It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. — John 13:1
No doubt it is a stirring image: the Son of God stooped low to wash the feet of his followers. He touches what would have been considered the filthiest parts of their flesh: calloused, blood-stained, buried beneath dirt from they day’s travel. And in the washing, we are given a window into something deeper; His willingness to cleanse the filthiest parts of our hearts consumed by sin.
The undercurrent for this activity is the love Jesus has for his followers.
Jesus goes on to say:
V14-15, Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
There is a simple progression at work here:
- Love motivates Jesus to serve the disciples by washing their feet.
- Jesus says we should follow His example.
- This same love serves to animate us as Christ’s followers today.
Followers of Jesus are called to serve the world out of a greater obligation. Love is the ultimate motivation for distinctly Christian activity.
When [Judas] was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” — John 13:31-35
Jesus leaves the disciples a direct command: love one another. But he says this is a “new” commandment. How is this so? The Hebrew Scriptures have already testified: Lev. 19, love your neighbor as yourself. This command is really an old one, right?
But there is a distinction between the command of Lev. 19 and the words of Jesus in John 13. Instead of “love your neighbor as yourself,” in John 13, Jesus tweaks it by saying, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus takes Lev. 19 and transcends the original command. It’s no longer good enough to simply love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus adds a new wrinkle to this: as I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Jesus does this sort of thing all the time. He says in the Sermon on the Mount, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). So he says, You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not murder’…but I say that if anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And throughout his sermon, he does the same thing with adultery, divorce, and oath-making. In each case, Jesus takes the OT Law and transcends it with a new command.
It seems that Jesus is teaching along the same lines in John 13. He says it’s not enough to simply love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus modifies this into a new command: love one another as I have loved you. That’s the new part of the command, to reciprocate Christ’s love by showering it upon others.
All of this gets a little tricky as you read the rest of the NT because the rest of the NT is written after Jesus issued this command in John 13. Which is an important point when you read John’s letters.
For instance, 2 John 5, And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. Well, when John writes this letter, the command isn’t a new one. It’s one that the church has had since “the beginning” — since Jesus spoke those words John recorded in John 13.
You see the same thing in 1 John 2:7-8, Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
So it’s an old commandment and it’s also a new commandment? Huh? Again, it’s “old” in the sense that the church has always had this command from Jesus. But it’s “new” in the sense that it the hallmark of the new covenant people.
Jesus makes this final statement in John 13:35, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. This is critical for us. If we want to be known as followers of Jesus, the way we do that is through love.
Not boycotting or arguing or tearing down or belittling. Only through love.
David Stern, a Messianic Jew (or Jewish Christian), scholar, and writer, has this to say about John 13:35:
I personally bear witness to the truth of this statement. I became willing to investigate the truth claims of the NT not because I was overwhelmed by irrefutable arguments but because I met believers whose love for each other went beyond what I had experienced. It was not even their love toward me which impressed me (although they treated me well), but their self-sacrificing and cheerful willingness to give themselves fully for each other without any trace of self-serving motivation. This is what those who claim to be trusting Jesus are called to do and can expect God’s power to enable them to do. God can be counted on to fulfill his promise that the world will recognize such people as true disciples of Jesus.
People will know we are followers of Jesus by the way we love.
Just a simple act of love. Sometimes that’s all it takes.