Loving like Jesus
Series: The Gospel of John
As Jesus begins his farewell discourse, what does he want his disciples to know before he departs? What does he want to be foundational to their life together? Loving one another as he loved them.
The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), D.A. Carson
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel According to John, J.C. Ryle
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One of the nice gifts from God early in COVID in 2020 for me was the miniseries “The Last Dance,” which chronicled the Chicago Bulls dynasty led by Michael Jordan in the 90s, and especially focused on their last season, which Phil Jackson, their star coach, dubbed “The Last Dance.” You don’t always get to know when something is coming to an end, but when you do, you tend to think more intentionally about it, as Phil Jackson did when he knew it was his last season with the Bulls. We’ve been preaching through the Gospel of John on Sundays at Citylight, and in the section at which we’re looking now, Jesus knows his end is drawing near, and so he begins what has come to be known as the “farewell discourse.” What did Jesus want to say to his disciples before he died, rose again, and departed out of the world to the Father? Right here, right at the beginning of it, at the foundation, we learn what was so valuable to him, that he wanted it to be central to his disciples’ life together, even after he was gone, and which should therefore be central to our life together today for those of us who are his disciples. Love one another as Jesus loved you. How? Trust Jesus’ sovereignty, see Jesus’ glory, imitate Jesus’ love, and rely on Jesus’ strength.
Trust Jesus’ sovereignty
Our passage begins with Jesus greatly troubled, because he knows one of his disciples is going to betray him. So he says in verse 21 to his disciples, “One of you will betray me.” Peter wants to know who it is, so he asks this one disciple whom Jesus loved to ask Jesus. We learn later in the Gospel of John that this disciple whom Jesus loved was John himself, the author of this book. That’s not arrogant of John to say; he just had a deep sense that Jesus had loved him, and it shaped his identity. We’d probably all be better off if it shaped ours more. So John asks Jesus, and Jesus tells him that it is he who he gives a morsel of bread to, and then he gives the morsel of bread to Judas. He must have told this to John in secret, because the rest of the disciples still don’t know at the end of the story. After Judas takes the morsel, Satan enters into Judas, not as though he had been uninvolved before this, but now it seems he’s in the driver’s seat. Judas is fully committed to carrying out his evil plan. So Jesus tells him to do what he’s going to do quickly, and then Judas departs. John includes the detail that it was night, likely to indicate that Judas is walking in darkness and trying to carry out his plot in secret.
Nonetheless, it is clear that Jesus, the light of the world, knows exactly what Judas is doing. This story shows us that Jesus not only knew he would be betrayed; he knew exactly who was going to betray him. And knowing this, he did not try to stop it. Rather, he told Judas: What you are going to do, do quickly. Why? Because this plot, evil as it was, Satanic as it was (remember, Satan entered into Judas), was part of God the Father’s plan. The charge Jesus received from his father was to lay down his life, in order to take it up again, and this was the means through which he was to lay down his life. The Father gave Jesus this charge because he loved the world, and Jesus obeyed the charge because he loved both His Father, and his own who were in the world, who the Father had given to him.
And yet, Jesus was greatly troubled by it. Opposition never feels good, but it’s most painful when that opposition comes from those with whom you were closest. Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends, who professed to be one of Jesus’ disciples, with whom Jesus broke bread. And there will come times in the church when you will realize people with whom you took the Lord’s Supper, whose baptism you watched, who you prayed with, ate dinner with, and walked with through hard times, now hate you, not because you wronged them, but because Satan gained a foothold in their life and turned them against anyone who wanted to follow Jesus and wanted to help them do so as well. It’s very hard for many Christians to accept that such a thing can happen. Especially as Americans who tend to think we ought to be able to solve every problem, we tend to assume, “If I had just loved them better, if I had just been there more, if I had gone a little easier on them, or if I had confronted them sooner, this wouldn’t have happened.” And certainly there is a healthy humility in that impulse: We should examine ourselves to see if we’ve sinned against people, and then repent of any ways we have to God and to those we’ve sinned against. There is almost always something to repent of, but even when there is, that doesn’t justify someone betraying you and hating you, and most of the times in those situations, you doing better wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Jesus loved Judas perfectly, right? And Judas still betrayed him, because Satan is real, sin is real, and sometimes people just want their sin. Grieve when people you love, who call themselves Christians, dive into it, but don’t be shocked.
And don’t let it stop you from loving one another. Out of love for the Father and for us, Jesus didn’t try to fight Judas or flee the situation, because he knows he’s in control. He knows it’s all part of the Father’s plan. And you can know that too. You don’t know what people are going to do to you, you don’t know who is going to betray you, but Jesus does, and it is all part of his Father’s plan. There’s something very freeing to letting down your guard toward others and saying, “If you’re going to hurt me, go ahead,” as Jesus does to Judas. Move toward one another, love one another, and entrust the response of others to the sovereignty of Jesus. Then, see Jesus’ glory.
See Jesus’ glory
Once Judas leaves and it’s clear that he is going to carry out his plot, another key event has taken place in the progression toward Jesus’ death. So he says in verse 31, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” Here Jesus describes his death as the glorification of the Son of Man, and God being glorified in him. To the unbelieving eye, Jesus’ death looked anything but glorious: If you evaluate his death on the cross from a worldly perspective, it looks like the ultimate defeat: Here was this man claiming to be the Son of God, and his grand finale is dying a shameful death on a cross as a convicted criminal, with even his own disciples abandoning him? What a loser, the world thinks.
And that’s why if we are going to love one another the way Jesus loves, we have to look at the cross and see something else. We have to look at the cross and see what Jesus saw, what God the Father saw: The glory of Jesus. How does the cross reveal the glory of Jesus? First, it shows that he really did love the glory that comes from God more than the glory that comes from man. He was willing to obey His Father, even though it led to him being shamed and despised by all people. It glorified him in that it showed his love for his own who were in the world. Later in John Jesus will say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” It glorified him in that it showed him to be the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, as he died for the sins of the world in such a way that no one else could. It glorified him in that through it, he would draw all people to himself, and gather into one the children of God scattered abroad. And it glorified God the Father: It showed that he truly did love the world that had rebelled against him, because he gave his only Son for it. It showed that he was just, in that he would not simply let sin go unpunished, but would punish it in Jesus, so that the guilty might be forgiven. So, Jesus says, God will also glorify the Son at once. Though Jesus will die, God will raise him from the dead, bring him to sit at his right hand, and will then send the Spirit to gather the nations to him, so that he will be the one shepherd over all.
If we are to love one another as Jesus loved us, we must retrain our eyes to see the glory of Jesus on the cross. You’ve no doubt heard of “acquired tastes.” The glory of Jesus on the cross is like an acquired sight. Just like we have to retrain our tastebuds to like the foods that are truly good, so we have to retrain our eyes to see true glory. Our eyes are prone to see the glory of good looks, great accomplishments, big houses, and exotic travels, and as long as those things are what you spend your time looking at, they will be what appears glorious to you, and you’ll be too busy running after them to love one another. But if you look at the cross in Scripture, in the preaching of the Word, in the Lord’s Supper, the cross begins to look glorious. If you see Jesus hanging there and say, “Yes; that’s what I want my life to look like,” you’ll begin to love like Jesus has loved you. What if that was your aspiration in life? What if your big goal in life was to get to the end and be able to say, “I obeyed my Father, and I loved his people” even if it means foregoing the things that look glorious in this world? How would that shape your priorities now? What would you do? You’d imitate the love of Jesus.
Imitate Jesus’ love
Jesus continues in verse 33 to tell his disciples that where he is going they cannot come, at least not now. Only he can die for the sins of the world, rise from the dead, and ascend to the Father. So what should they do in the meantime? 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. By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. He calls it a new commandment; why? It’s not because the commandment had never been given before. Some mistakenly assume that. They think the religion of the Old Testament, before Jesus came, was all about formal, external rituals, whereas the New Testament, after Jesus came, is about love. That’s totally false. It’s in the Old Testament that we’re first commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. And it’s in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:18, that we read this: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18). So the commandment is not new in that it’s never been given before. It’s new in that a new motive and standard is now attached to it. Notice in Leviticus 19:18 we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means we are to use the same energy and attention we use to further our own interests to further our neighbor’s interests. That’s a pretty high standard, right? Love your neighbor as yourself.
But what does Jesus say here in his new commandment? “Just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another.” The standard in Jesus’ kingdom is not to love your neighbor as yourself, but to love your neighbor as Jesus has loved you. Let’s consider, then, how Jesus has loved us. First, he loved us contraconditionally. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that God loves us unconditionally, but it’s better than that: He loves us contraconditionally, meaning not just that he loves us without conditions (that’s unconditional), but he loves us despite our deserving the opposite. He loved us when we were his enemies, when we hated him.
He loved us by showing himself to us. Even here we see, once Judas is out of the room, he lets his disciples in on more of what is happening and what he is about to do. He loved us as one with himself. He called us “his own,” those the Father had given to him. Therefore, he did not allow our sin and guilt to remain exclusively our own. Since it was ours, and we were his, he took our sin and guilt upon himself, and died for them on the cross. Our sorrows were his sorrows, our debts his debts, and for that reason, his love was also a sacrificial love. He had to lay down his life to love us, and that’s what he willingly did. And he loved us knowing that he would receive nothing in return from us. There is nothing we could give him that wasn’t already his, and even the love we give him is inconsistent at best, and a far cry from the love he has for us. And, finally, though I’m sure we could say a lot more: He loved us with a committed love. He doesn’t die for us and then say, “Now you better get it together or I’m out.” He dies for us, then he keeps us, and he commits himself to raise us up on the last day.
Now, if that’s how you’ve been loved, how can you begin to imitate Jesus’ love? Start with other disciples. Our love isn’t to end with other disciples, but it is to start there. That’s the command Jesus is giving here: It’s love “one another”; he’s not yet addressing their responsibility to the world, though he will later in the Gospel of John. Earlier in chapter 13 we saw that it was specifically his own who were in the world who Jesus loved to the end, even though there is a broader sense in which he loved everyone. So we start with other disciples, which means practically you need a way of identifying who is a disciple and who isn’t. That’s one of the reasons churches exist, and why churches ought to have some kind of membership and discipline process that clearly identifies who we can affirm as a disciple of Jesus, and who we cannot. You can’t just take peoples’ word for it; Judas said he was a disciple, he clearly wasn’t, and Jesus waited to give this command until Judas was out of the room. It’s also one of the reasons to join a church. You can’t possibly love every disciple of Jesus throughout the world with the kind of depth for which this passage is calling. So God has given us particular churches, made up of disciples, with whom we do take the Lord’s Supper, gather for worship, and learn the names of, so that we can love them in practical ways, just as Jesus loved us in practical ways. You can’t just love nameless and faceless disciples. Joining a church gives you names and faces to love.
And joining a church makes your love a committed love. Remember we said Jesus loved us with a committed love. Maybe you feel like there’s a group of Christians you love, but until you commit to love them in a way that you’re accountable to, you could always stop loving them tomorrow. That’s not how Jesus has loved you. So to love one another as Jesus loved you, you must first join a particular community of disciples, which in the Bible is called a church. We could say that’s kind of like a prerequisite, but then once you’re a member of a church, the real glorious love can begin. Joining a church is not the final destination of love; it’s the front door. It’s like the wedding that is meant to lead to a lifetime of love.
So, members of Citylight, here’s what our love for one another should look like: Jesus loved us contraconditionally, so we should love one another contraconditionally. That means not only that you love those who make you feel better about yourself, but you love those who have sinned against you. You love those whose racial group has sinned against your racial group. You love those who in the world you would never love. Jesus loved us by showing himself to us. That means first that we should love one another by showing Jesus to one another. Part of our loving one another is studying Jesus’ word and getting to know Jesus better so that we can share his Word with one another and help one another know him better. Listen to sermons, read your Bible, come to Sunday school to love one another better. And as Jesus let us know him, let people know you. Open yourself up, invite people into your life, your home, your sin struggles, your sorrows, your joys. Jesus loved us as his own; love one another as Jesus’ own. We don’t belong to one another ultimately; we belong to him. Therefore my job is to be an instrument in his hands as he seeks to accomplish what he wants to accomplish in your life, to make you more like Jesus. That means we need to be willing to correct one another’s sins and point out and encourage ways we see Jesus in one another. That means your problems are not just your problems; they’re the body of Christ’s problem, and we’re members of that same body. So your poverty, your sorrow, your sickness, your sin isn’t just your problem; it’s mine too. Your walk with God is my business, and mine is yours.
Jesus loved us sacrificially; He gave himself for us. So nothing I have is my own ultimately; it’s His, to be used for the good of the other disciples with whom he’s made me one. My time, my money, my house, my possessions, my knowledge, my skills, I want to give out of love for one another. He loved us without expectation of return. So I want to especially love those who can’t pay me back, who don’t have money, who don’t increase my social standing, who won’t be able to connect me with a good job. And he loved us with a committed love. So let’s keep loving one another in this way, even after the buzz of initial inspiration wears off, even when nobody is seeing it or thanking us for it, even when I don’t feel like I’m being loved the way I am loving others. That’s how Jesus loved us. Imitate that love toward one another.
What if we really did this, guys? What if we did this with one another, not just with the 3 or 4 scattered people who may or may not be Christians and who may or may not be members of this church, but who we happen to get along with naturally, but as Jesus’ disciples, in this particular church, with the real names and real faces of real people in this church? Lord willing, we plan to meet on July 16 of this year to form a particular church for this very purpose. In our Church Covenant, to which every member must agree, we will say these words, among others:
“We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, bearing with one another’s weaknesses, forgiving one another’s sins, and loving other churches as we have opportunity. We will walk together in familial love, exercising an affectionate care and watchfulness over one other, rejoicing with those who rejoice, grieving with those who grieve, bearing one another’s burdens, and helping one another grow to maturity in Christ through both encouragement and correction as any occasion may require.” Do you see what that is? It’s a commitment to love one another. If you’re currently a member of Citylight Center City, sign that Church Covenant and Statement of Faith, and let’s do this together. If you aren’t yet a member but would like to learn more, check the “membership” box on your Connect Card. Let’s love one another as Jesus has loved us.
Jesus says, after all, that it is by this that all people will know we are his disciples: If we have love for one another, verse 35. So on the one hand, if you say you are a Christian, but you don’t really have an interest in joining a church to know and meaningfully love other Christians, you may not actually be a Christian. Jesus says the way anyone will know you’re a disciple is by your love for other disciples, so if you don’t seem interested in loving other disciples, why should anyone assume you are one? And I don’t say that to exclude you; I say that because we want to genuinely include you! Please, come to Jesus, believe the love he has for you, and then love other Christians the way Jesus has loved you. And do you see now how loving one another like Jesus has loved us is not mutually exclusive with loving the world? It’s by loving one another that the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples. Doesn’t that make sense? How loving is it to the world to say, “Hey, you want to come be part of my Christian community? We don’t really know one another, we don’t really love one another, but I sure do love you.” No! What’s really loving to the world is to go deep in love for one another, and then say to the world, “Come in! Jesus is the door, and it’s wide open.”
I once heard a story from another church about an elderly member who had been very involved in the church, but ended up in a nursing home in her latter years of life. One night a decently sized group of 20 somethings who were members of her church in her small group came to visit her at the nursing home and sang hymns with her in her room. When they left, the staff came in and asked her if she was some kind of celebrity. She explained, “No; those were just members of my church.” You know what the staff asked next, right? “Where do you go to church?” If you want to really love the world, if you want to really reach the world, start by loving one another as Jesus loved you. And, finally, we can only do this if we rely on Jesus’ strength.
Rely on Jesus’ strength
So after Jesus says he’s going to depart, Peter again, ever the inquisitive one, asks Jesus where he’s going. Jesus tells him that where he is going now Peter cannot yet go, but he will go one day. Just as Jesus is dying and rising again, so Peter will one day die and rise again, to be with Jesus forever. But Peter doesn’t get it, and insists that he is willing to lay down his life for Jesus now. Jesus corrects him, and tells him that before the rooster crows, Peter will deny him three times. And sure enough, we’ll see when we get to the narrative of Jesus’ death, that Peter did deny him three times, despite his present certainty that he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus.
We learn from this that we are not as strong as we typically think we are. It can be easy when hearing a sermon like this or reflecting on a text like this to get inspired and think, “Yes; I am going to love one another like Jesus has loved me,” and that’s good; we should make such a resolution and commitment, as we talked about. But we must also bear in mind that we are powerless to carry out such a commitment on our own strength. Why couldn’t Peter follow Jesus now? Jesus said in verse 36: Where I am going you cannot follow me. Because before Peter could follow Jesus as his example, Peter would need to believe in Jesus as his substitute. At this point Jesus had not yet completed his substitutionary work. He had not yet borne Peter’s sins. He had not yet suffered under the wrath of God for Peter’s sins. He had not yet overcome death and ascended into heaven. And therefore, his Spirit had not yet been given to Peter in its fullness, to free him from his sins and to empower him to love like Jesus loved him, even to the point of death.
Nonetheless, that day did come, and it transformed Peter from this self-confident, yet timid, disciple, to the bold leader of the early church, who, as tradition has it, was crucified upside down for his faith in Jesus. He did follow Jesus afterward, but he could not at this time. And until you look to Jesus as your substitute, until you receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, you cannot follow his example. It’s by seeing his glory on the cross, it’s by knowing and believing the love he has for you, that his Spirit works in you the fruit of love, to empower you to love one another as Jesus has loved you. First believe in Jesus and receive his love for you; then you will have the power to love one another as he loved you. Don’t fear one another; love one another. Jesus is sovereign over every situation, and even over every betrayal. Train your eyes to see the glory of Jesus on the cross, the glory of his obedience to God and love for us, until it becomes your aspiration. He loved us contraconditionally, he loved us by showing himself to us, he loved us as his own, he loved us sacrificially, he loved us without hope of return, and he loved us with a committed love. So love one another contraconditionally, show Jesus to one another, let one another into your lives, love one another as Jesus’ own, love one another sacrificially, without expectation of return, and commit to it. Loving your neighbor as yourself was impossible for us as sinners. But because Jesus has loved us, we can now love one another, not only as we love ourselves, but as he loved us.