“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34
Are you in the Good Friday spirit?” That seems a strange question. To ask if you are in “the Christmas spirit” before Christmas makes sense, but “a Good Friday spirit”? Allow me to make a case for it.
Christ knew that Good Friday would be a day of separation. So He prepared his disciples: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me…… [but] where I am going you cannot come” (v. 33). He alone could serve as the Passover Lamb. He had to be rejected by all, even by his own disciples. After his suffering, death, and resurrection, He alone would ascend into heaven while his disciples would remain on earth.
That was quite something for the disciples to hear. For Christ had called each of them with that command: “Follow me!” Separation was also quite something for Christ Himself to face. He loved his disciples deeply and his heart went out to them. Just as a mother’s heart today pines for her children when she has to part with them at an airport, so does Christ’s heart. Here Jesus tenderly addresses his disciples not just as “children,” but literally as “little children.” You can just feel the emotion.
Christ then replaces the command “Follow me” with something else. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (v. 34). Love one another means: “Sacrifice yourself and your agenda for the sake of each other. Be willing even to wash each other’s feet!” (cf. John 13:1-11)
Peter doesn’t like what he hears. He doesn’t want to give up following Jesus: “Lord, what can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (v. 37). But Christ insists on it, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (v. 36). It’s as if He says: “Peter, instead of offering to follow me (something you won’t be able to do anyway), love others. Peter, express your love for me in that way! That’s the true Good Friday spirit!”
Christ calls this command “new.” But didn’t God already give this command to his people through Moses in Leviticus 19:18? Indeed, He did. On Good Friday however, this old command receives renewed importance! On Good Friday, by sacrificing his very self for the sake of his disciples, Christ would give the ultimate reason for his people to love one another deeply. Besides that, on Good Friday Christ would part from his disciples who were but little children ever prone to fight, and surrounded by enemies: “O disciples, especially now it is so important to put extra effort into truly loving one another!”
It’s only here that Christ addresses his disciples as “little children.” The Apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, picks up on this phrase in his first letter; there he uses this address no less than seven times. Why? To proclaim this command of Christ as valid for all God’s people – especially those living in this world after Good Friday, without their Lord and Saviour physically present on earth.
What is so important for God’s people now that Christ has shown us the unfathomable depths of his love by dying on the cross for us? What is so important for God’s people in this period when He is in heaven and we are on earth? That we love one another!
Of ourselves we are weak little children in this world, vulnerable to infighting, peer pressure, egoism, addiction, disease, persecution, and lethargy. How important it is to truly and practically love one another!
Says Christ, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That’s the distinguishing characteristic of a follower of Christ! Without that, all the rest of our activities will be empty. As Paul puts it so emphatically, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
On this Good Friday, let’s ponder the cross of Christ to appreciate the profound depths of his love. Let’s press on in the trenches of life truly loving each other, sacrificing ourselves and our agendas and our desires for the benefit of each other. Let’s get into the Good Friday spirit.
Rev. J. VanWoudenberg is minister of the Canadian Reformed Church at Dunnville, Ontario
Source: Clarion, Vol 58:7 (Mar 27, 2009)