It is Thursday evening, and the crucifixion will happen on Friday. Jesus is meeting with his disciples in the last meal, and in it, giving them instructions and assurances, and again predicting his death. Much of this did not register with the disciples, as indicated by their responses upon his arrest and desertion after the sham trial. But Jesus has some final lessons for his disciples, which will shape them and the early church after his resurrection and departure to heaven. First, he leads by doing – by washing their feet. Secondly, he leads through teaching – what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God. Now the narrative shifts to two of Jesus’ disciples – Judas, who will be a co-conspirator in betraying Jesus, and Peter, a devoted disciple, who, in fear, denies knowing Jesus, in the shadow of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! John 13:34-38.
1. Love as the Hallmark of the Kingdom of God. And how could it be any different? This is the Son of God, who ‘made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! Phil 2:7-8. So now, as I have love you, so you must love one another. In the final analysis, there is no argument, no rebuttal, no better option, then receiving and giving the love of God as seen in Jesus.
2. Love Within the Context of the Inevitability of Death. Jesus lays down a timeline for Peter. The hear and now – the command to follow Jesus, and the later – Peter’s later death like Jesus. The message is clear. Now is the day of salvation, the time for a disciple to obey Jesus, and follow Him as he has loved and led them. Later is inevitable. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. Hebrews 9:27.
3. Loving God Despite Failures. Within the normal human experience, denying Jesus, running from any final devotion at the cross (unless the female disciples!), would be catastrophic and final, a death knell to any hope of spiritual life or success. Not so for Peter, and Jesus. The denial is predicted, and will happen. In your failures, don’t be harder on yourself than God is! The greatest of Gods’ people failed, got up, and carried on, and persevered. And it will every time overcome the adversary, Satan.
Any maybe because of my own sin and personal failures, this has become a life transforming encouragement to me:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22 :31-32.
Do you see this? Jesus, in His last hour, predicts and encounters a betrayal which leads to the cross, and a denial from a disciple, which still does not end the work of God in Peter’s life. How can this be anything but grace? I trust you are encouraged by these events in the shadow of the cross, and the finishing of the redemptive plan and work of God on our behalf.
– John Moore