13th Sunday of Pentecost August 7, 2016


Identity Crisis

John 13:31-35

Scripture Readings

Exodus 3:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
John 3:14-21


149, 352, 403, 151

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 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. 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.” NIV

Have you ever had an identity crisis? That is, a sudden uncertainty about who you are, what you do, or where you belong? You may have experienced an identity crisis as a teenager, when raging hormones and increasing responsibilities led you to ask, “Who am I? How do I fit in? What is my purpose in life?” Or, you may have struggled with identity when first married, first retired, or first fully aware that more of life lay behind than still lay ahead.

Yet, an identity crisis is not always biological or psychological. At times it can also be denominational. Consider Lutheranism. Would Martin Luther recognize the Lutheran Church today? Would he find every Lutheran denomination still adhering to the fundamental principles of the Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone? Or would Luther be confused, even incensed, by what he saw?

What would Luther see in 2016? He would see some Lutheran denominations openly embracing evolution, homosexuality, open communion, and various other practices clearly opposed by Scripture. He would see some Lutheran denominations actually denying the verbal inspiration of the Bible, calling it useful for teaching but historically and scientifically inaccurate. He would see some Lutheran denominations pursuing a full reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, and this while preparing to celebrate the Five Hundredth Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation! Luther would ask, as every discerning Lutheran should be asking, “What happened? Does the name ‘Lutheran’ mean anything any more?” He would find “Lutheranism” suffering from an identity crisis.

However, the matter of identity crisis goes even further, to embrace the Christian individual. Do we fully understand our identity as Christians? Do we know what people see when they look at us—our behavior, our choices, our priorities, our response to hardships or insults, and especially our treatment of other Christians? Can those outside the church looking in, easily identify us as Christians? That is, would an unbeliever immediately recognize us as followers, worshipers, and family members of Jesus Christ? Sadly, that is not always the case.

Imagine what the unbelieving residents of Corinth thought when they looked at the city’s First Christian Church. Here were Christians that were divided into contentious, quarreling groups. They were speaking ill of each other, tolerating immorality, abusing the Lord’s Supper, and even taking fellow Christians to Small Claims Court. What would the residents have thought of the congregation? What would they have thought of Jesus Christ, whom they were following?

We know precisely what Paul thought, because he wrote: I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers, 1 Corinthians 6:5-6.

Or consider the behavior of the Lord’s own disciples. On one occasion, Jesus was turned away by an entire Samaritan village even as He walked unswervingly toward Jerusalem and the cross. This angered His disciples. Two of them, James and John, said to Jesus, Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? Luke 9:54. Jesus stopped, turned, and rebuked His disciples, saying, You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them, Luke 9:55-56. These are more examples of an identity crisis.

In today’s text, John 13:31-35, Jesus addressed the matter of Christian identity. In doing so, He described the one Christian characteristic that would clearly identify us as His disciples. What was it? Love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples.”

First, consider the phrase, “All men will know.” The Greek word for “know” in this verse has the sense of knowledge from experience, not intellectual knowledge. It is the difference between saying “I love you” and proving that love. Anyone can say “I love you.” Proving love requires action. John wrote in his First Epistle: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth, 1 John 3:18.

But what did Jesus mean when He said, A new command I give you: Love one another John 13:34? Surely the command to love was not new. Already in the Mosaic Law, God’s people were commanded, Love the LORD your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your strength, Deuteronomy 6:5; and again in Leviticus 19:18, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Why then did Jesus call His command to love new? Because His command was based on a new standard of love—a standard never before seen in such dimension and glory. The new standard for love was, is, and ever will be, Jesus Christ Himself. “Love as I have loved you,” He told His disciples. Those disciples saw the love of Christ on display throughout His ministry. Yet, on the night in which Jesus spoke the words of our text, the disciples saw Christ’s love for them revealed in a way they could never have imagined. As stated in John 13:1, Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.

The setting was Maundy Thursday, only hours before Christ’s betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion. The place was the upper room, where Jesus and His disciples were sharing a final Passover Meal. In that solemn atmosphere, Jesus stood, removed His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist, knelt down, and began to wash the feet of His disciples.

Imagine God the Son, the Creator of the entire universe—the One of whom John wrote in the Prologue of his Gospel, through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made—down on His hands and knees, washing filthy feet. Did a servant offer to do this? No. Did one of the disciples offer to do this? No. Would you or I have offered to do this? No. Such an unpleasant, menial, and smelly task was reserved for servants. Yet, Jesus Christ did perform this loving task. What kind of God is He? What kind of love is His love?

When finished, Jesus asked His disciples, Do you understand what I have done for you? You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you John 13:12-15.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asked. I submit to you, dear Christian friends, that as we learn to answer His question, as we in humble gratitude learn what the amazing love of God has done for each of us—we will also learn how to love one another. And in that love, we will clearly, unmistakably identify ourselves to be Christ’s disciples.

“Love as I have loved you,” said Jesus. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples.” If we live in this kind of love, there will be no identity crisis. People will know without a word, a church sign, or a lapel cross that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Now, if we are to love each other as Christ has loved us, the question is, “What kind of love is Christ’s love?”

CHRIST’S LOVE IS A COMPLETELY UNDESERVED LOVE. Was there a single disciple in that upper room who deserved to have God wash his feet? Has there ever been a single person on the face of this earth who deserved to be washed clean and forgiven in the priceless blood of Jesus Christ? No. And yet, in love and grace, Jesus died for us anyway! He died for all of us! He died willingly and committedly—the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, to bring us to God.

Seeing God’s love for the undeserving, we get a glimpse of how wide, long, high, and deep His divine love really is. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Or as John wrote in his First Epistle: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, 1 John 3:16.

Are there people in our lives at times who don’t deserve our love and forgiveness? Undoubtedly. But we are called to love and forgive them anyway, whether we feel like it or not. When we ask why, the answer is “because this is the way Jesus Christ has loved and forgiven us.” When you and I show love to the undeserving, we are loving as Christ loved us; and in that remarkable love we are showing ourselves to be His disciples.

CHRIST’S LOVE IS A DETERMINED LOVE. Jesus’ love is a love that refuses to give up or let go. Previously, I gave you this translation of John 13:1, Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love. However, there is another way to translate this verse, as found in the KJV and NKJV; namely, Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And to be even more literal, To the end He loved them.

Jesus, knowing full well the agonies which lay ahead in the mocking, scourging, and crucifixion, loved His disciples to the last hours of His life. He loved them to the end of their lives, despite their own sinfulness, weakness, forgetfulness, and faithlessness. And in the same determined way Jesus Christ has loved each of us.

Are there people in our lives at times whom we want to give up on? Do we want to throw up our hands, shut our hearts, and say, “I’ve tried and tried but this person is not worth the energy and effort?” Is it a spouse? Is it a child? Is it a fellow Christian? We may say, “I’m done with him. I’m done with her.” Yet, can you imagine Jesus Christ saying these words to us? How grateful we should be that He does not!

Accordingly, our love for others, especially for our fellow Christians should be a determined love. When we love with determination, we are loving as Christ loved us; and in that remarkable love, we are showing ourselves to be His disciples.

CHRIST’S LOVE IS AN ACTIVE LOVE. In fact, it was this ever-seeking, always-saving, relentlessly active love of Christ that helped to identify Him as the world’s long-awaited Savior. When Israel’s scribes and Pharisees, pastors and teachers, refused to lift a finger to help the helpless, Jesus said of them in Matthew 23, They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. In contrast, we find Jesus going to all the towns and villages, teaching, healing, and forgiving. He lifted the heavy burdens that only the shoulders of God can carry, calling all people to repentance and faith. This is an active love. This is a love, in terms of John 13, that did not sit on the sofa and ring for room service. Instead, this love stood up, stooped down, rolled up its sleeves, and washed filthy feet.

Christians talk about love, and rightly so. But talk isn’t enough, is it? As written in John 3:16, God so loved the world that He—what? Sat? Read the newspaper? Twiddled His thumbs and wiggled His toes? No, God so loved the world that He acted. He gave the best He had to give, namely, His One and Only Son.

So too, dear friends, our love as Christians should be an active love, whether the activity is cleaning this church building, serving as a voter, bringing refreshments, playing the organ, visiting a loved one in a nursing home, or getting down on our hands and knees—literally or figuratively—in order to wash filthy feet. Because, when we put love into action, we are loving as Christ loved; and in that remarkable love we are showing ourselves to be His disciples.

CHRIST’S LOVE IS A TRUTHFUL LOVE. Can you name even one instance when Jesus Christ changed, twisted, or dampened His message to accommodate only what “itching ears” wanted to hear? No, because there were no such instances. Jesus never told listeners what they wanted to hear. Jesus told His listeners what they needed to hear, namely, God’s truth. He told the truth about sin and punishment. He told the truth about grace and forgiveness. And He told the truth about faith and salvation. Father, prayed Jesus in John 17:17, sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.

Many churches today preach love, but not a love of the truth. Is it love to preach only what people want to hear? Is it love to compromise confession in order to increase attendance and revenue and TV ratings? Is it love to invite everyone to attend the Lord’s Supper without knowing what they believe about the Lord’s Supper? No. Distorting or dimming truth is not loving. It is dangerous.

Paul had this to say about preaching truth: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ, Ephesians 4:14-15.

When we love enough to preach the truth, we are loving as Christ loved; and in that remarkable love we are showing ourselves to be His disciples.

A new command I give you, said Jesus. Love as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, IF you love one another. Amen.

—Pastor Mark Weis

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