If you were to ask people who are not followers of Jesus today what they think of when they hear the word “Christian,” you would hear many different things. Some would say that we are narrow-minded and bigoted in our beliefs. Others might begin listing all of the things that they think we are against. Some might mention the big, nice buildings that we meet in or their perception that our preachers are always asking for money. If you were to ask the followers of Jesus what it is that stands out about the Body of Christ they might begin to list off certain doctrinal beliefs that we hold about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things this past week, how others see us and how we see ourselves as I’ve been studying and praying through John 13:31-35. Let’s read our Scripture and then we’ll talk more.
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man 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 all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35 NIVO)
I’m convinced that both those who stand on the outside of the Body of Christ and those of us who speak from inside the Body of Christ have missed it. What we are known for and what we think we are known for is far from what Jesus desires for us to be known for in the world today. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” There is nothing wrong with good theology, solid biblical doctrine. As a matter of fact I believe that it is only through a correct understanding of God’s Word and solid biblical doctrine that you and I can make manifest what we believe into what we do on a daily basis. A solid understanding of God’s Word is what molds, shapes, and powers the way we conduct ourselves in our daily lives. Yet, Jesus never said, “The world will know you belong to me if you have good doctrine.” Jesus never said, “Your theology will cause the world to know that you are my disciples.”
I don’t want to skip over verses 31-32 because they are so important in helping us to understand God’s ways in comparison to our way of thinking. When Judas left the company of Jesus and the disciples to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities, we read,
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man 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. (John 13:31-32 NIVO)
Five times in two verses some form of the Greek word, “??????” (doxazo), the word for “glorify” appears. Literally the word means, “to think, to hold an opinion, or to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to be made known.” We see the glory of God made manifest on Mount Sinai when we read in Exodus 24:15-17.
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. (Exodus 24:15-17 NIVO)
God’s glory was put on full display for all of those who gathered at the base of the mountain. In Luke 9:29-32 we see the glory of Jesus put on full display before Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. Read along with me.
29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. (Luke 9:29-32 NIVO)
Mount Sinai. The Mount of Transfiguration. Those were pretty spectacular displays of the glory of God. These scenes that we read about in God’s Word could have come straight out of the studios of Double Negative, the 2016 Oscar winner for special effects. Huge, glorious, overpowering, stunning, spectacular! Just the kind of stuff that we’d expect from God right?! In John 13, when Jesus speaks of God glorifying Him and that God Himself will be glorified in Him, Jesus wasn’t thinking about a spectacular, Hollywood-type display. Jesus wasn’t looking back, He was looking forward to the greatest display of God’s glory that would ever be witnessed and it would be His own death on the Cross. Through the Cross! We look at the Cross and cringe, the world looks at the Cross and mocks, but God looks at the Cross as the greatest display of His glory ever. It is in the Cross that God most fully displayed His power. The powers of hell and earth tried to silence Jesus and they thought they had accomplished their goal, but God raised Him from the dead! In Acts 3:13-15 we read what Peter told the crowd as they looked in disbelief at the man who had not been able to walk since birth walking, leaping, and praising God.
13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. (Acts 3:13-15 NIVO)
You disowned Him, you chose a murderer over Jesus, “you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” Not only did God put His power on display when He glorified Jesus on the Cross, but God also demonstrated the glory of His justice in the Cross of Jesus. We hear a lot about justice or the lack of justice in our day, but never has the world understood justice as God does. There is a price to be paid for sin and the price is death. That’s what we read in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” Our sin is against God and yet it was God who willingly provided the payment for the sins we have committed as Jesus went to the Cross. Isaiah tells us, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIVO). Throughout the Old Testament the priest would make atonement for the sins of the people by killing a young bull, a ram, or a lamb on the altar. All of that was a precursor for what was to come. The Apostle Paul knew the routine all too well and yet he recognized what God had done in Jesus and wrote,
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26 NIVO)
God is “the one who justifies” sinners, He is the one who took our sin and laid it on His Son so that we might be reconciled with Him. That is justice like this world has not witnessed since! Oh the glory of our great God! He is all powerful, even overcoming death and the grave for you and me! The world screams for justice and yet we really have no concept what true justice looks like outside of understanding what the Innocent did for the guilty. The glory of God was displayed on Mount Sinai, it was made manifest on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the glory of God was never more clearly or powerfully made known than in the Cross of Jesus.
After Jesus spoke of His glorification and the glory of God He told the eleven disciples who had gathered with Him in the Upper Room that He was only going to be with them a little while longer. Jesus had said the same thing back in John 8:21, not to His disciples, but to those who opposed Him, those who wanted to kill Him. Take a look at that verse and let me point out to you one major difference.
21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” (John 8:21 NIVO)
Did you notice the difference? He told both groups, “Where I go, you cannot come,” but Jesus told those who wanted to kill Him, “you will die in your sin.” Jesus didn’t tell His disciples that they would die in their sin. Quite the contrary, in just a few verses, at the beginning of John 14, He told His disciples, “I’m going to prepare a place for you and I will come back for you so that you may be where I am going.” Jesus knew His time was drawing near, He would go to the Cross in less than 24 hours, and He wanted to share things of great importance with His disciples. So, in John 13:34-35 we read,
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIVO)
Most people think there are 10 Commandments, but we know there are 11. The Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai and this “new commandment” that Jesus gave to His disciples. Those who like to criticize the Bible, those who are always looking for inconsistencies in God’s Word, are quick to say, “That’s not a new commandment. You can read something very similar in Leviticus 19:18 which says,
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NIVO)
Jesus had shared this Scripture in Mark 12 when He was asked by one of the teachers of the law, “Which is the most important commandment?” Now, before I read how Jesus answered the question you need to know that the rabbis had taken the Ten Commandments and broken them down, expounded upon them, and the end result was that they said there are really 613 commandments. With that said, let’s read our Scripture found in Mark 12:29-31.
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NIVO)
Jesus took the Ten Commandments and summarized them into two commandments: “Love God. Love your neighbor.” In John 13:34 Jesus said, “Love one another.”
Let me share with you what is “new” about Jesus’ commandment to His disciples. First, the commandment is to love one another and by “one another” Jesus meant all people. Jesus said the world would know that they were His disciples by their love for others. Some might say that I’m overstating things, that Jesus was only directing them to love other believers, but I would urge anyone who thinks that way to examine Jesus’ own life. Who did He demonstrate undying love for? To whom did Jesus minister out with grace, mercy, and compassion? It wasn’t just His own people. Jesus took time to minister to the Samaritan woman at the well who was hated by the Jews because of her ethnicity. In Jesus’ day Gentiles were not to be loved and yet Jesus loved them. Sinners were not to be loved and yet we find Jesus being accused over and over again for being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people because they were Jews who were working for the Roman government. They weren’t just working for the Romans, but they were cheating their own people as they took more taxes than were required. They were considered as traitors against their own people. One day Jesus walked up to a tax collector booth where a man named Matthew was working. Jesus called Matthew to come and follow Him, to become one of His disciples. Matthew left his tax collector booth, gave up his cushy job, and became a follower of Jesus. Shortly thereafter Matthew invited his friends over for dinner because he wanted them to meet Jesus. We read in Matthew 9:10-12,
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matthew 9:10-12 NIVO)
Jesus wasn’t telling His disciples to simply show love for one another, He was passing them the baton that He had carried for three years as He had shown love for all of those who were undeserving of His love, those who were walled off and divided from others by the prejudices and preferences of others. Alexander MacLaren writes that when Jesus gave His disciples this new commandment,
When the words were spoken, the then-known civilised Western world was cleft by great, deep gulfs of separation, like the crevasses in a glacier, by the side of which our racial animosities and class differences are merely superficial cracks on the surface. Language, religion, national animosities, differences of condition, and saddest of all, difference of sex, split the world up into alien fragments. A ‘stranger’ and an ‘enemy’ were expressed in one language, by the same word. The learned and the unlearned, the slave and his master, the barbarian and the Greek, the man and the woman, stood on opposite sides of the gulfs, flinging hostility across. A Jewish peasant wandered up and down for three years in His own little country, which was the very focus of narrowness and separation and hostility, as the Roman historian felt when he called the Jews the ‘haters of the human race’; He gathered a few disciples, and He was crucified by a contemptuous Roman governor, who thought that the life of one fanatical Jew was a small price to pay for popularity with his troublesome subjects, and in a generation after, the clefts were being bridged and all over the Empire a strange new sense of unity was being breathed, and ‘Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free,’ male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant, clasped hands and sat down at one table, and felt themselves ‘all one in Christ Jesus.’ (MacLaren, Alexander. As I Have Loved.)
The world has never seen such a visible, clear portrayal of love as when Jesus was walking the countryside of Israel. As He prepared to go to the Cross He prepared His disciples to continue to live His life of love for all people. Generations of Jesus’ followers have come and gone and now the baton has been passed to you and me. Are we loving others so that they might see Jesus at work in us? Are we best known for our ability to quote Scripture, our pure doctrine, our passionate defense of the faith in the face of opposition, or for the love that we have for all people?
There is something else that is “new” about Jesus’ commandment given to His followers. If you will remember, this whole episode began with Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, an act that was beyond belief. Following that act Jesus told His disciples that He had set an example for them, that they should do for one another as He had done for them. Now, in John 13:34 we read, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We are not left to define and determine what love looks like. The definition of love isn’t found in the latest copy of Merriam Webster’s dictionary, but in a Person and His name is Jesus. “As I have loved you…” As Jesus has loved you and me, it is in that way that we are to go about our day each and every day loving others. We are not simply called to love, but we are ordered, commanded to love in the same way that He has loved us.
The disciples didn’t fully understand what Jesus was saying at the time that He said it, but the day came when they heard Jesus’ words through the Cross and it became crystal clear. Many years later John would write once again. In his first letter he writes,
10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11 NIVO)
Justin Martyr was born in Shechem in 100 A.D. to parents who were not Christians. He was raised and educated in a pagan environment first by Stoic philosophers, then he studied music, astronomy, and geometry in the school of Pythagoras, but it was unfulfilling. Justin ventured into the study of Platonism and found it intellectually stimulating, but something was missing. When he was thirty years old Justin met a man who told him about Jesus and his life was forever changed. Justin wrote about his conversion.
A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do. (Justin Martyr)
Later, Justin Martyr moved to Rome and began a Christian school. He wrote two treatises in defense of the Christian faith. His first was addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius and published in 155 A.D. He wrote, “on behalf of men of every nation who are unjustly hated and reviled.” Justin Martyr was arrested under Emperor Marcus Aurelius and was beheaded for his commitment to Jesus in 165 A.D. Before he died Justin wrote about the faith he shared with his brothers and sisters this way:
We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies. (Justin Martyr)
About 100 years after Justin Martyr was beheaded a horrible plague broke out in the Roman Empire. It has been reported that as many as 5,000 people a day died in Rome. The plague was likely caused by a form of measles or smallpox and many people believed it was the end of the world. The plague was named after Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, who wrote extensively about the plague. Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, who lived at the time of the plague wrote to his brothers and sisters in Christ in his Easter letter in 260 A.D.
Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner… (Dionysius)
The Early Church was gripped by these words: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The world was watching. Tertullian, who was born about the time that Justin Martyr died, knew that the world was watching and that is why he wrote, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another.’”
We live in a hurting community and a broken world. As much as we would hope for Utopia, a life free from pain and sorrow, our reality is brokenness. Your time of being broken may not be at this time, but your time will come…it is inevitable. I’m not a skeptic, I’m not pessimistic, but I am a student of God’s Word and I know human history and it is filled with sorrow and heartache. Jesus stepped into this broken world and loved those who were hurting, those who were lost, with a love that the world had never known. If you are here this morning and you are broken, if you are lost, then you need to know Jesus’ love for you. Fall into His arms of grace and mercy. Experience His saving grace and His comforting presence. He will not only bring healing and strength through His mercy and grace, but He will send you back out into this broken world to love others in the same way that He has loved you.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 6, 2016