Scripture: 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.”
John 13:31-35 ESV [Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, troubled in spirit, Jesus reveals that one of the Twelve will betray him. Shocked, the disciples scan each other in suspicion. So Peter motions to John and signals him to ask their Master to identify the guilty party, which he does. Jesus replies that it is to whom he will dip and hand a morsel of bread. So Jesus passes it to Judas, who receives it—at which point Satan takes possession of him. Knowing what Judas conspires to do, Jesus tells him to do it quickly. Still, the rest of the disciples fail to grasp what is unfolding, with some conjecturing that Jesus had instructed Judas to buy food for the week-long feast or perhaps give something to the poor. Nevertheless, Judas makes a quick exit into the dark.
Today’s text continues the dialogue in the upper room after Judas’ exit. Turning his attention to the culmination of his ministry, Jesus announces to the Eleven that the appointed time of his glorification has come—and his Father, who is one with him, will be glorified through him. Compassionately addressing his disciples as little children, Jesus warns them that he will leave them to go where they cannot follow (alluding to his arrest, burial, and eventual ascension to the Father). So they will carry on his mission under a new command: “Love one another.” The world will see and understand that they are his disciples when they obey his declaration.
Side note: “Maundy Thursday” of Holy Week comes from the Latin “mandatum,” from which we derive the word “mandate” or “command” as translated above. Traditionally, churches worldwide will observe this eve of Good Friday by hosting a seder meal or foot-washing ceremony while focusing on how Christ loves us and how we are to “love one another.”
Takeaway: The “Son of Man” title appears twelve times in John’s Gospel—the above instance being the last. Jesus uses this title in our text to reveal his wholly human nature that will obtain glorification through his death and resurrection. Here, John does not want us to miss this important fact: Jesus’ divine essence subordinated to his human personhood to accomplish a substitutionary sacrifice for us, who are wholly human beings. Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Philippians corroborates this reality when he writes: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
That said, the heart of this passage is Jesus’ new command: Love one another as I have loved you. Given that the Synoptic Gospels reveal Jesus’ disciples jockeying for recognition in his kingdom leading up to this moment (Matthew 18:1-4; Mark 9:33-36; Luke 9:46, 22:24-27), Jesus saliently draws their attention to the heart of their mission to circumvent further rivalry that would cause disruption. Instead, a loving attitude toward one another will unite the disciples’ ministry work and witness to the Greco-Roman world that the One who loved them unconditionally has laid down his life for them and now inspires them to love others—even at the expense of their lives.
Our takeaway? Our commission is no different than the Eleven. Love one another as Christ loves us. When we do, we will thrive as did the church of the first four centuries (who cared for one another and those outside their communities suffering from persecution, disease, and abandonment). Even over these past sixteen centuries, seasons of revival have sparked similar love and care that has garnered the attention of outsiders under the leadership of men and women like the Wesley brothers, John Newton, Dwight L. Moody, Charles Finey, George Muëller, Florence Nightingale, Catherine McAuley, Evangeline Booth, Charles Spurgeon, or Mother Teresa, to name a few. As a result, the church founded hospitals, orphanages, recovery groups, and other means of social welfare that revealed a love for one another. Sadly, for the most part, the church has since abdicated most of these initiatives to civil government.
So how do we move forward in the right direction today? Start in our homes. Sacrificially care for our aging parents, spouses, and children. Next, care for the body of Christ (serving where needs align with our gifts). Then, pay attention to whom God brings across our paths in our neighborhoods and workplaces. And for some, God calls them to go and lovingly serve across the globe. But, in each instance, love must be the driving force. The love of God must be our motivation and source of strength and courage, and agapé (godly) love must flow through us to sustain us so that we can love one another. Then, the world will know we are Christ’s disciples.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who sacrificially loved us to his last breath to bring us new life in him. And we thank you for the saints through the past two thousand years who have taken Jesus’ new command to heart and loved a broken world at the risk of their lives. Still, for many of us, the notion of sacrificially loving others—particularly those we find challenging to be around—is daunting. So would you please help us become channels of your perfect love so we might find inspiration, courage, and fortitude to love one another as you and your Son love us? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling