The meal had been completed. Judas Iscariot had walked off into the night to inform the authorities of Jesus’ whereabouts and time was short. In John’s gospel we are now at what has been termed “The farewell discourse” that continues to 16.33. During this final teaching Jesus explains the significance of his death, resurrection and ascension. He also outlines the promise of the Holy Spirit whom he will send after he has left to be with the Father. However, before he gets into the depth of that teaching he has two important things to say. Firstly, what he is about to do is something that only he can do and they are not able to be a part of it. Secondly, the disciples are to be a distinctively loving community. The tenure of Jesus’ words is him being firmly gentle. He understands the emotional roller coaster they are about to go on. He wants them to understand and become the people he wants them to be even if it is only possible when they look back over events.
He addresses them with an intimate term, ‘Little children,’ v33 John adopts the same term in his epistles late in life. He explains they cannot go where he is about to go. This is to his inner circle who have been close by his side for three years. Only Jesus can pay the price for sins. He allowed no room for disciples to think in some way they shared in the cost Jesus paid because only Jesus could be the lamb of God. For a little while the disciples were going to feel lost and leaderless. Jesus knew about their oncoming grief and confusion and he was preparing them for it. Their grief and suffering was to bear no comparison with Jesus’ but even so he had time to support them and remind them of their responsibility to support each other. When we face grief and confusion it is good to remind ourselves that Jesus understands us as much as he understood his first disciples.
Jesus them gave them a new commandment which continues to be a commandment for all his followers. ‘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.’ vv34-35
What could Jesus have meant by, ‘As I have loved you?’ None of us can do what Jesus did in terms of taking upon himself God’s wrath that is rightfully ours. However, we can share many of his qualities. We can be genuinely sacrificial in our love for each other. We can be unchanging in our love. We can be righteous in our love and by this I mean not mixing it with sin, leading each other towards holiness. We can actively love the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger and those who are different to ourselves. We can be family. Tertullian wrote describing the Roman view of the early church, “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See how they love one another, they say.”
Being a loving Church family is to be actively involved in gospel mission. Words that have no substance behind them carry little weight. It is in the living out of Christ’s love for others that we demonstrate the reality of how he has transformed out lives. It is resurrection life in action. In this way we can all be engaged in communicating our own relationship with Jesus. ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.’ v34
How can we continue to show by the way we live our life that we are a disciple of Jesus?
The love of Jesus – Nathan Taylor