Jesus came from above in John 1 and has now completed his public ministry with 7 miracles recorded by John to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity so that they may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in believing they may have life in his name (John 20:31). Jesus explains in this chapter that he’s going to his death to serve them, and that they should serve one another: the cross as an act of service. Jesus explains his own departure: his own death, resurrection, ascension – that will be happening over the next 3 days as they hear these words. But he’s also explaining the implications for them: this is what I’m going to do to you, this is what you must do for each other, and this is what all of you must do in the world. Jesus serves us, we must serve one another.
It means more than washing feet. It’s about the cross. It’s about giving up your life for somebody to the point of death. It means we should be clean in serving one another.
Jesus’ death and service for us is essential because it is essential to be cleansed by Jesus. It’s about cleanliness in a spiritual sense. And all the way through the Bible, being clean and being fit for God’s presence has been a continued thing. God has a problem with dirt.
Jesus says to be washed by him in his death on the cross is essential. Jesus said to Peter, if I do not wash you, you can have no share with me (John 13:8).
Jesus said you are cleansed once, you are clean. Jesus’ death is sufficient and you can have the ongoing grace of confessing your wrongdoing to him with confidence that you remain the child of God: you remain forgiven.
Firstly, the timing: throughout John’s gospel, the writer makes a big deal of the fact that Jesus died at Passover time – the time when the lambs were sacrificed, that the Jews remembered was symbolic of God’s rescue in the exodus in the Old Testament. Jesus knew that his hour had come: the time has come to die, to depart and return to the Father. He’s leaving the world, it’s his departure which means his death. 1 Peter 1:10-12 talked about the prophets searching intently and with the greatest care. Even angels longed to know.
Jesus tells them about his betrayal so that they will not be unsettled when it happens later that evening. They will not be thrown when they see him going to the cross the next morning. He intended this and he’s in full control. The betrayal triggers a series of events leading to the crucifixion.
It is a warning that being close to Christian things don’t count for anything but staying loyal to Jesus and trusting Jesus does. It is a warning that even someone who looks like an insider could be an outsider.
Jesus shares glory (in terms of majesty or weight) with the Father. His glory with the Father is going to be increased as the Father glorifies him and he glorifies his Father. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit acting to increase each other’s glory, worth and honour.
But here Jesus says he’s going to be glorified by dying on the cross, in agony. He’s glorified by someone slipping out to betray him. He’s glorified by a corrupt trial. He’s glorified by brutal soldiers – callously nailing his wrists and ankles. He’s glorified as he dies by suffocation on the cross. That is his glory. That is the place extraordinarily in John that we find the announcement: this is his glory!
So what’s new measure that is the new commandment here? It’s new because now they are to love one another as Christ has loved them.
It is glorious for Jesus to be the ultimate servant, as he lowers himself to give up his own comfort, even his own life for the good of others. And love is to love like that. Glory is the cross. And the new commandment is the new measure to love like the cross. Love radically with a costly love. Love one another even to death. Christ’s love is essential to Christian mission.
The disciples’ love for one another will give credibility to the message they take out. Their love for one another will identify them as Jesus’ messengers when they teach others about him.
Jesus died as more than an example. He died as a Saviour. He died to rescue us. He died to get us a place in his Father’s house. And that is a glorious thing to do.
Jesus says to Peter and to us: you’ll deny me, you’ll fail me, you won’t always love one another, but I’m going so that you can come with me. In my absence, you need to love each other and testify to where it is I’ve gone so that others will hear - by your actions, by your words. Because my death to win a place for you is the most glorious thing that the Father could ever do for his Son. And the Son could ever do for his Father.