“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn.13:34-35).
Good news: If you have read your Bible much before today, you can skip today’s devotional.
You probably already know the foundational role of love in our Christian lives. Perhaps you have it on a t-shirt or a mug. It’s woven throughout the story of Scripture. It’s found in Leviticus, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD,” (Lev. 19:18). It’s found in the teaching of Jesus when he asserts that all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and loving our neighbor (Mt. 22:40). It’s in 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love, does not know God.”
As a matter of fact, this is such a basic truth, Jesus says the whole world will be able to identify us by the extraordinary love we show to one another. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples…”
Anyone in the world who has access to Christ’s people can testify to “love” being the first adjective that comes to mind when describing them, right?
“Wait just a second,” you say. You and I both know this is not always the case.
What’s up with the disconnect between this passage and what we see around us in the world, in the church, and in our own lives? We all know we are called to love, yet, for some reason it can seem so very hard—even to love those closest to us like a spouse, sibling, or friend.
A New Command
Jesus entrusts these words to his disciples in the upper room as he prepares to leave them via the cross. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
This “new” commandment isn’t entirely new, but Jesus deepens our understanding by giving us the how: “…as I have loved you….”
One of my favorite childhood books is, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The brilliant little story depicts the daily frustrations that create a terrible, horrible day for a child: gum in the hair, dropping a sweater in the sink, tripping over a skateboard, and all the no good, very bad things in between.
My freshman year in college I had a knee injury that required me to travel home for surgery. The day I returned to campus, I hobbled around on crutches sporting a massive brace on my leg. I also returned to campus the day after an ice storm, so hobbling outside became more like sliding. On crutches. With a knee brace.
I also returned to campus to find that the elevator in my dorm building was broken. I then discovered that not only would I be required to limp down four flights of stairs to get out of my dorm, but I’d need to stumble down two additional flights to get to my music classes. Because those elevators were not working either.
That day I returned to campus was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Everyday, Ordinary Suffering
The reality is that life is filled with ordinary hardships. I’m not talking about the catastrophic or traumatic events that do occur, but rather the difficulties that we face on a regular basis. Most of us don’t wake up anticipating these challenges; in fact, the way we often react to everyday trials proves that we expect life to be void of them.
When a child wakes up sick, when we run into a conflict with a co-worker, when an assignment is missed, or travel is delayed, we almost immediately react in frustration or anger because we’ve begun to believe that ordinary suffering shouldn’t be a part of our daily existence. But Jesus did not come to earth to save us from our suffering; He came to save us from our sin.
Meeting Jesus in Everyday, Ordinary Suffering
So, what if we entered the day with a different perspective?…
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper” (John 13:3-4a).
Astronomy has always fascinated me. I remember being in elementary school when the mobile planetarium visited our class. We would sit in the dark on the floor and gaze up at the night sky, full of brilliant stars, trying to identify different constellations and distant planets. Still today, I will get up at 3:00 a.m., wrap up in lots of blankets, and venture outside to watch a winter meteor shower or catch a glimpse of a solar phenomenon. While all of these wonders always exist in our galaxy, there are only certain times of the year and specific times of the night when we actually get a glimpse of the magnificent.
In John 13, the heart and mind of the Magnificent One can be glimpsed. It is a rare treasure when the Holy Spirit allows us to peek into the thoughts of our Savior. Jesus and his disciples are gathered for their last meal together before our Messiah goes to the cross. John tells us that Jesus knows, “…his hour has come to depart out of this world….” Let’s not pass too quickly over this phrase. Jesus is about to be betrayed by a dear friend, abandoned by all His followers, suffer under the hands of ruthless enemies, die a death He doesn’t deserve and be forsaken by His Father. This is a grave moment of deep and isolating sorrow.
And yet, despite His own imminent suffering, the heart of Jesus is to move towards, and not away, from His disciples. He prepares to serve them by humbling Himself to the place of the lowest servant and washing their feet. “…Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper…poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet….”
Here is where we catch a beautiful glimpse into the heart and mind of our Suffering Servant. The Spirit shows us His thoughts, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands….” In that moment, Jesus remembers God’s sovereignty. In His suffering and sorrow, God’s control over every detail and facet of creation was at the forefront of His mind. What a reminder for us! Wherever you are today, whether in the midst of broken relationships, deep grief, overwhelming anxiety or an apathy that seems paralyzing, remember God is perfectly sovereign. There is not one tiny detail of your life over which God is not ruling. Every single day of your life has been written in His book before even one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Like Jesus, it is good for us to remember our God is the uncontested King. Remember who He is…
She really was extraordinary—funny, loving, and firm when she needed to be. If a perfect teacher exists, she would be at the top of the list, in our house anyway. Thankfully for us, our younger son was in her class, not once, but twice. When we found out he would have his kindergarten teacher again for 5th grade, we were elated. The unpredictability of 2020 was especially difficult for him. While we couldn’t be sure which activities, even school itself, would go on, we could be sure about one thing: Mrs. W. And she delivered—suddenly breaking into song, encouraging dance-offs, dressing up in wild costumes. If there was anything an 11-year-old would love, she did it.
Now that life has resumed some normalcy, we have tried to embrace change. My boys started new schools this year. While they were excited to move on to new adventures, the subtle dread of leaving this enjoyable relationship behind haunted us all. My son periodically says, “I miss Mrs. W.” After six great years under her tutelage, we all miss her. We mourn this transition in our lives.
Mourning comes in all shapes and sizes. Not only has our family mourned transitions, we’ve mourned broken relationships, and the passing of dear family members. Life is filled with losses and each one brings us great grief.
A Life of Mourning
The teacher in Ecclesiastes tells us there is “a time to mourn” (3:4). But in all reality, life can sometimes feel a lot more like one long mourning period. It seems the longer we live, the more we mourn. While we definitely have reasons to rejoice, our lives, more often than not, mirror Paul’s description in Romans of “…groaning together in the pains of childbirth…” and “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption of sons…” (Romans 8:22-23).
We mourn and groan because we know things are not as they should be. When God created the world, there was no mourning. Things didn’t break. Relationships didn’t fail. Bodies didn’t age. And there was no death. Until the Fall of man when our first parents sinned. The effects of that sin have reverberated through the ages since. Mourning is now a way of life…
The Feast of the Passover has arrived, and Jesus knows his hour has finally come. Having loved his own in the world, he will love them to the end.
We enter the scene of John 13, where Jesus and his disciples are enjoying a last meal together. Celebration abounds, friendship and feasting too. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, is present, as are the rest of Jesus’ faithful disciples— the men he has allowed to walk and watch his ways. Men, who have been fed by the Bread of Life, with fish and loaves and with words powerful to save, strengthen, and encourage. Men, who have witnessed and performed miracles in his name, bodies healed, and sins forgiven. Men, who have confessed, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-9).
And Jesus is present at the meal. The Lamb of God.
As the action begins, we learn that Jesus knows his Father had given him all things, and so with purpose he rises and moves towards each disciple, tenderly washing their feet. One after another, first the washing and then the drying, with a towel wrapped around his waist. The process is physical, messy and wet, refreshing and warm, and utterly confusing, as Peter makes clear when his turn arrives. “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (John 13:6).
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,” Jesus replies (John 13:8), so in characteristic form, Peter enthusiastically requests a full washing, his hands and head as well.
No. A full washing is unnecessary. Peter is already bathed, made clean through faith in the one the Father has sent, justified fully, forever. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). Even so, brokenness and sin will continue to resurface and reattach. Peter must allow Jesus to proceed.
As I Have Done to You
Jesus finishes his work and returns to his place among his friends and betrayer. Do they understand? Can they see that this time of washing is meant as an example? He, their teacher and Lord, has served them from a posture of deep humility, the posture of love. In the same way he has loved them, they are to love one another. “You also should do just as I have done to you,” he says (John 13:15)….
It’s jarring to come off the worship of Advent season and land in January. A week after Christmas, we turn off the carols and snap on the workout track. We rush as quickly as possible toward productivity. We dream that our lofty goals will produce the perfect version of ourselves. Frantically, we scrawl habits that will make us as successful as possible in the shortest amount of time. If only we could turn over a new leaf, we would become as flawless as is humanly achievable! We attempt to shove down our own human frailties to claw our way to the pedestal of who we can become.
Oh, but January is hard. Our resolutions are interrupted by sick babies in the flu season. Snow days force us into the stillness of hibernation. We attempt to refocus our sights on the sweaty-faced trainers screaming “don’t give up on yourself now!” on the screens of our tv. The package of kale goes bad in the refrigerator. As one grey January day dissolves into the next, the willpower we mustered in our hearts begins to melt.
Don’t Forget Advent
What if we allowed the truths we learned in December to transform our hearts in January?
Advent is the celebration of Christ fulfilling the promise to return, our rest in the work he has done for us, and the anticipation of his coming again to make all things new. During Advent, we remind ourselves that He alone lived a perfect life. We rejoice that He gave himself to sacrificial death in order to purchase our salvation.
We gathered with people we love to remember perfect love given for us and the unity we will celebrate in eternity. Our homes were filled with the bounty of his goodness as the smells of baking drifted through our homes. Twinkling lights illuminated the darkness of the shortened days and struck in our hearts an awe in awareness of the one who lights the darkness of the world.
All that we learned and celebrated just last month doesn’t end on December 25. It transforms our entire year.
How Advent Transforms January…and Beyond
During his earthly ministry, Jesus set an example of rest, time away to pray, and trust that the work he would do on the cross would complete the promise made to Adam and Eve in the garden. He didn’t need everyone to know the whole plan right away. He didn’t rush to die on the cross 24 hours after Adam and Ever were barred from Eden. He didn’t start preaching as soon as he could talk. He didn’t set an example of pushing himself to accomplish as much as he could during his time on the earth. His very life shows us the way of rest and trust in the Father.
Winter, the season after Advent, is such a beautiful time for stillness. Our hearts were just transformed by the remembrance of why he came to earth and the promise that he will come again. How would it look if we allowed that peace to leak into our reality? What would it look like to rest in the perfection of Christ for us, instead of clawing our way to our “best life” in our own strength?…
Goodbyes can be excruciating. Over the years, I have said goodbye to my children at nursery doors, elementary bus stops, college parking lots, and airport departure lanes. Will it ever get easier? My recent parting on an airport sidewalk leans towards no. Goodbyes bring clarity and focus to our thoughts, actions, and words. We want the last thing that rings in a loved one’s ear to be comforting. Goodbyes require us to keep short accounts. Farewell words should be filled with repentance and grace. I have also stood on sacred ground where last words and songs fill the air as a saint is ushered into glory. Last words draw us in and will profoundly shape us until we get Home.
The disciples were privileged to sit and have one final meal with Jesus in the upper room. In less than 24 hours, their friend will willingly lay down His life for them on the cross. This poignant reality leaves them understandably frightened, overwhelmed, and insecure about the future. John 13-17 contains Jesus’ farewell discourse. These last words give us His disciples’ purpose and mission, and our own as well.
As 2022 dawns, perhaps you can relate to the disciples’ troubled hearts. The pandemic has disorientated us. Relationships are dismantled through distance and disagreements. Jesus, our tender Father, has gone to prepare a place or Home for us. We must fixate on this trajectory as we walk each other Home. These words should not be addendums but central in our thoughts and actions. He already knows we will easily get distracted and discouraged, which is why He has not left us alone. We need a comforter, counselor, and Helper for each step of the journey.
Over the next several months, we will consider these last words at our annual Leadership Training and on the enCourage podcast and blog. You can download our free devotional, Abide in Me: 31 Days with Jesus in the Upper Room, to study with other fellow pilgrims. As you set off on this journey, you may want to pour yourself a hot beverage, grab your Bible, notebook, and a pen to consider these words and heart-penetrating questions as you prayerfully seek the Lord’s face as you step into a new year…