Mailed out for: Sunday, May 31st, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Lev 19:9-18 ESV] 9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
New Testament reading:
[Rom 5:1-11 ESV] 1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Gospel reading and sermon text:
[Jhn 13:31-38 ESV] 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 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.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 36 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.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 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.
I’ve titled my sermon today “The Love of Jesus.” The English language is often ambiguous and such a phrase as this sermon title could be taken either of two ways. “The Love of Jesus” could be referring to the love that Jesus has for others, for us. Or it could be taken as the love that we have for Jesus. Today I’ll be speaking about some of each of these two. In fact, the two are connected, for it is the love that Jesus has for us that gives us the example for how to love others, and, as we love others we give glory to Jesus whom we love.
There are three points then that we’ll be looking at today. I. The love of Jesus is a new commandment. II. The love of Jesus is the mark of a Christian. III. The love of Jesus endures.
Let us first return to the context of our passage. After Judas has left, going out to betray Jesus, we now find Jesus talking with his remaining disciples. In our passage, ending chapter 13, Jesus responds to a question from his disciple Peter. As the discussion continues, Jesus answers also the disciples Philip and Thomas. We’ll look at that part with Philip and Thomas next week. For now, we’ll look at Jesus and Peter.
Jesus explains that his time is now not much longer.
I. The Love of Jesus is a New Commandment
And so he gives “a new commandment.” “Love one another, just as I have loved you.”
A. Maundy Thursday
Recall that in John’s Gospel we are now in the last week of Jesus’ life. And in the traditional calendar of this “Holy Week” before Easter Sunday we have the well-known “Good Friday,” and the lesser known “Holy Wednesday,” and “Maundy Thursday.”
It is here in Jesus’ giving of this “new commandment” that we find the basis for Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum meaning command or mandate. Maundy Thursday is Mandate Thursday. It is the day that Jesus gives the mandate or command to “love one other, just as I have loved you.”
B. Why is it new?
But when reading out passage many people are drawn to that statement of Jesus that this is a “new commandment.” Why is it new? Hasn’t God from the beginning commanded us to love one another?
Leon Morris explains: “The command to love is a very old one. You’ll find it in Leviticus 19:18. So it cannot be said that the command to love is any revolutionary new thing. But what our Lord means is made clear by the following words “As I have loved you, that you love one another.” What is new is not the command to love, but the command to love as Christ loved, and the command to love on the basis of Christ’s love.”
The command is new because love of this magnitude has not been known. Love you neighbor. You have heard that before. We all know that. But you have never seen love like this.
It is like when your friend tells you about a dish at some restaurant. Perhaps it is spaghetti and meatballs. And you say, “I’ve had spaghetti and meatballs before.” And your friend responds, “you’ve never had spaghetti and meatballs LIKE THIS.”
I say much the same about a little place not far from here across the border in New Jersey. They have smoothies, and that’s something I normally do not like. I find most smoothies too sweet. And I think often it is just overpriced mashed banana. But I send friends to this place in New Jersey where they use high quality ingredients and I say, “You’ve never had a smoothie like this.”
So Jesus knows, of course, that the disciples have heard the command to love another. But he now tells them, “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.”
C. Love as Jesus Loved.
The explanation of this newness is found in that statement, “just as I have loved you.” Jesus gives us the greatest example of how to love one another. And what a great example of love it is. Being God, Jesus is love itself. And love flows through the actions of his life. Remember in our narrative, we recently saw Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. And in some traditional Maundy Thursday services, I understand that foot-washing is observed.
Jesus’ example includes that of servanthood. While the disciples ask “Who is the greatest among us” Jesus stoops down (literally) and washes their feet. The greatest of all has humbled himself as a servant. He has spent his time teaching the disciples, healing people, and preaching about the Kingdom of God.
But Jesus is talking in this same passage about his soon departure from the world. He will soon be showing His love for His people in the greatest way – through the sacrifice of himself for the sins of man on the cross.
Both in life and in death Jesus loves His disciples and loves His people.
In our New Testament reading we read in Romans 5:8 – “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Nothing less that the life of Jesus Christ was sacrificed for the behalf of us sinners who believe in Him.
We find an important application in this understanding of “SELF-sacrificial.” Loving us, Jesus did not sacrifice something else; he sacrificed himself. Likewise, in loving others we are not to sacrifice someone else’s time, money, or effort. We are to use our.
This is one of the pernicious effects of government taxation. In this nation before about 1913 charity was solely the realm of the church. And when a widow had no one to provide for her, the church would step in. The people of the church would sacrifice their own monies, time, and effort to help out. But now, sadly, government taxes (not voluntary contributions) are controlled by administrators who disperse them to support those in need. There is no love in this process. It is not self-sacrificial; it is using other people’s money.
Love is to be self-sacrificial. We are to love “as” Jesus loved. And this may be the key word in the entire passage. “As.” To love “as” Jesus loved. It is that word that makes the commandment “new,” and it is that word that explains what our love is to look like.
I am glad to say that I see that self-sacrificial love in our church. And this should be seen because loving as Jesus loved—the love of Jesus— is the mark of a Christian.
II. The Love of Jesus is the Mark of a Christian
Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He doesn’t say that people will know you are Christians because you are able to recite more of the Bible than others. Nor does he say that people will know that you are Christians because you have a better grasp of the details of theology that other. No, people will know that you are a Christian because you have love for one another.
This true genuine love is based on the love of Jesus. There is doctrine involved. You simply cannot love in the Biblical sense, entirely self-sacrificially, if you do not believe in Jesus Christ. The new commandment is only understood in the light of Christ.
Our Westminster Confession explains that while unbelievers may outwardly do some of things God commands of them, yet “because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith” their works are displeasing to God. We only fulfill the new commandment when we love Jesus and love as he has loved, self-sacrificially.
E. Love is fulfilling the law.
The Old Testament passage I read earlier provides a number of specific ways in which we can love others: “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning.””You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love, ultimately, is fulfilling the law of God. We love one another when we obey God’s commands.
Romans 13:10 – “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:21 – “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”
John 15:10 – “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
III. The Love of Jesus Endures
Returning then to our passage, we see such a contrast in that Judas has left but Jesus is speaking about love among the rest of the disciples.
And Christ wants to ensure that his disciples will not be overwhelmed by the events that are to occur. His death approaches and he wants to ensure that the disciples will not depart as Judas did. So does he love his disciples that he speaks to them saying “little children.” He loves his disciples as a parent loves a child.
So Jesus explains to Peter “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
And Peter asks”Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
But in fact, as Jesus foretells, Peter will deny Christ three times. It is Jesus alone who will endure in love and lay down his life. None of the disciples will die with him at the time of his crucifixion.
Jesus says to Peter, “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.”
William Hendricksen explains that rooster crowing served as a time indication. Based on Mark 13:35 he contends that rooster crowing marked out various “watches” in the darkness. There were four watches: Evening 6-9, midnight 9-12, “rooster crowing” 12-3, and morning 3-6. So Hendricksen contends that what is meant is that before 3:00 AM Peter will deny Jesus three times.
But while Peter denies Jesus, Jesus’ love endures.
And so when we think of loving “as” Jesus loved, we find that this is a tall order. Even the disciples failed. WHO can possibly love that well!
But even as Peter denied the Lord, Jesus continued to love Peter, as he also continued to love all of His people, giving his life for them, for you, for me.
John Calvin explains that when Jesus says we are to love “As I have loved you” that “Jesus holds out his own example, NOT BECAUSE WE CAN REACH IT, for we are at a vast distance behind him, but that we may, at least, aim at the same end.”
We have this great new commandment – to love AS he loved us. And this indeed is a great commandment. But, like all commandments, it is terrifying in realize that we cannot abide by it entirely. It is a goal, a great example for us. And thus we pray that the Holy Spirit works in us to love another and to do so in greater and greater ways. But never shall we lose sight of the unique greatness of Jesus’ love. For it is the love of God alone – it is by His grace alone – that salvation comes to sinners. To God be the Glory. Amen.