Daily Devotional: John 13:33-38
Less than a week after Resurrection Sunday, my heart is still full of the events surrounding the last few days before Jesus finally conquered death and rose from a grave that could no longer hold him. I have been especially drawn to the last intimate time Jesus shared with his eleven closest disciples after the Passover dinner. Judas had left on his errand of betrayal, and soon Jesus would be going to the garden to pray—and to be arrested. But before he went, he had many things to say to his friends who, in a sense, he would be leaving. Last words carry weight, and his amazing final encouragement and teachings are recorded in the gospel of John, beginning in chapter 14 and culminating in his incredible prayer for us all in chapter 17. But his opening remarks begin at the end of John 13:
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” —John 13:33-38
In the heart of this passage, Jesus chose to lead off his last words to his dearest friends—the ones who would carry his name on into the teeth of a hateful world—with the command to love. Not a command to have a faith that moves mountains; not a command to understand all mysteries and knowledge; not a command to wield prophetic powers—though all these seem like things they would need to survive. Instead, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the hallmark of his disciples will be . . . that they love one another.
The tender start of this passage ends up leading to a sobering question. The apostle Peter was on the receiving end of a number of tough questions from Jesus. This was neither the last nor the hardest he would hear. (Read the account of just a few days later in John 21:15-17 for that….) But it’s one that should make our own souls tremble. “Will you lay down your life for me?” When things seem under control, how easy it is for us, like Peter, to say we’ve given our complete faith, our complete trust, our complete obedience and our very lives to Christ. But what do we say and do when the trials come?
Peter eventually got it right (as you’ll see if you keep reading in chapter 21), but not that night. In our lives today, as the pressures of this time of quarantine mount, as our proximity to some and our isolation from others brings out the worst in us, let’s remember what it is that identifies us as disciples of Christ. When faced with the chance to be annoyed or indignant or angry, ask yourself what the loving thing to say is. Ask yourself what the loving thing to do is. Then remember that stunning question Jesus asked the night he was betrayed: “Will you lay down your life for me?”
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