All of Scripture is certainly worthy of pondering, but the Gospel of John especially so. It really lends itself to slow, careful reading and meditative thought. Take these verses, for example. V.35 alone could be an entire day’s meditation just on its own. Try it some time (maybe not for an entire day, at least not at first) — it really can enrich your day.
The contrast in these verses between our self-centered attitudes that oftentimes don’t even think to think of others, and Christ’s willing self-sacrifice which was entirely for others, really stood out to me. I hope these verses are as edifying for you as they were for us when we heard them. Peace be with you.
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If 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. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35 niv)
It’s not always readily apparent why some things in the church have the names that they do. We can’t always tell right away why something is called what it is. There’s usually a good reason, but we don’t always know what it is. Take Maundy Thursday, for example. Why Maundy Thursday? Nobody really talks that way anymore. Why’s it called Maundy Thursday? The reason it’s called Maundy Thursday is in our gospel for this morning. Jesus said to his disciples, “A new command I give you.” The Latin word for command, mandatum, got changed over time into Maundy. Hence, Maundy Thursday – the Thursday when the new command was given. This new command was spoken not just to the Twelve, but to all who confess the name of Christian. It’s a command for us too. Therefore we need to see what the right way is to keep this command, and how we are able to keep it at all. Through Christ, we are Gloriously Able to Love.
Our gospel takes place on the evening Jesus was betrayed, just hours before he was to be arrested. The Teacher shares one last meal with the disciples that he loves. A few last moments together, just as we spend before his altar receiving the same food that the apostles did – Jesus’ body and blood. In these last hours, this is what he tells them.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I ask you, how often does that happen? We have a hard time loving ourselves many times. So many people these days are dissatisfied with the way that they look and the way that they feel. They compare themselves to actors and celebrities, or even to other people around them, and they feel ugly and worthless. Some people really struggle with their body image or sense of self-worth. They get so down on themselves when they compare themselves outwardly to others. That’s even before they truly examine themselves – before they compare their hearts to God’s law. If they did, they’d really have a reason to be troubled. The cure for that is only found in Jesus.
Loving others doesn’t always happen as readily as it should. Sometimes we actively hurt others. Our words and our actions can be so unloving. We shun. We create groups and factions – people who think like us, who we can count on to see things our way. Other people do the same things to us. But usually it’s far more common that we just don’t do the good that we should. We fail to take the opportunity to encourage one another. We don’t think to show Christian care or concern if we find out someone is having a rough time. We pay scant attention to the people who sometimes need it the most: the lonely and alone, our young people who aren’t children but aren’t quite adults yet, those whose faith is weak or who are struggling to live as Christians should. A lot of times we don’t even think to ask, let alone do something for our Christian brothers and sisters. Why is that? Everybody is busy with their own things these days. We feel like we don’t have time to care or think about others. It’s more than just busyness, though.
Our love falls short because we do not love God as we should. We do not love and fear God enough and so we do not glorify him or bring him any praise or credit. In the coldness and sluggishness of our flesh, we figure that God will be happy with whatever love we show him – and even if we don’t show him any love, he won’t mind. The nature that is selfish toward other people will also be selfish toward God. Our sinful natures make us so focused on ourselves and our wants, our needs, our problems, that we have precious little left over for God. Rarely do we think of God’s glory and what will honor him more than we think about how we look to other people, and what will bring us credit. On our own we cannot glorify God as he deserves to be glorified.
To make up for what we could not do, Jesus glorified God perfectly. He says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him…God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” When Jesus says this, Judas has just left the room. He’s gone to get the soldiers to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. That night began the long severe test of suffering which would end in Christ’s death as a common criminal. Judas’ leaving set into motion Christ’s glorification through suffering. Soon after this Jesus was going to be arrested, roughly handled, beaten, spit on, mocked, kept up all night, and finally condemned and killed. In the next few hours and the next day he was going to be driven out, defeated, and finally slain as a ragged stranger, despised, ignored, and hated by all those around him. He was going to walk a road that no one else could walk. No matter how much we might want to atone for our own sins before God, we can’t. Thus Christ had to walk the road of suffering for us. He walked the way of sorrows with the cross on his back because we could not. Where he was going, we couldn’t come. Nobody else was going to be able to glorify God like he could. Nobody else was good enough to pay for the sins of the world.
That was his glory. That whole process of his descent into shame and death, the whole course of his passion, was his worst and most shameful moment and his greatest triumph. He would be degraded and mocked and battered, despised and killed, but it was also the height of his victory, his hour of triumph. The hour of his greatest glory came when darkness reigned, when Satan cackled with delight to have killed the Son of God. Christ conquered the darkness by submitting humbly to hell’s fiercest attacks and the savage frenzy of a world that hated him and still hates him. It seemed like Christ had lost. That was the moment of his greatest triumph. Christ won everything just when it looked like he’d lost.
Christ now glorifies us with the glory he won in his shame. He gives us his sinlessness. He paid for our lack of love and our inability to glorify God with his life. Christ, true God, poured out his blood to cleanse us from our lack of love for the true God. Through faith in him, we are glorified with perfect sinlessness before God. Through faith in Christ, we are as glorious as God himself! Jesus, true God, gives you his glory and it covers your spiritual sluggishness and your unloving heart. Jesus makes us new inside. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit – one that wants to serve and love God. We are new creations through our baptisms, where we were baptized into his death. We have been glorified with Jesus’ holy glory. Jesus has changed us from people who love and serve ourselves first and most of all to people who love and serve God. It takes new people to keep a new command, and that’s what we are now: new people, brand new.
Now with unveiled faces and new hearts we reflect his glory. As we love one another, God will be glorified. God lives in our hearts through faith. The world will see that as we show our love to each other. Our love can take many different forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking the time to talk to someone, to ask how they’re doing and then actually listen to the answer. We give them a hand when they need help. We can give Christian advice and encouragement with others need it. We can bear each other’s burdens. We can pray for one another. God can do far more than we can ask or imagine. Remembering someone in your prayers will often help you to be more loving toward that person in other areas as well. There is no end of ways to show our fellow Christians we love them.
Whatever we find to do, Jesus promises that the world will know we are his disciples by our love. Even people who don’t know about God or don’t care about him will notice – that’s Jesus’ promise. They will see the love that we have for each other springing from our forgiveness in Christ, and they will know whose we are. They will know who we belong to by the way we treat each other. The world will learn about our Lord through us. What an exciting privilege! “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So let your light shine! Look for ways to show love to your fellow Christians. Don’t hold back. Let them see God’s love for you come through in your love for others. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord – that’s Christ’s promise to us, now that we’ve been made Gloriously Able to Love. Amen.