Duty Calls – Part 2 (John 13:31-38)

By Andrew E. Courtis

What is the distinguishing mark of a Christian? In one sense it is easy to say that we are Christians, but it is a completely different matter when it comes to demonstrating it. John 13:31-38 reveals what could be called the distinguishing mark of the genuine Christian. Francis Schaeffer writes,

“This passage reveals the mark that Jesus gives to label a Christian not just in one era or in one locality but at all times and all places until Jesus returns.”[1] Just after exposing Judas’ ugly betrayal, a complete contrast is seen in a portrait of what Christian devotion looks like. In this passage we learn how Christ’s sacrificial love provides the basis for the disciples duty to love. Before we can genuinely love one another, it is first essential that we know the love of Christ. Then, in order for us to fulfill our duty to love, we must delight in Christ and depend on the Holy Spirit. The passage before us begins a large section in the Gospel of John (13:31-17:26) in which Jesus is alone with eleven of the twelve disciples. In these chapters we will learn some amazing themes like Christian love, Heaven, and the Holy Spirit.

Sermon Summary:        In this passage, we will consider both the basis and duty of Christian love.

1. THE SAVIOUR'S SACRIFICIAL DEATH - COSLTY LOVE (13:31-33) 

The first and foundational point for us to consider is the reality that makes Christian love even possible – the Saviour’s Sacrificial Death. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ was a powerful and public demonstration of costly love. Our passage begins with the following words, “When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him’” (13:31). Judas has just left in preparation to betray Jesus. Now Jesus is alone with the remaining eleven disciples. This is the small flock that is soon going to be sent out into the world to share the message of the cross. Before they go, it is necessary that they be instructed on some foundational matters. The reference to Jesus being glorified in these verses includes His death, which is followed by His resurrection and then the glory of being at the right hand of the Father. Back in John 12:23-36, it was demonstrated that the cross was the place that demonstrated the glory of God. This demonstration of glory occurred through His death because in the act of dying, the Lord Jesus Christ displayed the glory of God in bringing about the salvation of many (12:24). Soon He will be betrayed, He will be handed over to hypocrites. He will be tried and mocked. Excruciating lashings will inflict Him and then He will be sentenced to death by means of crucifixion. In the midst of all of this we see the unfathomable love of Jesus that is greater, deeper, wider and higher than anything you can ever imagine. Why did He do this? He loves His people and He was going to do all He needed to bring them to glory. Notice the text says, “now is the Son of Man glorified”. JC Ryle notes, “The glorification is so near, so certain, so complete, that it is spoken of as a thing accomplished, and even past”. The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ so willingly went to the cross as the substitute for sinners’ reveals His great sacrificial love. This sacrifice is spoken of in so many places in Scripture. Consider the following references,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16)

This act of sacrifice glorified both the Son and the Father. Jesus adds, “If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him at once” (13:32). That is to say, as Jesus brought glory to the Father, the Father will glorify Jesus in return. This would appear to have reference to the exaltation of Jesus Christ at the resurrection and ascension. Knowing and anticipating that the death and departure of Jesus was a troubling thought, Jesus tenderly says, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’” (12:33). The time is fast approaching and they cannot come with Him yet, though later on He will make it clear that He is preparing a place in Heaven for His people (14:1-3). 

2. THE DISCIPLE'S SACRIFICIAL DUTY - COMMANDED LOVE (13:34-38) 

After providing the foundation for Christian love, Jesus now provides His disciples with a clear command,

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 that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:34-35).

This is the disciple’s sacrificial duty. Notice that Jesus calls this “a new commandment”. This does not suggest that the command to love is given for the first time. Back in Deuteronomy 6:5 we read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and in Leviticus 19:18 the people of God are commanded, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Since the command to love was already in existence, in what way this is this a new commandment? It is new in the sense that it is based on the greatest example provided by Christ and is given in the context of people of God who will soon be empowered by the Holy Spirit (this theme will be developed in coming sermons). In these final verses we see four vital realities when it comes to this new commandment. 

The Command 

Firstly, look at the command itself, Jesus said, “love one another”. This is a binding command and call for God’s people to demonstrate commitment to each other. This kind of love goes beyond mere words or gestures. It is commitment that involves both sacrifice and service. On a practical level, how do you demonstrate sacrifice and service for other believers? Are you committed to each other? Let us never become settled thinking that we are OK or have arrived when it comes to loving one another. Let us strive to go further and further in our love to one another. Why? This brings me to the next point. 

The Cause 

Secondly, we see the cause of this love. Jesus continued by saying, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”. We discussed this in earlier on, but here it is made clear again that the reason and basis for why a believer can genuinely love another believer is because of Christ’s love. This perfect love of Christ is greater than any love we have ever seen. The hymn writer tries to capture it with these amazing words,

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me! Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

The Consequence 

Thirdly, we see the consequence of this love. Genuine Christ-centered love toward the people of God, flowing from delight in Him has consequences. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. This kind of love sends out a message and becomes a distinguishing mark of authentic Christianity in the eyes of the world. Authentic Christian love sends out a powerful message to the world. It is a demonstration of what Christ has done for sinners at the cross. It is one thing and legitimate to say that that you are a Christian, or to wear some emblem, but it is another thing to demonstrate it. Never underestimate the compelling witness of authentic Christian love. 

The Care 

After Jesus finished issuing this new commandment, Peter responds with a few questions. In this section in which Jesus predicts Peter’s denial, we see the final vital reality of this love and that is the care shown by Jesus. Here is the exchange between Peter and Jesus, Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times (13:36-38). This very insightful conversation reveals the sovereign knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and the inevitable failures of God’s people. In the context of the call to love one another as Christ has loved us, Peter misses the point and reveals his pride and self-sufficiency. Peter said, “I will lay down my life for you” yet Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times”. We will examine the lessons to be learnt from this when we come to the passage. But for now it is helpful to note that Peter does deny the Lord and fail in his service the Lord. Then Jesus restores and forgives him, Peter faithfully serves the Lord, and then eventually he lays down his life for the Lord. What is the lesson here? Even in our duty to love, we will fail but the caring hand of the Lord is always there to restore us. 

CONCLUSION 

The fact that the Lord loves us so much, as evidenced by sending His Son in this world, ought to eliminate all pride and boasting in our lives. In love, Jesus poured out His life so that we may stand forgiven before Him. This is the deep love of Father in sending His Son and the deep love of Jesus in coming into this world. So much love has been shown toward us. So then, by His grace and to His glory, let us make it our duty and delight to love one another. [1] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian, p. 8