“Yet all this time there is no heart in their religion. Anyone who knows them intimately can see with half an eye that their affections are set on things below, and not on things above: and that they are trying to make up for the want of inward Christianity by an excessive quantity of outward form. And this formal religion does them no real good. They are not satisfied. Beginning at the wrong end, by making the outward things first, they know nothing of inward joy and peace, and pass their lives in a constant struggle, secretly conscious that there is something wrong, and yet not knowing why. Well, after all, if they do not go on from one stage of formality to another, until in despair they take a fatal plunge, and fall into Popery! When professing Christians of this kind are so painfully numerous, no one need wonder if I press upon him the paramount importance of close self-examination. If you love life, do not be content with the husk, and shell, and scaffolding of religion. Remember our Saviour’s words about the Jewish formalists of his day: ‘This people draweth nigh with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship’ (Matt. 15:9). It needs something more than going diligently to church, and receiving the Lord’s supper to take our souls to heaven. Means of grace and forms of religion are useful in their way, and God seldom does anything for his church without them. But let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps to show the channel into the harbour. Once more I ask, ‘How do we do about our souls?’” —J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”—John 14:15
This is a radical statement for at least two reasons: for what it says about love and for what it says about Jesus. First, this is counter to the world’s concept of love. John Piper writes,
“Jesus shatters many common notions. For example, one notion is that commandments and love don’t mix. You don’t command someone you love. And you don’t tend to love one who commands. Commanding connotes military hierarchy, not relationships of love. We tend to think that commanding restricts winsomeness and willingness both ways. And this is often true.
Paul wrote to his friend Philemon and said, ‘Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you’ (Philemon 8-9; see also 2 Corinthians 8:8). Paul probably meant his love and Philemon’s love. So it’s true that, for love’s sake, a person in authority may choose not to command.
But Jesus shatters any absolute dissociation of commandments and love. He says, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father’ (John 14:15, 21). ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love’ (John 15:10). Thinking in terms of commandments and obedience did not stop Jesus from enjoying the love of his Father. And he expects that our thinking of him as one who commands will not jeopardize our love relationship with him either.”
There are many earthly relationships where love, for one with authority, is demonstrated by obedience. Perilously, ours is an age that denies this. Parents fail to see that love commands. Children fail to see that love obeys. Such an idea of love is shocking enough for modern ears, but it is the absoluteness of it here that is most radical. There are no exceptions. If you love, you will keep. With earthly authorities, sometimes love may disobey. But here, there is an understood absoluteness to this rule. There are no exceptions. This brings us to the second reason Jesus’ statement is radical.
Look at what the absoluteness of this statement says about Jesus. You can sense it in the words, “my commandments.” Moses gave commands, but he didn’t speak of “my commandments.” They were the Lord’s. The incarnate Son obeyed His Father’s commands as a man. He gives commands to men as God. There are then no exceptions to this rule. If you love Jesus, you don’t improvise. You don’t demonstrate it by originality. You don’t get creative. You obey.
Or you may see it this way: Jesus said elsewhere that all the law is summed up with two commandments: Love God with all and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). Jesus, earlier in the Upper Room, told the disciples, “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” (13:34). And now He is telling them to love Him by obeying His commandments. He is telling them to love Him by loving others. He is telling them to love God (Himself) by loving one another.
Commandments then, are not contrary to love; they are essential to all love, even when you want to love another who is not an authority over you or under you. When you want to love others, Jesus defines what love to others looks like. Sinclair Ferguson is spot on when he writes, “love is what the law commands, and the commands are what love fulfills.” You cannot truly love, either man or God, unless you keep the commands of God.
But not only are commandments essential to truly love, love is essential to true obedience to the commandments. Love lies underneath true obedience. Sheer outward obedience is not obedience, no matter how great the outward action is. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Jesus commands the heart as well as the hands. Hands without heart are still disobedient hands. Here’s the kind of obedience Jesus is speaking of, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). Keeping commandments doesn’t mean you love. Love does mean you keep the commandments.
“When I speak of the doctrine of perseverance, I mean this. I say that the Bible teaches that true believers, real genuine Christians, shall persevere in their religion to the end of their lives. They shall never perish. They shall never be lost. They shall never be cast away. Once in Christ, they shall always be in Christ. Once made children of God by adoption and grace, they shall never cease to be His children, and become children of the devil. Once endued with the grace of the Spirit, that grace shall never be taken from them. Once pardoned and forgiven, they shall never be deprived of their pardon. Once joined to Christ by living faith, their union shall never be broken off. Once called by God into the narrow way that leads to life, they shall never be allowed to fall into hell. In a word, every man, woman, and child on earth who receives saving grace, shall sooner or later receive eternal glory. Every soul who is once justified and washed in Christ’s blood, shall at length be found safe at Christ’s right hand in the day of judgment.” —J.C. Ryle, The Upper Room
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”—John 14:1
The disciples’ hearts were troubled. When Jesus purposed to return to Judea, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Now, at this Supper, Jesus has just told them that one of them will betray Him. At this they look at one another, uncertain of whom He spoke. Matthew tell us that “they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22). To cap it off, Jesus goes on to tell them that He will be with them only a little while longer and that where he is going, they cannot come (v. 33).
Peter protests, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you. Jesus rebukes Him. Peter will not lay down His life. He will deny Jesus. Three times. Their hearts are troubled. Jesus had called these men to Himself saying “Follow me.” He now tells them they cannot follow Him. Jesus tells them that the feet He has just washed not only will not follow, they will flee (cf. John 16:32; Matthew 26:31).
If you’re paying attention to John’s gospel, then this command should cause a reverent “hmmm?” Or, if you are not in a more reverent and righteous mood, you might even object, “Wait a minute?” As we approach the cross, we have just been told three times that Jesus was troubled. In returning to Judea, they come first to the village of Bethany and to the grave of His beloved friend Lazarus. After encountering Lazarus’ sister Mary, we are read, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). Then in John 12:27 we hear our Lord cry out, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Finally, Jesus’ statement that one of the disciples would betray Him, was preceded by this narration in John 13:21, “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’”
Jesus is troubled and He tells His disciples not to be. Why is this not hypocrisy? You know it is not, but why is it not. There are two reasons I can see. First, they are troubled ignorantly; Jesus is troubled knowledgeably. Second, they are troubled for unbelief; Jesus is troubled for belief.
But even so, Jesus here is not admonishing them to be troubled rightly. He is admonishing them not to be troubled at all. How is it that a troubled Jesus can tell them not to be troubled? Here is the glorious gospel answer: It is a troubled Christ who can give comfort. It is because Jesus is troubled that they are not to be troubled. It is because He goes to the cross that they need not face the wrath of God. His trouble is our comfort. His cross is our salvation. We don’t look to the cross as a tragedy. It was conquest. Jesus is holding out to them the comfort of the gospel, for the terror of the cross. It is a troubled Christ who gives comfort. Only a Christ troubled in our place can extend comfort to us.
“May this be our divinity, your divinity, my divinity; your theo-logy, my theology! May repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ be Jachin and Boaz, the two great pillars before the temple of our religion, the corner stones in our system of Christianity! (2 Chron. 3:17). May the two never be disjoined! May we, while we repent, believe; and while we believe, repent! And may repentance and faith, faith and repentance, be ever uppermost, foremost, the chief and principal articles, in the creed of our souls!” —J.C. Ryle, The Upper Room
“I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.”
“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'”—John 13:19, 21
John tells us once more that Jesus was troubled. Why was Jesus troubled? Throughout His earthly ministry, as John presents it, Jesus has seemed so calm, so in control, despite volatile and tangible hostility and misguided zeal. But beginning with Lazarus, we read of Jesus being troubled. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33).
I think there were other days of trouble in Jesus’ earthly life, but John is wanting to tell us something profound. As the cross nears, the soul of our Lord is increasingly said to be troubled. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). There, the anguish of soul Jesus speaks of relates to the cross in general and receiving the cup of wrath from the Father’s hands. But here, in John 13, the trouble of soul is much more focused. Jesus is troubled in soul “after saying these things.” He has just spoken of Judas’ betrayal. Also, He is troubled in His spirit and testifies. He testifies of Judas’ betrayal. What Jesus has said and what He will say speaks as to why He is troubled. He has washed the disciples’ feet, but not all of them are clean. Not all are blessed. Not all are chosen. One will lift his heal against Jesus. One will betray Him. And this troubles our Lord, (v. 21).
See and marvel at our Lord’s tender humanity. As God, He, with the Father, eternally willed this betrayal. And yet, as a man, this betrayal stings. It is no strain to see David’s pain as anticipating that of our Lord. “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). We don’t need to take liberal poetic license to see how that song is fulfilled here. Jesus’ sorrows included those of betrayal by a close friend.
In His divine nature, our Lord, is impassible. His joy is indestructible. He isn’t moody. He isn’t moved by outside forces. He moves all. He does all that He pleases. All that He pleases, He does. The incarnate Son reveals something of this to us when He tells the disciples that He was glad that Lazarus was dead and not merely sleeping, (John 11:14–15). Our God doesn’t wring His hands. He has never pulled His hair. He has never sought treatment for anxiety. Because He needs no comfort, He is the comforter, the God of all comfort.
But our Lord Jesus, remaining what He was (God), became what He was not (man)—one person with two natures. In His divine nature, Jesus remains impassible. In His human nature, He was “troubled in his spirit.” He was troubled in spirit, and without sin. He is troubled because one of these disciples, one of these men who He has spent years with, teaching, laughing, praying, rebuking, eating, sharing, and communing—one of these will betray him. One of the twelve. One of those whose feet He has washed. Judas is His close friend. And his betrayal troubles Him.
There are tares among the wheat. There will be apostasy. There will be betrayal. It will be unexpected. It will come from those we trust. It is not for us to figure out ahead of time. It will sting. It will trouble our souls. It will confuse and befuddle. Take comfort. Our Lord knew such pain. He knew the betrayal would come and still it stung. He divinely ordained it, and yet, in His humanity, it troubled Him. But don’t forget that your God works all things together for good. The betrayal of His close friend was for the redemption of His true friends for whom He laid down His life.
“Does any reader of this paper want to do good in the world? I hope that many do. He is a poor style of Christian who does not wish to leave the world better, when he leaves it, than it was when he entered it. Take the advice I give you this day. Beware of being content with half-measures and inadequate remedies for the great spiritual disease of mankind. You will only labour in vain if you do not show men the blood of the Lamb. Like the fabled Sisyphus, however much you strive, you will find the stone ever rolling back upon you. Education, teetotalism, cleaner dwellings, popular concerts, blue ribbon leagues, white cross armies, penny readings, museums, —all, all are very well in their way; but they only touch the surface of man’s disease: they do not go to the root. They cast out the devil for a little season; but they do not fill his place, and prevent him coming back again. Nothing will do that but the story of the cross applied to the conscience by the Holy Ghost, and received and accepted by faith. Yes! it is the blood of Christ, not his example only, or his beautiful moral teaching, but his vicarious sacrifice that meets the wants of the soul. …If we want to do good, we must make much of the blood of Christ. There is only one fountain that can cleanse anyone’s sin. That fountain is the blood of the Lamb.” —J.C. Ryle, The Upper Room
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”—John 13:3–5
The opening scene of the Book of Glory is one of the most humble in the life of our Lord. John is divided into two parts. The first half is known as “The Book of Signs.” Seven signs drive the narrative forward and are central to the express purpose of the fourth gospel.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
Chapters 11 and 12 have prepared you for what lies ahead in the second half of John where the cross of Christ is chiefly in view. Why have theologians referred to this portion of John, where our Lord hangs cursed and shamed on the tree, as “The Book of Glory?” Because the one who journeys to the cross is the Resurrection and the Life (11:25). Because this is the hour of His glorification (12:23). Because by the cross the Christ will conquer (12:31–33).
And so it is fitting that the opening episode of the Book of Glory would be one of striking humility. The washing of the disciples’ feet is not simply an overflow of Jesus’ love (13:1). It is no mere demonstration that Jesus loves them. It is an illustration of the love of Christ that will love them to the end. This act is a kind of sign of the sign of signs—the death and resurrection of our Lord. Our Lord’s taking on the form of a servant at the feast doesn’t shock when you realized how low He has already stooped in the incarnation. When one has already knelt so low, what is it to then reach the hand just a little lower?
“[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:17–18).
Jesus’ action at the feast perfectly illustrates what it means for Jesus to empty Himself. He didn’t become less in His being when He took of the towel. He humbled Himself. Likewise, when Jesus took on human flesh, He didn’t empty Himself of His divinity, but His dignity. All of Jesus’ earthly days He wore the towel of a servant in the wearing of His flesh. And now, that towel of flesh is soon to be rent so that sinners might be made clean.
After cleansing them, Jesus resumed His place. Having resumed His place, He again acts as their Rabbi and Lord, instructing and commanding them. Jesus’ actions here anticipate His ascent into glory, from whence He will send the purchased Spirit to redeem the elect children of God and guide them into all truth (12:16; 13:7; 14:26; 16:13).
In all of this, the service of Jesus is something utterly unique; something that cannot be replicated. And yet, because it is unique, it may be emulated. If the death of Jesus is simply an example, it is a horrid one. It is not loving to say to someone, “I love you so much I could die for you!” and to then kill yourself without meaning or purpose to prove your love. The love of Christ is not like that. And it is because it is not like that, in a unique sense, that it is exemplary for us in another. Because Jesus served us, we may serve others. We cannot serve so that sins are washed away, but we may serve to tell them of such a service. We cannot give our lives to make an atonement, but we may give our lives to tell of the atonement that was made.
Without penal substitution, Christus exemplar is meaningless. Both are true. One is paramount. Because Christ has served, we may serve. The cross of Christ that informs our service, empowers our service, and shapes our service is the message of our service. We are not to serve simply for the sake of serving. We are to serve for the sake of Christ. We are to serve because we have been served by Christ. We are to serve telling others of His service.
“And, out of all the millions who have turned to God and repented, who ever repented of repentance? I answer boldly, Not one. Thousands every year repent of folly and unbelief. Thousands mourn over time misspent. Thousands regret their drunkenness, and gambling, and fornication, and oaths, and idleness; and neglected opportunities. But no one has ever risen up and declared to the world that he repents of repenting and turning toward God. The steps in the narrow way of life are all in one direction. You will never see in the narrow way the step of one who turned back because the narrow way was not good.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.—John 11:45–47
Bethany was a pit stop en route to Jerusalem. Jesus could stop at Lazarus’ grave because He was going to the cross. When Jesus purposes to return, He doesn’t say to the disciples, “Let us go to Lazarus,” or “Let us go to Bethany,” but “Let us go to Judea again” (v. 7). The disciples understand Jesus initially not to be going to a dead man, but to be going to His death. They question, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (v. 8). Even after Jesus explains that they are returning to Bethany because Lazarus is dead, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16). That expectation hangs in the air when we are told, “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off” (v. 17).
Jesus didn’t come simply to raise Lazarus, but to lay His life down. If Jesus were not journeying to the cross, He couldn’t have stopped off at Lazarus’ grave. The future is determining the past. The future light of the risen Son is casting light backwards over the cross onto the grave of Lazarus.
But now will we see that the past also made way for the future that was determining it. The raising of Lazarus prepares the road into Jerusalem and out of it. The raising of Lazarus explains both the triumphal entry and the shameful walk to Golgotha. It tells us why Jesus came into the city as He did and why He left it as He did. The raising of Lazarus made way for the laying down of Jesus’ life. As one looks at the remainder of chapter 11 and beyond into chapter 12, we see both why Jesus was welcomed as a Messiah, and crucified as an insurgent. It is the shouting of “Christ!” that leads to the shouting “Crucify!”
We see this in the two different responses to Jesus in the wake of Lazarus’ wake and wakening, (v. 45). Some believed and some blabbed. Some trusted and some tattled. Now which of these make way from the raising of Lazarus to the laying down of Jesus’ life? Both! And it is actually the believing that does more than the blabbing. It is not the people’s blabbing that terrifies the Jewish leaders, but they’re believing. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him” (v. 48). When large crowds start to go out to Bethany, not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus, we read, “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10–11). At Jesus’ triumphal entry, we hear the Pharisees despairingly telling one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (12:19).
This blabbing would ultimately then only lead to more believing. Their plotting to kill Jesus would lead to the world going after Him (v. 52). Our Lord is Sovereign over sinners, for the salvation of sinners. The sins of men against the Savior, are sovereignly used by Him for the salvation of sinners. The raising of Lazarus made way both for the triumphal entry, and thereby, for the shameful walk to Golgotha. The raising of Lazarus thus, made way for the cross, and thereby, it made way for our raising as well.