Too often, evil seems to win.
And then I was preparing an advent message out of John 13 and 14 and was surprised by a delicious train of thought, fresh from a text long loved and studied, but never seen before.
Jesus is preparing his friends for his departure. (John 13:31-35)
He tells them that he has to leave and that they can't come with Him – at least not yet. (cf. John 14:1-3) Their hearts are troubled, and they need comfort.
Into that, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)
The ache that they are feeling is the soon to come loss of one who loved them.
His answer to their ache is that they will love each other in His stead. People will know that they have been with Him, because they love like Him. It's rubbed off. What they saw in His eyes they will now see in each others eyes, and the judgment free tenderhearted acceptance that was His to give and theirs to receive, will now be theirs to give each other.
“Even as I have loved you.”
I am used to thinking about love in terms of the cross. “He loved them by dying for them.”
But not here. Here, He has not yet gone to the cross, and He is comforting them before He goes. Pointing them to a love already experienced on the trail for the last three years.
And that's where the surprise came. I was looking for loving acts. What did He do for them on the trail? I tried to think of miracles that Jesus did for the disciples. But there are precious few. He healed Simon's mother in law (Lk 4:38,39) and He provided Simon Peter, and James and John with an amazing catch of fish (Lk 5:4-11) (both prior to their discipleship) and I suppose, when He stilled the storm he saved their lives. So there are some miracles for them.
But life was not easier for them, because they were with Jesus. (And I can't say it's been easier for me either.)
They left the fish. Far from seeing Jesus turn their business into a miraculous success, they left it altogether. Then they travel with Him for three years, homeless, and watch Him do miracle after miracle, but mostly not for them. And yet, when that's nearly over, they are overwhelmed with grief at the thought of being separated from Him.
It's not the miracles that they are missing.
In fact he tells them that they will be hated and persecuted and that they will drink the cup that He drinks and be baptized with a baptism of suffering like Him. That being His disciple will extend to suffering with Him.
Even His mother heard, “and a sword will pierce even your own soul.” (Lk 2:35)
There is no promise that He will ride in on a white horse and rescue every time they face the darkness. Far from it, they are promised the same experience of life this side of glory that He had. Complete with being reviled, hated, persecuted and martyred.
So those who are closest to Jesus get to hurt the most.
I can only conclude that, “Even as I have loved you,” is not first about doing. It's about a love that can be seen in someone's eyes and felt in someone's presence – a love for loved ones! A love that leads to, “I miss you.” Or, “I don't know how I can go on without you!” A love that is a way of being!
A love so strong and so beautiful that it's to die for.