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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
John 13

 

 

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Verse 1

John 13:1

I. It was a test of love for His own that at the last Christ did not forget them in the agitation of His own departure. Would it have been a very strange thing, if alternately engrossed betwixt the solemn novelty of dying experience and the exciting prospect of a return to glory, His last hours had been spent in personal exercises of meditation and solitary prayer? But in efforts to console friends whom pain and fear and mortal wickedness oppressed, He almost forgot His own glorious impending exit out of wickedness and fear and pain. And so have all His scattered sheep been loved. He still stoops in person to feed us with the sacred paschal flesh and to revive our souls by the wine of His consolations.

II. His love for His own was tried at the last by their folly and perversity. The society of the apostles was not quite soothing society for the dying Christ. There is something pathetic in the patient tolerance which, to the last hour, He had to exhibit towards His closest friends. Here was, verily, love of Heaven's own temper—love imperial in its freedom, fed from no reservoirs of loveliness in the loved, but springing spontaneous as a fountain within the lover: the perfection of immortal strength wedded to the perfection of gentleness. Having loved them in their sins at first, He loved them unto the end.

III. One more test of Christ's enduring love is put into our hands by this evangelist. Throughout Jesus' public life one can trace a growing consciousness of His Divine dignity. His thoughts came to dwell more on it. His words became fuller of it. It was extremely natural that longer experience of the world should throw Him back for strength on the deep-seated certainty that He was not of this world, but came from above. Now by a law of human spirits all pain smarts more sorely for the recollection of pleasure, and so it is impossible not to feel that for the Son of the Blessed to remember that the Father had given all things into His hands at the very moment when He was called to empty Himself of all things, made the act of grace a more wonderful test of His unfailing love for men. He so realised Himself the associate and substitute of His criminal friends as to be one with them through love. "Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end."

J. Oswald Dykes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 40.


References: John 13:1.—A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 23; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., pp. 45, 54, 63, 71, 78; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 810; F. D. Maurice, Gospel of St. John, p. 341; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 61; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 170; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, part ii., p. 451. John 13:1-5.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 119. John 13:1-11.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 342. John 13:1-14.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 80.


Verses 1-17

John 13:1-17

The Washing of the Feet

When we seek to wash a brother's feet we must be very careful about three things, which I give in the quaint way in which I have somewhere seen them expressed.

I. "The water must not be too hot." Above all things else this office of love must be performed in the spirit of meekness. It would be well if, like the woman with the Lord, we could wash our erring brother's feet with our tears.

II. "Our own hands should be clean." To no purpose will we seek to win a brother from sin if we be ourselves guilty of the very thing which is blameable in him.

III. "We must be ready to submit our own feet to the process." The washing is to go all round. That which, when done by us, is a kindness to a brother, is equally a kindness when done by him to us.

W. M. Taylor, Peter the Apostle, p. 124.


References: John 13:1-17.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 350; W. Sanday, The Fourth Gospel, p. 214. John 13:2-5.—A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 114. John 13:3-5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1499. John 13:5.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 300; C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 21. John 13:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 612.


Verse 7

John 13:7

The Contrast between Present and Future Knowledge

I. It is a very interesting thing to consider ourselves here as only in the childhood of our being, our full manhood being reserved for another and higher state of existence. Though now I can believe in the existence and presence of God, I have none of that perception and consciousness of it which I have of the existence and presence of a beloved friend who is standing at my side. I shall in the future life be sensible of my nearness to God; I shall have faculties for apprehending His manifested glory; no longer thrown upon faith, but privileged with sight—and the sight not that of a fleshly organ alone, however strengthened and refined, but mental, spiritual vision, as though God were Himself everywhere visible. But whilst there is more in the prospect of this change in the mode of acquiring knowledge, than in the most gorgeous beauties of the celestial city, to animate to the running the race set before us, you will allow that our knowledge must be necessarily defective and imperfect so long as we have only the dark glass and not the open vision: we have now neither the organs nor the opportunities for acquiring close and intimate acquaintance with spiritual things; and therefore what marvel if it have to be said of a thousand things into which we may be anxious to search, as Christ said to Peter in our text: "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter."

II. Then there is to be a great increase in the material of knowledge as well as a great change in the mode of its acquisition. Here we do not know as much of any one subject as our capacities could receive; knowing by study, not by sight, the amount of knowledge is always less than it might be, and greater upon one topic than another. It is therefore unavoidable that we have no harmonious views of truth. The elements which we have to combine are too small, and not being moreover on the same scale, will not fit with each other; hence the darkness, hence the enigma. But hereafter we shall cease thus to know in part of every subject that can minister to happiness; we shall know as much as we are capable of knowing. Therefore will there be no longer any void, no longer a disproportion of what we know of one thing and what of another. Hence, will the separate truths blend in one harmonious whole, and all enigma will cease, though wonder upon wonder have yet to be unravelled. It is not that we should embrace all truth, for that is the property of the Divine Being alone; but it is the having every capacity full even as God has, so that truth will always present one unclouded panorama, bounded indeed, but beautifully distinct, and each part contributing to the general splendour.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2271.

References: John 13:7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1293; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 166; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 119; vol. xi., p. 365; vol. xvi., p. 152; H. P. Liddon, Christmastide Sermons, p. 191; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 417; J. Jackson Wray, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 8; C. J. Vaughan, Last Words at Doncaster, p. 72.


Verse 8

John 13:8

I. If we look to the conclusions to be drawn from this touching scene, the first that strikes the mind is our Lord's love in cleansing sinners. The scene illustrates some of the most marked features, distinguishing the later from the earlier manifestations of God's love. The revelations of God's holiness and power chiefly pervade the Old Testament. But in the Gospels these awful attributes, though not withdrawn, are yet veiled beneath the humiliation of God.

II. Most important conclusions are to be drawn from this scene, as to some material points in the work of repentance. It teaches us that the real cleansing of one portion of our being is the cleansing of the whole. There can be no forgiveness of one sin which does not involve forgiveness of the whole man. It is only as the entire soul is capable of the grace of repentance, that any portion of the soul is capable of it. Repentance therefore must be perfect in its aim and tendency, though imperfect in degree. Again, this scene illustrates the momentous truth that repentance is not merely the conviction of sin, nor merely the purpose to amend, nor merely confession. True repentance is the sense of sin as done against love, against tenderness, mourned by a heart that has begun to love in return.

III. There is here also a lesson to be learnt, not merely as to our own state before God, but also as to our duties towards others. Each earnest loving act to cleanse away from a redeemed humanity its sores and stains, to mitigate its sufferings, to hide its shame, to promote its peace, is a renewing of the mysterious scene of mercy of that eventful night, a repetition of the washing of the upper chamber, of the night of the agony. Each form of misery that passes before us in our path through life, is a call to remember that amazing scene of tender self-humiliation, a call to pause and consider how best to apply the healing of His grace, Who now is working out the purposes of redeeming love through the ministrations of His servants, to all of whom He hath said, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done unto you."

T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 83.


Reference: John 13:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 926.


Verses 8-10

John 13:8-10

I. This symbol teaches us: (1) that the nature of Christian purity consists in the cleansing of the heart from the betrayal spirit, and (2) that the love in the Saviour which sacrificed itself is the cleansing power.

II. The perfectness of Christian purity. (1) The purifying must pervade the lowest powers of life. (2) The purifying must advance with advancing life.

E. L. Hull, Sermons, vol. i., p. 317.



Verse 10

John 13:10

The Bathed must yet be Cleansed

Even he that has plunged into the love of Christ and Christ's law, will yet soil his feet as he walks through the world, and will need perpetually to be washed as the disciples were washed on the evening of the Last Supper. In the text our Lord declared that He would wash the defilement of the feet in the ways of the world, and not merely cleanse once for all, but ever renew the cleansing as it was needed.

I. It is the sin which remains on the conscience that withers and destroys all religious life. It is the sin which, whether great or small in itself, we will not repent of; it is the sin which we are too proud to set right, that really keeps us from our Saviour. To be defeated in the spiritual warfare is a serious matter; but to keep away from the voice of the Captain, to be unwilling to fight any more, to be too much ashamed or too proud to come back and submit to His will, this is worse than all defeats. But meanwhile our Lord knows full well that we shall often be taken in all manner of faults, and He is ready to cleanse us the moment we come back to Him. If we have been separated from Him for ever so little, His heart goes out to meet us the moment we return. As the father met the prodigal son, so our Lord sees us and welcomes us when we are yet a great way off.

II. It is the readiness of repentance that marks the childlike character. Little children are easily led away, but they are easily made sorry, and easily are they brought to seek forgiveness from offended parents. And this is one of the ways in which Christians are to resemble little children. It is readiness of repentance which marks the loving temper. The self-contained, cold character feels no need of forgiveness. Such an one cannot bear to accept forgiveness, but always desires to earn it. But the loving character knows that nothing earns forgiveness so surely, so truly, as seeking for it, and all other earning should follow, not precede. If you have done wrong, know that this wrong-doing will not quench the smoking flax, but that delay in coming to Christ will. Know this, and know too that instant repentance brings you instant forgiveness; nay, more than forgiveness, love and approval and help from the Lord of all power and might.

Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 2nd series, p. 116.


Whom does Christ pronounce Clean?

Consider what it was in our Lord's Apostles that made Him say to them that, with one exception, they were all clean.

I. It certainly was not because they were free from sin altogether. The Gospels contain many instances of faults, even amongst the most eminent of their number, which prove quite clearly that they were far from perfect. There were marks of ambition, of violence, of worldly-mindedness in their characters, which on different occasions drew forth our Lord's reproof. But yet He calls them clean, because as he said to them that very same evening, "Ye are they who have continued with Me" in my temptations. They were men who when many others had gone back and walked no more with Him, and when they themselves did not understand aright those words of their Lord which had given so much offence, yet replied to Him when He asked them, "Will ye also go away?" "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." He calls them clean therefore, because their faith in Him had not failed; but they had continued with Him in all His temptations, and loved Him better than any other service.

II. If this is the case then, we may think at first sight that we too are all clean, because our faith in Christ has never failed us, and we have continued in His service ever since we were born. And so, indeed, we might think justly if our notions of faith were the same as those of the Scripture. But many of us cannot be said, like the Apostles, to have continued with Christ in His temptations, for we have never known what it is to struggle against temptation for Christ's sake. We have never made it our deliberate choice to abide with Him, let who would forsake Him, because we were sure that He had the words of eternal life. However much then we may be called Christians, and however little we have ever doubted the fact of Christ's life and death, we cannot on that account lay claim to that true and lively faith which Christ saw in His eleven disciples, and for which He did not hesitate to pronounce them to be "clean every whit." We are not clean, indeed, too many of us; but that Gospel which is preached unto us holds out to every one of the children of men who need it, a fountain for sin and for uncleanness, a means whereby our sins, though scarlet, may be made as white as snow, and we, like the Apostles, may stand in the sight of God as "clean every whit."

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 127.


References: John 13:10.—Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 146; D. Fraser, Metaphors of the Gospels, p. 391. John 13:12-14.—J. H. Thorn, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 3rd series, p. 316. John 13:12-15.—Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 120. John 13:12-20.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 351.


Verse 13-14

John 13:13-14

Consideration for the Poor

I. It must have been a solemn lesson which our Lord chose to teach so earnestly on that last night of His presence with His disciples; and which He not only gave in words, but expressed in a most significant action, to impress it the deeper on their minds and ours. Observe the connection of the words of the Evangelist, "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God"—what did He upon this knowledge? Did He reveal to them some high mysteries concerning the Divine nature, such as kings and prophets and sages had long desired to learn? No; "He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded." This was what Jesus did, "Knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God." Surely no diviner comment could be given upon the words of the Scriptures that "God is love, and He who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in Him." A command so given and enforced, must surely have been of the deepest importance.

II. I call this text a command to one particular kind of love—the love of our poorer brethren. It is sometimes said that it was a command to practise humility; and so it was, in one sense of the word, but it was also meant to teach us to perform duties of kindness, even of the most humble sort, to those who need them the most—not to shrink from the meanest offices in visiting and relieving the bodily wants and sufferings of the poor.

It is those little words, "one another" which express so much, and which we are so apt to lose sight of. These words show that the rich and the poor are members one of another, not two distinct castes—I had almost said two distinct races. These words ought to take away that feeling of merit which we are but too apt to attach to our charity. No man is proud of being kind to his brother or his near friend; he would only be ashamed of himself if he were not kind. So, if we felt aright to the poor, that they are, in the highest of all relations our brethren, should we not fully enter into the spirit of the Apostle's words, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another?"

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 111.


References: John 13:13, John 13:14.—W. Anderson, Discourses, p. 261.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 26. John 13:14, John 13:15.—E. W. Shalders, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 328. John 13:15.—A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 60; G. G. Bradley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 177; Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 209.


Verse 17

John 13:17

All Light Good

I. Light of any kind invariably throws light upon duty, and if we know anything, we are sure to have thereby a clearer knowledge of right from wrong. The mere awakening of the understanding must awaken the conscience in some degree. You cannot gain more intellectual power without also gaining moral light. Just as the coming of the daylight shows you the beauty of Nature, at the same time that it shows you the position of surrounding objects, so, too, even the merest science must reveal in some slight degree the beauty of the will of God.

II. I know not how those shall be judged who have never had any such aid, and have therefore sunk into the condition of brute beasts. God, who seeth not as man seeth, will one day do absolute justice to all, and their unhappy lot shall meet at once with His unbounded mercy and His unerring judgment. But their condition proves to us that the education which we obtain from intercourse with one another is the appointed machinery chosen by His Providence for fashioning our hearts according to His will. Even those who have never yet been touched at heart by the power of His Word, written or spoken, even souls that have not yet opened to receive His revealed truth; even those who have never heard of Christ, or from whose cold and hard hearts that name has glided off without a trace; even they have received a precious gift, if their understandings have been awakened by the light of the knowledge of this present world. And for that gift they will certainly be responsible.

III. The text also brings us this message; trifle not with the conscience. Trifle not with the one voice which always speaks with the authority of Heaven, the one guide which is commissioned to bring you to Christ. Remember that the voice within is the very voice of God; and if you play false with that, you are a traitor to your Master.

Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 243.


Knowledge of God's Will without Obedience

Do we not often try to persuade ourselves that to feel religiously, to confess our love of religion and to be able to talk of religion, will stand in the place of careful obedience, of that self-denial which is the very substance of true practical religion. Alas! that religion, which is so delightful as a vision, should be so distasteful as a reality. Yet so it is, whether we are aware of the fact or not.

I. The multitude of men even who profess religion are in this state of mind. We will take the case of those who are in better circumstances than the mass of the community. They are well educated and taught; they have few distresses in life, or are able to get over them by the variety of their occupations, by the spirits which attend good health, or at least by the lapse of time. They go on respectably and happily, with the same general tastes and habits which they would have had if the Gospel had not been given them. Their religion is based upon self and the world, a mere civilisation.

II. Take again another description of them. They have perhaps turned their attention to the means of promoting the happiness of their fellow-creatures, and have formed a system of morality and religion of their own. Then they come to Scripture. They are much struck with the high tone of its precepts, and the beauty of its teaching. They know them and that is enough; but as for doing them, they have nothing of this right spirit. The spread of knowledge bringing in its train a selfish temperance, a selfish peaceableness, a selfish benevolence, the morality of expedience, this satisfies them.

III. Is it not one of the commonest excuses made by the poor for irreligion, that they have had no education? As if to know much were a necessary step for right practice. Anyone who thinks it enough to come to church to learn God's will, but does not bear in mind to do it in his daily conduct, is a fool in His sight who maketh the wisdom of this world foolishness.

IV. When a man complains of his hardness of heart or weakness of purpose, let him see to it, whether this complaint is more than a mere pretence to quiet his conscience which is frightened at his putting off repentance; or again, more than a mere idle word, said half in jest and half in compunction. As we desire to enter into life, let us come to Christ continually for the true foundations of true Christian faith—humbleness of mind and earnestness.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 27.


References: John 13:17.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 346; Swan, Short Sermons, p. 172. John 13:18.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 167. John 13:21.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 210; vol. xix., p. 126. John 13:21-30.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 371.


Verse 23

John 13:23

Communion with Christ

What name is more blessed than this title by which St. John conceals himself? Who was ever more favoured than he? It was a sweet memory to him, in his old and solitary age, to remember that night of awe, in which he lay upon the bosom of his Lord. And yet it was doubtless for some deeper reason that the evangelist wrote these words. It was not to publish abroad his own peculiar favours, nor to prefer himself to others in his Master's presence. It was perhaps to give warrant to the certainty of his written testimony; but it was surely to reveal also the deep and Divine mysteries of love which lie hid in the incarnation of the Eternal Word.

I. First we here see, as by a parable, the love of the Son of God in the mystery of His own incarnation. Our infirmity leans upon His might; our manhood upon His Godhead. There is a man in the bosom of God. Our nature is in glory. As we say at the altar in the end of our Christian sacrifice, "For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord, Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father."

II. But again, we may see here His love in the salvation of His elect. When He took our manhood into God, it was that He might take us also unto Himself. The glorious body of the Word made flesh is the centre of His mystical body, and to it He joins us one by one. We who were by nature dead in trespasses and sin, outcasts and without God in the world, are gathered together from all ages and all lands unto Himself. All these may be said to lean upon Him who is their only strength, hope and solace—they who have walked stedfast with Him from childhood, and live on unconscious of this rough outer life which beats upon the penitent; penitents who, after long wanderings past, find the peace and bliss of an eternal absolution; mourners who feel no more the burden of the Cross, while He bears up both it and them; and all who with ardent desire yearn for the coming of His kingdom, and are stayed with "white raiment" and a sense of His ever-present love. In the midst of all sorrows, trials and temptations they are at peace; in all the unrest of this tumultuous and weary world, they rest on Him. The one great gift that all alike enjoy, is a sense of repose, a placid calm of heart, a stay upon which they lean with all the weight of their whole spiritual life. "Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 273.


We may learn here:—

I. That love is one of the very earliest qualities of life consecrated to Christ.

II. Love is often content to walk in quiet well-trodden paths.

III. Though love is thus content, there are times in its life, when love is very deep and true, when it shows an inventiveness which leads to the result that love not seldom beats out new tracts for itself.

IV. Even love is prone to its own evil. Love has to guard itself against a burning anger at evil.

V. Love must ever first recognise the will of the Lord, if zeal is to work well in carrying out that will.

T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 161.


References: John 13:23.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 423; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 330; J. Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 373. John 13:26.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 366. John 13:30.—Homilist, 4th series, vol. i., p. 286. John 13:31.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, vol. ii., p. 544. John 13:31-35.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 283. John 13:33.—J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 91. John 13:33.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 72; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 238; W. H. Jellie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 296.


Verse 34

John 13:34

I. The new commandment has been once for all uttered—the new law is given; and each generation, at whatever point of the advance to its fulfilment God may have ordained its place, is bound by it equally. Every individual Christian lives under the force of that law, and is responsible to Him for obedience to it. Such obedience is, in fact, each generation's portion of that upward work into fulness of love, which the Holy Spirit is carrying on in the whole race. And the same may be said of every individual Christian; his obedience to Christ's law of love is his contribution towards the universal recognition of that law, in God's good time. No generation, no man stands alone. Even the humblest may contribute something, and all are bound for their own lives, and for God's great work, to do their utmost in the matter.

II. Now, our Saviour has not left this, His new commandment, in mere abstract vagueness; He has fixed it on us, and brought it home to our consciences by a definite and specified pattern: "As I have loved you, that ye also love one another." Of what kind was His love to us? (1) It was a self-denying love. (2) It was a boundless love. (3) It was a love of gentleness and courtesy. If we would love one another as He loved us, there is but one effectual instrument, but one genuine spring of such love. No mere admiration will effect it; no mere sensibility will call it forth; no romance of benevolence will keep it up; it can come from nothing but faith in Him; that faith which purifies the heart. It alone is powerful to dethrone self in a man by setting up Christ instead, and until self is put down within, there can be no real presence of love, and none of its genuine fruits; until Christ reigns in a man's heart there can be no imitation of His love, for it will never be understood by me till I behold it as a personal matter; till I measure its height by the depth of my unworthiness of it, its vastness by my own nothingness.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv., p. 223.


I. When our Lord said "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another," He appealed directly to the personal experience of those to whom He spoke. It was the eleven alone who could know to what extent He had loved, for they alone had felt His love. They had lived in sweet familiar intercourse with Him for some years. They had known His care, His kindness, His gentleness, His patience, His longsuffering, and it is not too much to say that they had never known anything like it. It is plain that our Lord intended this original experience of the eleven to become generally intelligible to vast multitudes who had never shared their experience.

II. As long as we regard the love of Jesus as a thing only of the past, displayed once for all, even though we may believe ourselves to have been the objects of it, I think it will have but little power on our hearts or conduct. What is it, then, that is wanting to make the love operative and effectual? A very important question, involving the essence of the whole matter. The element that is wanting, then, is clearly this: to see in the love of Jesus for His disciples, not only a love in which we were concerned, and a love embracing us; not only the love He evidenced when He said, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on Me through their word"; but a love still going forth, still reaching out to us, of which love all that was done by the Christ of history was, so to say, the pattern and the image. Now, it is impossible that the love of Christ could be thus energetic and operative if He was nothing more than man, however great. You do not and cannot feel any satisfaction or any real benefit from the present love, which you believe to be extended towards you by your deceased relatives. You would not like to think that they felt no such love, but whether they do or not, it is impossible, in any true sense, to reciprocrate that love, because you have now no evidence of its going forth towards you. But Christ's love has been with you from the first day of your life till now. It has not been merely an utterance recorded in the history of a great tragedy which was enacted eighteen hundred years ago; but it has been shown to you, it has been felt by you under ten thousand special dealings with you in your own inmost being, of which you alone are conscious and all the world besides is ignorant. The love which the life and death of Christ displayed was none other than the love of God. If this was not the love of Christ, then the utterance "As I have loved you, that ye also love one another," becomes meaningless and trivial. It no longer corresponds with the precept, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," but substitutes in the place of a Divine standard of love a merely human and earthly standard.

S. Leathes, Penny Pulpit, No. 532.

References: John 13:34.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 309; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 133; J. H. Wilson, The Gospel and its Fruits, p. 233.


Verse 34-35

John 13:34-35

I. Look at the command of brotherly love as it was given in old time. It was contained in the last six of the Ten Commandments; or putting on one side the fifth commandment as being of a peculiar kind, referring to one particular duty and not to our duty to our neighbour in general, we may say that the command to love one another is contained in the last five commandments of the decalogue. All these commandments, you will observe, are employed in telling us what we may not do, saying nothing of the things which we ought to do. The actual form of the law of loving our neighbours, as given in the Old Testament, was a prohibitory law; not an active law of love depending for its force upon a spring of love within, but a law which, if obeyed according to the letter, would sunder only certain offences, and might be kept thus by a man whose heart was as hard as a flint.

II. If you examine the precepts of loving our neighbours, as given by the Lord Jesus Christ, I think you will perceive that the peculiarity and the strength of them consist in this very thing, that they imply active, self-denying exertions for our brother's good. That love is emphatically Christian which, setting aside all consideration of self-advantage, and running beyond the mere negative duty of doing our neighbour no wrong, goes forth with activity, life, and zeal to show itself in works of mercy and deeds of loving-kindness to our brethren. The commandment was new because Christ had only then come to explain it; it was new because it could not have been conceived before His life exhibited its meaning; it was new because the love which He showed was something altogether beyond the power of man to have imagined for himself; and, as in science we reckon him to be the discoverer of a new law who rises above the guesses and glimpses of his predecessors, and establishes upon new ground, and in a manner which can never afterwards be questioned, some great principle which had been partly conceived before; so I think we may say that the law of brotherly love, as illustrated by the example of our Lord, the law of self-denying, active efforts for our brother's good, the law which stamps the great principle of selfishness as a vile and execrable principle, might be truly described as a new commandment which Christ gave to His disciples.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 258.


References: John 13:34-35.—B. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 33. John 13:35.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 18. John 13:36.—Ibid., vol. vii., p. 22. John 13:36-38.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 392.


Verse 37

John 13:37

The Withheld Completions of Life

There are certain conditions which are to all good life just what the flower is to the plant. They furnish it its natural completion. They crown its struggles with a manifest success. These conditions of peace and pleasure are the life's success. But when the life, conscious of the character out of which these conditions ought to come, finds that they do not come, finds that it pauses on the brink of its completion and cannot blossom, then comes bewilderment, then come impatient questionings and doubts. This is the state of many lives, especially about religious things.

I. In answer to our wondering question "What does it mean?" there are two things to be said. The first is this: that such a suspension of the legitimate result, this failure of the flower to complete the plant, does show beyond all doubt a real condition of disorder. The world is broken and disordered, that is the first thing that is meant when you help men, and they scorn you, when the world's benefactors are neglected or despised. And secondly, there is a blessing which may come to a man even out of the withholding of the legitimate completion of his service. It may throw him back upon the nature of the act itself, and compel him to find his satisfaction there.

II. The plant grows on towards its appointed flower, but before the blossom comes some hand is laid upon it, and the day of its blossoming is delayed. The emotional and affectional conditions are the natural flower of the wills and dedications of our life. But we resolve, we dedicate ourselves, and though the prophecy and the hope immediately begin to assert themselves all through us, the joy, the peace, the calmness of assurance, does not come. The ideal life, the life of full completions, haunts us all. Nothing can really haunt us except what we have the beginning of, the native capacity for, however hindered, in ourselves. Jesus does not blame Peter when he impetuously begs that he may follow Him now. He bids him wait and he shall follow Him some day. But we can see that the value of his waiting lies in the certainty that he shall follow, and the value of his following when it comes will be in the fact that he has waited. So if we take all Christ's culture, we are sure that our life on earth may get already the inspiration of the heaven for which we are training, and our life in heaven may keep for ever the blessing of the earth in which we were trained.

Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 19.


References: John 13:37.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 416; J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 36. John 13:37, John 13:38.—C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 103.



 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 13:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/john-13.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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