- Philippians 2:1-11
- John 13:1-17
My dear brothers and sisters,
I passed a road sign advertising an adult shop, promising that what they sell will improve your love life. Lust and sex go under the banner of love. Little wonder, then, that relationships and marriages don’t last beyond the point after an airy-teary, warm fuzzy feeling of self-gratification evaporated like a cloud before the sun.
The church is in desperate need of Christian love. Our sinful nature inspires us to define love. We can use the words “like”, “we get on”, “care”, “he/she is nice”, “he’s a good fellow”, or “he’s okay” to describe our relationships within our Christian community. What we mean is that we might tolerate the other, we are friends for so long as we at arms length from one another. But love?
John warns us,
The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness. (1 John 2:9, 11, NET)
The Bible only knows about one definition of love between Christians. Our chapter from John this morning has this verse in it:
“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NET)
Paul warns in Galatians 5:
For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.”However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14–15, NET)
If we keep the context of this chapter in mind, we might understand what our Lord meant with this “new” command. The command in essence was not something new – to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength, and to love our neighbour as you love yourself was in place all the time.But, with the Passover only hours away, with the hatred of the world against Christ leading up to his brutal death on the cross, with the warning that the followers of Christ are not greater than their Master – and that they will be hated too – this command is surely more than a fuzzy feeling towards one another.
The world would know they are the disciples of the Lord only when their love for their Lord and their love for one another means that they would never let go of one another: they would put their lives on the line for their brothers and sisters. They would forget the petty dislikes they might have in themselves, and for the sake of Christ, take one another’s hands and spur one another one in difficult times.
Can we say that? Are we willing to do that? The world would not pick us as Christians merely we tolerate one another – they can to the same, and in many cases they can put the church of Christ to shame.
So, how do we know what real, meaningful Christian love is? Is it rooted in Christ.
Love which knew no boundaries
We need to go to John 13:1. I admit it is not a very easy verse to understand – you only need to compare different translations to see the struggle of the translators to bring out the original meaning.
Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, He now loved them to the very end. (John 13:1, NET)
With his Father, He loved those He came into this world for to seek and to save. They did not love Him, but He loved them. His love was not evoked because they were looking for someone to love. As Christ’s love was from eternity – without beginning – and because his love was not based or dependent on those whom He came to save, the implication is that his love is eternal – it knows no end. But this is a way to express his love within the framework of time.
There is another dimension to his love, the content, we need to grasp. To love to the end, then, means that his love would pay whatever it would cost to save. His love had no “if’s” or “but’s” as preconditions. He did not love the better looking sinners only; but He did not exclude the better ones. He did not only love the worse of them all; but He did not overlook them.
His love did not excuse the worst of them all, or purely diminish the guild of the better sinners: His love was aimed at doing the will of his Father to bring home the lost and wandering sheep without a shepherd, those burdened by iniquity and sin, who could dod nothing for themselves to be saved. His love drove Him to lay down his life, whatever the cost. His love knew no boundaries, it could never go too far, and He could never associate to much with those who lived as God’s enemy. His only boundary to his love was his life.
Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to Him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, (John 13:3, NET)
Jesus was never a victim of human weakness. The verse actually reads on from verse 2 which states that “the devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus.” It was not the devil or Judas that caused the death of Jesus; He was in control all the time. As King of his kingdom He acted with authority, and sovereignly. The hatred of Judas, who might even have seated himself at the table with the thirty pieces of silver in his pocket with which he betrayed Christ to the Jewish Council, could not stand in the way of our Saviour to love his own.
All things were put under his power – and Judas helplessly look on as the Master demonstrated his love to his own. We don’t know how what Jesus did that day, later washed through the mind of Judas, but one can only assume that the scene haunted him, and the words of our Lord echoed in his mind, becoming his judge (John 12:48) night and day, until he could not take it any longer and hanged himself, dying in the Field of Blood (Acts 1:18).
We sometimes ask our children or grandchildren, “How much do you love me?” But love does not come in measuring cups. How much did Jesus love us? We need not wonder about it. Unlike with us, love for Christ was not a gesture or a word; it was action.
We need to read again the word of Paul in Philippians:
Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing that He should cling to, but [He] 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 2:6–8)
The Bible is precise in describing the full sequence: He took his outer clothing off; He did not want his disciples to see Him as their Rabbi (rabbi’s wore distinctive robes), like the lowest of slaves He wrapped Himself a towel around his waist, He poured water in a basin, He went on his knees and washed the dirty feet of his disciples.
He who from eternity lived in all glory, emptied Himself of anything which could identify Him as higher than his disciples, and became like lowly slave whose job it was to wash the feet of guests as they reclined at the table.
It was too much for Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? You shall never wash my feet!”
Do you get what Peter said? “Lord!” It is not just, “No man, you can’t wash my feet.” He does not even use the title “rabbi” as we see in verse 13 – He goes right to “Lord!” – a title only used for God.
How can Christ wash my feet? It’s just too low for someone of his stature. If it was a slave I did not even know the name of, a nobody who was not even allowed to look you in the eye, if would have been alright with me. Not Jesus, the Lord. Not the one who brought Lazarus back to life; not the One who made the blind man to see, or the lame fellow to walk.
But ultimately, our Lord was not so much concerned about the smelly and dusty feet of his disciples; He would cleanse them so that they would sit with white robes at the wedding feast of the Lamb in his Father’s heaven. Peter at first did not understand that, but when he understood that if Christ would not wash him, he would have no part in his Lord, he wanted to be washed all over!
The blood of Christ would atone for the sins of Christ’s own. In just a few hours from enjoying the meal with their rabbi and Lord, the Messiah whom John the Baptist pointed to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” was nailed to the Cross as the Passover Lamb – with his blood He atoned for the sins of sinners who hated God.
My friend, it’s only the blood of the Lamb that can cleanse us and made us ready for heaven. He has to wash you, or you would have no part in Him.
Once He had washed their feet, He put on his clothes and returned to his pace. After all, He was the Son of God, the One with authority over all things. Now his disciples would worship Him and call Him Teacher and Lord.
After this our Lord gave his disciples this command: “You should also wash one another’s feet.” Literally? Perhaps not, but they had to become like slaves one to the other. No servant is greater than his master. You will be blessed if you do this.
Do I need to be like a slave to my fellow Christian? Do I need to humble myself all the time? Do I always need to be the least? Do I have to forgive the one who I see as the one who has wronged me? Seventy times seven, our Lord said. It takes us back to the reading from Philippians:
be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:2–5, NET)
Christ’s love knew no boundaries: it was eternal, it was selfless, endless, heaven-driven, atoning, and exemplary. By this love the world will know we are his disciples.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 February 2017