Jesus and A new commandment. John 13:31-38

Passing the point of no return. No turning back. Taking the plunge. There are a number of phrases to communicate the idea of an irreversible deed. Burning bridges, which is often used to refer to employment but originates with military imagery of eliminating all options but moving forward and not looking back. 

Burning boats, similar meaning, such as when Cortez burned his ships when he brought men into Mexico. You can’t unring a bell. 

Fait accompli is a French phrase for “already accomplished.” 

And then there’s my personal favorite: “Crossing the Rubicon.” That refers to Julius Caesar taking an army across Rome’s Rubicon River in 49 B.C. as an act of insurrection through which Caesar became emperor of the Roman Empire. 

When Judas left the last supper, a point of no return had been crossed. And on the night before Jesus died, the wheels were in motion for him to be betrayed, sold out to the Sanhedrin, and brought before the Romans on trumped up charges. 

And with all of that happening, and Jesus knowing what was about to happen, as he sat with – then – eleven disciples, he was instructing them to love each other. 

The main idea of our passage is: Jesus taught a world who killed him how to love. 

That is the beauty of the gospel.That the world was sinful, so sinful that it killed its own savior, but it is through the death or our savior, that he died so that we could have life. 

This passage divides nicely into three parts: a glorified savior, our call to love each other, and Christ’s greater love for us than our love for him. 

A glorified savior

John 13:31 begins: When he had gone out, 

This is the departure of Judas. 

He has left Jesus and the disciples and it is immediately after Judas has left that verse 31 continues: Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 

So John ties together Judas moving forward in his plot against Jesus with the glorification of Jesus which would happen at the cross. 

Throughout this gospel, Jesus has pointed forward to the cross, pointed forward to his hour, pointed forward to glory. 

Now it’s happening. 

With Judas’ departure and Jesus’ statement “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” that seems to be the official beginning of Christ’s passion in John’s Gospel. Jesus speaks about what is going to happen as if it has already happened. 

No turning back. 

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. Son of Man originates in Daniel 7 when depicting a vision of a heavenly figure in the clouds. And so as the glorification of Christ begins, he states that he is the apocalyptic Son of Man figure foretold in the Old Testament. 

Jesus is glorified in the cross, but in this passage, Jesus also points to God being glorified in Christ.

Jesus continues to speak of that mutual glorification in verse 32: If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

God is glorified and he also glorifies Christ at the cross. 

Glory of the world 

It’s interesting to think of the things that the world glorifies. The world glorifies the beautiful, the famous, the rich. 

We have accomplishments that we glorify. Great innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs. We glorify political figures and influential leaders. 

We glorify moments like when a team wins a championship or a singer leads thousands of people in singing a great rock anthem at a packed arena or stadium. 

Those are the glorious moments that our world has to offer. 

Jesus looks to him giving up his life as the moment when he would be glorified. 

There are several aspects to Christ’s glorification at the cross. Christ is glorified at the cross by living a life where he perfectly revealed God to the world. 

Hebrews 1:3: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God.

In John 17:4, when Jesus is praying he will again talk of his fidelity to God.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 

Jesus is glorified by God in being obedient to the divine plan in going to cross. 

The cross is the culmination of that perfect life. 

Philippians 2:8-11: being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus is glorified at the cross by undoing the curse of sin upon humanity. 

Romans 5:18 says:  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

Jesus is glorified at the cross by dying so that people can have forgiveness in him.

Hebrews 2:9 says: Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Jesus displays glory at the cross by showing God’s love to the world. 

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

If God can take humanity’s great act of wickedness and rebellion in killing its own savior, surely God really can take the worst things that happen in our lives and work those for good as well. For his ultimate glory, God works all things for good. 

On the night before Christ died, the thought that the cross could be the thing which God would use for the ultimate good and blessing of humanity would have seemed impossible. 

At the cross, Jesus takes the ultimate example of humiliation, and it is worked for his exaltation. 

At the cross, Jesus takes an act of great sin and works it for an act of greater grace. At the cross, Jesus takes hatred and shows love. 

A call to love one another 

Verse 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.’

He addresses the disciples here as “little children,” undoubtedly a term of endearment for these men. 

This is a very endearing moment. Jesus is talking to a group of men with whom he had traveled for three years. 

They had spent three years with the Lord of love. They had seen his glorious signs. They had seen him face opposition and turmoil. They had seen him live his life absolutely righteously and sinlessly. 

He had been their friend. Their teacher. He had taught them how to truly live. 

And here he is telling them that he must go and that they cannot come with him. 

Twice in this gospel, once in John 7, once in John 8, Jesus is facing opposition from Jewish groups and he tells them that they will seek him but not find him. 

He picks that language up again in this verse, but here, the tone is more optimistic. 

In the first two instances, it serves more as a warning to come to him before it’s too late. 

But the meaning is different here with his disciples. He must leave. First, in going to the cross, but even after the resurrection, his time with them will still be short and then he will have to leave to be with the Father.

It’s also interesting that Jesus says: as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you

The disciples are Jewish. But in pointing to the command that he is about to give to them, they have a newer and greater identity. 

Verse 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.

The disciples are a new community united in Christ. 

And before Jesus departs, he says a new commandment I give to you.

Now, the command to love is not new. 

We see it in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 says: you shall love your neighbor as yourself

That command gets picked up elsewhere in the gospels, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. 

So how is that given as a new commandment? 

It’s a new commandment in the sense that the grounding for the command is new. Yes, there was a command to love your neighbor in the Old Testament law and as part of the Old Covenant. 

But Jesus is reconstituting that commandment for his new covenant community. It’s a new command in the reason why we are to love one another. 

Leviticus 19:18 says love your neighbor as yourself. 

But Jesus says: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

So in the Old Testament, the golden rule is to love your neighbor as yourself, to treat others as you would like to be treated. 

But Jesus calls the disciples to an even higher form of love. They’re to love each other as Christ has loved them. And the glorification on the cross shows just how high a standard that love is. That we are to have gospel love for one another. 

Jesus doesn’t say “a new suggestion I give to you,” “a new virtue I give to you,” “a new idea that I give to you,” but “a new commandment I give to you.” 

You cannot love God without loving his people. And a sincere love for God is meant to flow into our love for people. 

The Apostle John, who wrote the Gospel of John wrote three other letters, and 1 John largely revolves around love within the Christian community. 

1 John 4:19, John says: We love because he first loved us.

That is our command as believers in the gospel and as a church. To love one another well. It’s a high standard. 

But it is meant to be a distinguishing mark of a Christian community. 

Jesus told the disciples. 

 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).”

If you want to show people that you love Christ, you need to love his people. 

1 John 4:20, John says:  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 

Again, that is a high standard. Because not all people are equally loveable. And there can be disagreements. And there can be wounds. 

So what does love for one another look like? 

In the times when it’s difficult, may we remember that we have a savior who gave his life for us so we could have life in him. 

Love is a complicated idea in our society. 

C.S. Lewis and the 4 loves the four loves 

There’s a well known book by C.S. Lewis called “the four loves” where he looks at the four Greek words for love and explores their meanings. 

In some ways, I feel like that’s part of our problem in English. That we don’t have enough vocabulary to describe love. 

We use the same word “love” to describe how we feel about our God, our spouses and our children that we use to talk about how we feel about our favorite restaurant, favorite team, and chocolate. 

We use love to describe things we love and we use love to describe things that we enjoy. What is love? 

I think we look to the love that Christ had and displayed throughout his ministry. 

This list is by no means exhaustive but here are a few thoughts. 

Love accepts. 

Love doesn’t affirm sin. Jesus never affirms sin in the gospels. He never downplays sin and says “that’s ok, I love you.” But he always accepts. He’s always gracious. 

Love sacrifices. 

Jesus will say in John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus sacrificed his life. It is very rare in our society that such a love is required of us. But there are still ways we can make sacrifices. Our time, our talent and skills, our treasure. 

Love is active.

Love is an action. Jesus is constantly serving people, ministering to people. 

Love is forgiving. 

Jesus displayed the ultimate forgiveness in going to the cross. We are called to forgive each other. To be gracious.  

Ephesians 4:32 says: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

If anyone here has a history with someone with whom they have bad blood, my point isn’t that the sins of another are insignificant. But we still must work to forgive. Forgiveness comes as a cost. We see that on the cross. And when we personally forgive, that costs us something too. 

Christ’s greater love for us than our love for him

So Jesus has just given this incredibly important command for the disciples to love one another and how that communicates to the world that they are his disciples. 

And Peter speaks up. As we so often see in the gospels, Peter is the one who speaks up first.

 13:36: Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Peter may or may not have even heard Jesus give them the command to love. All he’s focused on is when Jesus had preceded the command by saying he was going to be leaving them. 

Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”

Peter cannot follow Jesus because Jesus is going to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world and that is not a mission through which anyone else can join him.

But Jesus responds to Peter in giving a prophetic statement that Peter almost surely didn’t realize at the time. 

Jesus said that Peter cannot follow him…now.

But you will follow afterward. 

Jesus is foretelling that Peter will one day follow Jesus in martyrdom. Obviously Peter’s death was not an atoning sacrifice the way that Christ’s was. But Peter, along with most of the disciples, would give his life for the gospel. 

After Jesus died and rose, he commissioned Peter to be a leader in the early Church but he also tells Peter in John 21:18: Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.

But it’s not yet the time for Peter to give his life for Jesus. Indeed, Peter is not yet ready for that. But Peter doesn’t want to hear it. 

Verse 37: Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 

Peter says he will lay down his life for Jesus. It’s easy to say the things we’ll die for when we’re not in a life and death situation. Jesus has said that it’s true that one day, Peter will. 

But Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows himself and he knows that Peter will fail him. 

Verse 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 listened to a sermon recently and I forget who the preacher was but someone pointed out that after Jesus says this, in John’s gospel, Peter gets real quiet. 

In chapters 14-17, Jesus will give a lot of teaching to his disciples and we hear nothing from Peter. Almost like that quiets him for a few minutes. I think that Peter’s problem here is that he’s pledging his loyalty to Jesus but he’s doing that in his own strength and capacity. 

In John 18, Jesus is arrested, and we see Peter quickly there to intervene. He takes out his sword and cuts a man named Malchus. Jesus rebukes Peter for this. But after Jesus is arrested, he’s spotted and a girl questions him as being one of Jesus’ disciples. And three times, he denies being with Jesus. 

But in John 13, those events were still a few hours away and it’s just Jesus and his 11 disciples. 

It’s ironic. 

Jesus has commanded the disciples to love each other as he loved them, knowing that he’s about to lay down his life for them. 

Peter speaks up about being loyal to Christ to the point of death when he will ultimately deny Christ when under duress. 

Jesus has called the disciples to love each other as he loves them while exposing the imperfections of their love for Christ.

It’s a high standard. Because we fail. 

We don’t love people as Christ loved us because Christ loves us with a perfect love. And we don’t love Jesus as much as he loves us. 

There’s obviously no way for us to know what was in the heart of Peter when he stood up and made this pledge. But I believe that Peter really believed what he was saying there. In that moment, he was sincere. 

But it was also a moment or pride.

We have a savior who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows who we truly are. He knows our sins. He knows the darkness of our own hearts and lives. He knows our pride. But he loves us anyway. 

And so instead of beating our chest, and talking about how great we are at loving each other, how great we are at loving Christ, we should look to Christ’s example and learn from him. 

And we should know that we were not made to have this love in our own strength. 

In Galatians 5, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. It’s the work that the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a genuine believer. 

The first of those fruits: love. 

We don’t love him perfectly, but he loves us perfectly. The good news of the gospel is that we are not saved by the intensity of our love for Christ, but based on the loving savior who loves and forgives us. 

Christ’s grace is stronger than our love. But we are called to love the savior who gives us life and who forgives us of our sins. 

Loving one another as Christ loved us. 

Like Peter at the Last Supper standing up and proclaiming that he would die for Jesus.

With love, it can be very easy to talk about love, but actually showing love, being loving, loving people who are hard to love, can be very difficult. 

And while there is grace when we struggle, let us never have a nonchalant attitude about love. Love is not a Spiritual gift. It’s a Christian command. And more than anything else, it’s what shows the world that we love the Lord. 

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