This is the manuscript of a sermon I preached for our church family this past Sunday. Please excuse typos or grammatical errors as this has not been heavily edited.
Now we will remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us through the Lord’s Supper.
To remind us of what Jesus has done for us, I want us to meditate on Jesus’ interaction with Peter in John 13:33-38, keeping everything in it’s greater context.
The context of this text is Jesus final hours before His trial and death on the cross. These are His final hours with His disciples before He will die for them and for us. There is a heaviness and a darkness overshadowing these chapters in John. John 13-16 contains Jesus’ final instruction to the disciples before His death. Some of this teaching takes place in the upper room where He celebrated Passover, instituted His Supper, and washed the disciples’ feet. Then in John 14:31 Jesus will begin to make His way to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the place of His intense prayer and Judas’ betrayal. Again, there is a heaviness in the atmosphere of these chapters. Yet, love is one of the main themes found in this teaching.
Let’s reread John 13:33-38.
“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.’ 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.” 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.” John 13:33-38
Jesus had an announcement for His followers, and it would shake them to their foundation. Everything is getting ready to turn upside down. Jesus is going away. He is only going to be with them for a little while longer. They will look for Him, but they will not be able to go with Him.
Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment that was to govern their interaction with one another, and it is to govern our interaction with each other as well. Jesus told the disciples that they were to love one another as He had loved them. Believers in Jesus are to be characterized by a love for one another that matches Jesus’ love for us. There are three things about this love we will take note of this morning. This love we are to have for one another is a love that SERVES, a love that SACRIFICES, and a love that SHOWS.
A. It is a love that SERVES.
Jesus loved His disciples to the end. He showed that love through service to them. He, their Lord, took the place of a servant and knelt down to wash His followers feet. He then told them,
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, You also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:12b-15).
Jesus’ service found it’s ultimate fulfillment in His death in our place. "… being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:8 (ESV). That leads us to the next observation…
B. It is a love that SACRIFICES.
Jesus was getting ready to prepare a place for these disciples and for us. He has done this through His death in our place for our sin. “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). He loved us by sending His Son to be the sacrifice that absorbs His fierce anger against sin.
Jesus said that we are to love as He has loved us. This is something Jesus will repeat in these chapters in John. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
The love we are to have for one another is a love that serves, even to the point of sacrificing even our lives for one another. This love was greatly illustrated in the lives of men like Harlan Popov in Communist Bulgaria, Richard Wurmbrand in Communist Romania, and their brothers and sisters imprisoned for Jesus.(1) Often pastors in communist countries would be imprisoned and tortured, and they would be offered freedom in exchange for the names of other believers. They would face torture, rather than give away their brothers and sisters. However, Jesus not only commands this love for some outstanding individuals in the past. This is the radical love He says should characterize all His followers, including us.
Actually it is a love so radical that it SHOWS. It is a shocking proof that a person is following Jesus.
C. It is a love that SHOWS
Jesus says that the way the world will know that we are His people is through our love for one another. We do not become His disciples through our love. We become His people through His love for us. Our love for one another is the way that we show that we are following Him.
God has loved the world and has sent His only Son into the world to die for the world. We are to love the world as well. However, the greatest way that the world will know that we are followers of Jesus is not through our love for the lost world. Jesus says the way we will be identified as His followers is by our love for one another.
This love for one another flows out of Jesus’ love for us. “As I have loved you…” Jesus said. Jesus’ love for us is the source, empowerment, and example of our love for one another.
As Jesus gives this command, Peter interrupts Jesus and receives a firm rebuke from Jesus.
Peter’s Interruption and Jesus’ Rebuke
Peter is still concerned about Jesus’ statement that He is going away, which is an understandable concern. Peter interrupts Jesus at this point with two questions and a very strong statement.
A. Question 1: Where are you going?
The context tells us that Peter was catching on to where Jesus was going. He is starting to understand that Jesus is talking about dying. However, it is clear that Peter did not understand why Jesus was going to die. Jesus told Peter that he could not follow Jesus, yet.
B. Question 2: Why Can’t I Come?
C. Statement of Devotion: I will lay down my life for you!
Peter gave this very strong statement of love and devotion to Jesus. However, as is true for all of our good intentions and commitments, Peter was getting ready to fall flat on his face. (By the way, let’s not be too hard on Peter. We are experts in getting this wrong as well).
Jesus sharply rebuked Peter. It had to be painful to hear. “Will you die for me? Will you really? In just a few hours you will deny that you even know who I am.”
Peter had the wrong idea about how to go where Jesus was going. Peter thought it was through his own sacrifice of himself for Jesus. However, Jesus did not need Peter to die for Him. Jesus was going to lay down His life in Peter’s place and our place.
Peter’s devotion was sweet. You have to love Peter’s commitment and strong personality. However, like our own good intentions it fell flat. Our greatest devotion to Jesus will fail. Yet, Jesus’ devotion to us does not fail. He has given everything. He has given His life in our place for our sin.
When we, like Peter, determine that we come with Jesus through what we do for God or what we sacrifice, we need Jesus’ sharp rebuke, “Will you die for me? Really? Your commitment will fail. However, I will never fail!”
That leads us to Jesus’ words of comfort in John 14:1-6.
Jesus’ Words of Comfort
As you can imagine, Peter and the other disciples had to be severely depressed and distressed at Jesus’ words. Peter will fail. We all will fail.
But, Jesus spoke words of comfort to sustain them in their failure. He told them not to be troubled in their hearts. They trusted the Father, and they were to trust in Jesus. He was going to prepare a place for them at the Father’s house. Since He went away to prepare a place, He would certainly return to take them to be with Him.
Thomas interrupted Jesus at this point. He told Jesus, “We have no idea where You are going. How can we know the way to get there?”
Jesus makes clear that the way to be with Him is not our devotion or best efforts. It is not in our action on His behalf that we will find our way. Jesus is the Way. Jesus has laid down His life for sins. He has died for every one of our failed attempts of commitment and all our acts of rebellion. Jesus laid down His life. He is the way, the ONLY Way, to the Father.
These are words of comfort to us as we fail. In every failing we can find healing in Jesus’ words, “Don’t be troubled. Trust me. I have gone to prepare a place for you. Your efforts won’t prepare it. Your efforts won’t get you there. I have died for You. I am preparing a place for you to be with me forever. Trust me. I am the Way. I will bring you safely home.”
Peter would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus revealed that to him in John 21. Peter’s death would not merit his eternal life. Peter’s death for Jesus would be the outflow of Jesus’ love for Peter. Before Peter could serve Jesus in this way, he needed to know and trust what Jesus did on his behalf. Before we can live for Jesus we must understand that Jesus has died for us.
That is what we are here to do this morning. We are here to be reminded once again that our dedication and best intentions have not satisfied God’s demands and His fierce anger against sin. Our best efforts are not enough to bring us to the Father. Our best efforts will fail. Jesus is the Way. His devotion never fails. His death is the only payment that is enough. Our dependence must be in Him alone.
So, we remember in the bread and wine that Jesus’ body was nailed to the cross and His blood was shed. He suffered under the anger of God in our place for our sin. He showed the greatest love that has ever been displayed. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
It is imperative that we meditate on His love as the source and fuel for our love for Him. We love Him, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). As we remember His love for us through this picture, our love for God should grow, because here we observe Jesus’ love on display.
As we remember His love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, our love for them should grow as well.
1. You can read more about Haralan Popov in the book Tortured for His Faith. You can also read about Richard Wurmbrand in Tortured for Christ.
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