Let’s return to where we began last Sunday, that moment prior to the cross, the grave, and the resurrection, to Jesus’ final moments with his disciples before the arrest. That moment at the table as Jesus and his disciples shared their final meal, and before they heard Jesus utter his final teachings and give his final encouragements. Among those encouragements was one that that stands out among the rest,
‘Love one another, even as I have loved you, you also love one another.’John 13:34b
Now, this is not so odd in the words or message themself, but it that he introduces with statement,
‘A NEW commandment I give to you,’John 13:34a
If there is anything that was not new, it was to ‘Love God and to Love Others.’ One of Jesus’ best known parables had to do with the boundless limits of our call to love others So why is this presented as a NEW commandment?
To get us started on this, let’s look back at the beginning of this chapter in John’s Gospel.John 13:1
‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that his hour had come and that he would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the END’
One of those Jesus loved, Judas, had already initiated his own betrayal of Jesus. We also know that Jesus was aware that the others would soon abandon him. However, we see that the setting for everything that took place that evening was done from Jesus’ love for them all. Jesus begins the evening by washing their feet, all the while knowing the reality ahead, and then begging them to love each other – not to remain loyal to him. (End – Telos -purpose, tax)
This was not really a new commandment, while, at the same time, it was new in emphasis and urgency with which Christ said it in this specific moment. This was actually a lifeline that Jesus was throwing his disciples shortly before they were going to need it. In Jesus, this group had been witness to his command of love not just proclaimed verbally, but much more powerfully as LOVE was MANIFEST in the day to day life of Jesus. Now, it was not aimed at the ‘hateful hopeless’ crowds, now it was aimed specifically at them, this group of followers, these that had an actual title, disciples and the coming title of apostles. They knew it was significant that Christ focused this on them but probably didn’t grasp that this would be their avenue of hope and comfort in their coming role of apostles, let alone surviving the coming few days. This was their lifeline that they didn’t realize they would soon desperately need – it is our lifeline that we often forget we have.
The approach to the truth about Love is one of the rare times that the Old Testament presentation is more in line with the way we commonly think. Old Testament, Love is usually an identifier of internalization emotions. It is often used as a way to identify a person, ‘you know him, he loves….’, ‘Or the statement ‘Father of Love.’ It is easily compared to our concept of Love as something internal, something emotional. Often regarded as a comfort and security type of word, our concept of love carries a meaning that is often difficult to fully explain.
In the New Testament, Love is more of an action word, it usually connotes a call to action, to step out, to sacrifice or to experience. Love is usually listed along with a listing of things to do, or things that will prove that the love exists. Love is fully manifest in the life of Christ and the epistles reveal how and why to Love.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13
Whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. All the commandments are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.Romans 13:8-10
Jesus laid down his life for us, that is devotion. However, most of us would do the same, consider what you would do for a spouse, a child, a family member, a friend – giving your life for them is not unimaginable. When Jesus laid down his life for us it was a much greater act that we could ever do, for in his death he not only died in our place, but he also took on the weight of our sins, our disobedience, our rejection of God. We do not qualify to be such a sacrifice, so, even if we were to desire to volunteer for such a task, we would not be able to.
Love does not obliterate the law, Love Manifest, Jesus, fulfilled the Law.
We strive to be Love Manifest just as Christ Was and Is Love Manifest.
Here is the truth, Jesus took the basic teachings of the law, and raised them to a Holy level, a level to strive for, a level that becomes our aspiration.
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with another, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult another, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”’Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus continues the vein of instruction addressing the bar set for lying, divorce, retaliation, and then he says this,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”Matthew 5:43-44
Jesus teachings did not settle for the ‘get by’ level of our humanness, he called us to All that we are capable of being and doing. We have the breath of God in us, we have the empty grave for us, we have the promise of life now and forever all over us- God knows us, God has high hopes for us, God has created us for that, in this moment, in this time.
Here is another thing, God knows that life can be difficult, that is why he experienced it for himself, that is why God became man.
So, Jesus raised the bar in regard to expectations, but he also raised the bar in regard to how we live. For this he did not just say it verbally, but he manifest it in every fiber of his being, he was love, he was love manifest. That is why, when he needed to rest, instead, he fed thousands instead; why, when he needed to fulfill a promise of healing an officer’s loved one, he made a stop to address the concerns of a chronically ill woman instead; why, when stopped by those he knew would reject him, he stopped anyway and talked and shared; Love Mainfest propelled Jesus to live out love through his deeds and actions. Jesus taught love, not through his words but through his actions and his deeds.
Here is the truth, Manifest Love is,
Manifest Love looks like Jesus
There are as many as 8 defined greek words for love, everything from family and brotherly love, to erotic love, to selfish and abusive love. Modern philosophers have divided love into as many as 12 forms of love. The classifications have been defined to specify the function and details of the varied loves, some of the words speak to a perverse deviation of love. There is one thread that runs through all of the loves, it is a thread that cries out for something that cannot be found in our chaotic humanness, a love that is unconditional, and never ending, a love without limits and without expectations – a love, however, that is full of hope, acceptance, encouragement, sympathy and empathy, a love that is truly truly unconditional, this is Agape love, this is the love that Jesus Manifest, this is the love that we are called to Manifest.
Jesus made it very clear what Love Manifest does in our life.
‘Love so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’John 15:11
And then, as we go six verses further, Jesus adds,
‘I am giving you truth so that you may love one another.’John 15:17
Love Brings Us To The Table
Love Brings Others To The Table
God’ Table Is A Full & Diverse Table
‘We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another.’― Jonathan Swift, poet and Anglican cleric, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland (late 1600s) said,
‘When we seek to see God, God redirects our sight to see the person next to us.’Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote (paraphrase),
So, we conclude in that room where the disciples, at some point since the crucifixion, the disciples had gathered. At the arrest they had scattered, to where they each went we do not know. For those days in between Christ on the cross and this morning of resurrection, they had reassembled, they had, once again gathered. They were ashamed and embarrassed, they were humiliated and hopeless, they thought everything was over, they questioned their investment of the past three years. But now they would be gathered, in this room of hopeless, hiding from a world that had declared this Jesus Movement officially over, here in this room these eleven were back together. They stood staring at the floor, sometimes catching the lifeless stare of one another. Hopeless, frightened, dissolution, ashamed, here they stood, an empty table at the opposite end of the room, and at the other, these disciples of Jesus.
It could be said that they had returned here because they were unified in their fear and all the other emotions of devastation, but that is not true. This group had regathered because of Love. They had experienced Love Manifest in this man Jesus. They had seen the outflow of Love Manifest in this man, they had felt Love Manifest from this man, they had witnessed the change he made on the world where they all lived. The gathered back together not to address their shame or confusion, they gathered because they had lived in the presence of Love Manifest.
That is what love is when it is released to manifest itself through every aspect of our life, when it permanently places its brand on or heart, our mind, and our soul.
Love Manifest becomes the undefinable identifier of the Light Within Each Of Us.
So, as we began to permit the fact that, not only is God Love, but that His Son was/is Love Manifest in the Flesh, we can look again at the Psalm read earlier. We now see it not as an example of fantasy thinking but as a realistic description of the Loving Shepherd who desires the best for us, we can see it as the hopeful ode describing our God who is love. We can trust him in death’s valley as well as in the lush pastures.
God, my shepherd, I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools for drink.
You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.
Even when that direction goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid because I know you walk at my side. Your shepherd’s crook gives me security.
You nourish me in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims over with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me, they pursue me, every day of my life.
I am back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.Psalm 23