Attention, travelers! We’ve arrived at Kirkjufell (“Church Mountain”) in Iceland just in time to catch a spectacular view of the aurora borealis. This natural phenomenon can be instantly recognized by its colorful dance blazing across the night sky, and it’s especially stunning here. In the same way we see such beauty on display and immediately think, “northern lights,” Jesus says we are to see exquisite love on display and think, “true disciples.” John ushers us into the upper room during Christ’s final hours, where the main focus is love. Grab a camping chair and some binoculars: this light show will be epic.
Scripture writing: My favorite passage to copy out using The Message was verses 31-32:
When he had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is seen for who He is, and God seen for who He is in Him. The moment God is seen in Him, God’s glory will be on display. In glorifying Him, He Himself is glorified—glory all around!”
There is no more fitting gift for God than glory. The more accurately we understand who He is and what He’s done, the more fame and praise and honor we long to lavish upon Him. How the Father and the Son play off the glory of one another is an incredible scene we’ll spend eternity reveling in.
Studying: The best note I read concerning John 13 was from The Gospel Transformation Study Bible over verses 34-35, in which Jesus gives the “new commandment” to love one another just as He has loved us:
The newness of the new commandment can be understood only in light of the finished work of Jesus. God has always called His people to a life of neighbor love, reaffirmed by Jesus as the second great commandment. But the new commandment presupposes a new paradigm. The greatness of Jesus’ love for us is now the motivation for our loving others. If we love Jesus truly and deeply, we will love what and whom He loves—the unlovely, the oppressed, those very different from us, and those whose actions have damaged us. This confirming sign of our discipleship is not a badge of our commitment to Jesus; it is rather the beauty of Jesus’ commitment to us. Discipleship is not a program for which we sign up; it is a whole new way of life for which we have been raised up.
If the American Church were known for such a stance, imagine the transformation we’d see at every level of our culture! (And to bring it much closer to home, if I were known for such a stance, what could Jesus transform through me?)
Abby Hutto also offers a sweet insight about the chapter. She writes in God for Us that
Peter deeply loved Jesus … Of all the disciples, he had taken the greatest risks in following his Master—and, in Peter’s mind, this time would be no different. Peter would rather choose death than live without Jesus. Jesus didn’t want Peter to go into that night under any delusions of his own strength or to feel surprised when he failed to do what he had so rashly promised. In His kindness, Jesus told Peter not only that he would deny Jesus three times that night. Before the rooster crowed to signal the dawn of a new day, Peter would abandon his friend.
I’d never regarded it as kindness that Christ would announce Peter’s upcoming betrayal right there in front of everybody—maybe more like a divine hand slap to put him in his place. Reading Jesus’ response with warm eyes and a tone of compassion is a tiny shift that makes a huge impact.
Commentaries: Matthew Henry launches into his own miniature worship service as he considers the heart of the Lord throughout Scripture:
Those whom Christ loves He loves to the end; He is constant in His love to His people; He rests in His love. He loves with an everlasting love, from everlasting in the counsels of it to everlasting in the consequences of it. Nothing can separate a believer from the love of Christ.
We are designed to make these lightning-fast leaps from recognition to adoration, and what could spur high thoughts more effortlessly than the magnitude of Jesus’ love?
Meanwhile, D.A. Carson shrewdly points out that
The ‘new command’ is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.
It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in blushing at how I measure up against Christ’s standard.
Sermons: A helpful takeaway from Mark Driscoll* was that
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Only time spent in the presence of Jesus heals any wounds.
Here is yet another area in which the world falls woefully short of the cross; its prevailing message for a cure can never deliver. But our mighty Healer also happens to be the very same individual who gave up everything to be our mighty Savior, and nothing thrills Him quite like restoring broken souls through His ministry of nearness. Whatever pain you’ve become accustomed to carrying, hoping that time will erase it—run to Jesus. Crawl if you have to. Let the hands with holes in them turn your brokenness into beauty.
John MacArthur planted a thought in my brain that won’t stop rumbling around:
Justice can’t be satisfied in hell, only satiated. Christ’s cross alone could fulfill what was required.
Can you even begin to fathom that? I’ve tried and failed. An eternity—millions and billions of millennia, so far outside of linear time that time is unable to touch it—of the most horrendous suffering, unrelenting and unmitigated divine wrath, poured out on a human soul… can’t satisfy justice. It’s not vast enough or harsh enough or prolonged enough to warrant heaven’s stamp of approval, that thundering pronouncement: “It is finished.” But a few hours of unimaginable agony allowed the God-Man to swallow every last drop of that wrath in a way that indisputably satisfied justice. It’s dizzying. And just one more reason to burst into a new doxology.
Journaling: Two rather personal reflections stand out from my notes:
I find myself really wondering about Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s turn-around [where the fisherman goes from, “You’ll never wash my feet, Lord!” to “Wash all of me!”]. Did He chuckle? facepalm? keep stern? This matters so much to me because I care (maybe too much) about having the “right” response to Jesus. How does He treat us when we respond to Him wrongly? I’ve never identified with Peter because I try so hard to not be impetuous and foolish. But if I let myself be comfortable enough with Jesus to misstep, would I be safe?
How do you appropriately handle the King of Heaven washing your feet?!
Wow. It seems that I get weird when it comes to doing things the correct way. (Surprise! I’m an Enneagram One.) I need a fresh dose of the gospel here—Jesus’ affection for me isn’t affected by me. I can safely bring the best and worst of myself, knowing I’ll be wrapped up in His arms. Not because I got everything right, but because He did. Not because of how great I am, but because of how great He is.
Meditation: As I pondered John 13:34-35, it struck me (with a little help from Tim Keller) that
This command is set in the context of ongoing immediacy—flawed people loving flawed people, with all of the clashing personalities, maturity issues, faults, frailties, conflicting opinions, communication breakdowns, and plain bad days that come with community. No matter what mountain of “irreconcilable differences” we may face as Christ’s family, our common allegiance to Him pulls us into loving unity. We’re something the world has never seen before.
It’s sobering how easily my idealism tends to block obedience in real life. But Jesus drops His expectation right into the middle of my real life. Love here. Love now. Love them. Love like this. Forget how you think it should look, and follow Me.
I hope you’ve gotten your fill of those gorgeous northern lights, friends, because it’s time to move out! As Church Mountain shrinks in the distance behind us, the sky fades to an inky black. Golgotha is fast approaching.
*In case you’re unaware, Pastor Mark has recently come under fire for some alleged personal leadership issues. While I prefer to chew up the meat and spit out the bones in this particular case, you might decide to switch his sermons out for those of someone else.
**Following the study schedule right along, my binder is thickening up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 13 here.