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PART V. (A.)
CHRIST IN THE CIRCLE OF HIS FRIENDS, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT
Christ’s Fuller Revelation of Himself to His Disciples
1. The example of ministering love in Christ’s washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).
2. The unmasking of the traitor (John 13:18-30).
3. “Now is the Son of man glorified” (John 13:31-32).
4. The new commandment (John 13:33-35).
5. Peter’s question—his denial foretold (John 13:36-38).
“The relation of the Jewish night-days of the paschal season to our days, which begin with midnight, will be apparent from the following scheme”:—
 This scheme accords with the theory that the Supper was instituted on the evening of the 13th and 14th Nisan.
From Caspari’s Life of Christ.
Time (xii–xx.).—Nisan, A.U.C. 783, A.D. 30
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 13:1. Before the feast, etc.—Jesus came to Jerusalem steadfastly resolved to finish the work given Him to do (Luke 12:50, etc.). These words are not to be connected with either εἰδώς, or ἀγαπήσας. They “mark the date of the manifold exhibition of love, of the acts and discourses which follow immediately afterward” (Westcott). (As to the day, see note, pp. 371–373).) Knowing.—It was an hour He had been looking forward to (John 9:4; John 11:9). That He should depart (ἵνα μεταβῇ).—That He should pass hence to the Father. Thus death to the Christian should be a going hence to God. Having loved, etc.—Not simply to the close of His earthly ministry, although that is true, but He loved them with divine fulness to the extreme limit of love, as He showed in becoming the servant of all, etc. It is “the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).
John 13:2. Supper, etc.—The reading probably is δείπνου γινομένου, “taking place’ (with א, B, L, Tischendorf, Greek Testament, Ed. VIII., etc.). The meaning seems to be that they had just sat down to supper. Into the heart of that Judas the son of Simon, Iscariot.—Meyer and Reuss take the words into the heart to refer to the devil’s heart; but, as Godet says, “where in Scripture is there mention of the devil’s heart?”
John 13:3. Jesus knowing that the Father had put, etc.—The Evangelist states this to show how wonderful the following act of humility is. All things (Matthew 28:18, etc.).—Yet He emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, became obedient unto death, etc. Astonishing humility! wondrous love!
John 13:4. He riseth, etc.—The disciples had been striving who should be the greatest, and none probably offered to do that act of service, the customary washing of the feet before beginning the supper (Luke 7:44). Garments.—The upper garment. He kept on only the tunic, the servant’s or slave’s robe.
John 13:5. He poureth water into the basin.—i.e. the basin used for that purpose. And began to wash, etc.—It has been gravely debated whether our Lord began with Simon Peter or with Judas. It is really a matter of no moment. The natural inference from the words as they stand would be that He had already began with others before He reached Simon Peter.
John 13:6. Dost Thou wash my feet? (σὺ μοῦ νίπτεις τοὺς πόδας;).—The pronouns are emphatic, and show in a lively fashion Peter’s astonishment.
John 13:7. What I do thou knowest not, etc.—Peter needed to rise above his imperfect knowledge of Jesus and His work; he needed to be “taught of the Spirit,” “led into all truth,” ere he could comprehend this and much else in the Redeemer’s words and actions.
John 13:8. Peter said, Thou shalt not ever wash my feet.—“A praiseworthy modesty: were it not that with God obedience is better than service” (Calvin). Jesus answered, etc.—Jesus demands implicit obedience. Notice the contrast between the lowly action of Jesus and His regal authority. And yet how beautifully are they blended! No part, etc. (Deuteronomy 12:12).—The Lord had shown that His action had a spiritual meaning (John 13:7). The meaning of our Lord is evidently to be connected with the rite then being instituted, the Lord’s Supper. “If thou art not washed spiritually in that fountain opened for sin,” etc. (Zechariah 13:1), “thou hast no part with Me, oneness with Me, in that glory which is Mine” (John 17:24). This is the deeper meaning of the action perhaps (John 13:11). And included in this, as evidence of the sanctified nature, there is the lesson of absolute self-surrender to Christ in the spirit of self-sacrificing love and service (John 13:12-15).
John 13:9. Simon Peter saith, etc.—No part with Christ! rather anything than that. And thus the impulsive apostle, still misunderstanding our Lord’s action, blunders from one error into another. He had thought this washing unnecessary; now that the Lord declares that it is needful, he for one will be “throughly cleansed” (Psalms 51:2).
John 13:10. He who has bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.—“Just as the guest, after the bath, needs only to have the dust washed from his feet when he reaches the house of his host” (Westcott). For sanctification we must daily look to Christ for grace. The saved man is clean even though the feet are superficially defiled by contact with the world, etc. “He does not sin wilfully” (Hebrews 10:26; 1 John 5:18). Christ “daily makes intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25).
John 13:11. [Ye are clean, but not all.] For He knew, etc.—Judas had received in some measure the “knowledge of the truth”; but he had “sinned wilfully” (Hebrews 10:26-27), and was ready to go forth into the darkness (Hebrews 6:4-6). But the disciples were clean notwithstanding the presence of the traitor; and thus the Corinthian Church, and all true Churches of Christ, are communities of the saints, the cleansed ones, though traitors and unworthy ones lurk in the fold (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 5:1, etc.).
John 13:12. Know ye, etc.—The “hereafter” of John 13:7 is not exhausted here—would not be indeed until Pentecost. The lesson that follows is the lesson they could then understand.
John 13:13. Master and Lord, etc. (ὁ διδάσκαλος, teacher).—“ ‘Rabbi and Mara,’ the names of reverence which disciples of the Hebrew teachers were accustomed to offer to their masters” (Reynolds). Again the mingling of humility and nobility. He who had just washed the disciples’ feet told them they did well to name or call Him (φωνεῖν) by those titles of respect and reverence.
John 13:14. Ye ought also, etc.—The apostolic Church learned this lesson thoroughly. In the Epistles there are many exhortations to mutual and self-denying helpfulness (Romans 15:1 ff.; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3-5; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:11). The impulsive Peter learned this lesson well, and was able afterwards from the heart to urge the duty of mutual service, etc. (1 Peter 5:5).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 13:1-17
A lesson of humility and ministering love.—It must have been with mingled feelings that Jesus entered Jerusalem on that last passovertide. The streets would be thronged with multitudes who had come to keep the feast. Friends joyfully met their friends. There would be few who would greet gladly Jesus and His disciples. There would be rather scowls of enmity on the part of some, and some would even be rejoicing that there was a traitor in that little band. Yet Jesus, on entering the upper chamber, must have felt in His heart a glow of exultation that here was to be instituted an ordinance in which loving hearts would “remember” Him to the end of the age, and which should be a medium of intimate communion between Him and His people till all of them shall sit down with Him at the heavenly feast. The institution of the supper is not expressly mentioned by St. John, but it is implied (John 13:2; John 13:4). The Evangelist did not repeat what had already been made known in the other Gospels, and which was, when he issued his own, a rite firmly established and constantly observed in the Church. It is the incident recorded in these verses we consider. What is its significance to us?
I. It affords a striking example of the grace of humility.—
1. Through some neglect the feet of the wayfarers had not been washed. Possibly the house was too poor to maintain servants. Among the disciples, too, there had been a dispute which of them should be the greatest. Hence none of them had offered to undertake this duty.
2. Jesus took advantage of this circumstance to inculcate a much-needed lesson. It was one of the chief lessons of His whole life. He took upon Him the form of a servant, and in this act of His toward its end He became the servant of all. He showed this spirit of humility which should animate His followers in every age at the very moment when “He knew that the Father had given all things into His hand.”
3. The spirit here displayed is the spirit of true greatness, which does not depend on adventitious circumstances. Pomp and pride are far beneath it. The great man is; he does not need to blow a trumpet and flaunt his pretensions before men. Being and doing are the warp and woof of his nature.
4. True greatness, as Christ taught His disciples, is found in service, in doing the will of God. If we do the divine will from the heart, that must be because we love Him. And if we love Him, then we must love the brethren; and love will find expression in even the humblest service which will lead to men’s highest good. It was this the Saviour showed forth in this act of humility, etc., etc.
II. Our Lord’s action was the means of bringing home to the disciples a sense of their spiritual need.—
1. The impulsiveness of Peter furnished Jesus with an opportunity of teaching the symbolic meaning of this action. It was a necessary act of service which Jesus thus ennobled.
2. Peter observed the action with wonder—wondered that no one interposed—resolved that he would. What! his Master, whom multitudes had hailed as king, who was yet to reign over the kingdom of God, that He should stoop to this act! He forgot that the humiliation lay in Christ being where He was. When, therefore, Jesus came to him, the impulsive apostle cried out, “Lord, dost Thou,” etc.
3. The answer of Jesus should have sufficed (John 13:7). Not, however, for self-willed Peter. But when Jesus said, “If I wash thee not,” etc., then Peter showed that his resistance was due to no want of love, but to his impulsive self-confidence. Seeing now the spiritual meaning our Lord conveyed in His action, the disciple went to the other extreme, and cried out, “Not my feet only,” etc.
4. The Lord’s reply put him right. “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.” The traveller over the dusty ways might in the morning have bathed; but in the evening the dusty feet needed washing, which was grateful and refreshing.
5. So Christ’s disciples daily need sanctifying grace. They who are cleansed, bathed, in the fountain opened for sin, are cleansed once for all. But they still come in contact with sin, the world’s evil, and need daily cleansing of the feet, daily approach unto Christ through His Spirit for sanctifying grace.
6. “Now ye are clean, but not all.” Judas was there, soon to depart from that company for ever—an example of those for whom the wonderful humiliation of Jesus and His love plead in vain.
III. This action of Jesus teaches us a lesson of self-sacrificing love.—
1. “I have given you an example,” etc. Two of the great historic Churches consider this to mean that our Lord meant those who represent Him to do what He did. No interpretation of His words could be more puerile. If the scene is to be transacted literally, then a Judas should always be among the twelve!
2. Christ said, Do as I have done unto you, standing in the place of a minister among you.
3. It was an actual service which had been omitted that Jesus performed, and from which He drew a spiritual lesson. But times and customs change, dress and habits; also what in that land and in those days might be essential is not so now. But the lesson of ministering love remains for all men and all times. The Christian life is to be a life of service in imitation of our Lord and Master, Christ.
1. In the present age there is much need to remember the Lord’s saying, “What I do thou knowest not now,” etc. (John 13:7). It is not an age of humility, but of boasted knowledge. In every department men need to learn the lesson of humility, of dependence on God, and of the limited and relative nature of all human knowledge. Neither scientific knowledge nor any other department can claim to be absolute.
2. Humility and reverent submission become Christian men in view of the mysteries of Providence. The divine ways sometimes seem dark. The righteous are afflicted, whilst the wicked prosper. But we have not entered entirely into the secret divine counsels, nor do we know the end of these things. It is when, like Asaph, we go with such troubled thoughts in humility to the sanctuary that light arises for us (Psalms 73:17).
3. But we must beware of false humility. There are times when Christian men vividly feel their unworthiness, and are prompted to cry out, “What am I that the Lord should be mindful of me?” “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8); “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Yet true disciples will humbly and thankfully receive the blessing sent. But there is a false humility that would obtrude its own ideas as to the fitness of things, and, misled by it, men would seek cleansing in their own way. They will not submit entirely to Christ’s way; they must themselves do what He alone can do. They forget that sanctifying grace, as well as saving grace, comes alone through Christ, and that they must daily look to Him for it (John 13:8-10).
4. We may learn, therefore, to avoid that pride which apes humility, and that false pride also which often leads men to shrink from obvious duty. And as the Lord in this action of His stooped even to entreat a Judas, so should we learn to bend a pitying eye on perishing sinners, and hold out to them a helping hand.
John 13:8; John 13:14. Ministering love.—To every thoughtful reader of this portion of Holy Scripture it must seem strange and worthy of special notice that St. John records this incident of the feet-washing, not narrated by the other Evangelists, in place of the holy supper, the institution of which is given in the other Gospels. And it is worth noting that, although here this incident takes the place of the other, there are yet manifold points of connection between them.
I. As Christ here says to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me,” so He had formerly declared in a rich and profound discourse, “If ye eat not the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you”
(6.). We cannot, indeed, but think of those words in our sacramental communion. Yet it is quite evident that the eating of the bread, which the Lord calls His body, stands in relation to the spiritual enjoyment of His flesh and blood, as the outward washing here corresponds with the spiritual washing of the soul. It is as if St. John would have us especially understand that neither in the one case nor the other is the chief reference to the visible and outward. For here the Lord Himself says, after He had done alike to all, “Ye are clean, but not all,” because in this action one had had part who was to betray Him. Even so should we also realise that mere outward eating and drinking (in the sacrament) can give life to none, nor maintain it. As it was in the feet-washing, the communication of life must be something inward. But then, as Christ exhibited this action of washing His disciples’ feet to be a helpful testimony of His heartfelt, meek, and lowly love for our imitation, as, indeed, He had manifested that love toward His disciples all along the course of His public life, so our holy feast is a remembrance of His love. He constituted the ordinance of the supper in part to be an example to His disciples, so that they should love each other with the same love with which He loved them, and in part that from that period Christians should be called to show forth His love in partaking at one holy table.
II. The words we have read show us the true use of this incident—viz. that we should seek to purify each other as the Redeemer seeks to purify us. And in order that this may not appear too gigantic a task for any of us, toward the doing of which we can only faintly strive, we must not overlook the difference which Christ Himself here emphasises. He says, i.e., “He that is bathed needs henceforward only a partial cleansing.” Of the first, the complete cleansing, He speaks here no more. He presupposes it as already experienced by the disciples. But this second partial cleansing He commands and commissions us to practise toward each other. He brings the first to pass when He is received as the only begotten Son.… But here He requires His own people, as true servants and consecrated instruments, not to effect what He alone can effect certainly, but (in order to point others to Him) to bear witness for Him, and to represent Him to men in all His purity and love, which must tend to draw all hearts to Him.
III. Thus it is with the partial cleansing which those who are already sanctified still require that we have to do here.—Life ever brings elements of defilement with it to our individual lives. Even this partial cleansing also can be perfectly effected by divine power alone. As John has elsewhere said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful,” etc. But in this very particular we may minister to each other. Even before the need of cleansing appears, even whilst we are seeking to guard ourselves as far as possible from the assaults of temptation, and afterward when we have encountered temptation, our fellow-disciples should seek to strengthen us by a living example, by means of comforting admonition and earnest prayer. And yet more should they seek that through the word of God we may be edified, and should unite together in the acknowledgment and confession of sin. This is one of the positive ends of those actions of worship in which we are united together. This community of confession has a quickening influence on us all, and strengthens us in the assurance of our cleansing. And it is also exceedingly beautiful and precious when in the midst of our ordinary life we can be helpful to each other, in counsel and deed supporting each other in this effort after cleansing. And this will come about only in the measure in which we are closely related to each other—whether it be by firm bonds in an enduring fashion, or whether it be in those accidental reunions, which life so often brings us, with the experience of blessed communion of souls. This should bind Christians together. To this we should bind ourselves at the holy table of the Lord; we should minister spiritually to one another, that each may seek to do so in lowly love as he is able toward all who bear the name of Christ, as Christ has here shown us. And we should do this in small things as well as in great, so that we may in all things advance in that spiritual beauty and purity in which the Church of Christ should ever represent her Master and Lord.—Translated from, Fr. Schleiermacher.
John 13:15. The great example.—Jesus taught not only by word, but by His life and walk. Even although He had spoken not a word, His life would have been the most impressive of sermons. He was indeed the ideal and prototype of all perfection.
I. How can we describe this ideal?—It is impossible to do so fully. We can only partially describe certain features that we can catch. The complete image who can describe? If we look first at the example Jesus here gave His disciples, we see Christ as—
1. The highest example of ministering love.—He was among the disciples as “One that serveth,” etc.
2. Jesus was meek and lowly, and He was also free from all self-seeking, which is one of our sinful affections. His love was a communicating love. We through His poverty have become rich. He gave and gives all His best gifts to His people: He gave Himself.
3. It was a self-denying love.—He denied Himself all earthly comforts, etc. “Foxes have holes,” etc. His life was a constant self-forgetting, self-offering one from beginning to end. It was an example of the purest, most disinterested, devoted, and self-surrendering, the most active and all-embracing love.
4. Most conspicuous also was His love to the Father.—This was the spring of His love to men. Because of His love to the Father He bore witness to the truth—did the works of the Father while it was day, took on Him the form of a servant. “The fulness of the divine life was the breath of His soul”; therefore every thought was consecrated into prayer, every word to the revelation of God, every deed to the glorifying of His heavenly Father. Everything in His case had a relation to the highest and the heavenly. His life was an unbroken prayer, a glorifying of God.
5. He was free from all sin.—Every virtue was found in full perfection in Him. He “fulfilled all righteousness.” All the virtues were exemplified in Him—strength, gentleness, etc. In each He is the type of perfection. With men these virtues are difficult of acquisition—hard to attain to, easy to fall from. In His case they were the spontaneous fruit of His nature. He was not only the best of men; He is the alone good, pure, and holy One as God is. Because He is the image of the invisible God, He is the prototype of a perfected humanity. Every man is a sinner. But as every nay has its opposing yea, so Christ appears as the ideal example before us, and we thus may carry within us the image of a perfect virtue and moral perfection, the conception and possibility of perfect purity and disinterested goodness, undisturbed peace, and immutable truth.
6. But can He then be an example for all?—Yes. For what is virtue? What are all the virtues? The expression of the principle of love to God. He who loves God has reached the source of all virtue; for “love is the fulfilling of the law,” the bond of all perfection.
II. That Christ is our example is an important fact for our Christian life.—
1. It should prove a guide and direction to us, as to how we ought to live when bearing the name of Christ. He is the head of a new spiritual race; He is a second, a better Adam. The image of Christ is held up before us by the apostles in gospel and epistle as our Ideal. We must observe it, and carry it with us wherever we go, in our thought and activity discovering ever new glories in it, and dark spots in our own lives. And as unknown to ourselves His light shines on us, we are transformed into the same likeness. If a French philosopher confessed in reference to the devout Fénélon: “I dare not remain in the presence of this saintly man; if I were to do so I should be compelled to discard my infidelity: such purity and loveliness of character as he displays prove the truth of his religion, and that religion really comes from heaven,”—much more must we subscribe the words of another (Rousseau) concerning Christ: “If the death and life of Socrates are those of a sage, so are the life and death of Jesus those of a God.”
2. The example of Christ should be an inspiration.—It is pleasant to follow a high example. It is easier to do so than to have to discover the way for ourselves. With Christ’s example before us the way becomes more easy. No spur will be needed for duty. It will be done without thought of reward, etc. Is it asked, Is it possible to follow the example and obey the precepts of Christ and live as He did in the world? Truly He is always an unattainable ideal. But He is also “the author and finisher of our faith,” so that we may grow up into Him in spirit, whence flow the issues of the eternal life. We have not attained, etc.; but if we cannot run, we may be able to walk, etc. And His word will be, “Thou hast done what thou couldst.”
3. A true example saves us from all false, visionary, etc., examples, and from, deifying, worshipping, and serving the creature.—Men are either better or worse than their systems. Only in the case of Christ word and deed, doctrine and life, are in fullest accord. Thus He supersedes all merely human examples. What religion of earth has ever furnished such an example? What prophet can be named in comparison with Him?
It follows that He alone is worthy of the consecration of our time and strength. He alone is worthy that we should copy Him, and fix our regards on Him as much as possible—that we should call Him Master—that we should glorify Him in word and work our whole life long. We truly become Christians only when Christ is formed in us and lives and rules in us through His life with demonstration of the Spirit and of power.—Abridged from F. Arndt.
John 13:1. The time of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.—Although it is not necessary here to enter on a full survey of the vexed question that has arisen on the note of time in John 13:1, yet in order to gain a clear conception of the narrative in the succeeding chapters, the chief points in the controversy as to the day of our Lord’s crucifixion should be noted. The idea most widely entertained is that the three Synoptic Evangelists seem clearly to affirm that the Lord’s Supper was instituted at the passover feast proper, i.e. at the supper during which the paschal lamb was eaten, on the evening beginning the 15th Nisan. But St. John expressly says it was before the feast of the passover that the incidents here recorded took place; in John 13:29 “buying the things needed for the feast” is spoken of; whilst in John 18:28 the Jews would not enter Pilate’s palace, we are told, lest they should be defiled, and thus debarred from eating the passover. The whole question has been sub judice since the middle of the second century. It is still virtually undecided. A considerable number still maintain, and produce strong arguments for their position, that the Lord’s Supper was instituted on Thursday, the 14th Nisan, i.e. at the beginning of the new day (reckoning from sunset to sunset), which followed the close of Wednesday, the 13th, and that consequently the Crucifixion took place on the morning of the 14th Nisan, so that the ninth hour, when Jesus died on the cross, would be about three o’clock in the afternoon of the 14th, when the priests in the temple began, “between the two evenings” (Exodus 12:6), to slay the passover lambs of the worshippers, and to sprinkle the blood on the altar. Now it seems to be unquestionable that the narrative of St. John appears to favour this solution of the difficulty. But the question then is, Is this Evangelist at variance with the other three? This by no means follows. It cannot be asserted that there is any real contradiction; and various attempts have been made on the one side and the other to reconcile the apparent inconsistencies. Some link seems still to be wanting to complete the chain of evidence on one side or the other. And as within the present century links have been found to complete other chains (e.g. Zumpt’s solution of Luke 2:2), so we may believe this difficulty also will be resolved in process of time and discovery. But there is no doubt that at present the weight of argument seems to lie on the side of what may be called the Johannine explanation. (See, e.g., Caspari’s admirable treatment of the question in his Chronological, etc., Introduction to the Life of Christ.) It seems clear that our Lord’s resurrection took place on the first day of the week, a fact confirmed by this other fact that Pentecost fell also on the first day of the week (Leviticus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:9). It is by no means clear that the Synoptists intended to indicate that it was at the meal when the paschal lamb was eaten our Lord instituted the supper. There is no mention made in their narratives of the special observances of that meal. The lamb is not spoken of, nor the bitter herbs, the numerous cups of wine mingled with water, etc. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is regarded, even by those who think it was instituted on the 15th Nisan, as an appendix to the passover meal, and no part of that meal (1 Corinthians 11:25). When Matthew and the other Synoptists speak of the first day of unleavened bread, etc., they may, and in fact must, mean the 14th Nisan, the day on which all leaven was removed from the houses, and when preparation for the whole passover week was made. Then on the beginning of the evening of the 14th (i.e. after the close of the evening at the end of the 13th) the casting out of the leaven was begun. It may have begun even before that; and then the people went to draw fresh water for the making of the unleavened bread (Mark 14:13). The enemies of our Lord did not wish to take Him on the first day of the feast, which was a day of holy convocation (Matthew 26:5; Mark 14:2); and well might they desire to avoid such a contretemps; for all the proceedings before the high priest and Pilate would have been a direct violation of that most sacred day (sacred as the weekly Sabbath), the 15th Nisan. The “preparation” of the passover (Matthew 26:17) may reasonably be taken to mean preparation for the whole course of the feast, including the 14th Nisan, the day in which all leaven would be excluded from the houses. If, then, the meal at which the ordinance of the supper was instituted was not the passover meal, what was it? Was it an anticipation of the passover? Even though unprecedented, we might see a reason why our Lord might anticipate this feast. The feast was “a shadow of good things”; but now the shadow was to give place to the substance (Hebrews 10:9). It has been asserted also that our Lord observed the passover at the same time as a certain body of the Jewish people; or that He observed it at the proper date, whilst the bulk of the people did not. There is no actual proof for these conjectures, however. The view held by Neander is worth noting. “He foresaw that He would have to leave His disciples before the Jewish passover, and determined to give a peculiar meaning to His last meal with them, and to place it in a peculiar relation to the passover of the old covenant, the place of which was to be taken by the meal of the new covenant” (Neander, Life of Christ). Another supposition is thus given, which, if it were undoubtedly confirmed, would at once dissolve the difficulty. “The simple supposition,” says Dr. Reynolds, “that a custom prevailed among the Jews of spreading the allowable opportunity of the sacrifice of the paschal lamb over a larger portion of time, in consequence of the great crowd in Jerusalem at the time, would really cover every difficulty, if we add to it that our Lord, ‘desiring to eat the passover with His disciples before He suffered,’ had chosen to select such portions of the ritual, and such hour of the day, as best suited His dread foreknowledge of the immediate future.” And, we may add, could not the Son of man (Mark 2:26), in view of His becoming men’s true passover (1 Corinthians 5:7-8), make such change? Those who hold that the Synoptic narratives refer to the actual passover feast get over the difficulties in John’s Gospel in the following manner:—They consider, e.g., that John 13:1 is a simple introduction. Before the passover the Saviour’s love was specially manifested to His disciples. They explain the reference in John 13:29 as the preparation for the chagigah (peace-offering and festivals 2 Chronicles 30:22); and hold that John 18:28 refers to fear of defilement preventing the Jews from eating the chagigah; and that the “preparation of the passover” (John 19:14) means simply the preparation for the Sabbath, i.e. the Friday before a Sabbath, which had a special importance when it fell in the passover week. The difficulty throws no doubt on the authenticity or truthfulness of any of the gospel narratives, and it is indeed a very clear testimony to the independence of these documents. The solution turns perhaps on the ascertaining of some fact or facts regarding the mode of celebration of the passover at the time of our Lord’s sojourn on earth. Is it too much to expect that in these days of earnest research and wonderful discovery this long-vexed question may at length be settled?
John 13:1. Christ loving His own to the end.—To the end He loved His own, to the end of His earthly course. And what the disciples experienced from that point was a new history of His love. He loved them, bore them to their old age. When they came at last to the next world, His love again was there. This is the same Lord who is also ours. Great comfort for hearts that feel their need of love! Glorious balm for bruised souls, Jesus loves to the end! Even this may be listened to with cold heart. Thou hast enough of earthly love: what need of Jesus’ love? Or thou art enough for thyself: why speak of love at all? We may also say, Jesus loving to the end is matter of course: how else could He be Saviour? What would His love be to me, if it did not love to the end? Very good; if any one deems himself worthy of the love of Jesus, to him this is matter of course. And in the case of almost all men there is a time when the heart thinks itself worthy of love—the time of natural pride, of an unsubdued heart. But a time may also come to thee, when thou canst scarcely believe that Jesus will love thee, even thee, when thou wouldst fain believe and wouldst give much if thou couldst believe it and canst not. For it is indeed divinely natural, but for this very reason wondrous, that Jesus should love, love us, love to the end. God is the wonder of wonders. Jesus’ love is matter of faith, for Jesus is invisible, and His working also is often hidden. What thou seest and sufferest often looks unlike love. But again come times when one can feel, taste love, and times when the heart by a power from above is sure and glad of this: Jesus loves, and He loves even me. Every one among us, if he is only in earnest, may have such experiences. Therefore should every one among us, those of ripe age especially, be able to say, I know that He loves, how much He loves, and I know in what the certainty rests, that He is an exhaustless fount of love. Nor can our inner life be bright or one of joyous progress until we have the certainty that Jesus loves us.—Dr. W. F. Gess, in “The Thinker,” October 1893.
John 13:4-5. The power of self-denying love.—At present the Lord Jesus gives above all this command to His disciples: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). To say that this is not to be taken literally is to say too little. The precept of feet-washing is one of the cases to which Paul’s saying applies: “The letter killeth, the spirit makes alive”—at least in one of its aspects. A man might fulfil it literally and yet remain spiritually dead; pay, confirm himself in death by the practice. But what is the spirit of Jesus’ saying? Has none of us to do with contrary people, when it requires self-denial to use friendly, gentle language to them, or to give them practical help, and that more than once? Among thy acquaintance are there weak-minded people who need thy love? In this case you will easily understand what the words mean, “Wash one another’s feet.” In such circumstances it is often difficult to show kindly, loving patience, and that for years, even to near kindred, to brothers and sisters. Even parents, when age comes with its infirmities and whims, become a trouble to children. Then it behoves to remember the precept of feet-washing. And what as to us parents with our children? In regard to the amiable and gifted, who are our joy and glory, a parent’s heart naturally rejoices in diligence and truthfulness; then the greatest sacrifice is no sacrifice. But the feeble and troublesome, whom one cannot speak of? Even here natural love sometimes overcomes every obstacle. Yet love often makes so blind that parents cannot see even the defects of children. Christians should not be blind, even toward children. But when children become an irksome tax upon them, what should they do? Perhaps thou hast too a bad, misguided child. My friends, Christians are not then to be like old Eli, not to shut their eyes and deceive themselves, not to be faint-hearted and do nothing. Then is the time to be earnest, to show anger—anger like God’s—zeal against sin, and therefore against the sinner who nurses sin in himself, and with it death, the unpitying zeal which springs from true love, from real mercy. But how feel love toward a bad child? How soothe trouble of heart for a child’s ingratitude? Any one among us who knows such parental grief will understand what the Lord means by the feet-washing: exercise love, be bold to love, when loving grows irksome.—Dr. W. F. Gess, in “The Thinker.”
John 13:9-10. The need of continual spiritual cleansing.—“If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in Me.” How terrified Peter is when he hears this! Then he tacks about and cries, “Lord, not my feet alone, but my hands and my head” (John 13:9). It was a fine trait in him that his greatest pain was to hear the Lord say, “Else thou hast no part in Me.” When we see that a certain thing would hinder fellowship with the Lord, or others tell us so, are we as resolved to make sure of having part with Jesus? Do we then say, “Lord, not my feet alone, but my hands and my head”? This was Peter’s honest heart, in virtue of which he was able afterward to become so perfect a disciple of the Saviour. But now he has to be checked. Jesus says to him, “He that has bathed needs not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit” (John 13:10). This third saying of our Lord also is of abiding significance. It distinguishes bathing from feet-washing. The whole man is made clean by bathing; but the feet are the first to be soiled again, and so ever need cleansing. What does the Lord mean by having bathed? It is what Holy Scripture means by the new birth. Washing the feet is daily forgiveness and sanctifying. Jesus bears witness to His disciples, “Ye are clean” (John 15:3). This they become through His word and intercourse with Him; their heart was turned away from the world, from the service of vanity, and belonged in reality to the Lord. And, accordingly, when He departed, the Spirit came from on high and dwelt in the centre of their heart. This is the new birth which we all need. “Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Our very mind and heart must be transformed. This may possibly be done gradually by God, from the time of baptism, so that the Spirit gains power in us imperceptibly, as Tersteegen says:
“As flowers their opening leaves display,
And glad drink in the solar fire.”
But if it has not taken place after baptism, it must take place now. It is scarcely credible, before one has experienced it, how much our heart leans on itself, how closely our own nature clings to us. Most men do not know it. We only perceive it when we begin to try to go out of ourselves. But we must go out of ourselves. Instead of our own ideas, the love and the glory of God must become our end, a new life of God’s Spirit must begin in us. Such a transformation of nature took place in the disciples; they became pure. Now, says Jesus, ye need still to wash the feet. Too many new stains and faults occur. The old man still works; we fall short of God’s will; we go astray in our own ways. But do not treat it lightly, do not think, “My heart is all right, I am bathed; my outward circumstances and natural temperament still make me stumble now and then, but in my heart I am the Lord’s disciple; no one is perfect!” This is the way to forget the daily washing. We know that this and that is not right, but we would fain forget it; we feel how deep-rooted inclination is, and do not struggle against it. But faults of the soul are not like faults in wood and stone, or even some bodily defects, which are fixed; but it is here as with those physical ailments which must either be got rid of or they consume the whole body. Either—or. There is no true peace of heart, unless one is always anew coming to an understanding with Jesus. What takes place between us and Him we are always to discuss with Him and come to a settlement about with Him. We may go on with a heart which has but a half-peace, in which is a certain unrest. This is not the true Christian state. But as soon as we have failed in anything (and the failure is always toward God), in doing or leaving undone, we should humbly confess it to Him, seek His forgiveness, and begin afresh. By thus ever seeking His forgiveness, and not resting until we have it, the heart is set free, enjoys perfect peace, and daily receives new strength to go forward in the narrow way.—Idem.
John 13:14. Mutual aid in the spiritual life.—To wash one another’s feet is, in the deeper meaning of the thing, to help one another out of the evil that is in the world, to aid, one another in the keeping of a pure conscience and of a wholesome and holy life. This assuredly must be our first concern as to those whom God has given us. Our love will show itself by counting nothing too lowly, and nothing too hard, by which we may strengthen against sin—lead into the way of peace, or at least witness for the eternally right and good. For example, supposing one has wronged you, really wronged you, injured you at the innermost place of your heart, spoken or done what you feel was not only an unkindness and a personal pain, but an untruth between him and God: to carry out the idea symbolised by Christ, you must not merely forgive that one, you must try to get him out of that untruth which is between him and God, to have the soul cleansed from the evil that it has contracted. And a man is great, Christlike, in the measure in which he can lay aside merely personal considerations, and in tender yet faithful love deal with, that he may win, his brother. Did not Jesus wash the feet of Judas, into whom Satan had entered? Did He not try, even to the last moment, to save him from his lie? Brainerd, in his younger days, carried away by an indiscreet zeal, provoked the censure of his seniors at college, and was severely, too severely, punished. In later years he saw his error. He had been unkindly treated; but he could say, “I would willingly humble myself before those whom my error led into sin, and ask their forgiveness, although they should still refuse to own that in which they wronged me.” Was not that Christlike indeed? Is it not truly divine to come down from a vantage-ground and be nowhere, that God’s love may be manifested, and men may indeed know it in its separation from evil?—Dr. Marshall Lang.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 13:18. I speak not of you all.—Christ knew the heart of Judas; and He still gave him space for repentance (see John 6:71). I know whom, etc.—See John 15:16. But that the Scripture, etc.—The choice here refers to the choice of the twelve disciples as His apostles. In the present sinful state of the world this Scripture will continue to be fulfilled; and the Son of man, who “experienced every human pain,” did not escape the pang caused by the treachery of a friend (Matthew 26:50), as His typical representative in the theocracy did not (Psalms 41:9). “There is an ellipsis after ‘but,’ which is most simply filled up by some such phrase as ‘all this was done’ that the Scripture, etc.” (Watkins).
John 13:19. I tell you from henceforth, etc.—The disciples must be shown that this happened in consonance with the prevision of His Father and of Himself. Thus all those events about to happen, the betrayal among others, which seemed at first to be the frustration of their hopes, would only prove more conclusively, when seen from the point of view of the Resurrection and Pentecost, that Jesus was what He claimed to be, the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel.
John 13:20. Verily, verily, etc.—See Matthew 10:40. But it is interesting to notice how at the moment when He was being betrayed into the hand of sinners, to drink the cup of humiliation to the dregs, He identifies Himself with the Father.
John 13:21. Troubled in spirit.—See John 11:33; John 12:27. “The regimen τῷ πνεύματι, in spirit, shows that this trouble had its dwelling in a higher region than that of even the noblest natural sensibility. Here, as at John 11:33-38, it was a shock of a religious nature, a kind of horror felt by His pure heart at the sight of this Satanic crime, and at the approach of its invisible author” (Godet).
John 13:23. Leaning on Jesus’ bosom, etc.—The guest reclined on the left arm, leaving the right free; the back of the head of the guest on the right reached the bosom, and perhaps lay in the fold of the robe of the guest on his left. This was John, the writer of the Gospel. Peter’s position is not clear: some think he reclined to the left of the Saviour, others that Judas occupied this position. Peter must clearly have been farther off, perhaps to the right of John.
John 13:25. Lying on Jesus’ bosom, etc.—Rather perhaps leaning back, as he would naturally do in speaking to Jesus.
John 13:26. He it is to whom I shall give a sop, etc.—I.e. a morsel, a piece of bread broken off, and dipped in a dish common to all, or to several, of the guests. The custom is still common in the East, especially among the Bedawin tribes. But the writer has met with it in a Syrian city.
John 13:27. And after the sop, etc.—It was the moment of decision. Instead of turning to Christ in penitence Judas opened every avenue for the entrance of the evil one. That thou doest, etc.—There was no longer place among the apostles of Christ for one who had given himself over to become an emissary of the spirit of evil.
John 13:29. Against the feast.—This seems to indicate that the meal in progress, or just ended, was not the passover supper. It was the Mazzoth meal, and was partaken of on the evening at the beginning of the 14th Nisan. Poor.—John 12:5; Galatians 2:10.
John 13:30. It was night.—From the commemorative and sacramental rite that ushered in a new and blessed era of life and light for men, Judas, dark in soul, went forth into the night, and into a deeper darkness still.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 13:18-30
The traitor discovered.—The incidents recorded here took place during the progress of the Lord’s Supper at its first institution. Although St. John does not give a narrative of the institution of the ordinance like the other Evangelists (just as he does not tell of the institution of baptism, although he implies it [see pp. 98, 99]), because it was well known in the Churches, and in writing his Gospel he had a special object in view, yet he undoubtedly implies it. Jesus had given the disciples a final token of His ministering love in acting the part of servant and washing their feet. He was with them around the supper table, had indeed begun the institution of the ordinance (which was to be done in remembrance of Him, and thus to show forth His death until His coming again), when He spoke these solemn words: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me.” And when the amazed and doubting disciples were debating among themselves as to who should do this awful deed, Jesus, by a sign given at the request of Peter and John, signalised Judas Iscariot as the traitor.
I. The divine omniscience of Jesus.—
1. “He knew what was in man” (John 2:25), and He had long known that among His disciples lurked this dark and crafty spirit (John 6:64), suffered for some inscrutable reason to mingle in the ranks of His followers.
2. Christ had borne long and patiently with Judas, with his grasping covetousness, his petty peculations (John 12:6), his dark plots, giving him space for repentance. He had been privileged to see Christ’s mighty works, he had listened to His words of power, even at this moment had an extraordinary proof of Christ’s self-sacrificing love been shown to him as to the other disciples, and a partial participation in the holy feast, which the Lord was instituting, had been accorded to him. Would he, could he, remain untouched, unmoved by this wondrous love?
3. In vain. As David, type of the Messiah, was betrayed by false Ahithophel, so Judas, who had eaten with Christ, not alone during the three years’ ministry, of spiritual as well as temporal food, but had even now eaten of the “broken” bread, was by a base act to betray his Lord. Now, for the disciples’ sake, the mask must be torn off, and the traitor must appear. Why? Jesus had said to the disciples, “Ye are clean, but not all”; and He must reassure them by casting out this “leaven of wickedness” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Judas must not be permitted to do his awful deed in secret, and remain as spy and thief among the little band when Jesus had gone. Thus, in order to cheer their hearts with the knowledge that they were His chosen (John 13:18), to strengthen their faith in His divine wisdom and prescience, and their confidence as His ambassadors, He took steps to unveil His betrayer (John 13:21-22). The disciples were not to be left to imagine that because one of their number had proved untrue the grand office formerly conferred on them and the work entrusted to them were to be withdrawn (Matthew 10:7-20).
4. Therefore, in view of the impenitence and hardness of this dark soul, the revelation of his treachery must be made, though it brought horror to and troubled even Christ’s spirit. The very proximity of Judas, hardened, resolved in his sin, produced that antagonism in the heart of Jesus which arises between holiness and Satanic wickedness—that conflict which arises between light and darkness.
5. And whether we consider or not that the thought of what the act of Judas would bring in its train—those terrible sufferings from which, as the incarnate Son, Jesus shrank—might tend to trouble the Saviour, there was at all events the thought of the traitor’s doom to do so. To see a soul that has been privileged to dwell for a time on the heights of spiritual communion plunging ever more deeply downward into the pit of perdition is a sight to make men and angels weep. And it can be readily understood how it would trouble Him, who came to save, to have to speak those words that proclaimed the traitor’s presence among the disciples.
II. The revelation of the traitor.—
1. Not only was the Saviour troubled, so too were His disciples. They doubted of whom He spake, and one by one in sorrowful tones asked Jesus, “Lord, is it I?” (Mark 14:19).
2. They doubted and were sorrowful, because they knew, as all true men know, the weakness of their own hearts. Then it was a terrible thought that among them there was one, perhaps one whom they trusted and looked up to, who was a skulking traitor; and the shame of it also brought sorrow into their hearts.
3. Amid this doubting, sorrowful throng sat the cause of all this trouble—cold, watchful, calculating apparently: ready to brazen the matter out until the end, and thinking, perhaps, that although the Lord saw through him the disciples might not, and that he might therefore retain his treasurership and gain his thirty pieces of silver as well.
4. But that could not be. For the sake of the disciples he must depart, and also that the trouble might pass from the spirit of the Master, so that His closing counsels to His followers might not be checked in their flow by the dark presence of Jude 1:5. The revelation was made quietly, however, and in such an unobtrusive manner that the most part of the disciples perhaps did not know until the event (Luke 22:48). The guests were reclining in the Eastern fashion of the time at the table. The writer of this Gospel reclined next to Jesus, with his left arm on “the bosom of Jesus’ robe.” To that disciple Peter signalled that he should inquire who it was of whom Jesus spake. And to John Jesus whispered that it was he to whom He should give a morsel of bread dipped in the dish, which would likely contain a sauce composed of fruit of various kinds. In the East it is a mark of special attention on the part of a host to do this.
6. It was the last appeal to Judas, a special act of kindness, a mute entreaty that he would permit the final catastrophe to come about in some other way. But the appeal was vain. “Master, Rabbi, is it I?” said Judas. No word of anger escaped the lips of Jesus. His words, “Thou hast said,” tremble with the feelings of trouble and sorrow.
7. And after the sop the final, irrevocable step was taken. Jesus did not upbraid, did not threaten, did not call down, as the traitor perhaps feared, the divine wrath. “Therefore Judas would carry out the business. ‘Satan entered into him.’ ” He gave himself wholly over to the evil influence. He had chosen the evil, and must abide in his choice. He is therefore dismissed for his awful work by the Master. Judas has resolved; then let him carry out his resolve, quickly if he would, for Christ’s time, His “hour,” is at hand.
III. A benighted soul.—
1. There is something terribly significant in the remark of the Evangelist, “He then having … and it was night” (John 13:30), compared with our Lord’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Woe unto that man,” etc. (Matthew 26:24), and those of Peter, “This ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell,” etc. (Acts 1:25). “It was night—night around him, night before him, night behind him, night within him, night above him, night over all; the hour of darkness had come, and for him all stars of grace divine had set” (Arndt).
2. Various attempts have been made to determine the motive of Judas’ action, and even to rehabilitate his character. The most widely entertained idea of his deeper motive is, that he thought by his action to force our Lord to declare Himself King and Messiah, and that he had no fear of evil consequences, knowing as he did the power of Jesus. Could He not call the legions of heaven to His defence?
3. There may be much truth in this suggestion. It is on a line with the Satanic argument, that it is permissible to do evil that good may come. It is also on a line with the avarice of Judas—if Christ became king, it would mean gold, gold, gold—and with that terrible remorse he afterward displayed in the casting away of his dearly acquired thirty pieces of silver, and his heart-rending cry, “I have sinned in that I betrayed,” etc. (Matthew 27:4).
4. As it is not for men to attempt to fix exactly the traitor’s doom, neither is it the part of any to seek to minimise the crime of Judas, or to endeavour to declare his late remorse true repentance. The way to the suicide’s grave does not run through the hopeful valley of genuine contrition (2 Corinthians 7:9-10), but most frequently through the dark and barren ravine of hopeless remorse.
5. None of the disciples but he who narrates the scene most fully, and perhaps Peter, knew the purpose for which Judas went forth. Some thought he had gone to make purchases for the feast; others, who imagined that there was time enough for that in the morning, were of opinion that he had been ordered to give alms to the poor. But one thing is certain—he took the bag with him. Avarice was his bane: he had gained his world, and lost——? He went out, and sorrow and trouble for the time departed with him. Then the heavenly light shone forth, and springs of divine comfort and grace were then opened which still flow on with blessing for all mankind.
John 13:22; John 13:25. Self-examination.—The sin of Judas is regarded as something especially heinous. But in this respect it is like every sin against the Holy Ghost. And there can be no doubt that the true way in which to regard it is to do as the disciples did, and ask, “Lord, is it I?” The disciples had learned their own weakness. They did not say, as Hazael to the prophet, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” They remembered that Hazael did that very thing which he so indignantly disclaimed any intention of doing. We must imitate the disciples.
I. We must remember the weakness of human nature.—
1. Even the impulsive and self-confident Peter appears for the moment to have remembered this, and become self-distrustful. He, too, was among those who doubted and were inwardly acting on the maxim, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. Do not say, None now can do as Judas did. Let it be remembered that those who strike at and betray the disciple of Christ, in the disciple strike at and betray the Master.
3. That sin which seems to have been a root-sin of Judas’ character—avarice, “the love of money, which is a root of all evil,” or an intense love of pleasure, which is equally bad—leads to crimes dark and terrible. A man, e.g., is in a position of trust: in his integrity thousands place their confidence; into his hands are confided the interests of widows and orphans; but after squandering their money in riotous living, sinking it in schemes which are gigantic swindles, whilst all the time wearing a pretence of honesty, perhaps even of piety, he at last basely betrays them, and makes off with the bag—the treasury—or what is left of it. Is not his crime a Judas-crime? Given circumstances, opportunity, temptations, would not many, unless sustained by grace, readily fall into similar crimes? Is it not the part of wisdom to act like the disciples, and each ask, “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19).
II. This inquiry, self-examination, should be made frequently and earnestly.—
1. We are loud in our indignation at the recital of crimes committed, especially when they touch ourselves. And it is right to be indignant, to be at war, with unrighteousness.
2. Yet let men beware lest when condemning others they forget the dreadful possibility seen in Judas. He was a disciple of Christ, had heard Christ’s words, had been entrusted with office and apostleship with the other eleven, went out with them doubtless when they were sent to preach, etc. (Matthew 10:1 et seq.); yet from all this “Judas by transgression fell.”
3. Therefore this should teach professed followers of Christ the duty of watchfulness and prayer, of self-examination, not alone at communion seasons, or special periods of feast or fast, but at all times (Ephesians 6:18).
III. We must take our case to the Lord.—
1. This is what the disciples did—it is what Peter and John did specially—and the doubting of one of them at least was stilled. The Lord will not withhold the truth from us. And then we have His word ever as the mirror by which the features of our Christian character may be tested.
2. It was this Judas, like the Jews, contemned. Of him Christ also might ask, “Who hath believed our report?” “Contempt of the divine word,” said Luther, “is the extremest and most terrible penalty in the world; for on the contemning of God’s word all great and terrible punishment will certainly follow.… If I desired to curse any one and wish him much evil, I should wish that he would contemn God’s word. For upon this would follow inward and outward misfortune.… What will come after that we shall readily see and know.” And that is every evil way and work.
3. Therefore it is well for us to try ourselves by His word (Hebrews 4:12), and to come before Him “whose eyes are as a flame of fire,” who knows us even afar off, who will reveal us to ourselves, who will lead us to those fountains of cleansing and healing which He hath opened for all, and who will help us to overcome the evil and be His faithful disciples.
John 13:21-30. Four opinions have been held as to the exact time at which this incideat occurred.—
1. That the announcement of the betrayer and his departure were before both the breaking and giving of the bread and the cup, as the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark suggest (Matthew 26:21-26; Mark 14:18-22).
2. That they were after the breaking and giving of the bread and the cup, as the narrative of St. Luke implies.
3. That the more general intimations of the traitor were made at an early stage of the meal. The meal then proceeded; after the bread and the cup there was the sign which Judas understood, and in consequence of which he left the supper party.
4. That the more general intimations preceded the breaking of the bread, of which Judas partook. The more special and private preceded the drinking of the cup when supper was ended, so that of the cup Judas did not partake. It appears to me that the last-mentioned opinion is untenable. The account of St. John will not allow us to suppose such a dividing of the words of Christ. The third of the views is possible. Many, indeed, insert the consecration of the bread and wine between the twenty-second and twenty-third verses of the chapter in the Fourth Gospel—that is, after Jesus had testified, and before He had given the sop. But I must regard this order as intrinsically improbable. Surely when the shadow was resting on the soul, when, so to say, the Lord was in the middle of His final dealing with Judas, this was not the moment at which we can suppose the institution of a new mode of communion and bond of love. Between the first and the second of the opinions referred to, on the whole—not denying that there are probabilities on the other side also—I incline to the first. There is not much force in the argument founded on the charge when the cup was passed, “Drink ye all of it”—an expression, it is urged, which “leads us to suppose that the same persons, the twelve, were present.” Not necessarily so; the all in the charge might have been equivalent to the “all ye shall be offended,” which included only the eleven. And weighing the record of St. Luke with those of the other two Synoptists and of St. John, there is this to be said: St. Luke is content with a vague and general summing up of the Lord’s words about the traitor; the other Synoptists are more definite and particular; whilst St. John gives at considerable length the speech of Jesus and the heart-searching of the apostles. I accept the guidance of the more circumstantial histories. Two are explicit as to time. In the Fourth Gospel we are reminded that the supper was proceeding when Judas was declared, the stage of dipping the morsels of flesh in the sauce having not yet passed. One such morsel thus dipped was the token, immediately followed by departure. But the cup was not blessed until a later stage, until the supper was ended. If this view be correct, we must suppose that the departure of the traitor took place after Matthew 26:25, and that John 13:26, “as they were eating Jesus took bread and blessed it,” refers to a resumption of the supper after the interruption caused by his leaving the apartment.—Dr. Marshall Lang.
John 13:18 Judas an example of the slighting of opportunity.—The heathen world is ignorant of a Judas, and could not produce such a character. Such a monster matures only in the radiant sphere of Christianity. It was Judas’ misfortune that he was born under the most propitious star. He entered into too close contact with the Saviour not to become either entirely His or wholly Satan’s. There was a time when, with reference to Judas, “the candle of God shone upon his head, and when the secret of God was upon his tabernacle.” Once he was not wanting in susceptibility for impressions of the most devotional kind, and his soul was capable of every noble elevation of feeling. The appearing of the “fairest of the children of men” in the glory of His marvellous deeds attracted him, though less excited by Him in His character of Saviour and the Friend of sinners. He swore fealty to the banner of Jesus with youthful enthusiasm, though with an unbroken will; and the Searcher of hearts, perceiving the promising talents of the young man, who was really zealous for the cause of God in a certain degree, confidingly admitted him into the circle of His nearest and most intimate disciples. This favour would never have been granted to Judas if he had attached himself to the Saviour simply from interested motives. At the moment when he offered his services to the latter he was no hypocrite, at least not consciously so. And when he afterwards prayed, studied the word of God, and even preached it with the other disciples, it was doubtless done for a time with a degree of inward truthfulness; it was only in the sequel that he resorted to intentional deception and dissimulation. The Lord appointed him to the office of receiver and almoner in His little circle, and assuredly did so for no other reason than that He perceived he was fittest for that vocation. Many have profanely supposed that the Lord committed the purse to him in order to tempt him, but such a thought is wholly to be rejected. On the contrary, that circumstance affords us an additional confirmation of the fact that Judas, at the commencement of his discipleship, possessed the full confidence of His Master, although it could not have been hidden from the latter that the disciple was still deficient in a thorough knowledge of himself, and especially in contrition of heart, to which a participation in salvation is inseparably attached. Amidst the superabundance of pious sentiments an evil root remained within, which was the love of the world, and especially of its gold and empty honour. And, in fact, Judas deceived himself when he ascribed his admission amongst the disciples of Jesus to much deeper and holier motives than the longing for the realisation of those earthly and enchanting ideas which his lively imagination depicted to him as connected with that kingdom which the Lord had appeared to establish, as, on attaching himself to the cause of the great Nazarene, he fully supposed he was following the attraction of a higher and nobler excitement; so his fellow-disciples believed it no lees of him. The latent wound did not escape the Saviour’s eye; but the mischief was not incurable, and Christ had appeared in order that, as the divine Physician, He might heal the sick and bind up the wounded.—F. W. Krummacher, “Suffering Saviour” (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh).
John 13:22. Sorrow for the backsliding leading to self-examination.—With great frankness Peter speaks of the disgrace which Judas had brought on himself and on them all. With holy earnestness he reminds them of the divine judgment which had been passed on the unhappy one, and shows how even this sorrowful history, which had brought deep shame to Christ’s disciples, must in the end minister to the glory of the holy and true God. For His justice and truth are thereby manifested, and the fearful end of the traitor, already announced by the mouth of David in the Psalms, is here remarkably and literally fulfilled. Thus Judas stands as a warning example for all time of the deceitfulness of sin and the righteous judgment of God. So terribly can a faithless spirit plunge from the height of a blessed calling, scatter all its gifts and powers, and come to ruin. Thus sorrowfully have many trifled with their high destiny in this world and the next so that others have taken their crowns. Can the terrible reward of sin be more clearly seen than in the case of Judas? He passed as Jesus’ disciple, and became His betrayer. He should have held the office of a bishop, and he inherited the Field of Blood. He should have preached the risen Christ, and he died a suicide. He should have received the Holy Ghost, and he went to perdition. “The wages of sin,” etc. And yet with all the earnestness and decision with which Peter spoke of Judas’ sin and end, the tone of tender forbearance and gentle sorrow for this unhappy brother is discernible. There are none of those harsh judgments which often find place among ourselves in such circumstances. Peter permits God to judge. There is nothing here of that proud self-exemption with which Christians sometimes look down on an unhappy self-murderer. “I thank God I am not like this man.” But a holy sadness for the lost brother breathes through the apostle’s words. Gently does he speak of his treachery: “He was guide to them that took Jesus.” Gently is his fate spoken of: “He is gone to his own place,” to that place which the Lord, the Searcher of hearts, will allot him beyond, according to his righteousness. So, my brethren, let us think of those and speak of those who go hence over dark ways, with brotherly love, holy sympathy, and pious humility, and in every such case remember the word of Nathan to David: “Thou art the man!” Also in thee there is something of this depravity, and it is to the praise of God’s grace that thou hast kept thyself from falling into the abyss—Translated from Karl Gerok on Acts 2:0.
John 13:25. Judas a warning example.—O Judas, Judas! happy would it have been wert thou the only one of thy kind! But the name of thy brethren, even in the present day, is “Legion.” They were not, indeed, at any time thy like-minded apostles; but, like thee, they once inhaled the pure air of the gospel, and were shone upon, like thee, by the rays of the eternal Morning Star. They were baptised like thee; they grew up, nourished by the views of divine truth; and on the day of their confirmation devoted themselves, more or less sincerely, in the most solemn manner, to the Lord and His cause. But, unfaithful to their sacred vows, they revolted with the inmost tendency of their hearts to the god of this world; and instead of the kingdom of divine light and peace, the idea of another presented itself to their minds, in which the flesh should have its unrestrained and complete gratification. This object they pursued; but the Holy One upon the throne of David, in the power of religion, interposed in the way to its attainment. He requires the crucifixion of the flesh with its affections and lusts, unconditional submission to the divine commands, and unceasing endeavours after godliness. He protects property, sanctifies the marriage state, introduces order into families, condemns revolt, perjury, deceit, uncleanness, intemperance, and every offence against the moral government of the world, as the supporter and advocate of which He appears. And they who would gladly elevate their lusts to be the world’ law, feel more or less in their consciences the weight of His requirements as the sting of their condemnation, and, without confessing it, are inwardly constrained, even against themselves, to justify the warnings and teachings of Christ’s religion as absolute and irrefutable truth. But this fills them with bitterness, and enkindles in them the infernal spark of enmity against the Gospel, and against the Lord as its author. Thus they become enemies of God, and join in Satan’s colossal attempt to war against the power and majesty of God in the Christian religion, and to bury the whole world of religious and moral sentiments in the gigantic grave of an atheistic materialism, which denies the existence of a future state. They prepare for Jesus the cross of an enthusiast; for His Gospel the sarcophagus of what they profanely call antiquated ideas; for His whole Church the stairs of Pilate, on which, in their view, it descends from the scene of reality into a kingdom of shadows; and thus renew the treachery of Judas to his Lord for the wretched reward of an expected state of things, in which, in a short time, every consciousness of a superior fate for mankind would perish by the poisonous nutriment of a base and transitory lust.—F. W. Krummacher.
John 13:25. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.—Our first lesson will be found in the fact that when our Lord said to His disciples, “One of you shall betray Me,” every one of them began to say, “Is it I?” Instead of being shocked even to indignation, each of the disciples put it to himself as a possibility: “It may be I, Lord; is it I?” This is the right spirit in which to hold all our privileges. We should regard it as a possibility that the strongest may fail, and even the oldest may betray his trust. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Do you suppose that there was but one betrayal of the Lord once for all, and that the infamous crime can never be repeated? “I tell you, nay!” There are predictions yet to be realised: “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” “Lord, is it I?” It shall surely be more tolerable for Judas Iscariot in the day of judgment than for that man! Living in the light of Gospel day, professing to have received the Holy Ghost, ordained as a minister of the cross, holding office in the Christian Church, is it impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away to renew them again unto repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame? “Lord, is it I?” “In the last days perilous times shall come; men shall be traitors.” “Lord, is it I?” Governing our life by this self-misgiving spirit, not thinking all men sinful but ourselves, we shall be saved from the boastfulness which is practical blasphemy, and our energy shall be kept from fanaticism by the chastening influence of self-doubt.—Dr. Joseph Parker.
John 13:30. The sad mystery of the son of perdition.—Imagination reverts to the period of childhood; think of him as the fair boy, whose presence gladdens the house of Simon of Kerioth. He has received the name Judas, “the confessor,” or “the praise of God.” Who could have anticipated, watching the romp of the bright-eyed child, that over him, long years afterwards, the incarnate Truth would say, “Better that he had never been born”? Oh, sad mystery and pain of love! How often repeated! How many the parents doomed to sob over the misery of manhood or womanhood! “Would God our child had never been born, or that we had laid him long since in the narrow grave!”—Dr. Marshall Lang.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 13:31. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus saith, etc.—“Ye are not all clean,” Jesus had said; but now the traitor had gone, and a higher spiritual teaching was given to the eleven. Now the hour of His crowning glory as the Son of man, the glory of uttermost humiliation for the sake of man, has come; and in that the Father’s love and mercy are also displayed.
John 13:32. If God be glorified in Him.—Omitted in א, B, C, D, etc.
John 13:33. Little children.—τεκνία, a word peculiar to John’s writings. It “emphasises the idea of kinsmanship; and the diminutive conveys an expression at once of deep affection and also of solicitude for those who are yet immature” (Westcott).
John 13:34-35. A new commandment, etc.—The disciples could not follow the Saviour then; but they would do so afterward, during their earthly service, on the ways of this new commandment of self-sacrificing love in imitation of Him. In the Spirit of love would be their eternal union with the Father in Christ (John 17:23).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 13:31-35
The glorified Son of man and the new commandment.—When Judas had departed from the upper chamber, and his dark presence, with something of a depressing or numbing influence, was no longer felt, then the Saviour prepared His true disciples, faithful though weak and imperfect, for what lay before them, which would prove to them so full of horror, so subversive of hope. He sought to strengthen them to meet the events about to follow, showing that all had been foreseen and provided for. “Now I tell you before it come, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He” (John 13:19).
I. The glorified Son of man must depart.—
1. After the traitor had gone forth determined on his awful purpose, events would move with startling rapidity. Now the glorification of Jesus, as the Son of man, is viewed as begun.
2. For what was that glory? The very depth of His voluntary humiliation was being reached. How could there be glory in that? But that was indeed the very period of His greatest glory as Emmanuel. For “with His stripes we are healed.” His sufferings and death were man’s redemption. In all, His love to man was unmistakably manifested—even mercy and love to His enemies. His obedience as the divine Son was shown before all worlds. His unswerving trust in the love of the Father, and His deep, unshaken peace shone forth in those hours of trial and pain with transcendent glory. And this glory of self-sacrificing love had just been seen shining conspicuously in that humility with which He had washed even the feet of Judas, and in seeing the traitor depart unhindered on his awful errand.
3. In all this God was glorified in Jesus. The glory of the divine character is conspicuous in this wonderful exhibition of redeeming love, in which a way was shown by which “He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). It was God who “so loved the world,” etc. (John 3:16). His love is wonderful; His righteousness and truth are manifest to all in this amazing work of redemption. “Behold what manner of love,” etc. (1 John 3:1). Thus in the Son’s carrying out of the divine plan, in the exercise of “a love which many waters could not quench,” the Son and Father were together glorified: “grace and truth” were made manifest, and the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God conspicuously declared (Romans 11:35).
4. “And if God be glorified in Him, God shall also,” etc. Not only does Christ’s redeeming work redound to the glory of the Father, but the Father also would glorify Christ, in raising Him from the dead, and setting Him on His throne in the heavens, in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost in accordance with Christ’s promise, and in putting “all things under His feet.” Christ must go, and it is true must go by a via dolorosa whither the disciples then could not follow Him—a way of sorrow and suffering, which is yet the way of abounding glory.
II. The disciples must remain.—
1. The hour was approaching when the little flock must be scattered, though only for a season. But they must needs be prepared. They had dreamed, and were still dreaming, some of them, of material thrones and kingdoms. The rude awakening must be anticipated.
2. In Christ’s absence they would seek Him. Ah! how earnestly, as we see by their timid gathering together (John 20:19); by the return homeward of at least two sad at heart and bankrupt in hope (Luke 24:14; Luke 24:17); and by the eager rush to the sepulchre on the resurrection morning.
3. “Whither I go ye cannot come,” etc. (John 13:33). They could not, must not, follow Him then by the way of sorrow to glory; for the work’s sake they must remain. As He said to the Jews: “Ye shall seek Me,” etc. But He did not say what He further said to the Jews: “Ye shall not find Me.” For not only is it ever blessedly true that those who truly seek shall surely find Him; ere long they would in reality see Him again (John 14:19; John 16:16), not only in His glorified resurrection body, and in the fulfilment of His promise at Pentecost, but when they should be called into His presence, and when He appeared in His glory. At the longest, measured in the æons of eternity, this shall be “but a little while.” “I go, but ye shall remain to carry out and complete My work, to show forth My truth, to walk in the light of My example as obedient children of the heavenly Father, with the hope of blessed reunion in the Father’s house.” To unite and quicken them for their work—
III. Jesus gave a uniting and inspiring principle of life and action to the disciples in the new commandment, in the observance of which they might follow Him.
1. The path He had at that time to tread He must truly tread alone (Isaiah 63:3). This way of glory should yet be trodden by the disciples; but it would be on the path of obedience to this new commandment.
2. Christ was to be withdrawn in visible presence; but He would still be with them in spirit, and they would be united to Him, their living Head, by the very closest bonds, through the spirit of mutual love. “That love which you see in Me to youward, and which you bear to Me, let it be expanded toward one another, so that it may become a bond of union and communion, uniting you to one another as members of My body” (Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:29-30).
3. Christ calls this commandment a new commandment. Similar command, it is true, had been given of old in the Mosaic institutions. But it had not the same vital force, because it was restricted in scope and motive. Thus we are prepared to find that it had become almost a dead letter. The Rabbis had tortured it to mean, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy.” The love Christ commands has a wider sweep; it embraces all men. He pointed the Jew to the hated Samaritan even as his neighbour whom he should love (Luke 10:36).
4. But here it is the love of His people to one another of which Christ speaks, not so much the love of the disciples for perishing men as their mutual love. The natural man loves those bound to him by ties of affection and kinship, from motives of esteem, etc. Christians love the brotherhood for Christ’s sake. They love Him, and must love those whom He loves, who are children of the heavenly Father, temples of the Holy Ghost. A new motive for this mutual love has been given.
5. The object of love is indeed the same. It is men, mortal and imperfect, but men viewed in a different relationship. They are members of the great spiritual family, “brethren and sisters in Christ.” Men love the members of their families naturally more than strangers. Much more should members of the great spiritual family, fellow-citizens of the saints, etc., show to each other a deep, abiding affection. A relationship that is for eternity binds them together. Such a love cannot be narrow or confined. It will flow beyond the bounds of mutual affection and pour itself forth to all men, like Christ’s love for a perishing world, for which He died.
6. The spirit and example of this love are new. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” was the old form. But no such wavering, imperfect reflection of love as this is given in the new commandment. “As I have loved you.” Here is the new and glorious prototype. Think of His love “unspeakable,” its patience, tenderness, forbearance, strength, etc. It is an example which will suffice for eternity.
IV. The observance of the new commandment is an evidence of discipleship.—
1. “By this shall men know,” etc. It is a test by which disciples may try their lives. “We know,” etc. (1 John 2:3; 1 John 3:14).
2. It is the badge of Christian citizenship. Men are proud to wear the badges and insignia of famous orders, societies, etc., to which they may belong. The loyal soldier is not ashamed of his uniform, etc. Religious orders have their special garb, etc. But the true mark of Christian discipleship is mutual love. The world soon realised that here was a new power.
3. It is a sign of Christian brotherhood. Just as the members of some societies recognise each other by a sign or word, etc., so members of the society of believers recognise each other, or should do so, by this mark of mutual love.
4. It should also be an earnest of mutual helpfulness. Genuine Christian affection will lead to prompt, brotherly helpfulness; and thus more clearly still will be evidenced true discipleship (1 John 3:17).
1. Pure love on earth is ever new. Its songs never grow old or cloy from age to age. It is a living fountain from which streams, ever fresh, flow out to bless men. It is so because it manifests the same unselfish, self-sacrificing spirit as that of this heavenly commandment.
2. So this mutual love of Christ’s disciples should be a never-failing spring of blessing for men. Yet just as human love is marred by human imperfection, so is this.
3. Still what infinite possibilities lie in this command, nothing less than making earth an outer court of heaven, and the kingdoms of the world the kingdoms of our Lord, etc.
4. How far are Christians from its perfect observance! The divisions, jealousies, sectarian rivalries, of Christendom ought to humble us. How can Christian men, who in everything else are so near each other, stand opposed behind some trumpery ecclesiastical or other barrier? The members of all the Churches need to drink more deeply the spirit of these blessed words, to pray that they may learn to love one another as Christ has loved them.
John 13:34. The new commandment.—This new commandment serves—
I. To prove our love to God.—
1. To show that He is Lord of our hearts (1 John 4:7-8).
2. If we discover by this test that our heart is loveless toward our brother, then we learn that it is because in our heart there is no real love to God, and that we have not understood what His love is.
II. It also leads to the exercise of love to God.—
1. God is invisible to us, but has given a visible object of love in our brother, so that we may prove through him what love to God really means (1 John 4:20).
2. Thus we are able through the exercise of love toward the brother whom we see to advance in the divine love (1 John 4:12).
3. This seems like a perversion of the order of salvation, according to which love to God must precede love of the brethren. Yet it is not. It is only the simple way of education. Men who are religious only in the natural sense recognise the force of the command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” etc. Let them exercise this love genuinely; and when they find how unable they are to do it fully, may they not learn to begin, as all love to God begins, to love wistfully, conscious of their failure, and looking in longing to Him who through grace brings righteousness to the transgressor? And if a child of grace desires to be perfected in the divine love, let him just try whether Christ’s promise will not hold good, “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love.”
III. This commandment is given for our temporal and eternal blessedness.—
1. This is not merely a commandment with a promise of reward attached thereto, but it is in itself a reward of highest blessedness—to love and be loved, loving fellowship with God, and loving fellowship in God.
2. When we learn really to love as brethren, then we shall find our happiness and prosperity in the happiness and prosperity of our brethren. In loving them each of us loves a consecrated ego.
3. Then this true wisdom is learned—to consecrate all the powers and intelligence, which were formerly devoted to selfish ends, to the good of our fellows, and in them of that higher and divinely consecrated ego. This is what our Redeemer taught; in Him we see how men should love one another. We should—this is His new commandment—“love one another as He has loved us.” And how did He love us? He sought His glory in our salvation. So has this Friend loved us; His blood was shed forth for us! And therefore should we learn of Him to love our brethren, and thus love and seek truly our own selves and our highest happiness.
4. All love of the brethren displays itself in this: it does not wrong them—it ever seeks their good. And this it does in the way of the commandments of the second table of the law. “Love worketh no ill,” etc., but ever shows itself in acts of kindness to the brethren done by us, and in guarding ourselves from doing them wrong—
(1) In their life—the sixth commandment;
(2) In their other selves—the seventh commandment;
(3) In their possessions—the eighth commandment;
(4) In their good name—the ninth commandment; and
(5) From the inner depths of our being—the tenth commandment.
From Th. Wunderling (Moravian).
John 13:34-35. The ruling spirit of Christian citizenship.—Citizens keep the laws of their country from various motives. The majority, and the best part of the people, keep those laws because they see that they are conducive to the country’s social and material welfare, and thus to their own. Others, however, who do not feel bound by any moral or social restraint, who consider first and foremost only their own fancied interests and pleasures, would often transgress their country’s laws, were it not that the fear of punishment restrained them. And some, disregarding this, with hope that they may escape the penalty, break those laws perpetually. Self-interest, it may be said, rules in the kingdoms of the world. It is far otherwise in the kingdom of Christ. In it there is a constraining and ruling spirit which inspires its government, and is the motive power in the lives of its citizens, leading them to honour and obey its King.
I. Christ rules in love.—
1. Love is the eternal law and spirit of His kingdom. All its manifestations are founded on love. Love to the world underlies the sending of the Son; love to men brought the Son, who “loved us and gave Himself for us,” down to earth.
2. God indeed loves His people with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). So, too, His people are in Christ under the reign of love: nothing can separate them from it. Every day confirms it, every blessing proclaims it. Our whole life is encompassed by it.
3. See how His love forbears with us; how patiently He deals with us; how faithfully He chastens; how constantly He helps in every time of need; and thus how gloriously His high-priestly prayer hath been answered: “I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them; and I in them” (John 17:26).
II. Love to Christ leads to loving obedience of Him.—
1. “He that hath My commandments,” etc. (John 14:21), said our Lord. And the apostle echoes his Master’s words when he writes, “This is the love of God,” etc. (1 John 5:3). “Without love obedience is impossible” (John 14:24); “for love is the outcome of the renewed nature which comes through faith in Christ.”
2. Love reigning within shows a heart and will in unison with Christ. The same mind that was in Him dwells in those who love Him. Thus obedience becomes spontaneous and joyful. The nearer men rise toward Christ’s likeness, the more His love is shed abroad in their hearts, the more will they be led to pray, and seek to do His will in all things.
“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
3. Who indeed is more worthy of our supreme love and unwavering obedience? The more we know of Him—His wisdom, love, power—the more we experience His gracious dealings, the more we realise the sweetness of His yoke which is so easy and His burden which is so light, the more shall we be grieved when we neglect His commands and fall into sin. And when we realise all the misery and slavery of sin, and the freedom and peace of His kingdom, we shall be led ever to cry, more and more, “Give me Thy easy yoke to bear.”
III. The test of love and obedience to our spiritual King is love to the brethren and to those for whom Christ died.—
1. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another,” etc. (John 13:34), was one of the parting exhortations of our Lord to His disciples. And is it not neglect of this command that has hindered and is hindering the advance of Christ’s kingdom?
2. To what grace are Christians more earnestly urged in the New Testament than this? and yet what grace is frequently more conspicuously absent? Would there be the wranglings, jealousies, divisions, that now exist in Christ’s Church, His spiritual kingdom on earth, even among good men, over “trifles light as air,” were the love of Christ perfected in us?
3. Would we see so many Christians grasping, worldly, bent on the pleasures and pursuits of time, almost to the exclusion of everything else, did more of the spirit and love of Christ animate them? To how many does the love of Christ mean no more than a languid attendance at a Sabbath service, followed by a constant devotion all the week to the world, the flesh, or the devil—or all three?
4. Love prompted the Redeemer to leave the heavenly glory, to live among men, despised and rejected, to die upon the cross, that He might bring salvation within reach of all. And He has confided to His people the glorious work of making that salvation known to perishing men. And, lo! those who call themselves His people sit at ease in Zion for the most part, and never dream of sacrificing a farthing’s worth of comfort for that great cause for which Christ died. He shed His blood—gave His life. They give, often with grudging hand, what can well be spared, and cast away on trifles or doubtful pleasures what might go to swell many a living rill for refreshing the spiritually thirsty and weary tribes of earth. Is this love? Is this obeying the command, “As I have loved you … love one another”?
5. Back to the Christ of the Gospels, is a modern cry. But the Christ of the Gospels is the Christ of the New Testament—of Paul and John as well as of Matthew and Luke. And the reigning feature of His kingdom all through is this of love. Yes, back to Christ—back from ecclesiastical wranglings, from theological strifes, from hazy secularistic and socialistic dreamings—back to learn of Him, to be inspired by His Spirit, to be filled with His love; and then a willing and obedient people shall show forth His praise, and seek to extend His blessed kingdom of truth and love.
John 13:34. “A new commandment,” etc.—This solemn testament our Lord left in His parting words for all who should be His disciples. But is this commandment of love in reality a new commandment? Is it not a very ancient command, as old as the world? Had not the fratricide Cain to bear about this commandment, written as if with blazing letters on his despairing heart, as he went about restless and a fugitive on the earth after his bloody crime? Did not the patriarch Abraham already understand this commandment, and practise it, as he spoke to his cousin Lot with such noble brotherliness, “If thou wilt go to the left, I will go to the right; or if thou wilt go to the right, I will go to the left,” and as he prayed to the Lord in such heartfelt pity for lost Sodom? Do not the ten commandments which Israel received at Sinai come to this sum of the whole, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God above all, and thy neighbour as thyself”? Do we not see in a David an example of love to friend and foe, when we view his friendship with Jonathan and his nobleness toward his deadly foe Saul? Have not even the heathen understood and practised this commandment? What a beautiful example of the love of a child was that of the Athenian hero Cimon for his imprisoned father! What a touching example of the love of friends do Damon and Pythias give us, whose faithfulness endured even at the scaffold, and which Schiller has sung in his poem The Surety-ship! What a noble pattern of human love did the Roman Emperor Titus give, who held that every day in his life was lost in which he had done good to no one! What glorious deeds of the love of fatherland are related to us of a Leonidas, a Regulus, and so many other Greek and Roman heroes, who freely gave up their lives for the common weal! And yet the Founder of our faith calls it a new commandment, that His disciples should love one another. And truly it was a new commandment in His mouth; it has received an entirely new signification in His kingdom. Now for the first time this commandment of love has been placed on its true eternal basis, when we learn from the New Testament of Jesus Christ that God is love. Now for the first time has it reached its highest degree, since there is given us a type of the purest and greatest love in Him who loved us unto death, and who says to us, “A new commandment.… As I have loved you.” Now it is referred to the whole wide field of its influence, since we have learned that all men are our brethren, and none need now ask, “Who is my neighbour?” And now first could this command be received in its real power through the Spirit of Christ, which is a Spirit of humility and meekness, of love and peace. Now first has this commandment been accorded its rightful position as the sum of all the others—the royal commandment of love. In short, beloved, through Christ this command of love has first become truly difficult, and through Him also it has first become easy. Therefore did He rightly say. “A new commandment,” etc. And say, is it not in truth to us also ever new? Ah, how many who call themselves Christians understand this commandment so little that one might think they had never heard of it, as if it were entirely new to them! And even among those of us who understand and observe it, need we not to have it ever anew held up before us, lest our love should grow cold? Need we not every day again to learn, again to practise it, and cannot perfectly fulfil? but we dare never neglect it, because in this command all Christian duties are included, because love is the fulfilling of the law. Says Luther: “The commandment of love is a short command and a long command: a single commandment, and yet many commandments; no commandment, and yet all commandments: it annuls all the commandments, and yet it establishes them all.”—Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 13:34. Ministering love the highest service.—Behold, then, from the first beginning, from the first turning of the heart to the Redeemer, until the joyful departure from this world, nothing avails but this communicating and ministering love in its winning and self-sacrificing nature! This it is with which the Redeemer embraces the world—this in which we should love one another. If any man should say aught else concerning the Christian Church, believe it not! Does any one say that there are human laws which belong to it, then answer that the Son of God is come to free us from the bondage of merely human ordinances, so that we might receive the gift of adoption. Does any one say a confession belongs to it, this or that custom, then reply, the Redeemer said, “I give you a commandment, that ye should love one another with that love wherewith I have loved you.” And if it is answered that in this fashion the Christian Church would be something which could not be laid hold of, which can be kept to nothing, so that one would not know where she is, where she began, where she will end—then say: Thus is every one that is born of the Spirit; ye know not whence He comes and whither He goes; ye hear His breathing. Well for you when you understand this; well for you when your own life is encompassed by this breathing of the Spirit; well for you when also through you the words of eternal life become spirit and life for the race of men.—Translated from, F. Schleiermacher.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 13:36-38. “Thou canst not now be a Peter, for the Petra (or Rock) has not yet consolidated thee with His Spirit; but thou shalt follow Me by dying on the cross as I shall die for thee” (Augustine in Wordsworth’s Greek Testament) (John 21:18-19). “Peter imagined that he could lay down his life for Christ, whereas Christ had come to lay down His life for all, among whom was Peter. Peter imagined he could precede his Guide. Presumptuous supposition! It was necessary that Christ should first lay down His life for the salvation of Peter, before Peter could be able to lay down his life for the Gospel of Christ” (Idem).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 13:36-38
The self-confident apostle: “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed.”—The man who spoke here so confidently was Simon son of Jona, not Peter, the Rock. He was still the impulsive fisherman of Galilee, still slow of heart to believe all that was written in the prophets, etc., concerning Christ. He was to learn by sad experience to forego for ever that self-trust and to put his trust in the Saviour. To strengthen his faith the Redeemer foretold him of what would happen; for the remembrance of this and of the kind and gracious words, “Thou shalt follow Me afterward,”. “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32), would keep the apostle from falling into Judas-like despair.
I. The impatience of Peter.—
1. The apostle was not content to receive our Lord’s words with implicit trust in His wisdom and love. Where will his Master go that they cannot follow Him? Had they not the promise that He would appoint the disciples a kingdom, that they should sit on thrones (Luke 22:29)?
2. Our Lord’s gentle reply only increased the apostle’s impatience. Afterwards! Why not now? Why wait for some to-morrow when we have to-day? The apostle in this is a type of many. They would be men before they are prepared for the work of life. They would clutch at joy to-day, would seek to leap to the summit in place of slowly toiling upward, or waiting till the means of transit are ready.
3. Peter was not yet ready to follow Christ. Christ must first do His work for him on the bitter cross, and in him by the Galilean lake and at Pentecost, ere the impatient apostle could be fitted to follow Him. So may Christian men who are impatient to enter on such and such work, or to occupy some other position, learn not to fret impatiently that their prayers are not at once answered. The Lord will prepare us to follow Him, if we are His, in His own time and way. Peter had a glorious work to do, far other than he thought. So may we have. Let us rest trustingly on the divine wisdom and love.
II. Peter’s rash self-confidence.—
1. “I will lay down my life,” etc. Here he showed his want of true self-knowledge. He over-estimated greatly his own strength. The others may fail—he will not. However dark the way Christ has to tread he will follow, even though it should be to death. Had he not come with the Master to Judæa in face of danger (John 11:16)? No, he will not fail,
2. What must have been his thoughts then when Jesus spoke solemnly, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee,” etc.—I, whom you believe to be the Son of God? Did he say in his heart, “Is thy servant a dog,” etc.? At all events his voice led in the asseveration of all the disciples. “Though I should die with Thee,” etc. (Matthew 26:35).
3. “What the song says with fine sentiment,
‘If all should be unfaithful,
Yet I’ll to Thee be true,’
is in Simon’s style, not in Peter’s, and must have been composed before the hour of trial” (Besser). Men need a stronger arm than their own to lean upon in this world of trial and temptation. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed”; “Watch and pray,” etc.
III. Peter’s ardent love and zealous devotion.—
1. The apostle, though weakly over-confident, was really devoted to the Redeemer, and at the moment meant what he said. He believed Jesus to be the Son of God, and was willing to bring Him the highest offering in his power—his life.
2. And the Lord received the imperfect offering, and blessed him with the promise, “Thou shalt follow Me afterward” (John 21:18-19).
3. Like love and devotion will be followed by like promises. Let but our love and zeal in Christ’s service be genuine, and we too shall be strengthened in weakness like Peter, and be enabled also, though far off, to follow Christ through life and in death.
John 13:37. The folly of over-self-confidence.—Even the best should not think themselves absolved from the duty of self-examination, for even the best are not clean, the best cannot be certain of themselves. Even a John dare not be confident overmuch, even a Peter has his hours of weakness, a Nathanael his spots, a Paul glories not as if he had attained, and a Demas can again love this present world. Therefore genuine disciples of the Lord must ever be on their guard, must ever watch, ever prove themselves and ask, “Lord, is it I” whom Thou dost charge? And for such earnest self-examination the Lord’s Supper gives a special opportunity; there ought to be true friends of Jesus around Him, there He will give us of the best that He has for us. No unworthy one should be there, no foe, no traitor, not even one who is indifferent. And even the best should there look within and ask, “Lord, is it I?” hast Thou aught against me?… When you ask your own hearts, you will not do it thoroughly. The answer will be quickly forthcoming, No, it is not thee; thou art no Judas, no betrayer of the Master; thou art a good Christian, better perhaps than many hundreds of others, an honest citizen, a skilful workman, a diligent housewife; thou canst hold up thy head before God and men. And when you ask men, there also you will get no reliable judgment. Your names may stand well in the world, your walk may be blameless. The world will speak well of you if you will of it. Its balances are other than those of the high and holy places. So many are self-deceived their whole life long, are their own eulogists, have the best of witnesses as to their good name in the world; and behold! when they reach eternity those witnesses are of no avail, and their calculations are found to be false.—Karl Gerok, “Predigt.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany