Date: 02 Jul 2017
Text: John 13:31-14:4
I am this morning starting a series of eight sermons under the general heading of Living in Christ. This will be a series based on the Gospel of John and will consider how we should live our lives in view of our faith in Jesus Christ. This assumes of course that we do have faith in Jesus Christ and regard Him as our Lord and Saviour. If that isn’t already the case then perhaps we need to address the reasons why and try and convince any non-believers to join us in God’s incredible family.
Go into any bookshop, I’m sure such things do still exist, and you will soon see piles of books on lifestyle and how we should live our lives to obtain fulfilment. There are also people who call themselves lifestyle coaches and presumably they try and coach people into how to live their lives in a more fulfilling way. The amazing thing is that people actually pay a lot of money for all this lifestyle training. The best book that I know on how to live life in the right style is called the Bible and the best ever lifestyle coach is Jesus Christ Himself.
The purpose of these eight sermons will be to show how, as believers, we can grow in our faith and lead a life in which we are living in Christ. This first sermon will consider how to live a life of love just as Jesus wanted us to. Future sermons will include subjects such as how to find God and be part of His family; and how we should look at ourselves in the way that Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 11:28 when talking about Communion, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.“ However, they are for later as today I want to consider loving one another.
Right now I would suggest that the world needs love more than ever. When you look around all you can see is a world full of hate. It is hate, not ideology; that drives many of the Islamic jihadists who are intent on killing as many people who disagree with them as they possibly can. They hate the western way of life and they hate the fact that we aren’t all Muslims falling in line with their views. Go back a few weeks and think about the General Election campaign. There was a great deal of hate displayed during that campaign; hate from the politically ultra left towards anyone who disagreed with them and their worldview. In recent days we have seen an agreement being made between the Conservative government and the DUP of Northern Ireland. Because of the DUP views on marriage and abortion many people hate them and think that they are living in the past and are therefore socially unacceptable.
It is far easier to hate than to love. Hate makes instant judgements and doesn’t involve getting to know someone in any way. I would ask though, who gets hurt by hate? Is it the person who is the target of that hate? Or is it the person doing the hating? I would suggest that it is the latter.
John Lennon wrote a well known song in the early 1970s titled All You Need is Love. It is a fairly simple song that tries to convey the belief that all that the world needs is love and then everything will be OK. In essence he was right. However, there is no mention in that song of God which is probably understandable given that John Lennon was an atheist who at one time claimed that he was more popular than Jesus Christ.
The opposite of love and Jesus came to earth to live among us purely and simply because God loves us. God demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son to live with us, teach us and then die for us. We are all sinners and must pay the price for that sin which, as we know from Romans 6:23, is death. However, because God loves us so much He sent Jesus to pay that price for us by dying in our place. That is how much He loves us; He was prepared to let His only Son die for us. The Apostle wrote of this love in the passage I read earlier from John’s first epistle when he said, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).
Just as God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus to die for us, so Jesus spoke constantly about the love that our Heavenly Father has for us and how we should behave as a result of that love.
In the passage in John 13 that we are looking at, Jesus had been telling His disciples that it was time for Him to go, He had to leave them. No doubt they were shocked to hear this and probably didn’t fully understand what He was getting at. They had spent a lot of time with Him and got to know this rather strange but brilliant Man and loved Him and all that He did; now, just as they were really beginning to understand Him and His teaching He announced He was leaving.
An example of that fact that they didn’t fully understand what He was saying comes in 13:36 where Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” When Jesus told Him that, for the moment, Peter couldn’t follow Him, Peter asked again in 13:37, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” That was a dangerous comment for Peter to make and it is a comment that we’ll look at in a few moments.
Prior to this exchange, Jesus had given His disciples a new command. He told them, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (13:34). He followed up that command with the comment, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (13:35). Those are two very profound comments from our Saviour and they are comments that we simply cannot ignore.
Just think about those three words, “love one another”. Is that a hard command to follow? Some people seem to think it is. Remember Jesus was talking to His disciples and so by definition He was telling His disciples and all who were to come after them to love one another; in other words, love all fellow believers. We have already been told in the Ten Commandments, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18). Some see Jesus’ command as replacing the command in the Ten Commandments. I don’t as I believe that the words of Jesus augment what we have already been told. We should love fellow believers and non-believers alike; they are all God’s creation, created in His image. Our neighbour could be anyone, believer or non-believer, and so since we are now being told to love fellow believers it follows that we are being told to love everyone, not just a select few. The difficult bit is loving our neighbour, after all they may be a different colour or religion or nationality or something else that makes it very hard to love them. That doesn’t mean though that we shouldn’t try. Loving fellow believers is easy, or is it? It should be easy since by being fellow believers they are following and obeying the same Lord and Saviour that we are. And yet, it isn’t easy at all. All too frequently we see and hear a complete lack of love on display between people who should be following this simple command from Jesus and loving one another. Jesus loved us enough to die for us. Why then, can’t we get over whatever it is that prevents us from loving one another and do as He commands? I would suggest that self and pride come into play here when our focus should be on Jesus and Him alone.
Just to help us in our difficulties, we do have an example in Jesus Himself. Notice that in 13:34 He follows up His command by telling us again, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus not only loved us warts and all but He also loved us enough to die for us. His unconditional love for us is defined by the cross on which He died. That is some demonstration of love and probably one that we will never be called upon to replicate. It is, however, a great example of just how much Jesus loved us, He didn’t ask us to do anything in return for His love, and it is only now that He gives that simple command, “love one another”. Surely having Jesus as the ultimate example will help us all as we endeavour to love one another.
The second part of Jesus’ command tells us that if we do love one another, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (13:35a). If we cannot find it in ourselves to love our fellow believers then how will people know that we are disciples of Jesus? All too often we don’t demonstrate that we belong to Jesus simply by not showing the love that Jesus commands us to display.
It is never easy to love everyone. We may not like someone for whatever reason; we may disagree with them on political, theological or other grounds; they may come from a different culture or look different. If they are believers in Jesus Christ then we should love them regardless of any drawbacks that we think exist. Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and yet Jesus loved him. Peter denied Jesus three times just as Jesus said he would and yet Jesus still loved him. It doesn’t matter what our past looks like or what our background may have been, Jesus still loves us.
In his letter to fellow believers, James makes clear that we should all put our faith into action and demonstrate that faith by what we do. Surely the best way to start doing that is to love one another. Unconditional love should be our motivation to serve Jesus in any way that He calls, and if we truly love Him and want to serve Him then it follows that we should start by obeying His command to love one another.
Let’s go back to Peter for a moment. In 13:38 Jesus made it clear to Peter that the disciple would deny knowing Jesus three times. I’ve no doubt that Peter would have been totally amazed at such a thought, and yet, only a short time later that is exactly what happened. On three separate occasions Peter denied ever knowing Jesus and immediately after the third denial the cock crowed, just as Jesus had predicted.
That was Peter through and through, unpredictable and impulsive, and yet despite that Jesus loved him. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus had told Peter, “... I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Even though Peter denied Jesus and let Him down badly that still happened, Peter was indeed the rock on which the church was built and he went on to be a great disciple for Jesus.
When we go back to this passage in John 13 & 14 we see Jesus telling His disciples that when He goes He will prepare a place for them and will then come back for them. He had just predicted that Peter would deny Him and yet He doesn’t exclude Peter from His future plans; Jesus still loves him unconditionally. Similarly Jesus loves us unconditionally and that should lead us to love Him and love one another.
The vast majority of pop songs, both old and new have focussed on love in one way or another. Good though some of them may be they are at best superficial and do not get down to the real essence of love. That comes from Jesus and Him alone. He came to earth to be with us, to teach us about the coming kingdom of God, and most of all, to love us.
At the Birmingham Civic Prayer Breakfast that I attended recently (26 Jun 2017), one of the speakers, Mrs Lesley Cheesman of Agape International, made it quite clear that she believed that love can change the world. She is quite right and the love that Jesus has for us demonstrates that love can indeed change the world and it is still changing the world on a daily basis. We can help that change along by loving one another just as Jesus commanded us to.
That command to “love one another” may not be easy to follow but since it is a command from Jesus Himself then surely it behoves us to try, not out of a feeling of compulsion but out of our love for Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. If we truly are living in Christ then we need to show that by living a life of love.