Everyone has an opinion about love. It has been the topic of many a poem, song, novel, and ordinary conversation. For example, a Beatle’s song of what now seems eons ago says: “Love, love, love, all you need is love”. Is this true? Is what John Lennon says about love the same as what Jesus says about it? The famous theologian Duke Ellington says that God is a three letter word for love and love a four letter word for God. John the Apostle says that God is love, but is love, God? Let’s see what we can learn about love from this morning’s text.
Exposition of the text
Last week, we saw the plot of Judas to betray Jesus put into action, with Jesus fully aware of what was about to happen. He was deeply grieved by this coming betrayal. As I mentioned, I think this was as much if not more for the eternal lostness of Judas who being full of Satan went out into the night, the eternal night.
In verse 31 of today’s text, the scene is set by noticing that the following discussion which continues through chapter 17 occurred after Jesus had left. This says that what he was about to say had no meaning for Judas. In fact, Judas’ departure freed Jesus to reveal Himself more fully to His disciples. Judas had forever forfeited his place. What Jesus has to say in this long farewell sermon is for the believer, first of all. The world, with its views on what glory and love were simply cannot understand this message, even to this day.
The first word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth is the word “now”. This puts extra emphasis on this marker of time. It has the idea of “now, and not later”. The literal translation of the Greek of this verse is “NOW, was glorified the Son of Man, and God was glorified in Him.” Note that the past tense is being used. This means that what Judas had meant for evil in his going out to betray Jesus resulted instead in the glorification of Jesus. Not only this, but the Triune God was glorified in this act. The emphasis is in the beginning of the passion of Christ, starting with the departure of Jesus, but it speaks for the whole process of betrayal, arrest, trial, beating, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
From this, it is important to see that this glorification of God is in the suffering of Jesus Himself and not some future glorification in heaven. This would also glorify the Son as well, but this is not the emphasis of this verse. And even though we have the future tense “shall glorify” in verse 32, the emphasis is the immediate future not a return to the state of glory that the Son had with the Father before the world came into being. This is emphasized by the word “immediately”.
Verse 33 begins with a term of endearment, “little children”. They were not mature yet, but they would be later. However, Jesus is affirming His love for them, even though they were about to miserably fail Him in the upcoming test. They were about to become scattered and terribly confused about the upcoming events.
Jesus warns them of the immediate danger by telling them that He would only be with them for a very short time. In the immediate context, this refers to that evening up to the time of His arrest in the garden. It also refers to the fact that after 40 days following the resurrection, Jesus would return to heaven from where He came. In that time, they would long for Him. This longing was different from that of the Jews. Earlier in an encounter with the Jews, He had taunted them with the words that where He was going, they could not go. They were thrown into confusion over these words. Jesus added that they would seek Him, but not find Him. Jesus reminds the disciples of this here but contrasts the way they would seek Jesus as compared to the Jews. The Jews sought Jesus with the intention of harm. But the disciples would seek Him in love. The implication is that those who seek with the wrong motives will forever seek and not find. But for those who seek as a disciple, there will be a time when the separation will end.
There is an irony in this statement, of course. The Jews were at that moment seeking for Jesus. And they would find Him that very night. They would arrest, try, and beat Him. They would hand Him over (betray) him to Pilate for judgment. The sought and found. Yet they did not find Jesus the way he meant to be found.
Verse 34 transitions from the theme of God’s glory in Christ to that of love. We must remember that there is still a connection between “glory” and “love”. There are no markers in the Greek text to indicate a change of subject.
Earlier in this chapter, we encountered the statement that Jesus loved His disciples unto the end (telos). We noticed then that Jesus’ upcoming death was the ultimate expression of love. When Jesus in his dying gasp cries out “It is finished”, a word in the same family as telos, John 3:16 is fulfilled. Christ’s dying for them is the example of the love Jesus expects of His disciples in relation to one another. Jesus will make this explicit later when He says “No greater love has any man, than to lay down His life for that of His friends.”
So when Jesus commands the disciples to love one another, it is not new in the sense of that the Old Testament did not command love. Leviticus clearly says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. What is new about what Jesus’ command here is that we are to love our neighbor beyond ourselves. This is truly a love to die for. The use of emphatic pronouns in this verse tell us that Jesus means this.
Verse 35 brings this section to a conclusion. This willingness to love one another even to death was proof to the world that the believers are truly Christ’s disciples. The whole gospel of John has emphasized the believer is to be a witness to Jesus Christ. We saw in the beginning of this long study of the Gospel of John the witness of John the Baptist as the example of the witness we are to bear of Christ. His witness was a verbal witness that pointed away from himself and to Jesus Christ. Throughout, the gospel, we see again and again that being a true witness of Christ was to put the emphasis on Him and not one’s self.
The love the followers of Christ were to have among one another was then not to be a selfish love that pointed to self. The love Christ commands is directed outward to the fellow believer. This sacrificial witness acted as a true witness to Jesus Himself and would glorify Him. Earlier in the Gospel we saw the importance of the verbal witness to Christ. Here we see that we must witness to Jesus in our lives as well, especially in this demonstration of love for one another.
From the exposition of this text, it should be apparent that the world is clueless about what glory is and what love is. The world sees glory as being in a position of power over other people. There is a lust in all of us for this glory. People measure their glory by how many “followers” they have on Twitter. The rich and famous who bask in this glory do not even know or even care about those who are following them. There is no demands put upon the follower for discipleship and love. Spending money on the services they offer or products they sell is desired, but the followers are unimportant. Could anything contrast more sharply than what we see demonstrated here by Jesus? Jesus demonstrates glory in service and intense love. Yes, the world needs love. But it is the love that Christ offers and on the terms He offers it.
Look at the people who the world has glorified. Look at Hollywood. Look at Elvis and Michael Jackson. They were loved to their own destruction. Who else’s life is currently being destroyed? Look at Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus. I could name many others. Their glory is not doing them any good. They cannot bear the weight of glory. They are called our idols by our culture, and they are being broken. Only God is worthy of our glory. Only God is able to receive it without being destroyed by it. Even when His earthly life was taken by His enemies, they could not destroy Him. He was glorified in the laying down of His life, and He was glorified when He arose and ascended.
I would like to say that we as the community of Jesus have got it right. But we are still little children all too often. Are we more interested about the world thinks about us than God? Are we more interested who endorses our LinkedIn or Facebook pages than the praise of God? Are we more interested about what we get out of worship than what God gets out of it? Is worship about us, or God? Is God the recipient of worship or own egos? Is is all about our needs and having our self-esteem stroked. If we think it is, then we should not wonder if the church continues to sink under this weight of man-made glory. Our churches will become bizarre and worship the culture of death rather than the Lord of life.
If we fail to love each other in the sacrificial way that Jesus has loved us, then what kind of love do we substitute for it? Is it a fraternity, sorority, country club, or some other organization that promotes belonging to some tribe? If so, there are plenty of organizations that already do this. Is it a social organization to promote human values or social justice? There are organizations that to this already. The love we are called to demonstrate is the love the world so desperately needs. Are we ready to witness it?
Love or Christian brothers and sisters for each other is the witness that we are Christ’s disciples. Alongside the verbal proclamation of the Gospel, Christian love is a second witness. In the mouth of two or three witnesses, the truth of a matter is established. This is why we must be true in both these witnesses of Christ. Whenever the church fails to love within the fellowship, then it destroys the credibility of our witness.
I am not saying that we should not love those who are outside the church. We must do that as well. But if we can’t love the Christian Brother and Sister we have seen, how can we love anyone else, no less God? How is the world going to learn about this love. It won’t learn it from John Lennon. It can learn it here from John the Apostle. How will they know? You must tell them. You must proclaim the Good News with your lips. And you must proclaim the Good News in your love for one another.