Monthly Archives: April 2017

Jesus’ Amazing Love (John 13.1)

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Who is Jesus?

John opens this new section of his Gospel with an amazing conglomeration of glorious realities. It is like a musician plans the overture to a symphony. John stresses that Jesus knew that his hour had come, he was going to return to his Father, he knew that the Father had put all things under his power. So now he declares his incredible love for his followers who will continue his work in the world.
John 13 is rich in its teaching about Jesus. The repeated use of “Father” shows the intimate relationship of Jesus as God’s Son. Jesus was sent by the Father and now he is about to return to the Father (13.1, 3). And the Father has put everything under Jesus’ power – an amazing truth in the context of Jesus taking the role of a slave, washing the disciples’ feet and bringing in his Kingdom through the humiliation of the cross. How different from the power-seeking world of his day and ours too! And how different from contemporary misunderstandings of the role of the coming Messiah that he should fight to deliver Israel from Roman oppression!
As the story unfolds, Jesus acknowledges that the disciples are right to call him Teacher and Lord (13.13). As their teacher he declares to them the true nature of God’s kingdom not only by his verbal teaching, but now particularly by the acted teaching of washing their feet. The life of Jesus and therefore also of his followers is to be characterised by lowly service of others. Our cultures generally associate leadership with authority, but Jesus in his teaching stresses meekness and humble service. And this meekness comes with suffering. So we follow a suffering servant. Although the confession that “Jesus is Lord” stands as a direct challenge to the then common political claim that ‘Caesar is Lord’, Jesus is not in any way seeking worldly power or authority.
In 13.13 Jesus comes close to using the ‘I am’/Yhwh divine name for himself, but then in 13.19 he does indeed claim that name for himself. Later when the disciples see that Jesus’ warnings were right and Judas does actually betray him fulfilling a biblical prophecy (13.18), then Jesus’ prophecy that “you will believe that I am” is fulfilled. Betrayal and suffering in fulfilment of Scripture leads to faith in Jesus as Lord.
Faith in Jesus brings us into a close association with Jesus. And Jesus is one with the Father, so our faith in Jesus links us amazingly even to the Father himself. In 13.20 therefore Jesus shows this direct association. People who accept us actually are accepting Jesus. Accepting Jesus means that we accept the Father who sent him. Here is a mind-blowing sequence: those who accept us as his servants -> Jesus’ followers -> Jesus himself -> the Father in glory.

What love!

How wonderful that we are loved by Jesus! As I meditated on this glorious truth, I realised how unique such love is. In our multi-religious world this glory stands out in contrast with other faiths. I smiled as I thought of the old Christian song “Jesus loves me, this I know, forĀ  the Bible tells me so”. I tried to imagine people of other faiths singing an equivalent song about their leader, but it felt incongruous! The glorious uniqueness of Jesus’ perfect love came home to me afresh. Hallelujah! It is almost incredible that the almighty and all-holy God should love us, but he has come down to us in the person of his Son and proved his love through his death on the cross.

The original Greek of 13.1 is impossible to translate without losing the fullness of its significance. He loved his own ‘eis telos’. Let us look together a little at the meaning of this expression.

Supreme love.
The NIV chooses this understanding of ‘eis telos’ with the words ‘the full extent of his love’. Certainly the Greek does signify the amazing fullness of Jesus’ love for us. There is no limit to his love. We cannot conceive of any greater love, for this is total love which holds nothing back.
The goal of his love
In the Old Testament there is a long history of God’s ‘loving kindness’. What riches lie in the Hebrew word ‘chesed’ which describes God’s continuous love for his people Israel throughout their history despite their frequent rebellion and sin. That ‘chesed’ comes to its climactic perfection in the love of Jesus for his people who remain in this world of sin while Jesus is being raised out from this world (John 13.1). They desperately need his love. The word ‘telos’ is used also in Romans 10.4 where Christ is said to be the ‘telos’of the Law. Paul is declaring that the Law of God points forward to the coming of Jesus and is superbly complete and perfect in Christ to whom it points. So also the love of Jesus brings everything in life and history to its perfect goal and perfection. What more could we desire than being loved by Jesus?
His hour and his love
The extent of his love for us relates also to the climax of his coming to this world. Jesus’ declaration of his love follows from the statement that Jesus knew that his hour had come. He loves us so much that he even goes to the cross for us. It is in the cross that the glory of his love for us is shown. Jesus is glorified in the cross. We have just celebrated Good Friday and remembered that the agony of the cross is the out-working of his amazing love. His love cannot be separated from his suffering. The declaration of his love in John 13.1 is followed in the very next verse by the horror of his betrayal by one of his own chosen disciples.
His love – what now?
Of course we shall revel in the wonder of being loved by the Lord of all glory. The warmth and comfort of his love enfolds us wonderfully. Now this love leads on to Jesus’ new commandment (not just a gentle exhortation!) that we are to love one another (John 13.34). Such love is the hallmark of those who believe in and follow Jesus.
When my wife and I worked in Indonesia, we heard of six Muslim men in fanatically Muslim Acheh in North Sumatra. One Sunday they relaxed and gossiped while sitting on a wall which happened to be opposite a Chinese church. After the morning worship the Christians streamed out of the church – and the six men watched them with fascination. They asked themselves what could possibly give those people such expressions of love on their faces as they related together. The six men agreed to sit on that wall again the next Sunday so that they could again observe the Christians’ faces and loving relationships. Afterwards they asked the Chinese pastor how they too could experience such love. They came to faith in Jesus that morning and fled to Java that afternoon to avoid being killed.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. The Father loves his Son, Jesus loves us, we are to love one another, others will then join us in the glory of the Lord’s love for us. Brilliant! Hallelujah indeed!
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Now comes the finale! (John 13.1-17)

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We now move on to the great climax of the Gospel – the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13), the final passage of Jesus’ teaching (John 14-17) and the glorious purpose of it all in the cross and resurrection. In Chapters 1-12 Jesus’ signs plus the final event of the coming of the Greeks to Jesus are followed by Jesus’ teaching which explains the deeper significance of the visible sign. Now to show that we are moving into the glorious climax of it all, he adds to the normal structure. Now the sign comes in two parts with Jesus’ teaching in a large block between the two halves: sign + word + sign. The washing of the feet is the first part of the final cross and resurrection.
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Some years ago Elizabeth and I had the great privilege of celebrating and remembering the Lord’s death together with a conference of Central Asian Christians who were the first believers in their country. They wondered how to do this. Reading John’s Gospel with this in mind, they came to the conclusion that biblically we ought to wash one another’s feet before sharing bread and wine together to celebrate his death. Jesus clearly teaches that “you also should wash one another’s feet” (13.14) and assures us of his blessing if we do so (13.17). It was humbling to wash feet which were hard and rough as well as others which were soft and well cared for. Knowing that these Christians actively witnessed locally, we found ourselves remembering “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 10.15) – including the rough feet of peasant farmers.
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In his account of the foot washing John gets so involved in his memories of the event that he some times slips into dramatic present tenses – e.g. ‘he gets up from the meal’, ‘he pours (literally ‘throws’!) water into a basin’, ‘he comes to Simon Peter’. It is all so wonderfully exciting and richly significant. John almost sees it as if it were being re-enacted before his eyes. But there is also an overhanging shadow. John’s account starts with the fearful fact that the devil had already “prompted” (literally ‘thrown into the heart’) Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. What a contrast! The amazing love of Jesus for his followers (13.1) shown in his humility in washing their feet, the duty of a household slave, is put together with satanic evil. The death of Jesus on the cross is the supreme act of Jesus’ divine love, but is also the ultimate evil of the devil’s hatred of Jesus. The cross brings together for us as disciples of Jesus the glory of salvation with the call to follow the Suffering Servant. We are reminded of his command to take up our cross and follow him.
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Just as Peter had previously objected to the idea of Jesus having to suffer and die, so now he objects to Jesus performing the work of a slave. Peter refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet. He doubtless felt that it was unworthy of Jesus as the Lord of glory and he will also have felt that it was too humbling for Peter himself. Still today it is deeply humbling to realise that we cannot save ourselves and that we depend utterly on his cleansing grace. So Jesus points out that “unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (13.8). With typical whole-hearted enthusiasm Peter responds “not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well”. Jesus then points out that if we have already had a bath, we only need our feet washed. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection is like a bath. He washes away everything that is unclean, sinful and shameful in our lives. But we still need Jesus to ‘wash our feet’, the regular cleansing and forgiveness of our on-going sin.
Lord Jesus, I thank you so much for the bath you have given me in your death on the cross. Please now also wash my feet.

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P.S. On Thursday Elizabeth and I had a fascinating day which we thought you might all enjoy hearing about. The Bank of England Christian Union put on an Easter Celebration and graciously invited me to be their speaker. We so enjoyed the amazing historic building and their beautiful choir. Afterwards we visited the Bank’s very interesting museum. People responded warmly to my talk and we trust that the Holy Spirit will bring lasting fruit for the Lord’s glory. We had good chats with various people over the buffet lunch which had been provided for everyone. We felt very privileged to be allowed to share Jesus’ Good News in such a context. I spoke on Jesus’ assurance that he has come to bring life and indeed ‘life abundant’ (John 10.10) – the glorious message of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus.

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