The Mark of a Disciple

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “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.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:31-35

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 19th May 2019 at St Andrew’s Methodist Church, West Sussex. Scroll to the bottom for an audio recording.

Who is Jesus?

How do we respond to Jesus?

Two significant questions.

Of course, the answer someone gives to the second question, how do we respond to Jesus, is very much determined by the answer to the first, who is Jesus?

If Jesus was nothing more than a first century rabble rouser, then no response is needed. We can consign him to the margins of history.

If Jesus was a good moral teacher, we might reflect on his teaching, before then deciding to ignore him anyway. After all, how can the moral teachings of a first century carpenter have any relevance for us today?

But what if Jesus was something more than these things? What if he was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah? How do we respond to Jesus if this is the case?

This is what I’d like us to consider this morning.

There are three points I’d like us to consider.

Firstly, who is Jesus?

Secondly, what should our response be to Jesus?

And thirdly, what is the true mark of a follower of Jesus?

We’ll be considering John 13:31-35 today, so if you have a Bible, you may find it useful to have it open in front of you at John 13:31-35.

Firstly, then, who is Jesus?

Before we get too far into this, it’s probably a good idea to think about the context of this particular passage. The disciples are gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover Festival. This is where Jesus and his disciples had the Last Supper. Chapter 13 of John’s Gospel begins with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. This is a real moment of intimacy between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is seen to be playing the role of servant king, humbling himself before those who thought that it was they who should be serving him.

As the chapter progresses, we see the actions of two disciples in particular. First of all we see Judas decide to betray Jesus. Jesus suddenly announces to his disciples, “very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples were completely shocked. John, urged on by Peter, asked Jesus, “who is it?” Jesus replied that it was the one to whom he would give a piece of bread, before passing the bread to Judas. At the moment Judas took the bread, John tells us that “Satan entered into him,” signifying no doubt the moment that Judas allowed himself to make the decision to betray Jesus to the authorities.

We also see Jesus predict Peter’s denial. He says to Peter, “very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”

So there’s a great deal going on in this chapter!

As we begin our passage in verse 31, Jesus makes some rather cryptic statements. He begins by saying, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.” “Son of Man” is in fact Jesus’ most common title for himself, using it on 81 occasions in the Gospels. It is never used by anyone else in the Gospels. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, the Son of Man is shown as a heavenly figure who in the end times is entrusted by God with authority. Jesus used this as a messianic title. He was the one sent by God from heaven to earth, and who has all authority to judge humanity when the end of the world comes.

It is at this point that something truly remarkable happens. Jesus is glorified! His full glory is laid bare for all to see. It is at this moment that Jesus’ true identify becomes evident.

What does this mean, though? What does Jesus mean that he is glorified? Jesus is glorified because it is revealed who he is. He is God! When he is glorified, God himself is glorified in him.

Jesus points the way to his father and shows the disciples God himself. And since Jesus glorifies God, God in return glorifies Jesus. We see that incredible bond resulting from the Father and
the Son being one, with the Spirit. Jesus is indivisible from his Father because they are one God. Jesus chooses to serve his Father on earth and because he carries out his Father’s will perfectly, God gives him glory. Jesus, precisely because he is so attuned to his Father, glorifies God.

This is Jesus at his most remarkable, the servant king who washed the feet of his disciples, revealed as God himself, and now about to die on the cross for the whole of humanity.

This might not sound particularly glorious but it is. It is because of the context here. Jesus knows what is going to happen. Jesus knows that Judas is going to betray him. He could have stopped Judas, but he did not do so. He does not stop Judas because dying on the cross is the path that his father has marked out for him.

Jesus allows this to happen to him. Yet he is not the tragic innocent party, the sad victim of betrayal. He is totally in control. He is the triumphant, glorious victim of betrayal. Judas may just be concerned about the money he is going to receive for delivering his master to the authorities, yet he is doing the work of the father. He is doing the work of Christ, bringing him to the cross where he would die for the souls of billions.

Why is he doing this? It’s fine to say that Jesus is allowing this to happen, but why?

He’s doing it because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17.

This, then, is the glorification of Jesus. This is the glorification of God. This is beginning of the end, the fulfilment of God’s plan to bring salvation to humanity. The glorification of Jesus is at its brightest at the darkest moment of human history, when Jesus hangs from the cross. But in that moment, Jesus defeats sin. He defeats the devil. He defeats death itself. So that anyone who believes in him, and trusts that he is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, can have eternal life in heaven.

But that eternal life begins in the here and now. It doesn’t suddenly kick in when we die and are raised with Christ. Eternal life is all about a new perspective on life and the world.

And that brings us to our second point. What should our response be to the glorification of Jesus? If Jesus is God himself, how should we respond?

Having revealed himself to be God, Jesus tells his disciples in verse 34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Here’s our answer, then. If Jesus is God, we should follow this new command. Since Jesus loves us, we should love one another.

But why does Jesus describe this as a new command? There’s nothing new about this is there? Surely loving one another has been at the heart of God’s calling since the beginning of time itself. So why is this a new command?

The answer here is the level of expectation that is associated with it. Jesus is not commanding his followers merely to have a warm, fuzzy feeling towards other Christians. He tells his followers that we are to love, as he loved us.

I mentioned that at the beginning of this chapter Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. This seems to be a real reversal of position, an upending of expectation. Surely Jesus’ disciples should be washing his feet? He was their master, after all. He was the one they were following. Surely they were the ones who should be acting in subservience to him?

Yet it’s Jesus who washes their feet.

This is the mark of the servant king. Here we see Jesus humbly taking on the role of servant to his disciples, when he is the king. Not just an earthly king either, but the king of heaven, the Son of God!

That’s the kind of love that we should be demonstrating to one another. We should be humbling ourselves before each other, placing others before ourselves, and serving whatever the cost.

We should act sacrificially. That’s the mark of Christian love. Giving that we actually feel. Giving that actually has an impact on our own lives.

What do you think the mark of that is? The usual answers to this focus on our money. You know the lines. We should give more cash to the church. We should give more to charity. We should spend less on ourselves and give our money to worthy charities.

And yes, of course, it goes without saying that those are admirable things to do. We should most definitely be doing all of those things.

But perhaps over and above financial giving, we should think about our time. Perhaps that’s where we can give truly sacrificially, because perhaps that’s where we’re actually most selfish. Many, most of us probably, work long hours. Perhaps we have long commutes too. Our time is precious and we have so little of it. Of course we want to spend the little time that we have left over doing the things that we want to do. Maybe that’s going for a run or for a swim. Maybe it’s taking in a film at the cinema. Perhaps its playing with our children, or going for dinner with our partners, or meeting friends for a drink. Maybe it’s just vegging in front of the television at the end of a long, demanding and stressful day.

Would it make a difference to God’s kingdom, to the Church, to our lives, if we sought out new ways to serve, to give up our time? That might be seeking to get involved with the running of the Church, by joining the church council. It might be offering our services to play an instrument, or to sing, or to train to preach, or to arrange the flowers, or to sweep the floors, or to clean the loos. It could be committing to attending church prayer meetings. Maybe we have a brilliant idea for an outreach project that “someone” should take on. What if that someone was you?

One of my friends who is a pastor in a church in Oxford was once given a piece of advice by an older pastor. He was told that after church, when you’ve got a coffee in your hand, you’ll often find yourself in the position when you see a group of people whose conversation you know you will enjoy, and a person, perhaps on their own, who you know is going to bore you, or annoy you. Don’t take the easy option. Go and chat to the person on their own. Walk towards the pain, he says. Walk towards the pain.

Perhaps that’s something we could try. When we find ourselves in a gathering, don’t just gravitate to your friends, but head for the person who might otherwise feel lonely, isolated, or rejected. Walk towards the pain.

That’s what Jesus would do.

And that’s what this command is all about. Sacrificial giving. Love one another as Jesus loves us.

Of course, Jesus took this to the greatest extreme. At the time he was speaking the disciples might have thought that the pinnacle of Jesus’ sacrificial loving was washing the feet of his disciples. But we know, with hindsight, that that was relatively trivial compared to his greatest act of sacrificial love. That greatest act of love for us was to willingly go to the cross, to suffer an agonising death so that you and I might be reunited with God, so that our sin might be forgiven, and so that we might have eternal life.

That’s real love.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That’s what Jesus says in John chapter fifteen, verse thirteen.

Maybe we might be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, and die for someone we love.

That’s probably not too likely, however.

But our life on earth is finite. The clock is ticking. And by giving our time away to love our fellow Christians, perhaps in a sense we are laying down our lives for each other and for our ultimate friend, Jesus himself.

That, then, is what our response should be to Jesus. We should love one another. Sacrificially. In a way that impacts our own lives as much as it impacts the lives of those whom we love.

That would make us truly distinctive. And that brings us on to our third point, what is the mark of a disciple?

Jesus says in verse 35, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This, then, is the mark of a disciple. Loving each other. This is the mark of a follower of Jesus. Loving one another.

Not only are we called to love one another sacrificially. The love that we have for each other should be evident to all. It is this love that is the mark of a disciple. This is the distinctive of the Christian faith.

Jesus loved us enough to die for us. We should love each other in the same way. We should love in the same way that Jesus loved us.

If we are genuine followers of Christ, the overarching impression that a visitor should get from visiting our churches is that they are places of love. Anyone who attends one of your services here at St Andrew’s, or one of your activities during the week, should leave this building think, “my goodness, St Andrew’s church really is a place of love.”

I wonder if that is the impression that people have of this place?

How do you think you measure up to this mark of a disciple?

When you come here, do you feel loved?

Come to that, do you feel that you love?

Do you go out of your way to love everyone in your church family?

The context of this passage shows just how difficult this can be at times. As we’ve seen, Jesus knows that Judas, one of his twelve disciples, his closest friends, his most loyal followers, has just left the room in order to betray him to the authorities. Jesus has just predicted that one of his very best friends, Peter, is about to deny that he even knows him. All whilst facing up to the prospect that in just a few hours he will be nailed to a cross.

I know that when I’m at my most stressed, I am at my least loving. When there’s just too much going on, I can be quite short with people, rather grumpy, and generally not very nice. Just ask my wife about that! But if I’m to follow Jesus’ example, even when I’m feeling really put upon, my attitude should still be one of love.

If Jesus could love even whilst facing up to his future at the Last Supper, then surely I should be able to love when I’m tired and stressed.

Jesus’ ultimate act of love was dying on the cross. He died out of love for you, and for me, and for all of humanity who would turn to him. And even at his bleakest moment, whilst hanging from the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

And that’s how we should be known. By our completely outrageous love for one another. Even at our darkest times. Even when we feel stressed. Even when we feel wronged.

That’s not to say, of course, that we will always agree with one another. Disagreements are only natural.

But anyone who encounters us, as individuals, and as a church, should know that we are Jesus’ disciples, precisely because of the love we have for one another.

That, I firmly believe, is the greatest witness, the best form of evangelism that there is. Loving each other.

People will know that Christianity is real precisely because of the witness that we give. They will know that there is a living Messiah who gave everything for them precisely because of the love that we display. Because there is simply no other explanation for the outrageous love that we will share if we are truly followers of Christ.

As someone far wiser than I once said, the mark of faithfulness is not doctrinal belief, but Christ-like love.

That love cannot be faked. It’s possible to come along to church on a Sunday but not truly be a disciple of Christ. It’s perfectly possible to serve on a church committee, or to lead prayers, but not truly be a Christian.

But it is not possible to counterfeit the love that comes from being a true disciple of Christ. That’s the true Christian distinctive that marks as out as followers of Jesus.

People should look at us as Christians and be completely gobsmacked by the way we support each other, look out for one another, love one another, that they are left desperately wanting what we have. And what do we have? We have love.

That’s the mark of a disciple; that we love in such a way that everyone knows that we are followers of Christ.

So where does this all leave us?

We’ve seen that in the midst of darkness, as Judas left his table to betray him, as one of his closest friends, Peter, was about to deny even knowing him, the true glory of Jesus is seen. In his darkest moments, Jesus is glorified by God, pointing the way to his father as his father points to him and shows the world, here is God made flesh, here is God dwelling amongst us.

How do we respond to this?

The only way there could conceivably be. To follow Jesus’ command, to love one another as he has loved us. We should love each other sacrificially.

And this is the mark of a disciple. Our love should be evident to everyone. People will know us as Jesus’ disciples because of our outrageous love.

If there is no love, then we are not true followers of Jesus. How could we be if, after the love he has shown us, we do not follow his command to love as he loves us.

So how effectively are we following this command? Do your friends, your colleagues identify you as a disciple of Christ because of your love?

Does St Andrew’s stand out as a beacon of love to Horsham and beyond?

Do all those who come into this building feel loved?

Do we feel loved by this community?

Do we love each other?

Let’s aim to follow this command in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. To love one another, as Jesus loves us.

Amen.

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