By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friend Church
May 15, 2022
John 13:31–35 (ESV)
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 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.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
Last week we celebrated the women in our lives that have encouraged us along the pathways of our faith journeys. As we celebrated those great women, I hope you saw a recurring theme. A theme of encouragement, discipline, of faithfulness, and most of all love.
We do not always see these things until days, months, or even years after the experience. It is difficult to makes sense of things in the moment, but only after time has moved forward. It is after the stress, the dust, the emotions have passed that we are able to see more clearly. We can often get caught in the moment. We want something, we perceive that we need something, and in the torrent the present we are unable to view the larger picture. All we have is what we feel now.
Today we read from the gospel of John. John, most scholars believe to be the last of the gospel account that was written. It was most likely written by the youngest of the twelve apostles, and by the apostle that experienced the most persecution. I do believe that the gospel, the letters, and the Revelation were all written by the apostle, some scholars have other opinions and I respect their thoughts, I just do not believe their arguments carry enough weight to counteract historic tradition. It is believed that John was a teenaged young man just beginning life as an adult in his culture. The traditions of the first century were that the children would attend schools and learn the basic tenets of faith and life so that they could participate in society, then when they became adults at around the age of thirteen paths were opened up to them.
The first path available is that they could be asked to become a disciple of a rabbi. This pathway would extend their education and would set a course for them to become leaders within the community. The disciples of these various rabbis would become teachers within the synagogues, they be arbiters of justice in disputes, and if they were of the proper linage priests within the temple. This path was not available to most within the community. Firstly, if you were born female, this option was not available to you for various reasons. Secondly, to be a disciple meant that you had to leave the house and follow the rabbi. You ate where they ate, you slept where they slept. You mimicked or reflected every aspect of their life. Their lifestyle became your lifestyle. This does not sound too bad unless you were unable to afford that lifestyle.
The second path for these young adults was that they joined their parents in their lifestyles. The parents, the grandparents, the aunts, and uncles all became your rabbi and you became their apprentice. Young women learned to manage the household and young men learned the trade of their fathers. If your father was an artisan, you learned those skills. If your father was a farmer, you became a farmer. If you father was a fisherman, or a carpenter, you took on that life and lifestyle. This second option was the option available to most of the youth. When you came to the age of majority, you became, you clothed yourself in the lifestyle of your family.
There is a certain beauty in that type of culture. You knew what was expected and you had a place within the community. But there is also a darkness. How many great people, great leaders, inventors, and dreamers were silenced because they never had an opportunity to explore?
It is in this background that the disciples of Jesus lived. From everything we know about the disciples, they were common. This meant that they would have been members of the second option. The opportunity of greater education had passed them by and they took part in their family business. There might be a few examples that break from that, like Matthew leaving the tax collector’s table, he might have ventured off to do his own thing. The basic premise remains, they were not in the educated, scribal class. These men and women were common.
When Jesus came to them and asked them to follow him, we need to understand what he asked. He was giving them the opportunity of a lifetime. He was giving them a chance. He offered them something different. He offered them a new lifestyle. He might not have been a traditional rabbi familiar to them, but they had a chance to do something different. And they eagerly embraced that chance.
John, if he was just entering into this apprenticeship age, is unique. All his understanding of life and faith would have been based on the teachings of Jesus. Where the others, since they were older had more exposure to the teachings of the other rabbis. This is why John’s gospel is so different from the writings of the others. His perspective has less of the traditional training because his main rabbi, his predominant teacher is Jesus.
John comes at his gospel presentation from a different perspective. And because of this unique perspective we are given something more. In John’s gospel we are shown a more abstract, theological story. An account written through the experiences of someone that has lived their entire adult life under this teacher. One that has suffered and endured. One that is less about trying to prove something, but one that is filled with hope. At least that is what I see.
In today’s passage, we meet Jesus just after he has washed the feet of his disciples. We meet him just after he had eaten what we call the last supper. We meet him just after Judas has left to fulfill the betrayal. The disciples are in this whirl wind of emotions that they really do not understand. Their teacher is being weird. And now they are getting a bit worried.
“Now is the Son of Man glorified…” Jesus begins to tell them. It is almost as if there is a conspiratorial tone to this discussion. You can almost feel the tension in the air, you can almost feel yourself leaning forward to listen with great intensity. I almost feel as if Jesus said these words in a somewhat hushed manner, a near whisper. He is letting them in on the greatest secret of the kingdom. A secret that only they, the true disciples are privileged to hear. “Now is the Son of Man glorified.”
They are leaning in to listen to Jesus. They are eager to hear what he has to say. They just know that at this moment they are going to get the strategic details that will allow them to throw off the cruel unrighteous rule of Rome and usher in the kingdom of God’s glory. “Now is the Son of Man glorified.”
Jesus uses the term “Son of Man” at this point for a reason. In the writings of the ancients this term spoke of something glorious. It was often used of the prophets to speak about the magnificent era when God would reestablish the kingdom. But when used in the other gospel accounts Jesus primarily uses the term to point to suffering. John uses it now to weave both ideas together.
Jesus begins this final teaching saying, “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” and he continues, “and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” There is a great deal of glory being thrown around in this sentence. Five times Jesus says this. The glory of God and the glory of the Son of Man is tied up in what has now been set in motion. The mind of these disciples is drawn to Isiah 49, where the prophet speaks of the glory of the servant. They see Jesus as that man. Jesus by using the title Son of Man labels himself as that man. In this moment Jesus is taking all Israel, all humanity, onto himself. He is becoming the mankind in relationship with God.
This has aways been the case. John tells us this from the very beginning of his Gospel where he writes:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not all things made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 9-14)
Light and Word both refer to the source of wisdom and knowledge of God, God himself. John is telling us that when the incarnation of Christ happened God and mankind were united. And since Jesus united divinity and humanity, he could reverse the destruction caused by the rebellious spirits that brought about separation and death. In Jesus, God would glorify himself by restoring what was once lost and reestablish our original mission, to make the whole earth a dwelling place for God.
Now, right now, the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. Jesus has their attention. Everything they had hoped for is being played out right before them. It is time!
Jesus then says, “Little Children,” This is the first time this term is used to describe the disciples in John’s gospel. It is a term of endearment, which was often used by rabis in reference to their disciples. But in this instance John is again drawing our attention to the introduction of his Gospel, those that believe will be given the right to become children of God. Jesus is confirming that they have believed. He confirms that they have recognized the Word and Light of God within him and have been given the honor of being his children.
But just as he confirms this in them, he says, “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.’” The confusion begins to set in. He is about to usher in the glory of God, and they cannot join him? How is this possible? This proves that although they believed, they did not have full knowledge. Although they were made children of God, they did not understand what it means to part of this family.
Jesus knows that the glory of God is found not in the methods of men but in obedience and submission. It is found in sacrifice and service. The glory of God is found in the mutual cooperation devoted to God the most high.
The ultimate expression of this mutual cooperation is found in the sacrifice of Christ. It is up to this union of divinity and humanity that can reverse the effects of the rebellion and reestablish the proper order. We cannot do this on our own because we are only one part of the equation. Humanity cannot lift itself up into God’s realm, God must come to us. Our responsibility is to respond to Him.
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. Jesus brought the incarnate Word of God to mankind through his birth. He lived the Word of God with us in his ministry and showed us how to participate in that Word. God came to mankind in the incarnation. The glory comes when the Incarnate Word returns to the realm of God, and through this also lifts mankind back into that place. In Eden, mankind in our first parents Adam and Eve, lived with God. When the rebellion occurred that brought about death our first parents were removed from God’s presence. Our glory, our created nature, is to live with God. For our glory to be restored the Son of Man must face the curse of death and overcome its power in the resurrection. In Jesus, the glory of God in union with mankind is restored.
Jesus then looks at his disciples, his children, he explains to their confused faces that it is time to restore the Glory of God. They rightfully sit there dumbfounded. Even today we do not understand the fullness of this glory. For thousands of years Israel thought that redemption was through the actions of man. Just as their ancestors believed at the tower of Babel, man can build their way to heaven. The Torah teaches a different path yet the interpretation seems to point to similar result, man can make their own way to glory. Jesus looks at his confused disciples, his children, and says that he has a new commandment.
This new commandment is not at all new. It has been the teaching from the beginning of the faith of the Hebrews. The Shema states, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might.” The Shema has been the prayer of Israel for centuries. And when Jesus was questioned about the most important commandment this is what he stated. He then says that the second is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These statements encompass the entire Law. The law is to love God and love our neighbors. Jesus looks at his disciples and says that he is giving them a new law, a new commandment. “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.”
The standard is love. The glory is love. The glory of God and mankind is encapsulated in love. Jesus is not only the incarnation of the Word; he is also incarnate love. He tells his disciples, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This prompts them to consider the life of Jesus. What has he done, what has he shown them? Just moments before, Jesus took on the role of the lowest household servant and he washed the feet of his disciples. This is what Jesus is telling his disciples to do. The incarnation of love is service. It is becoming a servant to each other.
Paul tells us, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) He also tells us in Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).
This is the opposite of the teachings of Babel. At Babel man was focused on themselves and their own glory. Christ teaches a different path, a different way. It is not you that is important but the community together. You are important not in yourself but in how you interact with those around you.
Are we reflecting our own ambition for our own glory or are we living in the incarnation of love? Are we participating in vain conceit or are we working for the mutual benefit of those around us?
In Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible Commentary, he explains the love of Christ like this: “He loved his disciples selflessly…So often at the back of things it is our happiness that we are seeking. But Jesus never thought of himself. His one desire was to give himself and all he had for those he loved.” He goes on to say, “Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially… Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to give us happiness. So in the end it does, but love may well bring pain and demand a cross.” And again, “Jesus loved his disciples understandingly…we say that love is blind. That is not so, for the love that is blind can end in nothing but bleak and utter disillusionment. Real love is open-eyed. It loves, not what it imagines people to be, but what they are. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are.” And finally in his fourth illustration of Jesus’s love Barclay says, “Jesus loved his disciples forgivingly…Jesus held nothing against them; there was no failure which he could not forgive. The love which has not learned to forgive cannot do anything else but shrivel and die… For that very reason, all enduring love must be built on forgiveness, for without forgiveness it is bound to die.”
Barclay is probably not the most scholarly commentator, but his simple words are powerful. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as he has loved us: Selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly, and forgivingly. Imagine if that was how we treated those within this meeting? Imagine if instead of arguing with your spouse you listened. Imagine if instead of wanting to play your game, you let play the one your sister or brother wants. Imagine the difference this type of love would make in that family. What if we go deeper? Imagine if instead of debating with those around us about improvements to the meetinghouse we simply listen to each other and move forward knowing that this is not ours but it is for the good of the community that we meet. Imagine when we see an area the meeting might be neglecting, we offer to fill the gap or step up to assist those who are already trying to fulfill the needs of the community.
We can get caught up in ourselves and our own ideas and we often forget why we are even here. What is the purpose of the church? I will probably surprise you when I say this, the church is not meant to be the institution to convert the world. The church is here to equip the saints to do the ministry God has called them to do. We are here today not so I can convince you to turn your life to God, we are here to encourage each other, to challenge each other to live a life with Christ in the world around us. We are here to encourage each other to take on the life and lifestyle of Christ so that we can join him in the glorious kingdom he has already established through his life, death, and resurrection.
We are here to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with others. This is the lifestyle Jesus taught and shows us in the pages of the gospels. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. He withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the community in word and deed. “Little Children, a new commandment I give to you,” he says to us all, “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.” The standard is not the law. The standard is love. Love that is selfless, sacrificial, understanding, and forgiving. Let us live by that standard. Let us provoke each other to love.
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