Second Reformed Church

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Love One Another" Sermon: John 13:1-17; 31b-35

“Love One Another”

[John 13:1-17; 31b-35]

April 17, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Tonight, we remember the night when Jesus gathered with His disciples for the Last Supper and, among other things, He commanded His disciples to love one another.  We call this day, “Maundy Thursday.”  The word, “Maundy” is Latin for “commandment.”  This is the day we remember that Jesus gave His disciples a “new commandment” – the commandment to love one another.

            We will all notice that the date of Easter moves around on the calendar – that is due to the fact that the date of Easter is set based on the date of Passover, which is set based on the cycle of the moon – as are all Jewish holidays.  The Church officially set the rubrics of Holy Week at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. – though it seems they were followed earlier than that.

            What we see in the Scripture is that Jesus rose on the first day of the week – which is Sunday.  He was crucified and had to be taken down from the cross because it was the “day of preparation” for the Sabbath – so Jesus was crucified on Friday and couldn’t be left on the cross Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath.  Thus, the day before the crucifixion – the day that the Last Supper was celebrated – the day that Jesus gave the “new commandment” – was Thursday.

            So, in the year that Jesus was crucified, Passover began on a Thursday evening.  That evening, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, gave them the “new commandment,” and then celebrated the first night of the Passover with them and instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Then He went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, was arrested, and, on Friday, was crucified, buried, and rose Sunday morning.

            I point this out, not just for your cocktail party discussion, but because Marla brought to my attention that a Jehovah’s Witness that she talked with told her we should be celebrating on Monday of this week, since Passover began – this year – on Monday evening.  While the Jehovah’s Witness is right in the sense that the start of Passover moves around on the calendar, we celebrate and remember the day of the week that these things actually, historically occurred.  Since Passover and Easter move around on the calendar, we may be celebrating them in the historically wrong month or week, but we celebrate them on the biblically recorded, historical day.  In Church history, it was decided that remembering the correct day of the week was more importance than remembering the correct week or month.

            Hopefully that makes sense – it sets the historical setting for when this text took place, and it also helps us to understand why we celebrate on the days that we do – and, as Marla found out – there are people who will challenge even the day that we remember and celebrate events, so we should know how we got to celebrate them when we do.

            So, our text tonight takes place on Thursday, the first evening of Passover, in the year that Jesus was crucified.  Jesus and the disciples gathered for dinner and then to celebrate the Last Supper.

            We see in the sections of the text that were read:

            Jesus knew it was time for Him to die and return to the Father.

            Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

            Jesus explained that He did so as an example for them to follow.

            And Jesus gave them a new commandment – to love one another.

            “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.”

            Jesus knew it was time for Him to die and return to the Father.

            Notice:  Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed by Judas – He also knew He would be denied by Peter – which is in a section of the text we did not read – He knew He was going to be taken, unjustly arrest and condemned to death, tortured, crucified – and His thoughts were on His love for the disciples.

            With all of these things on His mind – that they were all now coming to pass – that the mission for which He chose to incarnate to earth was now coming to its bitter nadir, He thought about how He had loved all those that God had given to Him and how He would continue to love them until then end.

            The end of what?  Jesus knew He would love His people to the end of His life on this earth, to the end of this age of the corruption of sin, and into the restored Creation and the fullness of His Kingdom.  Jesus loved His people and He loves us and all those who come after us.  And though He is not with us physically right now, He is spiritually with us – as He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV).

            Jesus was able to face and endure all that had been revealed to Him and was now coming to pass, because His resolve was strengthened in the knowledge that as the One Who had come from the Father and was now returning to the Father – as God Incarnate – all power and authority were His.  None of this was happening by chance.  All of this was happening according to the Sovereign Plan of God, and Jesus, the Incarnate God, had willingly taken all this upon Himself that the people of God might be made right with God through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  As Jesus would rebuke Peter later than night, “        Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54, ESV).

            Jesus knew everything that was to come to pass.  Jesus willingly chose to follow through with the plan God had made from before the creation.  Jesus went through the horrors of it all, strengthened by the knowledge of His Sovereign Divinity and the love that He had and continues to have and will always have for all those who believe in Him.

            “He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”

            Let us understand that in Jesus’ day, when people walked around barefoot or in sandals, it was the custom – a sign of hospitality – for the host of a group of people to provide for the washing of his guests’ feet for the sake of their comfort and as a gesture of welcome and love.  So, the washing of the feet, in and of itself, was not strange at all.  So why did Peter get so upset?

            Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet – more accurately, Peter rebuked Jesus for going to wash his feet – because Jesus was their teacher – their rabbi – and they were His students.  It was not proper for a teacher to wash the students’ feet – the students ought to wash the teacher’s feet.

            Jesus responded, first, by telling Peter to just accept it, and he would understand later.  And we ought to take note of that – that we are to obey Christ – we are to obey God – even when we don’t understand.  If God has commanded something in His Word – we must obey, because He is God and we are not, even if we don’t understand, even if we wish it were different, even if pop psychology and science says otherwise.  As the “corrected” bumper-sticker says, “God said it; that settles it.” 

            Then Jesus responded that He must wash Peter or Peter will have no part of Him – and Peter being Peter then demands that Jesus wash his entire body – thinking that if washing his feet would unite him with Christ, having his whole body washed by Christ would really be powerful!

            But Jesus then tells Peter that if you’re clean, you only need your feet washed, you don’t need your whole body washed.  If you took your monthly bath, you only need to have your feet washed from walking out in the streets and getting them dirty; you don’t need to be bathed again.

            Which is true, right?  But that is not all that Jesus intended by this conversation, because Jesus then said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you” – meaning that Judas was not clean.  Jesus was not indicating that Judas needed a bath – Jesus was pointing to the distinction between what is clean and what is unclean in God’s Law.  That which is clean is acceptable before God.  That which is unclean is not acceptable before God.

            Jesus is saying the same thing that was said in the vision given to Zechariah the prophet:  “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by” (Zechariah 3:1-5, ESV).

            The text goes on to explain that the cleansing that occurs is done by the Savior that God will send.  This is symbolic of sins being washed away.  Just as Joshua the priest had his filthy clothes replaced with clean clothes by God, and just as Peter had the filth removed from his body by the bathwaters, so Jesus cleansed him – and all those who believe – from his sin – but not Judas – he was still unclean.

            Jesus took the opportunity to use the symbolism and Peter’s outrageousness to state that He is the One Who makes His people spiritually clean. 

What He was doing in washing their feet was another matter.

            “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’”

            How are we to interpret what Jesus did?

            One option, which many Baptist and Mennonite denominations go with, is to say that foot washing is a third sacrament which all Christians are to practice.

            Another option is that Jesus was saying it is good to wash each other’s feet that we would remember what Jesus did and understand that through Jesus we are all on the same level – no one is greater than another.

            In the Reformed understanding, we disagree with those two interpretations and instead, understand that Jesus was not instituting a sacrament, because He said this was an example for us.  It also does not mean we are all equal, because Jesus is certainly the pinnacle of humanity.  No, what we understand to be going on here is Jesus telling His disciples that if He, being greater than they, was willing to humble Himself to wash their feet, we ought to be willing to wash each other’s feet – that is, we ought to be willing to do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Christ – not matter how “low” it may seem.

            If it would help a brother or sister in Christ, and you are able, would you be willing to do their dishes, make them a meal, pick up the garbage on the lawn, clean their toilet, bandage wounds on their body – whatever it is that you don’t like, or that grosses you out, or makes you uncomfortable, or puts you off – would you be willing to do that if you are able and it would help a brother and sister in Christ?

            Jesus was saying, “I gave you the example of the Incarnate Almighty God washing the dirt and animal poop off of My disobedient disciples’ feet, now you go and… [insert whatever it is that you can do that someone needs you to do that you would prefer not to do].”

            (I’m not going to give you an example from my life, because I don’t want you to not ask me about certain things just because I find them difficult or unpleasant; I want you to call on me when you have need, and, if I am able, I will help.)

            We jump over Jesus identifying and dismissing Judas, and now we turn to the “new commandment”:

            “When [Judas] 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.’”

            Jesus begins by telling them that God the Father and God the Son are glorifying each other in the events of Holy Week – in particular.  Jesus revealed the Father and the Father revealed the Son – through Jesus’ Incarnation, Life, Death, Physical Resurrection, and Ascension, we learn about Who the Father is – Jesus reveals Him to us.  And through these events, the Father also reveals Who the Son is that He might be believed in for the salvation of His people.

            But, He explains to them, they would not be able to go with Him – ultimately – they were not able to ascend to the Father with Jesus.  As Jesus completed the work of salvation in returning to His throne, he would have to leave His disciples behind on earth until that final day.  Jesus wanted them to understand that He was physically leaving them, but He was not deserting them – He was not abandoning them – as we have already noted – Jesus promised, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).

            Finally, in the section we read this evening, Jesus gives His disciples – all of us – a “new commandment, “that [we] love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”

            What’s “new” about this?

            Was Jesus asked what the greatest commandment was – and didn’t He say, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV)?  And didn’t Jesus explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is everyone?  So, isn’t it our duty – from the days of Moses – which is where the law comes from – to love one another?

            What’s “new” about this?

            “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.”

            “Just as I have loved you.”  That’s new.

            We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ – this command is directed to believers – just as Christ loved us.  We are to keep that always before us as our goal – because none of us are Christ – none of us is sinless – it is the goal towards which we strive – that we would love our brothers and sisters in Christ just as He loved us.  This is a part of our sanctification – of the process of our becoming holy, like Jesus, which the Holy Spirit enables us to do and completes in us on the last day.

            What does that mean?

            Paul put it this way:    “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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 2:3-8, ESV).

            It means we are to love each other in humility.  We are not to look down on one another, but treat each other as fellow bearers of the Image of God.

            It means we are to serve one another.  We are to do for others what we can do that they cannot.

            It means we are to be supportive in heart and soul and mind and strength – bearing each other’s burdens in the ways that we are able – using our gifts and blessings and giftedness for the good of the whole Church. 

            It means we are to be self-sacrificing – being willing even, if we are so called, to give up our lives for the sake of our fellow Christians.

            That’s not easy to do in a world where what I get is mine and you can’t have it, and we know where we stand – we know who we’re better than – in this great social experiment that we live in.

            Yet, we have an example:  The Almighty God and Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, the One and Only Savior of all those who will believe, did not think it too much to wash the dirt and poop off of His disciples' feet – and then he allowed Himself to be murdered for them.

            Jesus commands us to love each other like that – not to be a doormat – but to be willing in every way that we are able, because we need each other.  We are one body, and when one member of the body is hurt, the whole body suffers, and when one member of the body is built up, the whole body is encouraged and strengthened – if we love one another.

            And, Jesus told His disciples, and He tells us, if we strive to love each other as He has loved us, the world will notice and know that we are His disciples and what we believe about Him is real.

            You might wonder if that is really true – does the world really notice and care – do they put two and two together?

            “For example, the pagan satirist Lucian (130-200 c.e. [sic]) mocked Christians for their charity:  ‘The earnestness with which the people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren.’

“… the Pagan Emperor Julian -- who attempted to lead the Roman Empire back to paganism -- was frustrated by the superior morality shown by the Christians, especially when it came to charity. This was something he readily admitted: ‘The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours . . . . It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance’" Epistles of Julian, 49 (http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_charity.html).

Non-Christians may find our love for one another – as well as for the world – very frustrating.  But it will always point them back to asking “why.”

And if you and I love each other and show our love in ways like Jesus did, people may ask us why.  And you might begin by saying that you’re just following the example of Jesus Who cleaned the dirt and poop off of His disciples’ feet.  And that might just be an “in” to tell them the Gospel.

Love one another – as Jesus loves us.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we ask that You would strengthen us and open our eyes so we would see ways to show Your love of us to our fellow Christians.  We ask that we would unashamedly love one another in humility, service, support, and self-sacrifice in thanksgiving to You, love of our brothers and sisters, and as a witness to the world that they might ask us why.  Lord, prepare our mouths that we would answer well the questions of the world.  For it is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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