The Fifth Sunday After Easter May 29, 2011

INI

A New Commandment I Give to You, that You Love One Another

John 13:31-35

Scripture Readings

Acts 13:44-52
Revelation 21:1-6

Hymns

211, 207(1-4), 416, 23(4)

So, when [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Dear fellow-redeemed:

A person writes a will in order to prepare for His departure. In his will he tells those left behind how he wants things done after he is gone. He tells where money and property should go. He tells who should have custody of any children and things like that. During the time Jesus was with His disciples visibly on earth, He too was always looking ahead to the time He would no longer be with them. He looked beyond His suffering and death, beyond His resurrection, even to that time beyond His Ascension into heaven when He would no longer have face to face conversations with His close friends like Peter and John, Andrew and Philip, and the rest.

On Maundy Thursday evening, the night of His last Passover supper with the disciples, Jesus was giving a lot of thought to the separation which was ahead. He said to the disciples: “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you.[v.33] But what would happen to the disciples after Jesus was gone? How would they conduct themselves? Would they “fall apart” and turn away from Him as Judas had? Would they in the future turn against one another?

So the Lord took the opportunity before His death to give His disciples some spiritual guidance and strengthening that would serve them well once He was no longer with them. His word was this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Today we consider I. The essence of this love and II. The result of this love.

I.

Love one another,” Jesus said. Well, this wasn’t anything new, was it? Hadn’t the commandments of Moses already laid this out pretty well? What was new about this? What was new was the fact that they were seeing right there in those very hours the love of God being poured out for them in its purest, most direct way. They were right then to be eye-witnesses of Jesus’ passion and of the way He would sacrifice His life for all of them. What was new in what the Lord said was the fact that now they were being asked to love one another with the cross in full view. Now Jesus was urging them to love one another in light of His own love for them which was now right before them more clearly than it had ever been before.

Think about it…The disciples would follow Jesus to the judgment hall with these words ringing in their ears: Love one another as I have loved you. They would see Him hanging on the cross, crying out, and think: Love…as I have loved you.

Jesus’ love is a glorious love. Did you hear what He said as soon as Judas went out into the night to arrange for His betrayal? The Lord uttered these words: “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.[v.31] This is not quite what you would expect from a man whose enemy had just dashed off to carry out his evil plans, but Christ was drawing attention to the fact that His passion was to be a glorious thing in the end. It would glorify God by showing the love He had for mankind. This would show everyone that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…(John 3:16). Jesus’ passion would also highlight the Savior’s glorious love for the world—a self-sacrificing love.

By His suffering and death the essence of Jesus’ love was being demonstrated to His disciples. It was a love that gave up everything for the sake of others. It was a love that took all of their guilt, all the condemnation that was laid up against them, and carried it away so that they could be free from God’s wrath—at the expense of the One who gave the sacrifice.

Everything Jesus did from His suffering and death to His resurrection and ascension into Heaven was done out of love for His disciples and out of a concern for their eternal salvation. Even at those times when He spoke sternly to them, it was with their well-being in mind. Now He invites them, “Think about this as you love one another. When I am out of your sight, think about this as you interact with one another. When you have dealings with one another, do it with My self-sacrificing love in mind.”

This is how we love our spiritual brethren too. For we are Jesus’ modern-day disciples. In this text we can hear the Lord’s voice calling to us to love our brothers and sisters in the faith, just as He called upon Peter to love John, John to love Philip, Philip to love Andrew, and so on.

This is difficult sometimes because we can be very familiar with our fellow believers, and it is said that familiarity breeds contempt. We know each other’s weaknesses and problems. Some of us have known each other for a long time, and that does not always make it easier. We become like Peter who once asked Jesus, “Just how many times should I forgive my neighbor anyway?” (cf. Matthew 18:21ff). We might remember things our fellow believers have done to us that we did not like and we might then have a difficult time being nice to them. Or we might be embarrassed about what our Christian friends know about us and therefore we keep our distance from them. There are any number of things that seem to be able to get in the way of our love. And yet as Jesus points out to His disciples how important it was for them to show love toward one another, so we understand that it is important for us to show love to those sitting next to us in the pew, or behind us, or in front of us.

The fact is, we all together stand under the shadow of the cross. And the essence of Jesus’ love is there for all of us to see—it is that selfless love that gives without demanding anything in return. It is that love which is there to empower all of us to love the brethren. The next time you are ready to lash out at a fellow Christian, think about Jesus gathered in the upper room with His disciples. “Love as I have loved you,” He said.
Put that cross, and the empty tomb, and the Lord’s ascension into Heaven firmly in your mind before you enter into your conversations. Let your speech be seasoned with love and always keep the other person’s best interests—especially spiritual best interests—in mind ahead of your own as you deal with one another for that is how your dear Lord dealt with you.

II.

This is also how Jesus said others would recognize His disciples. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.[v.35] This love for the brethren is a characteristic of those who have been filled with Jesus’ love and forgiveness. John repeated this theme in his letters when he said things like: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers(1 John 3:14).

Outsiders can tell that we love Jesus when we are loving toward our fellow Christians, and this is a good thing. One Lutheran writer put it this way: “Where [love] exists, it is bound to show itself, and, although it is never ostentatious, those around us will see and thus ‘know’ or realize its presence. It is bound to affect them, to draw them, if possible, also into this circle of love.”

Our love can become a witness of the love of our Savior. No, our actions by themselves will not bring anyone to faith, but our actions may well cause others to wonder, “From where does love like that come? How can they be so nice to one another?” and that takes a person straight to the Word of Jesus which can work on the heart. In this way the servants glorify their Master.

We’re in a position similar to that of those disciples long ago. Jesus has gone to a place where, for the time being, we cannot follow Him. He has risen from the dead and ascended in glory. But He has prepared us for this short time during which we cannot see Him. He has prepared us in the same way He prepared His disciples for His departure.

Jesus has shown us the essence of His love—that it is a self-sacrificing love which always has in mind the best interests of the other person. He has urged us to continue in that love, impressing upon us that as Christian brothers and sisters we all stand in the shadow of the cross, under the protecting arm of His greatest love. He has shown us the results of this love, namely, that it can lead others to know that we are His disciples.

Oh, grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell but Thy pure love alone!
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My Joy, my Treasure, and my Crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My every act, word, thought, be love. Amen.

[TLH 349:2]

—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt


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