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A New Command

April 24, 2016

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Easter 5                                                       Grace & Trinity Lutheran Churches                             17 April 2016                                               Wichita, Kansas

+Jesu Juva +

 

John 13:31-35 (Optional Gospel)

 

Leave it to Jesus to say it. And He does. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Even as I have loved you that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

 

What’s incredible is when Jesus speaks these words. It’s on the night He was betrayed. Arrested. Then as soon as you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Jesus would be kangaroo courted and crucified on the cross. Earlier that night Jesus did the unthinkable. He stooped down to do servant work. Washed the feet of His disciples. He came to serve – not to be served. Then Jesus gave them everything He had: His very death and life, His own Body under the Passover bread and His own Blood under the Passover cup. He spoke of His coming glory – that God would be glorified in Him. “Where I am going, you cannot come,” He declared – speaking of His sacrificial, atoning death on the cross.

 

What love! More than anyone could ever expect or imagine. Jesus loves them to death on the cross. Having loved them Jesus then speaks this mandate: “Love one another as I have loved you. In the same way that I have served you, gave myself to you, laid down my life for you, so you are to love one another.” This is His mandate for you too, His church. You are His baptized disciples too.

 

But first things first. Jesus’ love comes first. That’s what makes this commandment “new.” Nothing new about love. Love is the old commandment. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” “Love your neighbor as yourself” which assumes that you … LOVE YOURSELF. If you don’t love yourself, how can you love your neighbor as yourself?

 

But Jesus’ new mandate does not begin with you and your love but with Him and His love. God the Father loves you in Jesus. He sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for your sin. Jesus came out of love for you. While you were loveless and unlovable. Therefore, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Again, Jesus’ love is before yours. His love FOR YOU is the “new” is this command.

 

Jesus knows His disciples and you. He knows your heart. Prone to arguing, envy, bickering over who is the greatest. Who gets the seat of honor. Who is in the charge. Opinionated and passionate people. Egotistical. Self-centered. Worried about yourself instead of others. Jesus knows that. YET HE LOVES THEM AND YOU! He washes their feet. Give them a place at His table. He washes you in holy Baptism. Welcomes you to the Lord’s Supper. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

 

The love of which Jesus speaks is more than fond feelings. More than “being nice.” This is a love that transcends feelings. It is a love that reaches out to people who are difficult to love. Love for the unlovable. Love for the enemy. Love for those that want to hurt you or who have hurt you in the past.

 

You love with the love of Christ when you are patient and kind with others. Putting to death jealousy, ambition, and boasting. Putting to death pushiness and pettiness. Not insisting on having our way. Willing to let others have their way. Putting to death irritableness and resent. Putting up with other’s shortcomings and weaknesses. Not rejoicing in what is wrong but rejoicing in the truth. Speaking the truth in love even if that speaking brings great personal cost. Love means that you will bear all things. Believe all things. Hope all things. Endure all things. For no other reason than that is how God in Christ loves you.

 

This is precisely what you want to do. And such love can only happen when Jesus gets between all of us so that we can love one another through Him. Without Jesus getting between us, we would destroy each other. Why? Well, it’s simple, your pride, your desire to get even, selfishness – in short – your sin – keeps you from seeing one another as objects of love. Yes, sin is the barrier that gets in the way of love.

 

Your sin prevents you from loving your spouse, your child, your parent, your neighbor, or your congregation member. Sin cuts you off from God’s love. Sin cuts you off from one another. Sin isolates. Locks you in a prison house of fear and self-justification. So, again, Jesus breaks down the barriers through His cross and resurrection. He has torn down the walls. There’s no need to be defensive because nothing can harm you. Jesus has conquered everything that threatens you.

 

So Jesus is between us. He has made peace. He has worked reconciliation. He is the source of your love. Now you see others through the cross. Now you see the other person as the one for whom Jesus gave His life into death. Now you are free to deal with each other as God the Father in His Son has dealt with you: forgiving, supporting, reconciling, caring for one another.

 

Such love is not a program or gimmick. No late night infomercial or a synodical resolution about love can program it into a congregation or your life. There are no pills, tonics, creams, books, videos or quick fixes to produce such love. Divine love happens where faith in Jesus happens! It happens as Jesus gives you His Good Friday forgiveness in the absolution, the sermon, and in the Lord’s Supper. In that word of forgiveness the Holy Spirit works faith in your hearts. Faith only in Jesus for salvation. There you die to yourself and all that divides you from others. There you rise to live, not for self, but for others. As Christ’s love has its way with you, you will love one another.

 

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Such divine love is the mark of Jesus’ disciples. This is how the world recognizes you as one of Jesus’ hangers on. Love makes you stick out in the world. The unbelieving world will sit up and take notice.

 

What attracted first century pagans, agnostics and atheists to the Christian church was not impressive systems of doctrine, glorious buildings, abundant facilities, contemporary music or ornate liturgies but Christian selfless, sacrificial love for each other. The world saw the love of Christ through the love of Christians. That drew them to the church.

 

You remember in the Book of Revelation that the church at Ephesus was commended for her doctrinal purity and discernment, for her ability to weed out false prophets, for her hatred of heresy. However, what was missing at Ephesus? What did the Lord Jesus have against her? Do you remember? She had forsaken her former LOVE.

 

We may have the purest doctrine, the most dynamic preaching and teaching, the most impressive music and worship, the most ambitious outreach and mission, inspiring buildings. But if we do not have love for one another, it will all be, as St. Paul says, “like a banging gong or a clattering cymbal.” Empty.

 

This is most likely the biggest reason that the church seems to have little impact in our communities, the country and the world. We don’t lack bands, light shows, stage acts, incense, chanting, advertising, internet communications, etc. What we do lack is love. Genuine love.

 

Consequently, the Lord’s “new” command brings you to your knees. To confess that you have not loved one another as Christ has loved you. You have let your egos, prejudices and pride interfere with your love. You have not let God’s love have its way with you and so you love for others has failed. Your failure to love one another has turned others away and kept them from hearing the gospel. For this you are truly sorry and want to do better.

 

But there’s something even better. It’s the love of Jesus. He loved the world to death on the cross. He loves you to your death. He loves His church and every member of His church. He put me here to speak His word of love to you. And it’s this: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Happy loving one another with the love of Jesus that you have just received. In the Name of Jesus.

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