This morning's Scripture passage is from the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verses 34-35. It takes place on the night of the Last Supper. After Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples and shared the Passover meal with the Twelve, and after Jesus had identified the one who would betray him, he gives this command to the remaining eleven. “Love one another. As I have loved you, love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples.”
In the days of Jesus' ministry to b a disciple meant that you were someone who studied with a particular teacher, or followed a certain religion or philosophy. And disciples were not limited only to Jesus. The Bible mentions that John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Moses, even the ancient kings and pharaohs all had their own following of disciples. A disciple committed himself to learn the ways of his instructor or master. This was accomplished through a process of regular meeting times, questions and answers, whether it was the student asking the teacher or vice-versa, repetition and memorization. Over time, the disciple would become increasingly devoted to the master's teaching and loyal to the master himself. Eventually the pupil would become the teacher and the traditions and doctrines he learned from his master and now held to so dearly would be passed along to a disciple of his own.
We try to teach our children to be choosy about who their friends are. Why? Because you become like those you associate with, right? A good example is to look at a teenage girl and her bestie. For those of you who haven't been around teens for some time, a bestie is a best friend. They dress similarly, often sharing each other's clothes; like the same foods, use similar words; share the same experiences, either by spending time together or by telling each other EVERYTHING by phone, i/m, texting. If you want to know the likes and dislikes of a teenage girl, you can learn a lot without asking her a single question. All you have to do is just closely observe her bestie. In the same way, you could tell who a teacher's disciples were by close observation. There were tell-tale signs. Some were obvious, perhaps a wardrobe item such as specific jewelry or a particular head covering. Others may not be so noticeable at first glance but are still there. It might be a dietary regulation like not eating red meat, or the use, or absence, of certain words or phrases in his regular vocabulary, or their attitude toward others different from themselves. Whatever it is, that same traits would be common among the teacher's group of followers.
That night in the Upper Room Jesus makes it clear to his disciples what trait should stand out that will identify them to him. He gives the eleven men with him a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another.”
Loving your neighbor is nothing new; it is a command that was mentioned in the book of Leviticus, back in the days of Moses. When Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount he tells us, “Love your enemies.” Loving neighbors and enemies – people who often were outside of the direct influence of Jesus, people on the fringes of society – is noble and good. But what is it about “Love one another” that makes this a “new” command?
Jesus knew that if we as his disciples, the ones who follow him, do not live a lifestyle of brotherly love for each other, any love outside of our fellowship would lose its meaning. Jealousy, revenge and retaliation are common in the world around us. This command to Love One Another is a call to transcend our sinful tendencies and to live with love being the mutual debt owed one to another.
Jesus also knew that if we failed in this command, well, let's face it – why would an “outsider” want to be a part of a group where people don't get along? He knew He was about to give his closest followers a commission: To make disciples of all nations. He also knew that if we did not practice love for one another, this Great Commission would be in vain, and the church would die before it would have a chance to get started.
Not only does Jesus tell us the trait that should identify the disciple to the Master, He gives a standard of what it should look like: “As I have loved you.” It doesn't take much imagination to see how Jesus loved his disciples. First of all, Jesus chose them. Most disciples chose their teachers; here the Teacher chose the pupil. While under his instruction, Jesus, spoke kindly to them, was concerned for them and their welfare. He prayed with them and for them, even publicly owned them, considering them to be dearer to him than his mother, sister or brother. He rebuked them when they needed it, yet compassionately put up with their failings. Just prior to giving this command he washed their feet, and would later demonstrate the greatest act of love: He would lay down His life by dying on the cross for them, and for you and me.
Jesus knew the disciples would have to have outstanding love for one another in order for the early church to grow. But he knew they could not do it on their own. That is why He promised another Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to dwell within them, to guide them, and empower them to carry out what Jesus had called them to do. You can see evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost. It is a familiar passage, so I won't read the text of it. But to remind you of the account, Jesus had already descended to heaven. Before doing so, he instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem, because they would soon receive power from the Holy Spirit, just as had been promised.
The day of Pentecost, also called the Festival of Weeks or Festival of First-fruits, was one of three important observances in the year where all Jewish men were expected to make sacrifices in the sanctuary. The other two observances were Passover, held 50 days earlier, and the Day of Atonement to be held in Autumn. That is why on the Day of Pentecost there was such a crowd of Jews from 15 or more nations gathered in Jerusalem.
As the account goes, the disciples were gathered in an upper room, when suddenly a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they all started to speak in different languages, as the Spirit enabled them.”
Remember the crowd of people outside? They heard that sound like the blowing of a violent wind too. They started gathering, and were amazed to hear these Galileean men talking in languages they had never spoken in, languages of the homelands of the men in the crowds. OK, not all of them were amazed. There were some scattered groups that insisted the disciples had too much to drink.
At that point Peter stood up and addressed the crowd, telling of Jesus the Messiah, who lived, was crucified, died and buried, and was resurrected on the third day, as prophesied by the prophet Joel and by King David. Peter went on and called the men gathered that day in Jerusalem to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and they too would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that day about 3,000 men were added to the followers of Jesus. Chapter 2 of Acts goes on to tell how the Believers had a sense of community about themselves, meeting together, taking care of each others' needs. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
If we are to love each other the same way that Jesus loves us, what would that look like? Recently I conducted an informal internet poll via Facebook, and here are some answers: