Christ is ‘new’ to even many Christians as we fail to remember the true meaning of Jesus’ love.
Thirdly, this commandment to love one another is ‘new’ as the Lord Jesus expounds this ‘old’ commandment afresh to our ears and heart. He teaches us that the real and true love is the love of Jesus proclaimed on Calvary. And everyone who comes to Him and repents of sins and trusts Jesus as the Lord and Saviour, he/she will surely be saved and become God’s child, a member of God’s family for eternity! Previously in the OT, however, all who came to God in faith had to hold onto God’s promise that was still to come. They depended on the blood of animals which couldn’t take their sins away; so they had to come back again and again to shed the blood of bulls and goats. But now, because of Jesus’ death on the cross and His shedding of His blood and tearing of His flesh, and because of our faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God, our sins are taken away once and for all! So, this love of Christ is ‘new’ to us, and we live daily dependent on this ‘new’ love of Christ.
By now, I believe that you all know the conclusion of this message. Jesus’ command to love one another is a ‘new’ commandment for us all who trust Jesus and follow Him always.
Then, how can we practise it in our daily living? How can we love one another? First of all, we must remember that this love Jesus showed us and commanded us to do likewise is not the ‘love’ this world says it is. Jesus’ giving His life away for sinners like us is true love. So, we shouldn’t be fooled by this world.
Secondly, we should come down from our haughty self-love and share with others the true love of Jesus that we know and have. Keeping Jesus’ love, His saving grace, to oneself is his/her haughty self-love, the opposite of loving others. So, pray and think together with the Holy Spirit about how to help others so that they could also know Jesus. That’s, in other word, our act of ‘loving’ one another. Sharing dollars by itself isn’t ‘loving’ others, but if your sharing dollars with others is for them to know and come to Jesus, that’s your ‘love’ shown and practised. Spending time together or giving your hands to others in various ways by themselves aren’t ‘loving’ others. But, if all those things are to assist and lead the lost souls to find the Giver of life, thus, be washed clean of their sins, that’s your act of loving.
Thirdly and lastly, sharing this love is not only with the unbelievers, but also – and I believe, primarily so – with the fellow members of God’s household. We’re called by Jesus to build each other up in His Church, and our mutual building up is for our coming closer to our Lord Jesus. If anyone in Christ’s church needs help or guidance, we altogether give our hands; if anyone lacks understanding, we share the word of God with deep prayer for him/her; if anyone is weak, we seek the Lord’s healing, and so on, so that we altogether come closer to our Saviour and enjoy His blessings! Doing this among ourselves is our act of loving one another!
So, my fellow members of Christ’s Church, I challenge you that you change your mind, and start practising this command of our Lord and love one another, that is, to share Jesus who has opened the ‘new and living way’ to Him through faith in Him! ***